Poets and Writers has a really wonderful interview up with Janet Silver, the former Houghton Mifflin adult publisher who edited Jhumpa Lahiri's The Interpreter of Maladies and Jonathan Safran Foer's Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. Three excerpts that resonated for me:
- "There are a couple of things I see in first fiction that always tell me something is not for me. The first is usually in fiction by young women. There will be a young female protagonist with a vaguely artistic temperament who goes to New York to do something. At some point, usually about page ten, she looks in the mirror and describes herself. And you see this device in many wonderful novels—this is the way the author's going to let the reader know what the narrator or main character looks like—but now you just see it too much. So I usually get to that on page ten and say, "Not interested."" [Cheryl says, Ha!]
- Tell me about a particularly memorable editing experience. "Peter Ho Davies comes to mind. The greatest thing for an editor is when you read a manuscript, you give some comments, and then the author goes off and does something completely different from what you expected, but it's brilliant and wonderful. With some of Peter's stories, especially that one I was just describing, I gave him some comments, and the story came back about three times as long. So there was this kind of ebullient response from him—a kind of magnanimous sense of possibility."
- Tell writers one thing about agents that they don't know but should. "That they can ask a lot of questions; that they should ask a lot of questions. I think that writers, especially first-time writers, sometimes feel as though, "Well, whatever the agent says. Of course the agent knows best." But in the same way that I think authors should be having conversations and asking a lot of questions of editors, they should ask potential agents, "Okay, whom do you represent? Which houses do you work with? Which editors do you like? How do you go about deciding where you're going to send something?" I'm just astonished again and again when I talk to writers at writing programs that they don't know they can ask those questions."