Lou Anders is the editorial director of Prometheus Books’ science fiction and fantasy imprint Pyr as well as several anthologies. He’s been nominated for multiple awards multiple times, including the Locus Awards, Shirley Jackson Award, Philip K. Dick Award, Chelsey Award, World Fantasy Award and the Hugo Award. He’s won the Chesley Award and in 2011 he won the Hugo for “Best Professional Editor Long Form”. He’s published over 500 articles, and his articles and stories have been translated into Danish, Greek, German, Italian & French. Phew! As if that weren’t enough, he’s written his own novel and it has been picked by agent Joe Monti.
If you ever get a chance to attend a panel Lou is on, or one of his Pyr presentations at a convention, I highly recommend it. Lou is extremely well spoken, engaging and I guarantee you will learn new things about the publishing industry and likely receive a strong motivational kick for your current work in progress. Or, if you’re lucky enough to catch him in the bar, buy him a drink and you’ll gain a lot more knowledge than you ever expected about writing and publishing for the price of a beer. I will gladly accept any of the drinks Lou doesn’t want to drink, which will leave him free to dispense even more words of wisdom about the writing world. He can’t help it. He’s overflowing with it.
1. First, congratulations on your Hugo win. Where is your Hugo now and what does it mean to you to have one now?
Thank you very much. The Hugo rocket is sitting next to the Chesley rock. Both are on a tall, slender black bookshelf in my master bedroom. My library is downstairs but I have a single bookshelf in the bedroom for my brag shelf (one copy of every anthology), some particularly attractive Pyr books (a lot of the ones with gold foil covers), and whatever I’m currently reading or researching. As to what it means… wow. It puts me in a very small group of people, some of whom have names like Asimov and Heinlein. Whatever changes lie ahead for the publishing industry, wherever my own career goes, I’m for all time a Hugo-winning editor and a Chelsey-winning art director. There are no higher honors for the twin hats I wear. That’s a glow I will carry my whole life. I’m enormously grateful, humbled, and pumped.
2. Why does PYR accept unagented submissions when so few other publishers do?
Ha. Because sneaky Jon Sprunk managed to pitch me a really awesome trilogy without using an agent, despite the fact that I didn’t accept unagented, unsolicited manuscripts. And that made me wonder if I were missing out on other potential Sprunks. I needed an assistant at the time, so we hired Rene Sears to be both my assistant and my slush reader.
3. What’s the ratio of unagented vs agented manuscripts received and of those that get accepted? How many submissions do you receive overall per year and how many make it to final acceptance?
Its very hard to estimate what our total submissions per year is. I get pitched by agents anywhere from three to seven times a day. Rene says she receives anywhere from forty to a hundred unagented submissions a month. We publish around thirty books a year. From two years of looking at unagented submissions, K.V. Johansen’s Blackdog is the only manuscript that we’ve bought. I was thrilled to find something of such caliber in the slush pile, only to discover when I Googled her that she is a successful Canadian children’s book author with a score of published works. Go figure. (There is probably a lesson here about how much time and hard work it takes to really hone your craft as a writer and why the age of self-published ebooks may not unleash the sea of tremendously deserving works that couldn’t get past those evil publishing “gatekeepers” that some self-publishing enthusiasts predict.)
4. What’s the strangest place someone has pitched to you? Do you cringe when someone in a social setting wants to tell you about their book, or do you hope for an amazing find?
I don’t know that there’s a particularly strange place I’ve been pitched. I once pitched an anthology to Robert Silverberg in a men’s room. I was young. He was gracious. As to cringing or hoping – it depends on the setting and what I’m there for. I’m generally at conventions to send information in the opposite direction. That is, I’m there to talk up the books in our line to readers, so I’m not really looking to find anything. Also, it isn’t the idea; it’s the execution. So I’m not going to know how I feel about something until I see it, and I’d rather see it through appropriate channels. I will say that I HATE HATE HATE being pitched on Facebook. That feels intrusive. Generally, the way to tell if an editor wants to hear about your book is that he or she has asked you to tell them about it.
5. Have you ever had an impromptu pitch at a convention or conference turn into a deal with an author?
Yes. I was sitting in the bar, very late, at OryCon a few years ago. There were a group of us. And one guy started talking about his manuscript. He wasn’t pitching me, or even talking exclusively to me. In fact, he was thinking of self publishing it and describing the idea to the group for feedback. The idea sounded freaking amazing and I told him right there to send it to me. That was Andrew P. Mayer and the series is The Society of Steam.
6. What must-have qualities would you say an author needs to become published and keep being published in the industry?
Talent plus perseverance. I recently asked a group of authors how many times they rewrote their novels before they saw publication. Seven was the average response. And I heard N.K. Jemisin say recently that she had worked on The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms for around ten years before it saw publication. Do you remember that old board game where you pulled levers out until all the marbles but one dropped away? I have probably just dated myself horribly, but that’s how I see a career in the entertainment arts. Banging your head against the wall until the wall collapses, because you sure as hell aren’t going to. Artist John Picacio describes this as, “There’s Plan A. And if that doesn’t work, there’s Plan A. And if that doesn’t work, there’s Plan A.” (Note: He’s not talking about being unrealistically inflexible. He’s talking about never giving up the goal of being a working professional.)
7. Do you think it’s important for new writers to establish a platform and does that help them when it comes time to find an agent or publisher?
Yes, though its hard to establish a platform before you have a name. It’s a bit of a Catch-22, though with blogging, podcasting, tweeting, etc… it’s far easier to build a name and reputation in the community that it used to be. I think that aspiring writers need to be at the major conventions, meeting as many people as they can (not just editors but authors, agents, artists, and con organizers) and do all they can to appear professional at all times. I will say that if I start to enjoy a manuscript, I immediate stop and Google the author, and if I can’t find anything informative, it’s frustrating. Your website is your business card. It doesn’t need to be a huge platform, but it does need to be informative and navigable. It needs to be there so that when you have your book out and your first fans go looking, it’s up and ready to receive them.
8. You’ve recently signed with Joe Monti, representing your own novel. For those of us still working on novels, how many had you written before this one? How did you know this was the one to query?
This was my first novel ever. I have written one nonfiction book (The Making of Star Trek: First Contact), wrote/directed four plays, wrote five spec telescripts and six screenplays (several optioned, none produced), and edited nine anthologies and two magazines, but I’d never written a novel before.I tried twice before in my life to write a novel, even dropping out of college for a semester to do it, but I’d never succeeded before. I blame not being married on my failure and attribute a wife who told me to plant my butt in the chair every night for a year to my eventual success.
10. Your Wikipedia page is incredible. Along with your editorial awards, your anthologies, and nonfiction writing, you have many short story credits and now a novel. What’s your best advice to new writers about making time to write and finding the discipline to keep their butt in the chair?
See above. Marry my wife. If that isn’t an option for you, I’d say ask yourself what you want to look back on, a bookshelf full of all the TV shows you watched and videogames you beat, or a bookshelf full of your own books. I realize I am speaking metaphorically and that I should be saying an iPad 10 full of game apps or loaded with epub files. But you get my point. You can be a consumer or a producer of media. It depends on what side of the screen you want to sit.