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Editor Spotlight: Betsy Mitchell, Del Rey

We had such a nice response to Anne Sowards’ post about the books she was editing in 2008 that I thought I would seek out some additional editors that we might not ordinarily think about. Betsy Mitchell is Vice President, Editor-in-Chief of Del Rey Books, a division of Random House publishing. Ms. Mitchell had the good taste and foresight to pick up Naomi Novik’s Temeraire series. Victory of Eagles is the newest addition to the series and the first in hardcover. If you read romances for the relationships, the Temeraire series tells a unique love story between a dragon and his partner. For me, a die hard romance reader, I found the Temeraire books to be completely satisfying. Jayne has reviewed all of the books released to date here at Dear Author.

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Msaggie (5/22)

I always wonder how editors assess books or do they read like normal people (without the extremely critical eye, etc).

Betsy:

An editor’s job is twofold: First, to bravely protect the world from bad literature. That is why we turn down 98% of everything that crosses our desks. Second, to channel the literary tastes of thousands of readers. I’m paid to publish books that will sell as many copies as possible. Therefore on the first run-through of any manuscript I try to behave like a browser in a bookstore. Does the story open at an interesting point? Do the first characters I meet grab my attention? Is the writing style fun/gripping/intense/challenging?

I was the kid who read, read, read . . . read while brushing my teeth, while eating breakfast, while attending some other kid’s birthday party (what fun to explore other people’s bookshelves!). In other words, whenever I wasn’t doing something else absolutely required by an authority figure, I was reading. In my case, that love turned into a career-’but I certainly haven’t forgotten what it was like to be a "normal" person. 

In all the years since childhood, my definition of a good book hasn’t changed. A manuscript first and foremost must entertain me. It can do so on an either an intellectual or an emotional level-’ideally, both at once. I’ve fallen in love equally with Peter F. Hamilton’s amazing flights of technological imagination (The Neutronium Alchemist, Pandora’s Star) and with Janet Evanovich’s fun and sexy Stephanie Plum series (she’s not my author, but boy, I wish she was!). I love a wide variety of authors for different reasons-’the only commonality being that they are all great storytellers.

The type of manuscripts I often turn down are what I privately label "the triumph of style over substance," in which the author becomes too caught up in his/her writing style to pay enough attention to involving readers (me, at least) in the story itself. Such books do have their acolytes; I just don’t happen to be among them.

One author whose submission I selected due to her splendiferous storytelling skills was Naomi Novik. The cover letter from her agent described a new story about dragons. Yeah right, I said to myself, all the good dragon stories have already been told; dragons are so over. But all it took was to start reading the manuscript, because that "new story about dragons" took off like- well, like Temeraire the dragon into battle. Naomi had set her story in an unexpected time and place-’Europe at the turn of the 19th century-’peopled it with a variety of characters both human and draconic, both likable and not; and invested it with the considerable fruit of her research labor (the period of the Napoleonic Wars has been of particular interest to Naomi for many years). Not only that, she wrote the story in a voice that calls to mind the writing style of those days without slavishly trying to copy it. (I’ve been amused by a couple of comments on Amazon from readers peevishly wondering why Naomi’s editor allowed her to write in such an "illiterate" style containing so many subcolons and extended sentences!)


His Majesty’s Dragon
turned out to be a major success, and not just here in the U.S. but around the world. We’ve sold the series into more than 25 foreign territories, from Iceland to Israel-’proof that good storytelling translates into many languages. Naomi hit the New York Times bestseller list with #4 in the series, Empire of Ivory, and we’re just about to bring out her first hardcover, Victory of Eagles.

For those readers interested in knowing some other books I’ve worked on recently, here’s a short list:

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

8 Comments

  1. SonomaLass
    Jul 02, 2008 @ 14:43:04

    Thanks for this behind-the-scenes peek. I love “to bravely protect the world from bad literature”! Can’t wait for the new Temeraire book, although I will wince at the shift to hardback .

  2. GrowlyCub
    Jul 02, 2008 @ 14:54:03

    I’ve always wondered how many readers are lost when the big shift to HC happens. I know 9 times out of 10 I won’t buy the new book in HC and have forgotten about the series when the book finally comes out in paperback or am confused about which number in the series it is and whether I’ve read it already or not. Too confusing.

    Thanks for the behind the scenes look. It’s always fascinating to get the inside scoop. :)

  3. Marg
    Jul 02, 2008 @ 15:05:45

    Temeraire is one of my favourite series! Thanks for bringing it to us!

  4. AnimeJune
    Jul 02, 2008 @ 15:11:08

    I can’t wait to start the Temeraire series.

    But The Bearskin Rug by Jennifer Stevenson? I’m guessing she also edited the Brass Bed?

    Couldn’t have protected us from that? I needed the literary equivalent of a long, clean shower after that dreck.

  5. Chicklet
    Jul 02, 2008 @ 16:39:08

    Gah! Temeraire is in hardcover? Now my series won’t match on the shelf, I have to pay more money, and it’ll be murder on my wrists to read it on the train. Sigh. I’ll still buy it on release day, but I won’t be anywhere near as happy about the book as I was before I found out they’ve switched to hardcover.

  6. Laurie
    Jul 02, 2008 @ 17:30:00

    I’m thrilled Naomi Novik has made the jump, but I’m a little sad my books won’t match anymore, too. I love love love the paperback artwork and if Victory of Eagles when it does come out in paperback is in the same style as the first four, I’ll probably keep buying them, as well as the hardcovers. They’re more portable, so I wouldn’t feel too guilty about having two copies of the same book.

    If the style is different, though, forget it.

    This is the only series I would buy in hardcover. SO EXCITED for next week!

  7. Natalie
    Jul 02, 2008 @ 17:31:29

    Thanks Betsy for that little look into the life of an editor. I look forward to the next Naomi Novik book. Oh and I love CE Murphy, great storyteller.

  8. msaggie
    Jul 03, 2008 @ 07:44:03

    Thank you Betsy for answering my initial question that Jane put to you. A turn-down rate of 98% is very high – I never realised that – that’s higher than rejection rates for articles that we send to scientific journals. And I am so glad that you “discovered” Temeraire and Naomi Novik. I agree that a good story-telling skill is the most important attribute in an author, especially in a fiction novel, even if the raw material seems to have been used umpteen times before, whatever genre, as that echoes the oral story-tellers of old (before the written word) – could you hold the audience with your story? Do people want to carry on listening to it? I hope you discover many more wonderful stories for us all!

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