Editor Q&A: Nichole Argyres of St. Martin’s Press

I know that our blog readers are always looking for good insider advice about how to get published. So I had the idea to ask an editor friend to answer some questions about what she likes, doesn’t like, and to talk a bit about the kinds of books she’s worked on to get a sense of her taste and interests. To share some background on my relationship with Nichole, I haven’t known her very long, but I connected with her right away. Our first meeting, over coffee last spring, started with me asking her what kinds of things she was looking for. She answered by telling me that she was very interested in mental health and that she’d love to find a memoir written by a young person suffering from bipolar disorder. It just so happened that on that very day I was planning to send out a proposal written by a mother and daughter about the daughter’s battle with bipolar. True story! And the best part is that she bought the book just a couple of weeks later. Perfect Chaos by Cinda and Linea Johnson will be published in 2012.

How long have you been an editor?

I’ve worked in publishing for almost twelve years.

Can you share with us a few titles you’ve worked on, both fiction and nonfiction?

Some recent fiction titles I’ve worked on are: the Denver Post bestseller Hester by Paula Reed (the story of Hester Prynne that The Scarlet Letter left out); The Pursuit of Other Interests by Jim Kokoris (the story of a man who loses his job but can’t tell his wife and son, and how he finds his way back to his family), India Edghill’s marvelous biblical historical, Delilah, and Marshall Karp’s funny an crackerjack mysteries Flipping Out and Cut, Paste, Kill starring Lomax and Biggs. Finding Jack by Gareth Crocker is coming out in February, and it is the amazing story of a soldier, his dog, and a friendship.

Recent nonfiction titles include: Goldsworthy’s memoir Piano Lessons (for anybody who has ever loved a teacher), the reissue of Paul Loeb’s classic handbook for social activism, Soul of a Citizen, Eleni Gage’s memoir of Greece and family, North of Ithaka, and both of Brigitte Gabriel’s New York Times bestsellers. Stacey Edgar’s memoir Global Girlfriends: How One Mom Made it Her Business to Help Women in Poverty Worldwide will be out in April.

What kinds of books interest you personally?

For pleasure I love memoirs of all kinds, fiction that sweeps me away to another time or place, mysteries with great characters, fairy tales, cookbooks, and medical narratives.

What kinds of books interest you professionally?

Personal stories that take the particular and make it universal; narrative science of all kinds, especially neuroscience and mental health; upmarket women’s fiction; smart nonfiction for women—parenting, mental health, current events.

Can you give our readers an idea of what draws you to a nonfiction project?

For memoir, I need a clear, strong voice telling a story with which I can identify. For science and other topic-driven nonfiction, I need a clear strong voice, a good platform, and an identifiable market to go after.

Can you give our readers an idea of what draws you to a fiction project?

I am an old-fashioned reader, so I like a strong narrative voice in the driver’s seat. I need a protagonist I can identify with and like. I have a weakness for large families and limited locations (neighborhoods, villages, islands). I like dark around the edges but not edgy. I am drawn to historical and international fiction.

Is there anything you really like and/or don’t like to see in a submission for nonfiction?

I like to see that the author has a strong sense of his or her project and has thought about the market, especially reasonable and current comparable titles. I don’t like to see unreasonable or older comp titles (The Secret, Angela’s Ashes). Memoir that relates—without perspective—a difficult childhood, horrendous divorce, fatal illness, or loss of a child is not my favorite. I think readers come to memoir for similar reasons they come to fiction—for an escape, a glimpse or an unfamiliar life, and an experience that he or she can take with them back to their own life. Memoir without perspective is just a therapy session. And other people’s therapy sessions aren’t that interesting.

Is there anything you really like and/or don’t like to see in a submission for fiction?

Plot, plot, plot. And strong characters with convincing relationships moving through the convincing plot. And plot. Did I mention plot?

What books have you read recently that you loved?

I am in the middle of Adam Gopnik’s Through the Children’s Gate and I find his mix of the everyday and our internal terrors and wonderings incredibly satisfying and smartly done. I recently finished Glenn Kurtz’s Practicing: A Musician’s Return to Music, which is a marvelous wonderful tribute to music, and an honest investigation into desire, ambition, and love. The Blue Sweater by Jacqueline Novogratz I found to be life changing. Louise Penny’s latest mystery Bury Your Dead, is amazing, she is a favorite. And Old Filth by Jane Gardam reminded me why I love literary fiction.

Thanks to Nichole for her time and candid answers to my questions. I look forward to hearing what our readers think about this kind of editor exchange, and if it’s popular, we can try to do it again soon. If you have any questions, let me know and I will do my best to answer them.

3 Responses to Editor Q&A: Nichole Argyres of St. Martin’s Press

  1. Dara says:

    Thanks for interviewing her! It helps me understand what different editors are looking for. I definitely connect with Nichole in her love of historical and international fiction–those are my favorites to read (and write).

    I look forward to more of these editor interviews in the future. :)

  2. Loved this, Stacey! Great questions and frank answers. It would be really enjoyable to see these types of relaxed interviews with editors across the various genres.


  3. Helen Kirkwood says:

    I know nothing about the world of publishing, but I have read many books published by St. Martins Press. I am learning more and more as I follow my nieces, Cinda and Linea Johnson, through the process of getting their book, Perfect Chaos, published. I have been close to them through Linea’s bipolar illness, and I am positive that their candid reflections on their journey will be an incredible source of strength for others who are suffering.

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