Sarah is the founder of The Greenhouse Literary Agency. Rubin Pfeffer founded Rubin Pfeffer Content.
They spoke to us today about opportunities and challenges in publishing, with Rubin asking all of the panelists a variety of questions ranging from terminology to process and working styles.
Sarah's career in children's publishing in London lasted for 25 years. She moved to Washington, D.C. to found her agency, and is now back across the pond, where her agency is an international presence. She loves cultivating new talent and selling books all around the world (including Iran and the republic of Georgia).
What is an auction?
Sarah explained this happens when more than one editor wants a book. Agents might set a time by which offers need to be received. Sarah likes to hold her auctions on Fridays (there was disagreement on the panel about this). Offers come in with their basic terms in addition to a lot of love from editors. To Sarah, the editor's passion for a project is a significant factor.
What does rejection signify?
To Rubin, rejection doesn't mean your writing wasn't good enough. There are factors beyond your control.
What kind of control do you have over the projects you submit?
Everything is done on behalf of your clients, Sarah said. One of the first questions she asks is about which editors clients already have relationships with. But she's also going to search her frequently updated database and use what she's learned in her frequent meetings with editors. "I'm making notes all the time and updating those."
She also runs submission ideas past her clients to make sure the best decisions are made.
How do you cope with losing a project that you love?
Sarah Davies doesn't often fall in love with a new author. "I'm quite sparing in my love... when I fall in love, I want to get it." But it sometimes does happen that potential client chooses someone else.
Rubin Pfeffer on respect
It's easy to wear your emotions on your sleeve, but showing professionalism will take you very, very far. "It will cut you off short if it's not there."
How much work do you do on a manuscript before submitting it to an editor?
In eight years, there have been only about two times Sarah has sent out a manuscript she hasn't given some feedback on. "My goal is to sell it as well as it can be done. My editorial role is working on it until we can get it to where it stands the best chance of being acquired by an editor."
What is joint accounting?
When an editor makes an offer for more than one book, joint accounting is where both books have to earn out before royalties are paid. Agents don't want this situation to happen, but it's the house policy at certain publishers. At Little, Brown, series are jointly accounted, which is more reasonable to agents.
When should you submit to a junior vs. a senior agent?
There are merits to both. Often a senior person such as Alving Ling might be well placed to give it to a less senior editor on her team. If Sarah has a large submission list, it's more likely to work that way. Many of the less senior editors have worked a long time as assistants, and have excellent experience.
Final words of wisdom
A client was devastated by the rejection of her dark, edgy YA novel. She felt as though there was no future for her in publishing. She decided to recapture her joy in writing again, which she was starting to lose. "It's so easy to do in the frenzy of deal-making."
Some months later, she came back with a nonfiction picture book text and a chapter book series. Neither of which she had attempted before. These were her "peach sorbet" projects. She took delight in them, and Sarah told them fast. "This is a story not only of determination, but of flexibility... she's my heroine."