What are some upcoming trends for the next year?
Trying to predict trends in publishing is hard. It can often be a year or more between acquiring a book and it hitting the market, so you can feel like you’re struggling to catch up if you focus too much on trends as opposed to genres and themes you enjoy (and also that fit well within the overall shape of an imprint’s list). I do think the appetite for upscale true crime nonfiction, and nonfiction highlighting social justice issues (Matthew Desmond’s Evicted, Jill Leovy’s Ghettoside, Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy), isn’t decreasing any time soon. Fictionwise, I’m excited about the growing audience for and appreciation of voices and subjects that have been marginalized for a long time: female, nonwhite, nonheterosexual.
A trend I would really like to see is one that diverges from the crime/psychological suspense novel genre to embrace novels that are about crimes, or that have psychologically sophisticated plots, but are not defined by those things: they are first and foremost literary stories.
What book/genre/topic would you like to see cross your transom?
To pick up the thread of the above, I’m very passionate about nonfiction that deals with social justice issues and social problems (such as the way America copes with mental illness and poverty), and I always love literary true crime—especially if it taps into those broader subjects. Women’s history/biography is also an area that I love.
I want to acquire more fiction that addresses experiences outside the mainstream—e.g. female, nonwhite, nonheterosexual—as well as novels about crimes/dark subjects that are not crime novels (think Donna Tartt’s The Secret History, Ottessa Moshfegh’s Eileen, Celeste Ng’s Everything I Never Told You, etc.)! Finally, I desperately want an adult/literary boarding school novel; it’s been too long since Curtis Sittenfeld’s Prep. But ultimately I just want what every other fiction editor probably wants: accomplished, effortless, voice-driven writing that’s fueled by the engine of a powerful story.
P.S. I’m also a total sucker for dysfunctional families (extra points if they’re rich and debauched) in both fiction and nonfiction. Send me your family sagas!
What topic don’t you ever want to see again?
Never say never is my golden rule. That being said, a market that’s becoming increasingly tougher is the memoir. Unless you’re focusing on an extraordinary experience that somehow relates to broader issues and a compelling story (Susannah Cahalan’s Brain on Fire is an example that immediately comes to mind), it’s very hard to break through the noise and convince readers that your story is worth $25.99 (or $15.99, or $10.99 for the e-book).
Have you worked with self-published authors?
I have, but not extensively.
What’s unique about your corner of the publishing industry?
I can only speak for myself, I think—and in saying this, I’m not at all trying to say I am the only editor who feels this way. I think most editors do, actually.
What I really try to do—and want to continue to do—is what I call “slow publishing.” I stole that from “slow food,” which I see as an analogy. I aim to publish projects I believe in, to which I can add value by nurturing editorially, and also for which I have a clear positioning and publishing vision. It’s important to me to strike a balance between the demands of the bottom line with my belief in what I do. As a member of the rising generation of editors, I don’t have the huge backlist of bestsellers that someone who’s been doing this for 40 years might, but what I can promise writers and agents is that I will work really, really hard for you. To that end, I remain involved throughout the entire publishing process (from production/design to marketing to publicity and beyond).
An editor can’t fulfill all these roles, but it’s important to me that I constantly ask my colleagues how I can help. Whether it’s by doing the standard editorial things or more lateral outreach to book and lifestyle Instagrammers I love, or writing personal notes to booksellers, or providing specific feedback/design instructions, or brainstorming lists of big mouths and bloggers, or shaping and pitching original author essays, etc., I’m up for it.
Ultimately, no one’s in this business for the money. Being an editor means putting your heart out there over and over again, and a lot of the time not receiving the response you hoped for. But there has to be a reason why you keep trying.
Hannah Wood, an editor at HarperCollins, came to Harper after almost four years at Doubleday, where she worked with authors such as Bill Bryson and Hanya Yanagihara. She looks for literary, voice-driven fiction with a compelling premise, characters that come alive, and an intensity of feeling and imagination. Her taste skews toward upmarket narrative nonfiction, including biography and true crime (historical and contemporary). She also received the 2015 Ashmead Award, established to nurture the career of a promising young editor in the field of book publishing, and attended the Yale Publishing Course.