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Interview: Pat Walsh, Editor

I listed Pat Walsh as an editor because that’s his “day job.” But he’s also the author of a great how-to guide entitled 78 Reasons Why Your Book May Never Be Published and 14 Reasons Why It Just Might that hits the stores today. He also recently signed a deal for a second book with Penguin entitled How to Win the World Series of Poker Or Not. So he knows the writing life, from both sides of the desk.

Pat was kind enough to spend some time talking to us about the life of an editor, what he looks for when reviewing manuscripts, and how writers really shouldn?Ä´t want the quick answer.

Slushpile: Please tell us a little about your background. What is your educational background? How did you get involved in publishing?

Walsh: I’m a former reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle and I studied at UC Berkeley and Trinity College, Dublin. Of course, when I say “studied” I mean I drank a lot of beer and went to football games and cricket matches, respectively.

Slushpile: How did you come to work for MacAdam/Cage?

Walsh: I was supposed to be the first author and was contracted to write a book but found writing to be hard. Editing, however, suited my tastes for long lunches and criticizing others.

Slushpile: Have you worked for any other publishers?

Walsh: Nope.

Slushpile: Please tell us about the review process at MacAdam/Cage. When a manuscript goes in the mailbox, what happens to it? Who reviews it first?

Walsh: It depends. We pay a lot of attention to the general submissions compared to other houses, which means we give them a few seconds each. Generally, a partial will come in and usually ferment in a mail bin fora couple of weeks. Then I go through them and cull out all the genres we don’t publish, like poetry, Christian, romance etc. I also remove everything that seems way out of bounds given our tastes. If something really seems intriguing, I’ll pull it out and read it myself. Everything else is reviewed by another editor or, more likely, an intern.

Slushpile: What is the process for other editors or readers handling manuscripts? I’m assuming there is a process to doing the initial couple of cuts before seriously evaluating a book as a whole.

Walsh: If I or another editor or intern likes a partial (the first three chapters) a letter is sent to the writer requesting the entire manuscript. When it comes in, it is assigned a number and then put on a shelf to be given to a reader who will read the first 100-150 pages and complete a questionnaire about the book.

Slushpile: What do you look for when you are reading manuscripts? What catches your attention?

Walsh: Strong writing. Professional presentation, which means correct spelling and grammar and sharp sentences.

Slushpile: Are you the final decision maker on a manuscript? How many people have to approve of a manuscript for it to be accepted?

Walsh: Sometimes. It depends, sometimes just the editor and the publisher. Other times a book is passed around.

Slushpile: How many editors are on staff at MacAdam/Cage?

Walsh: Five, all with various tastes.

Slushpile: How many manuscripts a year does MacAdam/Cage receive?

Walsh: 4,000.

Slushpile: How many manuscripts a year does MacAdam/Cage accept for publication?

Walsh: 30 to 60.

Slushpile: What percentage, roughly, of your authors do not have agents?

Walsh: 2/3

Slushpile: What are the differences in reviewing a manuscript submitted by an agent versus reviewing a manuscript that you received as an unsolicited submission from the author? Do you approach them differently? Which one do you prefer?

Walsh: It really depends on the agent and his/her relationship with the editor. I work with only a couple dozen agents closely. Other editors work with more.

Slushpile: How long does the process of accepting a manuscript take? If I send in a manuscript and you ultimately accept it for publication, how much time is involved from your receipt of the manuscript to signed contracts?

Walsh: The quickest book took less than a week. The longest more than a year. The greatest gift a writer can have is patience and you never, never, never want the quick answer.

Slushpile: The only information most people have about author advances is from the big New York conglomerates giving six and seven figure dollar amounts. But these few high profile cases are not realistic and are not the norm for most authors. Do you mind sharing, in very general terms, what amounts are usually given to first time authors? If you don’t want to share specific information about MacAdam/Cage, can you please give us an idea of what the industry standards are?

Walsh: Our advances generally run from $2,000 to $10,000 but can exceed that greatly depending on circumstances.

Slushpile: Do you handle the financial and business aspects of the trade as well? You are responsible for new acquisitions and working with existing authors. Are you in charge of determining the advance? Are you in charge of establishing marketing budgets for books?

Walsh: I handle contracts and such. Operations, receivables etc are handled elsewhere.

Slushpile: What percentage of your job would you say is “literary” (editing, reviewing manuscripts, etc) and what percentage of your job would you say is “business” (budgets, finances, etc)?

Walsh: I wouldn’t divide it that way. I’d say literary and promotion. Editing a book is the easy part, if the author’s amenable. Promoting the book is the hard part, both in the trade and in house.

Keep an eye out for the second part of our interview with Mr. Walsh.

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