Kath here. We are thrilled to introduce today’s guest: Christine Kopprasch, Associate Editor at Crown & Hogarth (Crown Trade Publishing Group, Random House). Though Crown publishes both fiction and nonfiction, Christine’s focus there is on fiction acquisitions. From her bio:
Authors I’ve published include New York Times bestseller Rosamund Lupton, New York Times bestseller Taylor Stevens, and British Fantasy Award winner Stephen Gallagher. I have contributed to publications including the #1 New York Times bestseller The Land of Painted Caves, by Jean Auel, the #1 New York Times bestseller Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn, and A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, by Whiting Award winner Anthony Marra.
My acquisitions include Miranda Beverly Whittemore’s Bittersweet, Maddie Dawson’s The Opposite of Maybe, Erin McCabe’s I Shall Be Near To You, and Elizabeth Silver’s The Execution of Noa P. Singleton. I’m looking for well-written fiction in the intersection between literary and commercial, particularly in the areas of women’s fiction, thriller, suspense, and novels with elements of magical realism.
Christine is here today because she generously agreed to answer a slew of questions posed by members of the Writer Unboxed Facebook community. Big hat tip goes out to WU FB members Angie Ledbetter, Mara Buck, Cat Robinson, Beverly Diehl, Tonia Marie Harris, Layla R Cox, Jackie Phillips, David B. Schlosser, Andrea van der Wilt, Kristin Pedroja, Susan Girolami Kramer, and a few writers who wished to remain anonymous as well. You know who you are.
We hope you enjoy this window into the world of a book editor at a big house!
First, will you explain how you’re connected to the Writer Unboxed family?
I edited Therese Walsh’s upcoming novel, THE MOON SISTERS, which has so far garnered a STARRED Booklist review that called it a “magical, moving tale…not to be missed,” (full review will be published Saturday) and a Publishers Weekly review that called it, “Luminous.” THE MOON SISTERS will be published on March 4th, and the team at Crown is happy to announce a Buy One, Get One opportunity, first announced here at WU!
Here’s the official language:
We’re sending a copy of Therese Walsh’s debut novel, The Last Will of Moira Leahy, to the first 150 people who preorder their copy of Therese Walsh’s new novel, The Moon Sisters, and send us their proof of purchase before March 4th. To receive your copy of The Last Will of Moira Leahy, be one of the first 150 preorder customers to send your address and proof of purchase to CrownReadingGroups (at) randomhouse.com. Offer is limited to residents of the United States, age 18 or over. Void where prohibited or restricted by law. Crown is not responsible for lost or misrouted submissions, interrupted or unavailable network or server connections, or other computer or technical failures.
We love a BOGO! Thank you, Christine and CROWN for announcing that here first. (Kath here doing a shameless plug for Therese’s awesome book — BOGO the heck out of it, folks!) How did you become an editor at Random House? Where did you begin? What are your aspirations?
I have countless stories about my lifelong love of reading that led me to being an editor. Once, I photocopied the next 15 pages of my book and taped them to the shower glass so I could keep reading while shampooing. Another time, a friend caught me climbing a tree with not one but two books in my teeth so I could stay up there and keep reading once I finished the first. My best friend and I read LITTLE WOMEN to each other over the phone and during sleepovers over the course of many months. I was an English major, interned at a literary agency during college, and after two years of assistant teaching, decided that I had to try to break into publishing or I’d always regret not giving it a shot. I interned at another literary agency, and that helped me get an editorial assistant job at Henry Holt. When my boss moved to Crown at Random House, she took me with her, and I’ve been here ever since.
For those who may not know how things work, can you briefly describe your role in a book’s publication? What does an editor at a big house do? What doesn’t she do?
I read lots of submissions, and when I fall in love with a book, I work to acquire it: marshaling reads from colleagues in editorial, marketing, and publicity, getting on the phone with the author, running P&Ls (Profit and Loss) , thinking about editorial suggestions, coming up with comparison titles, and drafting acquisition memos. After that, sometimes I get to bid, and hopefully, when we bid we win! Then I establish a relationship with the author, talking often over the phone or by email, and start editing. Usually I do multiple rounds of editing: a few in-depth rounds with lots of comments and structural suggestions, and then as much line editing and refining as is needed. Once the book’s finished, I hand it over to production and work on introducing it to the world by helping the author with marketing and publicity in a lot of different ways, in-house and out.
Take us through a tour of your average day at work. (Does all of your reading take place during 9-5 hours?)
Actually, almost none of my reading takes place during 9-5 hours! The day is a total mix depending on my highest priorities: I may be talking with my authors, working to acquire a book, writing bound galley copy, writing cover copy, writing catalog copy, editing, writing an editorial letter, writing a reading group guide, checking in with authors about any number of things, coming up with a blurb list, writing blurb request letters, updating quote sheets, editing publicity or marketing materials, working on a launch speech, writing rejections, reaching out to agents, doing contract requests, running P&Ls, having marketing meetings, having art meetings, having agent meetings, etc. And lots and lots of email. All my reading is done weekends and nights, and most of my editing, too. Unless there is a competitive situation and we drop everything to read, reading is mostly done at home.
What’s your favorite part of the job? How about the toughest?
I love falling in love with great books and knowing that I can help bring them to life. I really enjoy editing with authors who love the process. My authors are a joy: smart, interesting, creative people. And everyone I work with at Crown loves to read. That’s a special thing.
It’s tough to reject a good book because I didn’t fall in love with it. It’s tough when a book I believe in doesn’t sell the way I think it should.
Some believe that all editors are aspiring authors. Is this the case for you?
I’d love to write a brilliant novel someday (who wouldn’t?), but my writing is currently limited to trying NaNoWriMo every few years, which I do largely because I think it’s good for me to remember how hard the creative process is and how much we ask of our authors!
Here are some questions from the WU Facebook Community:
Have you ever published a book you hated on first read?
No, I don’t think so. But I’ve enthusiastically published books that I thought didn’t work on first read. If I can see the editorial fix I think it needs and the author and agent agree, that can be a great place to start.
What specifically is it that attracts you to a story, a writing style, or a cast of characters, that eases your mind over taking a chance on an unknown author?
The voice, foremost, and the I-can’t-put-this-book-down feeling that’s so personal and hard to explicate. If I read through dinner and stay up late to finish, and find myself worrying about the characters in the shower the next morning, I know I’m thoroughly hooked and must try for it.
We writers are besieged by advice to be “professionally” edited before submission. What is your opinion of the practice?
I don’t know if manuscripts are coming to me professionally edited or not. Ideally, it isn’t necessary because the bones are there so that I can dig in myself where I have thoughts, and because the author has figured out a lot of the issues on her own. But if something simply isn’t ready and the author is stuck, I can absolutely see how a round of discussion with an outside editor could really help a writer clarify and refine plot, voice, or whatever isn’t working. And I imagine sometimes a little cheerleading and talking with a professional can go a long way in what is often a very solitary process. I also think there are times when the problems are too deep and being professionally edited may improve a book but won’t help a writer get a book deal, if that’s the goal.
What is the one thing that will turn you away from a book every time?
A flat voice. “Information dumps,” too.
A lot of authors nowadays connect with editors via blog comments, Twitter, etc. Where does it cross the line from, “Oh, nice to hear from that author again,” to “This is feeling creepy-stalkerish”?
It’s probably a fine line, and different for each person, but I haven’t personally felt bombarded. A few people have politely responded to tweets of mine if their novels sounded like something I might like, and I’ve asked them to tell their agents (when they get to the submission stage) to send the books my way. We don’t read unsolicited material, so there isn’t much up-side to creepy-stalker tactics. I talk to my own authors all the time, in many different ways, of course.
What advice do you have for the nervous nelly newbies? The whole process can be very daunting.
It can definitely be daunting. My advice is to write for the love of writing, to think long-term about your career when you’re making decisions, and to be sure each book contains the best you can do so that you will feel proud no matter what happens through the whole crazy process.
Honestly, what chance does a new writer have? Do they need to have a huge following even BEFORE they are published?
I’ve bought a number of debuts whose authors had no following yet. For me, it’s all about the read.
I’ve come to think that the “top” few percent of manuscripts — that is, coherent in terms of story and character, written clearly enough that a typical reader can access the book, and reasonably interesting — are basically indistinguishable from one another. However, only about 1% of manuscripts find a traditional publishing deal — which means there are many manuscripts that are in the realm of possibility for a traditional publisher, but for some reason don’t get picked up. What might be the difference(s) between an acceptable manuscript that gets chosen for a traditional publishing deal and an acceptable manuscript that doesn’t? Is it personal preference of the agent, the acquisitions editor, the marketing department, or some combination of those? Is it market trends (“We need more boy wizards! No, wait — we need more vampires and werewolves! No, wait — we need more light bondage!”)? Is it random chance?
I agree that the top few percent can be very similar in terms of talent, and I think what gets published is influenced by all the forces you mentioned. I don’t tend to think in terms of market trends, just whether or not I’ve been fully captured, and sometimes whether something is right for my list even though I enjoyed the read. Personally, I reluctantly pass on many very nicely done books that I simply didn’t wholly fall for; the author deserves someone who is wildly enthusiastic because the process is long and frequently difficult, and the editor will be pushing and fighting for the book every step of the way. It’s hard for someone to do that job well without genuinely loving the book, and it’s best for the author if his or her advocate feels that fiercely.
My debut got fabulous trade reviews but sold terribly at the bookstore. Bad, bad numbers. If a girl wants a career, what is she to do? (Ideas being tried: next book submitted under a pseudonym, change venue to the YA market… etc.) My editor all but said out loud that she wouldn’t be able to acquire another book in my name. But, hey, it isn’t personal.
This is really hard, and I’m sorry. The best thing to do is write the very best next book you can. If people fall in love with a new book, reinvention is more than possible.
Career-wise, I’d think really hard about your audience. I’d reach out and get to know other authors, both to find out what works and to have contacts to ask for blurbs when the time comes. I’d try to come up with a stunning elevator pitch. I’d work on the hook. I’d read reviews to see if there was anything I could learn from the criticism. I’d pound the pavement to meet booksellers in my hometown. I’d try to be sure my second novel was exactly what my career needed, and I’d know that sometimes one can do everything right and sales can still be disappointing. But writing the very most amazing next book that your team loves and can get behind is the best and only thing to do.
Is it impossible to sell a debut 145k-word novel, even if the story is solid? If not, what would you look for in such a novel to consider it? (Maybe I should specify genre, which is fantasy in this case, although a general answer might be helpful too.)
Very little is impossible since there are always exceptions, but it would likely be hard for me even though some of my favorite books are huge – Shogun, Count of Monte Cristo, Jane Eyre, A Game of Thrones. Personally I would be going into the read looking for places to cut to a more consumer-friendly level. Pure fantasy probably has more wiggle-room for a giant tome, but for imprints that aren’t fantasy only, the editor would have to love every word to be able to make a case for it. (And the right editor would!) There have been a few very long books going around recently that have generated huge excitement.
Name three things we writers can do to our manuscripts to make your job easier.
Make your first chapters amazing, both to hook us and help us hook our team. Be sure it’s really ready to submit, which usually means putting it away for a while and coming back to it with fresh eyes somewhere in an author’s editing process. On a very practical note, double-space, normal font, fill out “document properties” in Word, and if possible I’d probably recommend sending it to various e-readers so you can make sure the formatting works across platforms.
When you’re editing a manuscript, how do you differentiate between suggesting changes that would improve the novel vs. changes that might be a matter of style if *you* were to write the novel?
I’m not sure I know how to tell the difference – I don’t think about editing in terms of if I was writing the novel; I’m always thinking in terms of if I was reading the novel. I try to keep the reader in the front of my mind through every edit, with every pace, plot, character, and style question. It’s important to me to satisfy the person who does us the honor of sitting down with a cup of tea and chooses your book, out of all the books in the world.
What are some of the most common mistakes new novelists make?
I love it when my novelists work with me to have plans & ideas; sometimes authors don’t know to or don’t want to do that. Your team loves your book, but no one will fight harder for it than you will. So talk early about blurbs, and start reading books in your category so that you can write personal notes to the authors that will help your editor get past the gatekeepers. Perfect a summary paragraph that positions the book the way you think of it, and share that with your team (who have to write a lot of copy and may use your notes as a base if your visions match!). Think about who you know and how everyone might help. Talk early about copy if you have ideas, think of headlines, and think of the one-sentence pitch that you and your editor can use when talking about it. Your editor will hopefully be doing the same. Use your agent during thorny discussions. Use your editor to help you brainstorm pieces you can write for marketing and publicity. Ask questions if you don’t understand something (while respecting your partners’ time). Ask for updates about what’s happening when and understand the timeline. I guess these aren’t mistakes so much as “things authors don’t always think to do or know they’re allowed to do that can really help their team and themselves.”
Are editors expecting a paradigm shift in their selection process, or do you believe the standards of query letters and slush piles will continue into the foreseeable future?
I think there are going to be paradigm shifts on many levels as technology advances and publishing changes. I’m not sure what that might look like for queries; authors have many different opportunities now that they didn’t before, and I think the business will probably revolutionize rapidly on many levels. However, I believe great books will always have readers!
And finally: Do you ever actually use a red pen when editing a writer’s work?
I wish I could say I do. I use whatever pens I have handy, mostly blue. Then I usually transcribe my notes onto the electronic document so the author and I are looking at the same thing, which gives me the chance for another read-through and conceals my horrid handwriting. Maybe I should get some red pens for style!
Thank you for joining us today, Christine!