Editors’ Forum–Pacific Northwest Writers Association Summer Conference

independent booksellers, ebooks, e-publishing, and self-publishing with independent (indie) book publishers

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I’m still taking classes at the PNWA Summer Writers Conference, and this class focused on what editors (those bigwigs in the publishing industry who decide what will get published this year) are looking for. In this forum, editors are giving us an overview of the kind of projects editors are acquiring and the best way to submit projects to them.

Anne Benson of Thomas Dunne Books (St. Martin’s Press)

  • She acquires primarily in the mystery genre.
  • She also does YA and historical fiction.

Bryan Hades of Edge Science Fiction and Fantasy

  • He acquires science fiction, fantasy, and horror.

Peter Lynch of Sourcebooks

  • He acquires mostly nonfiction and fiction for adults.
  • He likes humor, reference, and he does a little fiction almost exclusively w/ female protagonists.

Julie Matysik of Skyhorse Publishing

  • She acquires children’s and MG, with just a little YA.
  • She’s looking for kids nonfiction esp. with topics dealing w/ food allergies.

Lynne Price of Behler Publication

  • They do primarily nonfiction with very little fiction (only if it’s about major socially relevant personal life journeys).

Michelle Richtor of St. Martin’s Press

  • She’s interested in pop culture, women’s commercial fiction, memoir with a point.

Chuck Sambuchino of Writer’s Digest Books

  • He’s looking for books about the craft of writing.
  • He can guide pitches and help out with pitching successfully, if you seek out his assistance.

J.Ellen Smith

  • She’s currently looking for sci-fi romance (typically medieval or highland).

Shane Thompson of Variance Press

  • He wants thrillers, fantasy, adult, ya, and middle grade.

After the editors introduced themselves and explained what they were looking for, the audience was allowed to ask questions. Here’s the Q&A section of my notes:

Q. What’s the one thing you’re looking for in a query letter/manuscript? What’s going to grab you, make you pause and say, “This is a manuscript I can publish?”

  • HADES: Marketability, readability.
  • LYNCH: It’s about the voice at the start of it, because along with your manuscript, there are 300 others in my inbox. If your voice captures me, then that’s the one I’ll select. Within the first twenty pages, if the voice isn’t capturing me, then I’ll pass.

Q: What do you mean by voice?

  • LYNCH: I chose that word because, in essence, it means your writing ability. What is the narrative voice of this book? How unique/engaging is it? How authoritative is it? Are you conversational or expert or what?
  • SMITH: As long as it has a unique-sounding plot, then I’ll read the synopsis and first few pages.
  • AUBREY POOLE: for YA it needs to have a teen voice
  • RICHTER: I’ve had things come in that are well-written, but the characters sound like they are too old or too young for the age they really are. If you’re sending me a Boston-set book, characters should sound like they’re from Boston. Teens should sound like teens. Grandmothers should sound grandmotherly.
  • PRICE: Authors need to know their marketplace and competition. That transcends to fiction as well as nonfiction.
  • JULIE MATYSIK: Know who you are writing to. What is their company looking for? Does it fit the themes and genres that company acquires.
  • SAMBUCHINO: As a nonfiction editor, it’s all about the platform. Most angles have been done before. So I ask myself, “Who is this writer? How can they sell their book?” It’s all about your platform.
  • RICHTER: I see that a lot w/ my company. Famous people don’t know anything about writing a book sometimes, but they’re famous, so I know they can get a book sold. Where you’re not famous, you’ve got to have a platform. You’re competing with those guys who for sure can sell a book.

Q: Is there a demographic shift in fiction toward women? If so, should male writers compensate for that?

  • SAMBUCHINO: Primarily readers are women. That’s not going to change. women will read both male and female protagonists, so no, I wouldn’t worry about that. If you’re asking yourself these questions, you’re on the wrong track. If you don’t write what you like to write, you’ll start having problems with voice.

Q: If you self-publish on Amazon, does that hurt your chances of being published by one of the traditional publishing houses?

  • RICHTER: Absolutely not. Everyone has heard about Amanda Hocking who self-published, and our company approached her and made a deal with her.

Q: Why not publish on Amazon then? Why bother with the traditional publishers?

  • SAMBUCHINO: When my book came out, it was beside cash registers in bookstores nationwide. How much of that was due to my influence? NONE. My publisher, agent, and editor helped me put my book through traditional channels for advertising methods.
  • PRICE: When you’re doing it alone, you’re a party of one, and you don’t understand how to market and promote. But when you’ve got 50 people (salesmen promo people, publicists) behind you, it’s amazing.
  • LYNCH: What’s great about the e-book revolution is that it’s opened up a lot of opportunities to build a readership. If you want to publish traditionally, but you publish with an e-book, you can really build readership. Make that your goal.

Q: What does an editor do, exactly?

  • RICHTER: We help you make your book better; we offer suggestions to improve your book; we shepherd it through the production process; we get marketing and publicity excited about it; we work with the art department to get it the right cover. When we acquire a book, we are by no means done.
  • LYNCH: When you get acquired, your editor becomes your clone, answering every question by every department. He may say, “I’m not sure I like this subtitle.” We work with between over 200 authors at once.

Q: Do you appreciate when an author approaches you with books that are a cross between one title and another (for example, Steven King’s The Green Mile meets Janet Evanovich’s One for the Money)?

  • LYNCH: I think that’s hard to do in memoir. The key to memoir is not to tell your story, but to create a novel with a personal theme. Ask yourself what is the narrative art of my story? Of course, it is your personal story. You can compare it to other books, but it’s harder in memoir.
  • PRICE: What if the editor hasn’t read the book you’re referencing? Sometimes that just doesn’t translate to memoir. I want to know what makes your story marketable, so I don’t recommend you do the comparison thing.

Q: If you sell a book on Amazon, but you only sell, say, 100 to 200 copies, should you not pitch to an agent or editor?

  • PRICE: Those authors need to marinate and become better authors. So I would be turned off by that. There’s a lot of stuff that is self-published that’s really good, but there’s a lot of amateur work floating around for sale too. The model for e-publishing is taking shape, but it’s by no means perfect at this point.
  • DUGONI: Amazon is having a lot of problems with spam being published as books, and people putting more than one title on the same book, then making 100 of them. So they’re going to have to change what they’re doing. People are taking their idea and doing unpleasant things with it.
  • SAMBUCHINO: If you sell 5000 copies on Amazon, that’s actually pretty impressive for fiction.
  • LYNCH: One of the things that have really changed a lot is this: you can’t think of your book as yours. The success that you build for your self-published book is great, but … (Sorry, I couldn’t type fast enough. I missed the end of Mr. Lynch’s statement!)

Q: If you’re interested in a work by someone who has no agent, how do you handle that?

  • AUBREY POOLE: My first acquired book was unagented. Sometimes an author will go get an agent after I make them an offer.
  • PRICE: Agents understand contracts, authors don’t, so I prefer agented authors. Also, if there’s a breakdown between the editor and you, that agent is a godsend. They are there to protect everyone.

Q: If you’re an author trying to get published, does it help to go out and write newspaper articles? Once the editor is working with the author, does the editor help find these opportunities with the author?

  • DUGONI: Be careful not to make this a sinkhole.
  • SMITH: We encourage authors to get their name out there.

Q: How does the advent of the e-book effect publishing houses’ pricing?

  • THOMPSON: We’re now looking into e-publishing all of our books. We can move prices around. We’ve watched them drop from $13.00 to $5.00 to $2.50. At $2.50 we saw a huge rise in purchases. It’s a great thing to be able to work with writers about variations in pricing.
  • LYNCH: Pricing is a changing, flexible area in the market right now. There’s no getting around that.

Q: Do editors each have their own cadre of agents they like to work with?

  • RICHTER: I will find an agent who does stuff that I like. We arrange to meet. They’ll pitch a project to me, and if I like it, I’ll ask for it. I get more and more agents, building my working relationships with the agents this way.
  • PRICE: Each agent has different tastes. I want them to come to me with their stuff, but I sometimes have to work with drawing agents to me, being the editor for a smaller publishing company.

Q: How do I land my book on your desk? How do I get an editor to take a good look at my manuscript?

  • PRICE: There are dozens, maybe hundreds of books on cancer survivors. But what makes yours different? What makes your unique? Learn the industry. Follow the business of publishing. Use technology to follow writers on twitter who write what you write. Keep up with what’s going on. Use Publishers Lunch. Take online classes.
  • RICHTER: Lnow who your competitors are, and if you come up with a title, make sure it is a title that sells.

Q: Now that Borders is gone, how has this changed an author’s marketing opportunities?

  • LYNCH: The reason those brick-and-mortar book sellers, with that mass of self-publishing… The key question is how do you get your book discovered in that huge mass of books available as e-books? There are things you can do to get your book noticed and come to the top of the crop… (He may have said more here, and I just couldn’t type fast enough to write his whole response. Sorry!)
  • DUGONI: Make friends with people in the right circles. Some people think that in two years, the trend will cycle back to service-oriented book sellers, because people like to ask, “I read John Grisham. Who else do you recommend?” So make friends at bookstores. Their staff can really push your books.

DUGONI was the MC at this event.

SIDE NOTE: Two years ago, a very brave woman at the PNWA Summer Writers Conference asked a question about e-publishing, along the lines of, “If I choose to e-publish my books, will editors still look at my books with interest?” and every person on the editors forum laughed at her. Laughed at her! That was then. This is now. My friend Penny (author of the lovely e-book mentioned in my sidebar) met up with that same woman at this year’s conference and found out… the last laugh was on those editors. I guess the woman’s e-books have done very well. That’s what they get for their snooty mockery, huh? Hmmmm….


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