Say hello to this morning’s blog guest Kerri Kolen, Executive Editor at G.P. Putnam’s Sons (Putnam), the Penguin Publishing Group imprint that holds the record for more New York Times hardcover bestsellers in the last two decades than any other imprint. Kerri’s going to be one of the fabulously knowledgeable panelists on the Book Country panel at the upcoming Slice Literary Writers’ Conference talking about “Unconventional Paths to Publishing.” Below she shares insights on what sets apart the books she acquires for Putnam, and what she’s excited about publishing this fall.
LS: You are in charge of the nonfiction program at Putnam, where you edit books on a huge variety of subjects (including lots of books by famous people!). For the non-famous writers of nonfiction among us, can you tell us what qualities will set a manuscript apart for you?
KK: From Word One, the voice will set a manuscript apart. And then pretty soon thereafter, I will be able to tell if the writing is singular or not, as well. Those two qualities are so incredibly important for obvious reasons, but also because those are the qualities that are very difficult, if not impossible, to teach a writer or tease out in an edit. After that, depending on the type of book, I will always look to the narrative itself. What is the story? Is it new? Is it something that readers will feel compelled to tell all of their friends about? And of course, a platform is always very helpful. You don’t have to be famous to build a nice platform–whether it be on social media, with a blog or website, with a brand, with a voice to a larger community in some way or another. And then attached to that: how engaged is the audience? I’d take a smaller but highly engaged audience over a tremendous number of less engaged readers every time. The platform is not essential (and we would look to help the author with building a platform in the months between acquisition and on-sale) but it certainly helps me value the project.
KK: Numbers help but high engagement, for me, is king.
LS: Have you ever published a book that had a reader reaction that really surprised you?
KK: I haven’t really been very surprised by readers’ reactions to any of my books! We do a lot of intelligence on an author, their platform, and their message as we lead into publication and even at the time of acquisition, so we’re fairly prepared and it is (and should be) a given that we know how folks will respond. That being said, obviously when a book doesn’t sell to expectations, despite the fact that that is an inherent part of our business, it always surprises me, as the editor. If I didn’t think a book had significant potential to reach a large audience and have a positive reaction, I would never have acquired it in the first place. So it goes without saying that there’s disappointment. Maybe ‘disappointment’ is a better word than ‘surprise’ though, since no one expects commercial success 100% of the time.
LS: What’s hot in nonfiction publishing right now? And what are some of the books you are about to publish or have just published that you think Book Country writers would be particularly excited to read?
KK: The hottest trend in nonfiction right now is coloring books for adults! Alas, I don’t have one to hawk here, though I do have a debut novel coming out that has been received incredibly well from the moment folks were able to read it, called THE GATES OF EVANGELINE. It is a Southern gothic mystery with an underlying mystical current. The author, Hester Young, is hugely talented and we have her under contract for another two books.
In terms of nonfiction, CHOOSING HOPE by Kaitlin Roig-DeBellis comes out in October. Kaitlin is the teacher from Sandy Hook Elementary who saved her entire class of first-graders in the 2012 massacre. Her story is incredible and inspiring and she is a special person who deserves all the success that life has to offer. I think readers can take away a lot of important lessons from her bravery and optimistic outlook on life. CHOOSING HOPE will also, finally, an appropriate three years later, offer people something positive to read about that terrible tragedy by shining a spotlight on those that were saved.
About Kerri Kolen
Kerri Kolen joined G.P. Putnam’s Sons as Executive Editor in 2013. She works on popular narrative non-fiction across a wide range of categories, including pop culture, memoir, current affairs, humor, travel and adventure, sports, some biography and autobiography and a broad spectrum of narrative journalism. She also edits select upmarket commercial fiction. You can connect with her on Twitter here.