Editors can sometimes remain hidden behind the fortress walls of big publishing companies, with no names or contact information to be cyber-sleuthed. In most cases, that is simply to cut down on the number of unsolicited submissions that accumulate in the infamous slush piles on an editorial assistant’s desk.
But here’s a secret: Editors actually want to talk to writers. And writing conferences are one of the top places where that happens.
“I love meeting directly with authors and hearing about what they’re working on,” says Anna Michels, associate editor at Sourcebooks and Sourcebooks Landmark.
“As editors tend to spend most of their time behind computer screens, it’s always refreshing to get out and meet other people who love books as much as I do.”
Face to face
Still, the chance to get face time with an editor is a big deal. Attending a conference can get you within eyeshot, whether the editor is participating in a panel discussion, taking appointments for one-on-one consulting sessions or mingling at a social event.
Mallory Kass, senior editor at Scholastic, does not accept unsolicited submissions, so attending a conference means meeting people she wouldn’t meet otherwise.
“To go to these conferences and talk to people who are so clearly overflowing with passion for reading and writing and storytelling is invigorating,” she says. “It makes me proud to be able to launch careers, and it makes me excited to do what I do.”
To best take advantage of the editors attending a conference, research the genres that they cover and the types of work they are seeking. Even if you can’t do much sleuthing on the web, the conference may have editor bios to familiarize you with their backgrounds. If you know an editor is not interested in nonfiction, for example, concentrate on spending time talking with someone else about a memoir.
While Michels welcomes conference attendees to approach her outside of workshops and sessions, she does prefer that writers who make an appointment with her during a conference wait until that time to discuss their book.
“That’s when I’ll have my notebook with me and can jot down notes to look back on later,” she says, and is quick to add, “I love talking about books and publishing, and even have a few nonindustry conversation topics I can run with if you’re burned out on books and just looking for someone to shoot the breeze with.”
Provided Kass isn’t rushing off to a panel or turning in for the night, she is ready and willing to talk to writers. She says, “I think I’m there for them. I want to connect with as many people as possible, and I want to be helpful.”
The elevator pitch
To capitalize on an in-person encounter with an editor, work on an elevator pitch, two or three sentences that succinctly sum up your project.
The chance to grab an editor’s interest could be fleeting, so Michels says, “Give me that teaser up front, and then sit back and let me dig for more.”
When it comes to scoping out a potential new author, both Kass and Michels say that face-to-face meetings make a big difference.
“It does help to have the context and to feel a connection to authors and get a sense of how they might work,” says Kass. “But it comes down to what’s on the page. I’ll never acquire something just because I liked a person.”
That said, before the self-proclaimed hands-on editor acquires a manuscript, Kass wants to talk to the writer to match her assessments with a writer’s goals, to understand his or her vision for the book so she can deliver the tools needed for revision.
“I’m looking to make sure that we speak the same language in terms of craft and storytelling,” she says, “and that they’re as excited to revise as they were to draft.”
Know thy market
Most editors emphasize the importance of knowing comparable titles, or “comps”: previously published books in the same category as yours that could appeal to the same readers.
Editors use comps as a gauge of whether a book could have success and will use the titles as leverage when meeting with the publishing team to decide which books to buy.
“I’m always disappointed,” Michels says, “when it’s clear authors haven’t considered their comps or say that there aren’t any comps at all for their book.” So be prepared – especially at the conference.
Meeting editors and agents is only one of potentially many benefits of attending a writing conference.
“Whenever writers at conferences ask me what they should be doing to increase their chances of getting published,” Michels says, “I tell them that they’re already doing some of the most important things – educating themselves about the craft of writing and the industry, and making connections that could turn out to be valuable down the road.”
Meredith Quinn is an editor and a graduate of New York University.
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