The agenting Olympics

February 28, 2010

Agenting has a lot in common with the Olympics. A sometimes cold and hostile environment, other times boiling heat; a lot of standing around, then you’re off – slaloming your way around poles in the fog or belting round the short track on one skate. There’s the leaping around with shining delight at the foot of the piste – and sometimes the slow, quiet trudge back to the dressing room to take a break, nurse a wound, and have a lie down in private. But most of all there’s the constant effort and application, keeping the focus, waiting to perform the triple-toe loop at just the right moment.
Things have always moved fast in the agenting world, but after just two years in this business (as opposed to more than 25 years on the other side of the desk) I would say it’s speeded up even more in the past few months. It’s common now to receive a submission on a Friday, read it by the Monday – and hear that the writer has already received an offer of representation. There’s a lot of us out there looking for you, and of course you don’t necessarily submit to all your chosen agents at the same time. So I’m getting down on bended knee here and asking – can you please send out all your submissions on one day? OR BETTER STILL, JUST SUBMIT EVERYTHING TO ME AND ONLY ME?

Doh, I didn’t think you’d go for that one, but worth a shot, eh? Oh yes, we love exclusives and referrals, and when we get either we move like Apolo Ohno!

At Greenhouse we generally respond quite quickly to all queries, but if we get as far as reading your full manuscript we do like to have a good think (and ideally read a manuscript more than once) before making the big commitment of representation. And for me that means that reading once on Kindle and then printing the manuscript out, putting my feet up on the desk, grabbing my Post-It notes and pencil, and studying the work in the old-fashioned way. How would we work on this? How would I pitch it? Which editors would like it? I don’t always have this kind of leisure – if there are other agents in the picture – so I’m welded to Blackberry and Kindle at all times. Best example of this was a few weeks ago, coming home to DC from New York on the Acela train. The BB flashed to say I had a new message. I read it instantly and found it was from a writer I’d been in touch with nearly a year ago – she’d done a revision and it was attached. Whoopee! I instantly sent it to my Kindle and had read most of the manuscript by the time I arrived at Union Station.

Several new clients have joined us recently, which is exciting – all very different, and a wide spectrum of writing, from the young and delightfully funny, to bleak and edgy young adult. At this point I won’t mention any names because all are in different stages of revision, and I think it’s less pressured for new writers to work in peace without their name being ‘out there’ as they labour with edits. But it’s really exciting to see these debut authors coming on, enjoying their writing, and challenging themselves to develop their stories in bold new ways. They’re on their way to their first Olympics, they are medal contenders against a tough field, and it’s the work done day by day over the next weeks and months that’s going to count. Work those muscles, stretch and bend, push yourself to the limit!
The pace is hotting up in other ways too. Just back from a great conference at lovely Asilomar, Monterey, where I made lots of new friends among both writers and faculty (see photo; I’m in yellow, pontificating as usual). Ari Lewin of Hyperion, Tracy Gates of Viking, AnneMarie Anderson of Scholastic among the publishers, and fellow agent Ken Wright of Writers House (not a bad double act!). Writers Gary Schmidt (who gave a fabulous talk), Liza Ketchum ( and Ellen Klages ( added all kinds of great insights. And then, of course, there was funny Greg Pincus, social-networking expert. Oh, and lots more great people. If you were at Asilomar and are dropping into my blog, a big hello and thanks from me; do leave me a comment!

Sometimes there are big upsets at the Olympics, and the little guy can triumph unexpectedly. Greenhouse came up from nowhere and has muscled its way into the running, so we believe in start-ups and small beginnings. In which spirit, do take a look at brand-new British indie children’s publisher Nosy Crow. Made up of four of my former London colleagues/friends, Nosy Crow has just opened its doors for business over in the UK and I wish them all the very best under their powerhouse leader, Kate Wilson. I’m willing to bet we’ll be seeing a lot of their titles on sale in the US in the coming years, and it’s great to have a bold new independent player on the scene. Do drop in on their site; you can say I sent you! I know they’d really appreciate your encouragement as they enter what is only their second week in business.

So now it’s full steam ahead through the spring. Bologna is looming – both SCBWI conference and trade fair – and I’ve got a full conference schedule coming up after that: New England in May, Montana in September, then Miami, Atlanta and Seattle in the first quarter of 2011. Do you live in any of those areas? If so, I hope to meet you.

The Olympics are tough stuff. If you want to be a medal-winning agent you need to work harder, respond faster and care one hundred per cent. You know why?

Because in the agenting Olympics, if you snooze, you luge*.

(*Which is, I know, exceedingly lame.)