Meg Gaertner is the Managing Editor for fiction books at Jolly Fish Press and Flux (North Star Editions) where she currently acquires and edits young adult and middle grade novels. Though Meg’s first career choice was in the medical field, her trajectory changed when she rediscovered her love for writing.
She went on to earn her MFA in Creative Writing at Antioch University Los Angeles and started working in the publishing industry. Meg is also a published author with dozens of children’s nonfiction books for the school/library market to her credit. As a writer, author, and editor, she actively attends, and presents, at conferences including Futurescapes Workshops and those affiliated with the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). Meet Meg…
Have you always wanted to work in this field? I did not! I went into college intending to major in neuroscience, had a quarter-life crisis, and ended up double majoring in sociology/anthropology and international studies instead. After a few years of working as a case manager for a homeless shelter/transitional housing program and then as a reading and reading comprehension tutor, I got my MFA in Creative Writing and decided to see if I could get my day job to align with my passion. Through my local literary center, I got an editorial internship with a children’s nonfiction book packager and gradually, over several years, moved into acquiring for North Star Editions and its two fiction imprints, Flux and Jolly Fish Press.
What do you like best about your work? I love witnessing and being part of a story’s journey from being an unpublished manuscript to a published novel to something out in the world having an impact on readers. My part starts with the thrill of seeing the potential in a manuscript and having a clear vision of how to fulfill that potential. It continues with the editing process, in which I work with the author to troubleshoot areas, brainstorm ideas, and make this book the best version of itself it can be. From there, I love seeing the reviews, accolades, and awards roll in—seeing my authors and their stories get the recognition they deserve.
What advice would you give to someone wanting to succeed in your professional industry? New York City is, of course, the hub for publishing in the United States, but there are plenty of literary agencies, indie publishers, book packagers, and other publishing-adjacent companies in other states/cities. I’d encourage anyone seeking to enter this industry to search for opportunities in their local area, in addition to searching for remote opportunities through sites like the Publishers Lunch Job Board. I’d also recommend being open to a wide variety of industry opportunities, from marketing/sales internships to editorial, and from genres you’re less interested in to your favorite genres. It’s all valuable experience, and it will all give you expertise you can bring into your next role.
What is one (or more) fascinating insight you’ve gleaned from working in the publishing industry? I don’t know if this counts as fascinating, but it was a game changer for me when I realized it: That form rejection all querying authors inevitably get, expressing some variation of “This just wasn’t for me” or “It’s not the right fit for my list” or “I just couldn’t connect”? Most of the time, agents and editors actually mean that! Sure, it’d be nice to only ever get personalized rejections with actionable feedback (the fact that agents and editors are eternally overworked is a different subject!), but we’ve all had that experience of picking up a book that others loved and that we just couldn’t connect to.
As soon as I started reviewing submissions as an acquiring editor, I ran into this issue, where I’d read well-written submissions with clear plots and good character development and still not be able to connect. In those cases, if I tried to personalize the rejection—if I actually went into what it was that I couldn’t connect with—I’d be leading the author astray, making them think that something is wrong in their manuscript that they need to fix when it’s really just me and my preferences as a reader. In those cases, a form rejection succinctly and accurately gives my reason for rejecting: the work is simply not a good fit for me.
Authors: another way of reading this is that I (the agent/editor) am not a good fit for your work! As a querying author myself, when I realized this, it immediately took the sting out of any form rejection I received, because my next thought was no longer “What’s wrong with me/my writing?” but “Okay, who can I try querying next who might be a better fit?”
Of course, all this assumes that you have genuinely given your manuscript it’s best shot by revising it, putting it away for a period of time, coming back with fresh eyes, revising it again, sending it to beta readers, and revising it again . . . in addition to perfecting your query letter and following industry standards and submission guidelines. Which brings me to my next point:
What advice would you give to unpublished authors? So, much of querying is outside of your control: what agents/editors are looking for, what types of works they already have on their lists, what mood they’re in when they open up your submission, etc. So, for your own mental and emotional well-being, you have to focus on what is in your control: the manuscript itself, how you present it to agents, and which agents/how many agents you submit to. Hopefully, you also simply love writing. If anything gets in the way of that—expectations of what the process should look like, of how long it should take to get an agent or editor, etc.—then pause and return to the work. Publishing is a long game, and there are always new metrics of “success” you could measure yourself against (or beat yourself up with). So you have to make sure the journey is fulfilling and worth it as well.
What do you like to see on an author’s platform? It’s always nice when an author has an active social media presence and an author website, but it’s not at all a dealbreaker if an author does not have those things (as long as they’re willing to start!). I’m much more interested in an author’s willingness to be a partner in promoting their book. As part of our acquisitions process, we ask authors to share their thoughts on marketing and publicity, including what their ideal book launch would look like and what activities they’d be genuinely excited to do to promote the book. Those responses are more important than an author’s current platform.
Are you an author? If so, what is your author website where readers can find your books? I am! My hi-lo middle grade book, Chasing Stars, just came out this January. I also have several YA fantasy and sci-fi books that I’m querying, as well as an adult speculative work in progress.
Information about my books can be found at www.meggaertner.com.