Tuesday, August 26, 2014

7 Questions For: Editor Jason Pinter

Jason Pinter is the founder and publisher of Polis Books, a new independent publishing company for the digital age focusing on commercial fiction. He is also the bestselling author of five thrillers: THE DARKNESSTHE FURYTHE STOLENTHE GUILTY and THE MARK, which was optioned to be a major motion picture, as well as the Middle Grade novel ZEKE BARTHOLOMEW: SUPERSPY. He has been nominated for the Strand Critics Award, the Barry Award, the Shamus Award and the Thriller Award, and his books have nearly 1.5 million copies in print in over a dozen languages. Prior to founding Polis Books, Pinter worked at Warner Books, Crown Publishing, St. Martin’s Press, Grove/Atlantic and the Mysterious Press. He lives in New York City. Follow him on Twitter at @jasonpinter.

And now Jason Pinter faces the 7 Questions:

Question Seven: What are your top three favorite books?

REDWALL by Brian Jacques – I must have read this book a dozen times, and then devoured the entire Redwall series. A couple years ago I bought the repackaged books because they just felt like they belonged on my shelf as an adult.

THE SWORD OF SHANNARA by Terry Brooks – I actually read this series ‘before’ I read THE LORD OF THE RINGS, so I didn’t realize just how much Brooks owed to J.R.R. Tolkien, while also magazine to create a whole world on his own. I still remember literally waiting outside the bookstore every time a new Shannara book was released so I could finish it on the first day.

THE HARDY BOYS/ENCYCLOPEDIA BROWN – This is probably where my love of crime fiction came from. I love the sleuthing, the detective stories, and trying to figure out the cases along with the characters.

Question Six: What are your top three favorite movies and television shows?

The “Indiana Jones” series of course. I must have dressed up as Indy for something like five straight Halloweens.

“Wall-E” - Perhaps the greatest animated movie of all time. I honestly got misty the first time I saw it, and probably couldn’t watch it around other people because the same thing would probably happen again.

“Ghostbusters” - because of course. But is it weird that my favorite character was always Slimer?

Question Five: What are the qualities of your ideal writer?

Someone who is just a born storyteller. Some people get caught up in the language and prose—which is hugely important—but I always look for a writer who knows how a story begins, progresses and ends, with writing that keeps the paging turning. A writer who has read enough to know what works and what doesn’t, and that a bad book can teach you as much as a good book. A writer who is also a professional and hits their deadlines, understands that the editorial process is for their own good, but is confident enough in their abilities that they’re willing to fight me on something if they think I’m wrong.

Question Four: What sort of project(s) would you most like to receive a query for?

I still have a soft spot for epic fantasy, along the lines of THE SWORD OF SHANNARA or the ERAGON series. I’d also love to see mysteries and thrillers for younger readers. But I’m also a big fan of funny adventures, which is part of the reason I wrote my own middle grade novel ZEKE BARTHOLOMEW: SUPERSPY! In my mind there should be humor in just about every young novel, because who would want to live in a world without humor?

Question Three: What is your favorite thing about being an editor? What is your least favorite thing? 

I am and have always been a reader first, so I love the thrill of reading a submission that turns out to be good and sucks me in. The wonderful feeling when I’m lucky enough to acquire a book I really want to work on, and it’s even sweeter when the author turns out to be fun to work with. My least favorite thing is authors who don’t really get involved in the publication process, don’t really offer feedback on much and are happy to write and then stay out of it. I’d much rather work with an author who wants input into the whole process: editorial, design, marketing, everything. If an author truly cares how their book is published, it will help us and invigorate us.

Question Two: What one bit of wisdom would you impart to an aspiring writer? (feel free to include as many other bits of wisdom as you like)

Never stop reading. Read everything you can get your hands on, even books that you don’t think are your ‘taste’. You might learn something new from a book you wouldn’t ordinarily read, and sometimes leaving your comfort zone allows you to experiment and stretch your own abilities. If you’re writing in a certain genre, know the genre well. Know what works and what doesn’t work. You can follow tried and true formulas, but always put your own spin on it. A book, in many ways, should be a reflection of your own personality.

Question One: If you could have lunch with any writer, living or dead, who would it be? Why?

Stephen King. Hes been my idol since I was a teenager. Only I’d make sure it wasnt just lunch, but dinner, breakfast, lunch the next day, maybe a few movies (on second thought, I might get arrested if I keep him that long).

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

GUEST POST: "Breaking into Fiction with Nonfiction" by Shelley Tougas

When I was an aspiring novelist, I took freelance writing gigs to pay the bills. I wrote about community festivals, fire department budgets, and careers in construction. I even wrote inspirational essays.

Bills got paid, but I was no closer to being an author.

Then a friend connected me with an education publisher that sells books directly to the school and library market. Writing for government newsletters paid more – a lot more - but I wanted my name on a book. I took an assignment to write a nonfiction book for middle graders about terrorism.

This publishing model is called work for hire. The publisher gives specific guidelines to the writer, who gets paid a flat fee for the book. No royalties, no bonuses. On the other hand, the writer doesn’t have to pitch, market or sell.

I was collecting rejection letters for my young adult novels, but the nonfiction assignments kept coming. My work-for-hire books were landing on shelves in schools and libraries.

It wasn’t a bestseller lifestyle, but I was an author – a paid author.

Then one of those work-for-hire middle-grade books garnered attention. Little Rock Girl 1963: How a Photograph Changed the Fight for Integration landed on top ten lists from Booklist and School Library Journal. Because of its starred reviews and awards and sales, the book made the leap from schools and libraries into bookstores. I recently found it at a Barnes and Noble in a suburban mall.

I’m no marketing genius, but it occurred to me that I should leverage the success of Little Rock Girl. Clearly my voice worked more effectively in middle grade than young adult. So I stopped writing for young adults and turned my attention to middle-grade fiction.

In the span of a year, I wrote my first middle-grade novel, The Graham Cracker Plot, and landed a fantastic agent, who quickly sold the novel at auction in a two-book deal. (Roaring Brook is my publisher.) I didn’t have to produce a proposal or an outline or even a title for the second book.

But I wasn’t an exception to the Golden Rule of publishing. I wrote a great novel. (I’m hoping the world agrees.) That’s first and foremost. But did my nonfiction work help seal the deal? Absolutely. I was able to pitch myself as an award-winning author to agents, and my agent was able to pitch me as an award-winning author to editors. Now the marketing team is pitching me to librarians, booksellers and readers as the award-winning author of Little Rock Girl.

Even if Little Rock Girl hadn’t won recognition, my collection of work-for-hire education books gave me an edge. My credits showed I’d been published and hired again – that spoke to my ability to deliver quality manuscripts, work diplomatically with editors, and meet deadlines.

Here’s what you need to know about work-for-hire and publishing in the school and library market:

     --Education publishing is a lot of work for a small paycheck. (You need to be a meticulous researcher, which, at least in my case, took more time than the writing.) The length of the book and its complexity will affect what you earn. I can’t speak for all projects at all publishing companies. I asked other nonfiction writers I know about their contracts and factored in my own experience. Based on that information, I can say contracts have ranged from $1,000 to $5,000.

     --The quality of books in this market ranges from outstanding to embarrassing. Make sure you know what you’re putting your name on.

     --Understand the contract. I recently read an article about a publisher requiring the author to pay for photo rights for the book. That’s outrageous. I’m fortunate. I never dealt with a bad publisher, but obviously they exist.

     --The topics won’t necessarily excite you. I wrote a kids’ book about the science behind weapons. I’m not particularly interested in weapons or science. I know someone who wrote a book about cockroaches. (Someone has to write books about cockroaches, right?)

     --It’s not easy to track your sales. A service called BookScan tracks and reports retail sales information, but you won’t glean much about the school and library market. When I got my contract for The Graham Cracker Plot, the publisher was interested in sales numbers for Little Rock Girl for obvious reasons. Education publishers may not be willing to share that information with you or your new publisher.

     --You still have to sell yourself. Breaking into the work-for-hire school and library market is easier than publishing a novel, but it’s still competitive. My background in journalism was a huge selling point. Networking with people in the industry is essential. If you don’t “know people who know people,” you should consider attending conferences, taking classes and getting publication credit wherever and whenever you can. Check out resources such as the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI).

     --Do you have experience with curriculum, classrooms and reading levels? If you have education credentials and you can write well, you’re gold.

     --If you aren’t making progress with writing assignments, pitch yourself for proofreading or fact checking. I’ve done both. Those are the least glamorous jobs in publishing, but it’s a foot in the door.

     --Education publishers have limited resources, countless books in production and many freelance writers to manage. Don’t expect emails updating you about your book’s status. Google the title – and yourself - so you can keep track of reviews and recognitions.

Good luck building your publishing resume. No matter how much success you have in the work-for-hire market, remember that the Golden Rule for publishing fiction never changes. Write a great novel.

Shelley Tougas writes fiction and nonfiction for kids. The Graham Cracker Plot, her first middle-grade novel, will be released Sept. 2. Shelley lives in western Wisconsin. Her author website is www.shelleytougas.com