Saturday, March 21, 2015

New York Pitch Conference: The Second Day

And then there were thirteen – two of our group didn’t come today. I don’t know whether they’ll be back tomorrow – I hope they didn’t run screaming into the night. Maybe, instead, they met their soul mates in a Village restaurant and took the red-eye to Phoenix to start a new life. Good plot possibility there – feel free to steal it.

This morning, my group met with Sillisa Kenney, an associate editor at St. Martin’s Press.

She began by discussing the role of an editor: “the middleman between the author and the reader.” An editor, she said, is not only a representative of the company but also of the reader so “Trust Your Editor” should be the byword. “Trust and listen and try to put aside your ego and your love for what you’ve written,” she urged. And always remember that publishing is a business and the realities of the market affect us all.

While the volume of submissions has increased, Kenney said, the number of outlets for sales has decreased. This is particularly true in regard to mass market books. Changes in retail merchandising have resulted in a reduction in shelf space in such outlets as Costco, Target
and Walmart. Previously, a successful mass market book could be expected to sell 100,000 copies; today, 10,000 is considered good. This means less profit for the publishing company which, in turns, reduces the number of titles they’re able or willing to publish.

Don't pay attention to trends because it will probably be at least two years from the time the project is acquired to the date of publication. “Who knows what the trends will be then?”

Interestingly, she said, e-books are not cutting into the print book market, despite the wide-spread belief to the contrary. People are still buying print books. While some consumers may buy only e-books or only print, many more buy some of each.

Asked about trends in publishing, Kenney said she doesn’t pay attention to them because it will probably be at least two years from the time the project is acquired to the date of publication. “Who knows what the trends will be then?” (And, by the way, that two years may be something to hope for. She said, depending on the manuscript, it might go through only one revision – or as many as eight.)

As for social media, she said it was more important for nonfiction than fiction. But, if you’re a fiction writer and already have a successful platform, “that’s gravy.” Still, she said, “It’s better to spend your time writing your book than on social media.

As we all know, the bar is higher now for being published: “We’re only taking the cream of the crop.” So, she said, your manuscript better be in great shape when you submit it. Having said that, she added that, once in a very great while, she will take on a manuscript with phenomenal potential even though the story is a mess – “but, you shouldn’t assume yours is the phenomenal one!”

After these introductory remarks, we read our pitch one-sheets one by one, in the presence of the entire group and the workshop leader. It felt as if we were getting a second opinion on the effectiveness of our pitch “one-page” rather than attempting to “sell” our books. If Kenney decides that she wants to read any part of any of a participant’s manuscripts, she will contact the workshop leader in a couple of weeks.

The Good News: She liked my title, MAYBE, IT’S MURDER, liked the Southern setting and the strong female character of the sheriff.

The Bad News: She thought I should cut the description of the killer from my one-page. She thought describing him as a “churchgoing family man, a pillar of his small Appalachian community” was too much information. Better to leave the reader without any clues.

She appeared to especially like two of the pitches: a historical novel by a science writer and editor and a memoir by a 91 year old woman. Both of them sound to me like books I would happily buy. We are sworn to secrecy about the projects of our fellow participants so I can’t say more. However, when one or the other hits the bookstores, I’ll be writing about it here.

Tomorrow we get to do two pitches. They are sort of one-on-one. Our workshop leader will attend. The first is with Michelle Richter. Formerly an editor at St. Martin’s Press, she joined Foreword Literary Agency as an agent in 2014.

In the afternoon, we meet Tom Colgan (described by our workshop leader as “a god among editors.”)

Mr. Colgan is an Executive Editor at Penguin USA and has worked in the publishing industry for a quarter-century.

He is interested in general and category fiction, mysteries and thrillers, “and just about any high-concept marketable tale. He has worked with Tom Clancy, Ed McBain, Clive Cussler, W.E.B. Griffin, and Jack Higgins.

Translation: This man is the Big Time.

I can’t wait to drop into conversation somewhere, “Well, I was talking to Tom Colgan the other day and he said…”

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