Vicki Willden-Lebrecht: A Personal Retrospective
last updated 12 May 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. This final blog serves as a personal retrospective on Vicki’s journey so far.
What have been the main drivers for your career?
My parents are divorced, and when I was a child my father used to come and sit at our kitchen table, get out a chequebook and write a maintenance check for my Mum. It left a huge impression on me; I wanted to be financially independent. This hard-wired a work ethic into me, and I’m so grateful for it.
I love my work and the agency – it brings me great pride and also allows me to work on behalf of others to make sure they can enjoy that feeling of independence and success.
It sounds like your childhood had a huge impact on your work today…
Absolutely. What happens in our early years leave a deep impression on us, and often these beliefs are carried with us for life. I think this was my subconscious motivator when I started in children’s publishing, discovering and representing the stories that need to be told.
I have always been drawn to books that have a purpose, that entertain but also carry strong, positive messages for children. My work so far has been in enabling storytellers to get published but I also recently founded The Bright Foundation, a charity that helps ensure books get into the hands and minds of the children who need them most. It’s so important to me that as many children as possible have access to reading and books.
Artwork by Nicola O’Byrne, one of Bright’s longest-standing artists
How did you find your tribe, and what sort of things did they teach you?
I am so grateful that so many amazing people gave me time when I was just starting out. Lots of them were really established, important people who for some reason supported me; maybe they saw something in me, or maybe they were entertained by my shenanigans as a young girl who had just moved to London making her way, or maybe they were just really awesome empowered women willing to help someone starting out in their career – whatever the reason, we made some brilliant books together and still do.
There are too many people to be able to include everyone, but there are a couple I’d like to mention as they taught me such important lessons which I think anyone looking to be an agent or work in publishing one day might also benefit from.
Emma Blackburn (now Publishing Director at Hachette Children’s Books) has a passion to make books kids want to read, and in the early Bright days she was combining commercially successful books with high-brow reads, recognising the importance of both factors. This approach really struck me; a meaningful book needs a strong message and authentic voice, but it also needs an audience and to be commercial to succeed and make an impact.
Anne McNeil (Publishing Director at Hachette Children’s Books) taught me about the duty we have as publishers and agents. She said we could only publish the bestsellers on Amazon, but then all you would end up with would be piles of fairy pink unicorns. She taught me there needs to be integrity in publishing, to not only work hard for the bestseller, but also for the stories that need to be told.
There are so many others as well; Elinor Bagenel, Felicia Law, Fiona MacMillan, Kate Wilson, Val Braithwaite, Deidre McDermott, Alice Blacker… the list goes on.
Vicki and award winning Bright artist Yasmeen Ismail
What are some of the pivotal moments from your career?
There have been so many incredible moments, it’s hard to choose.
One such moment was working with Nia Roberts on Benji Davies’ ‘The Storm Whale’ when she was the Art Director at Simon & Schuster Children’s Books. She taught me how valuable the connection between art director and agent could be.
I will also never forget when I was pitching ‘Barry The Fish With Fingers’ and Simon & Schuster sent the offer over in a fish tank! It was such a creative way for the editors to show us how much passion and excitement they had for the project!
How do you feel looking back at your career?
It’s been nearly 20 years since I founded Bright, and the work produced by our authors and illustrators is just incredible. We’ve become experts in reading trends, understanding where stories and characters will flourish, and how best to work for our artists and authors to tell their stories. We’ve grown as they’ve grown and hired some of the leading literary agents to continue this brilliant journey we have been on together.
With some very impressive award-winning and best-selling results, this journey has been incredibly successful, and I can’t wait to see what the next two decades have in store!
Cover artwork from The Storm Whale, by Benji Davies // Simon & Schuster Children’s Books