Zack Wagman: Sucker-Punched
By Zack Wagman, Senior Editor at Crown Publishing and Bluegrass Writers Studio Guest
In NY book publishing, when editors are talking about novels at editorial meetings, at business lunches, or anywhere really, we often fall back on cliché to convey our excitement: "I missed my subway stop" or "I was up all night." For me, when I first read Save Yourself, I could not fall back on those clichés. I was in a drab corporate flat, 5000 miles away from my editorial meeting, my colleagues, and my publisher.
It was March 2012 and I had just started a 6-week stay in London, working out of the Random House UK offices—a sort of professional "study abroad" program. I had been there just one day when I received an email from the wonderful Julie Barer, an agent whom I adore and is known for curating a small list. I knew from page 1 that SAVE YOURSELF was something special. Kelly Braffet clearly loved her characters—they felt so real and true. There wasn't a false note or affected lilt of speech anywhere to be seen. And the plot moved. I was flipping the pages so fast and reading the book with my heart in my throat.
I got in touch with Julie immediately to tell her how much I loved the book and she organized a call with Kelly. This is fairly common practice—a sort of audition for the editor. I think it was 11pm for me in London, on my corporate phone—a Blackberry from 2003 for all of you jealous of my business trip—pacing around the small apartment. I told Kelly how I fell for each of her characters, how they all sucker-punched me in surprising ways, and how clever I thought she was for sneaking in a thriller plot. I remember we also kvelled about Kate Atkinson and Gillian Flynn.
Normally after such a call, I would walk into my boss' office and just let her see the look on my face as I described Kelly's work. Acquiring books is delicate dance for editors. We need to be passionate yet clear-eyed; practical yet enthusiastic. Being in London made this extremely difficult. I had a 5-hour time difference to deal with and was struggling to catch my boss on the phone between her meetings. In other words, she couldn't see my face.
But I'm lucky to have a publisher who started as an editor and can recognize that pleading sound in an editor's voice. We were able to work out a deal with Julie Barer in fairly short order. And I'm so glad we did, as SAVE YOURSELF remains one of the books I'm most proud to have published.
Published on January 06, 2014