It came upon a midnight clear

December 6, 2009

Which is the title of one of my favourite Christmas carols, because it perfectly expresses the mysterious, ethereal beauty of falling snow. And fall it did, yesterday. Snow isn’t easy if you’re a Dachsund, so Lucy and The Wee Man [see The view from under the desk] are disappearing up to their axles every time Nature comes a’calling. And as for me – well, as you can see, there’s nothing left but a pair of warm boots.
Two years ago, newly arrived in the States, I nearly killed myself on a wintry quest to sign an author. I don’t think she knows I nearly killed myself, but the truth is I came that close as the Mini went into freefall down a steep, icy hill. Now, if the forecast even breathes the word ‘snow’ I don’t venture out without a four-wheel drive. Look, there’s almost nothing more important to me than tracking down a great author, but . . . death? Is it feeble of me to say that’s a step too far? AM I LOSING MY AMBITION???????

Here in Book-Land, things are starting to get that mad pre-Christmas-crazy feel. Getting decisions out of people is tough, there are a million things to be done before the break (especially in Britain where lots of people take a couple of weeks off), and both agents and editors are calculating how to edit ten manuscripts/read 30 more/ get a heap of contracts through/find a great Christmas e-card (ours is going to be wonderful!), /strategise whether submissions should go out before or after/claw up to the summit of the inbox . . . Oh, and actually find time to get any gifts so there’s something under the tree on Christmas Day. People always ask me if ‘things wind down at this time of year’. No. They just get crazier!

I’m just back from my final New York trip of 2009. A whistlestop visit, primarily to take in two great publishing parties, both packed with agents. The first was Egmont’s celebration of its launch list. The Greenhouse loves Egmont – both US and UK sides – and we’re the best of mates with both. There’s a special bond with Egmont US in particular – we launched at virtually the same time and we follow each other’s fortunes with interest. Doug Pocock (another British émigré), Elizabeth Law, Regina Griffin and the rest of the team have done a fabulous job of getting a company, and a publishing program, established from scratch and I’m so pleased we have a book on their second list – Alexandra Diaz’s OF ALL THE STUPID THINGS, which publishes this month. You can see a pic of Elizabeth and I, with Alexandra’s book, on our News page.

Next day downtown to join in with Deborah Brodie’s visit to Books of Wonder, probably New York’s leading indie children’s book store. Deborah is a ‘book doctor’ ( By background an editor and publisher of vast experience, plus a teacher of writing, Deborah now works with individuals and groups of writers – teaching and guiding through revision, craft, and the workings of the industry. Very interesting to join with her and her clients as BoW did a presentation on how the store works, how they’re coping with recession, what kinds of books they particularly love (they’re especially hot on classic picturebooks), and all the multitudes of author (and other events) they hold to increase the ‘book store experience’ and get both committed book buyers and passing traffic through their doors. It’s actually a very inspirational place; the staff really know what they’re talking about, they love their books, and they have a deep concern for reading and the promotion of the very best books for kids. If you live in NYC you probably go there anyway. If you don’t, but happen to visit – make sure you go there and BUY, BUY, BUY from them. That’s the only way we’re going to have thriving independent book stores in the future, and Books of Wonder is one of the very best. In fact, now I’m on a roll, here’s the web address – You can buy online from them too, so go do it! While you’re on the site, you’ll see that our very own Sarwat Chadda was hosted there a little while ago – and you can order a signed copy of his DEVIL’S KISS via the site.

What did I buy in Books of Wonder? Kathi Appelt’s THE UNDERNEATH, which I’m ashamed to say I’ve still not read, despite meeting Kathi in Vermont the past couple of summers. But first I’ve got to finish the wonderful LIPS TOUCH by Laini Taylor . . .

A short break to plunder Macy’s (with thousands of mad-eyed Brits and Russians), a change into new glam mode, and off to party with Hyperion-Disney down in the Village, at a special reception hosted by the heads of both book and motion-picture divisions. Little black dresses abounded as the throng of literary agents, ‘studio guys from Burbank’, and a small number of Hyperion’s top authors, heard how the movie/book sides plan to be more joined up in their thinking and strategy in future. Well, we’ll wait and see what emerges from that one.

Meanwhile it was brilliant to meet old friends and discover some new ones too – agents like George Nicholson of Sterling Lord, who was so kind to me on my very first trip to New York (as a publisher) in 2000. Linda Pratt of Sheldon Fogelman, whom I got to know at SCBWI’s Mid-Atlantic conference a couple of weeks ago. Amy Berkower of Writers House, whom I haven’t seen for several years (respect for all they’ve achieved for children/teen books over at WH over many years, not just recently). And Kristin Nelson of the Nelson Agency, whom I’d wanted to meet for ages – and who is just the nicest person. Maybe you presume agents are all tearing each others’ limbs off, like pitbulls in a pen . . . . Well, I guess we can all do some limb-tearing when it comes to getting that author we’ve set our hearts on, but we actually tend to get on very well when we meet. And we’re quite forgiving really – of each other. (Publishers’ contracts directors are a different matter entirely. They are not forgiven).

And then on to a French bistro for a Disney dinner – and how cool was this! I sat opposite Rick Riordan, next to Jonathan Stroud and newcomer Clete Smith, with Cinda Williams Chima on the other side. And a great chat with Eoin Colfer. You have permission to be jealous because it was JUST GREAT; I am indeed a lucky girl.

Despite having tried to keep up with emails while I was away, back Thursday afternoon to a pile of work to be done and straight back to the desk. Somewhere on the Acela train track between Washington DC and New York City my Blackberry announced that Harriet Goodwin’s EXIT 43 is longlisted (one of only 6 titles) for the Solihull Children’s Book Award – a powerful regional award in the UK. And then the BB buzzed again – the arrival of an offer on a book. Should I be embarrassed to say that I punched the air and said YES, YES, YES! Really very loudly.

But no, I’m not in the least embarrassed. This is what I do. This is my business. And I love it.

Have fun this week. Dust off the furry boots, revise the carols, consider launching yourself into Macy’s – or Debenhams (depending on your whereabouts). And then reconsider, settle back down with a good book by the fire. Christmas is coming!