Davinia Andrew-Lynch is a literary agent and the founder of the boutique literary agency Andlyn. She’s always on the lookout for big, bold and heartfelt narratives across all genres but ultimately, she aims to encourage, nurture and champion authors to tell the authentic stories they want to tell.
What does it mean to be an agent? How would you describe your job?
Ultimately, an agent is an author’s champion. When submissions come in, of which there are many, we’re looking for a project that we can find a publishing deal and readers for, as well as exploring all the possibilities and opportunities for that writer. We want to represent people throughout their writing careers. We want that career to be successful, satisfying and one which can be sustained. It’s not just about the first book deal, it’s about what comes afterwards as well.
Agents are there to negotiate contracts, protect our writers and direct them when needed. We’re there to find extra opportunities for them like selling rights in other countries, selling film and TV rights or allowing their book to be adapted into other forms, which invariably allows that piece of work to find a new audience. We’re constantly making connections with new people in order to do that.
You are also the founder of the Andlyn Literary Agency. Tell me how that came about? What made you start your own agency?
I used to be a film and TV agent but it had always been my wish to enter into publishing. Ten years later, I thought I would try and go it alone. It’s a decision I’m really happy with and proud of because I’ve been able to work at my own pace and alongside my family. I get to champion the talent that I want, mainly writers, but illustrators and screenwriters as well. I get to work with great storytellers and that’s what I’m looking for at the end of the day. Having my own agency allows me the flexibility to find the people who make my mind tick and who, I hope, will make the minds of children around the world tick too.
What is it about children’s publishing that appealed to you?
I read a lot as a child. When I first read Harry Potter at eleven years old (sorry to be a bit cliche!), I started thinking about how someone was able to form that vast world. I wanted to know how it came about and I wanted to see where else writers could take me – not just fantastical places either. Books became a really big thing for me from then on.
We live in an amazing time of storytelling for children. Recreation for them is fractured across so many mediums: gaming, film and TV etc. Because of this, we have to find stories that will appeal to them on all levels. That’s a challenge I really enjoy. It doesn’t mean just finding higher octane stories. We have to discover the narratives that speak to them – and I mean all children. Children need escapism; they need food for their imagination.
I’ve been thinking a lot about different routes into publishing recently. How has your experience outside of the industry benefited you?
My route has been a bit of a hybrid of the traditional and untraditional. I did a degree but didn’t do a Masters in Publishing. I think it works for some people, but not for me. I knew clearly that I wanted to become an agent – but wasn’t sure who I really wanted to represent at first!
So whilst at uni, I applied to various literary agencies, Film/TV agencies and A&R companies actually (similar set up for music). I then did a round of internships/work experience across the industries, but my first proper opening came in a Film/TV agency as a receptionist.
The route from there is often the same, you join a company and you work your way up. When I was in admin/junior roles I just tried to take in as much as I could. But just like in publishing, it takes a while to hone your style and tastes. It takes time to work out what it is you want to agent and to find those clients. Even when starting up Andlyn, it took a while to find the authors I wanted to represent.
What should a writer look for in an agent?
I think you have to look for someone who has the same vision as you. Consider whether they understand what you want to do with your work. Are they giving you the space to tell the stories that you want to tell? Agents will of course guide you and ask questions that come from the right place. If you feel like your words are falling on deaf ears and it isn’t working for you, be honest with yourself and step away. However, be open to understanding what good advice and critique sounds like. Learn to separate ‘this is not right’ from ‘maybe this could work’. That’s really hard to do but it’s so key.
What’s your favourite part of your job?
It has to be working with authors. It’s so exciting to receive those new ideas which have a kernel of something magical or special; even if the idea is really woolly and messy. I also love the feeling of finding the right publisher for an author and negotiating the deal. It’s so thrilling when publishers and other people see what I see in an author’s work.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to become an agent?
There are some really interesting internships and work experience opportunities available now that are worth looking out for. I’d also say be proactive too. For those smaller and medium-sized literary agencies who don’t necessarily have ‘schemes’, there’s no harm in writing an email and sending out initial queries. You just never know until you ask. There could be an opening at just the right point!
When you do get that opportunity and you’re looking for new talent or reading through submissions, really consider whether you genuinely love what you’re reading, not just whether you can see it fitting into the market. It’s so important that you love it, because you are the one who will champion. If a book doesn’t find a home in the first round of the submission, are you prepared to keep pushing for it, even if it’s two years down the line? You’ve got to be in it for a long haul. That’s where agenting is different from other parts of the business. It all takes time – and time invested in the unknown. Remember that rejection happens to agents too, be prepared for that. Consider what it is that you love about publishing, but even more so – agenting.
Read as widely as possible, you do need to know your own taste. You want to find stories that reflect every type of life and experience, whilst also introducing people to new ones. The only way to create that reflective library is to work with writers that come from different experiences and backgrounds. Publishing is a small industry and the community of those working in it has been quite insular. We do need to break out of that. We need different voices, especially now.
Most people who come into publishing love reading and love stories. If you truly have the passion to work with someone to produce brilliant stories that appeal to many, then there is no reason why you don’t deserve to work in publishing. Once you’ve got your foot through the door, like any other job, you have to work hard. As I’ve said before, publishing is a slow burner. But, to a certain extent, you also have to respect the process, it’s how we find great talent. Above all, I would say it is a good time to consider working in the industry because there is real change happening. We are finally beginning to recognise the importance of finding, and welcoming, people from all backgrounds.
Hearing you say that is really encouraging. There is change happening! Obviously, we have to talk about the FAB Prize. Last year was my first time working on it and I was so impressed by the quality of entries we received. Some of our applicants even found agents between the time they applied for the prize and we announced our winners.
Yes, it’s exciting. Over the years, the submissions we’ve received have definitely gone up in both quantity and quality. This is a platform that is really capturing a wide spectrum of talent. Yes, some of it is very raw, but the gift and ability is so clearly there. Our work is really paying off. I’ve always known that these writers and illustrators were out there and it’s really heartening to see them taking that chance, kicking off their careers and finding the right agents or publishing homes. I can’t wait to see who we discover next!