We are betting there are lots of questions you'd like to ask about the Greenhouse, or about the children's books industry in general. Here we hope to tackle some of those questions.
I am 15 years of age and love writing and am aspiring to be an author. Does being young with very little experience of the publishing world affect the possibility of being represented? Would you represent a teenager?
We would! If the writing is wonderful, we certainly want to be the agents who helped bring it into the world, and guide and protect the author. Most of our writers don’t have any experience of the publishing industry either. It’s not something we worry about.
Why do I need an agent? I have friends who have sold their books to publishers without an agent, so is it really necessary to have representation?
It’s true that books can be sold to publishers without an agent being involved, but it’s getting harder and harder to do that successfully. For a start, most publishers will only look at agented submissions – and finding an agent demonstrates to both the publisher (and yourself) that you’ve got through the first hurdle and are at least in the right ballpark for publication.
But agents really are invaluable when it comes to selling your work and negotiating contracts. They have the contacts to know who would be the best editors to see your work – it’s a bit like match-making! Offers and deals take a lot of finessing. There’s masses of complex detail in publishing agreements, and most writers don’t have the experience, or the time (after all, your job is to write), to spend ages researching and negotiating on all these points.
Plus, it can all get quite stressful – and stress is distracting if you’re a writer.
Contractual detail can prove crucial over the lifetime of the agreement, especially if anything goes wrong, and it’s much safer to have someone experienced and dispassionate fighting your corner. An agent should also view your long-term career strategically and make decisions that help to exploit the rights in your work to the fullest, whether those rights are for foreign markets, film, audio, electronic, large print – or many more. While lots of things in the publishing world move very slowly, the market can change quite fast. This can be an opaque industry, and a good agent will explain things to you, interpret situations, manage your expectations, chase people up – and act as your professional cheerleader and business partner through the good and bad times.
OK, so I need an agent. What is the best way for me to find one? And how do I know if they’re any good?
So your book is complete, polished and ready for the big roll out. What next? The key here is plenty of research.
If you are an author in the U.K., you might start with a book like The Writer’s Handbook or The Writer’s and Artist’s Yearbook; in the U.S., there’s Writer’s Market, which comes out annually. Some younger agencies might not feature in the print editions, so I’d also recommend checking a respected online resource like QueryTracker or Predators and Editors. These will be constantly updated.
These print and online resources list all literary agencies, whom they represent and what they specialise in. Make a list of those who sound like a possible match. Then have a look at each agency’s website. Check that it’s up to date, that deals are being done and that they’re looking for new talent. Get a feel for the company. The public face of an agency is their website. Do you like that face?
Once you’ve got a list together of a few key targets then start with your approach. It’s important to remember that information on an agency’s website supersedes any you’ve read elsewhere so follow their submission guidelines. Email or hard copy? Cast list and writing CV? First three pages or first three chapters? At the Greenhouse we like to see several pages of actual writing as our starting point. If we’re hooked in, we’ll ask for more. Also we’re paper-saving so we receive all our submissions digitally. Everything you need to know should be there on the website submissions page.
Then there’s the query letter or email. A strong one goes a really long way. For most of the authors we’ve taken on, we were already thinking ‘bingo’ by the end of their letter or email. We’re keen to know a bit about your book and a bit about you. And keep it brief, business-like and professional. At the Greenhouse we like to see a one-page letter (or rather the e-equivalent). What’s your book about? Reel your reader in. What’s the hook? If you have any writing credentials, tell the agent. If you’ve met them at an event, mention it. Perhaps you’re submitting exclusively to this one agent? In that case, let them know.
A letter is, after all, about communicating key information in an engaging way. If a letter is good then it bodes well for what’s over the page.
How long does it take to get an agent?
Every author’s journey is different – and every successful quest for an agent tends to combine a writer’s innate talent, incredible hard work, bloody-minded perseverance, good fortune and serendipitous circumstances. But basically, if you have strong potential and a really standout story to tell, then you WILL be discovered. So, the answer is that it can take a nanosecond or many years. But in truth, most people who find agents have been working at this a fair while, learning how to craft a story. And that is really a life’s work – just as it is for a musician or painter, dedicated to their particular expertise. There are no shortcuts.
You are 'editorial agents'. What does that mean and how does it work?
A manuscript very seldom comes in to us as a book that’s ready to be sold. Increasingly agents are engaging in the editorial process. There are two reasons for that.
There are more agents than ever before, which means more of us spotting, developing and submitting books to publishers. So more competition.
Secondly, publishing has changed over the last couple of decades. Twenty years ago when an agent submitted a book to an editor, the editor made the decision to buy. Perhaps the book wasn’t quite right yet but they could see the potential of it. So buying books was a decision that took place in the editorial department, based on an editorial viewpoint. For many publishers that’s moved on. The process looks more like this: An agent sends a book to an editor and the editor loves it. Editor shares with editorial colleagues. If there is a groundswell of support for the book in the editorial department, the editor takes the book to an acquisitions meeting. At the acquisitions meeting the editor pitches and champions the book to other departments in the company - sales, marketing and rights. If the book is widely supported, an offer is made. So buying a book isn’t so much about one editor spotting a rough diamond, it’s a company-wide consensus. That means when we send out a book it has to be tip-top, just to give our author the greatest chance of finding a home for their talent.
Our view is, if we’re going to get an author a deal, then it’s got to be the best possible deal they could ever get. Which means we owe it to every author to present their work at its shiniest best, making it easy for editors to see what this book could become. Plus, the demands on editors now mean there perhaps isn’t as much time for inhouse deconstruction and reconstruction of stories as there once was. Sarah has been a fiction editor for most of her life (for many years as a publisher) so editing, shaping, focusing stories is in her blood. Before we send out manuscripts we sit there the night before, correcting typos. I don’t want anything to disturb an editor’s engagement with the story.
Should I be creative when querying agents?
No. The strength of the premise and those first few pages are what the agent is looking at.
We’ve seen submissions accompanied by spy kits, anonymous letters written in cut-out newspaper print, and bottles of champagne. We’ve had perfumed manuscripts, muffin baskets, and submissions hand-delivered with top hat and coat tails. It’s all a distraction. What matters is words on a page. Nothing more.
There’s nothing you can really do to change our response, other than set out what you have to offer - clearly, simply and concisely. We just aren’t interested in blandishments – whether you buy us dinner or send us diamonds. When we read your text our eyes are like laser beams, our senses are on red alert, absorbing and evaluating what we could do with this particular work.
I've just been turned down by an agent/publisher. What do I do?
The key thing to remember about this business is that it’s wildly subjective. One agent might love a manuscript that another doesn’t even like, and vice-versa. When we send out a book, one publisher might leap at it, and the others just might not be that keen. We’ve all had the experience of buying a book, reading some of it, and thinking ‘How did this get published?’ It got published because a good number of people thought ‘This is great! I love it!’ That’s the business. It’s all in the eye of the beholder.
The thing to do is take what you can from the experience. Maybe you got a bit of feedback to work on, maybe your query could do with some refining, maybe you need to have another look at pacing or maybe this agent/publisher just wasn’t the right fit for you.
If you believe in the quality of your book, you need to keep getting back on the horse. It can be a tough business. Talent is key, but so is resolve and perseverance.
Do I stand a chance of being picked out for representation when I have no publishing history or ''official' experience?
The answer is yes, yes, and yes! The good news is that a number of our authors came to us via our regular submissions process (ie, an emailed query via this site), having never been published or represented before, and have gone on to get great publishing deals. Lack of ‘experience’ as a professional writer won’t stop us offering you representation if we see real potential in your writing and storyline. But that, of course, is the tough bit - we are looking for something that really engages us and stands out as being very original. So those who do break through in this way have invariably been writing, working on their craft, for some time, however secretly. We also see writers who have clear potential but are further back in the process - perhaps really a little premature in submitting - and those we do try to encourage. For those that are ‘very nearly but not quite’ we may well provide some editorial notes to help with revision - and ask to see the manuscript again, further down the tracks. It is not at all unusual for an author to finally get an agent, and a deal, having gone through encounters with different agencies and editors, gleaning advice and tips along the way. It is definitely all about the journey!
I'm writing a series. How many of the stories should I write before I submit to you?
We hear from a lot of you who are writing series - which is great, of course, if your concept/character are crying out to be a series (for example, something high-concept like THE PRINCESS DIARIES, or character-based like CLEMENTINE). But not all ideas are that clearly series material. It can also be very hard (especially in this climate) to go to a publisher and say, ‘I have this great new project and we’re intending it to be eight books - which we’re expecting you to buy. Now.’ A lot of books equals a lot of publisher commitment and money, and if the first book bombs - or just doesn’t quite match expectations - it is going to be very hard for that publisher to find a way to publish the rest successfully. So, in many cases what we prefer to do (especially with middle-grade or YA fiction) is ask an author to write their first book to the absolute best of their abillity, holding nothing back from the plotting and characterization, and stop focusing quite so much on what comes next - though I am a believer in having a one-page outline in hand for a possible sequel (if you as the author have the vision for that), which can be mentioned at submission time. Some houses want one-book deals, others are happier to think about maybe two or three books - but we don’t want a publisher to think they HAVE to acquire multiple works.
We’d advise you not to rush ahead and write Books 2 and 3 etc until/unless you find representation and a deal, and really start working with your editor. We say this because once you get the deal you are almost certainly going to enter a rigorous editorial process, which may see you virtually deconstructing and reconstructing your story from the foundations up - and that often radically affects any plotting you may have done on subsequent stories. Taking ONE story to pieces is bad enough - but unravelling multiple stories when you’ve written them is going to be very tough as well as complicated. It can be like pulling a thread in an old sweater - suddenly the whole thing starts to unravel in a very alarming way!
So, our advice is - even if you think you have the series theme to die for, hold yourself back and pour all your focus, energy, skill and craftsmanship into that first knock-out manuscript. It’s the one that’s going to sell you - or not. But keep your notepad to hand, jotting down future ideas that you could use, should you find yourself in the happy position of having to come up with outlines for subsequent stories.
If you have any questions about the book business, email us - with FAQ in the subject line - at