Saturday, September 18, 2010

7 Questions For: Literary Agent Sarah Davies

Sarah Davies was a children’s publisher in London for more than 25 years before moving to the USA in 2007 to launch the Greenhouse Literary Agency. Based in Washington DC and London, the Greenhouse exclusively represents authors of children’s and YA fiction and is not only transatlantic (Sarah personally represents both US and UK authors direct to both markets), but also unusually international in outlook, believing that the whole world is our marketplace.

In her publisher incarnation Sarah worked with and published authors such as Judy Blume, Meg Cabot, Philip Pullman, Sharon Creech, Karen Cushman, and Carol Hiaasen. As an agent she represents many debut authors, including Sarwat Chadda whose first novel DEVIL’S KISS was a B&N Top 20 YA novel of 2009 as well as being shortlisted for the prestigious Branford Boase First Novel Award in the UK. Other Greenhouse authors include Lindsey Leavitt, Brenna Yovanoff, Tricia Springstubb, Sarah Aronson, Alexandra Diaz, Valerie Patterson, Tami Lewis Brown – as well as a number of British writers who are establishing themselves strongly both critically and commercially on that side of the Pond.

Sarah is a member of AAR and SCBWI. She has been a fiction editor half her life, and brings a wealth of editorial and senior-management experience to her role as literary agent. She works closely with writers to reach an optimum submission point and then aims to provide strong ongoing career guidance. Sarah says, ‘Everything I’d most like to tell you about the Greenhouse is in its name. It’s where writers grow!’ 

And now Sarah Davies faces the 7 Questions:

Question Seven: What are your top three favorite books?

This is, obviously, a completely impossible question! I’m therefore going to give you three that all had a huge impact on me and always live in my memory.

THE LORD OF THE RINGS by Tolkien. I read this as a young teenager and was enthralled that a writer could bring to life whole new worlds in this way. I remember feeling bereaved when I read the last page and there was no more.

A ROOM WITH A VIEW/A PASSAGE TO INDIA/HOWARD’S END by E.M. Forster. I’ve cheated and given you three in one! I studied Forster in college and adored his language, his themes, his moments of transcendence. There was something about his writing, his world view, that called out to me in a very personal way.

THE SECRET HISTORY by Donna Tartt. Huge, rich, deeply intriguing and impossible to put down. I felt compelled (and still do) to tell people – anyone; passing strangers - about this book.

Question Six: What are your top three favorite movies and television shows?

Favourite Movies:

FARGO – dark, strange and incomparable acting.

MICHAEL CLAYTON – intelligent, thought-provoking, understated and smart. I guess you could also say this is the KIND of movie I like.

THE CLIENT – I’m including this because every time I watch it I fall in love again with the implicitly sinister ‘what if?’ premise; the sense of evil closing in. What if it were ME in this situation?

Favourite TV shows:

STATE OF PLAY – the BBC series, not the mediocre rip-off movie starring Russell Crowe. The BBC 6-parter is the best thing I’ve ever seen on TV. (Plus it includes Bill Nighy!)

BAND OF BROTHERS – I loved the intent and the execution of this series, and the discomfiture it made me feel only speaks of its quality.

MORSE/LEWIS – Aha, I’ve cheated again! Yes, both were and are fabulous – the British crime drama at its very best.

But I can’t NOT mention SILENT WITNESS and FOYLE’S WAR as well; both of these are superb TV. 

Question Five: What are the qualities of your ideal client?

At Greenhouse we often work closely with authors on their manuscripts to get them as good as possible – all with the aim of getting that writer the very best deal of which they are capable. So we love authors who share that passion for quality, commitment and hard work. Balance, a sense of humour, generosity of spirit towards other writers, friendliness and mutual respect are also great. To be honest, our clients are lovely – we are so fortunate to work with these individuals.

Question Four: What sort of project(s) would you most like to receive a query for?

Top of my list would be a dark, intriguing and chilling ‘what if?’ YA thriller. We’ve had so much paranormal and we’re in danger of overdosing on dystopia. I think we’re now in the zone of real-world stories with a riveting premise and a hook that makes you go ‘wow’ and read into the wee hours.

I have a great fondness for middle grade, girl-oriented fiction – and I love luscious, lyrical writing. I would be thrilled to have something beautiful, with a pitch-perfect voice, drop into my inbox. Something that is fun and accessible to read, yet has an undertow of wisdom and thoughtfulness.

Question Three: What is your favorite thing about being an agent? What is your least favorite thing?

Of course, I love telling a writer – especially a debut writer – that they have a deal. It is a great privilege to help bring that about, and to share in that moment. Whether the money is large or small, I know how that news can change a life, bring a dream of many years to fruition.

My least favourite thing would have to be when you think you have a deal and then a publisher backs out. It’s only really happened to me once, but it made me kick the wall - hard. Passing that news on to an author is tough, to say the least.

Question Two: What one bit of wisdom would you impart to an aspiring writer? (feel free to include as many other bits of wisdom as you like)

Don’t be so focused on publication that you forget why you started writing in the first place – hopefully because you loved it.

Listen to language in the same way you listen to music. Developing your ear for cadence, mood, a smooth phrase will all help you HEAR what you are writing; write musically.

Care about the macro AND the micro. The macro being vision, plot, market. The micro being every word, every comma, on every line. Detail is everything.

Try to be philosophical - this isn’t brain surgery and at least in this business our mistakes don’t hurt anyone else! Try to keep your sense of humour and remain balanced.

If you are successful and everything works out, it’s great to have your head in the stars, but always keep your feet on the ground.

Get a good accountant. And remember that agents are real people, not robots.

Question One: If you could have lunch with any writer, living or dead, who would it be? Why?

There are so many authors I’d be fascinated to meet, but I’m going to keep it real and within the realms of the possible. I’d love to sit and talk with Laurie Halse Anderson. Because I met her at ALA and she was delightful. And because she combines all these as a writer - thoughtfulness, skill, plot structure, characterization, compassion, with a great sales track record. Respect!


Thanks for stopping by, Esteemed Reader! And thanks for taking the time to comment. You are awesome.