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SFWC: Meeting the Editors

So at the San Francisco Writers Conference they have this thing called “Ask the Pros.” They bill it as “a pitch-and-ask session with editors and publishing professionals,” but since most of the editors don’t accept unsolicited manuscripts, I’m not sure why you would pitch to them. Maybe they make exceptions? Or maybe just to find out if you’re in their ballpark?

I had dinner plans but decided to duck in for a couple minutes to talk to two specific editors: Caitlin O’Shaughnessy and David Ebershoff. Caitlin I wanted to see simply because she’s Tana French’s editor. I read In the Woods ages ago when the publicity agency sent it to me to review, and I loved it. I’m only just now getting around to The Likeness because I was holding a teeny grudge against French for dumping Rob and going with Cassie. (Read the books and you’ll see what I mean.) But what I wanted to better understand was the term “upmarket.” It’s another one of those words that gets tossed about a bit, and seems to be used in a number of different ways. “It means it’s written for women,” one person told me. But Caitlin didn’t use gender as a rule of thumb. She told me it had more to do with style—the writing in upmarket fiction is a bit more careful . . . Like, maybe it’s genre fiction but told in a literary way. When I told her about The Fall and Rise of Peter Stoller, she seemed to think it fell under the upmarket umbrella. She said that the fact Peter is gay is “a good hook” and will likely make the book more marketable rather than less.

Much as I liked Caitlin, I did want a second opinion, just to see if there was any kind of agreement on the issue. These kinds of things are pretty subjective, which is why it can be so difficult to find the right agent, editor, etc. The wait to chat with David was pretty long, but I stuck it out. He was very encouraging. He told me Peter sounds like “upmarket espionage.” Not only that, but it “sounds like exactly the kind of thing [he’s] looking for.” (!) Apparently it’s hot to have things in this genre either featuring female protagonists or written by a woman or both. (I can’t write women. Dunno why not. Gay guys will have to do.) David asked if it has series potential and whether I have an agent yet, and I told him I’d had several say they were interested in seeing the manuscript. My understanding was that he might be interested to see it, too, once I do get an agent.

Anyway, by this time my dinner fellows were wondering if I’d got lost or died in a writers’ duel or something. But I’d spoken to the two editors I’d meant to and was armed with a fresh sense of optimism. K-Pro had defied categorization, but the consensus seems to be that Peter is marketable. (And “upmarket” at that.) Just need to make sure the book is the best I can possibly make it. Then I’ll be sending it out with crossed fingers and held breath.

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