Just keep me reading: 3 Questions for our new blogmate Peggy Hageman of Overlook Press
I was astonished. At a moment when heads were involuntarily rolling all over New York, she chose to leave a solid Big 6 position, not knowing where she was headed. She wasn't even completely certain she'd stay in publishing. I was pretty certain she would. This is a woman who loves books with a grand passion. She's smart, funny, and intuitive, and frankly, publishing needs her. Peggy spent some time on the Mediterranean Sea, and came home to join the staff of Overlook Press as an editor. I'm beyond delighted to have her sharp wit, experience, and cool photos here on BoxOcto.
Peggy, welcome! Thanks for joining us. Times being what they are, leaving your job was a very "Leap and the net will appear" sort of maneuver. What did you learn during your years at HC that made it less scary to walk out the door?
I'd been at HarperCollins for six years. I loved it there but I was worried I was getting a bit burned out. I needed a change. I thought I'd freelance for a while, maybe travel...and yet here I am behind a desk again!
Harper taught me pretty much everything about the making, marketing, and selling of a book, from acquisition to editing to case-binding to a bookstore planograms. And of course I learned just how much work I was capable of doing in a short period of time.
What will your acquisition process be like? Are you diving into the slush pile, doing lunch with agents, or cultivating your own stable of favorite authors?
A little of everything actually. (Although I'm afraid we don't really have a slush pile; it's all agented submissions.) What I'm also trying to do is to package books myself. By that I mean I'm on the look-out for professors and specialists in certain fields and will then work with them to create a book from the ground up, either on a new topic that doesn't yet exist in the marketplace or by approaching the subject from a new angle. Overlook has done quite a few books using this method and has had great success.
What will it take for a query to make the first cut with you?
I don't usually turn down a query from an agent unless it's of a type I don't publish. With novels it's really all about the writing. I have to admit I don't like to read too much of the cover letter because sometimes they give the story away. (Note to agents: please don't do that!) With non-fiction proposals, there's a lot of research to be done. I read the writing samples of course but I also look for any recent or definitive books on the topic and see how the proposal book might complement or surpass what's already out there. What are the comparative titles and how well (and in what markets) did they sell? Is the author a leader in this field? As a layperson, does this topic interest me? Or rather, does the author MAKE this topic interesting to me? I might know nothing about, say, hydrological engineering, but the right writer should make it come alive, or at least make me want to keep reading. And really, that's what it boils down to for any submission, fiction or non-fiction: just keep me reading.