Thursday, November 30, 2006

Editor Interview: Andrew Karre of Flux

Andrew Karre on Andrew Karre: "I am the acquiring editor for Llewellyn's Flux imprint. If you submit to Flux, you're submitting to me. I live in Saint Paul, MN."

What kind of young reader were you?

I was an avid reader when I was young, but when I was a YA I didn't read much of the contemporary YA. I wanted to read "adult" books, not "children's" books.

Don't misunderstand; I wasn't precocious in my comprehension, just in my aspirations. I managed to write a book report on Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises in sixth grade that said something like "I don't understand what Jake's problem is. Why can't he and Brett just get together?" Somehow, I managed to miss the exact nature of Jake's problem.

Anyway, I read a lot, and eventually got a little better at it. There are a couple YA books that stick out in my mind as books I read and reread at that age: Robert Cormier's I Am the Cheese (which I just reread with much pleasure) and John Christopher's Tripod Trilogy (which my best friend and I spent hours casting for the movie we would eventually produce).

What inspired you to make YA book editing your career focus?

I didn't choose YA so much as it chose me. I chose to make my career in publishing here in the Twin Cities, and, while it is a fantastic community for readers and publishers and general book nerds, it's not like you can be tremendously picky about what you edit when you start out.

I knew that I wanted to be an editor and that I wanted to be an acquiring editor--the one who makes the choices and helps the author shape the text. Beyond that, I wasn't sure. I began editing home improvement books and business management books (I even wrote a book about residential lighting and a book about staircases), but I knew I wanted to at least try to edit fiction (in my mind, this probably meant serious adult literary fiction, but again, I wasn't picky).

So, when the opening to edit children's fiction at Llewellyn appeared several years ago, I applied and managed to get the job. I learned a lot about working with novelists, but I wasn't actually acquiring the books and this was a little frustrating, so after a bit over a year, I actually went back to the home improvement publisher to acquire new books for them. This was one of those "good career moves" that actually makes you miserable (and is far too involved a story for this interview), so suffice it to say, when Llewellyn decided to launch Flux and they suddenly needed an acquiring editor, they didn't have to ask me twice. It is a decision I have never regretted.

How did you prepare for this career?

I was an English literature major in college and I attended the Denver Publishing Institute. I did publishing internships in college, and I edited my college newspaper. And I read. I've never had a job outside of publishing.

What do you see as the job(s) of an editor in the publishing process?

The shorter list would be what jobs I DON'T see as jobs of the editor. Ultimately, I see the editor as a book's advocate in the publishing house and in the industry. And advocacy casts a big shadow. It means working with the author to make the manuscript the best book it can be. It means giving art, sales, marketing, and publicity all the tools they need to do their jobs effectively on behalf of the book. It means following trends (but following them critically, rather than slavishly). It means putting myself in the way of talented authors so we'll have a chance to publish their books (as I'm doing right now). Basically my job is to fall in love with books that will help the company make money and then to get everyone else in the company to fall in love with the book, too.

What are its challenges?

Advocacy kind of implies opposition and resistance. Much of publishing is about saying "no" over and over so you can eventually say "yes." We say "no" to projects and ideas far more often then we say "yes," and a well-developed ability to say "no" is actually much more important than the ability to say "yes." But it's not much fun.

Beyond this, children's publishing has the unique structural challenge of layers of gatekeepers between book and audience. Think about it: An author who is not a child writes a book and sends it to an agent (not a child), who sends it to an editor (ditto), who eventually presents it to an all-adult sales force that goes out and meets with book buyers (yep, grown-ups, too), who decide whether to stock the book so that, eventually, adult parents will buy the book for (finally) a kid. This distance makes it all too easy to forget how smart and sophisticated the audience really is.

What do you love about it?

I love the authors, I love their books, and I love playing a part in introducing them to the world. I love that this is important, challenging work. Anyone who thinks writing for children is a lesser literary endeavor is crazy.

For those unfamiliar to Flux, could you offer an overview of the list and its philosophy?

Flux is a general YA fiction imprint. We publish teen fiction from new and published authors in all genres in trade paperback and hardcover. We do about 20 books a year. The one common strain we hope to maintain across all of our books is that the authors approach young adult as a point of view and not a reading level. Basically, we want us to publish authors who are writing for and about teens because the teen years are simultaneously universal and unique to all who pass through them.

Why did Llewellyn decide to launch this imprint? How's it going so far?

Llewellyn launched Flux mainly because of the initial success of the YA books they published under the Llewellyn name, particularly Laurie Faria Stolarz's Blue is for Nightmares (Llewellyn, 2003)(author interview), which is still a very strong seller. Basically, Flux was a way to have more of a good thing. And so far, so good.

Part of the reason I think it's going well is that Flux is a combination of a small group of young-ish people who are extremely passionate about these books (me, a production editor and designer, and a couple of awesome publicists) and a larger group of extremely experienced publishing professionals who are fully committed to making this venture work (our B&N rep, for example, has been selling to B&N since before I was born).

How is the YA line at Flux different from other publishers'?

In some ways we're not all that different. I respect my colleagues at other houses, and I know they care about these books, too (they're not in it for the money). I do feel competitive with imprints that are also doing great work, but on the flip side, I don't get too bent out of shape when I lose a book to another house, because, by and large, the other houses do great work, too, and I hope the author clicked with the other editor.

When an author does have her pick of several houses and several editors, I hope she picks Flux because she feels like she and her books are getting very personal attention and that we "get" her book. I want an author to choose us because she feels she can have a productive and rewarding editorial partnership with me (meaning that she thinks two out of three of my ideas are at least decent and that she can stand my jokes). I want an author to choose us because she respects the work we've done in the past.

If you had to pick just three, what are Flux's don't-miss titles of 2006? And why?

You are asking me to pick my children. Please don't miss any of them.

Do most of your manuscripts come directly from writers or through agents?

It's probably 50-50 at the moment. I love working directly with authors, so the sooner I can do that, the better--but, that said, agents help a lot. It would be dishonest to say otherwise. There are some very, very talented agents in this business and if you can connect with one, you should. This is largely a business, and agents can help take much of the business part off your plate.

What recommendations do you have for individual writers in the submissions process? What are pitfalls to avoid?

First, see above so you can stop worrying about the next point. Second, I think authors who are getting started must keep their priorities straight (and it's easy to get them out of whack). Make sure you are a writer first, a reader second, and submitter a distant third. Submitting books can seem so complicated and time consuming that I fear authors spend more time polishing query letters than revising novels. (And I realize the industry perpetuates this.) Resist with all your might. If you can write a good novel and a quick, efficient cover or query letter, you're in good shape.

What titles would you especially recommend for study to writers interested in working with the house and why?

I'm going to pick three authors. First, Christine Kole MacLean's How It's Done (Flux, 2006)(author interview) because this is a book that your readers are somewhat familiar with and I think it exemplifies "young adult as point of view, not reading level" perfectly. Second, King Dork by Frank Portman (Delacorte 2006), because I think this is a fantastic example of a novel that has great voice, an infectious and resonant story, and a healthy disdain for The Rules. Finally, two books by one author (take your pick) Octavian Nothing or Feed by M. T. Anderson (Candlewick 2006 and 2002, respectively)(author interview).

If ever you think there's something your audience won't get or that something might be over their heads, shut off your computer and pick up either of these. Few authors respect their audience like M.T. Anderson.

In what ways do you work with teachers and librarians in support of your titles and their efforts?

I'll work with them any way I can. I meet a lot of librarians on MySpace and at shows. I'm also trying to reach out to people who work with creative, bookish teens ("the new literati") in other capacities.

How about booksellers?

Ditto.

What do you do outside your editorial/publishing life?

I ride my bike a lot. I play the French horn. I love to cook and then eat. I live to serve every whim of our cat.

Is there anything you would like to add?

Where is the two-narrator novel narrated by an 18-year-old American being recruited to join the military and the 18-year-old Iraqi being recruited to become a suicide bomber? Somebody please write it and send it to me.

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