A muffin moment

October 21, 2009

It’s been a cross week (and more) in the books industry. Wal-Mart, Amazon and Target slashing prices in a bestsellers war (with potentially dire effects on independents who can’t drop prices like that), and now Sears joining in to reward customers who buy from those companies. Accusations at Frankfurt of advance-fixing among European publishers. Heated debates on whether or not STITCHES is truly a young-adult title and therefore worthy of its National Book Award finalist status.
Plus, of course, my very own bit of bad temper reserved for US publishers who refuse to recognize territorial exclusivity in the countries that make up the Commonwealth – a vital part of any potential deal for a UK house (for example, if you can’t grant the UK exclusivity in India, they may well not buy the book, thus losing a deal for the author). Sorry, but it makes me mad when you redraw the globe in a way that contravenes my authors’ best interests!

Yes, as always this crazy industry exists on the hard and barren rock face between the toughest of commercial interests and the most sensitive kind of creativity. As an agent I’ve got to have two distinct lobes in my brain – one that is gimlet-eyed, flinty, pusillanimous (don’t you love that word?) . . . . in a courteous kind of way. And one that is attuned to the slightest nuance of a sentence, that revels in imagery, and that sees and hears the spark distinguishing the very best writing from the dull and plodding. I’ve got to think of ways we could turn a plot inside out so that it works better, suggest a new strand that would leave the reader with a fresh perception of humanity, and come up with a title that will make a weary editor’s hand reach for your manuscript as it piles off the printer. But I’ve also got to dig in, arms crossed, sturdy as the Rock of Gibraltar, for the contractual points that really, really matter. Welcome to my world – metaphor meets high-discount royalty rates!

So why the choccy muffins and candles? Because you know what . . . . it’s a pretty good life and I’ve got things to celebrate. It was two years ago – on October 13, 2007 – that I got on the plane from London and arrived (distinctly tremulous, but concealing it well) in Washington DC. I had two suitcases – and an absolute certainty that this was a defining moment in my life and nothing would ever be the same again. And hey, I was right!

In the last two years the Greenhouse has taken off and established itself on both the US and UK scene. Two years of making a few people very, very happy (by signing them up and selling their work) and many people really quite miserable (by rejecting them). The second part is always horrid and can’t be avoided. But it’s also been two years of getting to know writers in a whole new way, grappling with plot, rediscovering the essence of story, speaking to groups large and small around the USA, and becoming recognized as an agency that only sends out quality work. What an adventure it has been!

We are constantly growing and morphing and I hope you’re enjoying the revamped website. We’re pretty excited about it – the depth and range of information we’re aiming to provide, the publicity opportunities that shine a light on our authors, as well as useful titbits (we hope) for all you new writers out there. We’ve already got plans for where we go from here, but meanwhile I hope you’ve spotted the new News page which highlights just how much is going on all the time at Greenhouse.

Look, let’s forget the grumpiness and think mellow thoughts. It is what it is. The business will change and develop over the coming years in ways large and small, and many of them will be outside our control and as unstoppable as a glacier. But good stories will continue, whether told around the fireside in a forest, or read on the 7:00 am commuter train from Union Square, DC to Penn Street, New York, or from Basingstoke to London. And that’s where we come in – you writing, and us helping to get you to story-thirsty people.

Talking of ‘thirsty’, it’s that time of day. How about we all get a cup of tea and relax with a muffin. After all, there’s nothing like a bit of choccy cake to cheer one up. And let’s face it, we deserve it!