Sitting Down with a Big Five Editor

This week we’re asking industry experts to answer the many questions that we debut writers have as we get started in the publishing industry. So, I’d like to introduce you all to Bess Cozby, editor for Tor Books, an imprint of Macmillan, and more importantly (to me at least), I’d like to introduce you to my amazing editor. I’m extremely fortunate to be working with this gal, folks, and today she’ll be answering a few questions for us about the elusive acquisitions process. So without further ado, because I’m sure you’re excited to hear what Bess has to say, let’s dive into our Q&A.

When you first start reading a submission, what would initially push a project toward the “maybe” pile?

Something has to blow me away — whether it’s a hook I can’t resist, a unique voice, immediate, gripping tension or, ideally, all of the above. In the case of BECOMING BONNIE, I loved the idea of hearing Bonn’s story before Clyde. The first chapter–told in her charming, surprising voice–set up an immediate tension: Bonnie Parker getting engaged to a boy that’s not Clyde. How could you not keep reading?

Rejections are an unfortunate reality, but a reality never the less. What’s the reason you most often find for passing on a project?

The most common reason, for me, is just not loving a book enough to feel I’d be its best advocate. As an editor, I spend hundreds of hours on a project–from acquisition, through the editorial process, to production, and publication. My job is to be its most passionate advocate throughout this process, so if I’m not head over heels, I’m probably not the right person for this particular story. But all that means is someone else could be. The beautiful and simultaneously frustrating truth about publishing is that it only takes one Yes, as long as it’s an enthusiastic one. If I’m going to buy a book, I want to be screaming, Yes! from the rooftops. Which is basically what I’ll end up doing anyway.

I’ve heard of many writer’s wondering this: Do editors always read the full manuscript?

Every editor is different. Personally, I don’t always read the full. If I know something isn’t right for me, it’s usually apparent pretty early on–perhaps I’m not connecting with the voice, or am not in love with the premise. I’ll read the first 75-100 pages and, if I’m not hooked by then, skim to the end. If I’m on the fence, I usually read the whole thing.

It’s a question of time, more than anything else. I have to ask myself: is it worth making this author wait (and all the authors in my queue behind him or her), just so that I can read the full manuscript when I’m not going to be its best advocate? It’s always a tough call–rejecting manuscripts is my least favorite part of my job by far.

If an editor falls for a project, what happens next?

Each house is different–and editors within houses can also approach this process differently. I generally get second reads from others within the editorial department, along with other departments, like publicity, and I also do market research before taking it to acquisitions. Sometimes, outside factors–like an auction–can speed up or change this process, but that’s the general way it happens.

What’s one project you’d love to land in your inbox? 

A book about Davy Crockett!

Fun! Thanks so much for joining us, Bess! If you have any more questions for her, feel free to leave them in the comments, but keep in mind, she may not be able to divulge all the ins and outs of publishing! And please, do not pitch her in the comments 🙂

More about Bess “Champion” Cozby, as I like to call her. 

Bess Cozby is an Editor at Tor Books, where she acquires middle grade, young adult, and adult projects within the Tor Teen, Starscape, and Forge imprints. She also serves as the Web Editor for DIY MFA, a do-it-yourself version of the Master of Fine Arts. When she’s not working, Bess writes young adult fantasy and is represented by Brooks Sherman of the Bent Agency. Tweet her at @besscozby, or visit her website




Author: Jenni L. Walsh

Jenni L. Walsh spent her early years ​chasing around cats, dogs, and chickens in Philadelphia's countryside, before dividing time between a soccer field and a classroom at Villanova University. She put her marketing degree to good use as an advertising copywriter, zip-code hopping with her husband to DC, NYC, NJ, and not surprisingly, back to Philly. There, Jenni's passion for words continued, adding author to her resume. She now balances her laptop with a kid on each hip, and a four-legged child at her feet. BECOMING BONNIE (Tor Forge/Macmillan, 5/9/2017) is her debut novel that tells the untold story of how church-going Bonnelyn Parker becomes half of the infamous Bonnie and Clyde duo during the 1920s. SIDE BY SIDE, telling Bonnie and Clyde's crime spree story, will be released in the summer of 2018. Please learn more about Jenni's books at

7 Replies to “Sitting Down with a Big Five Editor”

  1. Thanks so much for this helpful interview, Jenni, and Bess, thank you for your answers! I have a follow up question. My understanding is that the book acquisition process doesn’t necessarily end with the acquiring editor. What can derail a book once an editor falls in love with it?

    1. I’ll let Bess chime in as well, but I can speak to this a little too. I once had a book that the editor loved, her second readers also loved, but when it got down to it, the publisher had a bad experience with a book, which fell very short of sales expectations, that was also set in the same era as my own. And unfortunately, they didn’t want to touch that era again. Too risky for them at that moment in time.

      1. Thank you for answering, Jenni. That’s pretty sobering — I’m so sorry to hear that happened to you! What a bummer. I’m so glad it didn’t stand in your way, though, and your debut is on the way!

        1. I’ll chime in, too — Jenni’s answer is pretty much spot on. I ought to rephrase my answer — an editor *and* the house need to be the book’s champions. So, a book can make it all the way to acquisitions, and get turned down for a myriad of reasons — the market, the list (ie: we have a book that’s similar, and didn’t do well, as in Jenni’s example), or even personal preference of the acquisitions board. That being said, these decisions are never made lightly, and are given the same care and thought that an editor would before ultimately having to say, “This isn’t the right fit for us.”

  2. I love this interview for so many reasons. Number one, I had the absolute joy of reading BECOMING BONNIE and I too adore the characters and YES, the tension and that delicious pull to find out what was on the next page had me hooked from the start. I also appreciate Bess’s insight to the submission process. Your reasoning for how you approach a submission makes total sense to me – that you don’t want to keep the author of a sub that isn’t quite right waiting (or the others in your queue). I love that perspective. Thank you! And thank you, Jenni, for the fabulous questions!

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