Getting Under Your Skin: An Interview with A. J. Colucci

Author A. J. Colucci

A.J. Colucci spent 15 years as a reporter, magazine editor and writer for corporate America.  Today she is a full time author of science thrillers, stories that combine true science with the riveting plot and breakneck pace of a thriller. Her novel THE COLONY received a starred review from Publishers Weekly, noting, “Michael Crichton fans will hope that this is but the first of many such outings from the author’s pen.” Visit her website  or find her on Twitter.

Alex C. Telander: When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

A. J. Colucci: For as long as I can remember. I think if I’d had a pencil in utero, I would have come out with at least a couple short stories.

Alex: Where did the idea for The Colony come from?

A. J.: I was watching a Discovery Channel special on killer ants and got hooked. It was mesmerizing to see a colony of 22 million African driver ants, working like a military unit, to take down every living creature in a farmer’s field.  I knew it would make a great book.

Alex: What sort of research did it require?

A. J.: Science thrillers require an enormous amount of research. I started in the library and then spent about a thousand hours on the internet. But I’m an information junkie so subjects like ant morphology and pheromone manipulation are incredibly interesting to me. I was lucky enough to have a few first-rate entomologists and a military expert to verify my facts.  I think I probably qualify for some kind of entomology degree.

Alex: Do you plan on writing any sort of sequel or using some of the characters in a future book?

A. J.: I am so busy working on other projects right now, but maybe someday Paul and Kendra will have another adventure.

Alex: How possible in today’s world is the core concept of The Colony?

A. J.: Insect warfare goes back to biblical times, and even earlier. I’ve read that early humans threw bees nests into caves like a primitive form of tear gas.  In the 1950s the U.S. military did a lot of testing of entomological warfare, including operations Big Buzz, Big Itch and Drop Kick. You can look it up – I kid you not.  Testing for Big Itch involved dropping fleas from the air in cluster bombs. At least one test failed when the fleas were accidentally released into the aircraft and they attacked the crew. I believe Big Buzz and Drop Kick used mosquitoes.

Alex: What do you hope readers get from reading your book?

A. J.: Mostly entertainment.  There’s plenty boredom, monotony and despair in the world, so if a book can sweep you into an exciting adventure for a few hours, that’s great. You can get your chills and thrills without having to jump out of an airplane. Of course, it would be nice if readers considered my underlying message of faith in humanity. Ants work for the good of the colony, never for themselves. We could use some of that.

Alex: Do you have plans for your next novel?

A. J.: I’m actually in the first round of edits on my new novel, which is coming out Spring 2014 from St. Martin’s Press. It’s another science thriller about a group of people who come to a remote island in Nova Scotia for the reading of a will, but the island starts to have strange and violent effects on the characters. I like to write about nature because it can be a brutal place—kill or be killed—but it’s also filled with a sort of beauty and logic that makes humans look ridiculous.

Alex: Do you still write nonfiction?

A. J.: Unfortunately there’s not enough time. I think most authors would agree that establishing oneself as a novelist is a full-time job. A single book takes at least a year, and I hope to write many.

Alex: Is it hard to switch between writing fiction and nonfiction?

A. J.: Not for me. The two are so different and require separate parts of the brain. Although much of The Colony was based on fact, so it felt like writing non-fiction at times. For instance, I interviewed a former director at the U.S. Department of Defense about the best way to destroy the ants – he took it very seriously and suggested a neutron bomb, and then he gave me information on deployment and damage.  I also had an entomologist from the USDA brainstorm with me on how to get the pheromones spread over the city.  So when I sat down to write those chapters it felt realistic.

Alex: Was there a particular reason you chose to use “A. J” for your published name?

A. J.: The initials A.J. are meaningless, but I chose a pen name because I’m a private person and the idea of splashing my name all over the place was jarring. Also, my genre is a tough one for women to break into. I didn’t want to turn off guys that were more comfortable reading names like Michael Crichton, James Rollins and Scott Sigler.

Alex: Who are some of your favorite authors?

A. J.: Besides the three I just mentioned, I’ve built up an endless list over the years in thrillers, horror, literary fiction and old classics. Vonnegut, Orwell, Baldacci, Lehane, Atwood, Hosseini, Hemingway, Dostoyevsky. My tastes run amok.

Alex: What do you like to read?

A. J.: I’ve always read a lot of literary novels and but when I’m writing, which is most of the time, I tend to read thrillers.

Alex: What are you reading at the moment?

A. J.: I just downloaded Gone Girl because when a book is a runaway hit, I just have to know why.  Sometimes I never figure it out. Like with Fifty Shades of Grey. What’s up with that?

Alex: What do you like to do in your spare time?

A. J.: I do things with my family, take the kids on a hike or to the beach. I like getting together with other authors, something that’s new to me and such a huge privilege. It’s one of the few perks of being published.  Other than that, I’m reading or writing.

Alex: So if the events of The Colony really happened, what would you do?

A. J.: I guess prepare to die, because realistically there’s is nothing in our arsenal that could stop them.

Faces of Publishing: Jaime Levine, Grand Central Publishing (October, 2012)

Jaime Levine

Jaime Levine

Jaime Levine has been an editor with Grand Central Publishing for 15 years, current author highlights: #1 NY Times bestselling duo Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child and the estate of Robert Ludlum.  With three concurrent Ludlum series, she works with many talented writers, including Jamie Freveletti, Kyle Mills, Justin Scott, and Eric Van Lustbader.  Her most recent launch: Pure—a post-apocalyptic, dystopian novel by Julianna Baggott.


Alex C. Telander: When did you know you wanted to become an editor?

Jaime Levine: It wasn’t something that I knew, though I was curious about publishing at the end of college. I feel like I decided to be an editor after I got to NYC and got my first editorial assistant job and loved it. But, here’s an odd addendum to that story: when I went to my ten year high school reunion, my ceramics teacher pulled out this notebook a bunch of us had written in when we were seniors. They were predictions of where we’d be at the age of 28.  I’d apparently written, “if I haven’t made a million on my first novel, I’ll be a book editor.”  I was a wise-ass, as you can see, but weirdly prescient. I have zero memory of writing that too.  I wasn’t aware that I knew at 17 years old that book editors existed.

Alex: How did you get started in publishing?

Jaime: Oh, a common story. I was an English major, worked on a literary magazine that a friend started. She went off to get an MFA and left a job at a small press in Chicago. I debated between teaching high school English and publishing.  I decided getting a job in publishing didn’t require more education, so I opted to take over her position at the small press.  After almost a year, I knew that I needed to actually come to NYC and experience working in editorial before I could conclude one way or the other. I got a job at what was then Warner Books and have been here ever since.  Within the first year I knew I was hooked by editorial.

Alex: What does an ordinary day look like for you?

Jaime: I spend a lot of time on the phone and on email.  Either someone owes me information or materials, or I owe the same to them.  So, I’m usually chasing people or being chased by them.  When I’m not communicating with people about our various needs, I’m probably drafting the information or materials that are outstanding.  I do all my editing and reading on nights and weekends.  On the other hand, on those occasions when I’ve worked from home to zip through a manuscript, that means I literally have planted on the couch for 9 hours with my face buried in hundreds of pages of text. I’ve cramped muscles in my back from not moving around enough doing that.

Alex: How many projects are you usually working on at one time?

Jaime: It has varied radically over the years of my career.  In the last few years, I’ve been working with a number of extremely high profile authors including the joint novels of Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child and the estate of Robert Ludlum. These programs feature multiple title releases a year.  I believe there’s a lot to a project beyond just the acquisition, so I prefer to acquire at an amount that still gives me time to nurture all aspects of the publishing of each book.

Alex: How long does it take you to edit the average book?

Jaime: There are some authors who are so very clean about the way they write, and their manuscripts I can get through a first read in two full days and then spend another two or three days doing a review and plotting out my notes.  Occasionally I get a manuscript that requires a greater hand, either for plot or for line-editing, which can slow me up.  Line-editing is the slowest process for me. Suddenly a week’s worth of work can turn into two or three.  I also mainly work on novels that are typically rather long. (Anywhere from 100,000 words to 140,000 words.)

Alex: How does the editing process work: do you edit the manuscript and send it back to the author, or do it in parts, or meet and work with the author, or something else?

Jaime: In this case, it depends on the author.  I rarely actually meet with authors to discuss their works since they don’t live in NYC. And, when I do meet with them, I prefer to relax with them, let them get to know me and vice versa. I want to give them a chance to see who I am and what I’m about.

As for the actual process. Typically I edit on a hardcopy and deliver that back with marginalia and a letter querying larger scale issues.  Beyond that, I work with the author in the way that they need. I’ve had authors who prefer to deliver in chunks, and receive edits as they go. I’ve had authors who work best not hearing from me while they are off doing their thing, so I leave them alone til the manuscript arrives.  I’ve also had authors who like to stay in touch and bounce ideas and questions off of me regularly, so, again, I try to be there for them.  I’m not the creator, so it isn’t about how I like to work—it’s got to be about the author.

Alex: With the Internet and ebooks, what are some of the changes you’ve seen in publishing as an editor in the last five years?

Jaime: The opportunities for promotion and publicity via the internet, social media, and just communications technology in general has radically shifted how we can get word out about an author.  It’s a bit of the wild wild west out there because it’s not obvious what delivery system readers will respond to—it’s the wild west for them as well since they are constantly changing what their interests are – but it is also an exciting challenge and an opportunity to try new things all the time.  I guess what I’m saying is: it can be puzzling as a publisher when you don’t really know exactly what will work.  The formula has altered. But it is also incredibly exciting because it feels like there are so many new choices. We have to be willing to try things out – try new media, try new websites, try new communication methods–and see what will work. I suspect it will continue to evolve and campaigns will look even more different from book to book.

Alex: What are your thoughts on self-publishing?

Jaime: It’s right for some, not for others.  I’m not trying to be coy or diplomatic—I believe this is the truth in the simplest terms. And, frankly, it’s always been that way.  There have always been authors who self-published. For some it was beneficial, for many not.  Now, probably more writers can benefit from self-publishing than ever before because their costs have gone down, but it doesn’t mean that it’s the right way for every author.

Alex: What publishing method do you recommend aspiring writers follow?

Jaime: Well, that depends on the author and their project. This isn’t one size fits all, so the answer would be different in different contexts.

Alex: Have you or are you interested in publishing your own work?

Jaime: Nah.  I love editing. I love working with authors and analyzing their work. I love seeing what their intention was and helping to clarify it for them in the text.  There’s a magic to writing. When I sit down and read an amazing, awesome new novel, I feel transported by something bigger than me.  I think if I were to take a stab at writing, it would ruin the magic for me. I don’t want to know what lurks behind the curtain.

Alex: What do you like to do in your spare time?

Jaime: Read.  Lately, I particularly like teen and YA fiction for my spare time reading. Also, I often have some sort of creative crafty activity that I do.  Sometimes it’s experimenting with cooking. Sometimes it’s making jewelry (beading and wire-work necklaces, earrings, bracelets etc).  Right now, I’m thinking of channeling my energy into planning an awesome vacation across the US and Canada.

Alex: Where do you see publishing ten years from now?

Jaime: I believe the more things change, the more things stay the same.  Even though technology has transformed how we can produce and market books, it hasn’t changed the fact that we are still producing and marketing books.  Our goal has always been to bring new stories, ideas, characters, and creative voices to readers to surprise and excite them and make them think.  I think in ten years, we will all still be producing and marketing books and I can’t wait to see what new reads leave me just as breathless.

Faces of Publishing: Lynn Pasquale, Prometheus Books (September, 2012)

Kevin Smith

Lynn Pasquale

Lynn Pasquale has been with Prometheus Books for over ten years and currently serves as Director of Digital Publishing.

Alex C. Telander: Most important question first: is it ebook, eBook, Ebook, e-book?  Is there a definitive nomenclature?

Lynn Pasquale: The answer is all of the above. Various publishing and conversion houses seem to have their own preference on how to write “ebook.” This spelling—ebook—is simply the standard we chose to follow as a press to keep everything consistent.

Alex: How did you end up working in the ebook department?

Lynn: I worked in publicity here for about 8 years and I was ready for a new direction. The timing was such that ebooks were coming onto the scene and the need for a full-time staff member to manage them became apparent. I was ready to take on the challenge, and I am grateful that our president realized the work ethic, brand loyalty, and detail-oriented focus that had served me well in publicity would translate into helping us navigate this new market.

Alex: What does an ordinary day entail for you?

Lynn: An “ordinary day?” I could have answered this question so differently six months ago from today and I will probably answer it differently six months from now. Things are evolving and changing all the time so my job has to adapt. Right now I am focused on making sure our entire science fiction and fantasy imprint, Pyr, successfully gets converted into epub format and online, which involves managing the conversion and getting the files to our excellent team of proofreaders and then to our various ebook vendors. We are also focusing on the conversion of our frontlist Prometheus Books which need to go through a similar process. There can be conversion-induced errors, particularly in formatting and especially with charts and graphs, so we really need to make sure everything looks good before putting it out there. This involves a lot of project management and proofing. We are also in the process of expanding to additional platforms which involves research and a whole lot of metadata management.

Alex: Have you had to learn a lot of technical knowledge about ebooks, or is it all pretty straightforward?

Lynn: I’ve had to learn a lot of technical knowledge about ebooks but it’s all been very gradual due to the constantly changing nature of the field (certain technologies would come and go without necessarily making an impact), and to the fact that everyone else was all in the same boat. It’s been kind of a “learn-as-you-go” experience. I think most people in publishing and bookselling would agree with that statement. I regularly read industry e-newsletters and I’ve taken advantage of a lot of webinars and attended a few ebook conferences that help put some perspective on what everyone else is doing and where we should be. They also provide a sense of community in this tumultuous time for publishing. You can get caught up in your own little world so it’s good to get the pulse of the industry now and then.

Alex: Do you think there will eventually be just one standard ebook format like Blu-ray, or will ebooks always be available in various formats?

Lynn: I do think there will eventually be a standard. I think the epub format is headed in that direction. But who knows how or when it will all shake out.

Alex: Do you think ebooks are going to completely replace print books, and if so when do you think it will happen?

Lynn: No, I don’t think print is going anywhere anytime soon. Our print books certainly aren’t going anywhere. I think ebooks will peacefully coexist with print books for some time to come. First of all, you have those people who are not yet ready to move over to ebooks, but mainly you have people who want both: they have certain books they want to hold in their hands and keep on their shelves. Personally, I have a thing for cookbooks. I want a print cookbook to page through and I want to have it physically sitting on my shelf with the rest of my cookbooks. But I might want to read a novel that I don’t particularly care to have on my shelf so I might buy it in ebook format. You can’t categorize everyone into one or the other right now so you need to be prepared for both.

Alex: Are out-of-print titles coming back into print in ebook format?

Lynn: Yes, many out-of-print titles get re-issued in ebook format so publishers can tap into an additional market here that traditionally was not available. We don’t put many of our books out of print so for us the benefit is more in the form of rejuvenated interest in our backlist.

Alex: The common misconception is that ebooks are way cheaper to produce than print books and should therefore be much cheaper than they are.  Can you clarify this?

Lynn: I think of it this way: if you are producing a quality ebook you still need to take it through the same process you would a print book, complete with all related costs: acquisitions, editing, typesetting, design, proofreading, marketing, etc. So the only production cost you’d be saving here is the printing. Clearly not much cheaper, if at all, than producing a print book. The misconception lies in the idea that if you are already producing the print book, you can just turn around and publish it as an ebook with little additional cost. The truth is there are conversion costs and the cost of staff needed to proof the ebook for any formatting errors post-conversion, and the humans needed to get the ebooks onsite for all the various platforms. Or, if you are using a service to get your ebooks onsite then you’ve got to pay for that service. Just because they are digital doesn’t mean you can turn a print book into an ebook with the simple push of a button. Basically what it comes down to is the primary cost of publishing lies in the development and production of the content, not in the manufacturing of the physical books. And that overhead and investment remains in the ebook world.

Alex: Do you believe that the pricing of ebooks will increase or decrease or stay the same in the near future?

Lynn: It may stay the same in the near future but eventually, I think the price will need to increase to compensate for the decrease in print sales. In my opinion, if print and ebooks are going to coexist, they need to be more comparably priced.

Alex: Do you only read ebooks now and who do you like to read?

Lynn: No! I actually prefer the print book! Am I not supposed to say that? Ebooks are great for quick reads or certain novels as I said earlier, but I’m not ready to relinquish the feel of a book in my hands. Lately I’ve been into Jeffrey Eugenides. And I’m reading him in print!

Alex: What do you like to do in your spare time?

Lynn: Besides reading? I like to stay active. Unlike most US publishers, we are located in Western New York (just outside of Buffalo) so I like to take advantage of the winter activities available here and I definitely like to get outside and take advantage of our beautiful summers.

Alex: What is your preferred device to read ebooks on?

Lynn: I really like reading ebooks on the ipad but I’m also partial to the Nook ereader. I like the regular black and white touchscreen Nook because it’s light weight and I really like the E-Ink touchscreen because it looks more natural, like real paper.

Faces of Publishing: Kevin Smith, Editor (August, 2012)

Kevin Smith

Kevin Smith

Kevin Smith is a freelance editor, specializing in commercial fiction and nonfiction.  Some of the authorshe’s worked with on a freelance basis are: Alan Jacobson, Stephen J. Cannell, Nevada Barr, Kyle Mills, and C.J. Lyons.
He’s been associated with the publishing industry, in various capacities, for more than twenty years.  Most recently, he was a Senior Editor at Pocket Books, a division of Simon & Schuster, where he worked with, among others,
New York Times bestselling author Matthew Reilly.

Alex C. Telander: When did you know you wanted to become an editor?

Kevin Smith: I started out in publishing in an administrative capacity–assistant to the managing editor of Dell Publishing.  Whereas most managing editors don’t get involved in the editing process, I was fortunate that my boss acquired and edited movie and tv tie-ins, which allowed me to get some editing experience. I was eventually promoted to Managing Editor; my duties, however, were strictly administrative.  A couple of years later I was offered and accepted an editor’s position at Dell, working primarily with health, reference, and crosswords books.

Alex: How did you get started in publishing?

Kevin: Shortly after graduating college, I became friends with the managing editor of Dell Publishing.  This was in the early ’80s.  He offered me a job as his assistant.  At the time, I was working full-time at a bookstore in the World Trade Center, toying with the idea of law school.  Reading Scott Turow’s first book, One L, where he detailed his first year at Harvard Law School, put a damper on that ambition.  Great book.  Scary ordeal, though! So, I accepted the job at Dell.  Adios, legal field!

Alex: What does an ordinary day look like for you?

Kevin: I try to get started by 9am.  I first check email.  I’ll then start with an editing project.  I find that I do my best analytical thinking early in the day.  I try to limit myself to six to eight hours of editing per day.  If I have a project that requires a first read, I’ll do that in the late afternoon or early evening. I’ll work till 8 or 9pm, with breaks for lunch and dinner.

Alex: How many projects are you usually working on at one time?

Kevin: It varies.  The projects are usually in different stages.  I don’t feel overwhelmed as long as I’m not doing a first edit on more than two books simultaneously, though I prefer one at a time.  I suppose, on average, I’ll have three or four things going at any one time.

For instance, right now I’ve just finished the third and final draft of a thriller; I’m in the middle of a second edit on a nonfiction work; I’m a day or two away from beginning a first edit on a men’s adventure thriller; and about a week away from starting what I hope is the final edit of a political thriller.

So, it’s likely that I’ll be juggling three projects next week, with another novel scheduled to head my way two weeks from now.

Alex: How long does it take you to edit the average book?

Kevin: If the author is accessible and not bogged down with other projects or issues, I can usually get to a final draft in six to eight weeks.  It can take longer, though, if considerable developmental editing is required.  That’s rare, though.

Alex: How does the editing process work: do you edit the manuscript and send it back to the author, or do it in parts, or meet and work with the author, or something else?

Kevin: Generally, I’ll read a manuscript a couple of times, then send my edits and comments electronically (in “track changes”) to the author.  Along with my edits, I’ll send a separate file with any larger or global issues I have with the manuscript. The author and I may have conversations about the changes, where we can “spitball” some further ideas.  I’ll subsequently read the author’s revised manuscript and most likely suggest some further enhancements.  A third iteration is then performed with the author and, if all is good, I’ll line edit the manuscript (again, electronically) and send it to the author for approval.  Once I get it back from the author, I give it a final read-through and send it to the publisher, where they’ll start the copyediting process.  For all intents and purposes, my involvement in the process is now finished.

However, if a manuscript is a crash project, meaning the publisher wants to accelerate the process in order to get it in the stores within six months or less, and the author has yet to complete the book, he and I may decide to work on the manuscript in stages–halves or thirds. The author will send me the first half, which I’ll edit while he completes the manuscript.  I’ll send him the edits on the first part when he sends me the second half. This method can be effective when dealing with nonfiction material, but I find it to be problematic with fiction.

Alex: With the Internet and ebooks, what are some of the changes you’ve seen in publishing as an editor in the last five years?

Kevin: Advances in technology have allowed publishers to work with tighter deadlines.  Crash projects seem to be more prevalent.  The editor and author can communicate with each other much more immediately, which compresses the time needed to go from first draft to final manuscript.

The internet has done a lot to help create “instant celebrities” which has increased the public’s demand for celebrity bios.  These books have much shorter shelf lives than the more traditional nonfiction genres. So, I guess you can say that there are a great many more books that come and go very quickly, with little or no backlist activity.

Alex: What are your thoughts on self-publishing?

Kevin: Self-publishing is a viable option for authors with some marketing savvy.  Know this, though:  Going it on your own really means on your own.    You need to be able to target the right media and websites with your ads and blasts, which you will be financing yourself.

However, I still believe if a writer has talent, the more traditional route is the way to go.  Despite the negatives associated with traditional publishing, the truth is they know how to sell their products.  They just concentrate on promoting a rather narrow list of their authors.

Alex: What publishing method do you recommend aspiring writers follow?

Kevin: I’m still a believer in the old-school method:  Take a class or do a workshop.  You can make valuable connections that way. Once you’re comfortable with your manuscript, get yourself an agent. Let him or her do the heavy lifting when dealing with publishers, while you concentrate on making your manuscript the best it can be.  If you need help and you can afford it, hire yourself a freelance editor to further refine your work.

Alex: Have you or are you interested in publishing your own work?

Kevin: I came to realize a long time ago that, while I may be a decent editor, I could never cut it as a writer.  (Those who can, do.  Those who can’t, teach.)

Alex: What do you like to do in your spare time?

Kevin: I read different genres to stay in touch with market trends.  I also work out a lot.  Believe it or not, some of my best ideas have occurred to me while in the middle of a run.

Alex: Where do you see publishing ten years from now?

Kevin: As time goes by, traditional outlets will be less important. With an increase in eBooks, there will be even less brick and mortar stores ten years from now. Even less in twenty-five years, when younger generations that have grown up with the eBook revolution have become the vast majority of the market. Old geezers like me may read eBooks right now, but we still prefer holding a physical book in our hands.

Faces of Publishing: Paula Guran, Prime Books

Paula Guran

Prime Books

Paula Guran is senior editor for Prime Books. She edited the Juno fantasy imprint for six years from its small press inception through its incarnation as an imprint of Simon & Schuster’s Pocket Books. Guran is the editor of the annual Year’s Best Dark Fantasy and Horror series of anthologies and editor of numerous other anthologies including Best New Paranormal Romance, Zombies: The Recent Dead, Vampires: The Recent Undead, Halloween, New Cthulhu: The Recent Weird, Brave New Love, and Witches: Wicked Wild & Wonderful. In an earlier life, she produced the pioneering weekly email newsletter DarkEcho (winning two Bram Stoker Awards, an International Horror Guild Award Award, and a World Fantasy Award nomination) and edited Horror Garage magazine (earning another IHG Award and a second World Fantasy nomination). Guran has contributed reviews, interviews, and articles to numerous professional publications and edited/produced for OMNI Online and Universal Studios HorrorOnline. She reviewed regularly for Publishers Weekly for over a decade, was review editor for Fantasy, a columnist for Cemetery Dance, and a consulting editor for CFQ (Cinemafantastique). She also served as nonfiction editor for Weird Tales. Guran’s also done a great deal of other various and sundry work in speculative fiction including editing magazines, agenting, publicity, teaching, and publishing. She lives in Akron, Ohio.

Paula Guran

Alex C. Telander: When did you know you wanted to become an editor?

Paula Guran: I pretended to edit a little newspaper when I was just a kid, so I guess that was the first time I thought about it. Then I became the editor of the school newspaper in junior high and continued to edit throughout high school. Maybe if some people are natural writers, there are natural editors? I was burned out on journalism and writing in general by college. In college I discovered directing and technical theatre—scene design, lighting, that sort of thing – so that became my creative outlet and my first career. I didn’t go near writing or editing for a very long time after that. Much later, after I got into genre, I knew that was my ultimate goal.

Alex: How did you get started in publishing?

That is a more difficult question to answer than you might think. I took a unique path. You may not want to go into this except to say: “Nontraditionally.” If you really want to know…as long as it is, this is the condensed version: I mentioned my first career. My second career was being a mom and, eventually, a volunteer education activist. I continued being a mom, but started embracing the weirder part of myself again too. Around 1994, after I got online, I discovered dark fiction. I’d never heard of or read any of these great authors and became sort of an evangelist. I fell into running an online writers workshop with weekly topical chats and interviews and started a weekly email newsletter—which were all new ideas back then. I somehow created this niche for myself with DarkEcho, a newsletter and, eventually, a website. I began writing and reviewing professionally. Most notably, working for OMNI Online, Publishers Weekly, and Universal Studios HorrorOnline. I became John Shirley’s agent on a dare. Someone from the comics industry approached me about editing a zine. We did one issue and the project collapsed. I renamed the zine and got a couple of issues out on my own, but print fiction zines were already dying. tapped me to edit fiction for a while. I got a deal to do an anthology of dark literary erotica. The publisher quit publishing. A small press picked it up, published it, and it got quite a bit of acclaim. The publisher disappeared owing money. Meanwhile I wound up administering a horror award. Someone who published a music zine approached me to edit another print zine that combined music and horror. Then a new publishing company started before the dotcom bubble burst that hired me; I wound up doing a variety of publishing related jobs with them. But that project was over in less than a year. Meanwhile I helped another person start an innovative (for its day) online PDF magazine and acquired and ghost-edited the fiction. The publisher disappeared, owing money. Around January of 2002 I think I found myself with nothing really substantially to say I “did” other than doing a lot of small things: being a one-author agent, an award administrator, freelance reviewer and nonfiction writer/contributing editor. And a mom. I started teaching online. Being a freelancer and award administrator meant I got a lot of free books. So I was able to continue my education in science fiction, fantasy, and horror. I was also very lucky to be able to communicate with readers, writers, editors, agents, publishers, and others and learn from them. I also tried a little publishing with print-on-demand. Picked up more skills. An acquaintance, Sean Wallace, sold his publishing company, Prime Books, to Wildside Press. Sean took Prime into national trade distribution and they were looking for another imprint. Juno Books was born in 2006 with me editing the line. Juno became a mass-market imprint of Pocket Books with me attached as editor in January 2009. Mass market as a whole started to decline about a year later. Pocket Juno is still active (I’m editing a title for them soon), but it was no longer a full time job. By that time Sean was back on his own with Prime and needing an editor…and here I am.

Alex: What does an ordinary day look like for you?

I work from home, so the commute is easy. If I think a day is going to be ordinary, it will usually turn out not so ordinary. Small crises arise via email most any day. I do a lot of email. If I am on the first edit of a book, I tend to concentrate fairly intently on the project until done so my train of thought is not derailed. Otherwise it may be contracts, submissions, correcting proofs, working with the art director, or on promotional copy, or a hundred other things. With an independent press I’m involved in almost all facets of publishing a book—many of which the average reader may not even know about.

Alex: How many projects are you usually working on at one time?

Usually working (with the author) on at least one novel and any number of anthologies, plus acquiring ahead for Prime. I’m looking for stories for probably six anthologies at any time and also always looking for new ideas. One story can inspire an entire theme. I’m also constantly looking for stories for each “year’s best” and keeping an eye out for new talent and trends in general.

Alex: How long does it take you to edit the average book?

There are no average books. Some take longer than others.

Alex: How does the editing process work: do you edit the manuscript and send it back to the author, or do it in parts, or meet and work with the author, or something else?

I do a complete edit of the entire manuscript, and then send it back to the author. We may have some points to discuss. The writer then executes changes. I may have more input or ask for other changes and clarifications—or not—at that point. Sometimes there are other matters to discuss a copyeditor might bring up or I might spot at that point. Since I’m in Akron, Ohio, I do everything by email. I do talk on the phone with some authors if they hit a place and they want some feedback. But of all the authors I’ve worked with, only two have lived close enough for us to get together and work in person.

Alex: With the Internet and ebooks, what are some of the changes you’ve seen in publishing as an editor in the last five years?

Publishing is always changing, but people tend to forget that—or never learned it. The basics are still the same. (1) The best way to sell a book is for readers to recommend it to other readers. Now we have the Internet supplying new ways for those recommendations to spread. (2) In order to sell a book it has to be easily available in a readable, portable format. That’s truer today than ever. You can find any physical book you want online and have it delivered to your doorstep or click and download an ebook.

So, for readers anyway, everything has changed and nothing has changed.

Alex: What are your thoughts on self-publishing?

Authors may have to turn more and more to self-publishing. It is not a guaranteed route to success by any means, and a great deal of time and effort that has nothing to do with writing is involved. News stories seldom take into account how many writers make the attempt and do not sell many books. Luck, talent, hard work, and a lot of effort pay off for some digital self-published authors — but the same is just as true for the traditionally published.

Still, it’s not as bad as when print-on-demand started and there were companies taking advantage of wannabe authors. There was a lot of misrepresentation. If you wanted to self-publish, that was fine—as long as you had a realistic expectation of the outcome. Too many naive people were expecting to find financial success self-publishing. Few ever broke even.

Alex: What publishing method do you recommend aspiring writers follow?

Overall, I think fewer people should aspire to be writers. It is not a glamorous profession, few people make much at it, and it is hard work. I sincerely don’t understand why so many people want to be authors.

Ten, twelve years ago I would have warned them off self-publishing for the reasons mentioned above. There was also a stigma attached. In fiction, at least, it was not a good way to get started.

Now, I’m not sure—especially with self-publishing either online or in ebook form. You may have as much of a chance as with traditional publishing. At least you are paid SOMETHING if you are traditionally published, but if you don’t sell enough books the first time out, your career can be DOA before it ever starts. Writers are also expected to devote time, money, and effort to promote themselves. And despite all, they might still be told,  “Sorry, your numbers are too low. Bye!”

Alex: Have you or are you interested in publishing your own work?

If you mean fiction, no. I don’t write fiction. I dabbled enough to know I haven’t the imagination for it.

Alex: What do you like to do in your spare time?

I sleep.

Alex: Where do you see publishing ten years from now?

Publishing is a business. I make my living at it.  So, if I knew, I wouldn’t tell you. I’d use the knowledge to help some talented authors and deserving publishers—and me—prosper. But, in general, publishing will still be providing stories and information for readers a decade from now. It may be larger or smaller or segmented or go through yet another revolution. People are still going to read. They are still going to want books in one format or another.

Faces of Publishing: Brady McReynolds, Ace/Roc (June, 2012)

Brady McReynolds

Brady McReynolds grew up near Atlanta, GA and Asheville, NC, and he is the son of two high school teachers. Brady grew up reading and before long enrolled at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. In 2010, he joined Penguin’s Ace/Roc publicity department and has been working there ever since!

Michael Homler

Alex C. Telander: How did you first get started in publishing?

Brady McReynolds: Well my first gig in publishing was as an intern at Algonquin Books in Chapel Hill, NC. During my junior year at the University of North Carolina I knew that I should start looking for opportunities outside of academics and a friend who knew of my love of books recommended I start there. It was only a couple of hours a week (and consisted mostly of filing and mailing) but I thought it was fascinating to be a part of the book creation process.

Alex: Did you always want to work in publicity?

Brady: Well since I started working in publishing all I’ve ever known is the publicity side of things. It wasn’t until I landed my current job with Penguin that I began to see the other types of work (editing, marketing, agent-ing [?]) that people do. However, now that I am doing publicity there isn’t any other job I’d want to do. I really enjoy working with authors to promote their books once the editorial and promotion processes are finished.

Alex: Who are some of your favorite authors you’ve gotten meet and/or work with?

Brady: Well my auto-generated reply as a publicist is to say that “all my authors are my favorites!” but I feel like it wouldn’t make for interesting or enlightening reading. As someone who grew up reading science-fiction and fantasy, I’ve now had the privilege of working with a lot of the genre’s great contemporary authors. Charles Stross, Harry Turtledove, and Jim Butcher immediately come to mind. I also had a blast at last year’s New York Comic-Con working side by side with Taylor Anderson, Jack Campbell, and Myke Cole (all great guys) whose books I can’t recommend often enough.

Alex: Author book tours: are they lots of fun, lots of hard work, or a combination of the two?

Brady: Definitely a combination of the two. There are so many details to arrange (and triple check) that go into putting together an author tour that it can be exhausting. However when you go to a well attended event or convention (or hear from an author that they had a great time interacting with their fans) it always makes the effort worthwhile.

Alex: Any enlightening stories you’d like to share about a particular author or author tour?

Brady: Last year I did a lot of coordinating for San Diego Comic-Con and out of the blue I get an email from none other than George R.R. Martin. I am a big fan of his Song of Ice and Fire series and for the rest of that day I could not stop smiling.

Alex: What does an ordinary day entail for you?

Brady: Email, email, email! All day long I am glued to my Outlook inbox and it is how I conduct the majority of my business. Every morning I read and reply to messages that came in overnight and it’s a nice way to ease into the workday. Then (depending on where I am in the publicity cycle) I try to write my pitches, galleys letters, and press releases for my upcoming books. That way by the afternoon I have all the necessary materials to my many book mailings. My days don’t always follow that exact order but I find that having a routine (and a rigidly ordered calendar!) helps to keep me organized when I am in the process of working on fifty to seventy titles, each with its own publicity plan, all coming out at different times ranging from next week to six months from now.

Alex: What’s your favorite part of the job?

Brady: By far and away, my favorite (and I think the coolest) part of being a publicity assistant is talking to and working with authors. I can’t think of many other professions where one gets to interact daily with artists to help make them more famous!

Alex: Do you get lots of free books as a publicist?

Brady: Definitely! I think last year I had to buy exactly one book, though I’ve found that I have to be careful with the free books that I decide take home because I can already see my apartment slowly transforming into a library. My family likes to poke fun at me every Christmas because they all know that they are going to be getting at least one book from me as a present.

Alex: Like anyone who works at a bookstore, it’s said that everyone working in publishing is an aspiring writer; is this true for you?

Brady: Well I suppose that might make me an exception then. I have always loved reading and I think that installed a permanent sense of awe in me. I can’t help but look up to any authors who have managed to write a book (published or not) and it just isn’t something I feel like I’m personally capable of doing.

Alex: What do you think about ebooks?

Brady: Well e-books are here and they are here to stay, and I think that they are only going to become more important as they continue making up a larger portion of overall book sales. I believe that e-books are one facet of an overall trend towards digitization. People want what they want in one place, to be able to carry it with them, and to have access to it at any time; whether it is their friends, the news, or The Help.

From my day-to-day work as someone in publicity, I think e-books are great. In the past if a book was only released in the US then anyone living abroad would be up a creek if they were looking for the next Harry Dresden novel. Nowadays, if you have access to the internet there is nothing you can’t find, including lots of Penguin titles!

Alex: How long do you think printed books will last, or will they never disappear?

Brady: Well I’ve have yet to read a book digitally and I don’t own an e-reader or an iPad. Do I want one? Perhaps. But for me there is an emotional tactility to holding a book in my hands, turning its pages, and then proudly displaying it on my bookshelf once I’ve finished the story. And I don’t know if there is a way to derive that same satisfaction with an e-book (perhaps some of BookBanter’s commenters will disagree and I look forward to hearing their perspectives both as a publicist and as an avid reader).

I do know that whenever I visit someone’s house for the first time, I never fail to check out what books they have laying around (or the lack thereof). So my prediction is that, as long as there are people like myself out there, who form emotional connections with books-as-objects, then there will always be a market for the good ‘ole fashioned printed book.

Alex: For someone interested in working in publishing, what’s the best way to get started?

Brady: I might not be the best person to ask for advice on this subject because in many ways I feel like I serendipitously fell into my position, but I also believe that there isn’t a single best way to get started other than having a love of books. That sounds obvious but more than anything else you need to like what you do.

For those who are still in school, I would recommend that they start a book review blog and update it regularly. They are free and easy to create and if you are already reading (and talking about what you just read) then why not make your opinions public? The phrase “author blog tour” didn’t exist five years ago but it is certainly a part of the industry’s lexicon now.

I also had a good experience with my internship at Algonquin Books and would encourage anyone, who can afford to work for free, to apply for one. They are great for your résumé, help you learn the necessary skills, and will let you make contacts that can help you get your foot in the door. That was certainly what happened for me!

Alex: What do you like to read?

Brady: In addition to science fiction/fantasy, I also like non-fiction history books (usually about war) and I enjoy reading books about science-fact (especially those about contemporary physics and cosmology). If you haven’t read The Dancing Wu Li Masters I would recommend that you give it a try!

Alex: Who’s your favorite author?

Brady: So again my publicity auto-response would be to say that “all of my authors are my favorite author.” To answer truthfully (and I can say this because he doesn’t write for Penguin) my favorite book was written by Orson Scott Card. I read his collection of short stories, called Maps in a Mirror, during my “formative years” and it continues to affect me in different ways each time I decide to re-read it.

Alex: What do you like to do in your spare time?

Brady: Well to pass the time I play rugby in a city-wide league, I occasionally compete in air-guitar competitions (which are exactly as fun and ridiculous as they sound), and I compulsively watch every UNC basketball game. Go Tarheels!

Faces of Publishing: Michelle Brower, Folio Literary Management (May, 2012)

Michelle Brower

Michelle Brower

From Michelle’s Profile page: “I began my career in publishing in 2004 while studying for my Master’s degree in English Literature at New York University, and have been hooked ever since. During that time, I assisted the agents Wendy Sherman and Joelle Delbourgo, and found myself in love with the process of discovering new writers and helping existing writers further their careers. After graduating, I became an agent with Wendy Sherman Associates, and there began representing books in many different areas of fiction and non-fiction. My list includes the authors Rebecca Rasmussen, Tara Conklin, Cassie Alexander, S.G. Browne, Michele Young-Stone, and Julia Wertz just to name a few, and it is equally split between fiction and non-fiction.”

Folio Logo

Alex C. Telander: What was it that made you decide to become an agent, and when did you know?

Michelle Brower: An agent came to my college to speak, and I was totally amazed- you can get paid to read books and talk to people all the time?  I didn’t know for sure that was what I wanted to do, but I got an internship and that sealed the deal.

Alex: How did you become an agent?

Michelle: Oddly enough, I answered an ad on Craigslist for a part-time internship.  Once I started, I didn’t want to stop, and worked my way up to agent within that company.

Alex: What does an ordinary day look like for you?

Michelle: I usually start in the morning answering emails from the night before and returning calls.  I usually have at least a few meetings or phonecalls scheduled every day, and I have lunch with an editor 2 or 3 times a week (sometimes more!).  I often have drinks with an editor after work- really, the only time I have to read or edit happens after work or on the weekends.

Alex: What’s your favorite part about being an agent?

Michelle: The thrill of discovery- nothing beats reading something you love and then helping to get it published.

Alex: What do you not like so much about being an agent?

Michelle: The work is absolutely endless- I never feel caught up.  But honestly, it’s hard to find something to complain about.

Alex: How many clients do you have?  Is this your ideal number, or are you always looking for new authors?

Michelle: I have about 30 authors, but some are more active than others.  I am always looking for new clients, because I love working with good people who have good books, and publishing is a cycle.  Sometimes I’m so busy I couldn’t imagine taking someone new on, and other times I am just hungry to get a new project to work on.

Alex: What are your thoughts on ebooks and the future of publishing?

Michelle: E-books are a big part of the publishing landscape, there’s no doubt about it; since I mostly work with content, to me it’s just another way to read.  Personally, I split my time between physical books and e-books about 50/50.

Alex: What’s your opinion on self-publishing?

Michelle: I think self-publishing is a tricky business; lots of people leap in without a plan, and lots of people know exactly what to do to connect to their audience.  I applaud those who know who their audience is and how they will reach them, and caution those who self-publish just because they’ve been rejected.  Just remember, when you self-publish, you have to learn to be a publisher, not just a writer.

Alex: What’s the best advice you can offer writers looking to get published?

Michelle: Honestly, your book is the key.  If you have a good book, someone will want to publish it.  I so often hear people talking about publishing as if that was their end goal; the end goal should be to write something you are extremely proud of and be able to share it with others.  Also, your first draft is *never* your final draft, so learn to love revising.

Alex: Do you ever have time to read for fun, and if so, what do you like to read?

Michelle: I do!  I make time, even if it means falling behind on my slush, because it’s important to stay enchanted in this business.  There’s nothing I love more than reading a book that I love and that I have absolutely no stake in.  I usually read literary fiction, although I can be easily persuaded to read anything in the crime, horror, or fantasy genres.

Alex: What do you like to do in your spare time?

Michelle: Do you like cookies?  Because I bake them.  And cupcakes, and sometimes fudge.  I dare anyone to give me an excuse to bake a cake.  I also obsessively watch multiple seasons of TV shows (Breaking Bad, anyone?) and travel whenever I can.

Alex: Are you accepting queries right now?  How should writers query you?

Michelle: I am- writers should take a look at, check that I handle their type of book, and send me a query via the query form under my profile with 10 pages in the body.  I do sometimes close myself to queries in order to catch up, but I always will open back up again; just keep an eye on the website for up-to-date information.