Here’s an interview with JJ, Editorial Assistant at St. Martin’s Press. JJ was kind enough to sit with me the night we announced the winners (Thanksgiving eve) to discuss looking forward, how it all went down and what to expect in the near future. Enjoy the interview.
GM: JJ, congratulations on the success of the St. Martin’s Press “New Adult” submissions contest sponsored by #YAlitchat. It was such a pleasure working with you, Dan and the team at St. Martin’s Press. I’m truly honored by your request for my support. In all, we received 382 submissions in a two week period. That’s simply amazing. Did you expect the contest to be so successful–utilizing the power of social media to get the word out?
JJ: Thank YOU, Georgia, for being so helpful with everything! I couldn’t have done it without you–you and the power of Twitter, Ning, blogging, and all the wonderful resources of social media. I honestly had NO idea the contest would be so successful–I had hoped to get at least 50 submissions, but this blew me away. It spoke to me about how many people write fiction in this “grey area” of publishing that get overlooked or shoehorned into other genres by agents and editors.
GM: The contest generated quite a lot of excitement for “New Adult” as a potential new genre–a term coined by St. Martin’s Press. The excitement can be seen via the numerous blog posts, personal emails I’ve received and tweets and DMs on twitter. However, there also seems to be this undercurrent of suspicion and even dismay amongst a few who question whether it’s necessary or simply a marketing ploy. Can you address these concerns?
JJ: To the question of whether or not New Adult is necessary: it is not. To the question of whether or not it is a marketing ploy: it absolutely in some part. Then why New Adult? For many reasons–publishing is a business like (and unlike) any other and it constantly changes and evolves–I would argue it NEEDS to change and evolve–in order to survive.
I look to the YA genre because it’s one sector of the market that I can recall a Before and an After. When I was a child, I remember there was no YA–it was all children’s fiction. Now it’s picture books, young reader, middle grade, and young adult. Moving the “teen” books into their own section allowed the YA genre to expand and grow–I love what it encompasses now!
It’s trickier with this, of course, because I’ve had people accuse me of being ageist. New Adult is not meant to exclude other readers, just as YA is not only for teens. Dan and I think there is a gap in the current adult market–the literary fiction market–for fiction about twentysomethings. You never stop growing up, I think, but little in the market seems to address the coming-of-age that also happens in your 20s. This is the time of life when you are an actual, legal adult, but just because you’re able to vote (in the US, anyway) that doesn’t mean you know HOW to be one. This is the first time when you are building a life that is your OWN, away from your parents and the family that raised you. It’s a strange and scary place to be.
Just as YA is fiction about discovering who you are as a person, I think NA is fiction about building your own life. (Very generalised, of course.) I hope that the creation of this category will allow the adult market to develop and expand in similar ways the children’s market did.
GM: Back to the contest itself. It’s simply unheard of for a large publisher to read and vet that many submissions in such a short period of time. It’s quite ambitious. Can you explain how you were able to do it?
JJ: I have a lot of practice reading slush. I worked at a literary agency before coming to St. Martin’s Press. In all honesty, if it weren’t for the business aspects of publishing (administrative things such as emails, phone calls, etc.), slush reading wouldn’t take as long as it does. I carved out a few hours after work every night to go through the submissions and divided them into Yes, No, and Maybe. At the end of it all, I went through all the Maybes and divided them into Yes and No. I did the same with the Yes pile until I had a final Yes pile. I also ran them by a few editorial assistants at work for second opinions, as well as taking into considering Georgia’s recommendations. I tried to get them down to 10-15 final Yeses (I am only human after all), but they were so good, I ended up with 18 final Yeses.
GM: There is quite a lot of talent in the pre-published community of writers–in particular #YAlitchat. However, as am I, you very strongly advise writers so seek the representation of an agent. Can you elaborate on the importance of doing so and how you will handle writers from the contest who remain unagented?
JJ: As for needing an agent, I wrote about it in this blog post. I will stress the importance of the agent from two perspectives: from the writer’s and from the editor’s. From the writer’s perspective, you need an agent to guide your career. The agent can help you develop your brand as an AUTHOR, help you navigate the strangeness of contracts, money, and market performance, dish the facts, help you set goals and expectations, and keep you grounded. From the editor’s perspective, an agent is someone we trust to give us stuff we like to read. We build relationships with each other and they lead US to YOU. Also, remember that publishing houses are focused on the final PRODUCT (the physical/digital book), what will make US money; agents focus on YOU and what will make YOU money. Also, on the editorial side, my contract is with the writer for one book at a time and while I work on making your book the best it can be, I can’t handle other questions about your career, the process, what I will do to help promote, etc. That’s not my job. My job is to make your book sing.
As for the writers who decide to remain unagented, that is their own business, of course. If you believe yourself savvy enough to handle the business without an agent, then you are welcome to it. Personally, I wouldn’t. I write fiction as well and I want an agent!
GM: What are next steps for those who’ve “won” a chance to have you review the first fifty pages of their manuscripts? What can they expect during the process?
JJ: Please expect an email from me requesting a synopsis (ah, the S-word!) and the first 50 pages of your manuscript to be sent to me at St. Martin’s (email preferred). It doesn’t have be EXACTLY 50–ballpark is good. I would rather read to the end of a chapter than be cut off in the middle. The synopsis for me to see what happens at the end, of course.
GM: What happens after that? Will you return their partial with editorial notes or do so only for those who will move on to full submission?
JJ: If at that stage I decide to pass, I will send you a letter about why it doesn’t work for me with some editorial comments if I think it’s necessary/worth it. If I request a full, but turn that down as well, expect the same. Remember, everything needs the Boss’s approval as well.
GM: Will you allow those whose partials require revisions to do so and re-submit for consideration?
JJ: Unfortunately, I don’t think I will allow resubmission on partials. However, if I reject a full manuscript with editorial comments and I invite you to resubmit with revisions, please do so. Again, the final say rests with the Boss–he may not want to see a revised manuscript.
GM: From a publisher’s perspective, what do you think a contest like this says about you in the publishing world, to your peers/colleagues?
JJ: That we’re crazy? Boss and I are very, very open to experimentation and trying new things. If it fails, it fails. We pick ourselves up and try again. St. Martin’s Press has traditionally given a lot of leeway to its editors to acquire what they find interesting and has given us a lot of independence. Our colleagues are great. As for as peers, we’ll see! I think some people are reluctant to change and want to cling to models that are outdated. Adapt or accept defeat is our motto.
GM: How has the contest impacted submissions from agents?
JJ: Since we are a fledgling enterprise, we haven’t had that many submissions from agents yet! We’re still trying to get the word out. Boss and I have been actively introducing ourselves to and wooing different agents and agencies for things to publish, but it’s nice when an agent contacts US because they somehow heard about our endeavor via Twitter, a blog, or another form of social media.
GM: Seems you will have your hands full over the next couple of months but some are already asking when the next contest will be. So???
JJ: Oh Lordy, the contest was something unexpected. I initially turned to Georgia to possibly bring up the topic of New Adult on #YAlitchat and she was the one who suggested a contest and helped me get the word out! As for when another one will be, I don’t know. If we find something from this one, maybe Boss will be open to another one. He has rather benignly given me complete independence with this project.
GM: When can the winners expect to hear from you?
JJ: Hopefully some time next week. I look forward to working with them! I’m sorry I couldn’t request more, but I am human after all. I have other projects aside from this contest to work on. There is a lot of talent in #YAlitchat and I commend everyone for submitting.
GM: What advice do you have for those entrants whose work was not chosen?
JJ: Just because it’s not for us doesn’t mean it not right for someone else. Keep writing, keep trying, and don’t give up hope! I had a substantial Maybe pile–if this turns out to be successful, perhaps we will turn to that pile for more. Some of the entries in the Maybe pile were more YA than what we were looking for, and while our mandate is to publish fiction for adults, some of those YAs may find their home with us at other imprints.
GM: Any parting thoughts?
JJ: This contest taught me that there DOES exist a need for a niche in the market for protagonists aged 18 to 26, based on the sheer number of people who had manuscripts that fit. Hopefully other publishing houses will come to realise that too.
GM: Thanks so much for making me a part of this process, JJ. I can’t wait to see these books in print and know that in a small way I had something to do with it. Congratulations to you and all the awesome writers who will go on to publish with St. Martin’s Press as a result of this contest.
Click here for a list of winners (18 total winners) including the top three as chosen by the St. Martin’s Press Editorial Team!