Vicki's Bright Beginnings & Advice for Agents
last updated 22 April 2021
This year, Vicki Willden-Lebrecht has been nominated for The British Book Awards’ Literary Agent of the Year for a second time! To celebrate, we’re releasing a series of blogs about Vicki’s work and career. Our first blog is all about how Vicki came to found The Bright Agency, and her thoughts on what makes a great agent…
How did you first become an agent?
After I graduated from my BA in Graphic Design & Visual Communication, I started work as a freelance designer and quickly found I was winning more work than I could manage myself. I started contacting other skilled creatives I knew and bringing them in on the work. Before I knew it I was winning briefs, art directing and communicating with the clients on behalf of several other designers. Hearing what I was doing, my old tutor suggested that I should be an agent instead of a designer.
He introduced me to all the challenges agents can face; trouble getting clients that show interest in an artist to actually commission the work; having to chase payments; not knowing market rates on pricing or how to negotiate the often complex rights to their work. He explained in order to represent artists and creatives properly, you have to have the vision to understand the client’s brief, a visual eye to find the right artists and a passion for negotiating the terms. It was an exciting and logical next step for me.
What drove you to start your own agency?
At first, I had no intention of setting up Bright. I went to work at a commercial illustration agency booking jobs for artists. I had a real drive and spirit to get the best for the artists I represented. However, I started to feel like I wasn’t truly helping the artists as much as I could. I quickly realised that, as an agent, I wanted to do more than just find the next project, I wanted the freedom to work with those I represented to develop their style and art and give them the rewarding career I truly felt they deserved. I had such confidence and belief in the artists I represented, and was so passionate about nurturing talent, that I looked for the freedom to explore that.
A spread from Rain Before Rainbows , which has been shortlisted for the Oscar’s Book Prize 2021, illustrated by David Litchfield
What do you think makes a good agent?
You have to be decisive as an agent, have an instinct for what works and have the confidence to trust it.
Observe and absorb what is going on around you. Yes, it is crucial to know your current markets and trends, but to guide your artists you also have to predict what’s around the corner. I’m always looking out for the stories that need to be told.
You need to be able to think on your feet, have a strong moral compass and put your artists first. If the job isn’t right for them, never force it. To build authentic and trusting relationships, you have be to objective and you have to be honest. If you trust your instincts and maintain moral integrity, you’ll make the right choices.
Steve Jobs said; ‘Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice… Have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.’ I think this really sums up how I feel about being an agent.
Vicki and award winning Bright artist, Yasmeen Ismail at The Bright Emporium 2017
What’s your favourite part of being an agent?
I like doing deals for our artists; in fact I find them thrilling! I get as excited now as I did when I first started when discovering something new, working on it and getting the pitch ready.
As an agent, you need to be comfortable with your place in the process; you’re the starter, not the finisher. Your job is to bring incredible, creative people together, help light the fire and then step back into a supporting role. I love that feeling of keeping the train on its tracks, stepping up to do whatever is needed to help the process happen.
In my years I’ve found myself doing everything from negotiating deals to holding an artist’s baby while they accept an award! It’s not just about bossing it at tradeshows, banging down doors and talking big. Sometimes you need to be able to get behind an author or artist’s barriers, make them share what they really think, or find out what might be holding them back creatively. There are a million things that go into being an agent, and it’s the perfect fit for me.
What advice would you give to your 20-year-old self?
You will fail as many times as you succeed; it’s not about how many times you fail, but about how quickly you can bounce back, and what you can learn. Don’t be afraid to say no. Build your technology with long-term intentions. Take that course on professional business writing!
And finally, how did you come up with the name ‘Bright’?
I was brainstorming with my great friend Barney Steel, who designed our initial branding. I love warm colours like orange, coral and pink, and I knew the brand colour was going to be pink. I love flamingos, so we originally thought we’d call the agency ‘Flamingo’, but that was already taken. One night, after we’d had lots of wine and really needed to come up with a name and register the company, Barney said ‘Come on, who’s got some bright ideas?’ and we all just stopped and said that’s it! We are Bright!
Artwork from Rabbit Bright by Viola Wang // Hodder Children’s Books