Editorial

The Grinch Who Opens Your Book Proposal

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Editors are a notoriously cranky bunch, in that lovable Oscar the Grouch kind of way, which makes sense when you think about it: we’re paid by our ability to discern between good projects and bad. It’s pretty much required that we don’t like most ideas that come through the door. But we are not without our prejudices…some ideas are doomed before we even open the mail. Wanna know why? An informal poll of my colleagues turns up profound dislike of the following:

– Packaging. I cannot stand excessive packaging. Never try to make your project “stand out” by putting it in a folder that ties shut with fabric bows, or a clamshell box, or a miniature metal suitcase. It only makes me grumpy when I read through the slush (editor-speak for unsolicited manuscripts). It makes the tidy pile on my desk fall over. It burdens the poor interns. And I’m sure it doesn’t help the planet.

– Food samples in cookbook proposals. They almost never travel well…crumbs everywhere. (Plus, taking candy from strangers seems like a bad idea, even though we realize it makes no sense to poison the person you’re trying to woo.)

– Large packages that must be returned to you in non-standard size boxes. It’s annoying to keep the box while we evaluate your work. It’s annoying to recycle the box and then have to find a new one.

– Multiple undeveloped proposals. It’s hard to have 10 good ideas at once. I don’t know who does. Pick one, hone it, and send that. If you’re on a roll, keep going…but don’t skip key steps like looking at the competition and seeing if you have enough material to fill a whole book.

– Gifts. Do you really think you can bribe me with a tiara, or soap? C’mon…if I’m for sale it’s going to cost you more than that. (Okay, since you asked…I’d like a Louis Vuitton iPhone cover and Prada thigh-high boots.)

In the spirit of the holidays, I’m trying to help those brilliant young writers who think they have to sit up all night baking quinoa madeleines and sewing a book cozy. If your idea is good enough to jump off the page, that’s all you need.

Lisa Campbell
Associate Editor

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1 Comment

  • Frank Renfro January 5, 2008 at 3:18 pm

    Lisa,

    Being an editor sounds both difficult and fun. As you describe the process, being an editor requires judgment and imagination, which are not necessarily compatible but also not mutually exclusive.

    As an editor who receives plenty of unsolicited manuscripts – the slush – how do you discern the good, the bad, the ugly, the great? Is there an intuition that you sense from the opening sentence or paragraph of a new work of fiction, cook book, essay, or collection of poems?

    Is it important that the author be known to you beforehand, that is, even if a stranger, that there be a referral from another trusted source? Or, if a stranger, how much time do you spend reviewing a new piece of slush?

    Looking forward to continuing the dialogue.

    Frank

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