An Interview with Editor Susan Barnes
Susan Barnes will be one of the many great featured editors at our 2014 Agents and Editors Conference. Susan is an associate editor for Orbit and Redhook at Hachette Book Group. Learn more about Susan and what she represents by visiting our Featured Editors page and reading the Q&A below.
I like to get to know the author or agent and their working style as much as possible right at the beginning to make sure everyone is on the same page. Phone calls, emails, or if possible, lunch/drinks work best. The more it can be one on one or in person, the better! Everyone functions differently so it is definitely a challenge, but I love it.
If a potential client could do one thing to make the experience of working together even better, what would it be?
Be honest and open. Everyone has those random pet peeves that drive them insane or certain ways of writing/editing that just don’t work for them. If I’m aware, I can work with them versus walking in blind.
Also, I think authors sometimes feel like they can’t reach out to their editor until they are done with a manuscript or edit. One of the best parts of my job is throwing around ideas, trying to help them get over a huge hurdle. Granted I can’t do that for every problem, but if anyone ever really gets stuck – definitely call!
What is your biggest pet peeve when it comes to receiving submissions, reading work, etc.?
Oh, it is so random and picky, but I am such a stickler for formatting. I think it is still leftover from all those college paper habits. I love manuscripts that are 12 point, Times New Roman, in “Print Layout.” Otherwise, I just find it hard to read.
Just below that on the pet peeve list – don’t leave comments in your manuscript when you send it to me. Be confident in your submission. It should say, “This is my fabulous book that is AMAZING and you want to buy it!” You don’t want it to look unfinished or hesitant.
You often hear that it’s the first ten pages – or even the first page – that sells a story. Is there something particular that you look for in those first few pages?
It really is a different experience for every book. I don’t judge on just the first page because even the best authors sometimes take a bit to warm up to their epic story, but there should be some quirk in the first few pages that hooks me. A sassy, slick main character or an intriguing world that I want to see more of… something. It doesn’t have to be the main hook or conflict, it is okay to build to that, but add in that one cool thing? You’ll have me.
If you could give writers one piece of advice, what would it be?
Don’t rush your publishing decisions – think through what you want, not just for that book but for your career. That sounds so general, but it’s a step that I think people overlook. With so many different publishing options – big houses, small press, self-publishing etc… — you should really figure out where you want to go. And I’m not just talking about “I want to be a huge bestseller who lives off royalties for the rest of my life!!” That is everyone’s goal, and rightly so. But how do you function best and what would be the best path there? Once that path has been started, a lot of times it can be very difficult to change, and I don’t think people realize they should really think first before jumping in with both feet.
Tell us about a project you took on, even though it wasn’t like projects you usually take on, because there was something special or unique about it that you couldn’t say no to. If this question doesn’t apply to you, please tell us about an exciting or proud moment in your career as an editor or agent.
Oh, goodness. The Girl in 6E by A.R. Torre is probably the project that has been the most out of my wheelhouse as of yet. Redhook, our new commercial fiction imprint, was just starting – I had been only acquiring science fiction and fantasy before that – and this ridiculously, crazy awesome book came to my attention. It sort of defies definition, but the closest we have come is “erotic thriller.” I won’t go into too many details and spoil the story for you (shameless plug – out in July!), but the main character is just fascinating. She has a strong desire to kill people, but at the same time, she has this warped moral code so she becomes a recluse to protect everyone around her. But when one of her clients poses a threat to a little girl, she has to make a decision – stay safe inside or risk everything (and everyone) to save one little girl? It was just awesome. I love it to pieces and can’t wait for it to hit shelves.