Ever wonder about the behind-the-scenes stories of the book publishing industry? Well, wonder no more, because each month we’re featuring an interview with a well-known book blogger, editor, or agent. Today, we are excited to welcome Terri Bischoff, Senior Acquisitions Editor for Crooked Lane Books. Read on to find out things she dislikes, and what makes her deliriously happy.
What was your first job in editing/publishing? How did you end up in this career path?
I got my start at Midnight Ink in 2009. Before that I was a bookseller. I worked at Kramerbooks in Washington, DC, A Room of One’s Own in Madison, WI, and I owned and operated Booked for Murder in Madison, WI. I had BfM for five years. I had started reading primarily crime fiction around 1996 so I brought my knowledge and love of crime fiction to Midnight Ink. I knew what was selling, what customers were looking for, etc. I learned on the job how to acquire and edit. When Midnight Ink announced that it was no longer publishing new titles, Matt Martz at Crooked Lane gave me a call and I am happy to have landed there.
You are both an acquiring editor and a developmental editor. Can you explain the differences?
As an acquiring editor, I read all the submissions and decided which ones to pursue. This is the one of the biggest differences between NY publishing and medium-to-small-sized houses. We don’t have interns who read for us. Because we don’t have assistants or interns, a manuscript needs to be as polished as possible. Once I decide that I really wanted to publish a manuscript, I would research comparable titles and present why I believed we should acquire it. If the sales department agreed, then I would go ahead and make an offer. If the offer was accepted and contracted, I give the author developmental edits – revisions that I think will make the book stronger and perform better in the market.
As a freelance developmental editor, I do the above mentioned polishing. I work with authors often before they even have an agent to help them to deliver what publishers are looking for. I work on voice, plotting, character development, and overall salability. You can check out my website. Anyone I freelance for is not allowed to submit to me at Crooked Lane, but fortunately there are other editors you can submit to.
Do you have a fun or interesting story about a past manuscript you’ve worked on that you’d be willing to share? What is the most challenging part of being an editor?
Hmmm… once at Midnight Ink we had a printing error. The production editor sent the wrong file to the printer so there were some typos in the book. It was super stressful and not anything I could fix. It was above my pay grade. Anyway, that day I went out and got a tattoo on a whim. Because that I COULD control, lol.
I was able to offer three contracts to people in person. That was really freaking cool. I might not get as excited as an author does when they get an offer, but as the acquiring editor, I get pretty excited too.
What is challenging is managing expectations (both author and publisher), guiding the author through the process, and hitting multiple deadlines throughout the production process. On top of all that, continuing to read submissions.
What is your favorite part of being an editor?
I love to find a manuscript that I can’t put down and then help bring it into the book world. When I was a bookseller, I was always super excited to read a galley I loved, and then talk about it all day long. As an indie bookseller, I wrote reviews and also hand-sold a ton of titles. As an editor I get that same thrill of finding something I love – it’s just earlier in the process. As a developmental editor, I really like working with authors to make their book the best it can be.
What question would you like to answer that no one ever asks?
I feel like I get asked a lot of random questions so I don’t know that I have one I wish people would ask. Instead, I’ll tell you things I don’t like!
- being asked what the next trend will be – it takes so long for a book to get published that writing to a trend is unwise.
- authors giving other books bad reviews. If you don’t like the book, shut your pie hole. This isn’t a competition. Putting someone else’s work down does not reflect well on you. It just makes you look, as best, inconsiderate, at worst, a horrible human being.
- the animosity between indie pubbed and traditionally pubbed authors. Not that everyone buys into that but enough do. Listen folks, there are enough readers to go around. Being published traditionally doesn’t mean that book is better than an indie pubbed book. There are successes and failures on both sides of the spectrum. That is just the nature of publishing. There is a human component to publishing, which means no path is perfect.
- publishing is a numbers driven business. It’s about sales and making money. If an author has poor sales numbers attached to their name, it will be increasingly difficult to get published again. So embrace pen names if that is what it will take.
How do you find new writers?
Mainly through conferences. It is important for me to meet writers, but also to meet other editors and agents. At this point, I get enough submissions that I no longer need to attend writing conferences. But I do because I like to make myself available to writers. I am giving back to the community that has supported me so much over the last ten years.
How do you decide if a book is worth taking on?
There are a couple of things I look at. Primarily … is the voice good, is the story good, and is there a market for it. I can fix a plot. I can even fix, to some extent, the voice. But I can’t change the market. So while we like unique ideas, it can’t be so far out that there are no titles to compare it to.
How many manuscripts do you read all the way through? How many do you start and decline? How many pages/chapters do you give them?
I’m going to answer is reverse order. I read as long as it takes for me to say no/reject a project. That means it could be page one. Or it could be page 200. I start and decline most manuscripts. I probably reject 75% within the first 50 pages. What I read to the end, I usually present to editorial. I don’t have enough data at CLB to say confidently how much does not pass editorial, but a great deal are declined at our editorial staff meeting.
What was your best OH YEAH THIS IS A BESTSELLER moment?
Sometimes you just know when you start a book that there is magic there. There are a handful of books that I knew immediately that I wanted to make an offer.
Terri began her life in books as a bookseller at Kramerbooks in Washington, DC. After moving home to the Midwest, she worked at a feminist bookstore before purchasing and operating Booked for Murder in Madison, WI. She spent 10 years at Midnight Ink as their acquiring editor and published 36-40 books a year. Terri has a wealth of experience and knowledge in both mysteries and in bookselling, particularly as a book buyer and reviewer. Terri’s interests lie in mainstream suspense, thrillers, quirky and humorous cozies, LGBTQIA, and diverse characters/storylines.
Readers … pop in and say hello to Terri! What would you find difficult about being an editor? What would you love about it?