Seedlings at the Greenhouse

March 7, 2008

Who knew an agent’s life was so sleep-deprived? Pardon me if I just rest my eyes a moment (zzzzzz). Fact is, there’s been a lot of midnight-oil-burning down at the Greenhouse this week: sitting at my desk wading through your manuscripts while the rest of the civilized world is comfortably watching CSI MIAMI with a glass of wine. Actually, I’m not quite telling you the full truth – because there has been rather a lot more going on this week, with early-morning calls to London at one end of the day, and Hollywood producers engaging me in somewhat surreal conversations (featuring phrases like ‘attaching talent packages’ at the other). It’s all go in my time-zone in the middle!I’m not going to tell you one word about most of what I’ve been doing this week (there are times and places to spill beans), so I shall pick up a few things from your submissions that made me groan, wince, or smile over the last few days – as always, in the interests of your Higher Good. I do not mean to be unkind. Here are some things to consider when submitting to the Greenhouse:
1. Cut and Paste: this is an evil device which can trap the unwary. If you are cutting and pasting your query or material into an email to send to lots of different people, make sure you actually address it to the right person. That is, me. Also, make sure you know I am an agent as opposed to anything else (like a publisher). I guess I’d like to believe you have taken a lot of time and care to choose me, rather than sending just the same thing to 2,657 other people in the Writers Handbook; please allow me my small self-delusion!
2. Famous People: do not liken your work to that of Philip Pullman, JK Rowling, Madeline L’Engle – or any other great writing star. You doom yourself and me to certain disappointment because they are great simply because they are GREAT! And anyway, we already have a Pullman and a Rowling and a L’Engle. What I want is YOU – if you are brilliant.
3. Gentlemen (especially): do not adopt a flirtatious tone in order to win me over to your proposed novel. This is not a dating agency and no, we are not a ‘match made in heaven’. There is no clever way around the ruthless laser-beam of my totally idiosyncratic and personal literary judgements.
4. Plots: You know, the standard of what I’m seeing is mostly pretty high; so many of you are very serious about your writing. BUT – I lose count of the number of manuscripts I’m seeing that feature a school or home-based scenario, a bullied kid or one who doesn’t fit in/isn’t attractive enough. In a sense there ARE no new plots, but if you’re going to write in areas that everyone else is writing in, it’s going to be very hard to stand out; you need to shine like a star. I’d encourage you to cast your net wider and really work for a new plot angle. I don’t know exactly how you do that – but that’s why I’m an agent and not an author.
5. The Volte-Face: If I turn down your work, don’t write straight back to me saying that actually you knew it was pretty awful, but you’ve improved a lot since you wrote that version and now you can do better. If it isn’t the absolutely best work you’ve ever done and fervently believe you’ll ever do, don’t send it to me. Wait until it IS something that epitomises your skills.

I hope this helps. I’m trying to write you back a line or two of feedback, but it’s testing my stamina with 100+ coming in each week. I really don’t want to have to change my submission guidelines, so once again I’d say – please just send me work that is fully critiqued.

And by the way: here’s a thought to leave you with. Would any of you like me to run a Greenhouse writing seminar one day? Hmm, now THAT’S a fun thought!

Happy weekend writing! (And yes, I am going to write a piece on the differences between the US and UK markets. Thanks to my correspondent for nudging me.)