Thursday, December 9, 2010
The Class Act Editor
If you attend a conference and meet an editor, hopefully you’ll get to chat with someone as classy as Peter Senftleben. Everyone who has met him has had similar comments: courteous, pleasant, and helpful. I attended a workshop that he facilitated at the RMFW Colorado Gold Conference last September. Not only was his advice outstanding, but he also graciously accommodated my very hectic schedule.
Maybe his cheerful disposition has something to do with the fact that his background is in engineering and math and he dodged them to do something he loved for the next fifty years. I kind of get the idea that he’s a Renaissance man. He also has quick wit that made me feel more comfortable shooting off my smart mouth.
Peter frequents writers conferences in the Colorado area and we look forward to having him back soon to our Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Gold.
CIR: Is there lots of pressure from publishing companies to their editors to choose titles that will sell?
PS: Of course, that’s how anyone makes money! Ideally, all the projects we acquire will sell well, but the truth of it is that many don’t. And they ultimately become labors of love for us. We acquire books that we feel passionate about and hope that translates to the general book-buying public, but with so many options out there, it’s not always that easy. The challenge for us is to find books we love that also stand out enough to make people pick them up and get them to read them above all the other choices. For whatever reason, people still may not connect with a book on a grand scale the way we do personally, but those are inevitable and risks pretty much any publisher will take for the right books.
CIR: I’ve heard countless times that writers have to be working publicity angles even if they don’t have a book sold yet to be considered for publication. Is this really a deal breaker if they aren’t?
PS: It depends on the book. That’s much truer for nonfiction than fiction. If a book is good, fits our list, and we think there’s a market for it, pre-sale publicity efforts don’t matter to me (also, what would you be publicizing if you don’t even have a publisher yet?). It’s great to have a website and maybe a blog, Facebook page, Twitter account—for yourself as an author rather than a specific book—as a jumping off point, but there’s enough time between the sale of a manuscript and the publication date that you can get things up and running in the meantime. We’re getting more pressure to include early endorsements, especially for debuts, so personal connections with bestselling authors in your genre are the best thing to develop.
CIR: How important is it for a writer to be flexible about changing their manuscript?
PS: Authors always need to be open to revisions of any size. It’s very rare that a manuscript comes in perfect, and almost never by a new writer. One of the first books I worked on, I basically had the author rewrite nearly three-quarters of the book to change the points of view. There was much resistance, but in the end, he and I both agreed that it was much stronger because of those changes. I’ve also asked authors to change character names because too many started with the same letter. Often, writers get too close to their work and can’t see the weaknesses in it, so they need to be receptive to constructive advice. No editor is out to make the book worse, trust me. If an author is so attached to every single word as they’ve written them, then they should probably look into self publishing instead. Also, inflexible authors are nightmares and nobody wants to work with them, so chances of a renewed contract are slim; sorry, but it’s true.
CIR: What is your dream as an editor? Finding the next J.K. Rowling?
PS: That would be nice, but I think it’s a little bit more personal for me than finding a blockbuster out of the gate (though I suppose Harry Potter took a bit to get going). I have so many books and authors that I truly love and can’t extol their brilliance enough—T. Greenwood, Ken Wheaton, and Lee Houck, to name a few among many—and it would be a dream if more people discovered them and became as fanatical as I am. Also, if they were mega-successful and made tons of money, because then it would just be validation of my tastes and I would be satisfied knowing that I helped make it happen. And maybe I’d get a bigger raise…
CIR: Kensington has open submissions, no agent necessary. Has Kensington found lots of good writers through this submission path?
PS: I know that we have acquired some projects that way—I personally have a couple—so it’s possible, but I can’t speak to the company as a whole or how successful they are. I just don’t know the path every author has taken to get here or their sales figures. But since we’re so commercial and publish a lot of genre books (romance, mystery, thrillers, etc.), we are able to get some quality projects directly from writers, be it because agents haven’t taken them on for whatever reason or authors simply haven’t even tried to find agents. On the flip side, it opens us up for a lot of terrible submissions, too. Like, can barely write a sentence bad.
CIR: Now, staying in accordance with my M.O., I must ask something off track. You had interest in doing stand up comedy. Did you ever try it?
PS: No way! I’m much too shy. That was just a pipe dream for another life.
The genres that Peter accepts are posted on the Kensington webpage.