Editors and publishers want to fall in love with a great story. “A writer’s goal is to have the editor shout, ‘You have to read this!’” said Anika Streitfield, freelance editor and former editor at Random House.
Streitfield was one of five panelists discussing the challenges facing writers today in their journey toward publication.
Streitfield was joined by Peter Richardson from UC Press, Laura Mazer from Softskull Counterpoint Press, Jeannine Gendar from Heyday Books, Hillary Young Brodey from Capra Press, and Brooke Warner from Seal Press.
In spite of the different avenues toward publication, all writers have to pass the fire and ice test, according to Richardson. “Do you know what you’re talking about?” asked Richardson. “That’s the fire test.” At UC Press, an author’s manuscript is submitted to industry experts for their feedback as part of the unique in-house editorial process. “The ice test is, Who cares?” Richardson said. UC Press publishes only 200 titles a year out of the thousands of manuscripts it receives. An author’s manuscript must grip the reader, whether the topic is fiction or nonfiction. “You have to think big to make a plausible case (why we should publish you and not someone else),” Richardson said.
The merger of smaller publishing houses with larger publishing houses creates different challenges, according to Brooke Warner of Seal Press. Since Seal Press was acquired by Perseus Press, there has been a push to acquire more commercially-driven nonfiction. Warner said she is leaving Seal Press to work with writers to help them get published. “An unprecedented number of authors are self-publishing,” Warner said. Her website www.warnercoaching.com is designed to help authors determine which publishing path to take for their particular project.
Small presses, non-profits, and novelty presses, however, have the luxury to take risks larger publishing houses cannot.
A small press with a tiny staff and a tiny budget may offer authors a chance to break into print, according to Laura Mazer, who worked as Editor-at-Large with Softskull Counterpoint Press before accepting a position as Executive Editor at Seal. Jeannine Gendar from Heyday Books, a non-profit press focused exclusively on books about California, said the intimacy of working with authors is most gratifying. Some of the books Gendar publishes are the lifeworks of non-writers, and they require extensive editing—something a larger publishing house does not offer. And that almost forgotten genre of poetry—something larger publishing houses rarely publish—can be the launching book of an eclectic publisher such as Capra Press, which was founded by Noel Young, a frustrated author, and resurrected by his daughter, Hillary Young Brodey with the publication of I Never Expected This Good Life by Jennifer Futernick.
Regardless of whatever path an author chooses toward publication, a great pitch is essential. “A pitch goes from an agent to editors at houses to the editorial board to the marketing team and CEO to the sales team to bookstores to consumers,” Mazer said. “Get a pitch down and own it.” Whether traditionally published or self-published, a great pitch can sell books. And that’s ultimately what every author and publisher wants.
The event was hosted by the Hedgebrook Alumnae Leadership Council at the California College of the Arts in San Francisco.
For more information about Hedgebrook, a retreat for women writer’s on Whidbey Island, please visit: www.hedgebrook.org.
For more information about the California College of the Arts, please visit: www.cca.edu.