The Garden Metaphor


Today I harvested 17 tomatoes. The six tomato plants I set out this year are greener and healthier than any I’ve staked out in the last twenty years. And I’m responsible for none of the plants’ success. At a neighborhood garden sale, late in the planting season, I impulsively grabbed four tiny, scrawny potted tomatoes that were missing their labels. I didn’t mulch them. I didn’t pinch off suckers. I planted them too close together. Yet I now enjoy a thick wall of healthy, heavily laden tomato plants.

There’s a truism among agents and editors: It’s the most unexpected book that ends up being the big success. Sometimes everything conspires for success: Sun and rain showered down in abundance. The soil was just right. The plants were healthier than they looked. They didn’t need to be fussed over.

Everyone in publishing spends long hours trying to get every single detail right—from the manuscript to the jacket, to publicity, to sales outreach. And sometimes, everything works and you think: Why can’t it always be this way in the literary business? It’s what keeps the seasons of book publishing exciting for agents and editors. With every list, you know there will be a few happy and unpredictable surprises.