This editor isn’t swayed by books with marketing hooks, and he has a list-comprised equally of sci-fi and women’s fiction written by virtual unknowns-to prove it, writes Rachel Kramer Bussel:
mediabistro: What makes a given book stand out for you and, conversely, what makes you immediately reject a manuscript?
Stevens: The book has to be different: have a different tone, interesting characters or conflict, or unusual settings. So much of what I receive is perfectly well-written, but tells a story I’ve heard many times before.
I also have to really love the book. After all, I’m going to be reading it three, four, or five times during the editing process. Then, it’s up to me to sell the book to other departments in the company. The enthusiasm I show for a book has to be genuine. Believe me, they know if I’m faking it.
One of my recent buys is Fashionably Late by Nadine Dajani, which is coming out in 2007. Nadine’s critique group told her that the book wouldn’t sell because it’s set in Canada and the Caribbean-not in the United Statesâ€”and because the book features a Lebanese-Canadian main character. Those are the main things that attracted me to the book. It didn’t occur to me for a second to ask her to change the setting to somewhere in the United States. That would have ruined the flavor of the book.
I bought sMothering by Wendy French because the partial she submitted had me rolling on the floor. I made copies of the submission, and was running up and down the hallway giving copies to co-workers, saying they had to read it.
On the science fiction side, Tobias Buckell’s novel Crystal Rain is set on a lost planetary colony. But this particular colony was settled by refugees from the Caribbean, and their language and culture shapes the entire novel.
And Gil’s All Fright Diner by A. Lee Martinez was a buddy story about a vampire and a werewolf who save the world from a teenage witch. It was just so much fun that I had to buy it. I’m glad I did because it has gone back to press multiple times, it won the Alex Award from ALA, and the movie rights were optioned by the Jim Henson Company. Not too shabby for the author’s first novel.