About Juliet Grames
Kathryn Craft: You say you are most interested in narrative nonfiction, and your examples bear out the fact that this is a pretty inclusive genre. How do you define it? And are you interested in memoir? I know a number of our conferees have interesting memoirs in the works.
Juliet Grames: Don’t get me wrong, I love working on fiction, too. But fiction comes to an editor nearly complete, usually only in need of a little polish. The reason I love working on nonfiction is because it’s a more collaborative process than fiction—I, the editor, get to have a piece of the action! An author generally submits a proposal for a book, and the publishing team gets to work with the author from the ground up on developing the ideal book for the marketplace. Often, narrative nonfiction offers good writers an opportunity fiction does not—the story comes to you ready-made, and your job is to execute it well and interestingly.
For me, almost any kind of nonfiction has potential. The most important component is that there be a need for it in the marketplace—that the content is interesting and that the book offers something new. I personally edit everything from pretty academic history to popular psychology to memoir. Memoirs are fun because they’re essentially nonfiction novels, great stories that are about real people, allowing the reader a real voyeuristic thrill. One memoir I published that I’m really excited about (it just came out in January) is called To Kill a Tiger—it is the story of the author’s childhood in Korea, and the extraordinary circumstances of five generations of her family. I’m hoping it will touch readers as strongly as it touched me. Besides those particular genres, I have also enjoyed working with authors on passion projects, as well. For example, I have published a narrative history of sunflowers, and one of my forthcoming books is about raising a dog in the city. Both things the authors who proposed them happened to be really passionate about.
K: In what ways does your past experience as a bookseller inform your work as an editor?
J: I think all editors should work in bookstores at some point—it gives you a great idea about what categories are being sold in retail stores, who buys what, which genres move the most copies, which covers customers react well too, what people are buzzing about. I simply can’t imagine not having that experience before starting in editorial! But I’ve seen it happen where really top-notch editors buy books that end up flopping because there’s no good category for them in bookstores. That’s a mistake a former bookseller would never make!
K: What is your favorite aspect of your job, and why?
J: I’m kind of a dork about editing. I love to edit. I love taking something that’s 80% perfect and making it 100% perfect. I love working with authors, exchanging ideas, and collaborating as a team to reach a goal. It’s just so satisfying. Creative people are also generally wonderful people to work with, and I feel really blessed to maintain friendships with authors long after books are published.
K: For aspiring authors who have not yet heard of it, what are the best reasons, in your estimation, that an author should consider publishing with Overlook Press?
J: Overlook’s mandate (well, one of them) is to publish books that have been “overlooked” by major trade publishers. The idea was that great books are often passed over because big houses are unable or unwilling to take risks on edgy, literary, or unusual projects, and that we would not let those overlooked masterpieces fall through the cracks. We support literature of quality, and although we do at this point have a number of commercial, money-making books on our list, we haven’t let our original goal go.
There are pros and cons to publishing with both big houses and small presses, and each author’s situation is unique. But for me, a small house represents a second family, as well as a place to shine. There is tons of personal attention you might not get at a big house. At small presses, employees wear many hats, and you can probably bet that everyone at a company is sinking their teeth deeply into each book. If you’re a person who thrives on that level of cooperation, you’d probably find the small press experience really fulfilling.