Editors, Part VII: The end of the line

Hello, readers –

Hey, guess what I just noticed? The April issue of Northwest Ink (always so full of useful information) contains blurbs for all of the agents and editors scheduled to attend the conference, including the ones I lambasted for not having blurbs. That’ll teach me to let my mail pile up. Interestingly, though, not all of the blurbs here are the same as those on the PNWA website…it’s a mystery.

This is, thank goodness, the last of my series on the editors coming to the conference. No disrespect to the fine agents and editors I have been researching, but I am very anxious to move on to talking about practical matters that may help you pitch to them. (If you are looking for information on the attending agents, check out my posts from April 26 to May 17. And for those of you who have been asking, the agent from the agency that represents me is Lauren Abramo of Dystel & Goderich Literary Management. Not that I think you all should mob her or anything, but in my experience, the lovely people at DGLM are kind, respectful of good writing, and have a sense of humor. Considering that I’m sort of their poster child for difficulties on the road to publication = not EVERY memoirist gets repeated lawsuit threats, just a lucky few — I think I would know by now if they didn’t have all of these fine qualities. )

Also, of course, I want you to have information in hand to make your agent and editor choices before June 6th. If your registration form is postmarked by then, you get $50 off the conference fee! How great is that? It’s also $100 cheaper, no matter when you register, if you are or become a member of the PNWA. (Annual membership is $65; do the math.)

Enough about commerce! On to the editor du jour, Paul Taunton of Random House. Here’s his blurb from the PNWA site:

”Paul Taunton (Editor) has been on the editorial staff at the Random House Publishing Group since 2003, working mainly on the Ballantine list. Prior to that he worked in the Random House sales department for several years serving independent booksellers. Categories of particular interest include narrative nonfiction, suspense, crime, literary fiction, and journalism.”

Okay, that’s straightforward enough: he’s relatively new to editing, but he might have some interesting things to tell us about the connection between the creative and sales sides of a major publisher. But hark! Did I hear warning bells going off in the heads of my readers who have been following this series? I think I did.

Yup, Random House does not accept unagented submissions. Hoo, boy, do they ever not accept ‘em. I even found a flat corporate statement on the web about it: “However, due to the overwhelming number of submissions received each week, as of March 1, 2000, the Random House General Submissions Board prohibits our Editorial Department from accepting unsolicited manuscripts.” One sees this kind of language a lot in the publishing industry, especially in defending such policies: it’s not our fault, the giant conglomerate whimpers; we had to take this stand because of all of those nasty writers out there who want to get their books published. Eew.

You may accept or reject this logic, as you see fit. Either way, it would be prudent to walk into a meeting with Mr. Taunton NOT expecting him to pick up your work. Go into a meeting eager to learn anything he is willing to teach you, however, and you shall not be disappointed.
Seriously, try to keep an open mind. Really, he has not been an editor long enough to have had anything to do with setting up Random House’s policy toward the unagented, so it isn’t fair to blame him for it.

As with all of the editors, listen to what he has to say at the editors’ forum. If he does wow you there, go ahead and try to pitch to him. If he likes your pitch in the group meeting (editors from publishing houses that deal exclusively with agented writers tend not to be very eager to hear pitches outside these meetings, so I would avoid trying to pitch to Mr. Taunton in the hallway), go ahead and ask him to recommend a few agents he thinks would be good matches for your book. I’m sure he knows tons.

If you are too shy for that, but think your book would be a good fit for him, be as charming as you can in the meeting, then try sending a query to Laura Dail of Laura Dail Literary Agency. Mr. Taunton just bought a debut novel from her, Heather Benedict Terrell’s THE CHRYSALIS, “a suspense story that features an attorney on the cusp of making partner, who defends a major New York auction house against the claim that one of its clients’ paintings had been stolen by the Nazis.” The good impression you make now might well pay off later.

So much for the editors. I’m quite glad that Mr. Taunton came last in the alphabetical list, because writing about him reminds me to reiterate the not-so-subtle lesson I hope has come across in this series: when you are scanning the editors available for pitch meetings at a conference, do not automatically assume that the editor from the biggest-name house would be the best choice for your pitch. If your goal is to get your work published — and for most of us out there pounding on our keyboards, it is, right? — being able to speak directly about your book to a major decision-maker at a smaller house may well get you farther along in the process than speaking to someone whose buying power is constrained by the immense entity for which he works. Do your homework, and choose with care.

Incidentally, if you do decide to list the editors from smaller houses as your first choices, you will usually be more likely to get the appointments you want. Despite the no-unagented-books policies of most of the majors, the editors from the big-name houses almost invariably are the most requested. Which, for conference attendees new to the game, makes perfect sense: it’s natural to believe that the largest house would have the most power to help an aspiring writer; in a perfect world, they would. It’s also natural to want to go with the house that publishes your favorite author. Obviously, most people are going to pick the name they know.

But you’re too wily for that, right?

I had promised to do a quick run-down on the people offering seminars on the Sunday following the conference, but frankly, I’ve been rushing pretty hard to finish this series before Memorial Day weekend (and before the early registration deadline), and the prospect of conducting serious research on ANOTHER six people makes me weak at the knees.

I have, however, dug up enough information to give you a running start on conducting your own research. Some of the scheduled presenters have their own websites, so I will direct you to those. That way, they can promote themselves in their own words. (Since these seminars are being given by professional speakers outside of the conference proper, and I have personally taken classes with none of them, I really do think that it is more appropriate for them to do their own promotion than for me to use this space for it.) Here are the basics:

Creating Your World and the World of Magic with Mercedes Lackey and Larry Dixon: Heavy hitters in the fantasy world! My gut feeling is that this one is going to fill up fast. If you’re not familiar with their work, Ms. Lackey’s website will give you a taste of what fantasy books she writes, sometimes with writer/illustrator Mr. Dixon. If the subject is fantasy, I suspect these two know whereat they speak. Ms. Lackey is an IMMENSELY prolific writer: from 1987 on, her SLOWEST year appears to be 2 books published. IfMs. Lackey’s complete list and Mr. Dixon’sdon’t convince you that they know the SF biz, nothing will.

No More Rejections with Alice Orr: Ms. Orr is the author of No More Rejections: 50 Secrets to Writing a Manuscript that Sells, published by Writers Digest Books, so is it unreasonable to expect that the seminar will cover the same material? I did a little background checking, to see what her areas of specialty were (since this is an industry that runs on specialization, and different genres have very different standards), but most of the info I found came from her website, so start there. Ms. Orr has been both an editor (mystery and women’s fiction) and an agent (at her own agency, which no longer exists), but long enough ago that I could not pull up sales or acquisitions on the standard databases, to see with whom she has worked. If you want to try to dig for more specifics, she writes articles with tips for writers for Romantic Times

How to Write an Irresistible Non-Fiction Book Proposal with Rita Rosenkrantz: this is a name you should recognize! She is an NF agent coming to the conference, and as such, someone I have already written about at some length. See my May 12th posting in the archives to see whom she represents. A very well-respected name in NF.

Pathways to the Novel with Robert J. Ray and Jack Remick: No website that I could find, but here’s a nice interview with Mr. Ray: http://www.slowreads.com/InterviewsRay.htm He is quite well known, both in the UW community and as the creator of Matt Murdock, an Orange County PI. Mr. Ray has written quite a lot about writing, too: THE WEEKEND NOVELIST, THE WEEKEND NOVELIST WRITES A MYSTERY, THE WEEKEND NOVELIST REWRITES THE NOVEL…seeing a trend here? I’ve heard on the grapevine that the nickname for one of Mr. Ray’s past classes was, “Shut up and write your book,” so I’m guessing that this is going to be a pretty no-nonsense approach.

Surveillance and Counter-Surveillance with Agent Sheila Stevens: no web presence on this one at all, so is it possible that when Ms. Stevens refers to herself as an agent, she might not mean what, say, Jandy Nelson means by it? As in the kind of agent with a badge? Sorry – you’re going to have to find out the skinny on this one for yourself. Surveil a little.

Traditionally, the Sunday classes fill up fast, as space is limited. So if you are planning on attending one, do try to register soon.

If you are intending to attend both the conference and a Sunday seminar, a word to the wise: you might want to bring a tape recorder, so you need not rely entirely upon your memory and/or written notes to recall all of the amazing things you learned throughout this action-packed weekend. Ask first, of course, to make sure that the seminar leader is willing to allow you to record the proceedings.

Why? Well, conferences tend to be pretty exhausting events. Not just due to the stress of pitching appointments or the often-arid air-conditioned rooms (which make it hard to keep hydrated), but because you will be exposed to so much information so fast. Especially if you are new to either the publishing process or the conference scene, the combination can easily leave you feeling wiped out. Please, for your own sake, pace yourself, and don’t underestimate how much energy it will take to work up the nerve to pitch your book to a total stranger with the power to change your entire life forever.

I hear all of you conference veterans yelling, “AMEN!”

And above all, when you register for the conference, be proud of yourself for committing to the important professional step of saying, “Yes! I am ready to pitch my work to an agent!” It honestly does take courage to take action to achieve your dreams, both to sit down with a publishing professional and talk about your work and to take your writing seriously enough to come to a conference and learn how to promote your work properly.

As I have said many times before, the more you learn about how the industry works, the less intimidating it will be. (More frustrating, perhaps, but certainly less intimidating.) Keep up the good work!

– Anne Mini

Leave a Reply

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