“I want to feel a powerful emotional connection to what I’m reading, in addition to an admiration of the writer’s craft.” -Caroline Bleeke
Every year, the Writers’ League of Texas brings a faculty of close to thirty agents, editors, and other industry professionals to Austin for its Agents & Editors Conference. As we look ahead to the 28th Annual A&E Conference, taking place September 17-19, 2021, we’re happy to share Q&As with some of our faculty here.
An Interview with Caroline Bleeke
Caroline Bleeke, Senior Editor, publishes literary and upmarket fiction at Flatiron Books, with an emphasis on underrepresented voices, historical fiction, clever retellings, family sagas, coming-of-age stories, innovative structure and style, writing with a strong sense of place, and heart. Her list includes Angie Cruz’s Dominicana (finalist for the Women’s Prize), Charlotte McConaghy’s Migrations (#1 IndieNext Pick and Amazon’s Best Novel of the Year), Yangsze Choo’s The Night Tiger (New York Times bestseller and Reese’s Book Club x Hello Sunshine Pick), Anuk Arudpragasam’s The Story of a Brief Marriage (winner of the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature), and forthcoming work by Printz Award winner Nina LaCour, Bronx Book Festival founder Saraciea Fennell, National Book Foundation 5 Under 35 Honoree Melinda Moustakis, and University of Wyoming MFA graduate Jenny Tinghui Zhang. She began her career at Alfred A. Knopf and holds a Master’s degree in Eighteenth-Century and Romantic Literature.
Scribe: How would you describe your personal approach to working with an author?
Caroline Bleeke: Before signing up an author, I always have a phone call, not just to convey my passion and enthusiasm for their work, but to make sure we’re on the same page editorially. All of my edits are intended to help an author get even closer to their vision, rather than superimposing a different vision onto a book. I love the collaborative nature of editing and tend to be a highly involved editor, from doing as many rounds of edits as we need to helping shape the campaign and publication at every step of the process.
Scribe: What do you look for in a debut author?
CB: I get most excited by debut authors who are not just skilled stylists and formal inventors, but who are also telling stories I haven’t heard before — whether that be by featuring an original time period or setting; a character from an underrepresented background; a new perspective on an old classic; or just a wild plot with surprises at every turn. I also love when debut novels invoke a physical response in me — tears or goosebumps or laughter. I want to feel a powerful emotional connection to what I’m reading, in addition to an admiration of the writer’s craft.
Scribe: What’s one piece of advice you find yourself giving to others time and time again?
CB: Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there as a champion for the books you love. We all face our fair share of disappointment and rejection in the publishing industry, and sometimes it can be scary to be the first voice speaking out for a book. But I’ve found that my passion and enthusiasm are my most powerful tools in publishing fiction — and that my deep love for the work keeps me going.
Scribe: What excites you the most about the publishing industry today?
CB: So much is exciting me right now! But one thing in particular as an editor is seeing how writers are expanding the bounds of historical fiction and telling stories from crucial moments in our history that haven’t traditionally been explored in that genre. These novels have the potential to break out to big commercial audiences and help reshape our understanding of our country, and they’re also such immersive and emotionally satisfying reads. I hope to find many more authors in that space.
Scribe: Tell us about a recent book/project that you worked on that excited you and want everyone to know about?
CB: Austin-based author Jenny Tinghui Zhang is publishing her debut novel, FOUR TREASURES OF THE SKY, with us next April. It’s a coming-of-age story, an adventure story, a reimagining of the Western, and a groundbreaking work of historical fiction set against the backdrop of the Chinese Exclusion Act. It follows a Chinese girl kidnapped from her home and smuggled to the American West, where she is forced to keep reinventing herself to survive and attempt to outrun her fate. The voice is absolutely astonishing and the story is utterly propulsive — I was lucky enough to be able to preempt it, and I can’t wait for it to be out in the world next year!
Click here for more information on the 2021 Agents & Editors Conference, a weekend long event in Austin, TX (September 17-19) that focuses on the craft of writing, the business of publishing, and building a literary community.