Friday, February 15, 2008

New Agent Interview: Sarah Davies of Greenhouse Literary...

"For me," says agency founder Sarah Davies, "the Greenhouse is about everything I've achieved and assimilated over my entire career, how to work with authors, what constitutes a great book, what publishers are looking for..."

Davies started the Greenhouse Literary Agency with 25 years of publishing experience under her belt and a knowledge of both the US and UK children's publishing worlds. Below she talks about her journey to becoming an agent, and what she can do for the authors she represents. See my post below for the full listing for the Greenhouse that will appear in the 2009 CWIM.

You’ve called starting your agency “a truly epic personal and professional adventure.” Why did you decide to steer your career in this direction?

I’d been a corporate publisher for a long time. I still loved working with my authors and helping to grow and manage the business, but I knew the time had come for a change. I was being approached about a number of opportunities, but I was particularly drawn to do something that would use absolutely all my abilities and experience and that would be very entrepreneurial. When Working Partners (a very successful British company with a great track record for creating children’s fiction for international publishers) offered me the chance to set up and run a brand-new literary agency, I knew it was an amazing opportunity – especially as the business would have offices in both the USA and UK. Plus it all tied in with my personal life – I married my American fiance in October 2007, when I first arrived in the States!

Is the Greenhouse unique in that it’s a British and American agency? What can you do for your authors that other agencies cannot?

There are a number of agencies, especially the big ones, that have offices in both countries. Where I think the Greenhouse is unique, is that I am personally representing authors from both countries – and I’m representing them to both territories. American agencies would generally call the US their ‘home’ market and everywhere else ‘overseas sales’ – with different commission. Unusually, Greenhouse takes the same commission for sales to both US and UK and calls both its ‘home’ market. This reflects the international view I have of the industry (the connectedness of the English-language world) and is partly possible because I have homes in both places. Just as importantly, I have close knowledge of both markets – what books are likely to work in each – and I’m very well connected with publishers in both New York and London, which is crucial.

There are a couple of things the Greenhouse can offer that sets us apart from other agencies, in addition to the transatlantic basis of the business.

Firstly, my publishing background is deeply editorial – I have been a fiction editor most of my life and my specialty is in working creatively with authors. I have worked with some very famous writers, but equally I love to be alongside someone just starting out, when they have a talent and commitment that excites me. That’s why I chose the name Greenhouse – it summed up the kind of development I seek for authors I work with: growth as a writer, growth in finding the right publisher; ultimately, we hope, growth in profile and sales.

Secondly, I’ve mentioned my passion for the international side of the business. Most agencies use sub-agents to sell rights around the world. Greenhouse is very fortunate to work with its sister-company Rights People – a trio of rights-selling experts with a great track record in children’s sales. This gives the agency an unusually cohesive presence around the world.

Is there anything in particular that appeals to you in a manuscript (funny, edgy, etc.) or are there certain types of material for young readers that you prefer (adventure, romance, futuristic, etc.)? How would you describe your taste?

I like everything – from the mass market series to the literary novel, from girly fiction to dark thrillers. I just want to see something special in a project – a shining spark of originality, characters that leap off the page, a narrative voice that makes me keep reading. It’s funny, but when I read something out of the ordinary, I feel like the hairs are standing up on the back of my neck. It’s proved to be a very reliable gauge!

How do you prefer to receive submissions (full manuscript, query)? Any tips you could pass on in regards to first contact with you (or any agent)?

Lots of agents want just a query letter. To me, a writer’s voice is one of the most important factors and you can’t always determine that from an outline. So what I want is: a) a short synopsis (no more than 500 words ; b) a short paragraph of bio (giving any relevant information that might make me want to read your work; c) the first three chapters of the text. In terms of first contact, please don’t believe you are an exception to everyone else – it’s annoying to be called up or sent the same material multiple times.

Can you offer some general advice for children’s writers seeking agents?

Really take your writing seriously and do all you can to polish it before you submit it. Read voraciously, join a critique group, go on a writers’ conference and listen to published authors talk about their experience. There are lots of things you can do to learn about the craft of writing before you start looking for an agent. Also, get to know the market, spend time with kids and understand their world as it is today, not as it was when you were a child or teen. In fact, the Greenhouse’s Top Tips for children’s authors are on the website, so click on to and have a read!

Finally, before you submit anything, read your chosen agency’s website carefully – don’t waste your time (and the agent’s) by sending material that isn’t appropriate to that agency. Submit exactly what is requested – and then allow a realistic amount of time for a response.

Anything else you want to tell us?

Some people get fixated on the idea of having an agent in New York. Having been in Virginia (just outside DC) for several months now, I’m delighted to be in this location. Not only are there far fewer agents here, but there are also some really powerful writers’ groups. On the other hand, I’m close enough to NY to make regular trips, whether for the day or longer, which is also crucial in keeping up with publishers. If I were an author seeking an agent, I’d be asking these questions: Is this agent well connected? Do they really know the industry? Do they understand a writer’s craft – and will they be looking to my long-term interests rather than just making a quick deal? These things are far more important than location in an age of broadband and Blackberry. Oh, and they should actually make sure they like their agent because it’s a particularly close relationship. Editors will come and go, but you hope that your agent will remain!


Karen Mahoney said...

This is a great interview - I'm really glad I found your blog (thanks to Cynsations)!



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