Editors, Part V: Fantasy and FANTASY

Hello, readers –

Welcome back to my series on the editors who are scheduled to attend this summer’s PNWA conference. Why am I running through them, you ask? Well, every conference attendee is booked for one appointment with an agent and one with an editor. I suppose one could talk about matters of peripheral interest at these appointments, but most aspiring writers choose to use the time to pitch their work!

Obviously, then, it is in your best interests, dear friends, to ask to see the agent and editor whose preferences most closely match your writing. Most of the attendees have already posted bio blurbs elsewhere on this website (you can find the link on the PNWA homepage), but not all have, and one of my great rules of thumb is that you can never have too much information about people you are trying to impress. Thus, this series. (If you are looking for information on the attending agents, check out my posts from April 26 to May 17.)

I’m trying to get through the rest of the editors this week, because there is a SUBSTANTIAL financial incentive for all of you to register for the conference prior to June 6: it’s $50 cheaper if you register early. I’m just saying.

The sharper-eyed among you may already have noticed that I have skipped Raelene Gorlinsky of Ellora’s Cave in this alphabetical series. I do intend to write about her, but she does not have a blurb up yet. I have it on pretty good authority that her blurb and picture might well be going up on the website this week, so I have been holding off until we had her own words in hand. Rest assured, though, I am not ignoring her many very valid claims on your attention.

So, coming within a few days: an authoritative definition of romantica!

On to the editor du jour, Liz Scheier of Penguin. Right away, I hear alarm bells ringing in the heads of those who have been following this series: Penguin! That’s one of the Pearson Group, isn’t it? That’s a gigantic publisher, so does that mean that they don’t accept unagented work?

See? You really are learning how to think like an industry insider. Make sure to ask Ms. Scheier this question point-blank at the editors’ forum. (Or, if you’re shy about poking someone to whom you may be making a pitch, bribe the person sitting next to you, the one whose nametag indicates that she writes NF or Romance, to do it for you.)

Ms. Scheier edits for Penguin’s New American Library (NAL), including the well-known Roc imprint. While NAL publishes lots and lots of paperbacks, Roc prints SF and Fantasy in hardcover, trade paper, and paperback. (Why is this important? The author’s royalty, expressed as a percentage of the cover price, varies widely by format. The harder the cover, the higher the percentage — and no, the author does not get to pick.)

Heavens, I was getting so carried away with Roc that I forgot to reproduce Ms. Scheier’s blurb from elsewhere on the website:

”Liz Scheier (Editor) spent four years at the Bantam Dell Publishing Group, and left in early 2004 to join the New American Library, a division of the Penguin Group USA. She acquires mainly science fiction, fantasy, and horror for the Roc imprint, but is also interested in biography, humor, popular culture, and works of GLBT interest. She is a graduate of Bryn Mawr College, where she studied English literature and thereby rendered herself blissfully unemployable in any other field.”

A nice, straightforward blurb: I like it. Checking her recent sales to see how heavily she buys in her other areas of interest, I had a bit of a surprise: Ms. Scheier has been busy as a beaver of late buying an even broader array of books than she has indicated here – not only for Roc, but for NAL proper. Because I love you people, I have broken these acquisitions down by category:

Fiction: SF/Fantasy: Diana Pharaoh Francis’s THE CIPHER, “a series set on and around the strange island of Crosspointe, center of commerce and conspiracies.” (Roc, acquired 2005); Faith Hunter’s BLOODRING, “a dark urban fantasy.” (Roc, in a quite spendy three-book deal, 2005); Author of HAMMERED, Elizabeth Bear’s BLOOD & IRON, WHISKEY & WATER, “a contemporary fantasy about the ages-old war between the realms of Faerie and the human mages of the Promethean Society, told from the point of view of the pawns who will be instrumental in deciding the fate of both worlds.” (Roc, acquired 2005); Janine Cross’s MEMOIRS OF A DRAGONMASTER, “a trilogy of dark and erotic fantasy novels.” (Roc, acquired 2004); Chris Bunch’s fantasy trilogy THE STORM OF WINGS, “comprising Dragonmaster, Knighthood of the Dragon, and The Last Battle, originally published by Orbit/Time Warner UK.” (Roc, acquired 2004); Susan Wright’s TO SERVE AND SUBMIT, an erotic fantasy. (Roc, acquired 2004; there are fantasies and there are fantasies, right?); Marianne de Pierres’ NYLON ANGEL, “a sci-fi (sic) novel of a future Australia and the adventures of Parrish Plessis, bodyguard and all-round survivalist.” (Roc, in a two-book deal, acquired 2004); Rachel Caine’s next three books in the Weather Warden series (Roc, acquired 2004); E.E. Knight’s next three untitled Vampire Earth books (Roc, acquired 2004); Lou Anders’ anthology FUTURESHOCKS, “collecting science fiction and sci-horror stories dealing with fears arising out of social, biological or technological change, with include stories by Kevin J. Anderson, Caitlin R. Kiernan, Mike Resnick and Harry Turtledove, and others.” (Roc, acquired 2004)

Fiction: Women’s /Romance (which, please note, was not on her current interest list, but hey, she bought one of these books as recently as last March, so I’m including it): Lucy Finn’s debut paranormal romance, I DREAM OF DIAPER GENIE (NAL. Acquired 2006); USA Today bestseller Savannah Russe’s next three books in the DARKWING CHRONICLES, “an ALIAS meets BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER thriller/suspense series featuring a vampire recruited by the US government to become a spy.” (NAL, acquired 2006).

Fiction: Mystery (also not on her preference list): Jay Caselberg’s next two untitled Jack Stein mysteries, “featuring a psychic investigator.” (Roc, acquired 2004)

Fiction: YA (again, not on her preference list): Rachel Caine’s GLASS HOUSES, the first novel in a three-book vampire series (NAL, acquired 2005)

NF: Humor: PIRATTITUDE! FROM AHOY TO ZANZIBAR, YOUR PERSONAL GUIDE TO ALL THINGS PIRATE, a humorous book by the inventors of International Talk Like a Pirate Day, sharing their tips on how to work pirate patter into your day-to-day conversation; descriptions of what pirattitude is and how to tell if you’ve got it; and observations of who has pirattitude and who doesn’t.” (Avast, already! NAL, acquired 2004)

All right, campers, notice any patterns? Let’s start first with what isn’t here: biography, pop culture, or (unless I am misreading the descriptions) anything with a GLBT bent. In fact, she doesn’t seem to buy much NF at all, which makes me wonder why she has listed so many NF categories – and not all ones that are hot right now. (A good question for someone to ask her at the editors’ forum, maybe?) If I were planning to pitch NF at the conference, I would try to get an appointment with her, but I’m not sure that she would be my first choice.

On to fiction. Frankly, the only horror I’m seeing here is vampire-oriented fantasy, which raises the rather interesting question of whether she would even consider any non-bloodsucking flavor of horror. The fact that she (or someone in her office) has listed SERVE AND SUBMIT as SF/Fantasy makes me wonder, too, what criteria are being used to categorize the books – or if the editor was doing a little genre-blurring here.

Because my eyebrows were raised a little by this list, and because Ms. Scheier’s transplant from Bantam was fairly recent, I did some checking from farther in her acquisitional past. Take a gander at her last year of sales at Bantam:

Fiction: Chick lit (not a peep about which on her preference list, you will note): Donna Kauffman’s SLEEPING WITH BEAUTY and NOT-SO-SNOW WHITE, “two more fun, sassy chick lit novels, taking a new twist on your average fairy tale.” (Bantam Dell, acquired 2003); Donna Kauffman’s THE CINDERELLA RULES, “a sexy new contemporary novel.” (Bantam, two-book deal, acquired 2002.)

Fiction: mainstream (ditto): “Susan Miller’s untitled story of a Jamaican woman who leaves her beloved daughter in her mother’s care and comes to America in search of a better life, caring for the children of a wealthy Chicago-area family, who must rebuild her life after her six-year-old daughter is killed.” (Bantam Dell, acquired 2003); Sean Murphy’s THE FINISHED MAN (along with one other untitled novel), “a witty satire about a down on his luck (sic) writer in LA, determined to discover the truth about his successful hack writer friend’s new novel that is inexplicably getting great reviews.” (Bantam, acquired 2003; this is presumably not to be confused with all of those non-witty satires out there.)

Almost doesn’t sound like the same editor as the earlier list, does it? Her track history takes an abrupt swerve after she moves to NAL: she apparently used to do women’s and chick lit, which may explain why her SF/Fantasy preferences seem a tad romance-like. As I have pointed out before, the preferences of the publishing house or agency necessarily trump those of the individual editor or agent who works there, but this is quite a strong switch. It makes me wonder if she would still be open, say, to women’s or chick lit, if someone happened to pitch it to her. Or whether she really wanted to be doing Fantasy all along, but Bantam did not want her to go in that direction. Either is possible.

My strongest recommendation, based upon all this evidence: if you write SF, fantasy, or vampire books with a fair amount of pretty flesh in them, this would probably be a GREAT editor meeting for you to have. If your tastes in SF/Fantasy run in other directions, particularly dark ones, head for Liz Gorinsky (she of the genuinely interesting photo next to her conference blurb). If you can manage to score spaces in both of their pitch meetings, great, but looking at their respective track records, I suspect that they define their chosen genres rather differently.

It just goes to show you (again!) that similar words in different editors’ blurbs do not always translate into their liking similar books. Keep reminding yourself: they are all individuals, with personal tastes and quirks. Listening carefully at the editors’ forum can be invaluable for discovering what those works are.

Oh, and one other thing about Ms. Scheier: she has bought a LOT of books in the last three years from Lucienne Diver at Spectrum Literary. So if you absolutely fall in love with what Ms. Scheier says on the editors’ panel, you might want to consider shooting a query off to Ms. Diver seconds after the conference concludes.

On an unrelated note, I had mentioned in yesterday’s post that there are not a whole lot of good books out there geared toward helping writers pitch books, rather than screenplays. Ever-helpful loyal reader Toddie wrote in to point out that Arielle Eckstut (THAT’s a name that should sound pretty familiar by now) and David Henry Sterry’s PUTTING YOUR PASSION INTO PRINT does in fact deal with this issue, “including a sampling of three (pitches) on pp. 88-89.” She reports that the book is primarily geared toward NF.

Thanks for the tip, Toddie! If any of you out there know of good resources for writers anxious to learn how to pitch, please do let me know.

A couple more days, and I think we shall have the editors polished off. Keep up the good work!

– Anne Mini

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *