#33: Conference Sneak Peek, An Interview with Sarah Bowlin, Senior Editor, Henry Holt & Company, by Maria Gagliano
January 29, 2014
We at Slice HQ are already gearing up for our writers’ conference in Brooklyn on September 6 and 7. To kick things off, we’re offering a glimpse into the daily life of our editors, agents, and authors as they busy themselves with the magic of making books. This week we spoke with Sarah Bowlin at Henry Holt & Company about the imperfect process of selecting and editing fiction. Sarah will be moderating a panel on revising called When to Keep Them, When to Delete Them on September 6.
What kinds of books do you work on at Holt?
Mostly literary fiction (I say that broadly) and lots of debut writers. I love the thrill of finding a bold new talent and then seeing that book or writer connect with readers.
What is your typical editing process like on a novel? (Is there a typical editing process?)
Every book is different and every writer needs different things. But I’d say that the only thing typical about the editing process is that each time I approach it collaboratively, as an extended conversation between writer and editor—it’s a demanding process because it’s both emotional and intellectual but so gratifying when you get a revision that has the magic.
Do you have any pet peeves when it comes to book submissions?
There are a few things that I don’t exactly love, like novels with writers as main characters, but if it’s done in a surprising or dynamic enough way, there’s always an exception to the rule.
What is a surprising reason for which you might have passed on a submission that you generally liked?
It’s so painful to pass on a novel that you love or feel is special! And in general, writing pass letters is one of the the hardest parts of my job—certainly one of the aspects of it that I like the least. When I love something, the main reason I have to pass is because I didn’t have a crystal clear vision for putting something into the marketplace. The submissions process is a special kind of matchmaking where the agent and writer are looking for the right editor, of course, and the right enthusiasm at the right house, but they’re also looking for an editor who has a vision for publishing their work, who knows the way to rally their teams at a publisher (marketing, sales, publicity) to get them excited about their specific book. Of course, there are lots of different kinds of novels and books that I love, but I can admit that I’m not necessarily that right person for all of them.
What advice do you have for first-time novelists looking for an agent or publisher?
Go with your gut. Always.
Sarah Bowlin joined Henry Holt & Co. as an editor in 2010 after several years at Riverhead Books where she worked with the internationally acclaimed Juan Gabriel Vásquez, the National Book Award nominated Salvatore Scibona, and with award-winning new talents Ramona Ausubel and Nick Dybek. At Holt, her list includes Sheila Heti’s acclaimed breakout novel How Should a Person Be?; the debut novelsAutobiography of Us by Aria Beth Sloss and Love All by Callie Wright; new books from the award winning and bestselling writers Louis Bayard and Catherine O’Flynn; and the forthcoming debuts High as the Horses’ Bridles (July 2014) by Slice alum Scott Cheshire and Snow in May (May 2014) by Kseniya Melnik. Born in the south, she has a degree in literature and history from NYU.
Maria Gagliano is a writer, editor, baker, and Business Director of Slice. Her writing has appeared in BUST magazine, the Huffington Post, and Salon, among other publications. When she’s not playing with words, she’s teaching herself to sew, garden, pickle, preserve, and cook like her Sicilian parents. She shares her (mis)adventures at pomatorevival.com.