Algonkian Writer Conferences Interviews Christine Pride of Broadway Books
AC: These days it appears more and more true that for various genres of fiction aspiring authors often have an edge in getting a first novel published if they possess an authentic platform for telling the story, i.e., a media platform, or at least one of sufficient experience and expertise that applies in a significant way to the essence of the work. For example, the author of one of our recent successes at the NYC Pitch, Lipstick in Afghanistan, would fit easily into the category above.
Do you see platform becoming more important these days for certain types of fiction. And if so, what kinds? What do you look for in the way of platform when in the office, or at a conference listening to a writer pitch you their work? And can you give us writers some tips in this area?
CP: Yes, I would agree that for better or for worse, platform is more important than ever in giving debut writers an edge in the publishing process. As editors and publishers, when we fall in love with a book, our very first questions are, “who is the audience?” and “how will we reach them?” When an author has a built-in fan base already, via their blog, twitter feed or the popularity of their freelance writings, it gives us that initial leg up and foundation which is an attractive element to the overall package. Having a platform also proves to the publisher that the author is a savvy self-promoter and will be a vital partner with the publishing house in terms of promoting the book in traditional and social media outlets. Which is not to say that you can’t write and successfully publish a beautiful book without a platform or without 20,000 twitter followers—that can and does happen every day-- it just means that if you are able and inclined to do some social media networking in advance of trying to sell your book, it could really work to your advantage.
AC: As you know, at the New York Pitch we train writers to examine the most vital fictional elements in their novels from the inside out, and quite frequently, if the premise or plot or characters are lacking in some manner, that fact comes through in workshop discussions and presents itself in need of a fix. Though we can't always fix everything, which fictional elements do you like to hear clicking soundly in a pitch communication, those that enable you as an editor make a decision as to whether or not the project has commercial potential? Can you summarize the elements and tell us which ones are most important to you, and why?
CP: As an editor, when I sit and listen to or read pitches/queries I am looking for three things. 1. A unique idea that appears to be well thought out in terms of why (as precisely as possible) an intended audience will respond to the book. 2. A summary/query which itself is written in such a way so as to indicate that the author has the chops to write the proposed book. If there are grammar issues or misspellings in the pitch or the summary itself is not cogent and if the three or so paragraphs aren’t written in such a way as to entice me, then I won’t be left with the confidence that the writer could write 300 more paragraphs that would entice me. 3. The author is confident, personable and open to feedback. In this day and age, authors are required to interact with their readers and fans more than ever before to be successful, so it’s important to have a sense that a potential author can relate well to other people and will be comfortable speaking in front of audiences. And that he or she is going to be open to editorial feedback and be a willing participant in the collaborative nature of the whole publication process.
AC: Have you found it a valuable or rewarding experience to engage in discussions with writers about their projects? Do you feel such discussions about characters and plot, etc., help the writers focus on the truly vital issues they need to hash through before they can become published authors?
CP: Absolutely, one of the joys of being an editor is to work with writers on refining their ideas and think creatively about plot and characters. I love brainstorming the what if’s when it comes to a particular character’s journey or motivations and brainstorming plot ideas. A good editor, based on experience and instinct, will know intuitively what will work and what won’t in terms of a plot point or premise. We also have an understanding of the marketplace as a whole and know what ideas and sensibilities are “trending” so to speak—what particular types of works and conceits will meet with an enthusiastic response from readers. So yes, it’s very rewarding to click with an author and feel that you’ve helped them shape an idea or inspired them to try a different approach—that sort of collaborative effort is the very cornerstone of the author/editorial relationship.
AC: It seems axiomatic over time that publishers prefer, if possible, to market novels with great stories and characters, and that it behooves an aspiring author in most genres to attempt, insofar as possible, to create a story that is "high concept", i.e., commercially viable yet not sounding like a tale you've heard a few thousand times, or worse yet, one that everyone knows has failed in the marketplace. Can you discuss this? How important is a story that sounds unique while also flying a banner of potential commercial success? Or is "mid" or "low concept" equally acceptable as long as the prose is superb, as one might find in more literary novels? Or does it naturally depend on the genre?
CP: It may be too idealistic of me, but I like to think truly good books find their way. Sure, we’re all looking for something that has a stand out angle or a high concept approach because that can make the marketing of the book a little more clear cut and easier. But there are only so many new stories, and what’s important is being able to tell a story, any story, well. For me, that involves great prose, a strong emotional resonance and compelling story-telling (good pacing, strong characters, a narrative drive that keeps me turning pages). I always tell authors not to worry so much about whether their book is “literary” or “commercial” or if it’s “romance” or “women’s fiction”—writers should write the very best book they can, that comes from a creative, organic place—the story that is bursting out of them-- and leave it to editors and publishers to figure out how to package and market that book to an audience.
AC: How important are a writer's fiction writing credentials in the genres you represent? Are you more or less likely to ask to see a project if the writer has strong fiction creds? What are your standards? Do you balance creds against a great story or are both equally important?
CP: Fiction writing credentials can be an attractive part of a writer’s overall platform. Getting published in established and respected literary journals is a nice component to an author’s resume—not essential but it helps. A very compelling and well-written story? That is first and foremost what is essential.
AC: What other great advice can you give the aspiring authors out there? What is important to you that we have yet cover?
CP: It’s harder than ever to be a writer these days. I don’t say that to be discouraging but because it’s the hard truth. I think you have to balance that reality with a commitment to your craft, a whole, whole lot of patience and perseverance and a true sense of *fun*. You should write because you enjoy writing, first and foremost. You should also read a lot (I’m shocked by the number of aspiring writers who aren’t themselves avid readers) and you should be committed to refining your craft. As with singing, or playing the piano, or skiing, practice and dedication is the only path towards improvement. But mainly, again—have fun and enjoy the process.
AC: In general, what do you see as the future of novel-length fiction, both in terms of quality, and in terms of evolution away from paper? Will bookstores always have a place in American culture?
CP: As I said, I’m a true optimist. I think physical books will always exist and be cherished by readers and I think bookstores will always exist to sell the books and to serve as a gathering place for communities of readers. I simply can’t bear to think of a world where they don’t and everyone reads off machines. Yuk.