February 2017 Dinner Meeting with Angela Meyer, Commissioning Editor at Echo and Writer

Commissioning, Genre Worlds and Non-traditional Paths to Publishing

by Natasha Saltmarsh

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Angela Meyer (R) and Kate Cuthbert (L) in conversation. Photo credit: Nicole Mathers

The first dinner meeting for 2017, on a not-so-warm 15 February evening, was a relaxed in-conversation event with commissioning editor and writer Angela Meyer. With Editors Victoria Events Officer Kate Cuthbert, herself a commissioning editor for Harlequin Australia, asking the questions, Angela’s passion and drive for literature were brought to life.

Angela and Kate’s easy rapport and shared understanding of the life of a commissioning editor specialising in genre fiction were evident. While the evening was very much about Angela, the giggle factor was high when Kate spoke about her logistical investigations of sex scenes in manuscripts using Barbie dolls she keeps on her desk.

Preferring to describe herself as a professional reader, Angela has written since she was a child growing up in Coffs Harbour, and more seriously since turning 19. She is currently trying to find a publisher for her novel, and describes the experience of being on the ‘other side’ of publishing as enlightening.

At emerging publisher Echo (part of Bonnier Publishing Australia), Angela has brought a strategic focus to commissioning Australian crime fiction, both genre and literary, and Echo lists contain a good balance between literary and commercial books. In acquiring genre books for publication, Angela looks for fast-paced manuscripts containing great characters within a believable plot. Knowing how to identify great character and plot is something that comes with experience, she says.

Angela described reading a manuscript that shows promise as akin to falling in love. But not every book she takes on makes it to publication. 'Sometimes the edit hasn’t lived up to the story’s promise or a central plot flaw is present that can’t be resolved.'

The small Australian market makes it difficult for publishers to branch out of known quantities. This leaves genre fiction, including the ‘cosy crime’ Echo publishes, to the independent publishers. It can be difficult for authors writing outside traditional genres to be nominated for literary awards, as smaller publishers lack the resources to devote marketing time or budget to chasing these.

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The audience enjoying the lively discussion. Photo credit: Nicole Mathers

Kate and Angela discussed how difficult it can be to reject a manuscript. On the other hand, some manuscripts don’t require much review to know how bad they are. Angela spoke of receiving many manuscripts with incredibly sexist content that serve as an unpleasant reminder of the world we live in. However, the biggest challenge Angela faces as a commissioning editor is how not to feel intensely responsible for the author’s reaction. Having to reject books that she’s loved, but that are ‘too literary’, is difficult. Taking on some books that are more marketable allows Angela to take risks with other authors.

Angela spoke about Echo looking to build authors, not books. Authors aren’t treated as one-book projects; she will always consider the potential of an author’s next manuscript. Rejecting an author’s manuscript doesn’t mean that future books would not be considered.

The Q&A portion of the evening discussion centred on Angela’s commissioning editor role. A terrific question was taken from the floor, asking if she would go for a manuscript with a great idea and poor writing or a poor idea with great writing. Angela shot back that she will generally go for the great idea every time. Great writing needs to hang onto something; the book needs to live, be well structured and logical.

Natasha Saltmarsh
Events subcommittee member