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Greenhouse Literary Agency Interview

Posted on 29 October 2013. © Copyright 2004-2024 WriteWords
A longer version of this interview is available to WriteWords Full and Community Members.
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WriteWords talks to Polly Nolan, the UK agent for Greenhouse Literary Agency

Tell us all about the agency/company- history, ethos, aims, key people involved

Greenhouse Literary Agency was set up by Sarah Davies, who used to be the Publishing Director at Macmillan Childrenís Books. She lives in the States and, along with John M Cusick, runs the US and Canadian side of Greenhouse. I joined in June of this year, and look after clients in the UK and the rest of the world.

One of the key things about Greenhouse is the editorial background of our agents. Both Sarah and I worked for many years as editors of childrenís books. (I have most recently been Associate Publishing Director at Macmillan Childrenís Books and still do some editing there.)

Unlike most agencies, Greenhouse knows how to edit. We also understand the market, and understand exactly how publishing houses work, from acquisition meetings to costings and we have extremely good contacts throughout the industry.

Whoís on your current client list and why?

Iím starting from scratch in the UK, which is terrifically exciting. Iíve just done my first deal (which is currently top secret, though due to be announced imminently). Itís a three-book deal for a debut author called Jennifer Bell. Her fantastic first novel was pre-empted in both the US and the UK. I have also signed up four other authors and will be sending their manuscripts out shortly. Really, I think you will need to come back and ask me the same question in twelve monthsí time as everything is a bit too top secret at the moment! Suffice to say, Iíve got some brilliant authors coming

What excites you about a piece of writing-

I get asked this a lot, and my answer is always the same: story. Everybody wants to lose themselves in a really good story, whether itís in book format, on the television, as a film, or in the pub when somebody is recounting something thatís happened to them. It doesnít matter whether youíre an adult or a child, consider yourself a Ďreaderí or a non-reader. We all want the sheer joy of being submerged in a good tale.

Aside from that, I am always on the look out for something original. (Itís surprising how many people start their submission letter by saying ĎThis is influenced by Harry Potter/The Hunger Games/Mortal Instruments/insert latest trend hereí. I know why they do it, but it makes a little part of me groan. I want to see something original!)

And, of course, Ďvoiceí is always vital. I love writing that is buzzing with energy and freshness, where the writer is in control of their narrative.

and what makes your heart sink?

Other than an opening line that starts ĎThis is influenced by Harry Potter/The Hunger Games/insert latest trend here . . .í?! One that goes on to say, ĎItís the first book in a trilogy.í Iím a bit of a lone voice on this front, but trilogies really make my heart sink. With my publishing hat on, Iíve seen too many trilogies where Book 1 didnít work. The author and publisher were then contractually plugged in to a further two books, when sales were falling off a cliff. No matter how successful a series or a trilogy is, Book 1 always sells the most copies. With an unsuccessful first book in a trilogy, an author may spend the next two years writing books that wonít sell, instead of writing something new that might. Itís dispiriting for the author and the publisher. Equally awful, I know of situations where the contract for a trilogy was cancelled after Book 1 because that book hadnít sold, and the author felt as if s/he had been cut off in mid-flow. One author likened it to needing to give birth and not being allowed to. I think series of books in which each novel stands alone are fine but, personally, I would encourage people to give serious consideration to whether or not they really need more than one book to tell their story.
Iím also a little jaded by futuristic dystopian first-person narratives for Young Adult readers . . .

A longer version of this interview is available to WriteWords Full and Community Members.
Click here to learn more about becoming a member.

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