What are some upcoming trends for the next year?
There has been lots of talk about fiction with unreliable narrators, following the huge successes of books like The Girl on the Train, Luckiest Girl Alive, and Gone Girl. When I first read Wendy Walker’s All is Not Forgotten (to be published in July 2016), I knew we had a winner—I literally felt chills as I was reading the opening chapters. The unreliable narrator was the bonus. Thankfully, the early indicators (major book deal with St. Martin’s Press, major film deal with Reese Witherspoon/Warner Bros., and foreign sales in 20 markets—so far) are very strong. That said, since publishing has such a long lead time, I think it’s a mistake to chase trends in fiction. It’s different with nonfiction, which can be more reactive to the general marketplace.
What book/genre/topic would you like to see cross your transom?
I love a wide variety of fiction and nonfiction, though I don’t tend to read genres like romance, mystery, or science-fiction/fantasy. My taste in fiction leans toward voice-driven, upmarket women’s fiction that will appeal to book clubs/reading groups. I’m always drawn to strong female characters and Southern voices. The two often seem to go together.
And I’d like to see more narrative nonfiction. I love when a writer can shine a light on something I didn’t even know I cared about but then—wham—the writing is so good I get swept away. I felt that way when I first read the proposal for Street of Eternal Happiness by Marketplace’s China correspondent Rob Schmitz (May 2016/Crown). Inspired by his hugely popular radio program of the same name, the book is a narrative account of the ordinary people who live and work on his street in Shanghai. The intimate profiles of these fascinating characters illuminate the distinct generations of 21st-century China and challenge the stereotypes. Another example is a forthcoming book called Eight Flavors by culinary historian Sarah Lohman (October 2016/Simon & Schuster). She sets out to discover how eight influential flavors—black pepper, vanilla, curry powder, chili powder, soy sauce, MSG, and sriracha—made their ways to the American table. As Lohman researches and cooks and tastes, she begins to see patterns—flavors—that unite us. I’m obsessed with food and cooking, so this one was a natural for me. These subjects may not necessarily be on your list of what to read about, but the writing makes them irresistible.
What’s unique about your corner of the publishing industry?
The business is all about relationships. I’ve been at this a long time, and I’m happy to have very strong relationships with editors and publishers who trust my taste. I always say that it’s my job to make an editor want to read something. Now. Tonight. Ahead of everything else in the queue. Then it’s up to the manuscript or proposal to win them over. A good agent is there to provide their wisdom and experience but also their access. I like to think that having been a publisher for many years and knowing how it works on the other side of things makes us unique. Knowing and asking the right questions makes all the difference. I know both sides and that makes all the difference.
Wendy Sherman is the founder and president of Wendy Sherman Associates, which she launched in 1999 after a successful career with major publishers, including Simon & Schuster and Henry Holt, in editorial, marketing, sales, and subsidiary rights. She loves voice- and story-driven fiction that hits that sweet spot between literary and commercial and has a passion for Southern voices, suspense with a well-developed protagonist, and writing that illuminates the multicultural experience. She is also interested in nonfiction with a unique twist by authors with strong presences in traditional and social media. Wendy is on the board of the Association of Authors’ Representatives and a member of The Women’s Media Group.