Through trial and error, many literary writers with persistence and talent become adept at placing poems, stories, and essays in individual journals throughout the year. Once a long project is finished, however, the path to publication is not always clear, especially if the work is anything besides prose with an obvious commercial appeal. The editors and agent on this panel will offer practical advice for literary writers whose novels, memoirs, and collections are ready to meet the world.

Published Date: February 3, 2016


Speaker 1 (00:00:04):

Welcome to the A W P podcast series. This event was recorded at the 2015 A W P conference in Minneapolis. The recording features Katie Cortesi, Kate Gale, Dawn Frederick, Esther Porter, and Steve Woodward. You'll now hear Katie Cortez provide introductions.

Speaker 2 (00:00:34):

Hello and welcome to How to Begin After the End Publishing Prose on Turning Your Manuscript into a book. I'm Katie Cortesi, I'm the assistant editor for Iron Horse Literary Review. I'm the fiction editor and I teach at Texas Tech University in Lubbock. I'll be this panel's moderator. I'm just going to give a brief introduction and overview of the panel and then I'll introduce our first panelist. So the reason I wanted to put together this panel and have all of these experts surround me is because I was recently putting together a collection of short fiction that will finally be a book in the fall. And before I started that process, I had a very vague idea of how a manuscript turned into a book. My Best Guide was that old Schoolhouse Rock number about how a bill becomes a law. I don't know how long it's been since you've seen that skid, if you ever have, but the way that they lay it out is this way.

Speaker 2 (00:01:32):

First you start out with an idea that becomes a sad little scrap of paper. After spending a long, long time sitting in committee while a few key congressmen discuss and debate, the luckiest scraps escaped the guillotine and progressed to the House of Representatives who cast votes for or against before sending it to the Senate, which does the same. The final step, of course, is waiting in line at the White House for a signature that turns the best scraps from a bill into a law. As the Bill's companion in that skit says it's not easy to become a law and it takes a lot of patience and courage to even pursue such a thing. What that three minute video has in common with writing, submitting, and publishing a book, it seems to me is the prominence of various gatekeepers who can either forward or stall a book's progress, editors, agents, publishers.

Speaker 2 (00:02:29):

Of course, it goes without saying that the best manuscripts, the ones that become books must be outstanding works of literature. The rest of the process though, what goes on in the mind of an editor, an agent or publisher as he or she deliberates, that's where the mystery lies for me. Today we have representatives from each of those groups to speak with you about the process. We'll start by hearing from our freelance editor, Esther Porter, and then hear from our two book publishers Back to back, Steve Woodward of Gray Wolf and Kate Gale of Red Hen Press. And then we'll close with Don Frederick, the founder of Red Sofa Literary. I'll introduce each panelist before he or she speaks, and then we'll open it up to your questions at the end. So Esther Porter is a founding editor at Revolver and works for the Loft Literary Center where she critiques manuscripts and writes the Ask Esther column. She received her BA in English literature and creative writing from the University of Minnesota summa cum laude. She has an extensive literary publishing experience and has taught fiction and poetry writing to children of all ages. After five years working for the Minneapolis based nonprofit publisher Coffee House Press, she decided to transition into full-time editorial work in October of 2010. She has published four children's books with Capstone Press.

Speaker 3 (00:03:47):

Okay. Hi. So that's the stuff I was going to say. So thank you for being here. It's really neat to have the chance to speak with all of you. I look forward to your questions. So I am a freelance editor. Basically what I do is I work with publishers and I also work directly with authors. So when I work with publishers like Gray Wolf, I generally work directly with the editor, but I also work directly with authors. And I really love that work because it ranges from anything from a substantive, really deep edit with the author to just a quick proof before they send it off to their agent or their editor in house. What I really enjoy doing is working with new authors and helping them figure out how to find their voice, find their skills, give them just simple writing tricks, ways to learn how to tell their story.

Speaker 3 (00:04:49):

I love working with older writers who are just starting to write and want to get their memoir written. And so I work with a wide range of authors from beginning authors to authors who've been published many times. And the stage when an author is looking for an editor varies quite a bit. I mean, often people will send out their manuscript to an agent and the agent will say, well, I would like to represent you, but I need to see this and this and this change in the manuscript. So go find an editor and make those changes. And so that's something that I do as well that really helps authors get their work to a place where they feel they can publish it. Yeah, that's about it. I think I'll just move on to the next person. Cool. Great.

Speaker 2 (00:05:43):

Well, we'll hear from Steve Woodward next. Steve Hale's from a Minnesota suburb near a bend of the upper Mississippi River. He's an associate editor at Grey Wolf Press where he's worked with writers like Susan Steinberg, Ben Stroud, Justin Hawking, and Craig Davidson. He teaches in the low residency M F A program at Sierra Nevada College and is editor and co-founder of Menagerie, an online magazine that focuses on hybrid forms. He holds an M F A and fiction from the University of Michigan. And his own writing has been recognized with a Minnesota State Arts Board grant and with Hop board awards in both fiction and nonfiction. He lives in Brickland Park, Minnesota.

Speaker 4 (00:06:22):

Thanks, Katie. Yeah, I'm the associate editor at Grey Wolff and that means a lot of different things. I'll try and run through a few of 'em that might be interesting to you at Grey Wolff, because we're a nonprofit, because we have a small staff, it means that your job can be pretty flexible and you'll have a wide range of responsibilities at any given time. But you guys are interested in hearing about manuscripts, specifically, probably about acquisitions and what goes on there. And then after that, how an editor works with an author to develop a book. So let me talk a little bit about that. So first acquisitions, so couple different ways that that will work. At Gray Wolf, we do have a lot of partnerships, different kinds of organizations that we work with that run book prizes. A lot of those are for poetry. We also do our Gray Wolff nonfiction prize.

Speaker 4 (00:07:11):

We have a partnership with a public space, which we'll publish a couple books from them. And so there are a lot of ways that books can come to us through those various outlets. However, of course, the main way that we see manuscripts, and I'm talking here mainly about fiction and nonfiction, which I edit, would be agents. So agents send us manuscripts, things that they think that we might like, and we'll look at them and then get back to 'em about that and have conversations sometimes with the author if it gets that far. So the interesting thing about Agent, and one of the reasons that they're valuable is that they have relationships with publishers and at a given publishing house, specific agents will have relationships with specific editors. So when you have an agent that's going to represent you, what you're really doing is you're finding someone who knows what someone's taste is like and can serve a little bit as a matchmaker for you.

Speaker 4 (00:08:05):

And so they won't send it just to. So if you have an agent that's going to send your work to Graywolf, they might send it specifically, well, I'm going to send it to Steve, the one that I know, he's the one that I have the relationship with and he's the one that I think might like this book. Conversely, they might say, well, I know Steve and I know what his taste is and I don't think this is going to be a good fit for him, so I might send it to say Fiona or Katie. And so there is that kind of distinction, that recognition that different editors even within the same house have differing tastes and different kinds of things that they're looking for. So that's a little bit about how that process works. Now, when we're strongly interested in a book, what will happen is that one person will decide that they're interested in championing that book and want to see if there's a possibility of publishing that book.

Speaker 4 (00:08:53):

Before that happens, they first have persuade everyone else that works at Graywolf that it is a great idea to publish this book and that we really need it. And so say if a manuscript comes in, I'm really excited about it, I'll start that conversation with the agent and then I will try and get other people at Gray Wolf to read the manuscript. So I'll go to Fiona and I'll say, I'm really excited about this. This is why it's really great. I want you to read it. And that process will start to happen. We have editorial meetings every month, and so that's also an opportunity to kind of get everybody in one room and essentially pitch more or less pitch to the manuscript to everybody else. And the interesting thing about that is that you can sort of think of that as kind of a dry run at what will happen eventually, which is that the marketing team is going to then take the book and try and persuade reviewers, media outlets, booksellers that this book is worth their time and attention.

Speaker 4 (00:09:46):

And so if you're having a hard time doing that, just at that stage with the editors, it is a good indication that you might also encounter similar difficulties down the road when you get to the marketing phase. So it's kind of a chance to have an open discussion about a book and whether or not it's a good fit and what its strengths are and what kinds of things we might want to work on. So assuming we get past that stage, we acquire the book, then the real work begins, right? The editor will then work with the author. Esther mentioned that she works with us and a lot of the stuff that Esther does as a freelancer will happen after the in-house editor has already been working on the book. So a lot of what the in-house editor does who, because we're a small presses often also the acquisitions editor, the acquiring editor at a large house, those are sometimes separated.

Speaker 4 (00:10:33):

A lot of what the in-house editor is going to do is the big picture, substantive work. So these are the kinds of things that could result in big changes, transformations in the manuscript. If you're looking at a novel, you're going to be paying particularly attention to pacing. You might be asking someone to cut a lot of pages because the book is too long. You might be looking at character development, you're going to be paying attention to the subplots, you're going to be looking at the narrative arc. A lot of things, sometimes you might even say, this is great, but it would be better in a different tense, which I know can be maddening. So sometimes if there is something like that, you'll want to discuss it upfront and say, this is our vision for the book. And if your vision for the book aligns with that of the author and you're having that synergy, then you might go forward and send a contract and make an offer for a book.

Speaker 4 (00:11:19):

Usually it's a lot of that kind of stuff. Line edits of course as well. But at Gray Wolf, we do put the book through several rounds of revision, first with the in-house editor and then a couple rounds of copy editing with a freelancer, a couple rounds of proofreading. So it goes through a lot of people, a lot of stages to ensure that the quality is really high. So that's kind an overview. I'm sure we'll get to talk more about that, but I wanted to give you sort of the broad strokes there, and I will seed the microphone now. Thanks.

Speaker 2 (00:11:44):

Okay, so now we'll hear from Dr. Kate Gale, managing editor of Red Hand Press. She's also the editor of the Los Angeles Review and President of the American Composer's Forum la. She teaches in the low res residency M F A program at the University of Nebraska in poetry, fiction and creative nonfiction. She serves on the boards of a room of her own foundation, the School of Arts and Humanities of Claremont Graduate University and Poetry Society of America. Additionally, she's author of five books of Poetry, her most recent mating season from Tupelo Press, a novel Lake of Fire and six Librettos. Her current projects include two works of nonfiction, two new poetry collections, and three new librettos. Her articles, poems, and fiction have appeared in Rattle Georgia Review Hayden's Ferry and elsewhere, and she lives in Los Angeles with her husband and children.

Speaker 5 (00:12:36):

Well, thank you all for coming here when you could be out and having margaritas or something. I don't know if they even serve margaritas in Minneapolis. So I wanted to say a little bit, I liked everything Steve said, so I'm just going to say what he said differently. I think of also there being steps in editing. And so I'll do my version of what he was saying about the steps in editing. I like to think of there being six steps. Step one is you in your room editing your work, and the first decision for you in your room is should you be writing this in the first place? I know you saw your grandmother having sex with the gardener. Should you tell that story while your grandmother's still alive and you're living in her basement? So there's that first question of whether you should tell it, and then you continue to edit your work.

Speaker 5 (00:13:21):

I think of that as step one. Step two is you with your writing community and people who don't have a writing group that they belong to often are part of a writing an online workshop. U C L A extension has a huge number, and the loft has a huge number. When I meet people at different places, it seems like a lot of them take one of those two online kinds of courses, but whatever your writing community is, sometimes you have a writing partner, a friend who's reading your work, a group of friends. I think of that as step two. Step three is what Esther's referring to, which is some writing professional looks at your work and gives you some advice on whether it's ready to send out into the world. I think that this is a super important step. Sometimes you end up paying someone to do this.

Speaker 5 (00:14:04):

Sometimes you might have a writing professional in your life. If you're involved in an M F A program, sometimes one of those folks is willing to do it if you buy them a beer or something. Step four, I think of sort of now you've crossed the line being acquisition editing, and Steve was talking about that. So that's the person that just decides, I think we should do this. And at Red Hen we've been publishing, this is our 21st year, we have the same process that he was talking about in the sense that all the acquisition editors at Red Hen sleep in my bed on my side of the bed. And once we all decide we're in love with a manuscript, we have to take it in to the publisher and the marketing people. And the marketing person has pulled up a profile of this person and tells us this is their online profile.

Speaker 5 (00:14:52):

I've looked at former sales, I've pulled their book scan numbers if they have other sales. This is how many copies I think would sell in my infinite 24 year old wisdom. And then the publisher and the marketing person. And I have a discussion. So as Steve's saying it is not in the early days of the press, I would just say, let's do this. But now there are three of us in the room making that decision. And then it goes to the next stage, which is developmental editing, and the last stage you kind of spread it out to say that there's copy editing and proofreading. I think of that as sort of one last stage where the manuscript is sort of being cleaned and machined, but it is a different step than developmental editing because you're not still moving pieces around. I consider that sort of the cleanup stage, and I'm not involved with that.

Speaker 5 (00:15:45):

I do work on the developmental editing. Steve also was mentioning how at a publishing company that isn't a New York publisher, a lot of us wear a lot of hats. So I do the galley drops. I'm leaving for London Book Fair tonight to do the foreign rights in London, so I do the foreign rights meetings in London and Frankfurt, and Fiona does that at Gray Wolf too, and she's doing some editing. So we all wear more than one hat. And that comes back to the other thing you were saying, which is in terms of pros, which can require a lot of time to edit, I really like to get stuff from agents as well because then they do my work for me, and that makes it sound like I'm lazy. But I do a lot of stuff I think. And so if I get a book from an agent and a lot of the developmental editing has been done, that makes my life easier.

Speaker 5 (00:16:40):

I actually redhead publishes 20 to 22 titles a year. I teach at a university in Los Angeles and then at this low residency and just do a lot of things. So I can't take on five or six prose books a year that are going to require two years of my time. I don't have that much bandwidth. And that's kind of what you were referring to. Everybody has a certain amount of bandwidth in terms of what they can do. So I like to get stuff from agents every year I take on one or two projects that are going to require six months to a year of my time, and I'm always really excited about those and I have to be excited to be willing to do that. I also wanted to say that when you're talking about that group discussion of whether or not you're taking a book, there are a lot of factors.

Speaker 5 (00:17:28):

One is, are we in love with the book? Two is whether we think it's going to sell and not just do we think it's going to sell, but can we sell it? This might be a great cookbook or great children's book, but that isn't something we can sell. So I actually think when writers are sending work out, one of the first questions should be, is this something this publisher has done really well with? And I've actually oddly had two conversations in the last week with an author who brought me a book and I said, this isn't right for Red Hand. I met with the person and usually I don't have time to meet with them, but they were friends of one of my authors, so I felt like I should meet with them. And in both cases, they asked the question, you should ask if you actually got to meet or talk with an author or with an editor, which is who do you think is right for it?

Speaker 5 (00:18:18):

And in both cases, I suggested Finishing Line Press. They're both beginning authors. There's no track record. I think they're only going to sell a couple hundred copies. And I love Finishing Line Press because it publishes some debut authors and does such a good job with it. Both of them said the same thing, which is, well, I'm going to try Gray Wolf. Well, if you just got turned down because your book needed more development and I don't think it's going to sell enough at Red Hand, then you're just going to go to Gray Wolf. I'm not saying Gray Wolf is better than us or bigger than us. They've just been around longer than us in 10 years. Trust me, we're going to be stomping all over the little wolf.

Speaker 5 (00:19:01):

But yeah, so it's like if a press says Your book is not going to sell enough for us, you can't jump to something bigger. It doesn't make any sense. So it is a really good question though. If you feel this isn't right, what do you think is right? And sometimes the answer that I would give someone is, this isn't done yet. You need to work on it for another year. So if you get to ask that question, ask it. You're turning this down, please tell me do you think it's ready? And are you guys just the wrong press for it? Are you guys just full? In other words, if you were publishing 40 books a year, would you take it? If you had a huger budget, would you take it? Is this actually right for you or this book not ready? Okay, if you get to have that conversation, ask that question.

Speaker 2 (00:19:47):

Great. And now we'll hear from our final panelist. Dawn Frederick is the owner and literary agent of Red Sofa literary based in the Twin Cities Red sofa. Literary was listed as one of the 101 best websites for writers in 2012 and 2013. Additionally, Don is also a co-founder of the Minnesota Publishing Tweetup and teaches at the Loft Literary Center.

Speaker 6 (00:20:10):

Hi guys. So everyone always asks what an agent does, and now I'm working with Steve, which I'm excited about, but he can also confirm to what three years to make that happen. And so people ask me, what does an agent do? Well, it's an all encompassing travel partner for your book. So for agents, we are here to advocate on behalf of riders, and if you are going to work with an agent, they should be championing you. And not just one book idea, but multiple book ideas. This is someone you want to work with for a while. Agents also are very specific. We're all a little bit quirky, so there is no agent that is like another. So that's why there are multiple directories, prints and online that tell you what we're looking for, what we like, what books we've sold, the kind of conferences we attend, those things and the reason they're out there so that you can find an agent that matches your book just to not go on and on about all the things we do. But we not only work with authors in developing their ideas, I have authors, once I've sold their book, I will help them develop all future ideas. I have people who send me things through the slush pile, as we call it, or the inbox, and I get about 5,000 to 8,000 queries a year, and I don't get paid to read those, and I will maybe choose five to 12 books out of that number.

Speaker 6 (00:21:38):

Large number of queries. Laura at our agency got over 10,000 queries last year. And so if it tells you how many people want to write, that is confirmation right there. A lot of people want to write. So that's why agents do specialize. They were talking about how agents specialize in categories, and the reason they do that is because that might be category they read a lot or it's maybe it's before they became an agent. They just knew a certain topic really well. Jenny at the agency is a historian, so she loves science fiction books with some elements of history. So she brings both her professional life and her reading and her writing life to the table as an agent. Those categories represent us. As for after we acquire an author, which we'll maybe meet them through a variety of things like conferences, queries, sometimes references.

Speaker 6 (00:22:31):

Occasionally authors will come to a publishing house and they'll share their book because an open submission policy. And then the editor will say, you need to get an agent to deal with the contract. And sometimes agents will come in after the fact to handle their business life. That's happened for us as well. Sometimes I've been known to do this, I've created ideas and then I find someone to do it for me if it's not come to me at that point. So that happens. And then of course, once I've signed an author, I will take their book to the house, but also we go through the edits and I refuse to take out a book until it's ready. So if I have to sit on it for a year, I will. Right now, I have six projects right now that are in development that are not ready to take out, but when they're ready, I'm very excited to take them out.

Speaker 6 (00:23:15):

So also, I am investing the same time into ideas before I take 'em to editors because it needs to be, I may be able to only take it to the editor one time, and that means I need to make sure it's the best it can be. And then of course, after it's sold, before it's sold, of course, sometimes the offer will come in and then I'll be like, oh, we have an offer and I will talk to my author and we will talk about that process, and I will make sure that my author makes the final decision as to who they want to work with. And then I negotiate the contract, I make sure they're paid, and I deal with 10 90 nines and all that type A stuff. So I always say that the agent is the type A person of your writing relationship, and you're the type B. You can have a little fun together on that. So I think that's enough right there.

Speaker 2 (00:24:04):

Okay, great. So any questions that you ask, I will repeat them. So they are I guess written down for posterity, and then I'll throw it out to the panelists and they'll converse about it until we're ready for another question. The other thing I want to encourage you to do is ask about multiple genres if you have questions about multiple genres, because I know somebody asked me yesterday, is it only about fiction? And I don't know what in the description suggested that, but I know that some of these presses do deal with poetry and that maybe Esther has dealt with other kinds of things than strictly literary works novels or short stories. So please ask whatever questions you have and we'll get as many as we can in. So right here up front, hi.

Speaker 7 (00:24:47):

I was thinking about the timeline for these things. I have book out in sufficient agents right now.

Speaker 6 (00:24:54):


Speaker 2 (00:24:54):

Okay, so that's a sort of three part question. She's curious about the timeline in terms of sending out a query to an agent, how long to expect an agent to respond by also how to respond to an agent's query, and especially maybe if you're dealing with potentially multiple agents or offers or queries. And also what might be the timeline when that agent takes on a project and begins to talk to an editor before things might start to happen, I guess on the book front.

Speaker 6 (00:25:25):

Okay, we'll start the first one, we're going to call it the first encounter. When you meet, generally it takes about four to six weeks to answer queries. When Laura got 3000 queries in a month, it took her six months to answer those because the large volume of queries that came in. So I would say four to six on a good day is average. I can tell you that I'm usually taking projects out. Most of us, I mean we'll take out projects year round, but the busier times to take out projects are September through December and January through the end of May. So if you're querying me in the middle of March or April, now I am really behind. So it may be a little bit longer than four to six weeks. Some of us that have been around for a while, like myself, if you ignore our categories, some of them will just not respond at all.

Speaker 6 (00:26:17):

So that's why we have categories. We'll try to answer if we can, but if we do answer, the big thing is just to, we might have to use a generic rejection if it's not the best query letter, which would be about 85 to 90% of most queries are pretty bad in query letter land. A lot of people will write a good book, but they don't write a good query letter. And so then at that point, we will ask for materials. So every agent, their submission guidelines on their website, and I'm going to tell you, please repeat to yourself, follow the submission guidelines so I can go as extreme as you want. I've had people mail me manuscripts without asking. I've had people show up at my home. I've had people query me in restaurants, bathrooms, you name it, I've had it all. I've had people call me.

Speaker 6 (00:27:04):

I've had people pitch to me over Facebook. It's really every boundary has almost been crossed. So despite the fact that I have submission guidelines, which says to just send me a query letter and I'll respond in four to six weeks. So that's the first thing. Once we're interested, I usually will tell someone, I was actually talking to Eric Smith, my author who's here in town, he's now an agent. And so I was like, do you do the full manuscript or a partial or he goes, I go for the full manuscript. And I'm like, oh, that's interesting. I only asked for 50 pages. So every agent will say, I want the first 50 pages, the first hundred, the first three chapters, the full manuscript or whatever. And you need to have that ready. There's nothing more discouraging than asking for materials. And then nothing shows up. And actually had someone send me a query like the materials for a query that I requested three years ago, and I had no idea what she was talking about when it showed up in my home.

Speaker 6 (00:27:57):

So it's really important that you are ready for me when that time comes. And then once I've requested, if it's a partial, I usually will read that in four to six weeks, and then if I want to see more, I will ask for more. I recently just sold a book, it was this week. It's a young adult novel where I actually requested the person's manuscript in May of last year. I put it on my tablet and I forgot about it. So I got a little bit caught up in the summer. I just kind of forgot. So I was on an airplane to the Writer's Digest conference in New York, and I saw it on my tablet and I was like, oh, I need to start reading this. This is a little bit old. And I realized that it was amazing. And she had waited, unfortunately, three months and never checked in with me about that book.

Speaker 6 (00:28:41):

So on the airplane, I did request the rest of her manuscript. So sometimes it's okay after six weeks after we've requested something to say, Hey, what's going on? How are you doing? Do you have any questions? We would do the same with an editor. How's it going? Do you have any questions? And then once we do offer to represent you, that was the third part, right? Okay, you get the call, as I call that, it's the magic call. Usually you're going to know, it's kind of like what editors do with agents. We'll ask you some questions by email. I do that. I'll be like, could you give me a competitive analysis of your book if you haven't provided that already or blah, blah, blah. I'll start asking questions you should know at this point, I'm like a cat, I'm coming at you, I'm circling you, and I have some questions.

Speaker 6 (00:29:27):

That means I'm showing some interests. And at that point, I'll ask to speak to you and I will schedule a call. That means I'm genuinely interested in learning who you are because as an agent, every agent's a little bit different, but I have a policy, no drama. Queens are going to be my authors. So I actually have to meet you on the phone. I need to get an idea of your communication style. I want to get a communication of what else you're working on. I want to know who you are. I'm going to be working with you for a while as far as I'm concerned. So I want us to be on a good foundation. So once that happens, then contract rolls out and then we start forward from there.

Speaker 2 (00:30:04):

Okay, great. Yes, sir.

Speaker 8 (00:30:06):

Thank you so much. I'm just wondering if you're looking for an agent independent, do you feel there are differences in your career?

Speaker 2 (00:30:16):

Okay, so he's curious about if you're interested in getting an agent to work with a small press, should you preface that in your cover letter somehow or indicate that when you're querying?

Speaker 6 (00:30:30):

I don't think that's necessary. I mean, honestly, every agent, once again is different. Steve and Kate have probably met them, but there's some agents who will only work with the big publishers. And there's some agents like me who will work with any publisher if I feel like they're going to treat my author well and their royalties are going to be good. And I feel like the marketing is going to be good, and it's just going to be an overall good experience. Honestly, if you're going to an agent and they know that category, they already know where they're going to want to take it if they like your idea.

Speaker 8 (00:30:59):


Speaker 2 (00:30:59):

Yes ma'am. Okay. So the question is for poets, how much of what has been discussed so far pertains to works of Poetry A Tree?

Speaker 5 (00:31:15):

Well, I would say that I, first of all, the idea that the best Query letter is the one you don't have to write. And so one of the things you're hearing here is that editors and agents get huge numbers of submissions. Many of them are not really ready to be published. So to me, whether it's an editor or an agent, and certainly with a poetry manuscript, I always encourage writers to go where that person is that you want to meet. And this is why people go to Squaw Valley and different conferences so they can meet with somebody. And if you can't go to someplace like that, then get access to someone that is in their world. So I mean, if you looked at Gray Wolf's List or Red Hen's List or Coffeehouses List, if you feel like your book belongs there, then there should be some writer that they've published, somebody that's written blurbs for them, somebody in their world that you could access. You could go to their reading and get to know them and say, could you see if this editor would look at my work? And you're still writing a query letter. As a poet, I want to know if you're going to get out there and sell the book, and I'm totally with you. I really, really want to know if you're going to be an asshole.

Speaker 5 (00:32:39):

Because the fact is that there's usually each season one author that sucks 90% of the staff time, and you try to avoid that person with a little psychological counseling upfront. So with your query letter, you can say a lot about what you're going to do to get out there and sell the book and so on. But I really think if you could get to a place where you meet the editor or agent or someone they know is willing to refer you, I mean, whenever I talk with agents about who they've taken on, I'm amazed how much of this got referred to them. And I wanted to just riff back on one other thing that someone asked earlier. I think that when I was first in publishing, my feeling was that red, he didn't want to deal with agents. They would want big advances, and we weren't paying big advances.

Speaker 5 (00:33:31):

And now as I say, we deal with a lot of them and they know enough about us when they're submitting. We just took a book from Melanie Jackson who is a big agent in New York. She's married to Thomas Pinchin. When I go to her house, I look for Tom, but I haven't spotted him. And if I do, don't worry, I've got my phone. But when I was first taking a book from her, I was just sort of shocked that Red Hen was even talking with her. But the fact is that a lot of the big agents, even if they're dealing with a small press, they have a lot of great ideas or any kind of agents, they have a lot of great ideas for promoting the book, and that makes the whole experience better. And so when I'm working back and forth with an agent book, I feel like I've just raised the bar in terms of what could be done promotion wise.

Speaker 4 (00:34:22):

Yeah, I just want to tag onto that. So the thing to know as well as a writer is that it's not just about how can I get my manuscript into someone's hands, it's also how can I make myself visible to the editors? And that really is about being part of a literary community. We don't, at Gray Wolf, we like to think of ourselves as this working with authors, not just taking on a book and publishing that book end of story, but in trying to find writers that we're interested in having a longer relationship with and seeing where they go, what are they going to write for their second book? What's the third book going to be like? So we're interested in that, and so we want to see that someone is already taking part in the broader conversation around them. I know I talked a little bit about agents before, but editors don't just sit back and wait for agents to send things to them.

Speaker 4 (00:35:18):

We're actively engaged in looking for things that we are interested in, and we also are trying to reverse that dynamic a little bit. Not just sit back and say, oh, well, somebody might send me something that I might like, but to go out and find the things that you do like yourself and to actively pursue them. So that means also going to a lot of writers' conferences, it means going to readings. It means paying a lot of attention to various kinds of awards and grants that are given to emerging writers to support that work that goes into those manuscripts as they become, as they're on their way to becoming books. It means reading a lot of literary magazines and journals and seeing who's publishing where and trying to find things that you're interested in. I solicit people all the time, or I send out emails and say, Hey, I've been following you for a little while.

Speaker 4 (00:36:07):

And of course they don't know that, but I see a piece that's interesting and I'll watch and I'll see, wait to see what other kinds of things they're going to publish. And when it seems like someone's reached a certain level of consistency and that they might have something that is far enough along that I might be interested in, I'll send 'em an email and say, Hey, I've been reading your stuff here, here and here. I think it's really great. What are you working on? And start that conversation. And of course, that can feel like that. It can come out of nowhere to the writer, but it really doesn't, right? It's a result of the work that you've been doing to be a part of a community, to be visible, to make yourself a part of something that the editor can see, right? In other words, you're already building your audience before in some cases you've finished the manuscript that will become a book.

Speaker 4 (00:36:50):

So all those things are really important to know, right? Because we're out there, we're in that community as well. We view ourselves as being an extension of that community that writers who are also readers and part of our audience are making, we're part of that continuum. So we don't like to think of ourselves as gatekeepers or think of their being a big wall or a solid divide because we're part of that conversation. And a lot of times too, when somebody sends us something that isn't working that we're not going to take on, we'll give them feedback and we'll say, these are the things that didn't work for us, but we see the potential here. And if you're interested in revising the doors open, come back later after you've been working on this. And so a lot of times the conversation will take place over a longer period of time.

Speaker 4 (00:37:32):

And it also happens that those conversations can be beneficial to authors, and then they'll end up selling their book elsewhere, which is fine, because again, at Gray Wolf, we're a mission-driven publisher. We're a literary nonprofit. We understand that it's important to be part of that conversation regardless of where the work ends up. I just met somebody yesterday. I ran into somebody that I met at one of these A W P conferences, subsequently looked at the manuscript and said, well, it doesn't quite work for me. Here are some thoughts. And he came up to me and said, Hey, I really appreciate the feedback. Had not heard from this person in a year whenever it was that we'd last corresponded. I really appreciated your feedback. It really helped me in revision. I just sold the book to Nebraska and fantastic. I'm excited for that. It's important for us to be part of that conversation and to give people real feedback so that they understand what's working, what's not working for us specifically.

Speaker 4 (00:38:23):

And so be thinking about that as well, not just how can I get my manuscript into someone's hands, but how can I be a part of that conversation? How can I be a part of a literary community in a way that's going to make me visible to an editor in a way that's going to make me want to seek them out? And I should also say the question that started this on this whole thing was about whether or not it applies to poets at a publisher. Everybody's involved in everything. I don't edit the poetry, but when I see something that's interesting, I send an email to our poetry editor and I say, look at this. I think it's cool. And he takes things on occasionally that I've brought to his attention. So it's not just, oh, that person only edits this, therefore I shouldn't even talk to them. Everybody's involved in that. And so I try to encourage authors not to box themselves in and put themselves in a category and say, oh, well, that only applies to me if I'm a certain kind of writer. But there's something of value to be part of the conversation across genres as well.

Speaker 5 (00:39:15):

I just wanted to add something to that. I absolutely agree that you want to be in the game. You want to be in the zone so that I would've heard of something you've done. Because writing stuff, I always think that the easiest place to jump in is writing reviews. There's lots of literary magazines here. If you went around to three of 'em and said, could I volunteer to write a review once in a while? I'm sure somebody would take you on. So starting with writing reviews and then writing essays is a way to sort of get your voice out there. I also just wanted to riff back to something we were saying earlier about you and I were saying about being easy to get along with. I really don't think it's important when you're meeting with an editor or an agent to immediately try to create connective tissue between the two of you the way you would if you were trying to make friends.

Speaker 5 (00:40:02):

Of the several hundred people that redhead has published in 20 years, I think I've got a half a dozen friends that are just dear to me that come to my house and I know their kids and they know my kids. I don't need more friends. I really don't. What I need is when I'm taking on an author is someone that's going to be easy to work with. And I think that people make mistakes around that because so much of this feels relationship based, this whole world, here we are at a W P, it feels very relationship based, like you're friends with that person. That's how it's happening for you. But I really think if you're writing something good and your stuff is out there in the world, being recognized in a way that I know you can sell your book and you are easy to get along with, you don't have to.

Speaker 5 (00:40:46):

The things I like, God forbid, and we don't have to want to go on vacation, you don't have to like my kids or whatever. On the other hand, just being easy to get along with is great. It's funny, I came by the booth and there were a couple of people that were wanted to submit a manuscript to Red Hand, and they were being rude to two of the people at my booth. My husband just had open heart surgery, so I brought my son and daughter, so this is my son and daughter. You're being rude to, you're at the booth and you'd like to submit a manuscript. So you should be always really nice to everybody at the press. As Steve says, we all know each other, so even if it's not my son and daughter, it's like there's 10 of us here. We all know each other really well.

Speaker 3 (00:41:31):

I was going to say that too. The idea of writing book reviews, that has actually been really good for a lot of writers at Coffee House Press being a part of the conversation and showing the editors that, yes, I do read a lot and I read your books and I have things to say about them. And it is part of my thought process, my writing process, and to start to be a part of that conversation at Coffeehouse, I was actually on the publicity side. And to go along with what you said about you need to be nice to everybody because on the marketing side, I mean, there's only so much time in a day and you have to, as a marketer or a publicist, you have to give and take, decide how much you're going to focus on this title or that title. So being kind to the marketing director and the publicist is really, really important too. So to remember that also, I mean, if you are reviewing books, the publicist is going to be reading through a lot of those reviews and pulling blurbs and everything. So the publicists and the marketers are going to be paying attention to who's reviewing the books at that publishing house as well. So that's another avenue for getting into the community at the publishing house.

Speaker 2 (00:42:48):

Okay. Yes, sir. In the blue.

Speaker 3 (00:42:52):


Speaker 8 (00:42:59):

Where do you draw?

Speaker 2 (00:43:01):

Okay, so he's asking about the line between a manuscript that is really good and is going to go on to be a project that may be sent out to potentially be a book and a manuscript that might be really good, but doesn't make the cut and is rejected anyway. So

Speaker 6 (00:43:20):

Well, I would say in Agent Land, it comes down once again to how good is your writing and how good is your idea? Sometimes we can see potential in the ideas, but the writing is just not there yet. And where Esther referred to having the developmental editor, it depends on how hungry that agent is for your idea. So at a previous panel I mentioned where I turned down a book idea just recently because the book was written in vignettes, and I hate vignettes, and it turns out that one of my editor friends is in the same office as someone who acquired that book of vignettes on this incredible topic, and she's going to let me know if it's still in vignettes. But I turned it down because I just asked for an r and r. So now I'm going to be very sad this book is going into the world, and I could have had it, but I turned it down.

Speaker 6 (00:44:08):

So that's where agents talk about the books that got away or the editors talk about the book that got away. But sometimes you'll see potential in the idea, and this has happened. I look at the idea, I look at the writer, I look at the community that writers participating. Are they active with their community? Are they out in the community? And engaging other rider. And also, I know the market. That's my job to know the market. So at that point, I'm going to be looking at the big package. So it was maybe the writing's not ready, but I'm going to offer to represent 'em, and then we'll set a guideline, maybe six months, a year, whatever, to get the book ready so I can take it out. But with my panel, a few days ago, we went from 120,000 words to 80,000 between me taking him on and then me selling the book. So 40,000 words had to be cut when multiple editors. So I think at the same time, you have to think about as an agent, not necessarily the editor. When I'm looking at an idea, I'm looking at the timeliness, the writing, and the author to determine if I'm going to want to represent that person and take it to the editors.

Speaker 5 (00:45:14):

I would say that, Steve, I guess, and I have both RIFed on the idea of how much bandwidth you have. So if someone asks me to do a writing project at the beginning of the summer, sorry, they send me a writing project that's going to take a lot of editing, and it's the beginning of the summer, I'm much more likely to say, yes, I don't teach in the summer, and I love taking manuscripts with me on my vacations and working on them. If they send it to me in November, I am just sort of shaking by that time. And so one thing is timing. I think it's good to find out when do you have some time and space to think about something. For me, also, once you go into the editing process, you don't know what you're going to get on the other side. So for me, part of deciding to work on something that's going to take a long time is am I in love? It's like you can meet a guy that's kind of a fixer upper, and if he's really cute and he's so great in the sack, it's worth rolling up your sleeves. But if he doesn't have all those attributes, it might just be a lot of work. And he's still wearing fanny packs at the end, so they're coming back. They're coming back. Are they? Okay. So my ex-husband wore fanny packs. He's an ex-husband now.

Speaker 5 (00:46:45):

So I mean, an example is I took on a book on fetal alcohol syndrome and adoption, a memoir about a woman who adopted a Russian kid. I mean, I have kids. I loved this book. It was a huge amount of work, but I was excited about it. I don't know if I would've had the same excitement for a book that was just way outside my level of interest.

Speaker 4 (00:47:07):

I would also say everybody draws that line at a different place. And if you're trying to figure out, well, how do I know if my book is ready to submit? If that's part of the question, you really need to have a lot of other people's eyes on that. Don't do it yourself. Get some feedback, figure it out. Because if you have other writers or people that you trust to look at the manuscript, then they can help you make that determination. This is what I tell people, that you want to make sure that you're at a place that you're happy with it, that you're not going to second guess yourself later. If you're sending something out and you kind of feel like, oh, but I'm still revising it, and I might send 'em an email in a month and say, oh, I want to give you a different version.

Speaker 4 (00:47:44):

It's too early. And people do this all the time. So wait until you've gone as far with it as you can. And that way you're protecting yourself a little bit so that when some

No Comments