Monday, June 13, 2005

Interview with Random House Editor Allison Dickens

Allison is an editor with the Random House Publishing Group's Ballantine imprint. She is also the manager of the Ballantine Reader's Circle program, which publishes fiction and nonfiction for reading groups. Her particular focus is commercial women's fiction and nonfiction. In 2001, Allison founded the XYZ program with her colleague Mark Tavani. XYZ published fiction and nonfiction for twentysomethings. Allison's authors include Clare Naylor, Dog Handling, The Goddess Rules, Gemma Townley, When In Rome..., Little White Lies, Finola Hughes, Soapsuds, Monica McInerney, The Alphabet Sisters, Shanna Swendson, Enchanted, Inc., Amulya Malladi, The Mango Season, Serving Crazy With Curry, Steven Cojocaru, Red Carpet Diaries, Peter Stark, At the Mercy of the River, Melissa de la Cruz, The Fashionista Files, Fortune Hunters, and Joanne Gordon, Be Happy At Work.

Allison, thanks so much for agreeing to appear on The Knight Agency's blog. It's a delight to have you, and I know our visitors will really love reading your thoughts! My first question is an easy one--what led you to becoming an editor?
What is the best part of your job? The toughest?

I'm delighted to be here. The best part of my job is all the reading that I get to do. That's what led me to editing in the beginning. I always read when I was a child and then young adult, so when I was thinking of careers in college, publishing seemed to be a good choice. I also had a great mentor who showed me how rewarding publishing can be. The hardest part of my job is saying no. Whether it's no to a manuscript or no to something else, I hate to do it.

Can you tell us a bit about the types of books you acquire for Ballantine and Random House? Obviously you only consider agented submissions, but I'm sure it would still be helpful to everyone (including me!) to know more about what you'd like to find right now. Is there a certain kind of book that you're burning to find, but haven't yet?

I acquire commercial women's fiction for Ballantine and for Random House. There are many different interpretations of that label, but for me, it's accessible fiction written for women ages 18 and up. Some of my novels are focused very much for the twentysomething women, like Shanna Swendson's ENCHANTED, INC. But others appeal to women of all ages, like Monica McInerney's ALPHABET SISTERS. My favorite books tell great stories about people who make interesting decisions, so that's the type of novel I enjoy working on.

Last week I featured ENCHANTED, INC, by Shanna Swendson, a book you bought from my good agent friend, Kristin Nelson. I asked Kristin this same question on my other blog, and now I'd like to ask you: what about the submission really caught your eye when you first saw it? Do you feel like paranormal chick lit is a new emerging category?

I do think paranormal chick lit is a new category. Like all good trends, chick lit is changing and branching out in new directions. It seems natural to me that it would begin to include other elements like the paranormal or a mystery. That was the attraction for me with ENCHANTED, INC. Shanna's voice was fresh and funny but more importantly she was adding something new to a formula that I was beginning to feel wasn't as exciting anymore. Besides, what girl doesn't want a little fairy dust in her life?

As an agent, I often reflect on the elements that make a submission work. It amazes me how many times a work might have a great plot, but only mediocre writing—or a tremendous voice with lousy pacing. We all sometimes wish we could take strengths from several different manuscripts and merge them (thereby eliminating the weaknesses!) What would you say is the number one reason you pass on any submission? And, what do you think is the most important quality in any submission?

Probably most important would be the voice. I can work with an author on the plot to certain extent, but I can't invent a new voice for an author. So as an editor, I look for a great tone and voice to really draw me into the story. That's also the number one reason I would pass--I just don't like the sound of the writing. It's clunky, or it's harsh, or it's unrealistic. As as an editor, I don't expect a novel to be perfect--or I wouldn't have a job!--but there are things I can't fix. Voice and tone are the two biggest.


Blogger Judson Knight said...

Great interview. A new author should take encouragement from her last statement, about the fact that voice matters most to her, because voice is the most intimate aspect of the work from the author's viewpoint. Personally, as Deidre knows, in my own fiction
I've always had a hard time sticking to a straightforward plot, whereas a strong voice almost always comes naturally to me. So, looking at this from the standpoint not of a partner in a great literary agency, but of an ordinary fiction-writing zhlub still trying to figure it all out, I think Allison's words were encouraging!

Monday, June 13, 2005 at 10:52:00 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the interview, Deidre. I also find it encouraging. A writer can take classes or find a mentor to help fix technicalities, but your voice is your voice.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005 at 5:08:00 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, since everyone who's ever read my writing loves my voice, even when they reject the book, I, too, am very encouraged by these comments. ;+) I guess the voice is one of the first things that can grab a reader, and it's the thing that will keep them reading, so...logical.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005 at 5:26:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Linda Winfree said...

Fantastic interview. Thanks for bringing it to us, Deidre. It's always nice to get "inside" an editor's or agent's mind. And that last answer was very encouraging. Like Beejay, with almost all of my rejections, I've received great comments on my voice, so it's wonderful to know that counts.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005 at 10:33:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Joan Reeves said...

Thanks for the interview. It's nice to get a glimpse of the person behind the editor title--even nicer when what she says is encouraging.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005 at 12:47:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Edie Ramer said...

Loved the interview with Allison. Especially loved what she said about voice. Thanks for posting this, Deidre. :)

Wednesday, June 15, 2005 at 9:45:00 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

everyone says a writer needs a fresh voice- goes with the stale face :-)
Isn't it amazing how important it is, because most of us have no idea where it comes from or how it gets on the page, just plop- like fairy dust ( or sometimes like something more equine)
good interview- thanks

Wednesday, June 15, 2005 at 11:16:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Unknown said...

Nice interview. Could we have another interview by anyone on what is voice, so I can publish it on my blog? I know what it is, but about 70% of the authors I reviewed the past two year have voice confused with copcat.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005 at 12:56:00 PM EDT  

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