Meet the Conference Faculty: James Melia

“I don’t differentiate between ‘debut’ or not when I’m considering a work.”

-James Melia

Every year, the Writers’ League of Texas brings a faculty of close to thirty agents, editors, and other industry professionals to Austin for its Agents & Editors Conference. As we look ahead to the 25th Annual A&E Conference, taking place June 29–July 1, 2018, we’re happy to share Q&As with some of our faculty here.

An Interview with James Melia

James Melia previously worked at Doubleday before joining Flatiron Books, where he edits and acquires upmarket commercial fiction, narrative nonfiction, and pop culture. Notable books he has edited include The People We Hate at the Wedding by Grant Ginder (an Entertainment Weekly Summer Must-Read), James Rebanks’s The Shepherd’s Life (which was named one of the top ten books of the year by Michiko Kakutani), and Marc Maron’s Waiting for the Punch. In 2018, James will publish Ron Stallworth’s memoir Black Klansman, the basis for the forthcoming film produced by Jordan Peele and directed by Spike Lee.

Scribe: How would you describe your personal approach to working with an author?

James Melia: Each author (and book) is different. I will say that editing a book is an incredibly personal experience between author and editor​. It’s what I love most about my job. Before we move on to marketing and publicizing the book, it’s just this special thing you and the writer are working on — bouncing off ideas, drafting new chapters, trying a new perspective or tone. Whatever the work might need. My job as an editor is to be the author’s biggest fan, but that also comes with wanting the work to be the best it can possibly be.

Scribe: What do you look for in a debut author?

JM: ​I don’t differentiate between “debut” or not when I’m considering a work in terms of what I’m looking for content-wise. I want whatever I’m reading to totally grab me​ and get my heart racing. There is no better feeling than opening a manuscript and knowing by the end of the first page that you have something special in your hands, something you just want to push into the hands of others and say, “Here. Take this. Read it now!” That’s what I’m always looking for.

Scribe: If you could give writers one piece of advice, what would it be?

JM: ​If you’re not enjoying the writing of it, people probably aren’t going to enjoy reading of it. Follow your instinct and passion.

Scribe: Has there been a project you took on because there was something special or unique about it, even though it wasn’t like projects you usually take on?

JM: ​I’m still pretty young in my career, so I’m pretty game for new challenges. But, I did discover a novel through Instagram once.​

​It was self-published, and I just clicked the link on this stranger’s bio and started reading the book. It immediately drew me in — sort of a millennial Brett Easton Ellis. I’m lucky enough to work for two great publishers that let me buy it, and just this past week the New York Times Book Review ended their review of it with the demand of, “You must read this now!” I think it’s important to think outside the box and test the limits just a bit, now more than ever. The book is called Into? by North Morgan. Follow the Times’ advice and read it now!

Thanks, James!

Click here and here to read our 2018 A&E Conference agent & editor bios.

Click here for more information on the 2018 Agents & Editors Conference, a weekend long event in Austin, TX (June 29-July 1) that focuses on the craft of writing, the business of publishing, and building a literary community.

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