It’s been said before, but as an editor, sometimes you are reading a manuscript looking for a reason to say no. By far the best part of the job, however, is when a manuscript comes along and beckons you. It says, read a little bit more, come along with me, for I have a story to tell you. And that’s how I felt when reading Birthmarked (then called The Baby Quota) for the first time. I felt beckoned. I felt compelled. I talked my husband’s ear off about it. I described the plot at length at a crowded dinner party. In short, I became very annoying to be around.
So, what was it that so drew me into this manuscript? Mostly it was the main character Gaia who was so brave, and yet up against many obstacles. In the first chapter, Gaia has to do something unthinkable: she helps deliver a baby and then she has to take that child away from its mother and hand it over to unknown persons within the Enclave. I just had to know what Gaia thought about that, and how she was going to deal with the moral implications of her action. And then when Gaia meets Leon, the brooding soldier who grew up behind the walls of the Enclave, I just had to know what, if anything, might transpire between them. I was drawn into the book because I wanted to know what would happen next*; it was that simple and that wonderful.
It was clear that this manuscript was sticking with me and that I needed to make an offer. But what kind of offer was the question? The agent told me that there were other houses interested in Birthmarked, and then he sent out a note telling me that he’d be holding a best bid auction. There’s a certain amount of hedging your bets and gambling involved in a best bid situation. Will other editors go crazy high in the amount they offer? Or will they play it conservative? You just never know. My take on making offers has always been that even if I worked for the richest and largest publishing company in the world (which I don’t) I’m still going to try and make what I think is both an attractive and reasonable offer. But I also feel strongly that enthusiasm goes a long way, and that something else often needs to be added to the offer, something to show the true depths of my love for the book to both author and agent.
In this case, I decided to send the agent an orange. (I go all out, don’t I?) There’s a moment in the book when one of the characters gives the gift of an orange, and I was really moved by the hope that this simple gesture provided. And so I bought an orange, placed it in a box with the offer, and decorated the box with the code that appears significantly several times throughout the book. Then I hand-delivered the box to the agent and hoped for the best. The next day, I had my answer. Roaring Brook won Birthmarked, and I was about to embark on a wonderful journey with Gaia and her thoughtful, talented creator.
And now comes the nail-biting part: will others respond as I did to Gaia’s story? Will they feel as beckoned? Will they be so excited they’ll wear out their welcome as they enthusiastically spread the word? I can only hope so.
In the meantime, may I offer you an orange?
*For more on this idea, read this essay by children’s author John H. Ritter about how editors are hungry for stories.