Sarah Davies, Agent, Greenhouse Literary Agency

Sarah Davies was a publisher for 25 years before launching Greenhouse Literary in 2008. She’s open to all genres of fiction from chapter-book series through YA, but also sells picture books, non-fiction and even adult fiction by existing clients.  Among Greenhouse’s authors are NYT bestseller Brenna Yovanoff, Morris Award winner Blythe Woolston, and 2015 Kirkus Prize finalist Martha Brockenbrough. In YA she seeks quality writing complementing a unique premise. In MG she enjoys both adventurous storylines and classic-voiced fiction. More than anything she loves to see something she’s never seen before!  Sarah is a member of AAR.  @SarahGreenhouse

Q: Who reads queries in your agency?

SD: I read queries from North American authors and my colleague Polly Nolan reads queries from authors writing in the English language who live elsewhere in the world (primarily UK/Commonwealth).

Q: Are you hungry to read any particular kind of story now?

SD: I’m always hungry to read MG and YA manuscripts that have a) a unique and hooky concept b) a voice that pulls me in and c) show a degree of finesse in the crafting. I’m less concerned about genre than that there should be something – whether perspective, structure, tone  – that sets the story and its writing apart from the many other queries and manuscripts (and books) that I’m seeing. I want to be surprised, I want to have that desire to read on and not put it down . . . . I’m a literary agent, but also a “regular reader”, and I want to feel the captivated interest and emotion that we all recognize in a good book. Everything else is less important than this because if I fall in love with a story, others will too.

Q: Have you fallen in love with any stories but passed because you knew they were difficult sells?

SD: I don’t think I have. I believe that an amazing story, really well written, will always find an audience – and even defy notions of what is “hot” at any particular time. But then, it is also not every day that I fall in love!

Q: How do diverse books impact your selection? How do you define diversity?

SD: For me, diversity is simply a story, a cast of characters, that captures and portrays the world as it really is. I like to see a range of characters who display in whatever way the rich mix of humanity, but this must always feel organic to the story and plot. I don’t take on a manuscript because it is “diverse”;  I take it on because it’s a great story, well told.

Q: What’s the most exciting thing about discovering a new writer?

SD: It is a great thrill to identify new talent, to bring that to the world, and in so doing hopefully help to make that new author’s life more fulfilled. As an agent, I’ve also discovered a love of teaching and mentoring. Sometimes that simply means speaking at conferences, but often it also means trying to gently nudge and lead a writer into producing the best work of which they are capable at that time. It delights me to see an author stretch and grow in their craft.

Q:  What’s rewarding about a long-term relationship with an author?

SD: Over the years, really wonderful relationships can grow between author and agent as we face the good times (deals, sales success, awards) and the challenges (manuscripts that sometimes need to be set aside, disappointing reviews, delays) together. Every career author rides a rollercoaster to some extent, and the yin and yang, the up and down, can be demanding. But we stick together, we work it through and find solutions – sometimes we even have a laugh! – and carry on down the road. I value and admire my authors hugely and I always try to put myself in their position. How would it feel to be doing what they do? That way I can try to be what they need.

Q: If you could change anything about agenting-what would it be?

SD: I would love to be able to make all books sell in the volume they deserve. I only take on authors I really believe in, I know how good they and their books are, but I can’t control how they ultimately perform in the marketplace. The market is a fickle and sometimes baffling thing, and writing is not always a career where you receive what you deserve. That being said, we try to collaborate with publishers as much as possible to get the word out.

Q: Are you an editorial agent? If so, have you ever taken on a client when the manuscript wasn’t ready because you loved the concept?

SD: Yes, I’m an editorial agent, and I’ve taken on many authors whose work wasn’t yet ready to go on submission. In fact, I’ve only very rarely taken on a debut manuscript and sent it straight out. In a few cases, after much discussion (usually before I’ve offered representation), the author has literally started again and re-written from scratch. This can often be so much better than a light revision, because then the author can reshape in quite significant ways rather than simply tweaking. I’ve seen some amazing results from an author’s “tough love” on their work during the revision process.

Q: Do all YA books need romance as a main plot point? Or is there room for stories that have romantic elements but focus on: family dynamics, place in the world, defining self and friendships? 

SD: I don’t think romance is mandatory, but I do think a great story will portray relationships (of whatever kind) that  evoke emotion and high stakes.  I wonder if it’s true to say that all good books are ultimately about love – but maybe  not always about romance.

Q: There’s a lot of buzz about magical realism- but the definition is not universal throughout the publishing community. How do you define magical realism and what about it is appealing?

SD: For me, magical realism is when magical or inexplicable events come into a story that is otherwise taking place in the real, everyday world. Hopefully that magic will enlarge, change or question our view of the real world. I represent one wonderful (middle-grade) book that I’d describe as magical realism: THE HOUR OF THE BEES by Lindsay Eagar, published by Candlewick.  It is quite a masterclass in how to write in this vein and pull it off (because it isn’t easy)!

Submission guidelines:If you would like to submit to Sarah, please look at the Greenhouse website to see whom we represent and for up-to-the-moment guidelines, which can be found here:

*I met Sarah a few times at different SCBWI conferences. And I have to admit I have an agent crush on her. She’s direct, kind and smart. Any writer who has her as an agent is lucky.


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