Following on from the popularity of A Chat With My Literary Agent, I’m delighted to present an interview with Cath Trechman, my editor at Titan Books. She was responsible for acquiring and editing my Embers of War trilogy, and we are currently at work on another two novels.
Hi Cath, thanks for doing this.
1) How did you become an editor?
I started out as a bookseller at Ottakar’s (remember them?), which led to a job as a receptionist at Scholastic Children’s Books. Whilst there I helped out in every department and learned how publishing worked – as well as reading hundreds of unsolicited manuscripts and nearly fainting every time Philip Pullman phoned the switchboard! From there I went to Titan Books and worked my way up from editorial assistant on their non-fiction list of film and TV tie-ins to helping to start up their genre fiction list.
2) In short, what does an editor do?
Essentially, editors seek out manuscripts to publish that they’re passionate about and that fit with their list. We then champion those books from acquisition to publication, and beyond. Once a book has been acquired (at times, this process could be an essay in itself!), we work with the author to enhance the manuscript, collaborate with the designer on a cover and provide marketing and publicity with sales copy. We also send out the book to other authors for endorsements and keep on top of every stage of the pre-publication process. A lot of emails, a lot of exciting creative discussions. Basically, it takes a village to make a book a success and I’m fortunate to work with a very committed, knowledgeable team who love the books and their authors as much as I do.
3) What are your preferred genres to work with, and what draws you to them?
Titan’s fiction list encompasses science fiction, fantasy, horror and crime/thrillers – and I’m fortunate that I don’t have to confine myself to any single one of these as I love all of them! Horror for the way it explores the darkest corners of the human psyche, for its atmospheric, deeply engaging and often emotionally devastating stories. Science fiction for the way it engages in current issues such as climate change and immigration, examining how we live now by looking at ways we might live in the future. Fantasy for the pure magic of escapism, for the way it can delve into the mythology of different cultures and find endless, powerful tales to tell. And, finally, I love a really addictive thriller that I can gulp down virtually in one go, but that also leaves me thinking about those characters and what they have been through for weeks to come.
4) When you receive a submission, what are you looking for in it?
I really want a manuscript to grab me from the very first paragraph, a few really arresting and original lines that let me know I’m in safe hands and can let the narrative take me where it will. No matter the genre, I’m always after strong characters who draw me into the story, incisive writing, and an interesting central conceit.
5) Do you have a preferred manuscript format?
So long as I can read it on a kindle, I don’t mind what format it comes in. Word is usually best, though.
6) What are your top tips for authors getting ready to submit a manuscript?
If you are the only person who has read your book, I strongly advise getting several others, whose opinions you trust, to read it before sending it out. A fresh perspective might give you the keys you need to really open up the story – and plug the plot holes…
I recommend sending your manuscript to an agent rather than direct to a publisher. Once you have secured an agent, you will reap the benefit of their insider knowledge of the right editor for your work, and how to negotiate the best deal. An agent will also troubleshoot a myriad of other things on your behalf, and help shape and develop your career, allowing you to focus on the writing.
Do your research: find an agent who represents authors you admire and then follow their specific submission guidelines to the letter.
Write a cover letter that is unique to that agent, they will be encouraged that you really believe they are the right agent for you and are submitting something in their area of interest.
7) Any definite no-nos?
Sending one generic email to everyone you can think of all at once. This will be incredibly obvious and will cause most agents and publishers to delete immediately without responding. (Especially if you send it to multiple editors in the same company, we do talk to each other!)
8) What kind of working relationship do you have with an author and their agent?
It’s a complicated, intensely collaborative and creative relationship. We all want what is best for the author and their book and work closely together to ensure the best result.
9) Do you still find time to read for pleasure?
I’m a mum of two small boys so finding time to read for pleasure is not easy, but I always have a book on the go alongside my submissions reading. It can take me a few weeks to get through it though!
10) What have been your favourite recent reads?
I love Pat Barker and recently read The Silence of the Girls, I found it beautifully understated and completely devastating, very much a book for these times. I really enjoyed Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s Gods of Jade and Shadow and Mexican Gothic was similarly a wonderfully atmospheric, delicious, scary delight. This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone is an incredible book, one I think I’ll return to again and again. I also recently read Gangsta Granny by David Walliams to my 7-year-old. I think it’s the first time he has really loved reading something that isn’t The Beano, and we were both in tears at the end.