More comments on 'What book editors want'
Published: November 26, 2010
|In the January 2011 issue of The Writer, Maya Rock, a former literary agent in New York City, surveyed eight book editors “to see what’s hot, and what’s shot” in the marketplace. Following are comments from two additional book editors Maya interviewed.|
• Priscilla Painton, Simon & Schuster
Priscilla Painton worked as a journalist for 30 years, 18 of them at Time where she rose to become the magazine’s deputy managing editor. She left three years ago for Simon & Schuster, where she is now the executive editor for nonfiction.
What she’s looking for: I am not sure there is anything new about what readers of Simon & Schuster nonfiction books are looking for: the best written and most deeply reported stories that history and the world can turn up. What makes readers want to invest in a book is the same as it has always been: a story with great characters, an introduction to a world they don’t know and can’t imagine, a great idea, and beautiful writing.
What’s hot now and in the near future: Anything that can illuminate the past in a new way; traveling to a new world, literally or figuratively; a deep excavation into a subject that made news.
What’s NOT hot right now or may be fading: I haven’t been around the publishing business long enough to answer that question.
How writers can gain an edge: The more deeply reported and thought through a proposal is, the more it is likely to be noticed.
What separates winners from losers: A proposal that shows months and months of reporting and analysis.
• Jessica Wade, Penguin
Jessica Wade is an editor at Penguin Group (USA). She works on a wide range of books, but focuses on science fiction and fantasy, mystery, young adult, and general fiction for New American Library (NAL) and The Berkley Publishing Group. Some of her authors include Madelyn Alt, S.G. Browne, Jennie Bentley, Glen Cook, Faith Hunter, and Chloe Neill.
What she’s looking for: Urban fantasy is still very hot in the [science fiction and fantasy] world, and that’s something that I’d still like to see more of, though with new variations on the popular themes. I’d like to acquire more historical fantasy, some with the snarky (obviously anachronistic) voice we know and love from urban fantasy, as well as mainstream historical novels. Cozy mysteries are performing really strongly these days, too, and I’m especially looking for those focused around crafts or the paranormal. I have pretty eclectic tastes, I guess, but NAL is a great place to work because we really do a bit of everything.
What’s hot now and in the near future: Vampires! Vampires! Vampires! I kid, but it doesn’t take a science fiction and fantasy editor to tell you that the paranormal is having its day. When I started in the industry, it was mostly us SF&F editors getting strange looks in sales meetings, but then the paranormal crept into romance and then mysteries, and I think that’s a trend that will abide. In fantasy, I think we’ll be seeing more hard-edged epic fantasy with criminals as heroes, like in the novels of Brent Weeks. It will be interesting to see if steampunk really takes off, too, or if it’s something people like to talk about more than they like to read about. [The online Urban Dictionary defines steampunk as “a subgenre of speculative fiction, usually set in an anachronistic Victorian or quasi-Victorian alternate history setting.”]
What’s NOT hot right now or may be fading? It’s hard for me to dismiss any subgenre or trend, because if a really standout novel in that area comes along I’d be happy to take a chance on it. One thing I might imagine has seen its zenith is the classics-plus-monsters mash-up titles--a la Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.
How writers can gain an edge: I generally receive submissions through agents, but if they are submitting directly through Ace and Roc, our guidelines are on Penguin’s website, and they should follow those as closely as possible. But overall I’d advise writers to make sure they know what they’re writing, target an editor who edits that kind of book, proof-read their letter well, and make the query about the novel, not about the writer. Also, make sure you know the appropriate word length! It’s easy for me to reject a 20,000-word “novel.”
What separates winners from losers: I look for a unique, relatable voice telling a story in an interesting, textured world--and I think that’s true for any type of novel I acquire, from hard science fiction to cozy mysteries.