The Editor's Story: Elisabeth Schmitz

Article Summary:


Elisabeth Schmitz - VP and Editorial Director, Grove Atlantic

Elisabeth Schmitz - VP and Editorial Director, Grove Atlantic

Here are some takeaways from an interview with literary publishing insider, Elisabeth Schmitz published on LitHub. In the complete article, Interview With A Gatekeeper: Grove Atlantic's Elisabeth Schmitz by Kerri Arsenault, Schmitz is open about this rewarding and occasionally challenging profession. The article is recommended reading for current and aspiring authors. 

Selected Takeaways:

On book scouting

  • . . . the best education for people trying to decide what aspect of publishing they want to get into.
  • You get hold of the manuscript as soon as possible, read it quickly, write a report, and get the report to your clients. You try to help them find the next great thing.
  • Scouts are the ones who really know what’s going on across the book business.

On today's publishing model

  • ... it’s broken. We ship too many books because we have to meet bookseller demand ...  
  • ... if books don’t sell, and sell quickly—within three months, if that—they are returned for a full refund. It’s an expensive and sometimes wasteful model, but the industry hasn’t figured out a good alternative.

On hardcover vs. paperback

  • . . . there is this argument that if the book doesn’t sell in hardcover, it won’t sell in paperback. People also say you won’t get serious reviews if you don’t print a book in hardcover. We have proven that wrong with our paperback original line, Black Cat . . .

On diversity

  • . . . it’s not just an issue in publishing, it’s an issue in government, culture, education, business. It’s a crisis.
  • . . . we editors have to and should work harder to actively seek out more authors who reflect our culture’s diversity.

On agism

  • . . . a good number of my more successful debut books have been by authors who are not in their twenties, or even in their thirties.
  • Leif Enger, Margaret Wrinkle, Alice LaPlante, Mary-Beth Hughes, France Itani, Helen Macdonald, Michael Thomas, Jamie Quatro, Charles Frazier, Rob Spillman, and Joanna Connors were all 40 or older when they published their first books.
  • I work with [authors who] are in their 50s and even 60s when they first publish. I also look to relaunch mid-career authors who, for one reason or another, are in search of a change of publisher.
  • The Saint Francis College Literary prize, won recently by [David] Vann, is for mid-career authors.

On helping authors make a living

  • I wish I had the time to make sure authors apply for every grant, fellowship, and prize out there.
  • I live in fear of an author telling me they are going to quit their day job. Don’t do it! Yet.

On good cover letters

  • Cover letters need to be thoughtful and enticing. I can be completely turned on or off by a cover letter.
  • You have one shot to make an indelible impression. There just shouldn’t be any typos in it. There can’t be anything sloppy. Cliché on the first page? I’ll put it down. If they make a mistake on the first page, chances are that this is what I’ll be battling throughout the book.

On biggest joys as an editor

  • I am as gratified by a great review as I am by a sales number, potentially even more so.
  • . . . reading something that you fall in love with, editing something that makes you so excited that you’re on a high because you’re so in tandem with this author, and immersed in this world, and you’re making checkmarks and writing yes, yes, yes!
  • . . . hearing first reactions from readers. To watch the build-up of enthusiasm. And the excitement and buzz for the author. Watching the birth of a book is incredibly exciting.


Kerri Arsenault is a writer, editor, and NBCC book critic. Her work has appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle, American Book Review, NBCC’s Critical Mass, and Bookslut.