The Red Sofa Chats – Michele Wells

It’s hard to explain how excited I get with each new installment! So many smart and interesting individuals have already participated, to which I find myself fortunate to include Michele Wells in this month’s Red Sofa Chats.  I’ve long enjoyed her banter and insight on publishing in the Twitterverse.  Plus, Michele is a great editor, tech savvy, and makes sure to contribute to her community. Last but not least, I can’t help to encourage that you follow her on Twitter, as you’ll see she too agrees on its many benefits.

For anyone who comments or asks Michele a question, you’ll be eligible for nonfiction proposal critique.  The winner will be announced on Sept. 29th.

Bio: Michele Wells has fifteen years of experience in publishing, both in print and multimedia. Currently working as a senior editor for DK Publishing editing illustrated nonfiction for children and adults, she previously acquired adult nonfiction for McGraw-Hill and Penguin Group USA, and edited series nonfiction for children and young adults. The author of several nonfiction books, she holds a BA in dramatic writing and art history from NYU and is pursuing a master’s in adaptations and documentary film, also from NYU.  Michele is the founding chair of First Book-Brooklyn, a nonprofit organization focused on getting new books to children in need; she also volunteers regularly with the literacy and mentoring program Everybody WINS! Power Lunch. She lives in Brooklyn.

Twitter: @MicheleWells


1. Why did you choose to become an editor?

I can’t think of a time when I ever wanted to do anything but work with books. I’ve been reading since I was three years old, and still have some of the first “books” I wrote and illustrated when I was five, so it was basically a foregone conclusion that I’d end up working in publishing.

When I was 19 I applied to work at a temp agency that did staffing for Prentice Hall, which was at the time part of Simon and Schuster. I took an editorial test, was hired full-time, and went on from there. That’s why, whenever people starting out in publishing ask who you “need to know” and how to “break in,” I encourage them to try something a little different. Temping got me into publishing—and to this day every single editorial job I’ve gotten has come through simply submitting an application on the company’s website. I really do think it’s less of who you know than what you know, and how you present that information to showcase your qualifications for a given position.

2. Are there any projects you wish you could have edited?

I’ve edited nonfiction throughout my entire career, but tend to read fiction for fun. Two recent novels I’ve loved, and would have loved to have edited, are The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern, and Those Across The River, by Christopher Buehlman. Both are really fantastic reads—I highly recommend picking them up! In nonfiction, I would have loved to have worked with Mary Roach (Stiff, Spook, Packing for Mars), whose books are an absolute blast, or Erik Larson (The Devil in the White City, In the Garden of Beasts), whose writing is simply gorgeous.

3. What are you reading right now (for personal reading, for fun)?

I’ve just finally gotten my hands on an advance of Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84, and am devouring it. My all-time favorites (at least, for today) are Atwood’s The Blind Assassin, Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, Eugenides’s Middlesex, and Pamuk’s My Name is Red. I still haven’t yet gotten around to buying an ereader for personal use, so I still read almost everything in paperback. This means I’m either two years behind what everyone else was reading in hardcover, or ahead of everyone else if I’ve gotten my hands on an ARC. (Which adds another point to the ereader argument, of course—but there’s just something about a physical book that I’m not ready to give up for pleasure reading.)

4. How do you utilize Twitter? How do you believe it has changed the way we go about publishing books?

I’ve sourced everything from opinions on an idea I was developing, to experts for technical edits, to authors with niche experience and specific audience appeal on Twitter. You can put a question out on Twitter, and within hours—or sometimes even minutes!—you’ll have leads that you wouldn’t have found through other means.

In addition to the obvious network expansion Twitter provides and the ability to have a discourse with others in your field whom you might not have known otherwise, Twitter opens the door to quite a lot of give and take within the industry. And Twitter not only helps writers build a platform and a maintain a direct connection with their audience, but encourages concise, precise writing, as well. If you only have 140 characters in which to say something, your writing really has to be tight to be effective.

5. If you had a crystal ball, where do you think (or hope) publishing will be in 5 yrs?

I think in general we’re increasingly becoming more concerned about the global appeal of content, and the shifts we see now in publishing reflect that. I would imagine that as we continue to strengthen offerings with ebooks, book trailers, enhanced video books, and shared online content, paper books will become items that are to be collected and saved—but overall the content will have a much more global appeal. In addition to the obvious growth in all things digital, it may be that translation and foreign rights will be areas that will expand in the next several years.

Michele, once again, thank you!  For my readers, what are your thoughts?  Your questions?  Do you agree that Twitter will help bring a larger global appeal to books and publishing?    What has been your experience with writing, working with social media, or finding your niche in the publishing world?  Let’s discuss. . .



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  1. Lauren @ Pure Text on September 15, 2011 at 4:26 pm

    I want to read ALL of the books mentioned here; they sound great, especially “In the Garden of Beasts” with its gorgeous prose. 😉

    Anyway, as a freelance editor, hoping to eventually get into publishing, I enjoyed this interview. It showed me “the other side”…or something like that.

  2. Pamela Skjolsvik (@pamelaskjolsvik) on September 17, 2011 at 4:45 am

    Hi Michelle:
    My question to you is related to platform for a writer. How closely are publishers looking at a writer’s platform? Specifically, are they looking at FB friend count, fan pages, followers on Twitter, blog followers? In other words, are numbers important?
    Pamela Skjolsvik

  3. Linda White on September 17, 2011 at 9:37 am

    Oh great interview, Dawn! I now have a whole new reading list (like my pile isn’t teetering already)! But great insights on all things publishing, from breaking in to the future – and use of Twitter! Hopefully I can find a good question to ask soon – my head is full. Ok, here’s one: talking about the idea of enhanced books, I went to a session this past week on apps for publishers. What do you know about this, and do you think that this is something that will really take off? I am not talking about animated books, really, but would like to know what you think about apps as ancillary products or for marketing use.

  4. Michele Wells on September 17, 2011 at 3:56 pm

    Hi, Pamela:

    Great question! Publishers do look at platforms for nonfiction. Personally, I pay the most attention to the attendees at a writer’s speaking engagements and the number of unique visitors his or her website attracts. Twitter followers are becoming increasingly more important, but that information is taken with a grain of salt (for example, having 5,000 followers is great–but only if they represent a legitimate audience, and not just spam, bots, or follow-backs), as are numbers on Facebook and Google+ pages. Basically, though, publishers are just looking wherever we can for information–something that quantifies for us that there is an audience interested in the information you’re sharing.


  5. Michele Wells on September 17, 2011 at 4:04 pm

    Hi, Linda:

    App development is becoming increasingly important, especially for educational publishers. And as technology improves and we gain the ability to create one product that will work across all platforms, I think we’ll see more–but for now, most publishers are taking it slowly, weighing the development against the market cost and reception. The expectation at this point is not for the author to create an app to go along with a manuscript, of course–publishers want to oversee the creation of ancillary digital products–but I think as a whole we’re all looking at content with an eye toward the eventual creation of electronic supplements.


  6. Leslie Bilderback on September 18, 2011 at 7:30 am

    Hi Michele

    Do you think an agent is necessary? And if so, do you have any suggestions as to how to find a good one? My last experience was not very fruitful, and it all seems pretty much like a crap-shoot.
    Thanks much!

  7. Michele Wells on September 18, 2011 at 9:57 am

    Hi, Leslie:

    We all know that agents help authors navigate through the process, getting your manuscript in front of the right publisher, negotiating the contract and getting you a great deal, and watching out for your best interest from initial offer to publication. For those reasons, agents are especially helpful to writers who are just starting out, but even experienced authors can benefit from having an agent. Agents know what editors at various publishing houses are looking for, what they’ve been buying recently, and how much they’ve been paying. They know which books will be published in the next year or two. They weigh that information against your manuscript and audience and what type of exposure you are looking for, and guide you to a deal with the right publisher at the right time.

    Finding a good agent can feel like a crapshoot–but that is often because writers send what feels like (or what actually is!) hundreds of queries and can wait weeks or months for feedback, and so tend to jump at representation when it’s offered. But it’s important to remember that this is a business relationship, and that it’s just as essential for you to know that the agent is right for you as it is for the agent to know that your project is right for her. Instead of looking at an offer of representation as validation for your work (something many writers do), writers should think of the querying process as they would a job interview–both sides need to evaluate the situation to make sure it’s the perfect fit. This may mean not signing with the first agent who’s interested, but holding out for just the right fit.

    There are lots of online resources available for finding agents ( is a good one), but a good way to learn about individual agents, their styles, and what they’re looking for is to read their blogs and follow them on Twitter. A good place to start is GalleyCat’s list of Best Literary Agents on Twitter:

    Hope this helps!

  8. Elizabeth Flora Ross on September 28, 2011 at 3:13 am

    I love your comments about Twitter. I got on reluctantly, but have found it to be such a valuable resource. And I love the connections I have made.

    I would absolutely love a critique of my book proposal! I’ve received lots of great feedback, but no offers of representation. Perhaps Michele could help me identify what it is missing…

  9. Phil Peterson on September 28, 2011 at 11:50 am

    Hi Michele, the information about finding an agent is very helpful. Being a photographer, I have a couple questions from that side of things. What advice do you have for photographers who want to work internationally? Is there a place for photographers and writers to find each other to work on projects?

  10. Pamela Skjolsvik (@pamelaskjolsvik) on October 4, 2011 at 5:12 am

    Who won the proposal critique?

    • redsofaliterary on October 4, 2011 at 6:39 am

      Elizabeth R. won. I did try to post it on Twitter, but alas it was one of those busy Twitter weeks last week. 🙂

  11. Michele Wells on October 4, 2011 at 7:49 am

    Hi, Phil:

    Good question! I am actually not familiar with any existing ways for photographers and authors to find each other to collaborate on projects. I’m going to put this out there on Twitter–if I get a good response, I’ll post it here in the comments.