Interview with Andy Meisenheimer

Writer’s conferences have long been the safe watering hole, that land where the unpublished gazelle can stride with semi-confidence beside the best-selling tiger. From chart-topping authors to power-house agents, the opportunity to brush shoulders with the literary elite is well worth the price of admission. Seminars on query letters and killer proposals offer necessary wisdom for those who want to get ahead of the pack.

And fortunately—for the brave—there is another opportunity that lurks in the Serengeti shadows.

Somewhere among these publishing professionals there strides the mighty lion: the ever-elusive, the ever-popular acquisitions editor. While it may seem hard to believe at first glance, he (or she) is almost always nice. Here, in his natural habitat surrounded by other writers and editors, he rarely bites at all. That is, unless you’re trying to steal that seared ahi tuna off his plate . . .

All wildlife metaphors aside, I met Andy Meisenheimer—fiction acquisitions editor for Zondervan by day, proud husband and father and talented musician by night—at the 2007 Mount Hermon Writer’s Conference. And I have to say, this editor really is one nice guy.

He has a vision for fiction that led him to acquire such books as My Name is Russell Fink by Michael Snyder and The Almost True Story of Ryan Fisher by Rob Stennett (due out in June, 2008).

If you ever want to know what is up and coming on his growing list of fiction, just check out his blog: These Are Books. Or you could check out one of his guest posts at literary agent, Chip MacGregor’s blog.

Or you could check out the upcoming OCCWF writer’s conference on April 12 (Sorry. Shameless, but necessary promotional plug.)

I had the opportunity to interview Andy recently. Like every other writer on the planet, I was curious to know his opinion on a number of subjects. So, with no more cyber-babble from me, here are his answers.

MERRIE: If a book could be published by either a Christian publisher or a secular publisher, what recommendations would you make to the writer?

ANDY: Take into account all factors, not just Christian v. ‘generic’. Did you find the right editor for the book? Will the company give the book the support it needs? Will it be able to market the book effectively? Will it be able to reach the primary consumer? Right now, Christian publishers are strong in selling to CBA channels and growing in their ability to market ABA channels effectively. And there’s a better chance they’ll believe in your book by sharing in the spirituality. But if you’re blessed enough to be choosing between the two, then I don’t believe the “Christian v. secular” is the most important factor.

MERRIE: Those are all important questions to remember. [Wait, I need to write this stuff down.] Okay, next question: What are some classic books that you would recommend to aspiring writers?

ANDY: Characters and Viewpoint, Orson Scott Card
Novelist’s Essential Guide to Crafting Scenes, Raymond Obstfeld
On Directing Film, David Mamet
Those are mostly for novelists and narrative nonfiction writers. For general nonfiction, nothing more than Strunk and White is necessary.

MERRIE: [Now I need to go buy a couple of books. But I like books, so that's cool.] So, what one piece of advice would you give to writers who want to submit their manuscripts to Zondervan?

ANDY: Look at your proposal as a story. Make sure that every part of it reflects you as a writer. If your synopsis doesn’t reflect capable craftsmanship and storytelling ability, then why should anyone believe that your manuscript will?

MERRIE: That's an interesting answer. [Perhaps synopsis writing is an artform. Perhaps I should learn this artform . . .] Is there a common element or mistake you see in manuscripts that you reject?

ANDY: One thing I see in the sample writing is a lack of narrative maturity, especially in certain genres. When I’m reading something that’s not supposed to be a contemporary inspirational novel that ends up sounding like a contemporary inspirational novel, I know that I’m not dealing with something that can transcend the Christian fiction subculture. It’s especially apparent in espionage thrillers, speculative fiction, and the genre no one will call “horror” but that’s what it is.

MERRIE: [Now I'm wondering if my contemporary inspirational novel about two aliens who try kidnap the U.S. president is slightly off target. Arrgghh.] Ahem. Mr. Meisenheimer, thank you so very much for joining us here in the wilderness of Alien Dream! I really appreciate your time and I hope you enjoy your trip to sunny California.

ANDY: Thanks for having me!


And don’t forget, there are still openings available to attend the OCCWF conference. Visit their site at http://www.occwf.org/ for more information.


sally apokedak said...

Yikes! I can't believe I didn't know this was here before.

I've come late the party so I don't expect Andy is checking in to see if anyone has asked any questions. But I'm wondering about the contemporary inspirational deal. Since I never read contemporary inspirational books I don't know what sound he's talking about that doesn't work in other genres.

Lack of narrative maturity makes me think he's talking about getting books that are all show and never tell.

But that's just a wild guess.

Anyway, thanks for this interview. I enjoyed it.

Merrie Destefano said...

I'm sorry you got here late, too.
: (
I hate to second guess what Andy meant, but I can tell what I've seen from editors in general lately. They all seem to like a book with a strong voice--to me that means that the character's voice is strong and vibrant. Once you are inside his head, you stay there. You observe the world through his/her eyes, feel through his skin, hear what other people say through his ears.

And I think what he meant by narrative maturity is that once you achieve this "sound" or voice, it stays constant and true throughout the book. It doesn't change or go flat later. It stays just as exciting half-way through the book as it did in the beginning.

Well, that may not be what Andy meant, but that would be my take on all of it.

I think the bottom line is discovering how you, as an author, can become your character so much that the reader thinks that's who you really are.

To me, it's like acting.

Thanks for stopping by, Sally!