Wednesday, November 12, 2008

GumboWriters Interview with Penguin Editor, Stacey Barney

  • How did you get your start as an editor?

 I was a high school English teacher for 5 years unhappy with the lack of books available that represented the cohort I taught.  At the same time, I was in Grad School for my MFA, and took a few publishing courses while there.  Through those classes I discovered a whole new career path I didn't know was available to me. 

  • What are some of the exciting books you've acquired that you're most proud of?

 I'm proud of all my books.  My job is truly a labor of love.  I've been lucky enough to work on both the adult and children's side of the business with some very talented and dedicated writers.  While I can't mention all the books I've acquired and worked on by name, a few highlights are Obama: From Promise to Power by David Mendell, This Voice in My Heart: A Genocide Survivor's Story of Escape, Faith, and Forgiveness, and on the children's side the Drama High Series for which I was the original acquiring editor.  Upcoming I have some real gems that include a middle grade novel that is truly Huck Finn meets To Kill a Mockingbird.  It's titled The Best Bad Luck I Ever Had and follows the unlikely friendship of a white farm boy and an African American city girl in 1917 small town Alabama .  Next summer, I'm publishing a YA novel titled Donut Days about the daughter of evangelical ministers who is struggling with issues of faith and family.  And next fall, I'm publishing a book that's very special to me as it marks the return of Linda Beatrice Brown who authored the critically acclaimed Crossing Over Jordan; The Washington Post Book World raved about this book calling it "a rewarding journey…[one that] leaves the reader breathless."  Her new book is titled Black Angels and is just as rewarding and poignant a journey.  It follows the bond formed by three unrelated children—2 black and former slaves and the white son of a plantation owner—who are displaced by the Civil War and their struggle to survive.  And the bond they form is stronger than family.

  • When you receive a submission what about it really grabs you and excites you to the point that you'd like to acquire it? 

 I love working with new writers, and I love when I'm grabbed by a wholly, deliciously, fresh voice from page one.  I fall for those manuscripts that have that IT factor and make it impossible for me to put down.  For me, it usually starts with a wonderful voice that reads distinctly and leaps off the page from word one.  Beyond the voice, I also love inventive stories.  I think the saying is there's only been seven stories ever told.  To some extent I believe that's true, but I love a writer that can reinvent the wheel so to speak in new and exciting ways. 

  • What makes you decide to read a submission overnight compared to it rotting on the bottom of your slush pile?

 A lot of factors.  Is it written by an author I already have under contract?  Is the agent a friend that I'd like to keep, and one that has my home # and can harass me on a Saturday if need be?  But an agent's pitch will almost always set the tone.  Agents want to remain credible, so when they are agents I've worked with before or who have a certain reputation for quality and they tell me they think this will move quickly, I'll likely take it home the same night to read. 

  • What's the best way for a writer to contact you? Query letter?

 Writers can email me a query letter, though, admittedly, my response time for unsolicited queries or manuscripts has slowed down dramatically as I work with the writers already on my list. 

  • Are you open to receiving submissions from self-published authors?

 I am open to receiving submissions from any one as long as the author has done their due diligence and research to ensure they are sending me a project that may truly be a match for me.  I don't respond well or at all to the throwing a dart randomly out into the world mentality.

  • Are you open to receiving unagented submissions?

 I am open to receiving unagented submissions, but again, my response time has slowed, so I ask those authors to be patient. 

  • What are you personally doing in order to adapt to the changes in the marketplace? (Changes meaning: lower print runs, shrinking book review outlets, over saturated market and chains stores being more selective about what books they put on their shelves)

Ultimately, I'm acquiring less and less books and giving greater focus to growing the authors I already have made a commitment to. 

Jeff Rivera: If you need help with your book promotion contact and we'll find a way to help you within your budget.