Associate Editor Michelle Schusterman Talks Book Publishing

by Julie Schwietert Apr 2, 2010

Michelle Schusterman

Matador Goods’ associate editor, Michelle Schusterman, talks about her other writing love: young adults’ books.

As Matador Goods’ associate editor, Michelle Schusterman gets to show off her technical writing skills, offering regular reviews of travel-related tech goods like Sutro Media’s Essential Boston iPhone app, Apple’s iPad, and National Geographic’s full magazine collection, digitized.

Michelle writes about music and travel on her own blog, and as the Matador team learned last week, she writes young adult novels, too. Her most recent book has been picked up by an agent and will be shopped around this spring.

Curious about her experiences as a writer beyond the travel and gear world, I sent Michelle some questions for her to answer via email.

How did you become interested in writing books for young adults?

I wrote “books” (and I use the term lightly!) when I was younger, and my characters were always between 12 and 16. I grew up, and the characters never did! There’s just something about that time of life – everything is new and exciting; everything is an adventure.

What’s the process of looking for an agent like?

Honestly, it makes you feel a bit like a stalker! There’s tons of information online about how to query a literary agent. Most agents have pages indicating what types of manuscripts they’re interested in on Publisher’s Marketplace, and lots have blogs and websites as well.

It’s a slow process, because the last thing you want to do is mass query. I made a carefully researched list of agents who were interested in my genre, and looked up agents who represented published books similar to mine. Every agent has different query submission guidelines – some want a full synopsis, some want sample pages and chapters, some want a bio – and it’s important to stick to their rules. It’s like writing a cover letter – personalized and professional.

There’s lots of waiting involved. Some agents respond in days, weeks, months, and with others, no response means you’ve been rejected. If they do respond and ask to see a partial or the full manuscript, guess what – more waiting! Response times really vary, so it’s important to stay organized and keep track of who has what during the query process.

Why does a writer need an agent?

My personal reasons are that I’m awful at negotiating contracts, and I want a professional to help edit and polish my book before sending it out to publishers. A good literary agent is a writer’s advocate – they work to make your book great and get the best deal possible.

“An agent isn’t just a contract negotiator, but someone a writer can turn to for guidance or advice during the overwhelming process of writing and publishing a novel.”

Many agents are very experienced with editorial work, and it’s always fantastic to have another set of eyes on a novel. They’re also well-connected – they know which editors at which houses are looking for which types of novels, so they’ll know just who to submit your novel to.

They know the market inside and out, and while some writers do as well, many don’t.

What’s the writer-agent relationship like?

Some agents are more editorial than others, some are more reachable than others. It’s another reason why it’s so important for a writer to find an agent with similar goals for their book and career.

I’m just in the beginning stages of this, but I’d say it’s a mix of both professional and personal – I mean, writing is an intimate thing, and you’re working with someone who loves your writing and wants to promote it. It has to be a little bit personal! An agent isn’t just a contract negotiator, but someone a writer can turn to for guidance or advice during the overwhelming process of writing and publishing a novel.

What should you/did you look for when choosing an agent?

“I moved the friendliest, most approachable agents to the top of my list.”

First, I looked for someone who represented the genre of my novel, which is middle-grade supernatural. I looked at the lists of authors and books they already represent to see what their tastes were like.

I also looked at those who had somewhat of a web presence – websites, blogs, and maybe even a Twitter account. And honestly, I moved the friendliest, most approachable agents to the top of my list. I’ve heard stories about both good and questionable agent-author relationships, and I knew I wanted someone genuinely interested in helping a newbie like me with this venture!

What are the next steps leading to potential publication?

My agent currently has my manuscript and is working on editorial notes. Once I get those back from her, I’ll go through and revise, and revise, and revise some more. When we both feel comfortable with the final product, she’ll begin submitting it to editors. If someone is interested, hopefully a contract with their publishing house is the next step!

What’s the subject of this particular book? Would it be your first published book?

This would be my debut novel. It’s a (hopefully) humorous supernatural story about a tech-savvy 8th grade girl named Ruth whose stepmother is into séances and insists that their town has ghosts. So Ruth holds her own kind of séance – she starts a blog inviting all of the town’s ghosts to tell her their problems.

Encounters with creepy comments, possessed computers, shawls with wicked cases of static cling, and other general mayhem ensues.

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