Last week, or thereabouts, I blogged/opined on the mystery novelist's top 5 challenges. I have been giving some thought to what my top challenges are as an editor/publisher, so here goes:
1. How do I find the heart or core of this book? Like many editors, I take particular pleasure in finding and developing new talent. This requires no small amount of patience, which is why I'm fortunate to be at an independent publisher. If I find a manuscript I really like, or in which I see a lot of potential, I can work with the writer on both a micro and macro basis. At the micro level, there's of course the need for wordsmithing - getting the prose to sing. But many freshman efforts are weighted down. They're too long, or they have too much going on, or there are too many extraneous details. My mission when signing and editing a book is finding its heart, its center, and bringing that out, usually with careful pruning.
2. How do I make sure reviewers like this book? I notice that there is sometimes debate over how "important" reviews are. I'm not sure that reviews on so-and-so's blog or the local paper are that important, but good reviews in PW, Library Journal, Booklist, and/or Kirkus are essential. Actually, a review in Kirkus is often a mixed blessing, because that august publication seems to take pleasure in eviscerating books (I think many of those reviewers need to be in therapy). As for the others, they're important. I can't possibly keep up with everything they review, but I do take note of starred reviews and use them to figure out what's going over and what isn't. I should also say that these review publications do tremendous service to our industry, and I simply cannot thank them (and their volunteers) enough. This isn't to say I always agree with them; tastes are, after all, often subjective. But I do applaud their professionalism and I take their recommendations, and criticisms, very seriously.
3. How do I make money for the company? Yes, there's that dirty word - "money." I don't think I've ever been particularly subtle in Mysterious Matters about publishing as a for-profit industry. My job is to sign and publish books that people want to buy - books that they're willing to pay good money for. But there's more to it than dollars and sense. I want to work on books that people want to read. I'm not a literary snob; I want books that provide quality, well-written, clever, non-insulting escapism. A writer's success is my success, and I don't see my job as publishing "worthy" books. I see it as publishing books that have a chance of hitting the mainstream, of launching a career for the writer and an income flow for the publisher. That income flow helps me take chances on other unknowns, as I search for the new James Patterson or Mary Higgins Clark.
4. How do I get attention for my books? Ah, that is the $64,000 question. Unfortunately, I don't have the time to do that; there are only so many hours in a day. This is where the publicists come in. I do love working with publicists, and I'm fortunate to work with a very good one, who I believe is the unsung hero of our company. A lot of people don't realize that publicists get rejected just as often (perhaps more often) than writers do. It's extremely difficult to get attention in the media if you're not already famous. I'd guesstimate that maybe half the people our publicist contacts don't even bother to return the phone call or email. I enjoy taking part in brainstorming sessions with the publicists because there's no one who wants these books to succeed more than I do.
5. How do I ensure that the book - the physical product, and the ebook - reflects the quality I want to see in a book? This will sound very old-fashioned, but I am a stickler for typography and design. Nowaways, it seems that everyone with Quark or InDesign sees themselves as a qualified typesetter. Sorry! Type is an art, and so is book design, and so is cover design. With the spate of self-published garbage out there, I feel a particular compulsion to ensure that books by independent houses have the same gorgeous look to them as books published by, say, Knopf (I tend to love their interior and cover designs). I read page proof four and five times until my eyes are bleary to make sure there are no typos (and this is above and beyond the proofreader and author). Cover designers both love me (because I respect their work so much) and fear me (because I am such a pain in the ass). For me, a good book has always been, and will always be, a work of art, and I want them to be perceived as such. This extends to eBooks as well, though the best-laid-out .epub files sometimes do crazy things on the Kindle, Nook, iPad...