A couple of months ago, I got a hankering to interview an editor. You know how much I like interviews, and it occurred to me that a lot of writers, even a lot of agented ones, don’t really know what happens after an editor receives a submission. It took me a few weeks to work up the courage to ask Kate to set me up (since editors’ e-mail addresses are virtually impossible to find online, and for good reason), but once I did, she graciously agreed (of course). And Shauna Fay Rossano of G.P. Putnam’s Sons/Penguin Group graciously accepted.
To make things more interesting, I asked my questions in the context of a manuscript she recently acquired,
Wesley King’s THE VINDICO (which you may remember from my interview with Brianne Johnson). Ms. Rossano acquired it about two years ago, so we are flashing
back a bit, but somehow, I don’t think you’ll mind. Enjoy!
KV: First off, tell us a bit about THE VINDICO. What is it
about, and what did you love about it?
SR: THE VINDICO is an action/adventure YA novel about a
group of super villains who are starting to feel too old to fight the League of
Heroes, so they decide to kidnap five teenagers and teach them to be the next
generation of evil. The captured teens are each taught a specific super-power--from
super-strength, to telekinesis, to advanced computer hacking skills. While at first
the decision to escape at any cost seems like a no-brainer, the teens soon question
which side of the war they should fight for. Brianne Johnson, Wesley’s agent,
first pitched the project as “X-Men meets the Breakfast Club,” which is an
amazingly perfect description that I’ve clung to and used in selling copy as
the book has evolved!
What I immediately loved about Wesley’s writing was that it
didn’t take itself too seriously--he has a very dark sense of humor that is pitch-perfect
for this type of story. While the plot is about super heroes, I felt
immediately invested in the story because the characters are so complex--you don’t
just have to be a super hero fan to like the book. Also, pacing is extremely
important to me (I get bored easily if a book is not moving at a fast-enough
clip!), and Wesley’s scenes unfold like they were written for a movie. Fast-paced
battle scenes, punchy/authentic teen dialogue, and sarcastic humor all make
this such a fun read!
KV: Jumping in to say I finished THE VINDICO a couple of weeks ago, and the
cinematic nature of the story immediately struck me. I thought so many of the scenes
would work ever better in a summer blockbuster; I wanted to see them on the big
screen! But I digress…
How quickly did you read Mr. King’s manuscript? Is that
pretty typical of your response times on agented submissions, or do those vary?
SR: Uncharacteristic of my slow-paced reading, I read this
manuscript in one sitting! I was home sick from work that day and could not put
This is NOT typical of my response time. While I try my
hardest to get to things quickly, I often take at least a month (or two if
things are particularly busy) to respond to agented submissions. Unless I
really Love Love something--but even then, it’s often at least a week (see:
“slow-paced reading” above).
KV: After you finished THE VINDICO, did you pass it on to a colleague
for a second read?
SR: Initially, Brianne had sent this project to Putnam's publisher, Jen Besser, who offered to let me read it first. I was intrigued by the premise since I do like comic book adventure movies, etc., but I was also a little skeptical because I am not a comic super-fan. But as I said above, I really connected to the voice and humor in Wesley's writing right away, so after reading, I told Jen how great it was--and after reading herself, she agreed! She knew how much I loved it and suggested I take the project on to edit myself. And I'm so grateful to her for that!
KV: How did you prepare to bring THE VINDICO to your acquisitions
SR: We are pretty lucky at Penguin: each imprint handles its
own acquisitions. It varies slightly each time--if a project looks like it will
go to auction, we’ll all move very quickly to read it. But if there seems to be
more time and a Putnam editor loves a manuscript, she’ll send it out to discuss
at our weekly department meeting.
It’s on a much smaller scale than some of the other large
companies, I think (there are only six of us, total). I really like our system,
and imagine it’s much less intimidating than presenting a project in front of a
formal board, but I started my career at Putnam, so I’ve never experienced it
any other way!
KV: What happened at that meeting? And what might have happened?
What are all the possible outcomes?
SR: Luckily, when other editors in the department read this
manuscript, they felt the same way I did, and could see potential in this young
The outcome of these meetings can go several ways, but we
always have great discussions. If everyone in the group has problems with a
manuscript, the editor will go back to the agent/author for a revision. Or, if
the editor was on the fence about it to begin with and everyone else had issues
as well, she might decide not to offer on the project at all. We all have
slightly different tastes at Putnam, which is great, because we can offer each
other valuable feedback--everything from validation of our own love for a
manuscript, to valid concerns about something that we might have missed. It’s
so important to get other opinions!
KV: How did you present your offer to Mr. King’s agent, and
what was that conversation like?
SR: I think this project (and process) was particularly
special to both of us, because it was my first acquisition and her first sale!
So we were both very excited, enthusiastic, probably nervous (I was, at
I know some editors prefer to offer over the phone, but I
actually e-mailed Brianne the offer--I find it easier to have a written trail
while negotiating. I think the first time we spoke on the phone was right after
we came to an agreement, and we were both so thrilled to get to work together
with Wesley. We’re probably his two biggest cheerleaders!
KV: Of course, making the offer wasn’t the end of the road.
What sorts of things did you and Mr. King’s agent discuss before everyone
signed the contract?
SR: An agent’s not doing their job if they don’t come back
with a few retorts/sticking points during the negotiations, but Brianne was
lovely to work with. We went back and forth on a few things (like territories,
royalty splits, subsidiary rights percentages, etc.), and came to an agreement
that worked for both parties.
KV: Any last words of advice or encouragement you’d like to
share with us?
SR: Again, every publishing company’s acquisition process is
unique, but we are all looking for the same thing: a great manuscript! When an
editor loves a manuscript, they become cheerleaders almost immediately--whether
it’s telling other editors in their department or a larger acquisition board
about their love for something they’ve read. Luckily, every editor is
different, so if someone is not interested in your project, that doesn’t mean
there is not another editor out there who will love it!
Thank you, Ms. Rossano, for sharing THE VINDICO and your editor’s-eye
view with us! And thank you for reminding us how subjective this business is.
It’s easy to lose sight of that.
As you may have surmised, THE VINDICO came out a couple of
months ago, so definitely give it a look-see. (I think it would especially
appeal to any reluctant and/or male readers in your life.) Its sequel, THE
FEROS, is due out next summer, so make sure to mark your calendars!
Have a great weekend!