Because we are not based in New York City, it's imperative that we regularly visit the publishers there to find out what they are looking for and how they prefer to work with agents. Simply stated, it's important to meet editors face-to-face.
Familiarizing oneself with a huge publisher like Random House could become a full-time occupation. Personally, I love the ambiance of the place. The lobby is a book-lover's dream with floor to ceiling glass-fronted book shelves lining the walls. The shelves are stocked with Random House "first editions." Actually, I don't think they are the real thing. An editor told us a couple of years ago that the original first editions are archived "off-campus" in a place friendly to aging paper and bindings. It doesn't matter if the books in the lobby are real or not. It feels wonderful to be surrounded by the classics that bookend our world. Jon advises every writer or would-be writer or anyone who loves books to step into the lobby, take a few deep breaths and spend time scanning the shelves. It's like visiting old friends in a museum of the written word.
We visited three Random editors. Here are a few things we learned:
- Nonfiction is "the way to go" for new agents. A Crown editor advised us to concentrate on this genre. "Fiction is a hard-sell," he said. Editors must defend their choices at editorial meetings and fiction is often extremely difficult to champion. It's a hard business fact and it's why we and other agents scour the queries for the gems that can survive the editorial trials.
- In nonfiction, superlatives sell--the best, the biggest, the greatest.
- Platform is everything. He advised us to look for journalists and hot bloggers for new book ideas.
- REAL GOOD WRITING is still the gold standard. (But we all know that, don't we?)
- Another editor is looking for "fiction that is believable as nonfiction and nonfiction that reads like fiction."
- Steampunk is still alive and well. (Yea! We have THE steampunk novel in the re-writing stage.)