Wednesday, November 12, 2008

GumboWriters Interview with Random House Editor, Claudia Gabel

GumboWriters had an opportunity to interview Claudia Gabel, editor at Random House.
  • How did you get your start as an editor? Why become an editor instead of say, a fighter pilot or computer engineer?

I always loved to read as a child and I majored in English literature in college. In fact, I went to graduate school with the hopes of becoming a college professor, but changed course when I got an editorial assistant job at HarperCollins while finishing up my degree. I found that helping authors shape their books was incredibly satisfying and fulfilling, and I still feel that way today, even after nine years.

  • What are some of the exciting books you've acquired that you're most proud of?

Kiss Me Kill Me by Lauren Henderson. It's a perfect blend of murder mystery and teen chick lit, complete with a relatable yet tragic heroine who unravels a web of secrets. With the exception of some violence, it's also a very clean read, which the author and I are very happy about. What makes this book so special is because the idea for the novel (and the two that will follow) came out of a news article that Lauren and I had read. From there on, we collaborated very closely on the concept and plot development, so when the book pubbed, both of us felt like we'd just given birth to a baby. LOL.

  • When you receive a submission what about it really grabs you and excites you to the point that you'd like to acquire it?

If I'm reading a submission and I can't put it down, it's usually because the narrative voice has totally captivated me. As many writers know, creating a unique and distinctive voice is quite difficult, but when it's done right, readers will find themselves finishing the book in one sitting. In my opinion, that's the bar that manuscripts have to meet. If I read it from start to finish in one day, an offer will soon follow.

  • What makes you decide to read a submission overnight compared to it rotting on the bottom of your slush pile?

If the concept of the book is described in a catchy, memorable way, I'll pick it up much quicker than if the novel is pitched as something generic like "a coming of age story" or "the next Harry Potter."

  • What's the best way for a writer to contact you? Query letter?

Query letters are a good way to get in touch, but since I receive so many, I only reply to those that are of interest. Personally, I think the best way to get face-time with editors and agents are through writer's conferences. I know it's an expense, but the amount of business contacts that one can make are worth it.

  • Are you open to receiving submissions from self-published authors?

Yes, I am, but writers should be aware that many editors check sales figures of these types of publications, and if the numbers are low, that can influence the editor's opinion of the project.

  • Are you open to receiving unagented submissions?

Random House Children's Books policy is that we don't accepted unsolicited manuscripts. However, I can say that slush mail does get reviewed, but very infrequently.

  • What are you personally doing in order to adapt to the changes in the marketplace? (Changes meaning: lower print runs, shrinking book review outlets, oversaturated market and chains stores being more selective about what books they put on their shelves)

It's definitely a tough market out there, especially because of the downturn in the economy. While I'm being a bit more picky about what titles I put on my list, I don't feel as though I should shy away from publishing books that will find an audience, even if it's only a small one. I also think that many publishers are trying to find new formats, especially digital, that will reinvigorate the marketplace, which I believe will make a big impact in the children's book world. Young people are more technologically savvy than ever and it's exciting to think about how these kids are motivating booksellers and publishers to embrace change.

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