As an aspiring writer myself, I have always wanted to know what it is that publishers are really looking for. A chance to get a glimpse inside their literary haven of a mind, to know what they like, both in a project and an author. The chance for a candid, open, and honest conversation about what it is really like to work in such a diverse and ever changing industry.
Well, recently my editor here at Fangirlish got the opportunity to do just that, and I have the lucky honor of bridging the gap for all of us wanna-be-writers between said publisher and those of us hunkered over our laptops. And to make matters even more exciting, said publisher is Erin Stein of Imprint.
Feel free to squee. I did.
Stein is publishing personified, coming to Imprint after working with HarperCollins, TokyoPop and Little, Brown. She worked on the Twilight Franchise with the media-tie in books, as well as was the acquiring editor of the popular Monster High. Her hands on, personable practice and style has gained her attention in the industry, as well as a strong backing of authors. One of who (which we feature below) followed Stein when she moved from Little, Brown when asked to create Imprint from the ground up.
But before we move on to the interview, lets talk Imprint. An imprint of top five publishing house MacMillan, Imprint is the young adult and children’s fiction section of the group. With works for ages 0-18, they look to develop quality, original content for young adults and children, giving them fiction works that fit their lives and tastes. Their motto? Make your mark.
One of their most popular titles is The Lovely Reckless, by the incomparable Kami Garcia. From the New York Times #1 Bestselling author of the Beautiful Creatures series, this book gives a look at loss, love, and redemption that will keep you reading well past the ‘just one more chapter’ mark. Bringing a broken, tortured girl out of the plush comforts of high class society and into the world of public school and street racing, Garcia creates a relatable character in Frankie. Her motto is nothing matters, and this is what she plans to live by. Of course, this plan is jeopardized when charismatic Marco refuses to be ignored, leaving them both changed more than they bargained for.
Let’s talk to the head of Imprint about her love of publishing, how to get her attention, and what she thinks of all this Wattpad talk….
What do you love about publishing?
I love books! I love reading! I read so much as a kid and there was nothing better than feeling like you went to another world when you were inside a really good book. I loved art when I was younger also, and was always drawing, but I was better with words. I still have 20 books I wrote and illustrated in elementary school (I had an awesome teacher!) It was very natural for me to end up in publishing. I studied poetry and journalism in college, among other things, and went from working in magazines to making books.
With book publishing, the variety of the work you’re doing is endless and so are the challenges. The business changes constantly. I thrive on that. Doing the same thing over and over is boring!
If you see potential in a project how much are you willing to work to make it publishable?
You have to evaluate if there is a certain level of skill already evident on the page. Sometimes I will ask for a revision, even a partial revision, before I acquire a manuscript because I want to make sure someone is capable. That said, I’m willing to put a lot of work into a rough manuscript if it has something special. If I get sucked in and can’t put it down, if the characters are already coming alive on the page, then I’m inclined to take it on.
As an editor, I pretty much always feel there is something to be done before it’s published, to make it the best it can be. That’s actually the fun part! But it’s important to note that practically no one’s work comes in final draft form, even very accomplished authors. There’s always some work to be done—because an author can’t work in a vacuum. After they’ve lived in it too long they can’t see the forest for the trees, and that’s what an editor is for!
Good work ethic, and a story that comes from a genuine place. I look for authors and illustrators who are open to collaboration. An author may even reject most of what I throw at them, but without a dialogue it’s not going to work. Someone who is very ego-driven or too precious about her/his work is a turn-off for me. That doesn’t mean an author can’t have a clear vision for the book—but they have to let me help them realize that vision.
What made you want to start your imprint?
The excitement of building something from scratch, and the freedom to fill it with books I love. I like the business side of it, but I also love the creative playground.
Does one need an agent to be published?
No, you don’t. I’ve acquired books directly from authors. However, it can make it easier if you don’t have personal connections in the industry. Agents can be valuable advocates for authors, helping you navigate the business and contracts, and they also know which editors may be interested in your book. But, as with anything, do your homework. Your agent will be representing you in business dealings and you want to be represented well.
What made you choose The Lovely Reckless as your first YA project?
Kami Garcia! I love working with Kami, and I was thrilled I had the chance to sign her up for Imprint. I knew she had this contemporary romance idea partially inspired by her own high school experience and I really wanted to read it.
The Lovely Reckless is one of those books you can’t put down. It gives you the butterflies in your stomach, but also has flawed three-dimensional characters with a lot more than just romance going on in their lives. Plus, street racing! It was a requirement for me that it have a scene where the main character gets to drive in a race herself. J Kami does so much research to get the details right. We talked a lot about manual transmissions working on this book!
I think she outdid herself and I can’t wait for everyone to read her next one, too—it’s another contemporary set in the south. As Beautiful Creatures fans know, Kami knows her way around a small southern town.
Kami and I work really well together, but I’m also a big fan—I love to read her work. Pretty much every young adult novel I acquire is something I’m a big fan of; that I want to literally put in people’s hands. I fall in love with manuscripts—and I think most editors do. We are authors’ #1 fans.
What fandoms do you love? Why do you love them? What drew you to publishing books about the X-Files?
My all-time top three fandoms are Wonder Woman, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and The X-Files. I have a thing for strong women, clever dialogue and conspiracies. With The X-Files, it was an obsession from day one. I lived, breathed, and dreamed it for years. Fox Mulder and Dana Scully are real people to me.
So to now help craft their origin stories with Kami Garcia and Jonathan Maberry is actually a dream come true. I can’t wait for everyone to read the young adult thrillers Agent of Chaos and Devil’s Advocate in January! You don’t have to be a fan already—they are both solid coming-of-age stories and creepy thrillers. But if you are a fan, we’ve got a lot in there for you. Editing these two novels about teenaged Mulder and Scully send me down a rabbit hole this year back into my own fandom. I loaded the books up with lots of easter eggs.
What are your thoughts of agents and publishers scouting from sites like Wattpad?
I do think it’s a new place to find talent—and I’m open to it. Stories can be found anywhere and I find books in sorts of interesting places. I do think reading on Wattpad is a different experience from buying a book in the bookstore, so it’s interesting to watch authors transition from one arena to the other.
What is your view on authors who started on Wattpad?
I don’t think I have any preconceived view… Writing is a skill that you need to develop and practice, and so is story structure. Practice is the important part. Wattpad seems like one great way to do that. I think if I had something like it when I was younger I would definitely have been on there, putting up my writing. I also support anything that encourages more people to read, and to read voraciously.
What is more important…having a lot of twists or a brilliant writing style?
Twists are great, but only if they work. You have to earn them in the story—meaning, you have to get the reader invested enough in the world and the character to believe that twist when it comes. It needs to be more than just a gimmick. That’s what the craft of storytelling is all about. I think plotting and style need to go hand in hand. Authors tend to be stronger in one or the other, but the goal is to be skilled at both!
Endless thanks to Erin Stein at Imprint for taking the time to chat with us, and for giving us such an insight into the publishing world. We cant wait to see what else is to come from Imprint in the future!