My friend Krista Marino is a Senior Executive Editor at Delacorte Press (part of Penguin Random House), and is one of the top young adult and middle grade editors in the business. Some of the authors she’s edited include James Dashner (The Maze Runner series), Brandon Sanderson (The Reckoners series), Matt de la Peña (Ball Don’t Lie), and Jennifer Donnelly (Revolution).
She very graciously agreed to an interview, and here it is!
Nathan: Let’s cut to the chase. How do you go about deciding whether to make an offer on a book?
Krista: Well, first I have to love the read. I can get past editorial issues—plot holes can be fixed and storylines improved. There needs to be something special about the voice or something innovative about the storytelling for me to fall in love enough to champion a project through the whole publishing process. Possibly most important, though, is I need to know who the reader is. If I don’t know who the reader is, how can I publish the book successfully?
An offer happens in different ways. I always confer with my publisher—she needs to be on board with the acquisition—but we don’t face an acquisitions board unless we are looking at spending over a certain amount of money. This generally happens when we are involved in an auction situation.
Not everyone knows that there’s a whole lot more to an editor’s job than just acquiring and editing books. What are some of the key things you do behind the scenes to help make a book a success?
I mentioned “championing” a book earlier. Your editor is your #1 cheerleader within your publishing house. All of the enthusiasm for a title starts with the editor, and many special little extras a book gets come from the editor buzzing in ears. Lesson #1 for every author should be, always be nice to your editor because they are your greatest ally.
Outside of always pushing for more for our books, editors are writing memos to design to get the right cover on a book; working with design on cover comps; writing copy for jackets; writing title information sheets for sales and marketing; approving marketing pieces; presenting books to marketing, sales, publicity; attending meetings about books to come; attending meetings about books that have been published; greasing palms with friends in sales for extra favor; emailing with agents and authors to keep our lines of communication open. 90% of all editorial work takes place outside of normal business hours.
How do you decide whether a book would be better as a standalone or a series?
There are a few ways to answer this question.
In terms of story: Many times stories are envisioned to unfold over an expanse of time—these are the stories that can naturally sustain a series. Some stories are over at the last page of the book, though.
In terms of sales: Sometimes people love a story or a character and they want more. If the readership is there, a series can work. The flip side of this is that some stories envisioned as a series don’t have the readers. No one wants to continue to publish a series with no readership.
You edited The Maze Runner, which has now become a huge franchise with movies and games… I mean I’m pretty sure they’re carving James Dashner’s face on Mount Rushmore at this point. What was it like to read that manuscript for the first time? Did you have any inkling what a massive success it would become?
Here’s what I will admit: I have read manuscripts that I thought were going to set the world on fire and they were published to little fanfare. The opposite has happened as well.
In the case of The Maze Runner, there was something so unsettling and different about the story, and yet—at its core—something so hopeful. I will never claim to be able to tell if a book will be a massive success—I have seen publications of books go in every crazy direction—but I will say I knew it was a story kids would love. It’s about friendship and loyalty to the end, it’s about questioning authority (which is something I have been in trouble for since I could speak), and it’s about surviving and thriving in the world you live in, despite how terrible it seems. And everyone wants a friend like Thomas, right?
It seems like we’re in a “feast or famine” moment in publishing, where a few books get a ton of attention, many others languish, and unexpected hits are few and far between. Has that been your experience, and has this changed how you approach your job?
Don’t depress me! It does feel this way and my reaction has been to actually acquire less. I only acquire books I’m wildly crazy about.
And what’s an author to do in this environment? How can they increase their chances of being on the “feast” side of “feast or famine?”
Unfortunately, we’re living in a publishing age where an author can’t just write an amazing book and step back. Authors need to be connected with their readership and connected with the writing community. They need to be savvy about social media and have some sort of presence and they need to physically be at book festivals and in schools. They need to engage with their readers—which takes time away from writing, but it’s so very important.
If you had a magic wand, what would you change about the publishing industry?
That we would publish less books.
Anything else you’d like to say? The floor is yours!
I think the best advice I have is to be nice. It’s a small industry and your behavior follows you. (We talk.)