I first appeared with Adam on a panel about writing and publishing about four years ago and since have appeared with him on three more panels. From the beginning, I was impressed with his passion for words, his vast experience as an editor, and his work ethic. And he’s funny, in a droll sort of understated way. Hawthorne Books, where Adam is the Senior Editor, is an independent publisher that has published books such as Clown Girl by Monica Drake, The Chronicle of Water by Lidia Yuknavitch, and four books by my hero of heroes, Poe Ballantine. And be still my heart, he’s working on two more books for them. And did I mention that their books are gorgeous and show the care they put into them?
Adam will be teaching a workshop at Summer in Words called What an Editor Wants on Friday June 24th. To read Adam’s short story The Red Side, go here. To read more about Adam and his approach to editing, go here.
Q: How do you think your life adventures such as riding far and wide on Greyhounds, make you a better writer and editor?
A: Spending as much time as I have riding ground transportation—about 250,000 miles over the past 15 years or so—has given me a lot of time alone to think and read and often write. Just like any experience that’s physically and mentally exhausting and boring—anything from war to jail to a dead-end job—riding Greyhound buses and Amtrak trains for thousands of miles gives me a clearer sense of my mind, I guess. It also allows me a different level of familiarity with the geography of this country. I’ve been everywhere here, so it’s hard to fool me with a fake dialect or regional inconsistency.
Q: How would you describe your ideal writer–as in one you’d want to publish at Hawthorne Books?
A: Most of Hawthorne’s authors are ideal writers, if being a writer is a temperament, not a vocation—they’re all extraordinarily cool, down-to-earth folks who understand that as a small press, we work really hard, much harder than large publishers on average, to get the work out there. As far as my ideal writing goes, I skew more experimental than the dominant aesthetic in Hawthorne’s catalogue, but that’s not to say I don’t enjoy and love and champion every book we’ve published.
Q: What kinds of query letters grab your attention?
A: My school of thought on queries is that it’s best if they don’t grab my attention too much—“Hey, I’ve got this book. Check it out,” then launching right into page one of the text—to me, that’s a better query than a 15-page marketing plan. A writer capable of writing a coherent 15-page marketing plan is clearly a professional writer, but that doesn’t mean he or she can write creative work at all. My training and interest as a reader and editor is purely literary, though, so I probably don’t speak for most acquisition editors, who at this point are business professionals far more than creative professionals.
Q: What is the worst mistake writers can make when trying to get published?
A: Calling me on the phone to check in about a manuscript is the best way to make me hate your work before I’ve even read it. Sending a hasty email for the same purpose is a close second. Even if submission processes run slowly, they’re processes. It’s not like we won’t contact you if we want to publish your book. And if we don’t want to publish it, we’ll let you know as soon as we decide that, also. A related point: simultaneously submit all your work, even if presses and magazines tell you not to do so. If you’re lucky enough to get two hits on the same day for the same piece (you won’t be), an editor will understand if you have to withdraw the piece.
Q: What is your best advice to writers in ten words or less?
Revise, set aside, revise; repeat that process, then submit.
Q: Sushi or pasta?
A: You can’t ask a Libra a question like this. There’s an OK sushi place across the street from my apartment, so I probably eat more sushi, but I probably like pasta more. A really good version of either can be transcendent.
Q: What’s on your nightstand?
A: Some cups of water maybe, a lamp. I’m a terrible insomniac and I sleep different hours than my wife, so I keep what I’m reading on a shelf in the living room. Right now, it’s If You Want to Write by Brenda Ueland, one of my favorite “get you pumped to write” books about writing. Also, after every Memorial Day, I end up watching war documentaries and reading war books for a while, so Dispatches by Michael Herr is the one this year—I’ve read it several times before, and it’s absolutely the best piece of writing about war ever. And I keep trying to work through Freedom by Franzen, but I’m not finding the emotional connection to it that I have to some of his other work.
Q: What projects are you working on next?
A: For Hawthorne, I’m working on James Bernard Frost’s A Very Minor Prophet, a book I love that we’ll be releasing next year. Freelance, I’m working on a brilliant young adult novel by a debut author named Glen Carter. And the morning after the Summer in Words conference, I’m flying back to my hometown in Michigan to spend a month finishing work on a novel I’ve been working on since grad school.