Executive Editor Diana Gill kicks off our Behind the Bookshelf series, where we take you behind the scenes at Tor.
“I was seven years old the first time my uncle poisoned me.”
Talk about a first line everyone—not just an editor—could love. Of course, as editors we are partial to a striking opening, and I was completely hooked when I read the opening to Sam Hawke’s epic fantasy debut.
That said, style requires substance, and first impressions have to stay strong to be effective. From the first line, City of Lies delivered with a fabulous premise—poison and intrigue in a besieged city-state where the forgotten spirits of the land and water are rising—and a voice, story, and characters that kept me reading.
I snatched it up as my very first acquisition for Tor, and we’ll publish City of Lies in July 2018.
There are many concerns and considerations when buying a manuscript but ‘kept me reading’ is the starting point. Fiction competes with video games and cute animal videos and celebrity gossip (not to mention TV and movies and games), and every other form of entertainment humans can find these days. And if I can’t keep reading something when it’s my job to do so, how can I tell others to spend their money on it? There are many other considerations, but all starts with a story that keeps us reading, whatever it may be. (Luckily, each editor has their strong point—I would be completely terrible as a literary fiction editor—and we all have very different tastes).
In City of Lies I also loved how vivid the battle scenes were, and that both main characters were a bit atypical for epic fantasy—Jovan has anxiety issues/OCD and Kalina something akin to chronic fatigue—in ways that worked beautifully with the story.
Besides strong first lines, what else hooks editors? For my first Forge acquisition, The Devil’s Half Mile by Paddy Hirsch (we’ll publish in May 2018), it was how immediate and vividly real the first few scenes of 1799 New York felt. I had no idea until the manuscript appeared that I wanted a historical novel a la The Alienist meets Gangs of New York (though too many hours watching Ripper and Peaky Blinders should have been a hint, in retrospect), and when I started reading I felt like I was stepping right off the ship from Ireland with Justy Flanagan onto the crowded, smelly docks: watch your back and your pockets! The story grows into a fabulous historical thriller with eerie modern parallels (financial crashes and the regulation of Wall Street, corrupt financiers and politicians) and an eerie set of murders, but the vivid sense of place that first caught my eye remains throughout the story.
One of the best (and also one of the most frustrating parts) of being an editor is the unpredictability—trends grow and change and die, books that should sell like crazy disappear completely unnoticed, etc.—but that constant chaos also lets us find stories we weren’t expecting and fall in love. And that is what every editor hopes and searches for, and what keeps us reading, for there’s nothing better than discovering a new story and world and characters you can’t put down.