Allison Kellegers, Annemarie O'Brien, Catherine Linka, Erin Clarke, Erin Sommerill, greenhouse literary agency, John Cusick, Julie Berry, Page Cathren, Polly Nolan, Sarah Aronson, Sarah Davies, Shawn Stout, Sue Cowing, Tami Lewis Brown, VCFA, Winifred Conkling
What’s next is a question I’ve been asking myself since Greenhouse Literary Agency sold my first book, Lara’s Gift to Erin Clarke of Knopf in 2011. It’s also a question I thought I would have answered and moved forward on upon the release of Lara’s Gift in 2013.
So what’s the problem?
While I’ve got plenty of story ideas churning around in my head, I’ve actually enjoyed launching my first baby into the world and have allowed my schedule of school visits, book club events, fairs, and readings to balloon out of proportion at a cost to my writing time. In a market where publishers want writers to actively promote their books how do we writers—especially those of us with families and day jobs—balance book promotion and our writing time?
For sure, I don’t have all the answers. I might even be the worst person to talk to about balance as my plate only seems to grow larger by the day, not smaller.
What I can encourage is this: give yourself permission to take time away from the routine demands of your life. Go on a retreat, alone or among other writers. There’s nothing better than a retreat to jumpstart the writing juices, nurture craft, and realign priorities. Make time for your writing because nobody else will. And that’s exactly what I did this past weekend in Orlando, Florida among fellow Greenhouse authors and the Greenhouse team: Sarah Davies, John Cusick, Polly Nolan, and Allison Hellegers.
One of the perks of being a Greenhouse author is the vision Sarah Davies had early on for the kind of literary agency she wanted to build. For starters she chose the name Greenhouse because it evokes a place of warmth and growth. And Greenhouse is indeed a place where each author is treated like a vital part of the garden and nurtured to bear the kind of fruit that could only come from each of our own unique voices and limbs. Hats off to Sarah for the vision and for picking a top notch team to help her execute that vision!
Sarah kicked off the retreat with a motivating talk to inspire us in 2014. There were a number of great takeaways. One of my favorites: go to the compost of your imagination, let it decompose, and then recompose it into new stories with a fresh slant. Sarah encouraged all of us to tap into the emotions of our childhood, to mine the memories, and pull out the most emotionally charged ones. More importantly, she reminded us to be brave in tackling the truth behind these emotions.
Another takeaway I took from Sarah’s talk came from her reading of All the Truth That’s in Me, written by fellow VCFA alum and friend, Julie Berry. She turned the theme of Julie’s book around and asked each of us: “What’s the truth in you? Find it and write it.”
With truth and finding it the core message of her talk, Sarah left us with a quote from Picasso: “Art is the lie that enables us to realize the truth.”
Polly Nolan (UK Rights) and Allison Kellegers (International Rights) shared their thoughts about their respective markets. The big takeaways: gone are the days of big advances and quick sales. It can take years before a deal is made so rather than foster frustration at what might not be happening; celebrate the success of the moment like getting published in the first place. Focus on the positives, remind yourself of how hard it is to get published, and live in the moment of these successes. Don’t worry about what’s coming or not coming. You’ll be pleasantly surprised when a deal does close.
The biggest overseas markets are Germany, followed by Brazil, and then France.
John Cusick talked about the power of personal recommendation and word-of-mouth, the secret grease of publishing. He shared his thoughts on networking and made us believe—in the style of Disney—that it isn’t a bad word. He urged us to find the community within our stories to connect with potential readers. He shared another seed of wisdom, in today’s world when our attention is a commodity, know what to ignore, know what needs to get done. Sign up for Freedom to block social media. Give yourself small goals each day. They’ll add up to something fruitful.
We had a lovely dinner hosted by Greenhouse on Saturday evening Cuban style followed by a Talent “Situation” where John Cusick sang and played the piano to everyone’s delight; stylish songwriter and author, Tommy Wallach shared one of the songs he wrote that inspired/was inspired by his story [be on the lookout for the album that will come out with his debut book]; Sue Cowing read one of her poems, “Teacher’s Pet,” from My Dog Has Flies; Dawn Metcalf showed us why nobody would want to mess with her after a few black belt moves; Tami Lewis Brown, Catherine Linka, and Sarah Aronson hosted a trivia contest around children’s literature; and the highlight of the evening was Sarah Davies’ performance singing a rewrite of “These are a Few of My Favorite Things” and playing a very small guitar-like instrument. What a voice!
The weekend was well represented by Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA alums: Sarah Aronson, Tami Lewis Brown, Caroline Carlson, Winifred Conkling, Sue Cowing, Catherine Linka, Annemarie O’Brien, and Shawn Stout. Page Cathren joined us for some lively discussion before the retreat started and hosted me with Miss Lee the night prior.
A warm hug to Erin Sommerill for offering her charm, talents, and keen photographic eye in capturing candid shots, as well as author photos.
A BIG shout out to Jan Gangsei, fellow author and event planner, for managing all of the details of the retreat weekend to lovely perfection.
A huge thanks to Hillcrest Elementary School, Sherri Spicer, librarian extraordinaire; Natalie Storch, one of the most welcoming parent chauffeurs I’ve ever met; and the children in second, third, fourth, and fifth grades for letting me come to their school prior to the retreat to share Lara’s Gift. They were an enthusiastic group of kids with lots of good questions and a passion for reading.
And sometimes it’s just healthy to get away for the warm welcome home!