By now weâ€™ve all heard about Warner Books changing its name to Grand Central Publishing. But have you heard about Selina McLemore?
A recent addition to the Grand Central Publishing team, and because sheâ€™s so fabulous she discovered one of my all-time favorite authors Mary Castillo, I wanted to know her thoughts on everything from how to get to the top of her slush pile to how much she really cares about author blogs. Along the way, I also found out her favorite all-time book and just what an editor does for funâ€¦aside from reading.
Q â€“ As you just moved to Grand Central Publishing, can you talk about what drew you to them and makes you so excited to work for them?
A â€“ What I have always liked about GCP (the publisher formerly known as Warner) is that they are highly selective about who they publish, and once a project has been acquired everyone is fully committed to making it a success. This is a group of people who truly love books, and their passion for their work is evident in their lists. In addition to GCP being an environment I wanted to work in, it also offered me the opportunity to pursue a long-time personal interest: books for Latinas
Q â€“ What lines are you acquiring for?
My primary focus is to develop our list of high-quality commercial fiction for the Latina audience–specifically English-dominant Latinas living in the US. There are no rigid rules in terms of word counts or content guidelines; I’m looking for richly crafted, culturally significant stories with vibrant voices and dynamic characters worthy of the strong women we’re creating these books for.
Additionally, I’m continuing to work on romance and general women’s fiction. Essentially I get to work on everything I love to read–you can’t get luckier than that!
Q â€“ What is the best way to get to the top of your slush pile?
A â€“ Start with a bang. I think writing a great query letter is one of a writer’s hardest tasks. You have to a lot do to and very little space in which to do it. So know exactly what your hook is and put it up front.
Q â€“ What is the best way to get to the bottom of your slush pile?
A â€“ Emailing me a query without an explicit invitation to do so (you really don’t want to be the person whose large file crashes my server). Sending me a full manuscript without querying me first (my desk is not a party for your 600 page manuscript to crash). Sending me something I’ve turned down before UNLESS I’ve asked you to revise and resubmit (moving to a new house doesn’t mean I left my memory at the old one.) I think I’ll stop now so I have room to answer the other questions…
Q â€“ How much do you pay attention to author blogs when acquiring fiction? Platforms?
A â€“ Blogs are tricky. Generally speaking, I don’t consider a blog alone a platform. True, we’ve seen some bloggers become bestselling authors, but more often than not, that doesn’t happen. That said, I do read blogs in search of new voices and will email bloggers I like to see if they are working on novels. I encourage my authors to start blogs because I think they are a great way for connecting with readers. And, should I publish your book, I always tell sales, marketing and publicity about your blog so that we can incorporate it into our strategy.
In terms of acquisition, sure, platform is important, especially in a competitive market. But no new writer should start deleting files for fear that her lack of platform will forever keep her from selling her book. If I love your writing it wonâ€™t matter to me that you don’t have an extensive backlist or a TV show or aren’t a celebrity.
Q â€“ Do you have a favorite/interesting story about how you acquired a manuscript?
A â€“ This is like asking a mother if she has a favorite child. Sure, we all know she probably does, but saying so would make the others feel bad.
Q â€“ What is the biggest mistake you see established authors make in their careers?
A â€“ Trying to jump on a certain trend bandwagon even when it plays against their personal strengths. Every author, new or established, should know her strengths–and her weaknesses. If you’re best at writing character-driven relationship novels, but know plotting is more of a challenge for you, don’t try to write a fast-paced mystery just because you heard those were “hot”. If you’re voice is naturally sweet and funny, don’t suddenly decide to write something gritty and dark because you saw it worked for someone else. I recommend that any established author thinking of changing direction should discuss it with her editor and agent first.
Q â€“ Aside from reading, what are some of your favorite ways to spend your day off?
A â€“ How many times did you have to ask this question before realizing you needed to start with “Aside from reading…”?
I’m a people watcher, and now that it’s getting nice out, one of my favorite places to sit and do that is my fire escape. I realize to those of you with houses and yards that must sound odd, but trust me, it’s great. I live on a particularly bustling, semi-famous street in Greenwich Village, so there is always something interesting happening. And my fire escape is an ideal place to observe without being observed.
Q â€“ Can you name a few of your all-time favorite books and why you love them?
A â€“ Recently a friend recommended a book to me by saying “This will remind you of why you love reading.” The book was I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith, (best known in the US for 101 Dalmatians) originally published in 1948. If you ask me what it’s about, my answer would be vague: two sisters, their family, their life, love, anticipation. I suppose I could call it a coming-of-age novel, but that tag tends to solicit an eye roll when used. But my friend was exactly right; the book made me remember why I love reading. I was completely engaged at every single moment. Not a word is wasted. The characters feel completely original and also completely timeless. The focus is always on the present moment, on living, experiencing, surviving the now. It’s become my little black dress of book–perfectly suited for me every time.