Feeling the love

April 27, 2009

Just back from a gorgeous weekend in the Shenandoah, where the sun shone, the flowers were brilliantly lovely, and I clumped around in shorts and hiking boots taking endless photographs in my quest to master light meters and variable exposures. Come anywhere near me and I’ll bore you to death with shutter speeds, F-stops and much more camera-related blah blah blah. If books weren’t my first love (and if English Literature hadn’t been the one thing at which I really excelled in school), I’d probably be found in a studio somewhere, trying to make unattractive people look beautiful, or taking giant photos of insects.
Now it’s Monday morning and I’m at my desk. But wait! As I peer around my monitor what do I see? A small, furry, red-and-black creature fast asleep on my office sofa! A number of really good things happened last week, but Lucy – our charming, funny dachshund, who arrived last Sunday – was the best of them. Lots of you were so kind to me when Hogey, our beloved Golden Retriever, died in January, so I wanted to let you know about Lucy’s arrival – and also, of course, share this rather beautiful photo with you. Lucy is a former champion showdog, eight years old, who needed a ‘forever home’, and somehow we just knew we were the people to fill the gap. Now the Greenhouse has a Hound once more – a quarter the size of the previous resident, but just as good at a) showing up for work on time b) snoozing on manuscripts and c) demanding walkies. But sometimes walkies and distraction are just what I need, and I’ve made many of my best decisions while ambling up the road with a dog. I wonder what jubilations Lucy will witness in the next few months and years. Oh, it’s good to have a canine staff member again – take a promotion immediately, Lucy!

Apart from dogs, there is another thing that makes me very, very happy – and that is DOING DEALS. I love it. I revel in it. I love the strategising and the organizing, the mental mosaic of submissions, the pondering of editors’ personalities and idiosyncracies, the composing/re-composing/re-re-composing of my submission email – and the heart-in-the-mouth moment as I click ‘send’ and a manuscript (born of effort, garnished with dreams) floats away. I feel like I’m sending my baby out into the river on a little craft made of bullrushes . . . Who will discover the baby? Who will give it a home? Who will nurture it as I nurtured it? How dare anyone push that baby away! Yes, as you can see, it all gets just a bit personal. As someone once said about soccer – ‘It’s not just a question of life or death, it’s MUCH more important than that.’ Isn’t that how you feel as an author? Well, despite my hard and flinty exterior (oh, I can always dream), as your agent I feel it just as much.

So this should be a GOOD WEEK, knowing, as I do, that an offer is on its way on a manuscript that’s been out. It’s really very much like a love affair (OK, so now you can forget the baby). When I submit work, I’m hoping to find that one person – or sometimes more – who will feel they are the perfect match for that book, that author. A weird kind of chemistry comes into play and sometimes you just know that one editor, one house, is going to be the betrothed – there will be an engagement ring, a marriage, a future. So it is written, so it is done! When that happens, I have done my job as Chief Matchmaker, and there is immeasurable satisfaction in that. We don’t need lots of suitors – we just need one very long and happy marriage!

But other editors, in other countries, are falling in love too. Miles away, an editor in Denmark fell for the charms of Harriet Goodwin’s THE BOY WHO FELL DOWN EXIT 43, and last week we had a confirmed deal for Danish rights – with a publisher named Forlaget Flachs (don’t even try to pronounce that one, especially after a few gin and tonics). At some point Harriet’s going to see a book on her shelf that speaks to the Danish market – what will the cover image be like? What will the title look like in Danish? The one thing we can be sure of is that it will look surprising (as other languages always do), and we’ll be amazed all over again at how the market for children’s books can be so similar and yet so different, around the world.

What else does this week hold? Various possibilities, as I wait with bated breath and crossed toes for responses on a few things out in the wide blue yonder. One thing I’ve learned – enthusiasm alone does not a deal make. Excited emails are great – but show me the colour of the money. I believe nothing until I see the money! So all to play for on a variety of fronts – but now I’m just being annoyingly cryptic. To distract me I’ve got a lot of planning to do – flights, hotels, meetings for my next trip to New York in late May. I’m spending part of my time seeing editors, part at BEA where Sarwat Chadda will be speaking at a YA Buzz discussion and autographing THE DEVIL’S KISS. If you’re attending, get in that line – be there or be square! Then there are more flights to book, handouts to plan, breakout sessions to agonize over, for SCBWI Los Angeles in August. This is a new one for me – and it’s big. Do I want to be great? You bet – and that’s going to take a lot of prep; I don’t believe in leaving ANYTHING to chance.

Sorry to leave you, but I must get on. Re-reading this piece, I’m feeling a whole lot of love. For the beautiful mountains and rivers of the Shenandoah. My love for books, authors and deals, and for the excitement and mystery of this international business. But also my love for photography – colour and image – and for my adorable new friend, an elegant, middle-aged, long-haired dachshund named Lucy who snores on my sofa as I write. And finally, upcoming deals make me think about the weird chemistry that draws one editor to love one author’s work – the best platform for great publishing – and my role as professional matchmaker. That’s the kind of love that makes me know I’ve done my job right.

There’s a whole lot of sun outside, and a whole lot of love in the Greenhouse this morning. Get writing, people, and feel the love!

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