Greenhouse Literary Agency Where writers grow Thu, 08 Oct 2020 16:41:44 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Yellow-toothed Baddy Thu, 28 Mar 2019 11:39:28 +0000  

This morning I was taken from Malaysia to Manchester, spent some time on the moon and was catapulted into the future. I visited one dystopian world that has been drowned, and another that has been starved of water. Heroic teenagers led me to university and into despair and I followed them into – and out of – love. Toddlers told of monsters under beds and taught the value of friendship (and of counting).  Yep, this morning, I spent a few hours reading queries.

Much as I enjoyed the majority of them, and impressed as I was by many, there were a few things that made me groan inwardly – the sorts of small things that crop up over and over in submissions and that, as a result, can make an author’s voice seem run-of-the-mill. Here – in no particular order – are some of them in the hope that some of you might find it useful to know some common pitfalls.


Over-emphasis on a protagonist being ‘ordinary’. We all are (until we discover that we’re not).  And most of us live in pretty ordinary houses in pretty ordinary places. Your reader doesn’t need to know that explicitly. What we want to know is what makes your character(s) out of the ordinary. (Harry Potter being an orphan or schoolboy? Boring! His magical powers? Now I’m turning the pages . . .)


Straightforward recounting of a protagonist’s appearance.  PLEASE! Avoid having your character look at themselves in the mirror and recount what they look like. This is an immediate turn off. Does anybody really gaze at themselves and think, I have blue eyes, freckles smatter my nose and my long dark hair is falling in a wave down my back?  OK. That’s a bit of an exaggeration. But that sort of thing crops up way too often. It is bad writing and, more importantly, unrealistic. We may glance in the mirror and wish we were thinner/taller/less frizzy of hair, but even as a teenager, the gazing is about perfecting eye-liner flicks and hair spikes, not about reminding ourselves of our eye colour. Show us, don’t tell us, how your protagonist looks – but also have a think about how vital it is that we have an exact description.  Your reader has a fab imagination. (Note:  This week in queries – I’m not sure why – there has been a preponderance of characters tucking their dark/light/curly/straight hair behind their ear . . .)


Description of minutiae.  I’ve just read the opening of a novel (word count, apparently 147,000 words) that describes every minor detail of a character boarding a plane, including the colour of the lipstick the woman at security is wearing.  Two things here:  ‘147,000 words’ makes me immediately think that that is at least 57,000 words too long.  And why are you telling your reader about the colour of Security Woman’s lipstick? Is it relevant to your story? Does it play a part later on . . . or do we never see that woman or her lipstick again?  Experience would suggest the latter. So CUT IT OUT!  Get your protagonist to his or her destination and get us into your story without delay. Not only will you improve your novel by leaps and bounds, you’ll find you are shedding excess words with ease.


Cutting irrelevant detail also applies to What Your Character Eats for Breakfast, The Sock Colour of Your Character’s Father, What Mum is Wearing to Work Today and How Much Porridge Baby Sibling is Splattering Everywhere.


The baddy who stands out like a sore thumb.  In real life, the morally corrupt tend to look like the rest of us. Otherwise we’d be able to avoid muggers, burglars, carjackers and fraudsters etc. Yet when it comes to querying, the majority of authors stick up a red flag and a big sign declaiming HERE IS THE BADDY.  So, I say, down with ‘fetid breath’, ‘crooked teeth’, ‘yellow teeth/eyeballs/armpits of shirts’, ‘body odour’ and general sliminess when it comes to describing a baddy.  How about a baddy who – until the horrible realisation dawns on the protagonist of what they are up against – appears to be trustworthy, ordinary and pretty darn average?


An adult character taking over the opening pages.  You are writing for young people, right? Sure, there will be adult characters in your story. But is it logical to have them front and centre in the opening pages? Most children, teens and young adults want to read about people like themselves. They want to know who they are rooting for from Page One. All too often though, manuscripts open with the back-story of a sad uncle, of parents who are deep in conversation, of the old couple who live next door, of the boring teacher at school. It is, of course, fine to have any or all of these things, but not if they mean your young characters – the heart of your story – don’t appear for two or three pages.


Dialogue. Years ago, I heard Maeve Binchy describe how she would regularly sit in her local pub with the Irish Times (a broadsheet) held open in front of her.  She wasn’t reading, or drinking. She was, she said, listening to the people around her so that she could ensure the dialogue in her novels was as authentic as possible.  I’m not advocating that writers should sit in the pub all day (though I can see the appeal), but listening to the way people speak and working to get that into your manuscript is time and effort never wasted. All too often queries come in where children sound middle-aged and dialogue is stilted. But here’s the thing:  if I’m in two minds about a query, I focus on the dialogue. If it’s convincing, I’ll call in the full manuscript.  If it isn’t, it’s an immediate pass.

As Maeve Binchy said, in real life people say, ‘When I was walking down the road . . .’ so why have them say, ‘Whilst I was perambulating down the thoroughfare . . .’ in your novel?


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AMERICA HERE I COME! Mon, 21 May 2018 07:36:21 +0000 Posted by Polly

What an exciting day 21.05.18* is for me!  Today, I start representing North American authors and selling to publishers there too.

We have terrific writers and editors and publishing houses in the UK and Ireland and these have always been my focus and love . . . but it is amazing to have the opportunity to stretch my wings and take my passion for great writing across the Atlantic, and to develop productive, happy relationships with authors and editors there too.  (I am sure that I could crowbar in some reference here to the special trans-Atlantic relationship the UK and US have, not least following Saturday’s Royal ‘Harry & Meghan’ Wedding . . . but as I am Irish, I won’t.) 

Suffice to say that, from today, the world really is my oyster: I am open to anyone, from anywhere in the world, who writes outstanding fiction for children and young adults in the English language.  And if your gifts lie more towards picture books and you write and illustrate (to a tip-top level) your work, I would love to hear from you too.

Have a look at my profile under the ‘Team’ tab on this website to see what sort of stuff is on my wish-list.

Meantime, I am already looking forward to my first work trip to the States later this year, when I will be visiting as many US editors as I can, catching up with those I was lucky enough to work with during my own in-house career as an editor in the UK, and making lots of new contacts.

Most of all though, I’m looking forward to reading – and getting deals! – for outstanding new writers and adding to the brilliant list of clients I am lucky enough already to represent.

*I should probably get used to writing 5.21.18 now, right?

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Building a fantasy world – by Greenhouse author Joanna Meyer Wed, 09 May 2018 10:18:19 +0000 Fantasy writing is not a skill for the faint-hearted author!  The world you create – maybe one very different to our own, with its own rules, logic and appearance – has to totally convince the reader or you lose them because they either aren’t interested or because they just don’t buy in to what you’ve tried to create.  How do authors go about building a wonderful fantasy world? We asked Joanna Meyer, whose debut YA novel, BENEATH THE HAUNTING SEA, is out with Page Street Publishers, to tell us about her process.

The world in BENEATH THE HAUNTING SEA was born from two images: a tree inexplicably growing in the middle of the ocean, and gods wearing stars on their rings instead of diamonds. An entire mythology grew out of trying to explain those images to myself, and the rest of the world followed from there. The story itself, however, came from a different image: a girl riding on the back of a whale to go and save her mother.

Books come to me in pieces like that, one idea thread at a time, and the challenge is weaving all those threads together into a cohesive whole. Perhaps that’s why my world-building process is a little hard to nail down—I’m not sure it’s the same for me from project to project. Generally speaking, characters come to me first, sometimes with an idea concept attached to them, and I build the story and the world from there. I need to know who the characters are before I can begin to figure out the world they inhabit.

But sometimes that’s not completely true—in one of my WIPs, for example, the story and characters are intricately linked with their three different countries, so I had to do a fair bit of world building simultaneously with outlining.

In any case, when I am building a world, I’ll sketch out timelines, draw (very, very bad) maps, invent countries that will only be briefly mentioned in the book (if they’re mentioned at all), and invariably find myself pondering the beginning of time and all of history. And then of course I have to name everything.

For BENEATH THE HAUNTING SEA, I made up names for the countries (and most of the characters) using a crude naming language, while borrowing a few other names from Norse mythology. Enduena and Ryn—main-character Talia’s desert homeland and the gloomy island province she’s banished to, respectively—were inspired by India and England during the Victorian era, only with the countries’ roles reversed (I didn’t want to make an exact copy of our own world, and I thought it might be interesting to explore).

For my fairytale retelling ECHO NORTH (publishing in 2019), I knew I wanted the majority of the book—especially the journey at the end—to take place in a bitterly cold winter environment. So I looked up pictures of Siberia, and found gorgeous frozen landscapes that seemed to be infused with actual magic. Those landscapes inspired whole sections of the novel, and the book wouldn’t be the same without them.

think that including real-life details can help to keep a fantasy grounded. I live in the Phoenix area of Arizona, and when I was eleven or twelve, I toured a Victorian house downtown. The tour guide mentioned that in the days before air-conditioning, people would hang damp sheets in open windows to create a cooling effect when the wind blew through. I thought that was absolutely fascinating, and those damp sheets eventually found their way into one of Talia’s memories of her palace life in Enduena.

It’s crucially important, while creating worlds, to be consistent with the rules you set. If there are going to be talking animals or shapeshifting people or enchanted houses, those things have to make sense with the magic system you’ve established. But that’s also the fun part—you get to make the rules, get to mold and shape them until they meet your stories’—and your characters’—needs.

So let the worlds you create grow naturally out of the stories you’re telling. Infuse them with truth and detail. Give your characters an intricate tapestry on which to live and breathe.

You can find out more about Joanna and her work on Twitter at @gamwyn or her website:

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JADED OPENINGS (& how to avoid them . . .) Wed, 19 Jul 2017 13:49:06 +0000


The view from behind Polly’s reading pile. 


There are lots of blogs/articles/opinions/advice out there about how not to begin a novel.  Indeed, Sarah Davies has written a great one on this very site (see her ‘Beginnings’ post).  They all say pretty much the same thing. I’m going to annoy you by saying it again. (Yep, it is annoying – and wearisome – seeing/hearing the same thing over and over, right?)

The thing is, agents and editors feel the same when we see similar opening scenes again and again.  That’s why a manuscript that begins with something completely different – or the usual but done in a brand new way – can have such a galvanizing effect on us. (Note:  That lightning-strike pic is supposed to represent that galvanizing effect.) 

So here, in no particular order, are the manuscript openings that I see over and over (and over and over) again:




Waking up – especially on a Monday morning (or a Saturday morning/first day of hols, depending on what the author wants the character to do).  This one is often followed by a description of the protagonist turning off the alarm, throwing back the bedclothes (or pulling them over his/her head), shuffling downstairs, pouring their cereal into a bowl, adding the milk, searching for a missing piece of school uniform/homework . . . Not exactly a gripping start to a book. 

Adverse weather – pouring rain/thunder storm/magnificent sunset/boiling hot sunshine – with a character caught in it.




Running through a forest – either chasing something or being chased.  Often in a storm. And often having been disturbed in the act of drawing a bow.







Running home from school – usually with a bully hot on the heels of the protagonist. Often in pouring rain.

A confrontation – generally with a bully, but fights with parents and, especially, pesky siblings get a good look in too.  





Travelling with Mum/Dad/annoying sibling (singly or a combination thereof) – usually to be dropped off at boarding school or with a disliked/sinister/unknown relative.



A nightmare or a dream – followed, inevitably, by jolting awake (see Pt 1 above, re: waking up) . . .

There is, of course, nothing wrong with any of the openings above. But can you do it differently? Remember that galvanizing bolt-of-lightning picture earlier (the one that I couldn’t get to sit anywhere near the relevant text because, as you can probably tell, photo manipulation is not my strong point)? That’s what every agent and editor is looking for in an opening – that electrifying beginning that strikes us like a bolt of lightning and compels us to read on.  Have faith – you DO have the ability to open your book like that!

If you’re curious to see some openings that had a lightning-bolt effect on me, here is a list of three suggestions, one for younger readers, one for Middle Grade and one YA. (In the interests of transparency, these are all openings of debut novels by clients of mine.):

Murray the Horse by Gavin Puckett (5-7)

The Boy, the Bird and the Coffin Maker by Matilda Woods (Middle Grade)

The Dead House by Dawn Kurtagich (YA)

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A DAY IN THE LIFE OF . . . AGENT NOLAN Sun, 29 Jan 2017 20:24:56 +0000 Recently, two authors asked me – independently of one another – what exactly I do each day. At first I thought the question was challenging (in that I appeared to do nothing) and I got quite a fright.  Once they clarified and I realised they were simply curious, I thought a blog might shed some light.  So, here is  A (Recent) Day in the Life of Agent Nolan By Polly


6.15am: Stumble out of bed, make coffee, drink coffee and dress, all without opening eyes and with hope that shoes match and top isn’t on backwards.

6.40am: Drive to coach station. Hear weather forecast twice during this drive but fail to retain detail. Park. Spend five minutes wondering whether to bring umbrella.  Decide to leave it in car. Sprint to the coach, which has materialized during debate about umbrella. Miss coach.  (This happens every week.)

Anytime between boarding coach and arriving in London (ie 1.5 to 3.5 hours, depending on traffic into London):  READING – and woe-betide anybody who interrupts it.  This coach journey is often the only part of the week that gives me a block of undisturbed reading time.  Each time I start a new manuscript, I am hoping for that rare thing: a story that will transport me to a different world entirely.  Today’s manuscript is one I called in two weeks ago, having read a succinct, professional query and five opening pages of top-notch writing. Only a couple of chapters in and I’m starting to feel a buzz of excitement. The voice is original and strong, the story compelling. Already I’m thinking about UK editors who will like this and making a mental note to mention it to Sarah (Davies) for her view on whether it will fly in the US.  I also use this journey to answer urgent emails (or those that can easily be answered by sausage-fingers-on-a-mobile (ie me)), read queries (to try to keep on top of the never-ending influx) and look at my ‘To Do’ list. (I have a cast-iron stomach when it comes to travelling, but sometimes the length of my To Do list makes me feel queasy.)

10am-ish (with luck):  Arrive at office.  As I work at home a lot, it’s a good and invigorating change to be with creative, book-loving colleagues, not least those at Working Partners and Rights People, with whom Greenhouse shares office space.  The office is also a good place to pick up on industry news and gossip (which editors have moved where and why; who might replace them; what our sister companies have sold; what they’re talking to publishers, editors and scouts about; which film or TV company is interested in what) and to share news of deals, cover reveals, great manuscripts and so on. And last night’s TV, of course.

As I’m only in the London office one day per week, I often can’t get to my desk until I’ve dealt with the post that’s accumulated in my absence.  This means books and bound proofs to unpack; contracts to check and either file or forward to authors for signature; invoices to raise. After I’ve cleared enough space to reach my computer and log in, I respond to non-query emails. These come in from all over: authors, editors, publicists, foreign publishers, translators, scouts, film and TV people, people organizing events, contract departments and so on.  Some need a single-word reply. Most need thought and time to answer.

10.45am:  A client turns up, which is always a treat.  We leave the office for a meeting at a publishing house nearby.  On the way, we discuss their work in progress and attempt to unpick a knotty plotting problem.

The meeting is about publicity and marketing plans for the author’s forthcoming book.  It goes well – everybody is on top of plans and full of good ideas.  The discussion is open and engaged.  There is clarity about what author is expected to do and what the publishing house will do.  The only sticky point comes towards the end when the editor breaks the unhappy news that bookshops’ response to the cover visual (which the author and in-house team all like) is negative.  This leads to a discussion about how much weight to give to their concerns, how to address them, how this might affect publication schedule.

11.45am:  Leave publishing house and go with author for coffee and a debrief. (We both need it!)  We discuss the potential ramifications of ignoring the bookshops’ response to the book cover, and also the pros and cons of any potential publication-date change. (Cons include the effect on the author’s financial planning – originally based on receiving the ‘on publication’ advance at a particular time – and on their annual holiday – booked to ensure that the author would be in the country to do PR at original publication time.) This author is an old-hand so isn’t as rattled as a less experienced author might be, but it’s still not easy news to digest.

12.30pm:  Say goodbye to (hopefully reassured) author and head to lunch meeting with a Publishing Director.  Discuss what she’s looking for for her list, what isn’t working well, what we’re envious of/impressed by that other houses and agents are doing, the market in general.  I also take the opportunity to tell her about a couple of client manuscripts I have coming up.  Partly this is to whet her appetite and partly it’s to ensure that she’s keen to see what I will be sending out later in the week.  Greenhouse prides itself on a honed and strategic approach to getting deals for clients, so it’s vital not to waste anyone’s time by sending out material that isn’t eagerly anticipated.  Elegantly drip ketchup on my (white, of course) top.  Publishing Director politely pretends not to notice.  At least my top is on the right way round.

2pm:  Head back to office.  On the way, receive a call from a debut author.  They’ve just received their first round of editorial notes and feel overwhelmed.  Promise to ring them back once in office.

At desk, dig through my correspondence with the author to ensure the detail of their novel is clear in my mind.  Working on/thinking about so many different plots and characters, it can be hard to keep track.  I also have a terrible memory, which doesn’t help.  Ring author and talk through the notes they’ve received:  what do they agree with? What has thrown them and why?  Do they understand why an editor might have suggested something? What do they think of the suggestion?  Assure them of two key things:  1.  The editor is motivated only by helping them achieve the best possible book.  2.  The editorial process is a discussion. An author isn’t meant to slavishly follow everything an editor says.  Discuss how best to give feedback to the editor:  does the author want me to ring the editor to talk things through or will the author speak to the editor?  Author opts for latter. A good decision.

3pm:  Read queries.

3.15pm:  Coffee.  End up having to make it for five other people. (Timing is everything when working in an office environment.) Get milk-and-one-sugar request mixed up with milk-and-no-sugar request.  In the dog house for a bit.

3.20pm:  Resume contract negotiation that has been going on for over a week with a wily editor.  The editor is sticking on something that I feel is unfair on the author.  Who will give in first? What leverage have I got?

Phone author whose contract it is to give them an update and to discuss the ins and outs of the point in question.

3.45pm:  Potential client turns up early for a 4pm meeting.  Torn between eagerness to see them and silent fuming. Those ‘lost’ 15 minutes were banked as time to run through my editorial notes and to collect my thoughts on their novel. Experience a momentary panic at being unable to remember the book’s title or the protagonist’s name, but at least manage to address author by their name and not that of their main character . . . which I have been known to do in the past . . .

Great editorial meeting.  The author is intelligent, engaged and professional.  We have lots of debate and discussion over plotting. They are bursting with strong ideas, which always makes an agent’s heart soar.

4.45pm:  Read queries.

5pm:  Call Sarah (Davies) for a general catch up.  We speak several times a week (and several times daily via email), checking in on US/UK market, shared clients and to offer much-needed mutual support in what can sometimes be a frustrating business.

5.15pm:  Read queries.

5.30pm:  Think about going home. Look at number of queries in inbox. Decide to do another hour.

6pm:  Somebody in the office mentions ‘wine’. Switch off computer.  Put on coat.  Grab bag. Remember I’ve promised to send a client thoughts on a manuscript by the end of the week but not printed out their manuscript (I edit the old-fashioned way: on paper, not on screen).  Ask for name of pub. Switch machine back on. Find manuscript in Word. Press ‘print’. Wait. Silence. Printer out of paper. Search fruitlessly for key to stationery cupboard. Rattle door in frustration and discover it’s already open. Load paper. Sit waiting for 240 pages to print. Read query emails whilst doing so. Printer jams only twice (less than average).

6.30pm:  Restorative glass of wine.

7pm: Walk to coach stop.  Starts to rain. Search for umbrella. Remember umbrella is in car and car is at coach station in Oxford.

8pm: No sign of 8pm coach.  Get on 8.20pm coach feeling very damp.

Read query emails for a bit, then switch to reading full manuscripts, hoping to finish the one I started this morning.  Unusually, I stay awake for the whole journey. (It’s a very good manuscript!) Can’t wait to contact author to speak further about their writing, future ideas and aspirations.  As the coach pulls into Oxford, I am already visualizing that thrilling, humbling moment when, as an agent, I have the privilege of ringing a writer to tell them that they have a publishing deal . . .

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An interview with MEGAN MIRANDA – author of both adult and YA fiction Thu, 09 Jun 2016 12:06:00 +0000 1 Megan, congratulations on ALL THE MISSING GIRLS – your debut adult novel! Can you give us a quick synopsis of the storyline?
Thank you! ALL THE MISSING GIRLS is about a woman named Nic who returns to her small hometown ten years after the unsolved disappearance of her best friend, Corinne, when they were 18. Days after her return, Annaleise, a woman who was once connected to the original investigation, goes missing, dragging Corinne’s case back to light. Telling the story backward—from Day 15 to Day 1—Nic works to unravel the truth about Annaleise’s disappearance, and what really happened to Corinne that night 10 years ago.

2 This is your first novel for adult readers. How is writing for adults different to writing for teens – both in craft terms and in what you are trying to communicate to your reader?

This is probably something personal to each writer, but for me, the main difference lies in the perspective, both in terms of craft and what I’m trying to communicate. I feel like there’s this heightened immediacy to the teen perspective since I’m often writing about things the main character is experiencing for the first time, so there’s not a lot of hindsight to put each moment in perspective. With the adult perspective, instead of a heightened immediacy, in its place is all this history and experience that colors any event. With adult books, I’m trying to communicate both those things: the events, and the filter. Whereas in YA, I’m trying to communicate the events while also working through the character’s emotional understanding of those events.

3 A big feature of your story is that it is told .. . backwards. Um yes, backwards! How on earth did you pull that off technically and why did you choose that structure?

Ha! I’ll admit that there was a lot of trial and error involved (A LOT). First, in figuring out where to cut each section; then in deciding which threads could be looped back through the days, and which needed to be wrapped up in each section. And every time I’d figure something out, everything I’d already written would be affected. It was a constantly evolving draft…

Getting into the technicalities, one of the things that helped pull it all together for me was keeping a few different lists side-by-side as I wrote. First, a play-by-play of what happened in each day; then, alongside each day, a column for “what the narrator knows” versus “what the reader knows.” My goal was to really walk that line carefully, staying true to both, while also making sure the story moved forward, even as time was moving back.
As for why I chose that structure, the story idea and structure worked hand-in-hand here. I knew when I started that the narrator was going to be working back toward what happened, unearthing pieces of the past along the way, and I thought a lot about why a narrator would choose to tell a story that way. It’s also tied thematically to going back for answers, and having the plot unwind in this way also works to strip away each layer of character, exposing more motivation as it goes. I think the structure allows for more of a focus on the why in that way.


4 So now you are both an author in YA and in the adult market. What is the difference in marketing/publicity terms and do you think it is possible to promote both strands of your work at the same time? How much overlap is there likely to be?

I hope there will be overlap and that fans of my YA will enjoy my adult, and vice versa. I do think ALL THE MISSING GIRLS would also appeal to fans of my YA. I’m still very drawn to the things that happen when we’re teens, and how that affects us years later. How our memories and the way we see things can shift over time, giving us a new understanding of things.

But I also think, in terms of marketing and publicity, that each book probably does best when promoted separately to its target audience, and I hope any cross over will hopefully happen more naturally from there.

5 Can you give us some insights into your process? How do you know if an idea is better suited to teens or adults (other than, obviously, the age of the protagonist) and how easy is it to divide your writing time between such different perspectives and markets? Do you get confused moving from one to the other?!

Since I’m a writer who starts with character first, rather than plot, I tend to approach that question by thinking about what type of character is best suited for an idea, and then go from there.

For example, with my latest YA, THE SAFEST LIES —I knew I wanted to write about a character ruled by fear, who would then have to come face to face with those fears in a home-invasion type situation. I had thought of writing about a woman who hadn’t left the house in 17 years who was faced with this situation. But then thought that this story might better belong instead to the daughter of that woman. A character raised in fear, but not quite sure of her place in the world just yet, who doesn’t know what she’s truly capable of until this moment. So I think about what type of character arc the story calls for: a character who’s been largely untested, put under pressure for the first time, figuring out what type of person they are; or a character heavily influenced by a past, who has settled into some sort of routine, and then has their world upended.

As for dividing my time – first, I really guard my writing time, blocking out uninterrupted hours of the day for drafting. I also typically don’t write two different stories at the same time, at least at the first draft stage. I like to really dive into a single world with those specific characters, getting to know them better. But while I’m writing one project, I’ll often be thinking of ideas for the other, and keeping notes.

I try to have a really good sense of character first, so that when I’m writing through their voice, each project feels very distinct, which helps too. I also have different playlists for each book, so if I’m switching between projects during edits, I’ll listen to one or the other in the morning before I sit down to write, and that helps focus me.


6 An invidious question perhaps, but which do you prefer to write – YA or adult? What are the challenges of writing adult if you’ve started as a YA author?

Oh boy, the tough question! There are different things I enjoy about both. For me, because I am closer in age to the narrators of adult fiction, I really enjoy mining those motivations and characters and history. On the flip side, there’s something I really enjoy about a character who is discovering who they are and what they’re capable of for the first time.

Basically, whenever I finish one type of project, I’m excited to dive into the other. So, it depends on the day?

As for challenges on moving from YA to writing adult, for me it’s remembering that it’s not just an age switch, but that I have to take with it all the years that were lived in between. But I think it’s the same in that you just have to trust yourself, give the story over to your character, and let them tell their story.

7 You are currently knee-deep in writing a second adult novel. Can you tell us more about that?

Yes! I’m in the process of editing it right now, so I don’t want to say too much about it yet, but it’s another stand-alone psychological thriller about two women who reconnect years after college, both in need of a fresh start—Leah, to dodge the fall-out of a work scandal; Emmy, to escape a relationship-gone-bad. They move to what they only half-jokingly refer to as the middle of nowhere, but when Emmy fails to return home and Leah eventually calls the police as evidence of a stalker grows, there’s no proof Emmy was ever there to begin with….

8 Do you have any tour dates in the works where we can hear you speak or read from your work?

I do! I will be going on tour for ALL THE MISSING GIRLS! Here’s my current schedule. Full details can be found on my website:

June 28 – Asheville, NC – Malaprop’s Bookstore Cafe

June 29 – Huntersville, NC – Barnes & Noble

July 6-10 – New York, NY – ThrillerFest

July 11 – San Diego, CA – Mysterious Galaxy

July 12 – Pasadena, CA – Vroman’s Bookstore

July 13 – Corte Madera, CA – Book Passage

July 14 – Scottsdale, AZ – Poisoned Pen

July 15 – Littleton, CO – Tattered Cover

July 19 – Concord, NC – Books A Million

Thanks so much, Megan! And all good wishes for the success of both ALL THE MISSING GIRLS and THE SAFEST LIES.


Megan’s adult debut and latest YA novel are both available at Barnes & Noble:

ALL THE MISSING GIRLS (publishes June 28, 2016):


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Reflecting on 2016 Fri, 01 Jan 2016 03:24:00 +0000 I’ve never been a big fan of the traditional New Year’s Eve. The bonhomie, the yelling of Auld Lang Syne with people you often hardly know, the feeling that if you’re not whooping it up at a party then you must be pretty lame.
But I do like some aspects of the year change. Sending messages to people I care about as the clock strikes. The chance to reflect on the past year and what lies ahead. It’s like looking down on a wide-open plain where anything is possible. You just know there’s going to be sadness and joy, success and setbacks, the good and the bad all mushed in together. The question I always ask myself on NYE is: “So how are you going to deal with it, Sarah?” It’s less about what’s going to happen, than what I’m going to make of what comes my way. I can’t control what happens around the world, but I do have some control over how I respond to events in my own life.

This New Year I can’t stop thinking about two remarkable women in the kidlit community for whom this holiday season has been tragic and transformative. I shall think of them often as 2016 gets underway.

The first is an editorial colleague who lost her husband on Christmas Day after a long illness. While I was leading the post-dinner clear-up, putting the pans away after feeding the masses, vaguely wondering if I could justify eating a chocolate, she was holding her partner’s hand and saying goodbye to him. This is not my story to tell or even link to, but she and I chatted in her New York office a few weeks back and I was struck by how upbeat, smiley and “together” she was. She told me that she didn’t “sweat the small stuff” (I was definitely sweating the small stuff) and I marvelled how she could do her huge job in such a calm way. I didn’t even realize then what must have been going on in her personal life. Her focused ease and poise stay with me and inspire me going into 2016. Children’s books are nearly everything, but not quite. Some things – family, love – are a lot bigger and put everything else into proportion.

Yesterday, New Year’s Eve, already in a pensive frame of mind, I was sitting at my kitchen table working on some stuff when I popped on to Facebook and saw the news – that my client C.J. Omololu (see photo) had just passed away, having been ill with cancer for 18 months. I had been concerned for a while since Cynthia usually replied to my emails pretty fast, even when she was quite poorly. But she hadn’t replied to my last message.

Cynthia and I weren’t close friends in a personal sense, but we were really good professional colleagues. I liked her a lot – she was strong, incisive, funny and really talented. She had already published several books when we met, but we bonded over the manuscript for her new YA thriller, THE THIRD TWIN, which appealed to my love of hooky plots, pace, and red herrings. She was my kind of writer. I offered her representation, we did some work on the story together, and I got her a 2-book deal with Wendy Loggia at Delacorte. It was amazing to see the YA community come together to help promote the book when Cynthia couldn’t do much herself, and I know this meant the world to her. Sadly, we will not now be able to enjoy the second story Cynthia was working on, but never had time to finish. The first few chapters were fantastic.

I feel intensely sad that Cynthia has gone, though relieved she is no longer suffering. She was one of us – and very much so in Greenhouse, where all our clients had got together to send her special messages after her diagnosis. Our hearts go out to her husband and two boys, and her wider family. As the news hit social media yesterday, I began to see the dimensions of the respect and affection in which she was held. So many people coming forward to say she critiqued their pages or met them at a conference or made them laugh when they felt down . . . Some of the anecdotes and things Cynthia had said made me smile even yesterday.

I guess if you’re a writer, you’ll be hoping for some words of wisdom from me to take you into 2016. Perhaps my wishlist or genres that excite me. Today I don’t have that for you. I’d like to ask you to buy and read THE THIRD TWIN – because it’s a great story, but also in memory of C.J. Omololu who deserved to write so many more books and live so much more life. She was brave, smart and funny, even in the face of something so very hard. In her honour, let’s throw ourselves into 2016 and live it to the full. But also kindly, and giving others the benefit of the doubt in such an angry, puffed-up world.

Here’s to the new year and all it holds. To new books, big ideas, thrills and spills, and the chance to dream, live, read and consider everything that is important. Amid the tinsel, the lights and the food, the holiday season changed some lives in difficult ways. But C.J. Omololu was the one I knew. Rest in peace, Cynthia.

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Beginnings Sat, 28 Nov 2015 07:16:00 +0000 I often get asked, “What problems do you most often see in queries and manuscripts?”
That’s a big question, so let’s narrow it down a bit and focus on openings. Are there any kinds of beginnings to manuscripts that I frequently see and which tend to turn me off?
Yes, there are! Here are six that I see all the time.

1 The breakfast.

I see this opening every day in my query inbox. It’s an obvious way to get into a story because it begins at an obvious beginning! But obvious isn’t usually a great idea when you are trying to entice a reader into your story.

Here’s an example:

“The alarm clock rang. Johnny hated getting out of bed on a Saturday so he pulled the covers back over his head. All too soon his doze was rudely interrupted by his mom calling out from downstairs. ‘Johnny, your breakfast is ready! If you don’t come down now and eat your Munchies you will miss the school bus.’

Johnny dragged himself out of bed, struggled into his jeans, rubbed a hand through his hair and trudged downstairs . . .”

When I see this opening, I know it’s going to take several pages to get me to an interesting, original place in your story. Johnny has to pour the milk, eat the Munchies, talk to his parents and siblings, get on a bus, enter his school . . . . Suddenly I’m 10 pages in. I’m not engaged because don’t we all start the day just like this? Eating cereal isn’t unusual or very interesting. Now, If the boy ate a bowl of worms that would be interesting and worth recounting. Daft example, but you see what I mean?

2 The overblown balloon

No one can blame a new author for trying very hard, and the writer of this kind of beginning can never be accused of not trying! They know they have to grab an agent/editor, so they’re going to throw everything they’ve got at the start. But the result can be like a balloon so full of air it’s about to pop.

Here’s an example:

A poet might say that my head was exploding, nay caught in an infinite destruction of capillaries, as I mused on the futile impossibility of my existence. My ancestral home was redolent of decrepitude and my nasal passages sucked up the mouldering essence of agonized antiquity as I stood at the singularly pulchritudinous gate. . .”

Basically, the author is saying here that the protagonist has got a bad headache as he stands at the beautiful, ancient gate to his ancestral home. The meaning can be distilled into just a few words, especially if you start cutting out adjectives and adverbs.

You might think I’m kidding if I tell you I really do see openings like this, but I’ve had one in my query inbox this week that is even more high-flown than my example. I’m giving you quite an extreme case here, but “over-writing” is a big problem for new authors and I see tons of it.

Beware verbosity and be tough on those adjectives and adverbs. Do you need them? Only include an adjective if it is unexpected. So, a “hairy dog” is a redundant adjective – nearly all dogs are hairy. But a “hairless dog” conjures something we’re not expecting so the adjective is worth including.

In writing, “less is more” can be absolutely true. Muscular, lean writing can be hugely effective. That way, when you DO embellish for effect it will have real impact.

3 The Wham Bam Kerpow!!!!!!!

If you are a writer who goes for this kind of beginning, you are trying hard to grab the reader – and isn’t that what we’re always asking you to do? Hmm, let’s see how this opening reads.

An example:


The out-of-control car skidded on black ice and hit the truck head on. Glass shot everywhere, metal snapped, mirrors shot off, as the two vehicles whacked each other. The wheels spun in the silence. There was blood everywhere. Everyone was dead, mangled. Except for Sally, who climbed out and looked around her . . .”

The capitalized opening always seems to be a mandatory ingredient here. Sometimes it starts RING, RING (a telephone). Or F…! SH..! That is, major cuss words. But the aim is the same – to shock us into attention. This kind of opening is almost always a prologue, followed by a first chapter which is utterly different and usually quiet (frequently No. 1 The Breakfast – see above).

You don’t need to go full throttle to engage your reader. Sometimes a distinctive, quirky, arresting sentence – placing us at an unexpected entry-point to your story – can do wonders in piquing our interest and keeping us reading on. Also, if your opening is high drama, what is left for the story’s climax?

4 The Everything As Usual

This opening is a very different thing to Nos. 2 and 3. This author wants to start super-low key, so that she can make a contrast with the (hopefully) exciting events that will happen later. But it’s tricky, because if you start TOO low key, that noise you hear may be your reader’s head hitting the desk.

Here’s an example:

“Absolutely everything was the same as always in the town of Little Snodgrass. The bakery was selling buns, the kids were laughing on their way to the high school, and just like every other Wednesday at 10AM the traffic was crawling along. Nate met his friend Bob and they walked to school together, just like they always did. Little did they know, that everything was going to change . . .”

I see this opening a lot – or slightly less obvious variants of it. Sure, you want to keep your powder dry for what is to come, but this isn’t the best way to do it because you risk losing your reader after a few paragraphs.

5 The Info Dump

It is really hard to know how much, and what, to include in your opening chapter or two. Arguably, this is one of the toughest issues for a new writer. I suggest you play around with the pacing of information. How much do we need at the outset – and what can be dripped in as the story gathers pace?

Because this is really challenging, I often see an info dump at the start of the manuscript – a dump the author hopes will save them the tricky detail decisions later on. An example:

“’Come here right now, Cynthia Amelia Bailey Madison!’

“Rolling my eyes, I went down the stairs towards my red-haired mom who was dressed in black slacks and a blue blazer at the bottom. On the way down, I saw my reflection in the mirror and wondered why I didn’t look more like my accountant father, instead of my reflexologist mother. I hated my pale skin with freckles, my snub nose, my full lips and my strange silver-blue eyes which didn’t match my really cheap Target jeans . . .”

I have indigestion! My interest in the story has been hijacked by information I don’t need – or not yet. Description doesn’t move the story along; it is only really necessary in as much as it brings your characters to life in some interesting way. You may be in love with your characters, but you have to lead us to love them too, and that’s about show rather than tell. Get us into the story and then drip, drip, the detail in as you go.

6 The Drama Queen

I see this opening a great deal in YA. A girl (nearly always a girl, I don’t know why) is about to experience a life-changing summer, but she doesn’t know it yet. Often she’s being sent off to family/friends in Italy/ London/ Paris/ a Scottish castle and she really doesn’t want to go. She wants to be home with her friends rather than visit those sucky European destinations. But wait, amid the confusion of the airport there will be cute boys . . .

Samantha stood crossly in the terminal, scanning the departure board. She had checked her bag and was fuming as she thought about all the parties she should be at this summer. But Mom and Dad had had to go to China to study ancient papyrus documents, so Sam was being packed off to Aunt Betty’s dismal Scottish castle. What would she do all summer in the beastly cold and mist?

“Suddenly Sam’s eye was caught by a boy who was watching her from the coffee stand. His dark eyes and mane of hair suggested mystery. Then he spoke: ‘Miss, I think you left your phone on the desk . . .’

“Wait. Was that a Scottish accent? Could he possibly be on the same flight as Sam…..?”

There are variants of this one, also in MG. The character whose parent constantly makes them move home, move state, live with grandparents. In each case, you’re underscoring “the beginning as a beginning”. Suppose you began at another place? Looking down on the clouds from the plane? After the arrival? A week later? How can you access your story in a distinctive way that gives your opening a fresh spin?

So here we have six openings that I see a lot in my queries. They’re not wrong – but they are ubiquitous. Nuttily over-the-top as my examples are, they may ring some bells for you to watch out for.

So what makes for a GREAT opening? I will have to save that for another day because it’s a big subject. But – a strong opening will likely be simple – perhaps a juxtaposition of ideas, an overturning of what the reader expects, a uniquely constructed or surprising phrase. Or even a sublimely straightforward sentence like, “I had a farm in Africa.”

And WHAM, BAM, KERPOW! Suddenly I’m in and reading.


Pix: The second two shots don’t have much to do with the theme, but I like them and I’m trying out some new editing software! I thought the owl illustrated the idea of a “bowl of worms” rather well. The duck? Uh, it’s just a duck.

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Sarah Aronson talks desserts, playing, and rebooting one’s writing career Sun, 23 Aug 2015 03:12:00 +0000 From time to time, I ask our Greenhouse clients to write a piece for my blog. It’s really tough to keep it going these days on my own, and our clients have so much good stuff to tell you about the publishing industry! Sarah Aronson‘s recent writing adventures are pretty exciting, and also inspiring. Here she is to tell you all about it . . .

For a long time, I called it my “peach sorbet.” It was an idea I worked on when I was tired of thinking about my “important” project. A literary palate cleanser. Not anything serious.

For better or for worse, I was a writer who grappled with tough topics. I went for it all—unlikeable characters, themes filled with conflicts, questionable morals, provocative endings. Although I found these books grueling to write, I told myself that the work was worth it—these characters and ideas were calling me. And up until 2014, I felt pretty good about it. I had a great agent. There were editors willing to read my next WIP. My family might have been confused about why I wrote such dark, sad books, but they supported me. 100%. I was not deterred by the mixed reception my last novel received.

That changed, when teaching at Highlights in Sept 2014, I got some bad news that had followed other bad news: the editor who loved my newest WIP (a story I had taken two years to write) could not get it past the acquisitions committee.

The novel needed to go in a drawer.

I began to doubt myself.

I don’t know a writer who hasn’t experienced doubt and fear, and yet, when it happened to me, I felt unprepared. As my friend Laura Ruby says, we writers are people with thin skin. In the writing process, that can be a good thing. We feel empathy. But when you are not feeling safe? That thin skin can crush you.

I wondered if perhaps my writing career was coming to a close.

Lucky for me, I was surrounded by friends. I also had the best kind of work to do—writers to counsel—writers who trusted me to help them work on their novels. It gave me some time to think about the advice I was offering them:

Step away from the manuscript!

Try some writing exercises!

Re-imagine your story!

I also found myself talking (in an excited way) not about my serious novel but about that peach sorbet. I remembered some sage advice editor (and subsequently book doctor) Deborah Brodie once offered me. She said, “Eat dessert first. Write what makes you happy.” At the end of that retreat, I stood at the podium and read to smiling, enthusiastic faces. I made myself a challenge:

For the next six months, I was going to PLAY.

I was going to work on all the things that made me happy, books I had convinced myself I couldn’t/shouldn’t write: picture books, humor, essays, an adult novel, poetry, and most important, my peach sorbet: a chapter book about a very bad fairy godmother. I was going to write fast. I was not going to edit myself. I was going to access my subconscious with drawing and writing and listening to new music and having fun. If I liked an idea, I was going to try it.

I was going to eat a lot of dessert.

Amazing things began to happen.

As I played, I found a new voice. And confidence. And other things, too: I found that when I turned off my phone and walked without interruption, new ideas emerged. My memory map trick worked! Working with clay gave me time to think. Doodling—pencil to paper—gave me the answers to my questions.

(There is a lot of scientific evidence about the benefits of play. Studies show that when we play, we develop imagination, dexterity, and physical, cognitive, and emotional strength. All good things. Right?)

As Picasso once said: Every child is born an artist. The trick is remaining one as an adult.

When the challenge was over, I had written two nonfiction picture books, an essay, the beginning of an adult novel, ten picture books, and what I hoped could be the first chapter book in a series. A lot of it was terrible! But some of it wasn’t. I sent the best of it to Sarah D. Fingers crossed.

And after much more re-imagination, edits and discussions, I got my very own Happily Ever After (no wand necessary).

I am delighted and thrilled and grateful to report that my nonfiction picture book, JUST LIKE RUBE GOLDBERG (Beach Lane Books, Simon & Schuster, 2017) as well as a new young chapter-book series, THE WORST FAIRY GODMOTHER EVER (Scholastic, 2017 onwards), will be hitting the shelves. Even better? I love this new voice. Even better: This brand-new work has a lot of heart and muscle.

And I am not thinking about the end of my career.

I can’t say I won’t feel doubt in the future, but for now, that internal editor is staying put. I have a box of ideas to choose from. I have officially added PLAY to my writer’s toolbox.

Please pass the cookies!

And more from Sarah A:

Want to think more about creativity, play, and the writing process? Sarah loves talking to kids and adults about the craft of writing! Email her at sarah[at]saraharonson[dot]com.

Or sign up for Sarah’s free newsletter, Monday Motivation. You can find it on her website,, under TIPS.

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Sarah’s quest Sun, 07 Jun 2015 05:07:00 +0000 It’s out there. The idea that because an agent’s been around, doing their thing for a few years, then they aren’t looking for new talent, new writers. Not true – or at least, not for me. I always have room for that special new author who sets my world alight. And there’s nothing more exciting than the physical and emotional sensation of spotting a really special new voice, a new manuscript that touches me.
Right now, I am looking for that new talent. So far it’s been a busy year of new deals (US, translation and film) and as I write I am #2 in Publishers Marketplace’s rankings for US agents selling both MG and YA (this is only about numbers of deals, not value). And #2 in America for 6-figure deals since 2004 (I started agenting in 2008). It’s not a brag-fest; being a good agent is about much more than numbers – and author care means more to me. But maybe it’s interesting for you to know.

So now I’m on the prowl for a great new writer. Or maybe even more than one. I’m greedy like that. I want a big book. Or two. Or three.

What would this big book look like? Well, “bigness” for me isn’t necessarily about a huge deal, big sales numbers. It’s about conviction and excitement. It’s about knowing I’ve found something that I can absolutely get behind, believing it’s going to add to the sum of children’s and teen literature. That might mean it’s beautiful and literary – or that it’s a fabulous commercial idea, powerfully executed. (Since I’ve been an editor all my adult life, I can even help you get it there. I don’t expect some kind of perfection – if that even exists.)

This new author and manuscript could take many forms, but I’m also prepared to be surprised with something entirely unexpected. Based on what I KNOW I’m interested to find, here are some thoughts to get you going:


I love standout voices. Voice means the tone and language you use to get the story and its characters across, both via the narrative and dialogue. It’s not only the story you tell – it’s HOW you tell it. What voice are you finding to tell your story? That might take some experimentation, it might not always come off, but go for it. It’s probably the biggest thing that pulls me into a query/requested manuscript.

Structure and other feats of engineering:

I love interesting structures and perspectives. I rep a book that is virtually told backwards, I rep books told from multiple points of view, and I rep books with a variety of timelines within one story. Have you thought of telling your story differently through structure or perspective? Not a vital component obviously, but something to consider. Again, it’s not only about the story you tell – it’s about how you tell it.

What subjects interest me in any age group/genre?:

Some random things which intrigue me and which I love reading about:

Math, physics, and science. The ocean, ice, sea glass, fog, lighthouses, moodiness. Different countries and peoples (but only if you know what you’re talking about. :); the Middle East, France (modern-day or historical), Italy, Scandinavia, Iceland, the Nordic countries, Ireland (contemporary world, probably not ancient gods etc). Diverse characters, gender stories – but not because it’s a “trend” or mandated in some way; diversity has to spring organically from your story. Dance. Adoption. Friendship. Unreliable narrators. The real world with a strong quirk of strangeness. The line between truth and reality, past and present, right and wrong, dark and light. Big ideas: stories that might seem simple but which make you think in a new way. Ghosts and hauntings – which can be real or distinctly metaphorical. Secrets, lies, betrayal. Also, humour! It’s hard to make people laugh (but fantastic!).

Are you getting the (correct) idea that I have tons of interests?!


What I’m currently particularly seeking:

In Young Adult:

Big stories that mix genres. Perhaps alternative history, magic intervening in “ordinary” life. The surreal takes over the regular world. Epic stakes.

Dark fantasy adventure with romance.

Mystery – told in some fresh way (the thriller market is currently tough). I love the idea of a character seeing something that appears mundane but isn’t, with huge consequences, like in the adult novel THE GIRL IN THE TRAIN.

Non-linear narratives.

Magical realism. Again, magic meets the ordinary.

Retellings of myths from outside European culture.

Different settings, diverse characters, issues – but spun in moving and new ways.

Smart love stories that have a strong hook. Literary realistic contemporary.

Maybe historical . . . . but it has to have a protagonist who feels very relatable today and a voice that doesn’t feel stiff or false. I’m still seeking my French Revolution novel.

In Middle Grade:

Concept-led or character-led young chapter-book series with a strong and unique hook; voice is vital here. Around 10K words per book.

In older MG: fantasy adventure, perhaps with clue-solving; a great world and strong concept.

Mystery – again genre-crossing, so maybe a foot in the murder-mystery genre and one in fantasy.

Diversity again – stories of kids who haven’t had a voice.

Magical realism – magic meets the real world.

Standalone novels – classic, charming, voice driven, heartfelt. Like Rebecca Stead, Kat Yeh, Tricia Springstubb, Leila Howland. And like THE THING ABOUT JELLYFISH by Ali Benjamin, coming in September from Little, Brown. Stories that are heartbreaking, timeless, inspiring, while still being about small lives.

Does this help? I hope so. My quest isn’t time-limited – it may take one month or six or even more – but I’m going to look forward to hearing from you when you’re ready.

You can do it! Wishing you a happy summer.



I purposely haven’t included book jackets; this isn’t about other people’s books – it’s about YOURS!
All the images are of things that I really love: 1) Brilliant, bold flowers 2) birds and animals 3) my windmill 4) a rich pastiche of food (in this case Iranian).

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