The Editors, Part II: The rara avis

Hello, readers –

Welcome to Day Two of my series on the editors who will be attending the PNWA conference, to help you pick your appointments wisely. (If you missed my series on the attending agents, check out my archived blogs from April 26 to May 17.) Forgive me if I’m a trifle terse today — developments with my memoir stole away virtually ALL of my writing time today, I’m afraid. (Sorry not to be able to be more specific — my posts of March 30 and April 18 explain at some length the legal reasons I cannot — but I suspect that very soon, I shall be able to fill my readers in on every gory detail. Stay tuned.)

Even in my terseness, I do want to address the issue of what you should and should not expect from an editorial meeting at a conference. Those new to the game often walk into these meetings hoping that if an editor falls in love with their book, they can bypass the agent-finding stage entirely and go directly to a publication contract. A net savings of years!

However, as I explained yesterday, these days, this dynamic is really only at all likely with an editor from a small publishing house. Most of the major publishing houses have ironclad rules against picking up unagented books, so even if you make the best pitch since Columbus convinced Ferdinand and Isabella that there was gold in the New World, the absolute most it is reasonable to hope for here is the editor’s offering to introduce you to a good agent.

Don’t sneer at this — the right introduction could save you years on the road to publication; editors seldom make these recommendations unless they have already decided to buy the book. Another good possible outcome — the editor says, “Hmm, that sounds like an intriguing project. When you find an agent, have her send me the manuscript.” Again, such offers are generally not made lightly, so thank the editor profusely and pocket her business card for future use.

Otherwise, the rewards of these appointments tend to be rather intangible.

So what SHOULD you expect to get out of your meeting with an editor? A chance to make a personal connection with a publishing professional who might be able to help you down the line, a chance to practice and polish your pitch, and an opportunity to conduct yourself like the professional writer you are, networking with and supporting other writers. Anything else is gravy, but if you walk in with a positive attitude, you can always gain at least these three things from any editorial meeting at a conference.

If the editor is a conscientious one (and not too tired from hearing 50 pitches an hour all weekend), you can also expect to get some feedback on your pitch. Listen carefully: editors hear hundreds of pitches per week, so they are pretty fair barometers of what the industry is thinking at the moment. If there is a bestseller out there that your book resembles, the editor will often mention it; if books like yours are out of fashion, he will often mention that, too. Take notes on what the editor says about your project, as well as what he says about others’, and use this information to make your work sound more market-appealing.

Others, did I say? Well, yes: at PNWA, editorial appointments are almost always group affairs, 5-15 eager writers all sitting around a round table, pitching one at a time. It really is in your interests not to be competitive in this situation (see explanation above about the agenting preferences of the major houses, and yesterday’s about the value of being conspicuously charming in these meetings), so listen politely and attentively. Show a little community spirit toward your fellow writers — laugh at their jokes, and make appreciative noises when they mention an intriguing plot point. To coin a phrase, do unto them as you would have them do unto you. If you embrace the meeting as a great opportunity to meet other writers and hear about their work, I guarantee that you will get more out of the experience than if you avoid interaction, merely nervously waiting for your turn to pitch your own work.

More on conference strategy follows, but for now, let’s move on to the editor du jour, Liz Gorinsky of Tor. Here is her blurb from elsewhere on this very site:

”Liz Gorinsky (Editor) is an Assistant Editor at Tor Books, where she edits a list that includes acclaimed fantasy authors Dave Duncan, Cherie Priest, and Jeff VanderMeer. She also assists editors Ellen Datlow, Jim Frenkel, and Patrick and Teresa Nielsen Hayden.

”Liz is primarily interested in acquiring books in the science fiction, fantasy, and horror genres. She tends to prefer works that are dark, weird, literary, or genre-bending, have feminist or GBLT interest, or are some combination of the above; but has been known to surprise herself. As an avid fan of theatre and comic books, she is also open to looking at fantastical works in either of those mediums.

”Liz came to Tor after studying English, psychology, and computer science at Columbia College in New York City, but she is much more likely to draw on skills learned during a three year stint as president of the Columbia University Science Fiction Society. She currently lives in Brooklyn with three roommates.”

I’m not quite sure the purpose of telling us about her roommates, except perhaps to remind conference attendees that NYC rents are legendarily high, and assistant editors do not typically make a whole lot of money. It is worth recalling: when you are sitting in front of a person who has the power to make or break your book, it is easy to think of her as all-powerful, but in point of fact, it’s not a very lucrative job. Most editors honestly do go into it because they love books, believe it or not.

Because Ms. Gorinsky is an assistant editor — and thus, as she tells us, often edits work acquired by other editors, I am not completely comfortable relying upon the standard industry databases as an indicator of her interests. Since Tor operates mostly in paperback, which has a higher turnover than hardback, your safest bet is probably to go to a well-stocked bookstore with a solid SF/Fantasy section and look up the authors she lists above. To widen your search, do be aware that Tor also publishes a very broad array of SF and fantasy: in fact, Tor has won the Locus Award for Best Publisher for the past 15 years running. To make your search a little easier, here are some of the writers currently publishing under the Tor imprint, in alpha order:

Roger MacBride Allen, Kevin J. Anderson, Catherine Asaro, Steven Barnes, Lisa Barnett, TA Barron, Greg Bear, Joanne Bertin, John Betancourt, Terry Bisson, Margaret Wander Bonnano, Ben Bova, Richard Bowes, Steven Brust, Pat Cadigan, Ramsey Campbell, Orson Scott Card, Jonathan Carroll, Raphael Carter, Jeffrey A. Carver, Jack L. Chalker, Stephen Chambers, Suzy McKee Charnas, Bryan Cholfin, Hal Clement, Brenda Clough, David B. Coe, Storm Constantine, Greg Costikyan, Kathryn Cramer, Tony Daniel, Jack Dann, Ellen Datlow, Pamela Dean, Keith RA DeCandido, Charles de Lint, Carole Nelson Douglas, Debra Doyle & James D. Macdonald, David Drake, Diane Duane, Rosemary Edghill, Brad Ferguson, Robert L. Forward, Gregory Frost, Lisa Goldstein, Terry Goodkind, Kathleen Ann Goonan, Steven Gould & Laura J. Mixon, Terence M. Green, Jack C. Haldeman II, Thomas Harlan, David G. Hartwell, Elizabeth Haydon, Kij Johnson, Janet Kagen, David Keck, James Patrick Kelly, Elizabeth Kerner, Katharine Kerr, Donald Kingsbury, Nancy Kress, Ellen Kushner, Mercedes Lackey, Geoffrey A. Landis, Warren Lapine, Justin Leiber, Paul Levinson, Shariann Lewitt, David Lubar, Brian Lumley, Michael Marano, Marc Matz, Paul McAuley, Anne McCaffrey, Wil McCarthy, Terry McGarry, Maureen McHugh, Donna McMahon, Sean McMullen, Beth Meacham, Melisa C. Michaels, Karen Michalson, Sasha Miller, Pat Murphy, Linda Nagata, Yvonne Navarro, Sharan Newman, Andre Norton, Patrick Nielsen Hayden, Patrick O’Leary, Rebecca Ore, Clifford Pickover, Frederik Pohl, Jerry Pournelle, Christopher Priest, Michael Reaves, Kit Reed, Katya Reimann, Mike Resnick, Madeleine E. Robins, Spider Robinson, Michaela Roessner, Joel Rosenberg, Rudy Rucker, Fred Saberhagen, Robert J. Sawyer, Frank Schaefer, Melissa Scott, Robert Sheckley, Charles Sheffield, Brian Francis Slattery, Joan Slonczewksi, Sherwood Smith, Stephanie Smith, SP Somtow, Norman Spinrad, John E. Stith, Diann Thornley, Dave Trowbridge, Joan D. Vinge, Jo Walton, Lawrence Watt-Evans, Peter Watts, Robert Weinberg, Martha Wells, Jack Whyte, Walter Jon Williams, F. Paul Wilson, Terri Windling, John Wright, Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, and Jane Yolen.

Seem a trifle extreme that I listed them all? I was trying to make a point about editors in general, and Tor in particular. SF/Fantasy covers a LOT of different kinds of prose, just as any general category does; there are authors on this list who really don’t have anything in common except their chosen genre and the fact that their work is published by Tor.

Out of this impressive list, Ms. Gorinsky has chosen to tell you about only three: Dave Duncan, Cherie Priest, and Jeff VanderMeer. If this is your area, and you have your heart set on wowing Ms. G, I have a suggestion: figure out what makes these three writers’ work stand out in the larger list. How is it different from that of other Tor authors? Once you’ve figured that out, look at your own book: does it share qualities with those of Mr. Duncan, Ms. Priest, or Mr. VanderMeer? If so, can you work those qualities into the first couple of lines of your pitch?

That may sound like a whole lot of work between now and the conference, but if you write in Ms. Gorinsky’s chosen areas, it’s well worth doing. Why? Because — wait for it — TOR ACCEPTS UNAGENTED MANUSCRIPTS. This means, realistically, that Ms. Gorinsky is one of the only editors attending the conference who could actually acquire a book directly from an author she met there.

Let’s all pause for a moment to let those delicious little facts seep into our craniums.

Why, then, did I preface her write-up with an explanation of why editors almost never pick up books at conferences? So you would properly value your opportunity to pitch to Ms. Gorinsky, my friends. In the conference world, an editor at a good publishing house who is willing to read unagented work is as rare as a Bengal tiger: yes, they still do turn up occasionally in the wild, but it’s getting harder and harder to spot them.

And because it’s best to be prepared well in advance of when you walk into a meeting with any publishing professional, here is the link to Tor’s submission guidelines.

Have a great weekend, everybody. Keep up the good work!

– Anne Mini

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