Friday, November 20, 2009

INTERVIEW: Daniela Rapp, Editor at St.Martin Press in New York City

Daniela Rapp got her start in the industry at a literary agency selling foreign rights. She is now an Editor with St. Martin Press and is actively looking for mysteries (historical and contemporary), high-concept women's fiction, serious narrative nonfiction titles, as well as books about pets, animals, nature, American history, language and humor, and travel. No historical fiction, no chick lit, no romance, and very few prescriptive books. She is especially interested in multi-cultural projects and Native American topics.

Her other projects are “Things That Make Us (SIC) by Martha Brockenbrough. It is about apop-culture-studded rant on the abuse of grammar, spelling and usage to the offenders. “Murder On The Eiffel Tower by Claude Izner, which is a bestselling French mystery novel set in 1889. It is about a woman collapses and dies on this great Paris landmark and “Dog Talk” by Harrison Forbes, a veteran dog trainer and radio show co-host forgoes the maudlin for some genuine insight into dog behavior and psychology and “A Life in Twilight” About the last thirteen years of J. Robert Oppenheimer.

E.I. In an industry that gets increasingly difficult to break into, what are a few things first-time writers can do in their query letters that might convince you to take a chance on them?

D.R. St. Martin’s Press generally doesn’t accept unsolicited submissions directly from authors. We receive pitch letters or queries from agents, which means that we never actually see the initial query the writer may have put together. I have, however, seen query letters at various writers’ conferences over the years, and there are a few basic traps writers fall into when putting these together. A big turn-off for me is a letter riddled with spelling and grammatical errors, or one that is printed on cute, decorated, or colored paper. Simple, clean, and to the point is the way to go here – I am looking for concise and useful information, not personality. I also don’t need to hear that this is going to be a bestseller for sure, that it’s better than Dan Brown or that it is the next Malcolm Gladwell – let me make up my own mind. Tell me what genre your project is, give me a quick (one-paragraph or less) description, throw in a couple of appropriate comparisons, and tell me anything I need to know about your platform. A query letter really shouldn’t be longer than a page, and always include your e-mail address. My response might be faster if I don’t have to print out and mail a letter.

E.I. Do you demand the prose style or voice for literary writers be a notch in quality above the genre writers, or does it just depend on the story and subject matter? And what is your opinion on the overall climate for first novels?

D.R. Hey, those are two questions, not one. I look for top quality no matter what genre I am acquiring. The type of genre fiction I deal with most frequently is classified as mysteries and suspense, but to me that doesn’t mean you can get away with inferior or clich├ęd writing. The lines separating genres are becoming more and more blurry, and many authors who are considered literary writers are actually writing mysteries or suspense, or vice versa. Look at someone like Dennis Lehane or Caleb Carr – top notch writing, suspense and mystery elements, and great plots. In the end, what I go for is a great hook and good story, but the writing has to be able to back that up.

E.I. And what is your opinion on the overall climate for first novels?

D.R. This is not new information, but first novels are really, really hard. These days, it is almost impossible to get published in fiction(especially literary fiction) unless your project has a great high concept, a totally fresh take and voice, and you have an already established platform, such as having been published in literary reviews, anthologies, magazines or the like. It also helps if Audrey Niffenegger is your best friend and you live next to Michael Chabon and they are willing to blurb you before your agent even submits your manuscript. Joking aside, though, we are always looking for new writers, and everybody has to start somewhere, so don’t be discouraged by what seem to be insurmountable obstacles. If your stuff is great, it will find its place.

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