JESSICA GADSDEN is the publisher and co-founder of Penner Publishing. She is a graduate of Smith College with a degree in English Language & Literature. Additionally, she graduated from Cornell Law School. In addition to being a lifelong reader and lover of books, Gadsden is a traditionally and self-published author.
MEREDITH: With all the manuscripts that cross your desk, what is the internal experience between the one you know is “the one” and all the others—even if all the others are quite good?
JESSICA: I’m reading one now, that I can’t stop thinking about. My heart gives a little skip of excitement. I start thinking about how to reach the readers that would love this book. That’s how I know. Truthfully, I’m thinking about it now, wanting to get back to it while I’m answering these questions.
MEREDITH: How do you view rejection? What greater purpose does it serve in the creative process—for the writer?
JESSICA: As a published author, I’ve been on both sides of rejection. Now that I’m one of the people making the decisions, rejection comes in two forms. The first is a book that’s not ready for publication. It may have a great premise and great story, but the writing’s not quite there yet. The second is a book that is wonderful and lovely, but doesn’t fit a publisher’s vision.
In the past, I’ve seen both kinds of rejection with personalized notes. I’d tell authors if it’s a generic note, not to read anything into it. You may write wonderful inspirational novels or titilating erotica, but if the publisher isn’t in either of those markets or is saturated in those markets, you should find the right match for you and your story.
If a writer, gets thirty, forty, fifty rejections, however, he or she should probably reevaluate the work. I suggest beta readers or critique partners. They may help flesh out issues the writer isn’t seeing.
In the end, writers must be true to their vision. JK Rowling got rejected. But she was blazing a new trail that others couldn’t see.
MEREDITH: What’s the deal with platform, honestly? And I mean, as an editor, how do you really (and I mean, really) determine when enough is enough? I know writers who scramble to get this many Twitter followers, or that many Facebook likes, only to be disappointed to find out that some other author has double, or triple or fifty times the amount. There has to be something more substantial than simply one’s persona in the world. Yes, I know, the work needs to hold up. However, so often we see published works that struggle to hold up. Can you help us understand the whys, and hows?
JESSICA: Here’s the deal with platform. Readers know in this new techno-millenium that they can connect with their favorite authors. Readers and fans love that ability to connect with authors. And many want to.
I remember writing a fan letter to one of my favorite authors while I was in college. I was obsessed with her and her books. If I could have scoured her website or tweeted to her, I would have been her devotee for life. (This was, ahem, before that time).
However, we caution all authors that writing comes first. If an author has a wonderful book and no platform to speak of, we’d still publish the book.
MEREDITH: Inside the publishing house, does the editor kind of, sort of, have to have an internal “platform (there’s that word again!) with the marketing and promotions department? How does that whole behind-the-scenes selection process go, and what do you or will you help your authors understand?
JESSICA: Unlike a big NY house, we’re not running the acquisition process through marketing or PR. Instead, we’re doing it the other way ’round. The explosion in self-publishing has taught us that readers have very wide tastes. Our goal is to match book to readers, hopefully lots of them. At Penner, we love strong, troubled heroes and heroines.
My friends and fellow readers love them too, but can’t find enough of them. The same is true for all sorts of books. I want to bring wonderfully written, complex, and different stories to the readers that crave them.
MEREDITH: As an editor, what gives you the sense that, even if the story or the writing is not pristine or stellar, that this is an author who will be amenable to being edited. Is it just a good story, or something in addition?
JESSICA: We find that an author’s willingness to make changes often comes through in the query letter. Some authors are more amenable to edits, input than others.
JESSICA SAYS: “We are open to submissions from agents, published, and unpublished authors alike. The books we’re looking for and looking to acquire will be romance and women’s fiction driven by strong heroines. We ask agents to submit a proposal. Authors should check our submissions page for our current requirements.”
[Thank you, Jessica!]