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Feb 24, 2021

Editor Spotlight Series - Abby Muller

A warm welcome to Abby Muller, associate editor at Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, where she acquires fiction and narrative nonfiction. She has edited titles including Made in China by Amelia Pang and the forthcoming Pump by Bill Schutt, Clean Air by Sarah Blake, and Off the Edge by Kelly Weill. She reads widely, but has a particular soft spot for well-researched nonfiction about culture or language, as well as for character-driven narratives and for fiction that blurs genre boundaries. She has been spending quarantine baking sourdough bread like everyone else and learning to embroider.

CritiqueMatch: Share a fun fact about you. 
Abby: Algonquin is from North Carolina and so am I! I live in Brooklyn now, but by total coincidence, I grew up about ten minutes from our Chapel Hill office, which is itself around the corner from the coffee shop where sleep-deprived teenage Abby would buy espresso drinks (necessary to stay awake on the long drive to oboe lessons).

CM: How did you become an editor? Can you describe the career path for those looking to enter the publishing industry?
Abby: I had a few internships during and after college. Two were at university presses, and one was at the literary agency Brandt & Hochman. I landed those internships mostly by having the right connections, which is historically typical of the publishing industry—and which is also a huge problem. If publishing is serious about fixing its diversity crisis, it’s crucial that we reexamine the takes-privilege-to-get-experience, takes-experience-to-get-a-job model. So I hope there will be a lot of change soon in this arena. (And for now, I’m very happy to talk one-on-one with anyone looking to go into publishing—feel free to reach out to me on Twitter.)

CM: How many authors/books do you work with per year? 
Abby: Algonquin publishes around 20 new titles per year, and our editorial team consists of our publisher, four editors, and an editorial assistant. Though I’ve been acquiring for a couple of years, I was only recently promoted out of that assistant job, and so my list is still growing. I edited three of the books on our Fall 2021 list.

CM: Walk us through the editing process you go through with authors before a book is released. 
Abby: This varies a lot from book to book and author to author. Usually, I’ll start with an editorial letter outlining bigger-picture notes, particularly comments on the level of plot, character arc, or structure. After that, I often prefer to move to Track Changes, which I use to leave comments in the margins. But I’m happy to adapt to authors’ preferred work styles. When the author and I agree the book is finished, it’s sent to a copyeditor, who does the very final polish.

CM: How do you acquire books? How has the process changed during the pandemic? 
Abby: Naturally, the first step is reading submissions. While most come directly to editors from agents, the Algonquin team is wonderful about passing each other projects that seem up each other’s alleys. When I read something I love, the next step is to send it around to our editorial board, which consists of the editorial team plus our publicity and marketing directors.  Everyone reads some of each submission, and we discuss pros and cons. If the consensus is that we’re interested, I might next talk to the agent or author to get a little more information, then make an offer. This is all basically the same as it was pre-pandemic. The only shift is that our meetings now take place in a bunch of separate living rooms. 

CM: What is a common myth about editors? 
Abby: I think most people believe editors spend their workdays reading and editing. It’s a fair assumption, but most days, I’m sprinting to keep pace with a treadmill of other tasks and meetings. My golden hour for reading and editing starts at around 4pm when my inbox has slowed down, I’ve mostly gotten through my other workflow, and I’m able to catch my breath and focus. It also often becomes evening or weekend work.

CM: What is the demand for stories set in a COVID-19 world?
Abby: Right now, I think most people want to escape from a COVID-19 world. I know I’m already bringing my own pandemic anxieties into every book I read, catching myself feeling confused and alarmed by crowd scenes and hugs. I can imagine that a few years from now, when everyone has had a chance to rehabituate to the world, we might see more of a COVID fiction boom. Whether those books will be set during the pandemic or just deal obliquely with its anxieties, I don’t know.

CM: How do agents pitch books to you in a world that requires social distancing? 
Abby: While I miss meeting agents for lunch or coffee, those meetings have pivoted well to video. I know a lot of people are experiencing Zoom fatigue at this point, but I’ve been quarantining mostly alone, so for me to hop on a call with someone feels like a rare gift! Just as in pre-pandemic times, though, most pitches come directly to me via email. There’s an understanding that if I have questions about the pitch, the agent is happy to chat.

Do you accept un-agented submissions? No


Wish List

Genres/sub-genres you’re acquiring:
  • Fiction: I’m looking for accessible literary and upmarket novels, particularly (but not exclusively!): family sagas, graphic novels, historical fiction, short stories, LGBTQ works, book clubby reads, rom-coms, thrillers. I often love stories that bring in speculative or fantastic elements in beautiful, original ways.
  • Non-Fiction: My interests are broad. I am drawn to topics like history, language, psychology, and pop culture. I also like natural history and other interdisciplinary science-y topics. I like some memoir and some travel writing, and I am in search of LGBTQ works.
What you’re not interested in:
  • I do not acquire YA or MG. I’m also not typically a match for true crime (or at least not of the murder variety). 


Client Examples
(This list includes affiliate links)

I was closely involved with MADE IN CHINA by Amelia Pang, which pubs on 2/2/21.

I have edited three titles whose jackets have not yet been made public: PUMP by Bill Schutt, CLEAN AIR by Sarah Blake, and OFF THE EDGE by Kelly Weill, which will all publish in late 2021 or early 2022.