The following interview with Sharyn November, senior editor at Viking Children’s Books, is excerpted from a new book edited by Jennifer Lyons, The Business of Writing – Professional Advice on Proposals, Publishers, Contracts, and More for the Aspiring Writer.
You can check out more about The Business of Writing on Amazon.com.
JL: How do you find your authors?
SN: I find authors in a variety of ways—sometimes through agents, from referrals through other authors, by reading widely (books, online work, journals, anthologies, chapbooks—you name it—I’m an omnivore), or by approaching someone whose work I’ve loved in other genres. And, of course, authors approach me. I would say that 90% of my authors are agented.
JL: How do you acquire a book? Take us through your editorial process.
SN: It’s probably easiest if I give you a list of the steps:
Read a manuscript I love.
Get second reads to confirm that others love it, too—my assistant, my teenage readers, folks from sales and marketing. In-house support is vital.
If they agree with me, I give it to my boss so she can read it. Assuming she likes it, I run a profit and loss statement based on a variety of advances, discuss it with the agent, and talk with the author to make sure that we click (the editorial process is alchemical).
Sometimes we need to come up with a marketing plan or another kind of promotional commitment.
This process can take anywhere from one week to several months, depending upon the project (the author may need to do a revision), people’s schedules, and so on.
JL: What do you look for in a submission?
SN: I love manuscripts that surprise me—that take off the top of my head (to paraphrase Emily Dickinson on poetry). A strong voice, an unexpected take on a familiar subject, an unusual subject, a sense of humor, a dead-on instinct for story. I look for a writer I would read for pleasure.
JL: Do you find that some of your authors have previously written for adults and what, if anything, do they have to concentrate on, change, or adjust to make the shift?
SN: Many, if not most of them, have—Elizabeth Hand, Charles de Lint, Nancy Kress, Nina Kiriki Hoffman, Kelly Link, Pat Murphy, Ellen Klages (and that’s just the beginning of the list). In every case, these authors’ adult work already had appeal to younger readers and/or remarkably accurate teenage/child characters.
Appealing to that audience requires a shift: more immediate action and narration, a closer focus on the main character (because, of course, we are seeing everything through the protagonist’s eyes, and that protagonist now has a less experienced perspective—and cares less about an adult perspective), and away from any hint of condescension toward the audience.
What surprises adult authors, I think, is how little they need to change their style. There are fewer taboos nowadays, and readers can handle a wide range of stylistic challenges. Think of what you read as a teenager.
JL: Is there a fantasy (no pun intended) project that you would like to do?
SN: The one that all editors would like to do is: find a book that is the perfect balance between literary and commercial that gets multiple starred reviews, wins awards, and makes The New York Times bestseller list. (And transforms into a gorgeous interactive e-book. And yes, that is a joke!) My dream project . . . Well, I want to hear a story that I’ll never forget. Because story is at the bottom of it all.
About Sharyn November
Sharyn November is a senior editor at Viking Children’s Books and the editorial director of Firebird. She is a two-time World Fantasy Award finalist for her editorial work. Firebirds Rising, her second anthology for the imprint, was also a World Fantasy Award finalist.
Check out her website at http://www.sharyn.org. She is always looking for new stories and storytellers.