Mary Altman Interview

If you didn’t work in publishing, what would you be doing?

If you’d asked me this question years ago, I probably would have said public defender. I interned with the Special Assistant to the US Attorney’s Office and enrolled in law school with that in mind. Midway through law school, however, I realized it wasn’t the best fit for me and ended up in editorial instead.

By this point, I’m afraid I’m ruined for any other career. I’ve spent too long debating enemies-to-lovers vs. friends-to-lovers to be happy doing anything else!

What is your favorite non-client book?

Guy Gavriel Kay’s Tigana is my absolute favorite book of all time. It’s a fantasy novel in which the nation of Tigana—after a brutal battle in which they tried to fight back a conqueror taking over their region—is cursed so that no one but those born to Tigana remember the country ever existed. It pits the rebels fighting to bring their homeland back into the collective memory of the world against the conqueror who is far more nuanced and morally grey than expected. It’s a beautiful book, and talking about it right now has made me want to go back for a re-read.

Which of your current clients’ books do you think would make a great movie or TV show?

There are so many that it’s difficult to choose. I’ll cheat by choosing a couple based off of format!

WHITEOUT by Adriana Anders would make an absolutely gripping action/adventure movie.
LOVE & OTHER CONS by Annabeth Albert is such a perfect Netflix original.
KINGDOM OF EXILES by Maxym M. Martineau would be the kind of fantasy tv show people would lose their minds over.

Outside of reading, what do you do for fun?

I am a giant nerd, so it should be no surprise when I say that I play video games, watch streaming shows like Critical Role, and play D&D with my friends.

What was the last TV show you binged?

Stranger Things, of course! It almost seems like a cheat to say it, since the latest season just came out, but once it was released, I curled up on the couch and did not move until I’d blown through the season. Stranger Things hits that paranormal meets “kids with bikes” sweet spot I used to love reading in the horror genre.

What is your favorite part of the acquisition process?

The best part is discovering a book that feels as if it were made for me. I read a lot thanks to my job, and there’s nothing better than loving a book so much you can’t stop reading. I’ll often go running through the office to tell everyone about it immediately—I love it too much not to share with all my work friends! It’s such a fun, fannish experience, and I know for sure I’ve got a winner when I’m able to get them excited just based off my flailing pitch.

What advice would you like to give writers who will be pitching to you? Any pet peeves?

Try to get a sense of what I do and do not publish before pitching. For instance, my key imprint publishes romance that is 80,000 – 120,000 words long. If your book is 75k or even 70k, that’s not too big a leap, but if you pitch me your 60k or 50k book, there’s not much I can do for you.

Also, don’t forget to give me the information I need up-front. What is your book’s genre? Subgenre? How long is it? Is it complete? Is it a stand-alone or series? If nothing else, make sure you start with genre/subgenre. If I think you’re talking about a YA fantasy when you’re really talking about a paranormal romance, I’ll need to mentally readjust mid-pitch, which can waste any effective build you’ve already managed. Give me the facts first, then start storytelling once we’re both on the same page.

Tell us about your publishing house.

Sourcebooks is the largest woman-owned independent publishing house in North America—and potentially the world, at this point. It is smart, feminist, and incredibly agile in its approach to publishing, taking a data-driven tack that sometimes makes it feel like Apple or Google or other tech companies. But it also has a passion for storytelling—the mission statement is Books Change Lives, and everyone at Sourcebooks believes that passionately.

We are located just outside of Chicago and have offices in New York, Connecticut, and Arizona.

Do you have a favorite element of writing (like voice or dialogue) and if that’s great, does it make you more willing to help craft the rest of the manuscript?

There’s no denying a killer voice. If I dig into an MS and find it compulsively readable—the kind of voice that is just so present that there’s no denying it—I’ll often try to work with the author to fix other issues that may be making their book not quite the right fit.

What is the one thing you wish would land in your inbox that hasn’t?

LGBTQIA+ romance written by members of the community—especially lesbian romcom. I do get a few, but not nearly enough.

What is your favorite romance trope?

I am a sucker for really good slow burn pining stories. I tend to not respond as much to insta-love or insta-lust. If people are undressing each other with their eyes too much within the first few pages, I tend to be a bit of a meh. But if there’s a spark of some sort that takes time to smolder and burn? Yes, please!

I also am always, always going to be in love with the virgin hero, as well as the big, quiet, cinnamon roll lumberjack-type hero. (Does that count as a trope? I’m counting that as a trope.)

Fast 5 – name your favorite:

Beverage: Shirley Temple/Roy Rogers mocktails
Snack: Balsamic vinegar Triscuits
Movie/TV show: Dirty Dancing. Don’t @ me.
Song: My Medea by Vienna Teng
Vacation: Morocco