“Show your work and be open to hearing criticism. Incorporate the feedback that feels honest and true.”
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 24th Annual A&E Conference, taking place June 30–July 2, 2017, we’re happy to share Q&As with some of our faculty here.
An Interview with Amy Gash
Amy Gash is a Senior Editor in the New York office of Algonquin Books, where she acquires literary fiction and narrative nonfiction on topics ranging from from science, education, humor, graphic memoir, history, and language. Books she has edited have won The National Book Critics Circle Award, The American Library Association Sophie Brody Medal, and The Sami Rohr Prize. They have been New York Times bestsellers, Boston Globe and Los Angeles Times bestsellers, #1 Indie Picks, Top Ten Amazon Books of the Year, and New York Times Notable Books. They have been published in translation throughout the world.
Scribe: How would you describe your personal approach to working with an author?
Amy Gash: My goal is to help an author write the best book possible—and that requires a personalized approach to each book. Often with nonfiction, the book I’ve acquired has not yet been written—there may only be a proposal and a chapter—so the first step might be conversations about what the author wants to achieve and how to get there. We might talk about structure, about themes, about endings and beginnings. I usually have strong opinions but I’m always cognizant of the fact that I’m there to facilitate the author’s vision. At the same time, I want to steer the author in a direction that I think readers will respond to—and I’m the stand-in for the reader. Once the manuscript is delivered, I always print out a hard copy and make copious notes all over the pages—I’ll write down whatever comes to my mind as I read. Then I’ll usually read the manuscript again while I’m transferring those notes to the digital manuscript and by then I’ve formed a cohesive view of the bigger issues (pacing, structure, does the book hold my interest, etc.) and smaller issues (sentence structure, repetition, did I “notice” the writing instead of enjoying the reading, etc.) that need to be addressed. Then I’ll do all this again when the revised manuscript is delivered, and again until the book feels ready to be published.
Scribe: What do you look for in a debut author?
AG: In any book—fiction or nonfiction, debut or not—I’m looking for a story that no one but that particular writer can tell. A voice or a story that makes me sit up and say this is original, this is something I haven’t read before. And even if the story is familiar, I’m hoping it’s told in a way that is completely fresh—maybe the writer comes at it sideways or backwards—or just differently.
Scribe: Do you think social media presence is critical for a successful writing career?
AG: No, but it certainly can help. That said, I think one’s social media presence has to be authentic to be effective. So an author who has published a book and has never been active on social media but then decides to tweet up a storm in order to sell that book is likely to be disappointed. Algonquin has a strong social media presence and we really work with our authors to create campaigns that are creative and potent. It takes thought.
Scribe: If you could give writers one piece of advice, what would it be?
AG: Show your work and be open to hearing criticism. Incorporate the feedback that feels honest and true.
Scribe: Tell us about 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; or tell us about an exciting or proud moment in your career as an editor.
AG: Algonquin recently published a book by filmmaker and pop culture icon John Waters. It’s the text of the commencement address he gave at the Rhode Island School of Design. I watched the speech on YouTube and loved it because it was not the usual, tired advice for graduates. I immediately thought it should be a book but the text was short and we needed to create a book around it. We found a slightly subversive illustrator whose art fit John’s worldview and we worked with John and now Make Trouble has just been published. It’s not a typical book for me, as I mostly edit fiction and narrative nonfiction, but still it fits well on Algonquin’s list because the book is moving and original.
Scribe: Are there any recent publications you’d like to highlight as representative of the kinds of works you’re interested in taking on, or can you give an example of the ideal book you’d like to publish?
AG: Recently published books include Real Food/Fake Food, an expose about how many of the foods we eat—from olive oil to cheese to wine—are not what we think they are; The Muralist, a novel by the author of the bestselling The Art Forger, about abstract expressionists in pre-WWII New York; Cannibalism, written by a zoologist who looks at the practice across the animal world; Pumpkinflowers, a memoir by a former Israeli soldier about how wars are fought today; and The Totally Unscientific Study of the Search for Human Happiness, by the comedian Paula Poundstone. As you can see, my interests are broad!
Click here for more information on the 2017 Agents & Editors Conference, a weekend long event in Austin, TX (June 30-July 2) that focuses on the craft of writing, the business of publishing, and building a literary community.