With a publishing industry that is ever in flux, it can be hard for an aspiring author to figure out what information is relevant and what she needs to do to be successful. Recognizing this, literary agent Andrea Hurst and writer/blogger Cherise Hensley present a series of weekly interviews with publishing industry specialists. The AUTHORNOMICS Series features literary agents, editors, authors, marketing experts and more talking about their opinions on the publishing industry, writing, and what a writer needs to know.
AUTHORNOMICS Interview with Anna Michels
Anna Michels is an Associate Editor at Sourcebooks, an independent publisher located outside of Chicago. Over the course of her three years at Sourcebooks she has worked on a wide variety of projects, most recently focusing on acquiring fiction and memoir. She is looking for commercial literary fiction with interesting settings and a strong narrative voice (such as Burial Rites by Hannah Kent and The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman); mystery (particularly historical and crossover literary—think Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger) and psychological suspense; and memoir by writers who connect the events of their lives to readers through incredible storytelling.
Can you tell us a little about your role as an Associate Editor for Sourcebooks? What does your typical day look like?
As unglamorous as it sounds, my typical day starts with email—everything from internal communication to new manuscript submissions from agents to questions from authors. I try to get small projects out of the way in the morning so I can focus on editing or tackling more involved projects in the afternoon. I work closely with Shana Drehs, the editorial director for our fiction imprint, Landmark, so I’m constantly touching base with her. I also forward manuscripts to my personal email account throughout the day and then will read through those at night when I get home. As an associate editor, I have the freedom to acquire my own projects while also supporting Shana and her books, so my job is a great mix of independent creative work and more administrative tasks—and I get to work on a ton of different projects, which is amazing!
What is the most challenging part of your job? The most rewarding?
I think the most challenging part of my job is probably the most challenging thing for everyone who works in publishing—trying to figure out how to make our books as successful as possible. There are so many elements that contribute to a book’s performance, including the title, cover, positioning (how the book is presented to the marketplace), and about 100 other things. Books that break out in a big way manage to get all of those elements right, but there is no magic formula for how to make a book a success, and no two books are ever the same. The most rewarding part of my job is definitely working with authors. I’ve been lucky to work with some amazingly talented authors so far, and developing relationships with them and working together on their books is a real privilege.
How did you first get into editing? What recommendations do you have for others looking at editing as a career choice?
I think the most important quality that any aspiring editor has to have is an all-consuming LOVE of books. You need to have read a lot of books, you need to have opinions about the books you’ve read, and you need to be excited about the opportunity of taking a good book to the next level and making it great. There are a lot of other qualities that are helpful in the editorial field as well—strong organizational skills, being a fast reader, having a degree in English or communications—but the love for and commitment to books comes first. After college, I attended the Denver Publishing Institute, a four-week summer graduate course in publishing, which gave me a great foundation for pursuing a career in the field. I would highly recommend DPI or any of the other publishing institutes to anyone seriously interested in working in trade publishing.
What’s one thing you wish all authors knew before they submitted their work to you? What is the biggest mistake you see authors make? Do you have any “pet-peeves”?
I don’t really have any pet peeves when I’m reading, but I do wish that authors would take a bit more time to learn about the types of books Sourcebooks publishes before submitting. Too often we receive submissions that fall into categories we don’t publish, which ends up being wasted time for us and for the author.
What makes a submission stand out and get you to request a read?
I’ll always sit up and pay extra attention to a story I haven’t heard before—one with an unusual setting or stand-out characters, or a plot that I just need to read to see how it plays out.
Does the author’s platform influence your decision? What are things, other than writing, that writers could do to improve their chances, or their writing?
I don’t generally acquire non-fiction (except memoir), so platform is less important to me than it might be for some other editors. For me, it’s really about the writing and the story. It’s always going to be helpful, though, for authors to make connections within the author community, which can be done by attending conferences and reaching out online. Learning about the business of publishing and looking at successful books in their genre to see what makes them work are other things authors can do that will help them immensely down the road.
What misconceptions do authors have about an editor’s role after their book is signed? Does the same editor who acquires a manuscript also edit it in-house?
One common misconception might be that editors will magically “fix” your manuscript. Editing is less about fixing and more about identifying potential problems and providing suggestions for solutions. The actual “fix” has to come from the author. At Sourcebooks, the editor who acquires the book generally is the one who will also be editing it, but that might be different at a larger publisher. Shana Drehs and I work very closely together and often do co-edits on projects, and I have taken the editorial lead on books that she acquired—it just depends on a case-by-case basis.
How long does it take you on average to edit a manuscript? How many rounds are average before publication?
Our typical editing schedule takes three to four months, with at least two rounds of edits, and this is all developmental editing—copy-editing is another round that comes later. The amount of time spent editing completely depends on the manuscript and the amount of work that needs to be done. Some books come in very clean and just need some tweaks, while others go through a much more intensive editing process.
How many projects do you work on at once, typically?
I probably have 10-12 projects in different stages of the process at any one time, including books that Shana and I are working on together. I’m hoping for that number to grow as I continue to acquire my own titles!
Do you know any good sources authors can use to better their own editing skills?
There are many books available to help writers edit their own work, but I think the best thing an author can do is to find a trusted critique partner to give feedback. At a certain point, the best thing you can do is step back and see what others have to say about your book.
What was the last book you read that you simply couldn’t put down and why?
I’ve been reading quite a bit of crime fiction lately and loved Broken Harbor by Tana French. Her beautiful writing, intricate plotting, and broken characters make for an incredibly compelling—and disturbing—read.
Do you have any upcoming projects or events we can look out for?
I’m still so excited about a memoir we published in October called Seven Letters from Paris by Samantha Vérant, which is an incredible story of the power of love and starting over. The Far End of Happy by Kathryn Craft is a powerful novel based on a harrowing event from the author’s life and is coming out in May 2015. As for events, I’ll be attending the Historical Novel Society conference in June and PNWA in July. I just signed a debut novel by an author I met at a writer’s conference and I’m hoping to meet more fabulous authors next year!
Thanks so much for interviewing with us, Anna!
Andrea Hurst has over 25 years experience as a published author, developmental editor for publishers, and skilled literary agent. She works with both major and regional publishing houses, and her client list includes emerging new voices and New York Times best-selling authors. Andrea represents high profile Adult Nonfiction and well crafted fiction. Her clients and their books have appeared on the Oprah Show, Ellen DeGeneres Show, Good Morning America, National Geographic network and in the New York Times.
Cherise Hensley is currently pursuing her M.A. in English at the University of Idaho. She graduated from Whitworth University with a B.A. in English and marketing and also has a copy editing certification from UC San Diego. She has interned with Andrea Hurst Literary Management as well as the Rock & Sling literary journal and has been involved in the production of other print media such as newspapers, magazines, and yearbooks. Cherise is an editor and a writer, and loves discovering new books to distract her from everyday life.