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Robin Friedman : author and journalist

Megan C. Atwood, Editor

Llewellyn Worldwide (2004)

Megan C. Atwood left Llewellyn Worldwide in August 2005, but her interview is still here for informational purposes.

Megan C. Atwood graduated from the University of Iowa with a degree in English and anthropology. She came to Llewellyn as an intern for their magazine at the time, FATE, and then procured a job as administrative assistant for acquisitions. From there she worked up to new submissions editor, then developed and created the current line of young adult and middle-grade books.

Llewellyn gladly accepts unsolicited manuscripts — but no picture books or early readers — addressed to Llewellyn Worldwide, Ltd., P.O. Box 64383, St. Paul, MN 55164-0383.

How many books does Llewellyn publish every year and what kind of books are they?

Our adult line publishes around 100 a year, give or take, and those are mostly nonfiction. The middle-grade/young adult line produces about 10-12 a year and those are mostly fiction.

How many do you edit per year?

My job is a little different than a traditional acquiring editor. I work with authors developmentally, then send it off to our text editor who works with me and the author on honing the book. I would say, though, that I work with about 20-25 books a year.

What have you edited recently?

I've been working with Laurie Stolarz on a project, and with a new author for an exciting new book that is coming out. Another of my favorites is BONECHILLERS by David Cropper — that's going to be a fun book.

Were any manuscripts you edited from the "slush pile"?

Most of them were. I get new material almost specifically from the slush pile. I will also actively search out authors at conferences or through websites.

Is the slush pile an actual pile? Where is it? How many manuscripts are in it?

It's an actual pile and it gets bigger daily. It sits on my desk, then migrates to the floor, then spreads out all over my space. I try to get to it before it reaches 30 or more pieces.

What percentage of manuscripts from the slush pile do you estimate get published?

I would say at least 70%. There are a lot of good authors out there whose manuscripts just need slight tweaking, and one of the things I like about working for Llewellyn is that we're small enough so I can spend my time working with an author that might not get the time elsewhere.

Why does so much NOT get published?

Probably about 90% does not get published. However, I receive a lot of submissions that are just inappropriate for our line, like picture books.

How long does it take Llewellyn to read a manuscript?

Honestly, awhile. I read everything that comes across my desk and if I like something, I send it out to review, which can take anywhere from 2-6 months. From there we meet to talk about it (unless it needs substantial revisions) which takes another few months. It's a long process, but well worth it.

Describe a typical day at work. Be specific!

This is a tough question. My job entails working with marketing, publicity, sales, art, and editorial so I am all over the place. I talk to authors almost everyday and I try to read mail at least every other day. I do manuscript evaluations probably daily, and brainstorm ideas with other departments often. I talk with authors a lot and do contracting. I also have a ton of meetings.

Do you usually read manuscripts at work or at home in the evenings and on weekends?

When the line was first starting, I did this all the time. Now, I bring those manuscripts that have intrigued me enough so that I don't want to stop reading. Those are fun!

What kinds of books do you like to work on?

YA books that have an edge and a finger on the pulse of the market are my favorites. Thrillers, mysteries, the like. . .

What was your favorite book as a child?

I loved Madeleine L'Engle, so A WRINKLE IN TIME would have to be it. I also loved any Judy Blume book I could get my hands on.

Do you have any favorites now?

Besides my authors', right? J I have to say I'm in love with M.T. Anderson's FEED and I wish it had gotten more acclaim. I also love Laurie Halse Anderson's SPEAK and, of course, HARRY POTTER.

Is it every editor's dream to discover the next J.K. Rowling?

In the sense of discovering raw talent, yes. But I feel like we do that as publishers anyway. There are a lot of good writers out there, and discovering one is always a thrill. But I do have to say, it would be really nice to get those kinds of book sales.

What must a manuscript have to get your attention?

A clever plot, three-dimensional characters, and good dialogue. This seems trite, but it's what makes a good manuscript. The characters are a big one for me. For instance, if you're writing a manuscript right now, check to see if the Mom in the manuscript is cooking. If so, why? Is this something she enjoys doing? If she's not, is it because she's a single mother and is too tired? If she is cooking, did you think about why she is? If the answer is no, if it doesn't contribute to her characterization or the characterization of the main character, work to build them into something the reader can hold on to.

Do you read manuscripts all the way through or do you read just the first page? First chapter? First paragraph?

It depends on the manuscript. There are some that I know won't fit in our line in the first sentence. However, I always try to read at least the first chapter before I make a decision. If I like a manuscript I will take it home with me at night and on the weekends.

Describe the acquisition process. Let's say you found a manuscript you want to acquire. What happens next? Be specific!

I send the manuscript to reviewers - one adult and one person from the target market. When those come in, if they're positive and no revisions are required, I send the manuscript to a meeting where we evaluate the manuscript more thoroughly and discuss market, price point, publicity efforts, and author viability. If it's a yes from that meeting, I contract the book.

Do you think “celebrity books” are on the rise? Why?

Not so much with middle-grade/YA books, although we've seen a few with Neil Gaiman and Clive Barker. With these two authors, however, it translates well.

Do you ever love a book that you have to turn down? Why?

Yes. Sometimes because of contract reasons, but mostly because the book doesn't fit our line.

Do you read manuscripts addressed to you or do you have an assistant?

I read the manuscripts addressed to me.

When you make an offer to an author, do you expect the author to negotiate the terms or to accept the offer on the spot?

It depends on the author. First-time authors generally accept the terms right away.

Are offers made by telephone or email?

I prefer the telephone. It's exciting for me to be able to offer a contract to someone who has worked so hard and now finally has a chance to show the world his/her work. Plus, normally if I'm contracting a piece, I'm excited about it and want to talk to the author about it.

Which parts of a publishing contract is the publisher most flexible about?

This is a lame answer, I know, but it depends on many different factors.

How often do you send "personal rejection letters" versus "form rejection letters"?

Not often, to be honest. I simply don't have the time. If I feel the author has some potential and may be able to fix their work, I'll sit down and write a personal letter.

What is the approximate print run of a picture book these days? A novel?

For our house, a novel's print run is around 5,000-7,500, depending.

Is it true that most books lose money for the publisher if they don't sell out their first printing? Why?

Yes. The first printing is the one that absorbs all the up-front costs of a book, such as printing, publicity, overhead, advance, etc. No money is made, basically, on this first run and if it doesn't sell out, then a publisher loses money.

How long can the average picture book be expected to stay in print these days? The average novel?

The average novel at our house stays in print as long as it sells. Obviously, that varies from book to book, and our line is so new that it's hard to make an estimate.

Is it true that today's books stay in print less time than yesterday's books?

I have no idea.

Is it true that editors have little time to "edit" these days? Is it true that they are looking for manuscripts that are more "finished"?

Again, I feel lucky to work where I do. I do have the time to foster talent in authors and it is my favorite part of the job.

How has the field changed since you've been an editor?

The biggest change I've seen has been with the Manga novels.

How has Harry Potter changed the field?

HARRY POTTER broke all the rules and has loosened things up a bit. Fantasy is better received and middle-grade books no longer have to be around 250 pages to be viable. It's also encouraged more readers, which is just fantastic!

Have big chain stores, like Barnes & Noble, changed the field? How?

Yes, the chains have changed the field. If a book of ours doesn't get into B&N, it's tantamount to a death sentence.

Have Internet sites such as Amazon.com changed things?


Do you think these changes are for the better or worse?

Like most things, there are good and bad things about it. B&N and Amazon make for wider distribution and wider recognition. However, the bigness of many publishing houses and stores make it difficult for a medium-sized publisher to make its presence known. However, good books make a huge difference!