I’m very excited about this folks, this is more than just an interview –it’s loaded with emotion, despair and pain. (On my part.)
See Robbie Mayes was the first editor I ever queried and I hit the jackpot. He’s a great guy, we like similar books and, best of all, he liked my book. But because I was new to the publishing world, I had all sorts of insane ideas, hopes and expectations. These never came true.
Neither did that first book I sent — not even after a rewrite based on his (very good) advice. Nor the next. Nor the next. And in the meantime, I almost cracked up from re-checking my email, mailbox and voicemail constantly.
Now, as far as I can tell Robbie is a great guy and I believe he genuinely wanted to help me.
So what happened? Well, I have this perfect opportunity to find out. Since Robbie is no longer an editor — he left FSG 3 years ago — I can ask him the questions I was dying to ask back then and he can answer them.
AND I hope you’ll get something out of this, too…
Sam: I was always consoled by the fact that while FSG passed on my book (twice), you said you liked it. How does that decision go down? Do numerous editors read each MS? Or does one editor just pitch the story/theme to the group? Are there a limited number of books that can get published, so that editors have to make “this one or that one” choices?
R.M.: Different houses do it different ways. Unless I thought something an absolute sure thing, I would always seek an opinion from one or more of my colleagues before presenting it to the ultimate decision-makers.
When I worked at FSG, we didn’t really have traditional acquisitions meetings like many houses do, though projects were passed around a lot for opinion-gathering.
There are a limited number of books a house can publish, but one must think years ahead in this regard. So sometimes you might have to make an offer on a book and tell the author it won’t be published for another three years. (And then you’d hope some other author would be late delivering so the project could be bumped up to fill the gap.)
Lack of room on future lists was never the sole criterion for rejecting something. But there were times I had to say, well I finally won that hard-fought battle, so if the enthusiasm level for this other book is tepid, I should probably let it go.
There are large gaps in our correspondence from that time. In the case of Qwikpick, months passed by without an update. Can you tell us what goes on during these periods? Are MSs sitting on someone else’s desk? Or awaiting a meeting? Or just in a big pile that’s less urgent than other stuff?
In the case of your book, Tom, if I remember correctly, it was passed around a bit. I know one colleague had it for some time before I got a vague endorsement, the ilk of which generally come to little use, and then I passed it to the director.
Trust me that when you don’t hear anything for a while—this is of course after first getting some encouragement—chances are pretty good you are not forgotten. Perhaps the editor is waiting to get second or third reads to gather support. Maybe it is a busy time. Maybe the editor in whose in-box the manuscript lies motionless has an office one can barely step into because he has a mind-shattering backlog, and you’re afraid a gentle reminder that you’ve been waiting a few months will drive him over the edge. Maybe the editorial director likes it but the marketing director hates it, so he or she must lie in wait for The Day of the Good Mood on which to make convincing efforts. Maybe it was sitting on my shelf awaiting inspiration for a revised acquisition memo with all new angles.
Those are hypothetical; there are many possibilities. But believe me, even the handful of manuscripts at FSG that sat around there for three years and more because we couldn’t figure out how best to publish them but neither could we let them go—they were always present in the deep reaches of the editor’s store of anxiety.
NEXT UP: Robbie Mayes will answer questions about contacting editors and even tell me what he thought of the time I called him up univited….