First Draft, Ep. 112: Sara Goodman - Transcript
Date: June 27, 2017
The original post for this episode can be found here.
[Theme music plays]
Sarah ENNI: Welcome to First Draft with me Sarah Enni. Today I’m talking to Sara Goodman editorial director for Wednesday Books, a new imprint from St. Martin’s that is launching this fall. Sara has been an editor with St. Martin’s since 2007, and she edited some of my very favorite contemporary writers. Stephanie Kuehn, Courtney Summers, Sara McCarry, and Rainbow Rowell among others. She’s already brought a distinctive voice to St. Martin’s through her projects, and with the launch of Wednesday Books Sara is looking to broaden that list and focus on young adult books with crossover appeal.
[background city street noises]
Much like the books she edits, Sara has a distinctive vibrancy. When I meet up at her office in the historic Flatiron Building in Manhattan, she greets me with a bright red shirt and an even brighter smile. Inside her office, we’re surrounded by books and the new Wednesday logo that perfectly reflect her sophisticated effervescence, with bold colors and clean design. Within the pages are distinctive works packed with each writer’s individual voice, but they all share a clarity of prose and a finely-honed structure, that marks Sara’s editorial style.
I’m thrilled she’s getting the chance to help shape a new imprint, and so thrilled she could make the time to talk about her wayward path to editing. And the nuts and bolts of what exactly is entailed in building a new imprint from scratch, something that hasn’t been done at St. Martin’s for seventeen years. So, clutch your disposable Authora coffee cup, get your “to-be read” list at the ready, and enjoy the conversation.
ENNI: How are you doing?
Sara GOODMAN: I’m good, how are you?
ENNI: I am so good. Thank you for having me at your office.
GOODMAN: Of course, welcome to Flatiron.
ENNI: I know! Every time I get to even walk around here I’m like, “Ah.” It’s a book lovers…
GOODMAN: I have to say, every time I get out of the subway and I’m walking up the street, especially if I’m walking down Broadway and I see the Flatiron, it’s sort of stops me in my tracks every single time. Even after ten years.
ENNI: Aw, that’s so great. We usually start right at the beginning which is where were you born and raised?
GOODMAN: I was born in a small little town called Prescott, Arizona. Lived in a geodesic dome until I was eight-years-old.
ENNI: That’s my favorite thing!
GOODMAN: Yes! I was raised by my mom, and we moved to Northern California to a small town called Petaluma where I grew up. Similarly small and a cool little hippie town.
ENNI: No dome thought?
GOODMAN: No dome, a farmhouse surrounded by cows. I lived there until I went away to college at UC Santa Cruz. I then lived in San Francisco after graduation, and it was that tricky time when the dot-com bubble had burst. San Francisco was still San Francisco, but sort of a bummer place to find work, fresh out of college. I was sort of twiddling my thumbs as an office assistant thinking, “What should I be doing?” And then one night over drinks my friend and I said, “Let’s move to New York.” And we did.
GOODMAN: Yes. We found this woman who needed her car driven across the country on Craig’s List. We signed this little funny contract that I wrote up, that we would be sure to return her car to her in Massachusetts in a certain number of weeks. We packed up the back of a Nissan Sentra and drove across country, and landed in New York with no idea of what we wanted to do. But that’s how we ended up here.
ENNI: I was gonna say, what did you imagine? What was the pull to New York?
GOODMAN: I think in the back of my head, I had studied Spanish Literature, so there was really nothing besides going on in academics that I could do. But I definitely thought of myself working in media in some way. And came out here and just started thinking, “Well, maybe I’ll intern at magazines.” And this was 2001, this was June of 2001 in fact. Luckily, my friends that were here sort of had in-roads for me to start doing that.
So, I interned at Index Magazine. I don’t think it’s around anymore, but [it] was run by Peter Halley. He was this big artist in the eighties who started this art magazine. I was loosely involved in publishing for a little bit, but not really, and then cocktail waitressing. And then 9/11 happened, and that was sort of a shock, obviously. It seemed at that point, for whatever reason, my instinct was to get a real job.
ENNI: Quote/unquote “real job” [laughing]
GOODMAN: Quote/unquote “real job”, yeah. I had always been an office assistant, and I saw that there was a position open in a company that I had never heard of. And I walked in and it turned out to be a literary agency called Ralph Vicinanza, Ltd. Which, at the time, they represented Stephen King, and George R. R. Martin, and all of these big science fiction and fantasy authors. So, I started my career there as an office assistant but then also learning the business, in a boutique agency, which was a very particular way to learn.
ENNI: Before we move on from there, you studied literature in college, so books were always around. What was your relationship to books and literature before studying it? Were you writing at all?
GOODMAN: Not at all. In fact, I would say that I was not much of a reader as a kid at all.
GOODMAN: Uh-uh, no. And in fact, now that I’m in young adult publishing, I find quite often when I’m among other editors of young adult fiction, I feel so under-read as a result. I think what happened was when I was in high school, I just had a few really great teachers who taught me how to read. And I don’t obviously mean the mechanics of reading, but I mean the actual enjoyment of reading. And then I went on this tear and tried to catch up as much as I could at that time.
ENNI: I’m interested in how you said that, too. About how to read for the [enjoyment]. That’s a really difficult thing to explain, but what do you think that meant to you? To find different kinds of books? Or to imagine it differently? Or…?
GOODMAN: In some ways, it was being introduced to craft and reading books not just for their plot but also seeing what the writer had done, and how clever writers can be in putting their stories together. Referencing things happening in your world, and not realizing it, and the teacher pointing it out and you’re like, “Oh, my god. I’d never thought that before.” You’re reading this book and you’re like, “Of course this is about, whatever, politics.” Or, “Of course this is about matriarchy.” You know? And then all of a sudden, this entire universe opened up. When before, I thought of reading as homework.
ENNI: It’s interesting, even the way you describe it, it’s like you’re reading it more as a critical reader, but also like an editor. What the writer is doing with the work is of interest to you, that’s really funny.
GOODMAN: That’s exactly right. And then certainly going into college, and high school too, it’s more of an academic look at reading. And then taking summers to read for pleasure.
ENNI: And get into it.
ENNI: Run the gamut.
GOODMAN: Run the gamut and enjoying all of it.
ENNI: By the time you threw yourself into books, I’m wondering if at any time, you feel like that is to your advantage? To not necessarily be carrying all of the context within which a lot of other people are looking at the great works?
ENNI: I think so. And I think working at St. Martin’s before Wednesday Books existed. St. Martin’s was a place where I could always acquire anything I wanted. I could acquire young adult and cookbooks if I wanted to. Because of that, and because we had never been a traditional kid’s imprint, I’ve always orbited outside of that world, and I do think that it’s been a benefit to me. I do think, it might be naïve, but sometimes I’m thinking, “I can do whatever I want!”
And sometimes it’s worked really well, when I’ve done something that’s very, very different than what’s out there. And sometimes it doesn’t work too. You do have to study what’s working. I can’t ignore it entirely, but sometimes not being so immersed in it, I think, is an advantage. I’m still, to this day when I read something and I just really love it, my critical eye is saying, “This isn’t commercial enough. Who’s gonna walk into the bookstore and want to read this book? Who’s gonna want to take the time away from their phones? And who’s gonna sit in a quiet place and read this book?” And quite often, I’ll be like, “This isn’t commercial. This is dark. This is sad. And I love it!”
And I think I’m in a good place here, because I can still go into my editorial meeting and say, “All of these things are against this book, but I love this book. Can we please buy this book? Can we please publish this book?” And maybe we won’t be able to buy it, but I will try. I think it’s nice because I’m not so entrenched in it. I’m not so burdened by it that I can still have that naïve, “Well, I’m just gonna try it.”
ENNI: So, you sign up at this literary agency, and I love that you just walked into the door… [laughing]
GOODMAN: I’m like a human pinball machine!
ENNI: What about it was appealing to you?
GOODMAN: What was appealing to me? Well, the books, I think. I have to admit when I first started there, I would repeat in my head all of the time, “Oh my gosh, publishing is not for me.” All the time.
GOODMAN: Yeah. I just never really felt like I fit in, for various reasons, most of them my own shortcomings. I definitely felt like an outsider from the get-go. I didn’t know the language. Publishing can be sort of clique-y. I never felt like I really fit in with the “in-crowd”. But I also enjoyed the fact that I was working in this industry that felt so important to me. It must have stuck in me anyway, even though I was telling me all of these things like I didn’t belong here. Because you make no money, and you put up with a lot of crap for a long time, doing crappy work for a long time, to really get to a point where you can even start seeing a path for yourself.
I think just the books, and the conversations, and the people I met – even if I didn’t necessarily feel like I fit in with them - I was like, “You’re the most interesting person I’ve ever met.” And I would keep meeting people, “You’re the second most interesting person I’ve ever met.” You know? It was very cool. I got to meet George Martin. I got to talk on the phone with Stephen King. These people who are known worldwide who were normal people, who’d call up their agent to ask for favors and advice, and I would get to pick up the phone. It was very, very cool.
ENNI: What was it like being on the agenting side? What was the draw to flipping over to the editorial?
GOODMAN: I think Ralph Vicinanza Limited, in general, was not a place for one to be mentored as an agent. So, it was very much like throwing me in the deep, end and see if I could swim. And I didn’t swim very well. I tried to sell a couple of projects. It was eye-opening, and I learned a lot though. I got to know a lot of the editors out in the industry. I got to experience those awkward phone calls checking in on a project, when you haven’t heard from the editor about them.
And now I fell such sympathy for them on my end [laughing]. Also, I think the agent/author relationship [has] fewer boundaries than there are between the editor and author. Even though I become very close with my authors - and I’m happy to become very close with them - but I think on the agenting side, you are directly responsible for so many things. I don’t know that I was up for it. Now I might be, now that I understand it a little bit more, but then I wasn’t.
But, I knew that I wanted to stay in books. I knew that I wanted to try it. I actually didn’t even know if I wanted to be an editor forever. I’m like, “I don’t fit into publishing.” And I always said, “I don’t want to be an editor. It seems like so much work.”
ENNI: You’re not wrong however. This is the funniest career path ever!
GOODMAN: It’s ridiculous. But I like talking about it because I am so fortunate, and so happy to be doing what I’m doing. So, I think back on these things and smile, because I made it here – despite myself in some ways [laughing].
ENNI: I relate to this story, because there have been times in my life where it’s almost like your subconscious – [the] part of you that is actually steering the ship – is a lot smarter than your conscious self. And you’re like, “Wait! No!” For me, going into journalism, I was like, “No, I hate talking to strangers.” And it was like, “Well... we’re gonna make you do this exclusively.” [laughs]
GOODMAN: “You’re gonna do it anyway.” And you’re very good at it.
ENNI: Well, thank you so much. It’s kind of almost reassuring. You’re like, “Well, whatever instinct is at play here seems to know what’s going on.”
GOODMAN: I have a very savvy gut, I’ll say that. My husband’s always like, “If you want real estate advice…” Which is funny, when we were looking to buy our current apartment and I walked into the house, I was like, “This is the one.” And it was the one. I do, I just have a good gut. My head is not always making the right choices [laughing].
ENNI: It’s a little behind.
GOODMAN: It is a little behind! “You don’t want to be an editor! It’s too much work. Oh, my god, being an editorial director? What? So much work, you never want to do that!” ha-ha-ha.
ENNI: And here we are.
GOODMAN: And here we are.
ENNI: The jump to editorial… were you an assistant first? What did that look like?
GOODMAN: Yes, at Ralph Vicinanza one of the agents there, Christopher Schelling, represented Augusten Burroughs, still represents Augusten Burroughs and is also now married to Augusten Burroughs. And Jennifer Enderlin here, who is now our publisher of Wednesday Books, was his editor. And her assistant left, and I had said to Christopher - because he was a friend of mine on top of being a colleague - I said, “I don’t think I want to be an agent. I’m sort of putting the feelers out for editorial.”
And it happened in like two months, and she hired me right away, and I started working under Jennifer Enderlin. Which was invaluable, because at the time she was an associate publisher of paperbacks of Griffin, and an executive editor. I learned so much from her. She publishes our biggest, bestselling fiction here. And I learned a lot about the publisher side of things too, because she was doing a lot of that.
ENNI: What does it look like as the editorial assistant, the publisher, and an executive director? Delve into those roles a little bit more.
GOODMAN: As an editorial assistant, you really are just that. You’re running everything from reports, to answering emails, to doing very basic administrative work. And if you work for somebody who wants to help you out, they may have you edit a book, and then write up an editorial letter, and then get to send it to the author with your name on the editorial letter.
So, Jen did that a little bit. But also, was really good about letting me read projects. And I was able to acquire my very first book the August I started working here, so within that [first] year. And I still work with the author, Courtney Summers… my very first acquisition [listen to her First Draft interview here].
ENNI: That’s right! I remember her saying she was her agent’s first…
GOODMAN: We were all “firsts” together. And we’ve had a very successful career together, it’s been really wonderful. Editorially I learned a lot from her. And editorially can be everything from author care, the way that I learned to take care of my authors here comes from Jen, who puts her authors at the very top priority list of anything she ever does. And I think instinctually I always knew that, but sometimes when you work for a big business you have to balance those two things.
But for me, I always feel that when I’m working with an author, that they are entrusting me with their soul, a little bit, and their hearts. And I could never say to somebody, “You must change this.” Depending, obviously. Sometimes you have to because it’s like, “This is just terrible!”
So, I learned that from her. But in terms of the publishing side it was more strategizing. The heady thinking about timing of books, and platforms, and looking at numbers, balancing a list, and all of those things.
ENNI: I love that she gave you power to acquire books, but was it, “This is the kind of book we’re looking for?”
GOODMAN: That’s why I feel like, again, my incredible luck to land in these places for no good reason. Really no good reason other than I’ve always had a strong work ethic. I think I can interview well. When I talk to people looking to get into the industry, I cannot tell how important it is to give a really good interview. If somebody likes you? They want to hire you.
A lot of us editors come into publishing thinking we want to publish, especially if we want to be fiction editors. We want to publish important literary works. I certainly had that in my mind when I came here, and then I realized that actually, each house has a very specific thing that they do well. And I wouldn’t say that St. Martin’s is a place where you publish a lot of literary fiction. We are an up-market, in some ways, commercial fiction house. A very commercial fiction house.
So, I looked around and thought, “I’m not gonna try and do these things that lots of other editors are here doing.” That just seems like you’re throwing your hat in a ring. Your tiny little hat, with these really big hats who have been doing it for much longer. But nobody was doing young adult, [just] a couple here or there. And nobody was doing contemporary, stand-alone fiction, at the time. So, I figured, “What’s the harm?” You know? “I’m not relying on books to give me a place here. I’m an assistant. I have a permanent position here. I can try these things I like to do. I can try these projects.” It was a really great place to figure out what I liked to do, because nobody was telling me I had a specific thing I needed to acquire.
ENNI: What had your relationship to young adult been to that point? Were you reading it avidly?
GOODMAN: I was reading it pretty avidly, yeah. It was at the time that I think John Green - THE FAULT IN OUR STARS wasn’t out - but I had loved LOOKING FOR ALASKA. I had actually really loved 13 REASONS WHY because that book was actually just on in air seam back in 2008 or 09, is that when it was? I loved the TWILIGHT books. I loved THE HUNGER GAMES, I was into it. Even though, I knew in my heart that I really wanted to do the more realistic stories, because those are the ones that I responded to reading in general. I had to relive my high school experience over, and over, and over again, through various characters it seems [laughing].
ENNI: Did the fact that no one was doing young adult - I think that was so wise of you to think, “Yeah, okay, now I can get my part of the market here.” But were you meeting resistance to that? Did you have to convince people, “This is a thing!”
GOODMAN: A little bit. Certainly, for not buying vampire books at the time - which I liked the TWILIGHT books - but I wasn’t a big fan of the genre in general. My acquisitions were fairly modest at the start. They were allowing me to take chances with pretty low risk, and really saying to me, “If you want to make this work, you have to make this work. You have to be in all of the meetings pushing for things.” When you’re a new editor, you have the time to really dig in. Now I know how to do it in a different way, so it’s a little bit more efficient. But certainly then, I was at every meeting, and asking every question, you know? So, in terms of resistance, no. But definitely not a ton of, “Here’s heaps of money to market your book.”
ENNI: I think you’ve been part [a] of shaping what we see in young adult now. I mean, obviously, Rainbow Rowell and a lot of other influential writers. And I feel like I hear from people that it took a while. Publishing is an older industry and has a lot of traditional things, and young adult is a little bit of a quirky upstart, in some ways. So, I feel it’s cool that you got a hand in building it into what it is now.
GOODMAN: Yeah, it’s amazing. Certainly when ELEANOR & PARK came out we noticed a lot of the books coming out after it, having very similar themes.
GOODMAN: Very similar covers…
GOODMAN: That’s the funny part, Rainbow and I sometimes send funny emails back and forth like, “Have you seen this one?”
ENNI: It looks just like it! Which is great.
GOODMAN: It’s flattering.
ENNI: Exactly, that means the cover really worked.
GOODMAN: Of course, it is. And I can look at some of my covers that I’ve done, and be like, “Oh. That looks just like… everything, everything.” Or whatever. It happens on my end too. You’re like, “Oh! We can do that now? Great! Let’s not put a dead-eyed girl on the cover.” Which was the norm for the longest time. I call them my “dead-eye Ophelia’s” they were just everywhere. Why do all covers have to have a girl laying down with no focus in her irises?
ENNI: Yeah, it was disturbing for a while. It’s very nice to look at the shelves now and see a lot of color, and a lot of illustration and fun stuff. So, let’s talk about Wednesday, and how this came about. I’d love an overview of what is an imprint? And how does that work within a house? And, this is the first imprint in what, like seventeen years?
GOODMAN: Sixteen years, yeah.
ENNI: So how did the decision come about to even start a new project like that?
GOODMAN: You know, I had been thinking a lot about the young adult category in general over the last couple of years, and how I find it very limiting. And it’s a necessary category, obviously. You don’t want to be competing with adult sales, because the sales on those are just bigger. I understand why it has to be separate. I understand why it has to be separate on the shelves. I understand why it has to be clear content-wise for young readers. I totally get it. And yet, I still fight against it all of the time, because when people ask me - and I’ll get into this a little more when I talk about the crossover nature of Wednesday Books – but in general, I tend to publish young adult titles that could probably be read as an adult book, but usually it’s just about the voice to me. Because I have plenty of sex, and drugs, and dark content in my YA. It really has nothing to do with that. It’s the voice. But it’s such a gray zone for crossover readers.
So, in terms of the imprint, it’s something I had been talking a lot about with my bosses - with my publisher - but also St. Martin’s had never had an official teen imprint. We had Griffin Teen that existed by name only. It wasn’t an official thing in the system, or even in the industry. And more and more, as we started having a lot more success, we still found ourselves a little bit on the outside. Like I said, there’s a part of me that was a little bit like, “Do we want to be so “in”?” The beauty of this new imprint is that we’re still totally different though. We’re still doing our own thing.
So, what’s nice now is that we have this very official imprint. [It] signals to the industry, to booksellers, but then actually ends up subconsciously signaling to the reader, Wednesday Books is this. I think that’s the point of an imprint, is to give a narrative or a story, around a collection of books. [It] has an identity, a personality. And as I’m learning how to market books in general, how important it is to provide the reader, the shopper, with a clear picture of what you’re selling them.
That’s really the point of this imprint. Now we have this very, I think, open-ended, slightly vague, but actually pretty clear vision of a young adult imprint that’s also trying to publish into the crossover territories. And reach a wider audience of teens and twenty-somethings. And even younger thirty-somethings who grew up reading HARRY POTTER and this gigantic renaissance of young adult publishing.
I’m a little bit older, so I sort of sit at the top here like, “Can I still do this?” You’re going into the bookstores, and I imagine going to the young adult shop and choosing that book you want to read. But you’re also going to go down to the adult shop and choose a book from there.
ENNI: Yep, totally. And FANGIRL, Rainbow’s book that was [set in] college, I mean for me as a writer, I find a lot of mining my college experience too when I’m talking about young people. And it feels like YA would be separate… all of that is coming of age. You’re really in a similar place though.
GOODMAN: Younger twenties. I think our apron strings haven’t quite been severed, you know? I think that there is still a need for a voice that speaks to a twenty-something as sort of a particular thing.
ENNI: The imprint within the house is like a channel – like Walt Disney has ESPN – so that’s like an imprint of St. Martin’s?
GOODMAN: That’s a good way to put it. It is like a channel in St. Martin’s. It’s the young adult crossover channel. We have very specific aesthetics. I feel our books are gonna be – you can’t see them on the podcast [sounds of papers rustling] – but there’s a lot of bright colors. A lot of focus on inclusivity. A lot of focus on voices you haven’t heard before, but also commercial. We’re still looking to entertain, and think, and all of those things. It’s a pretty broad category. We also have some nonfiction. We have a lot of different editors at St. Martin’s who are acquiring for Wednesday Books. I, myself, am not a huge fantasy reader. I don’t think that I’m always the best eye for it, but we have plenty of editors here who are. I tend to be looking for the next Rainbow Rowell, or the next Jandy Nelson. I’m looking for those big novel, contemporary stories. And, of course, if a fantasy comes to me that was like CARRY ON, or something that blends the two categories, then I’m like toast, and I love that stuff!
ENNI: What does it mean that you’re the executive director of that? Who is still your boss, and how does that role play?
GOODMAN: So, I’m the editorial director.
ENNI: Oh, got it.
GOODMAN: I basically am the cranky gatekeeper for all books that are acquired for the lines. Quite often agents will send me the book first, and then I’ll say, “You know, this isn’t right for me, but it’s probably right for my colleague Vicki.” Who then can be the inquiring editor for Wednesday Books. But say Vicki gets on a project directly, I’m also reading that. And I’m the one who ultimately is like, “Meh” or “Yay!”
So, that’s my ultimate job. And then Jennifer Enderlin is the publisher – she’s my boss. She’s the one who’s signing off on all of the stuff.
ENNI: So, even if you are like “Yes”, you still have to…?
GOODMAN: She still has to. But she’s incredibly – I mean, my goodness – sometimes it’s a little alarming [laughs].
ENNI: See, there’s trust there, right?
GOODMAN: She’s like, “If you really love it.” And I’m like, “Okay.”
ENNI: How is your day-to-day gonna be different now that this is starting?
GOODMAN: It’s a lot busier. There’s a lot more meetings. I’m in charge of a lot more. I’m going to sales conference meetings in a way that I never was before, and presenting at sales conferences. I’m on panels and I’m representing the whole line at agency meetings. I’m in a lot more meetings, in general, here in the office. I’m also reading, not only for myself, but I’m also reading for all of the other editors here. So, it’s a lot more reading. I go to bed at 9 o’clock, I wake up at 5 am, and I read for two hours before my kids wake up. I’m just constantly reading. And sometimes, even this morning on my subway ride in, I was like, “I’m not gonna look at my screen today because my eyes hurt.”
So, that’s really what it is. A lot more reading, and it’s a lot more strategizing, and I’m constantly looking at our lists and making sure that I’m looking at competition from other houses. It’s a lot more about shaping the list more than just acquiring for a list.
ENNI: Right, you’re curating. Does this mean you get to work every day with more editors than you did in the past?
GOODMAN: Yeah. You mean in-house?
GOODMAN: Definitely. I was my own editor, acquiring for my own list that would be published by St. Martin’s or Griffin before, and now I am working with all of these different editors who are trying to acquire for Wednesday Books. I’m helping them both get in these projects, figure out when to publish them, [and] how to publish them.
ENNI: What does it mean to you to be the face of Wednesday? This is a pretty exciting project that they’re letting you do.
GOODMAN: Yeah! What does it mean to me? It means everything. It’s crazy. And also, it’s truly me. Which is really great, I think. How exciting to allow a little bit of my personality to shine through in the way that we’re publishing our books, and the way that we’re doing our social media. Vicki’s been doing our Wednesday Book social media [and] now, as we head into our inaugural list, things will shift a little bit as we become the official Wednesday Books in the fall. But for now, we’re in this really fun phase of getting to show all of our great covers, and be a part of all of the design decisions, which is how your personality gets in right? “Here’s the vision that I have for this.” It’s just fabulous, it’s so very cool.
ENNI: What does that entail? The idea of coming up with a new imprint makes sense like, “We want to institutionalize Sara’s vision in this imprint.” And then, how do you start planning? How much time does it take to get to the ______ going? What does that actually look like?
GOODMAN: I was lucky in that when we decided to do this, I actually had quite a few books already lined up and acquired that were perfect. I had already been acquiring books in this area naturally. So, really what it was, was harnessing, moving around, rescheduling a few of them, to really build a super, super awesome inaugural list. Which is the biggest important one, because it really is the one that you’re saying, “Here we are. This is what we’re about. This is what we look like.”
It was really strategizing ahead of announcing it like, “Who was gonna be in the announcement? What were the titles gonna be on your very first list? What’s your logo? What’s your messaging? What’s your tag line?” Everything had to be perfectly thrown together. A lot of companies hire consulting firms to do this for them – bigger companies. Publishing doesn’t have that kind of cash so we’re doing it in-house. It was very team oriented. I worked very closely with Olga Grlic, she’s designed many of my covers – she’s done all of Rainbow’s covers. She designed the logo and the bag. She’s been instrumental too, in helping me keep a clean, clear aesthetic to the way the imprint looks.
So, it’s been all of that stuff. I feel like I’m working in this cool, ethereal land of colors and brand marketing. It’s really interesting stuff. We got a lot of the nuts-and-bolts [done]. Our fall list has lined up really nicely. We have a lot of that already in place. Now, as we’re approaching fall and the actual debuts will be coming out, now it’s really thinking about just having fun with it. And telling everybody in the industry, “Hey! Look at what we’re doing.” We’ve already sent out all of the press announcements, obviously, people are aware of it, but now we get to do the cool stuff. Now we get to send around the brochures and the tote bags.
ENNI: Do you want to tell me some of the titles that are in the [list]? It’s fall, right?
GOODMAN: It’s fall 2017. We have one adult title on the list for Wednesday Books and it’s actually a paperback reissue of a book called THE INVISIBLE LIFE OF IVAN ISAENKO, which we published as an adult book first at St. Martin’s under hardcover, and now it will be a paperback. It’s a coming-of-age story about a young boy who’s missing his limbs in a Ukrainian home for disabled children. All told through his voice but it’s hilarious.
GOODMAN: It’s so heartwarming and lovely, and it’s a classic coming-of-age story told through the point of view from a young boy – but for the adult audience. So, a perfect example of a Wednesday Book that can be read by both teens and adults. And then for the young adult list, which is very robust and exciting, we have I HATE EVERYONE BUT YOU by the You Tube sensations Gaby Dunn and Allison Raskin who are powerhouses, and we’re really, really excited about this book. An epistolary between two best friends going away to their first year of college and feeling desperately lonely without one another.
I have another book coming out, it’s a debut called EVERTHING MUST GO by a debut author named Jenny Fran Davis who has written this really great story. We’re calling it the WHERE’D YOU GO BERNADETTE for the YA audience. It’s also epistolary but there’s artifacts, and pamphlets; it’s heavily designed. I don’t think I have an ARC [Advanced Readers Copy] here to show you… [pushes books aside] … oh! Here, I do.
It’s a fish-out-of-water story [about] a young girl named Flora Goldwasser who follows her teacher’s aide - who she’s in love with - to a Quaker boarding school in the Hudson Valley, just because she wants to follow him there. She leaves her tony upper eastside prep school to go to this hippie boarding school. And she shows up in her “Jackie O” type dress pants - she’s really into dressing in vintage - and here she is with all of these people in dirty corduroys and tunics being like, “Who are you?”
And, of course, the boy ends up not showing up and she’s there by herself. So, it’s this fish-out-of-water story about her adjusting and figuring out how to be herself in this new world. Again, it’s all told through letters back-and-forth to friends back home, and funny news articles that come out.
ENNI: That’s so funny!
GOODMAN: In the book, there’s this thing that was called, “No shell speaks” nobody at the school is allowed to comment on what the other person looks like. So, she of course is a fashionista and she doesn’t understand how to do this. It’s great.
We are reissuing I CAPTURE THE CASTLE, which has never been published as a young adult novel before. However many, many people reference it as being one of their favorite all-time young adult novels, but yet it has never been published for the young adult audience.
ENNI: Both of those books that you are talking about reissuing, that’s really interesting to me. And what does it mean to take a book and then reissuing it for young adult? What does that entail? How do you think about that differently?
GOODMAN: The way that we’re doing it is we’re putting a brand-new package on it, so it’s beautiful. We’re making it very gift-y looking. We’re actually stamping the board and not having a jacket on it. We got Jim Tierney to design it, who has done SUMMER DAYS AND SUMMER NIGHTS [anthology edited by Stephanie Perkins], and MY TRUE LOVE GAVE TO ME. He’s this fabulous designer. So, he’s designed this gorgeous cover for us that will be stamped directly on the case [claps her hands together]. Jenny Han wrote us a beautiful forward for it [listen to her First Draft interview here]. So, that’s really what it is about, is positioning it for the young adult audience.
ENNI: And then it will actually appear on the young adult shelf.
GOODMAN: It will be on the young adult shelf. And also, just crazily lucky, there’s this fabulous J.K. Rowling quote that we get to use, because it’s been forever on the edition, it’s like, “This is the best character you’ll ever read.” Obviously, our reps are selling it to YA buyers and we’ve set it up in-house to be a young adult title. It’s a backlist title for us, which is why I get to reissue it. It’s not like I went to some other random publisher and be like, “Hey, I’m gonna reissue your book.” It’s something that we already had on our list.
ENNI: Which is interesting. You’re starting an imprint and you can say, “Well, what do we already [have]?” Like you were saying, you had acquired those books, but you can also be like, “In the history of St. Martin’s, what else do we have?”
GOODMAN: So, that’s what I’m actually doing now. We’re really looking at our backlist to see what titles might be a nice fit for Wednesday Books, either to do them as YA or to even just reissue them as an adult book on the Wednesday list in a different way. That’s another thing I was thinking a lot about before starting this imprint, was that so many of our classic books are coming-of-age stories and we read them in high school. In a way, it’s what informs our reading in life. So, it may tell you, “I want to read something that’s super fun and trashy” and pick up some super genre-y young adult novel that you tear through on the beach. Or, you’re reading TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. So, really trying to explore that area a little bit.
ENNI: It is tough to talk to people about books that are about teens but not really for [teens]. Like Robert Cormier and these older ones that are such a particular thing and can be read by anyone. They’re like pieces of art.
GOODMAN: That’s exactly right, classics - they’re classics. And that’s definitely something I’ve always had in the back of my head. I was like, “I want to publish a classic.”
ENNI: Anything else you want to highlight?
GOODMAN: Oh, my gosh we have so many things coming out… it’s so cool. We’re doing P.C. Cast, she’s one of our fantasy writers here. She did the HOUSE OF NIGHT series which I think were vampire. The new SUN WARRIOR and MOON CHOSEN are more about animal shape-shifting and things like that. So, they’re very big lush great books.
We also have some Amanda Hocking books. HIDDEN KINGDOM we’re doing a bind up. And then a brand new author who published another book before - and I’m totally blanking on the title of it – but her second book, her sophomore effort with us, is NOT NOW, NOT EVER and it’s great, by Lily Anderson. So, we have a really robust great list coming out.
ENNI: Did you recently acquire Rishani?
GOODMAN: Yes, so we have her. She is not on the inaugural list, but yes, her next books will be with us which is really exciting and also her paperbacks of other books will be on Wednesday Books. So, she’s on here. We’ve gotten a couple other great buys in the last six months or so that we’re really excited about.
ENNI: Does getting a new imprint mean that now you have [chuckles] - not to sound crass – but now you have a whole bundle of money, [and] you get to go acquire like crazy?
GOODMAN: Yeah, I mean [sighs], look in some ways yes. When you open up a new line like this you need to put books on it. And I’m being very, very careful but I am also getting a lot of support for things when they come in when they’re expensive and if we really like them we can be in there. We’ve been in a ton of really heated auctions these last couple of months.
ENNI: I’d love to talk a little bit more specifically about what makes books really sing to you, and make them books you want to acquire? And then I’ll ask you for advice and we can wrap it up.
ENNI: You’ve talked about Wednesday Books and what you look for, but for authors who are reading, I’d love to hear you, as an editor, what are some of the things that make you feel like, “Not only do I love this book, but also I think I can publish it.”
GOODMAN: As I said, I tend not to always be acquiring because I think it’s necessarily gonna be a big splash on the marketplace. I tend to be pretty open-minded about that. But, that being said, when I get something in that has really sharp, well-defined characters who I just love and who feel totally original. I’ve never met them before, and yet also feel familiar. Also [they] feel like somebody I want to be friends with. But also, the dialogue is really, really important to me. The voice – a strong, sharp voice. And then, of course, a propulsive plot is always nice too, although not always necessary for me. Sometimes a really strong, character driven story is just fine by me.
But I do think for commercial viability, having a strong propulsive plot with strong character and dialogue is like the triple threat.
ENNI: Yeah, kind of the ideal.
GOODMAN: It’s the ideal.
ENNI: I’d love to hear, from your point of view, about voice. It’s one of those things that’s difficult to pin down, but what does it mean to you?
GOODMAN: I always describe it to authors, when they ask me if I’m on panels, it’s almost like the author’s fingerprint. It’s unlike anybody else’s. It’s singular to you. And it’s really almost a concentrated way of your personality, and your style, being completely crystalized on the page. Perfectly crystalized on the page.
No filters, no distance, you just pow [claps hands] you’re there. And that’s the voice to me. It’s the style, it’s the sound in my head when I’m reading the words. It’s incredibly difficult. I know Rainbow reads her books aloud to herself a couple of times. And that, I think, helps people. I also think that you know you’re in the hands of a writer who has a really strong voice, or sense of voice, when you stop feeling like you’re reading and you’re just there.
ENNI: Now that you’re really close to your writers, what is the evolving relationship with their books? Do you talk with them often about career shaping? Or, do they surprise you with new stuff?
GOODMAN: Honestly, I have not had a lot of those conversations with my writers, whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing, I don’t know. I tend to leave it up to my authors to write what they want to write. But I also haven’t published a lot of series of books. I tend to always publish writers who write stand-alones. I’m always excited to see what they’re gonna come up with. Of course, if they want my help, if they want to strategize, of course I’m there… I’m on the phone. But I wouldn’t say that I’m like, “I really need to talk to so-and-so to make sure that they’re not gonna be writing any more of these robot stories.” Or whatever, you know?
ENNI: You’re not like, “This next step on world domination is…”
GOODMAN: And that’s possibly why I don’t have every single book of mine be a bestseller. But I would rather have an author feel like they have a little bit of artistic freedom.
ENNI: And when you acquire books by authors, is it always your intent, or your hope, to continue to work with them for a career?
GOODMAN: Oh yeah, definitely. I think that’s part of it when we acquire books here, we are definitely looking to acquire authors too who we think have big careers ahead of them, and helping them stay here at St. Martin’s. You can have these big authors that just come out of the gate like an explosion. But for the most part, you’re building an author in-house, and you’re growing their audience, and you’re really setting them apart.
ENNI: Yeah, and doing fun things. It is fun to see when authors get to work consistently with a team, there does end up feeling like there’s more of a story to their career in some ways, where it seems more obvious. Because you can do the similar covers…
GOODMAN: Yeah, exactly.
ENNI: I’d love to hear advice both from getting to speak broadly to aspiring authors – what are some things you would recommend to them? And then also about anyone who’s interested in a career in publishing. What would you suggest to them?
GOODMAN: I will start with the publishing career first. People who go to publishing courses, I think what the benefit is to the people who attend those, is connections, and learning the language and learning the lingo.
ENNI: Acronyms are always helpful!
GOODMAN: But I would say, if you’re somebody who can’t afford that, or just isn’t able to do that, that that doesn’t mean that you can’t. Interning is always probably [an option], but that’s also really difficult. But sometimes actually just getting your foot in the door in any way that you can [pauses] look, it can be very hard if you somehow ended up getting an assistant position in a marketing department, it can be very difficult to move over to editorial. It can be. But I think you should be open to trying all different aspects of the industry because there actually are a lot of jobs. It takes a lot to run a business like this, so you might be surprised where you might be able to get your foot in the door. And don’t be so narrow minded. To just be open to trying all sorts of different ways of getting into Random House, or St. Martin’s.
ENNI: It’s easier to make the shift if you are in the building.
GOODMAN: Exactly! So that’s one thing. You can’t come in to working in publishing with any kinds of chips on your shoulder. You don’t make a lot of money at first. You really are doing a lot of grunt work. You have to come in knowing that you’re gonna have to gut through those first couple of years. But what you’ll find though is the people around you are the best people you’ll ever meet and that sort of keeps you from getting too bogged down in feeling like, “Nothing’s ever gonna change.” It can build slow and you have to be patient, be patient.
If you get in it and you’ve been doing it for a long time, and you find that you don’t like it anymore, then get out. Don’t feel like you have to stick around. But I do think that just being willing to keep an open mind and try anything that you possibly can to get in the door, is the best thing to do.
In terms of writers and advice for writers? That’s a trickier one. I do think having an agent is important. I think agents really know the business and really know how to begin the story of an author’s career before making it over to the editor’s hands. They really know how to position a book. How to tell an editor how to read it when they open the first page of the document. Important to get an agent. In terms of getting an agent – ooff– query, query, query. It’s not an easy road, it’s just not. But keep writing.
ENNI: This is a tough question. What would you say are some of the things that you almost always have to do with a book when you start editing it? For authors who are looking to move on and get published traditionally what are some of the things they can expect to go through with that process.
GOODMAN: If they get an editor you mean?
GOODMAN: For me, I really get into the books. If a book needs it, I’ll get in with my rubber gloves and scrub away. So, I think, not to get defensive. In a certain respect, you have to let the book go once an editor has acquired it, and let somebody take it over for a little bit. Not be too precious about it as much as possible.
ENNI: I think sometimes with aspiring writers it can be difficult because you worked so hard on making your manuscript really polished for an agent, then often you work with that agent on that. You sort of miss the step where even when you sell the book, it’s not done. You could have months and months of …
GOODMAN: You could have months and months of editorial work. Truthfully, very seldom now do I take on a book that needs a ton of work. That often happens in second/third books in contracts when it needs a ton of work. I rarely take on a real big clunker anymore. And I say that affectionately because quite often – and look it happens all the time – where I read a book and I’m like, “God the voice is so good.” Because you can’t edit voice - that’s just something that happens - but the plot is a wreck. And I don’t have a clear vision for how to fix it.
ENNI: But that would make a difference. If you were like, “It just needs this one thing.” Maybe then you would think about [it].
GOODMAN: Exactly. If I can figure it out, then yes. But I tend to not take on anything that has a lot of work to be done on a first novel. But I think you have to be prepared to do a lot of work in that revision process and it can be tough on writers, but to know, “You’re there! You’re almost there! You’re in the door! Keep going.”
ENNI: I’ll wrap up with this last question. When you are in a situation where an author gets the chance to be on the phone with you before selling, what are good questions that an author can ask if they are choosing between editors – which is a great position to be in – which editor might work well with them?
GOODMAN: Depending on the writer, but if you’re a writer who really wants to have a close relationship with your editor, I think you can ask them right up to say, “Are you the kind of editor who wouldn’t mind talking to me on the phone to talk through edits? Do you prefer email?” That’s sort of a nuts and bolts question. But I also think to say like, “Am I gonna have a team working [with me] that I can be in touch with whenever I want? Am I gonna be able to have direct conversations with the person marketing my book? Am I gonna be able to talk to my publicist directly? Can I call you whenever I need to?” Sort of get a lay of the land about expectations and dynamic.
I think sometimes an author has asked me - and put me on the spot in a good way - which is, “What do you see for the cover?” You just get a sense aesthetically what the editor sees the book looking like out in the market place, and if it matches your own.
ENNI: Ooh, that’s interesting! This has been so great. I appreciate you taking the time to chat with me.
GOODMAN: Of course, it’s been my pleasure.
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ENNI: Thank you so much to Sara. Follow her on Twitter @saraWillowNYC and follow Wednesday Books @WednesdayBooks. You can follow me @sarahenni and the show @firstdraftpod. First Draft is on Instagram and Facebook too, but for links to everything Sara and I talked about as well as my favorite quotes from this and every episode, and a link to sign up for the First Draft newsletter, visit FirstDraftpod.com.
In July, I have two events in the Los Angeles area. On July 11th I will be celebrating the release of Julie Buxbaum’s newest WHAT TO SAY NEXT at the Barnes & Noble at the Grove. I adore Julie and the event is going to be very silly fun, so definitely come check it out. Then, the very next day July 12th, I will be appearing with Ameriie, Nicola Yoon, Cindy Pon, Christine Riccio, Tina Burke, and Andrew Smith to celebrate the release of BECAUSE YOU LOVE TO HATE ME. A short story collection filled with bad guy tales. I contributed one of the short stories, and it’s kind of about a feminist murdering people. So, you for sure want to check that out! The book is out July 11th so preorder your copy now [Amazon, IndieBound, Barnes & Noble, and Book Depository]. Links, as ever, in the show notes.
If you liked what you heard today, please do leave a rating or review on iTunes. Every five-star review gets me that much closer to crossover territory. Thanks so much to Hashbrown for the theme song, and to Collin Keith and Maureen Goo for the logos. Thanks to super intern Carter Elwood, and to transcriptionist-at-large Julie Anderson. And, as ever, thanks to you repackaged backlisters for listening.