Monday, August 20, 2007

Andy Meisenheimer--Part I

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.


D. Gudger said...

Thanks so much for this interview. Andy provides insight into the puzzling world of publishing. I love that he's looking for great Christian fiction that will compete with secular. Until I started writing reviews of Christian fiction, I lurked in the local public library and read secular authors. I'd become disillusioned by Christian fiction b/c the stories and the writing didn't have much anchor in real life. That trend is changing.

Interesting, his thoughts on book placement. I'm still not sure what I think. I see both sides, but as a gen-Xer, I think I'd like to see some of the best of Christian fiction on the shelves next to ABA. Secular folks aren't gonna browse "inspirational" sections. For now, they miss out on some of the best writing out there and the message of Christ.

I guess it boils down to who we see as our intended audience.

Looking forward to part 2.

C.J. Darlington said...

Yeah, me two on looking forward to part 2. Thanks for sharing, Andy, and for posting, Brandilyn.

I found it refreshing, actually, to hear someone say they didn't mind Christian fiction being delegated to its own particular space. I've never had a problem with it either. I like knowing what I'm going to get when I buy a novel, and when the Christian fiction is all together it helps me as a consumer.

relevantgirl said...

Great interview, Brandilyn, and hello to Andy in cyberspace!

I love that Christian fiction is evolving, morphing, growing, changing. And I'm thankful I get to be a part of it.

I don't know about the shelving thing either. I'd love to be mainstreamed, but then I might just get lost. However, aren't the Mitford books in the ABA section?

Tina said...

I think Mary is right about the Mitford series and I've noticed Christy is also in the mainstream section.

The oddity to me is that Christian Fiction is so far away from the fiction section where I usually look for books to read. Even being a Christian, I admit I would like to see a Christian Fiction section in the fiction area. I would even be for books with heavy crossover appeal, like DeMuth or Samson, to be shelved in the mainstream so that Xer Christians and seekers might find them there.

It isn't a tragedy to have fiction in the religious section, but the religious section is in the Non-fiction section of the store. Could CF be missing a potential audience that could be hearing about Jesus?

Great interview. I look forward to part II.

Merrie Destefano said...

Thanks for the great interview, Brandilyn!

Andy, I’m looking forward to seeing what books you acquire in the next couple of years and I can’t wait to read “My Name is Russell Fink.” I hope we all see more science fiction and fantasy on the CBA shelves soon.

Sharon Lavy said...

I found this interesting. One of my favorite authors is Iris Johansen. I stayed up late last night reading your posts from 2005, your journey to publishing. I think I would love your books. And they should sit on the shelf with Iris Johansen's, they really should.

Gina said...

Andy, glad you'll be at ACFW again this year. Anyone that acquires Mike Snyder is obviously brilliant. Can't wait for Mike's book!