Today I'm pleased to offer Part I of an interview with Andy Meisenheimer, Acquisitions Editor at Zondervan. Andy's going to be at the ACFW conference again this year, which is great because he's a fun guy. And guess what, sci-fi and fantasy authors--he's a major fan.
So, Andy, tell me--what is the target market for the books you are acquiring? Exactly what kinds of books would they be? How are these books different from what Zondervan has already been acquiring? (That enough opening questions for you?)
Well, my target market varies. And the kind of book varies. And how different they are from previous Zondervan books…well, it varies. I acquire fiction and non-fiction titles, in different categories and genres; some targeted to Gen Xers, some not. I might seem like a jack of all trades and master of none, but actually this freedom allows me to play to my strengths—I acquire the books that I think I’ll be able to edit well. I acquire the genres within which I feel comfortable.
How many novels can you acquire each year?
I’ll probably fall around 7-10 novels a year. Non-fiction, maybe 4-6. I’m a stickler for editing my own acquisitions, so we’ll see what my real capacity is.
What are the most common reasons you turn down manuscripts?
Boredom. Honestly. Before I even get to the place where I say the writing is good or bad, I get bored. I’ll give each proposal a second chance by flipping to sample chapters or skimming for something interesting, to ease my conscience. There are writers who can write well but they don’t allow their voice or the tone of the book to inflect the proposal. A book proposal is a story; tell it well.
How ‘different’ is Zondervan allowing you to be in your acquisitions? That is, how is Z balancing the desire for ‘fresh’ material with the realities of selling the ‘tried and true’ in the marketplace?
Well, that remains to be seen, how different I’m allowed to be. In fiction, I’m acquiring based on the idea that arguably the majority of fiction that Christians read is actually from secular publishers. So, looking at ABA trends and genres, I’m hoping to directly compete with the ‘secular’ novels that Christians are reading. And I’m confident that’s going to happen. I’ve got Mike Snyder, who I think is just as enjoyable as Nick Hornby; Rob Stennett, who is the funniest guy I’ve ever read, ever; Noel Hynd, who is a bestselling author writing top-notch espionage thrillers for me; television writer/producer Coleman Luck, whose novels of the fantastic will redefine genres. And so on. Why read the secular alternatives when we’ve got fiction this good?
Zondervan balances me with the ‘tried and true’ by having other editors—those in charge—who acquire tried and true.
Speaking of Mike Snyder, isn't his novel about to release?
It’s still a ways off—March 08. But never too early to plug a book! My Name is Russell Fink will be my first acquisition to see the light of day, and I couldn’t be more proud. Editors are readers, too, and when a book makes you laugh and cry even when you’re adding semicolons and cutting dream sequences, you know you’ve got a winner. And Mike couldn’t have been more fun to work with.
I'm concerned about marketing to Gen Xers. How and where will the novels you acquire be marketed? I don't think many Xers or Nexters shop for fiction in Christian bookstores. Yet in secular stores like B&N, the Christian fiction is stuck in the ‘religious’ section, far from fiction. So how will you attract your target audience to your books?
~ Dark chocolate
~ Axe seems to work extremely well (if you believe the commercials)
~ I’ve coined the term “aloof marketing”: Read this book. Or not. Zondervan.
~ Dropping coupons from a Gospel Blimp.
~ I personally will be dressing up as Larry the Cucumber and hand-selling our novels at local Borders and B&N’s in an attempt to appeal to the Xer’s sense of irony
I’m glad that Christian fiction has its own separate section in Borders—or B&N. (I wonder if I could get Borders and B&N into a corporate sponsorship war to see which one I’ll use as my primary example.) I don’t understand why people want to be lost in the shuffle, competing against the New York big guns. Zondervan’s distinctive is that our books glorify Jesus Christ. Why wouldn’t I want Christians to know exactly where they can find our books? Xers and Nexters just need to be taught that there’s Christian fiction out there for them.
Part II--What Andy will be looking for at ACFW, his biggest frustration with Christian fiction, and more.