Thursday, September 6, 2012

From Submission to Offer with Shauna Fay Rossano

A couple of months ago, I got a hankering to interview an editor. You know how much I like interviews, and it occurred to me that a lot of writers, even a lot of agented ones, don’t really know what happens after an editor receives a submission. It took me a few weeks to work up the courage to ask Kate to set me up (since editors’ e-mail addresses are virtually impossible to find online, and for good reason), but once I did, she graciously agreed (of course). And Shauna Fay Rossano of G.P. Putnam’s Sons/Penguin Group graciously accepted.

To make things more interesting, I asked my questions in the context of a manuscript she recently acquired, Wesley King’s THE VINDICO (which you may remember from my interview with Brianne Johnson). Ms. Rossano acquired it about two years ago, so we are flashing back a bit, but somehow, I don’t think you’ll mind. Enjoy!

KV: First off, tell us a bit about THE VINDICO. What is it about, and what did you love about it?

SR: THE VINDICO is an action/adventure YA novel about a group of super villains who are starting to feel too old to fight the League of Heroes, so they decide to kidnap five teenagers and teach them to be the next generation of evil. The captured teens are each taught a specific super-power--from super-strength, to telekinesis, to advanced computer hacking skills. While at first the decision to escape at any cost seems like a no-brainer, the teens soon question which side of the war they should fight for. Brianne Johnson, Wesley’s agent, first pitched the project as “X-Men meets the Breakfast Club,” which is an amazingly perfect description that I’ve clung to and used in selling copy as the book has evolved!

What I immediately loved about Wesley’s writing was that it didn’t take itself too seriously--he has a very dark sense of humor that is pitch-perfect for this type of story. While the plot is about super heroes, I felt immediately invested in the story because the characters are so complex--you don’t just have to be a super hero fan to like the book. Also, pacing is extremely important to me (I get bored easily if a book is not moving at a fast-enough clip!), and Wesley’s scenes unfold like they were written for a movie. Fast-paced battle scenes, punchy/authentic teen dialogue, and sarcastic humor all make this such a fun read!

KV: Jumping in to say I finished THE VINDICO a couple of weeks ago, and the cinematic nature of the story immediately struck me. I thought so many of the scenes would work ever better in a summer blockbuster; I wanted to see them on the big screen! But I digress…

How quickly did you read Mr. King’s manuscript? Is that pretty typical of your response times on agented submissions, or do those vary?

SR: Uncharacteristic of my slow-paced reading, I read this manuscript in one sitting! I was home sick from work that day and could not put it down.

This is NOT typical of my response time. While I try my hardest to get to things quickly, I often take at least a month (or two if things are particularly busy) to respond to agented submissions. Unless I really Love Love something--but even then, it’s often at least a week (see: “slow-paced reading” above).

KV: After you finished THE VINDICO, did you pass it on to a colleague for a second read?

SR: Initially, Brianne had sent this project to Putnam's publisher, Jen Besser, who offered to let me read it first. I was intrigued by the premise since I do like comic book adventure movies, etc., but I was also a little skeptical because I am not a comic super-fan. But as I said above, I really connected to the voice and humor in Wesley's writing right away, so after reading, I told Jen how great it was--and after reading herself, she agreed! She knew how much I loved it and suggested I take the project on to edit myself. And I'm so grateful to her for that!

KV: How did you prepare to bring THE VINDICO to your acquisitions meeting/editorial board?

SR: We are pretty lucky at Penguin: each imprint handles its own acquisitions. It varies slightly each time--if a project looks like it will go to auction, we’ll all move very quickly to read it. But if there seems to be more time and a Putnam editor loves a manuscript, she’ll send it out to discuss at our weekly department meeting.

It’s on a much smaller scale than some of the other large companies, I think (there are only six of us, total). I really like our system, and imagine it’s much less intimidating than presenting a project in front of a formal board, but I started my career at Putnam, so I’ve never experienced it any other way!

KV: What happened at that meeting? And what might have happened? What are all the possible outcomes?

SR: Luckily, when other editors in the department read this manuscript, they felt the same way I did, and could see potential in this young writer.

The outcome of these meetings can go several ways, but we always have great discussions. If everyone in the group has problems with a manuscript, the editor will go back to the agent/author for a revision. Or, if the editor was on the fence about it to begin with and everyone else had issues as well, she might decide not to offer on the project at all. We all have slightly different tastes at Putnam, which is great, because we can offer each other valuable feedback--everything from validation of our own love for a manuscript, to valid concerns about something that we might have missed. It’s so important to get other opinions!

KV: How did you present your offer to Mr. King’s agent, and what was that conversation like?

SR: I think this project (and process) was particularly special to both of us, because it was my first acquisition and her first sale! So we were both very excited, enthusiastic, probably nervous (I was, at least!).

I know some editors prefer to offer over the phone, but I actually e-mailed Brianne the offer--I find it easier to have a written trail while negotiating. I think the first time we spoke on the phone was right after we came to an agreement, and we were both so thrilled to get to work together with Wesley. We’re probably his two biggest cheerleaders!

KV: Of course, making the offer wasn’t the end of the road. What sorts of things did you and Mr. King’s agent discuss before everyone signed the contract?

SR: An agent’s not doing their job if they don’t come back with a few retorts/sticking points during the negotiations, but Brianne was lovely to work with. We went back and forth on a few things (like territories, royalty splits, subsidiary rights percentages, etc.), and came to an agreement that worked for both parties.

KV: Any last words of advice or encouragement you’d like to share with us?

SR: Again, every publishing company’s acquisition process is unique, but we are all looking for the same thing: a great manuscript! When an editor loves a manuscript, they become cheerleaders almost immediately--whether it’s telling other editors in their department or a larger acquisition board about their love for something they’ve read. Luckily, every editor is different, so if someone is not interested in your project, that doesn’t mean there is not another editor out there who will love it!

Thank you, Ms. Rossano, for sharing THE VINDICO and your editor’s-eye view with us! And thank you for reminding us how subjective this business is. It’s easy to lose sight of that.

As you may have surmised, THE VINDICO came out a couple of months ago, so definitely give it a look-see. (I think it would especially appeal to any reluctant and/or male readers in your life.) Its sequel, THE FEROS, is due out next summer, so make sure to mark your calendars!

Have a great weekend!


Stephsco said...

I would read that book. Like, right now I would read it.

Tara Dairman said...

Hooray for THE VINDICO (which I loved)! Hooray for Shauna and Putnam! Hooray for Krista for providing a much-needed peak behind the scenes at the acquisitions process!

Shauna's my editor, too, and I'll just say that anyone who gets to work with her is lucky indeed. =)

Jess said...

Thanks for such a great interview~ I loved hearing about the inner workings of editorial submissions!

Elizabeth Briggs said...

Thanks for this interview! We don't often hear about how editors acquire manuscripts. I definitely need to check this book out!

Susan Adrian said...

Really interesting, thanks!!

Lo said...

Wow, what an interesting post! Thanks for sharing this interview. Your blog is amazing, Krista!

Noelle Henry said...

Thanks so much for this interview, Krista! As I'm on sub right now, it's especially awesome to get a take on the process from an editor's point of view. And gives me yet another reason to chew my nails. Not that I needed one! ;) LOL.

Maggie Hall said...

What a cool interview! I feel like we writers know so much about the query process, but so LITTLE about the sub process. Thanks for posting this!

Michael G-G said...

Love this, Krista. We see a lot of agent interviews, but not so many editor. Thanks for giving us a "behind-the-scenes" look.

Jemi Fraser said...

Thanks for the insider's look at the process - very interesting! :)

Mina Lobo said...

Krista, Ms. Rossano, thanks for the groovy scoop from the mysterious "other side" of the query. Also, in my day gig, I too prefer a "paper" trail; you might not be able to infer tone from an e-mail, but you sure as heck can't mistake what's in black and white! (Unless, you know, it's in pink and green or something horrific like that...)
Some Dark Romantic

Kimberly said...

Oh, wow. This book sounds so awesome. I'm definitely going to check it out.

I enjoyed reading the details in this interview!

Melodie Wright said...

Thanks, Krista and Shauna! I'll finally be going back out on sub soon and this was SO helpful!

Krista Van Dolzer said...

Stephsco, I'm sure you can find THE VINDICO just about anywhere! :)

You would know, Tara:) Thanks for stopping by!

You're welcome, Jess! My pleasure.

I know, Liz. I wish we talked about this more openly. The submission process seems to be shrouded in mystery. I know it's best to keep a low profile when you're ON submission, but I wish more people would talk about it once they cross the finish line.

You're welcome, Susan! Thanks for stopping by.

You're very welcome, Lo. And thanks. *blushes*

Fingers crossed for you, Noelle, but you already knew that:)

I agree, Maggie. I just might have to do more of these interviews...

I liked getting this peek behind the scenes, too, Michael:)

I thought so, too, Jemi! Ms. Rossano's answers were so thorough.

Yay for paper trails, Mina!

Yay, Kimberly! You'll have to let us know what you think of THE VINDICO.

I'm glad you found the interview helpful, Melodie. (And good luck!)

Lynne Matson said...

I want to read this book...right now.:)

Cool post Krista! Thanks for pointing me toward a sweet book recommendation. *adds to TBR list*

Happy Sunday!

Amy L. Sonnichsen said...

So helpful! Thank you, Krista and Shauna. :)

Krista Van Dolzer said...

Happy to add another book to your to-read pile, Lynne:)

Amy, you're welcome!

Myrna Foster said...

I just bought The Vindico for my Nook. It sounds like something Dax and I will love.

I was wondering how on earth I missed this interview and realized that writing Nightingale meant missing a lot of things for a couple of months.

Krista Van Dolzer said...

Woohoo, Myrna! I love selling books! And don't feel bad at all for missing the interview. Writing is WAY more important than Internetting:)