I took a bunch of your questions from the past few weeks and ran them past Andy Meisenheimer, fiction editor at Zondervan. Here’s what he had to say.
Question: What are some of your personal pet peeves in publishing? Could be in regards to proposals, plotlines, heroine’s eye color, the semi-colon, anything.
Andy says: Google me and it seems that’s all I’ve ever talked about. I’ll give you the sum up: proposals should be stories, well-told; semicolons are beautiful things; italics are a gift and a curse; eye color better mean something if I have to read about it; plot arises from character; beats are not meaningless movements—they are the actor acting; “said” is practical and invisible; withhold all but the essential; subjectivity is not always the culprit.
Question: Whose writing do you (personally and specifically) enjoy and why?
Andy says: John le Carre, for humanity in spy stories. Stephen King (the recent stuff), for tangible characters and transformed language. Orson Scott Card, for profound moral dilemmas and intricate characterization. Ray Bradbury, for being Ray Bradbury. Krakauer, Lawhead, Steinbeck.
Question: Does the current state of the economy effect acquisitions, the type of storylines they’re seeking, etc? Do people read more when money is tight??
Andy says: Never been in this situation before. We’ll see. I’m still reading. What are people who read going to do? Watch TV? Watch their stocks drop? Read the phone book?
Question: Could you possibly address what it means when someone says “Show, don’t tell.” I understand the concept, but I think there are a lot of people out there confused.
Andy says: Showing is letting the audience draw the conclusion. Eliciting emotion instead of prescribing it. Letting the audience put together the clues; presenting simply a sensory experience through the lenses of a character’s viewpoint. Passing no judgment, but allowing the characters to speak for themselves. There are confused people out there because it’s not a rule of grammar, it’s two storytelling techniques, and they are both valid in certain circumstances. Someone somewhere decided to confuse us all by saying that you should always show, never tell. And that’s not true. But it is true that showing is the more powerful—and the more risky—of the two. And that makes for a stronger reader experience, most of the time.
Question: Can you give us your thoughts about author branding? Is it necessary before one is published?
Andy says: I do not believe in explicit branding. Let’s say I branded myself Andy Meisenheimer, Editing for the World’s Best Writers. Would you believe me? Not until you read my writers. And even then you might not agree. That wouldn’t put a good taste in your mouth toward me and my writers. You’d say “oh it’s that Andy ‘World’s Best Editor’ guy, what a loser.”
Now let’s say I don’t brand myself. But I happen to edit for the world’s best writers. Then you’d read my writers and say “these are the world’s best, and they all have Andy for their editor. Huh. Maybe he edits for the World’s Best Writers.” And then no branding is necessary; plus, you’ll be forgiving if one or two of my authors don’t turn out to be the world’s best. After all, I made no promises.
Question: An editor passes, saying the writing is good, but the slots they have to fill are limited and the competition high. Explain the way “slots” are determined each year, if it’s a hard and fast number in each genre, or if it’s like the Pirate Code – more like guidelines, really.
Andy says: Pirate’s Code, for sure.
Andy Meisenheimer is beginning his sixth year at Zondervan, and his third year as an editor. Realizing that he is writing about himself in the third person, he hesitates to praise his keen editorial eye or his instinctual flair for finding great writing. And so instead he would like to call attention to his lovely wife, their adorable little boy, and his two dogs, who make their home with him in western Michigan. They are the best part of his life.