Betsy Mitchell is the Editor-in-Chief of Del Rey Books and a regular contributor at Suvudu.com. She also edited two of our favorite 2011 books: Midnight Riot and Moon Over Soho by Ben Aaronovitch. We thank Betsy for taking time out of her busy schedule to grant us this interview.
What does your job as Editor-in-Chief of Del Rey entail?
Editor-in-Chief means that I’m senior in the department, presiding Yoda-like over the younger editors, dispensing wise counsel and second opinions on potential acquisitions. I also schedule the Del Rey/Spectra list, check all cover art and copy, and work on a book-by-book publishing strategy with other departments.
What would you say is the most important aspect of your job?
In conjunction with my fellow editors, identifying new talent and raising the visibility (and sales!) of our existing authors.
Can you please describe a typical workday for you?
1) Drink large quantities of coffee. 2) Frantically sweep against the tide of incoming emails, many of which are manuscript submissions (I personally receive about 10 a week). 3) Meet with marketing, publicity, or our digital teammates to discuss plans for upcoming titles. 4) Try to squeeze in a few minutes of actual reading.
Do you ever miss any of the tasks/duties from your past jobs as acquiring editor, advertising copywriter, editorial assistant at Asimov’s and Analog, or reporter, etc.?
I’m still very much an acquiring editor—I love the editorial process. And every previous job I’ve had plays into what I do now. Writing ad copy helps me to understand how to work well with our promotion department here. Being a reporter has helped me with my telephone skills and in making friends quickly and easily.
What were some of the books you worked on in 2010?
Tongues of Serpents, Naomi Novik. The Exile graphic novel by Diana Gabaldon. Game of Cages by Harry Connolly. Midnight Riot and Moon Over Soho by Ben Aaronovitch. Peter V. Brett is not my author, but I spent a fair amount of time on promotional and publicity plans for his titles The Warded Man and The Desert Spear. And of course my beloved Terry Brooks; his latest title is Bearers of the Black Staff. Kings of the North by Elizabeth Moon.
We loved Midnight Riot by Ben Aaronovitch, and loved the sequel, Moon Over Soho, even more. But pardon us if we’d like to discuss the cover rather than the content: The Del Rey cover art for the two books was vastly different from what the U.K. publisher decided to use. Do you have any insight as to the thought process behind the U.S. covers for Aaronovitch’s works?
The U.K. covers sprang from the alternate title they used for Midnight Riot: Rivers of London. That title felt too localized to be right for us, and then of course there would be no reason to show the Thames, or a map of London, on our book either. We wanted to show the mixture of police procedural and magic Ben so wonderfully presents in the series (and what io9 aply described in its review of Midnight Riot as “the perfect blend of CSI and Harry Potter”). Cover art can be a huge challenge; we hope that the results here appeal.
You teased us with two back-to-back Peter Grant adventures. When can we expect the third book in the series to be published in the U.S.?
Ben is finishing it this month (April). We will publish in November!
Back in 2008, as part of the “What I Learned This Week” column of Suvudu, you published an endearing cover letter from a “monster.” We’re curious if you’ve received any copycats since then?
Well, I don’t think it was somebody ripping off Monster’s cover letter, but I did just get one from Tronaugh, The Demon of Petty Disturbances, Wrath Department, Disturbances Section. He’s asking to submit a novel. Here’s an excerpt from his letter: “We have scoured the records of Earth literary publishers, and have chosen your company to help us release our work.” I love clever cover letters!
Back in January, Suvudu announced a writing contest where the winning manuscript gets a free edit from you. By early February, you announced that you had received over 130 manuscripts. What’s the manuscript count now?
The final count was just around 700! I think my eyes are going to explode! Luckily, I only have to weigh in on the final few possibilities.
Can you reveal the vetting process for the Suvudu writing contest? Have the editors started going through them yet?
There will be several levels of consideration. That’s all I can reveal.
Who came up with the idea of the Suvudu writing contest? What inspired it?
It was a joint concept. My history with writing contests—we ran two while I was at Warner Books—ended with excellent additions to the list: Nalo Hopkinson’s debut novel, Brown Girl in the Ring, and Karin Lowachee’s Warchild. We also wanted to give non-agented writers a chance to submit their work. It’s just impossible for us to accept unsolicited manuscripts most of the time; we don’t have the staff to read everything that we would get in.
How do you find the time to write articles on Suvudu, respond to readers, respond to fan e-mails (we should know), interview authors, and do everything else that your job requires? How many hours of sleep do you get at night?
Not enough! The truth is, I don’t have enough time to read manuscript submissions. Our office hours are so often interrupted by phone calls, meetings, and other time-consuming Stuff, that I end up reading manuscripts on my subway rides to and from home and in odd moments in the evenings.
We also want to ask you a couple questions regarding trends. Are you seeing a surge of electronic manuscripts? What percentage of manuscripts do you get to review on an electronic reader?
I’m receiving 95% of all submissions in electronic form these days, for which my shoulder muscles are truly grateful. When I get to the editing stage, though, I still print out the manuscripts and use a quill pen to work on them. Well, maybe not a quill pen.
What is your preferred electronic reader?
Editors at Random House were issued Sonys. I’ve tried the other readers as well and love the iPad, but I do most of my work-related reading on the Sony.
Back in 2004, you stated that you were happy to see more young adult novels. What do you think of the current state of young adult novels—too saturated/perfect/could use more?
Wow, the floodgates really have opened since that comment! I’m still very happy, because so many adult readers as well are trying fantasy and SF in the form of YA novels.
Since we’re currently running our Locus challenge, we thought we’d ask you:
What are some of your favorite works on the 2010 Locus recommended list?
Blackout/All Clear by Connie Willis was worth waiting five years for. I’ve read almost everything Connie has written and these are high on my list of favorites. Haven’t had the chance to read Zoo City by Lauren Beukes yet but hear great things about it. The Desert Spear by Peter V. Brett and Kraken by China Miéville, from our own list. Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor—I should have bought that when I had the chance; I had the manuscript in for submission a while ago and didn’t think we could publish it well here—now I’m sorry! Gail Carriger’s Changeless. In YA, Terry Pratchett’s I Shall Wear Midnight is the latest in his wonderful Tiffany Aching series, which I love to pieces. Behemoth by Scott Westerfeld is terrific steampunk/alt history. Zombies vs. Unicorns, under anthologies, has the most amazing packaging! Not to mention contributors. Check it out. And under novelettes, I want to give a shout out to Fantasy & Science Fiction writers Ken Liu and Alexandra Duncan, whose stories we have reprinted on Suvudu (check our Free Library for great reading of all kinds). They are very talented young authors and I look forward to seeing where they go with their work.
You have given authors a lot of great advice; do you have any advice for aspiring editors?
I call being a genre editor being a “Speaker-to-Normals.” Genre publishing can seem offputting and nerdy to some. My tack has always been to treat genre titles just as if they were any other kind of literature: I need to be able to identify an audience, boil the plot down to a couple of high-concept pitch lines, and offer some ideas for how to publicize and promote each of our titles, and that’s how I talk about our books when I speak to people in other department who may not be comfortable with SF and fantasy. Know your genre, but be able to interpret it in business and artistic terms.
Aspiring genre editors should do what any aspiring editor is advised: read, read, read, read, read. If all you do is watch SF movies, that’s not going to get you a job in book publishing. We ask potential hires what their favorite books are and why, and we have them read a submission and write up a synopsis and recommendation on whether it should be published.
Thank you again for taking the time to answer our questions.
Betsy Mitchell is a candidate for Best Editor of 2010 in the Locus poll. Please keep Ms. Mitchell in mind when you vote.