Interview: Diana Gill Conference


Vision 9



Diana Gill Conference

Writing from the Editor's Perspective 


Holly Lisle

Copyright © 2014, Holly Lisle, All Rights Reserved


Diana Gill is an Editor with Morrow/Avon at Harpercollins Publishers. She primarily edits science fiction and fantasy titles for Eos, along with commercial fiction, nonfiction, and random other titles of interest.

She started in publishing editing science textbooks, but then moved to sf/f because it was more fun. Some of her authors include Anne McCaffrey and Elizabeth Ann Scarborough, Dave Duncan, S. M. Stirling, Sean Russell, Kristine Smith, Rebecca Ore, Mary Gentle, and Martha Wells. And, of course, Holly Lisle.

March 23, 2002


Holly Lisle Folks -- We're about ready to start. From this point on, no messages in here.

Holly Lisle Please use one of the other two chat rooms.

Holly Lisle WELCOME to, and to The Diana Gill Conference -- Writing from the Editor's Perspective.

Holly Lisle I am delighted to introduce my Eos editor, Diana Gill, who was responsible for making Memory of Fire, (due out in May) a much better book, and who is currently editing the second book in the series, The Wreck of Heaven.

Diana Gill <g> Thanks Holly. Hi everyone, and thanks for coming.

Holly Lisle Please remember -- the first part of this conference is moderated -- do not post anything in this conference room (either public or private) during this portion of the conference. I'll open the floor for discussion following the moderated questions.

Holly Lisle I have a very fine selection of questions for you.

Holly Lisle E

Diana Gill Great.

Diana Gill E.

Holly Lisle *[K.L. McIntyre] How tough is your day? How many hours do you spend on work in your work week?

Diana Gill laugh Far tougher than people usually think! How many hours do I spend at work, or -on- work?

Diana Gill At work, about 40-50.

Diana Gill At home, another 10-25 (or more), depending on how many mss. I have in... E.

Holly Lisle *[Kay House] What do you love most about being an editor? What part of your job do you dread the most?

Diana Gill The editing is the best part. I love helping authors make their books better. And there's nothing better than discovering a new author.

Diana Gill What do I dread the most? All the up most of my free time. And bureaucracy. E.

Holly Lisle And the dread?

Holly Lisle *[Cheryl Peugh] If someone wanted to become an editor, what kind of background would they need (besides love of reading); i.e. what kind of education? Experience? Job track? How did you become an editor yourself?

Diana Gill The best thing you can have is experience in publishing--internships, that sort of thing. Beyond that, you need to

Diana Gill love reading, and be willing to work a lot. And for the first years, as basically an office slave, with not much money.

Diana Gill I started out working as an editorial assistant in a textbook publishing company, working on science books, and worked my

Diana Gill way up from there. E.

Diana Gill Did that answer the question? E.

Holly Lisle Works for me. <g>

Holly Lisle *[Kay House] Once you and the author are both satisfied that the book is as good as it can be in the time available, what exactly is the process of getting it typeset, proofread and into print?

Diana Gill After the manuscript is finished and approved, I then line-edit the manuscript. Then it's copyedited. Then the author reviews both my line-edits

Diana Gill and the copyedits. Then it's typeset, and the author reviews those pages. Then there's a second set of proof pages that the managing editor sees,

Diana Gill and then it goes off to be printed. E.

Holly Lisle * [Fredrick Obermeyer] Which author's books do you recommend we read to get the best grasp on what Eos likes?

Diana Gill What we like? Basically, well-written science fiction and fantasy that is also commercial. We like all of our authors, of course, but recent books by Martha Wells, James Alan Garder, Kristine Smith, Michael Swanwich, Sean Russell, and Dave Duncan can be a good start to what we're looking for. Basically, go grab some Eos books and start reading. <g> E.

Diana Gill Oops, that's Swanwick. E.

Diana Gill Oh, and Bujold, and well, most of our authors. Including Holly. <g> E.

Holly Lisle *[Joel] If an aspiring writer approached you to pitch their story, what is the one behavior guaranteed to make you stop listening?

Diana Gill Ah, everyone's favorite. A few easy no's--handing me a manuscript at a conference (one editor had one slid under the bathroom door!). Being really pushy if I'm talking to an author or agent already. Basically, use common sense--if an editor is free, ask if you can pitch to them. They'll either say yes, or set up another time, or tell you they're not looking./swamped/etc. then go from there. E.

Holly Lisle *[Krista Heiser] It is preferable for an author to have an agent before they contact you? Is this a personal preference or do you feel this is standard?

Diana Gill We do prefer for authors to have agents, whenever possible. It makes it easier for everyone. The industry is tending towards that in general. But we do take unagented queries--Holly, do you want me to go into that now, or later? E.

Holly Lisle Go ahead and talk a bit about that now.

Holly Lisle That's big.

Diana Gill Okay. Eos's submission policies have recently changed--we can no longer accept unsolicited submissions.

Diana Gill To submit your science fiction or fantasy novel to Eos, please query us first. Whenever possible, we strongly urge you to query via e-mail. You can e-mail us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. with your query.

Diana Gill Your query should be brief, no more than a two-page synopsis of your story at this time. Do not send chapters or a full manuscript.

Diana Gill You will receive a response--either a decline or a request for more material--in approximately two to four weeks.

Diana Gill Again, that address is This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. E.

Diana Gill Do people need more info than that? I can go into the basic guidelines as well. E.

Holly Lisle If you won't wear out your wrist, please.

Holly Lisle <g>

Holly Lisle And that should be WRISTS, plural.

Diana Gill Okay, the best thing to do is to send a self-addressed, stamped envelope (SASE) to me at Harpercollins, asking for the guidelines, then to e-mail query from there.

Diana Gill But, horror and humor are a very tough sell, as are King Arthur and Robin Hood stories. We strongly urge you to read some of our recent titles to get a feel for what we publish, and please -do- be aware of what's happening in the sf/f field, what the major clichés are (no Adam and Eve on mars stories, please!), and so far. E.

Holly Lisle We're going to drift a smidge, back to author/editor relations. I admit I'm dying to know this one myself. *[Kay House] What annoys you most about authors?

Diana Gill laugh Oh boy...

Diana Gill Probably when authors say they want to be edited and they want criticism, and I spend hours and hours editing their manuscript, then to have them absolutely ignore my suggestions without even saying why.

Diana Gill Obviously, it is their book, but I wouldn't suggest changes unless I really thought they would make the book stronger. And if they can argue their point, that's fine, but refusing to listen at all gets very frustrating.

Diana Gill And the authors who are just pushy and obnoxious in general.

Diana Gill Holly, however, is none of these. E.

Holly Lisle Oh, cool. <g> :: sighing with relief ::

Holly Lisle *[Jae] What grabs your attention in a synopsis and query letter? What doesn't?

Holly Lisle Votes next door, incidentally, are running high in favor of plastic spiders.

Diana Gill Okay, not what grabs me, but first a general note--first impressions Do count. Spelling errors, bad grammar, handwritten letters--those are all signs that the author either does not take their work seriously, or doesn't care what their letter looks like. We get Lots of submissions (which we again, read in our free time), so please, make the letter easy to read and professional.

Diana Gill What grabs my attention? What the plot sounds like--a new twist on a story, something about a character that I just want to read about. That sort of thing.

Diana Gill Plastic spiders? I absolutely hate spiders (my one ick-factor), so I'dvote against that for me...

Diana Gill if you are going to send something, I'dlean towards plane tickets somewhere exotic, but that's just me. <g> E.

Holly Lisle <snarf>

Holly Lisle *[Justin] How important are prior writing credits on a cover letter, or for that matter, how important are cover letters?

Diana Gill I like cover letters--it gives me a better idea of what you're sending. And yes, if you've been published before or are a member of SFWA, or have some relevant background (the book is about a female ex-Marine who retired to Paraguay to create designer perfumes, and you've done most of those things), do say so.

Diana Gill E.

Holly Lisle *[Fred] If there's a potential for future books featuring the same characters or places, would you want to know about it up front? Would that information help or hurt the query in any way?

Diana Gill Basically, if a publisher is going to buy a book, they're going to want at least two books, in most cases. We're assuming you're willing to work hard and write several books, and if the book does well, we'd naturally want more in that same setting...

Diana Gill However, saying that this is book 1 of 17, is Not a good idea. We'll buy the book based on what is in front of us, not what may be coming down the line.

Diana Gill E.

Holly Lisle *[zette] Should e-sales be listed in cover material?

Diana Gill E-sales? If, say, you've sold online fiction to Ellen Datlow at Scifiction, do say so. If it's a general e-sale, not so much. And, a note--most publishers consider submissions published electronically to be previously published, and will be much less interested. E.

Holly Lisle *[Robert] How would I submit concepts for theme anthologies? Would it help to have some writers already committed to them?

Diana Gill We Very rarely publish theme anthologies, or anthologies in general. (DAW does many of those, but they are all arranged by an agent and packager). So your chances are low. But if you have GUARANTEES from several Major authors, you could try. But otherwise, anthologies (whether multi- or single-author) are a very hard sell.

Diana Gill E.


Holly Lisle *[karen thistle] What, in general terms, is your dream submission?

Diana Gill My dream submission? A wonderfully-written, creative and inventive science fiction or fantasy story that has the potential to both get great reviews and sell through the roof, from an author who's willing to work hard editorially and otherwise to make their book the best possible.

Diana Gill You did ask for my dream... <g> E.

Holly Lisle *[Fred] Is there anything that will get a submission sent straight to the reject pile?

Diana Gill Yep. Holly--do people want to really hear the truth here? E.

Holly Lisle Yes, they do.

Holly Lisle These folks are very good.

Diana Gill Okay. Sending me something again that I've already rejected saying I just didn't read it carefully enough, or read enough of it. Handwritten queries (particularly on purple paper). Novellas of say 40,000 words. Anything ripped out of star trek with only the names changed.

Diana Gill What else? Something about little green elves that ride unicorns in the land of mystical happiness. Saying that you're qualified to write about elves/vampires/etc. because you really are one.

Diana Gill Those are the biggies. And yes, I've gotten all of the above. E.

Holly Lisle You just killed them with that one.

Holly Lisle O

Diana Gill DId I? Laugh It really is true...! E.

Holly Lisle No one had even considered the possibilities.

Holly Lisle *[Alyssa] Diana, I'dlike to know how often do you get past page two when you're evaluating a manuscript from an unknown author, and what are the manuscripts most often missing?

Diana Gill To page two? Honestly, that depends on how good page one is. If you can get me to read past the first paragraph (and yes, we can tell by the end of the first paragraph if we want to read any further), get me interested in the story, or the character, that's a very good thing. If the first page isn't absolutely intriguing, but is nonetheless well-written (without the little green elves, say.)

Diana Gill I think one really important thing to remember is that an editor's primary function is to act as a reader--if I don't want to read any further, why should someone want to buy the book and the read it? Give us (and yourself) something to be interested in.

Diana Gill And no, that doesn't mean the first sentence has to have an explosion or some other really glossy hook, but do think about what's happening. Make it interesting.

Diana Gill What are manuscripts most missing? Originality. Yes, there are only a few plots and stories out there, but there are endless things you can to take that boy meets girl theme and make it interesting.

Diana Gill That, and spell-checks...

Diana Gill E.

Holly Lisle *[BethS] Say you receive a fantasy manuscript from a first-time author that's well-written, complex--and long (around 300,000 to 325,000 words, similar in size to a Kate Elliott or George R.R. Martin novel). If you liked the story, would the length be an issue?

Diana Gill 300,000 words? Oh boy. For 1 book? That's hard. If it is really good, what we'd probably do is work with the story to streamline it. Very few stories cannot be streamlined. But if it's that wonderful, we're willing to work with it to figure something out.

Diana Gill But in general, submissions should be 80,000-120,000 words... E.

Holly Lisle *[Joel] In your opinion, what month do you see a surge in the number of manuscripts?

Holly Lisle I'm guessing he asked this to know when NOT to query. <g>

Diana Gill No particular month, really. There's always stuff coming in. I guess the busiest is right after conventions or some such.

Diana Gill In re when not to send it? The holidays, obviously. ;-P E.

Holly Lisle *[Fredrick Obermeyer] How much money can we expect to get on a first novel sale? If a novel does really well in the market, can a writer expect a possible advance for the next one? Or does he or she have to wait a few more novels before then?

Diana Gill Unless you have a really good agent, not much. Usually around $4000-$6000, but it can be less for some genres/publishers/lines. I

Diana Gill An advance is what you get when you sell a book. If a first book does well and we buy more, that's another advance. The only way to get more money beyond the advance is to have your book sell enough to start earning royalties. E.

Holly Lisle *[Fredrick Obermeyer] If a novel gets published, can the writer have any say about the cover art or is it out of his/her hands?

Diana Gill Unless you're Steven King or Tom Clancy or so on, you will not get cover approval or official consultation. Most editors talk with their authors about what they'd like to see on the cover, but, frankly--and this is what many professional authors don't [or won't!] understand--the cover is to get the book buyer (whether for a national bookstore chain or suzy q. public) to pick the book up and be i

Diana Gill interested. It's a marketing took, pure and simple. and, frankly, most authors aren't marketing people. But we do get the author's opinion and talk to them about it, whenever possible. E.

Diana Gill oops, that's tool. not took. no hobbits here. E.

Holly Lisle *[SL Viehl] How many titles does Eos release per year, and are there any plans to increase or decrease the number?

Holly Lisle <g>

Diana Gill Pause while I pull down my schedule and count... ......

Holly Lisle If there are any hobbits here, they won't be admitting in in their query letters.

Diana Gill laugh now i almost spilled My diet coke!

Diana Gill Publishing: 12 hardcovers a year, 3 trade paperbacks, and about 24 mass-markets. We're planning to stay at about that level. Maybe a few more, maybe a few less depending on when stuff comes in, etc., but pretty much there. E.

Holly Lisle *[Jim Mills] How many first-time novels do you take in a typical year?

Diana Gill 1 or so? More because it's hard to find a good first novel than anything else... E.

Holly Lisle *[Joel] Besides the quality of their work, in your opinion, what is the best way for a newly published writer to promote their novel?

Diana Gill Make friends with booksellers! Go to local stores and sign stock, have a website, start a newsletter, that sort of thing. There's a good article at, umm, i think about self-promoting. (if that's not the address, sorry! Bad memory...) E.

Holly Lisle *[Andi:] What is the one question you've always wanted asked in an interview that you've never been asked? Consider it asked now, if you would.

Diana Gill Hmm. Umm... Honestly, I don't know if I have a question I've always wanted asked. Besides, can I give you lots of money free of cost from an anonymous donor? Sorry, no ideas here.... E.

Diana Gill Hmm, I guess I should mention that we've started an online newsletter, so anyone who's interested should go to  and sign up for it. It's a lot of fun--really. E.

Diana Gill Honest. E.

Diana Gill =) =) E.

Diana Gill Does anyone have any other questions? I can stay for a bit more if there are some...

<@Holly Lisle> Do not pitch you work to Diana, but the floor is now open for a few questions.

Diana Gill Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller... E.

<Jinx> I would just like to thank you for your time and generosity in answering our questions, Diana.

<Shelley> Ok, I'm asking this one for my fiancé. Does Eos take comic books or graphic novel submissions?

<@zette> Just a note -- I fear most or all of us got dropped for a moment there... people are just signing back in.

<fred> You talked earlier about the length of submissions. I seem to get stuck around 65k words. Would that be a serious strike against my work?

Diana Gill okay, one at a time. No, no graphic novels or comic books.

Diana Gill Jinx-thanks! My pleasure. E.

<Kaelle> I echo Jinx's comment, Diana. Thank you very much

<Shelley> Yes, thank you so much Diana.

Diana Gill Fred--that's a bit short, really. It's more of a novella than anything else, which doesn't work as a book... E.

Diana Gill Thank you all for coming--I know Holly's pleased, and I hope you had fun. =) E.

<Kay House> Thanks for coming, I learned a LOT!

<karen thistle> thank you, Diana

<Diana Stirling> Thanks a lot!

<@Holly Lisle> We've had a wonderful time. Thank you so much for taking the time to join us today.

<Robert> Thanks for having this conference, Holly, and thanks for coming, Diana. If I've got a self-published book and it did well, should I mention that on the cover?

<CatherineM> Thank you from me too.

<Mistythank> thank you

<YvonneM> other than little green elves, is there anything that's done to death in fantasy novels?

<May-Lee> clap clap clap Thank You

<Gayle> Thank you

<Beth> Thanks for coming--it's been very informative.

<Anon_11> Thank you very much, Diana.

<Allison> Thank you, Diana!

Diana Gill Robert--yes, if it's sold well, do mention that. E.

<fred> Thanks for your time.

<MaryMuse> Are there any credits you shouldn't mention in your cover letter? Such as if you've sold erotica?

Diana Gill Yvonne--umm, lord of the rings retreads. make your world original, please. umm, contemporary fantasy is also very hard. E.

Diana Gill MaryMuse--If it's not relevant to the genre, I wouldn't put it. if you're writing erotic fantasy a la Laurel Hamilton, do mention it. E.

<MaryMuse> Thank you, Diana.

<Misty> does experience in the publishing industry have to do with manuscripts to really count? I have a position, but it's with bibliographic information, and I'm wondering if I'm going to have to start as an Editorial Assistant if I want to move into manuscripts

<@JimMills> .

Diana Gill Misty--it depends. if you want to move into editorial, having a general publishing background can help you get a position, but it really would be as an editorial assistant unless you have substantial editorial experience and knowledge of another field. and even then, it would probably be to assistant editor or stuff. at least for fiction. Specialized science or academia can work a bit differently

Diana Gill E.

<Shelley> do you look for more character driven stories, or more plot driven ones?

Diana Gill Shelley--Ideally, both. Beyond that, I'm partial to well-written characters, but they still need a plot. Sitting around and talking does not work as a book, at least for me.

Diana Gill E.

<Shelley> thank you

Diana Gill Sure.

Diana Gill Anyone else?

<@zette> Do you feel Internet communities like this one are a good help to upcoming writers?

Diana Gill zette--honestly, I really don't know. I do think it is helpful to go somewhere where you can ask those more experienced/knowledgeable questions, but

Diana Gill not being a writer, I'm not sure in general. But good feedback and input can help anyone, and networking never hurts. E.

<YvonneM> do short story sales have any impact on how you look at a novel?

<Joel_A> back

Diana Gill Yvonne--short story sales can't hurt, but there are many writers who can't write short fiction for their lives but write wonderful novels. Basically, it will let me know that

<Sarajael> Do you prefer cover letters that start with the one-line hard sell "what do you do when you're locked in a closet with an axe-murderer?", or the plain vanilla "please find enclosed my novel Closet Murderer"? <g>

Diana Gill someone thinks your writing is at a professional level. E.

Diana Gill Sarajael--Plain vanilla, please!! As I mentioned, a professional letter is important. The hard sell is very very hard to work--we see hundreds of letters, and it doesn't really work. E.

<Kay House> Do line editors ever become editors, and how do people get to be line editors? Are publishing careers mostly limited to New York City?

<Diana Stirling> Is Eos interested in young adult fantasy? If not, can you recommend a publisher/s?

<Sarajael> Thanks, Diana

<MaryMuse> Do you recommend that writers write in multiple genres if they wish to support themselves with their writing? Or do you prefer authors who write just sf/f?

<Joel_A> Ms Gill, I've read there's a large interest in sci-fi--especially hard sf--partially due to the influx of soft sf and fantasy? What's your view?

Diana Gill Kay--Line editors as in copyeditors? Sometimes. There, each managing editor has a stable of their own preferred copyeditors. Prior experience is necessary, and usually networking. You can get publishing careers in other places certainly, but New York definitely has the most. E.

<Kay House> Thank you, I did mean copyeditors.

Diana Gill Diana Stirling--we don't really do young adult fantasy in EOS per se, but Harperchildren's does a fair amount of that... E.

<@Holly Lisle> These need to be the last questions.

<Diana Stirling> thanks!

Diana Gill Mary Muse--as long as my authors turn in their books on time, I don't care what else they do, really. E.

<@Holly Lisle> I would like to thank Diana for spending some of her free weekend time with us today.

Diana Gill Joel--fantasy is still the biggest/most popular genre. I haven't seen a recent surge in interest in hard sf, but I'm not really out there on the ground floor... E.

<Kay House> Thanks again, Ms. Gill, and to you Holly, for inviting her!

<@Jae> Thank you Diana! This was really wonderful!

<Joel_A> Thanks, Ms Gill.

<Robert> Thank you, Diana! This was great!

<karen thistle> thanks again!

<Sarajael> Thanks!

<@zette> Thank you. This has been very helpful!

<@AndiW> Thank you very much. We do appreciate the insights.

<Diana Stirling> thanks again!

Diana Gill Everyone, my pleasure. I hope this was helpful, and Holly, thanks for the invite. (Does this give me extra credit when you get the next editorial letter?) <g> E.

<MaryMuse> Thank you!

<@SLViehl4> Thanks, Diana, it was great having you here

<Shelley> thank you Diana. This has been a great learning experience for me!

<Misty> this has been great, thank you and have a great evening

<Allison> Thank you, Diana! This has been great!

<Kaelle> Wonderful conference!

<@JimMills> Thank you, Diana!

Diana Gill Thanks everyone!

<CatherineM> thank you again for you help

<karen thistle> and thanks, holly!

<Della> Thanks for your time.

<@Holly Lisle> Diana -- I'm ready. And yeah, I think this gets you one Name Change and a pack of This scene does not work for me's.

<Diana Stirling> ditto!

<Shelley> Yes, thanks Holly for all your work setting this up.

Diana Gill Woo hoo! I'll hold you to that Holly. J/K.

<@AndiW> Hats off to Holly. <G>

Diana Gill Everyone, have a great weekend!

<@Holly Lisle> Folks, thank you for coming out, for asking intelligent questions, and for following the rules.

<Joel_A> you too, ms gill!

<@AndiW> You too!

<Allison> you too!

<Joel_A> thanks again, holly!

<Kaelle> You are the best, Holly, Thanks!

<Joel_A> wow. a real live editor...even virtually

<CatherineM> thank you holly

<@Holly Lisle> Okay. I'll be closing the room. I'll see all of you soon.

<Allison> thanks Holly!

<@JimMills> Bye!

<Sarajael> Thanks

Diana Gill Bye everyone! Take care.