Sunday, July 22, 2007

Interview with Barbara Moore, Editor

Barbara Moore is an acquiring editor at Llewellyn Worldwide/Midnight Ink. She's also my editor and a woman of many insights and interests. Enjoy my chat with Barbara.

1. How did you start out in the publishing business? How long have you been an editor?

While in college I worked for the campus literary magazine. Later, I worked for the university press’s state historical journal. So most of my experience was academic publishing. When I came to Minnesota, there were no academic publishing jobs available, so I came to Llewellyn to see what trade publishing was like. I’ve been editing or working in publishing for almost 15 years.

2. As an acquiring editor at Midnight Ink, what exactly are your duties?

Acquiring includes such a variety of tasks. First and foremost is to acquire manuscripts. I read proposals and manuscripts with an eye toward publishable and profitable work. If something strikes me as a good choice, I present it to our editorial board. As a committee, we make publishing decisions. If a manuscript needs developmental editing, I work with the author on that. In addition to that primary duty, I negotiate contracts and give input regarding cover design, back cover copy, and catalog copy. I am part of the committee that reviews book performance, so analyzing data and drawing conclusions is an important function.

3. Once you acquire a book, how involved or hands-on are you with the individual projects/authors?

That a good question. Technically, it is the same involvement for all books, but there is a lot more involvement with some authors. That is clear as mud, isn’t it? For all books, I am the author’s primary contact from contracting, through any developmental editing, and cover design. After that, authors work with their production editor. Production editors do the hard work of polishing and strengthening an authors voice and story. They not only make sure every word is perfect but also make sure everything is consistent and timelines make sense. Once the book is produced, authors work mostly with their publicist. Most of my authors write series, so I am constantly working with them on their next book.

4. I know you have written a couple of books on Tarot cards, including the recently released Mystic Faeries Tarot. How did you get involved in Tarot? What made you want to write books about it?

In college, my roommate had a deck that she brought out at a party. I started playing with it, doing readings even though I’d never done it before, and got intrigued. I was a history major, so the historical aspect appealed to me. Also, at that time interdisciplinary studies, chaos theory, and Jungian psychology were all the rage, and Tarot really pulled all those areas together in one really neat deck of cards.

I never intended to write about Tarot until working at Llewellyn. I was the acquiring editor for Tarot before working on Midnight Ink. A discussion about a marketing piece somehow evolved into the committee asking me to write What Tarot Can Do for You. Later, we needed a companion book for The Gilded Tarot, so I agreed to do that. Finally, with The Mystic Faerie Tarot, I found this great artist and suggested pairing her up with some of our excellent Tarot authors, but a few people on the committee thought I’d be better suited. I wasn’t so sure, but now I’m glad it happened because it was such a cool experience.

It’s not so much that I’m compelled to write about Tarot. I don’t think I’m really writer in the sense of being called to write. I think I’m a competent writer. The reason I care about writing Tarot books is because I want them to be simple, clear, easy, non-threatening, and useful for beginners. If I have a strength, I think that’s it.

5. The artwork on Mystic Faeries Tarot cards is very beautiful and I’ve noticed that artwork on many Tarot sets is quite detailed. Do you provide the words first and the artist follows with artwork or do you collaborate on each card, or work entirely separate and then come together? Do you as the text author ever ask for the artwork to be revised?

Partnerships between authors and artists take many forms. In this case, I thought I was going to be directing Linda (Linda Ravenscroft) . After I gave her some initial information, she actually went off on her own and learned about Tarot. She interpreted the cards in her fashion. In The Gilded Tarot, I did ask for a revision or two. In The Mystic Faerie Tarot, I asked for only one minor change.

Going back to the previous question, I don’t think I’m creative in that way, like a writer or an artist. But I can take a deck of cards, find its particular voice, and express it in a way that the most people possible can understand.

Some of my friends and colleagues are far more creative and write out very detailed descriptions and work very closely with the artist. For example, if I may plug one of my very favorite people in the world, Mark McElroy has done that with The Bright Idea Deck and the recently released
Tarot of the Elves.

6. Have you ever considered writing a mystery novel involving Tarot? It seems it might be a natural theme for a mystery series.

Nope. Not me. My big adventure in fiction was the faerie tales for the Minor Arcana in The Mystic Faerie Tarot. Someone should, though.

7. As an acquiring editor, what do you look for in submissions? What pushes your buttons to champion a particular work?

There are lots of great writers out there. There are tons of fabulous submissions. There are so many books that should be published. So how do I pick? Well, first, let’s just assume the basics…weed out all the crazy, sloppy, inappropriate, and just plain bad stuff. I think most writers today know all the basics about query letters and proposals. So let’s pretend we’re faced with a big pile of great stuff that follows all the normal industry protocols. How do I decide what to read? I can read one page and know if I definitely don’t want to read more. Generally, this doesn’t mean something is “wrong” with it. It just means the writing and I aren’t clicking.

It is sort of like dating. You know pretty quickly whether you want to get to know someone or not. If I were single I would totally do the speed dating thing. Going through my slush pile is like speed dating.

After establishing the initial click but before investing too much time, I try to get a big picture of the whole package. Are there any interesting hooks? How does the book stand out from the competition? What does the author bring to the party in terms of platform, networking, promotional opportunities?

So, if there is some great chemistry and a good foundation for success, I keep reading. That’s a good sign. Usually (but not always), if I get through the first 100 pages, I know I’ll at least be presenting it.

8. Are there times when the writing is not up to par but the plot and characters so compelling that you are willing to work with an author to bring the book to publication?

Nope. There is so much great writing available, that trying to coach an author in style wouldn’t be worth it for us. Now, if an author has great style and a pretty solid manuscript, I will work on character development or plot issues. In my experience, those have been a lot easier to polish than general writing style.

9. What are the biggest mistakes an author makes when submitting a manuscript?

Not submitting appropriate materials. I get a fair number of romance novels and literary novels.

Not having a sparkling query letter. A really dull query letter is a very bad thing.

When asked “what is this manuscript like” there are two very wrong answers:
1. There are no other books like this on the market. To an editor that means “there are no other books like this on the market for a reason.”
2. It’s the next _______________ (Harry Potter, The Da Vinci Code, The Secret, etc.)

10. Once published, how much publicity/marketing does Midnight Ink expect its authors to do on their own?

A lot. We see a strong connection between author promotion and success. This isn’t a written in stone equation for success. If it were, everyone would do it. There are some books that have lots of promotion but don’t do well. But the percentage of success is higher with authors who promote.

11. What, if any, are the current trends in mysteries? How much do you and Midnight follow trends when deciding upon novels? How much do you look for originality or a new voice?

Ah, trends. That is so hard to determine. I’m trying to guess two years in advance what will be popular. But yes, we follow trends. We know what other publishers are doing. We analyze what is working for us. We see trends in the slush pile. When we see trends in what is working for us, we work from that success. When we see industry wide trends, we look more closely and determine if it something we need to react to.

I tend to be attracted to new voices more than anything. I love writing with personality and style. I love it when I can see or hear a sentence and say, “oh, that sounds like __________.”

12. It seems that Midnight Ink is growing very fast and receiving recognition for the quality of its books. Do you expect it to expand eventually to become a major voice in the publishing/mystery community?

Of course! But before we do that, I’d like to see us take a little break, stabilize, and get a really clear sense of who we are before taking on another big growth spurt. I’ve just spent the last three years launching this line; I need a break!

Thank you, Barbara!

You can learn more about Barbara and Mystic Faerie Tarot at these two websites:


Mark Terry said...

Nice interview.

Keith Raffel said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Keith Raffel said...

What I always admire about Barbara is her catholic tastes. Midnight Ink books run the gamut from cozy to hard-boiled and it's Barbara who's got the nose to pick out the ones readers will buy. Great interview.

Barbara said...

Thanks for the interview, Sue Ann! Too bad we couldn't have done the interview in person over a few drinks. Oh. Maybe it's a good thing that didn't happen :-)

Susan Goodwill said...

Great interview, SueAnn. And as a Tarot reader and deck collector myself, I'll be sure to pick up the Mystic Faeries Tarot.

Mark Terry said...

I suppose you could argue, to some extent, that John Sandford (John Camp) did write Tarot mysteries with his Kidd novels, which are named after Tarot cards and whose painter/computer hacker/thief hero also uses Tarot as a gaming exercise.

dianaojames said...

Sue Ann - Thanks to you and Barbara for taking the time to publish a very informative interview. Kudos!

Kate Thornton said...

Thanks so much for this great interview - I learned so much!

And Keith - "It's Barbara who's got the nose to pick..." I mean, really! I laughed out loud!

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