Slice Magazine took pity on my poverty and threw me a student scholarship to attend their conference Sept 11th &12th. Not only do you get access to a stellar magazine (really, can’t wait to read Tracey O’Neil’s book “The Hopeful”) you also get a bomb tote bag.
But I digress.
This year I hit up most of the business orientated panels because I’m frankly clueless about that arena. This first I visited was called “This Is How We Edit Your Book.” Here’s the key insight I took away:
- It’s important to know where in a bookshelf your little masterpiece may sit. Editors are forced to submit to a genre. If you want to help an editor position your book for when they have to pitch it to their sales or marketing team, have a clear idea of shelve space.
- The ideal author is one who constantly surprises the editor, that is if you’re editor is Maya Ziv from Dutton. Her thinking was that author’s who can surprise her about a story or character have a strong and clear vision of what the book is really about, knowledge that never fails to be an asset. Matthew Daddona at HarperCollins liked authors who were genuinely excited about the possibilities of a platform. He mentioned one of his clients texted him about getting in a Twitter war with Neil de Grass Tyson. They’ve equally excited about the buzz this can generate about the upcoming book, which is a biography of an astrologer.
- What moves a book from almost-acceptance to a full-blown embrace? It depends on the publishing house and editor. An editor like Bronwen Hruska from SoHo Press is mostly concerned about voice. If the voice makes her eyes expand, she’s far more willing to work with a manuscript that needs help with structure. For non-fiction, Daddona said proving the “why now” aspect of the book is critical. Right now, a book about jailed Black Lives Matter activists has a stronger raison d’etre than a bio on Terri Schiavo. Tiffany Liao at Razorbill, an imprint of Penguin Random House, said the work can be a sort of mess if she can spy strong commercial possibility.
- The ratio of books that an editor reviews and pass through all departments is (as we expected) not a little low. Daddona estimated it’s 6/800 at Dey Street, an imprint of HarperCollins where is an Associate Editor. The other panelists had similar figures. What surprised me was that a sizable number of those books are pitched to other departments, but during the pitch the reasons not to take the book on may overpower the original impulse. Pitching the book is often when Daddona realizes the project isn’t for their house. “If I have a moment of doubt, it’s a real moment.” For him, it’s the barometer of whether he really believes in the book.
So that’s some sobering data for you, but I chose to listen to the panelists when they emphasized that the best thing an author could do to get through the acceptance process was to trust their editor and work their ass off during revision, thus casting aside any doubt in the book’s success.