This Major Editor Reveals The Truth Behind Why Some Books Don’t Make It Big

Editor Todd Hunter is looking for young, dynamic black male voices with a message

I sat down with Atria Books Acquisitions Editor Todd Hunter, at his Simon & Schuster offices, to find out how he’s become one of the youngest, successful black male editors in the business.

Hunter is responsible for some of the latest, hottest books on the market that reflect the lives of black men, and examine the intersection of race and injustice. Hunter often finds himself in the role of mediator between authors and their agents to bring a book to fruition. He oversees design elements, copy, the book cover, and a “laundry list of things” to make book magic happen.

With shelves towering with books by his authors on issues of corruption, violence, or thought provoking race matters, he is a friendly and contemplative figure passionate about bringing black male voices to the market. Over a summer afternoon in  his office, he shares with me the types of books he wants to acquire and what it really means when the “stars are aligned.”

What are the books that most excite you right now?

Hunter: Well, I’m in the throes of getting ready to release a book [July 2016] by Marc Lamont Hill, titled, Casualties of America’s War on the Vulnerable, from Ferguson to Flint and Beyond. His book is particularly timely and important, especially given what’s happened in this last week because it essentially addresses exactly what happened. He uses some of the former cases of Freddie Gray, Mike Brown, to sort of highlight a bigger issue that’s happening in America.

We all know that Marc is quite a high-profile person. He has a VH1 talk show, and is a frequent guest on CNN.  He has a platform. So is it fair to say that most authors feel they have to be a “Marc” to get a deal?

Hunter: No, you don’t have to be a “Marc” to get a deal. One of the things we look for is the quality of the story and the quality of the writing. Those two things together can get you in the door, and get you discovered because if we’re going to introduce a really good story, a story that no one has ever heard before—in the book world—that’s as good as it gets. Having a large platform like Marc’s is like icing on the cake. In a large part, the publishing world still relies on just writing a good story that we can sell despite the platform.

I think you said something really interesting.  If you have a platform, it doesn’t guarantee that your book will sell.

Hunter:  It doesn’t. You could do the numbers of some celebrity books that, you know, just didn’t perform well.

Despite their having a big …

Hunter: Despite the platform. The book didn’t hit home for folks. Usually, when a book does well, the stars are just aligned for it. The person has the right platform. The book’s subject matter was just timely. And everything sort of just came together. When you see that, that’s one of those books that rises to the top of the list and becomes a household name. We look for those kinds of books [that fill a niche in the marketplace] to help fill our list. Not every book is going to be a priority, but if the book can do well and make a little money, and get some nice reviews, that’s welcome, as well…

This interview is a part of the BE Top Blacks In Publishing Series. To continue reading the Todd Hunter interview where we dive deep into what he’s looking to acquire and the issues he cares about, stay tuned for Part 2. 

Maryann Reid is the Digital Managing Editor of BlackEnterprise.com and the author of several books published by St. Martin’s Press. For more, please follow her @RealAlphanista.