Galleycat reports a most intriguing story from the USA. Seems there was a very young (about 17) woman who had some demonstrable talent as a writer -- enough to impress agent Jennifer Rudolph-Walsh at William Morris -- but who didn't have what the agent refers to as a 'commercially viable' work. What she had was 'too dark'.
So, the agent put the young writer -- name of Kaavya Viswanathan -- in touch with an outfit called 17th Street Productions (aka, apparently, Alloy Entertainment), which is, according to Galleycat, a 'so-called book packager that specializes in developing projects in young-adult and middle-grade fiction.'
Result: Little Brown have offered the author, now aged 19, a sizable contract, rumoured at $500,000. Film rights are also sold. You can read an interview with the author in the Boston Globe. Oh, and it turns out that our heroine wrote the book in her spare time while taking a normal degree course at Harvard.
Now, although Galleycat seems a wee bit sniffy about all this, I have to say that this process seems to me to be one of the rare instances of writer, agent, and publisher acting rationally.
Here we have a young writer with enough sense to take some advice -- an unusual event in itself. Next we have an agent who recognises that her own main task is to sell stuff, not try to write it. And third we have a bunch of professional book packagers with a proven track record in creating material which actually sells.
The question that occurs to me is this. And it occurs because I live and work in the UK. Suppose you were a UK agent and you were in a similar position, having found a young writer with obvious talent but not yet in possession of a commercial manuscript. Where, I ask, is the UK equivalent of 17th Street Productions, or whatever they're called? I don't know, and I would genuinely like to know. Not because I have anyone to send to them, but as a matter of interest.
I rather suspect that the UK equivalent of 17th Street does not exist here. Yes, there are book packagers, certainly. But the UK market, I suspect, is too small to support the kind of mass-market paperback material which lends itself to production-line fiction.
And where in UK publishing, I wonder, are the super bright book doctors of the calibre of, say, Al Zuckerman in New York? I don't say they don't exist; I simply say that I've been keeping my eyes and ears open for a good long time now, and I don't know of any. Information gratefully received.