What are some upcoming trends?
It feels somewhat impossible to pinpoint trends across an entire industry, but there are a few that particularly excite me as an editor (and reader). First, the rise of the complex and flawed heroine with less focus on “likable characters.” I’ve seen numerous articles labeling this “the Gone Girl effect,” and while that feels rather reductive, I’m excited about it nonetheless. One more recent example might be Miranda July’s The First Bad Man, which I’m currently reading. I find myself cringing on nearly every page at the generally “terrible people” who populate this book, yet I’m loving every minute of it. It’s simultaneously weird and wonderful.
Another trend I’m excited about is the rise of female essayists; from How to Be a Woman to Bad Feminist, major trade publishers are seeing big commercial success with strong women writers who have something important to say.
What book/genre/topic would you like to see cross your transom?
I would love to find more voice-driven, socially observant fiction in the vein of T. Geronimo Johnson’s Welcome to Braggsville, a project I acquired a couple of years ago that goes on sale this month. As a reader, I’ve always been drawn to books that challenge my worldview, widen my perspective. Now, as an editor, I want to acquire projects with that purpose in mind.
Additionally, I’m always looking for smart, comedic voices with heart, and literary fiction that plays with genre. Beautiful sentences are important, yes, but so is a compelling story. One recent example of this (and a personal favorite) is Station Eleven, which has seen commercial and critical success and transcends reader categories, appealing to both literary and genre readers alike.
What topic don’t you ever want to see again?
I believe the author’s execution determines a book’s success, not its subject matter—so there’s no one topic that I would reject offhand. That said, I do tire of reading submissions that feel overly familiar when it comes to character or plotting, and I wish more aspiring writers would read (extensively) within the genre in which they choose to write. It might help them avoid common tropes and clichés.
What is unique about your corner of the industry?
Working in trade publishing has been an absolute privilege. For me, reading has always been a form of entertainment, a way to escape the everyday—and somehow I’ve managed to make a career out of my favorite pastime. Also, as an editor, I feel incredibly fortunate to work so closely with writers I admire and to help them achieve their dream of being published. It is my belief that those first ecstatic phone calls with a new, excited writer will never grow old.
Anything else you’d like to add?
For me, books have been life-changing, and I’m sure most people who work in this industry would say the same. We’re in it for the passion, because books are important, and I strongly believe this industry will continue to thrive as long as there are readers, communities, libraries, bookstores, and publishers who support great books.
Jessica Williams is an editor at William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. She edits a range of fiction and nonfiction projects and is most interested in upmarket/literary fiction and narrative nonfiction/memoir with cultural underpinnings. Before joining HarperCollins, she completed a master’s in comparative literature at Georgetown University and worked at a literary and scouting agency in New York. In 2013, she was the recipient of the Ashmead Award, which each year recognizes one young editor in the field of book publishing.