The Business of Writing: The Editor (2)

Last day of February, the last of February’s posts celebrating

30 years of A Grave Talent.


About a year after Grave Talent came out in 1993, St. Martins Press published The Beekeeper’s Apprentice. Two months later, in April, 1994, Grave Talent won the Edgar award for Best First Novel. Nonetheless, the sub-editor in charge of the SMP paperback division decided they didn’t want to keep the paperback rights for this new, mid-list author, so they put them up for sale. There was not so much of an auction as a “best-by” date, for any houses that might want to take a chance on them. Any interested houses had a tough time even finding the books.

Kate Miciak, at Bantam books, was interested. She was so interested that she got into her car and drove all over New Jersey and Connecticut in search of copies (this was 1994, long before Jeff Bezos took over the world.) She found them, she read them, she bid, and voilà, I was a Bantam AND St Martins author.

The original hardcover rights for A Grave Talent had sold for an advance of $3,000,

$3,000 meant our old farmhouse now had central heating!

and Beekeeper’s Apprentice for not much more. But because of the potential Kate saw in the two books—the potential she saw in me, one very new author—Bantam handed over $18,000 for the right to publish Grave Talent for ten years, and $29,500 for Beekeeper’s Apprentice.

This was actual money. This made it Not-Laurie’s-Hobby, but an income.

Bantam put Grave Talent front and center in an enormous Summer Reading promotion, built around an Edward Gorey illustration (and if you haven’t entered my drawing for the t-shirt, which closes midnight tonight, Feb 28, you can find the signup here).

A year later, they did the same for Beekeeper. (Yes, I have a t-shirt of that campaign, too, ready for next year’s 30th anniversary.) And both did so well in building my numbers that one Friday afternoon a few months later, I had a call from my agent to say that St Martins had decided to retain the paperback rights going forward, wasn’t that good?

And it was, really. It always creates difficulties for an author when their backlist and their new hardbacks are from different publishers. I knew this. And yet…

Bantam really made an effort with the promo…

On Monday, I had my agent call my editor and tell her that I really, really would prefer to keep things as they were. To be clear here, my contract stated that the decision was ultimately theirs, not mine. And to be equally clear, turning down this offer would have repercussions. But my editor, as I’ve said, was a gem among women, and she did not want me to be unhappy. So she passed the word on to Kate—who, I later learned, had spent a very depressed weekend at the thought of explaining to her bosses why she’d dedicated so many of Bantam’s marketing dollars on promoting me—and after Kate had picked herself up off the floor, I stayed with my two divided houses.

St Martins Press hardback, Bantam Books paperback: first of many covers.

A few years after that, I moved over to Bantam for both hard and soft, and have been with them ever since. Kate retired a few years ago, and she’s always been notoriously shy about having her photograph taken or published, so I won’t show you what she looks like.

But I’ve been blessed in my editors, from Ruth to Kate to Hilary now. Three women with heart, and tenacity, and the sharp eye to what makes a writer better. When I was named Grand Master last year, only one of my editors was at the dinner, but the other  two were definitely there at the table with us, hoisting their champagne.


Read about A Grave Talent (with order links), see the other Martinellis,

or order a signed copy.


  1. Carol Britt on March 2, 2023 at 11:01 pm

    I thought Ii had read A Grave Talent years ago, but apparently only pay Kate books I loved it, and plan to reread them all. Thank you

    • Laurie King on March 24, 2023 at 8:48 pm


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