Alice Williams is a children’s literary agent dedicated to discovering fresh and innovative voices within the world of Young Adult (YA) and children’s literature. She recently founded Alice Williams Literary, having previously worked at David Higham Associates for over ten years. We asked her a few questions about setting up a business and what she looks for in submissions.
Many years ago, I started at David Higham Associates as assistant to an eminent agent with an impressive stable of literary and non-fiction clients, but also a handful of children’s writers, and I quickly realised that the colourful, vibrant world of children’s publishing was where I wanted to be. My passion and focus grew from there. I was lucky enough to work within the agency with some of the biggest names in the industry, such as Jacqueline Wilson, Liz Pichon and Cressida Cowell, while building my own list of new authors and illustrators.
The energy and constant flow of ideas in children’s publishing is hugely inspiring – and of course, the books we’re all working on open up new worlds to young readers and you never lose sight of that.
2. Are there specific things you look for when going through submissions?
Across all ages, I’m looking for strong, original concepts and writing that is fresh and full of character. I’m looking for writers who are serious about their craft and have a certain familiarity with the contemporary children’s book market. Mentioning classics from thirty or more years ago as inspiration can set off warning bells.
3. There was a recent, and very startling and upsetting, study that revealed only 4% of children’s books published in 2017 featured a BAME character. Is this underrepresentation something you’re actively trying to rectify at Alice Williams Literary?
Yes, it’s a shocking statistic and needs to change. I feel strongly that characters in children’s books should reflect our ethnically diverse society. And BAME writers and illustrators need the opportunity to become everyday role models for the upcoming generation. So yes, I absolutely hope to be a part of the positive move towards change that’s taking place within the industry, and I specifically invite submissions from underrepresented groups.
4. You officially opened your doors this July, how has it been setting up your own business? What tips would you give to someone thinking of doing the same?
Once the idea of setting up on my own took hold, I was completely driven. It took many months of planning, but I never looked back. Besides keeping my clients informed and at the heart of everything, I think one of the most rewarding – and also time-consuming – things I concentrated on was getting my website into shape. I’d never done any website design before, and it was quite overwhelming at first, but definitely worthwhile.
And of course it’s helpful to speak to as many people as possible who have experience of what you’re grappling with.
As a word of encouragement, I would say that many writers and illustrators today seem more interested in a good relationship with a knowledgeable, approachable agent than in necessarily joining the ranks of a big-name agency.
5. Is there a publication coming out soon that you are especially excited about?
I’m excited about all my clients’ books! But just to mention a couple, this month we’ll be celebrating the publication of Rachel Delahaye’s fantastic joke book (co-written with Gareth P Jones), The Daily Joker. And next month sees the publication of illustrator Lara Hawthorne’s stunning gift picture book edition of Silent Night.