Editors’ Panel at Sleuthfest 2018

Left to Right: Marcia Markland, Faith Black Ross, Eric Campbell, and Neil Nyron

The four editors on the panel were Eric Campbell, Down & Out Books; Faith Black Ross, Crooked Lane Publishing; Marcia Markland, St. Martin’s Press; and Neil Nyron, G.P. Putnam’s Sons. The moderator was author Kris Montee (PJ Parrish).

The panel members started answering the questions one at a time, but soon simply made comments; therefore, much of what I have will be a summary of their opinions on each topic.

Where Are We? (In the industry.)

Neil said the business is in flux, that print is holding steady, but the initial upsurge of ebook sales has stopped and sales have dropped a little. Book stores are holding their own. As for what’s going on with Barnes & Noble…he sort of shrugged.

Eric commented that smaller presses, like his, are doing well because Amazon makes it easy, and that midlist authors who have been orphaned has helped small presses. A good writer can find a new publisher.

Faith said Crooked Lane is growing (they have 5 editors now) and they’re publishing more books per year. She buys a book because she loves it; however, she is cautious with advances. (Translate that to mean they offer small advances.)

Marcia said that Amazon is not all bad. Amazon is helping balance B&N’s death spiral. She said B&N makes tracking book sales difficult (crazy).

Are There Too Many Titles?

More and more books being published, but Neil said that has been true for decades. If a first novel doesn’t sell well, it’s harder to get a publisher. He then mentioned writers who decide to self-publish need to use real ISBN numbers and should buy them from Bowker.  Buy ISBN Numbers  (Sales for Bowker have gone up 20% in the last few years.) He also said it used to be that acquisition editors and line editors were two different people. Now one editor does both.

How Important Are The First 5 Pages?

All four editors said they didn’t have an actual page cut-off point.

  • They can tell from the first few pages if an author has command of the story.
  • What they look for is something that hooks them. It might be atmosphere, a character, or simply the writing.
  • They want to wonder what’s going to happen, to be drawn into the story, and want an opening that gives a sense of time and place: gives enough information to answer, “Where am I?”
  • There are so many manuscripts out there, if you don’t grab the reader right away, it’s easy to go on to the next ms.
  • Something must be disturbed.
  • Originality makes these editors read further.

They all indicated that If the writer’s opening pages engage them with the character, the plot, or the writing, they always worry that the writer won’t carry the opening through the book. (They said, “Don’t f*ck it up.”)

And if the writer does “f*ck” it up, can it be fixed? Or how difficult would it be to fix?

Any No-Nos?

  • No hard and fast rules.
  • Author’s attitude can influence them.
  • Faith said if she’s writing a rejection letter, she tries to be specific.
  • Marcia feels, if a ms is close, it’s important to tell the author why she’s rejecting it.
    • Character is important to Marcia.

All of the editors emphasized you should go to their websites and read how to submit to them.

Trends, Platforms, Bestseller Lists, and the Market

  • Do not write to any trend.
  • Utopia is coming in (maybe).
  • Focus seems to be on female driven suspense/mystery
  • YA is popular.
  • Platform still keeps coming up at editorial meetings.
    • Most writers don’t want to do it, but have to do it.
  • Best sellers lists are bullshit.
    • They’re manipulated.
  • If your sales are good, that’s great.
  • If you’re getting royalty checks, that’s great.
  • Don’t make platform how you judge yourself.
    • Lots of writers who have never been on a best seller list are making a good living. (6 figures.)
  • Audio is skyrocketing.
  • More and more people are listening to audio.
  • Mass market is limping.

Are you picking up self-published books?

  • Only if the book has had big sales. Say 100,000 copies sold.
  • Must have an audience.
  • You can’t be a 1 trick pony.
  • Must produce often.
  • 2 books a year is good.
  • Do what works for you.

Should you hire a freelance editor?

Yes, whether you’re self-publishing or submitting to traditional publishers, you can’t read what you’ve written and see the faults.

  • The more feedback you get the better.
  • Using a hired editor helps build up a “shell.”

How do you find a good freelance editor?

  • Go on-line and ask others who they’ve used.
  • Ask for sample of their editing.
  • See if you can work well with the editor
  • Look for reviews
  • Talk to them.
  • Consider it an investment in your future.

     Subscribe to Publishers Market Place.

  • It’s expensive, but the editors felt it was worth it. ($25/month)
    Some libraries subscribe to it.
    It will give you rankings of agents.

How do you feel about Multiple Submissions?

  • Small multiples are fine.
  • They admitted if agent sends exclusive, they will look at that sooner.
  • Don’t send a proposal addressed “To Whom It May Concern.”
  • Don’t send it as a blind copy.


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14 Responses to Editors’ Panel at Sleuthfest 2018

  1. Thanks for sharing it. I especially liked the comment about best seller lists. Nice to know the pros feel the same as me. : )

  2. Maris,

    Lots of valuable info. Thanks again for sharing.

  3. This information is incredibly helpful. It does seem print books are helpful because not all readers like ebooks. Many small presses only offer ebook publication. Thank you, Maris.

  4. Melissa Keir says:

    So much wonderful information. I really appreciate you giving us these tips!

  5. Very helpful information. Thanks so much!

  6. Thanks for sharing this, Maris. I have a very keen interest in the marketplace, and it’s good to have my opinion about print vs ebooks confirmed by professionals. I tweeted the link for you!

    • Maris Soule says:

      Thank you, Maggie, for tweeting my link. And yes, I too like hearing about the marketplace. I wish we had more control over what’s hot and what’s not, but that’s as it is.

  7. Sharon Ervin says:

    Thank you, Maris. I love panel discussions by editors and/or agents.