Friday, May 6, 2011
Meet Lou Anders
Lou Anders is both the Editorial Director and the Art Director for Pyr Books, which means he's a god in the fantasy world. (Or at least a demigod.) It also means he's busier than any one person has a right to be, so we're very honored that he took the time to sit down and answer some tough questions from Yours Truly.
Tell us a little about yourself. How did you become the Editorial Director at Pyr Books, and what exactly do you do?
Well, my background was in theatre (London and Chicago), journalism and screenwriting (Los Angeles), and dot com startups (San Francisco), before I started working in 2001 as a freelance anthologist. In 2004, Prometheus Books hired me to help them build a science fiction and fantasy list and here, seven years later this March, we are. As to what I do—that’s a complex question and a long answer. As Editorial Director, I’m both acquisition’s editor and art director, and sort of a “buck stops here” on a lot of other aspects of book production. I would try to summarize by saying I select all manuscripts (with the aid of my editorial assistant and slush reader), edit the manuscripts (but we also have excellent copyeditors), select which artist to put on the cover (we have magnificent artists), art direct said artists (again), determine which of our three in house designers will do the design (we have three wonderful designers), oversee/art direct the design, oversee the interior layout (also a wonderful person), work with the (wonderful) people in production, publicity, sales & marketing, etc… in the creation and promotion of the book. I also travel about seven or eight times a year speaking about our line at conventions, to libraries, etc… I wear about a half dozen different hats, but that is not to diminish the efforts of the score and a half or more people at the parent company that work on every Pyr title. But basically, I mostly push emails back and forth between departments while trying to carve out a few precious minutes at the close of each workday to actually, you know, read.
We know you read a lot of manuscripts. What makes a story stand out to you? And what does it feel like when you find a book you want to publish?
People think that reading submissions is reading a sea of unpublishable dreck. But what it actually means is reading a sea of work that is “just okay.” And therefore just as unpublishable. That final yard between okay and “unputdownable” is the longest one. It’s the hardest to quantify or explain, but it’s that quality, which you know the instant you are in it, that makes a manuscript stand out for me. Very often, I’ll be reading something and when my wife asks about it and I start to reply, she’ll hear the lack of enthusiasm in my voice before I do and say, “Put it down; you don’t like it. Move on.” It’s the manuscripts that have me leaping out of my chair to hound her with that I offer on, the ones that excite me and won’t let me sit still. Basically, I acquire the manuscripts that thrill me, which answers the second part of your question – thrilling! Seriously, when I discover a new author, or read a new manuscript from an established pro, I cannot shut up about it.
What is your “perfect” query letter? Any insider tips for our readers?
Don’t put too much stock in query letters. I’ve bought several manuscripts now whose query letters were laughably bad (and had prepared me to expect an equally bad manuscript). I only take agented manuscripts (and our slush reader’s submission guidelines are posted on the contact form of our website, www.pyrsf.com) but I’d say that my preferred query is an email (not a snail mail) from an agent (not an author) that summarizes the book in a paragraph or two and does NOT include the manuscript if I haven’t asked for it. After seven years, I have a pretty good idea what works and doesn’t work for us, so I can tell from a query whether I’m interested and save us both time. All this being said, I do remember one query that simply said something to the effect of “I loved Joe Abercrombie and I write similar fantasy to him.” But, alas, that trick only works once! (But it is the reason we established guidelines for unagented submissions. Thanks, Jon.)
Glad to be of service. What is your perspective on rejections? What can writers learn from them?
Sadly, I don’t have time to give feedback when I pass, so there isn’t really anything to be learned directly from me in a rejection. However, I’d say the first thing to bear in mind is that all books are not for all people, and thus, not for all editors. If an editor, or an agent for that matter, passes on a book, that only means it isn’t for them, not that it isn’t a good book or that it might not appeal to a different reader. Now, if rejections are starting to pile up over and over, it might be worth asking yourself why and addressing that.
Those who follow your social media sites might know that you’re also a writer. Does that change how you approach editing another writer’s work?
Well, Lou the fiction writer isn’t yet a working professional, unlike Lou the editor and Lou the former journalist. I’d say that it’s the reverse—that editing for over a half decade has radically improved my writing.
How do you approach matching artists and artwork with a book?
This is very much something that arises from my gut. I start to see the cover in my mind before I am halfway through a book. In fact, visualizing the cover is one of the things that I look for as a sign to myself that I am interested in a manuscript. It’s rare for me to get to the end of a manuscript and not already have the illustrator in mind. I think I’m privileged to be both editor and art director and to be able to bring a knowledge of the manuscript to bear on the cover, which is something some art directors don’t have the luxury of doing, just due to time and publication constraints. But working with the artists is one of the most rewarding aspects of this job.
With the recent rise of e-books and online publishing, where do you think the industry is heading in the next five years?
I think “death of publishing” reports are grossly exaggerated while the predictions about the demise of print books may be conservative. In other words, I think that ebooks are accelerating beyond even the wildest predictions and could easily be the dominant (not sole) form of book in five years, but that it will still be publishers who are producing and selling 80% - 90% or more of the commercially successful content in the ebook world. As with any time of change, there are going to be a lot of shakeups and a lot of opportunities. But ebooks are a pain in the butt to produce – or rather, ebooks are a pain in the butt to produce well, and a recent survey found that less than 2% of the book buying public sighted social media as the way in which they made title selections. So I think there is still going to be a role for publishing to play, not just as in being arbiters of taste (though that’s a very important job), but in terms of the actual production and marketing of books, whether they are print or electronic.
I want to thank Lou again for spending some time with us. I hope it's been enlightening. Those who want to hear of Lou's thoughts can follow the blog on the Pyr Books website.