Interview with Jennifer Fielding (Cedar Fort's Acquisitions Editor)

I recently interviewed the very brilliant and talented Jennifer Fielding who works for my publisher, Cedar Fort, in acquisitions. I do a lot of browsing on blogs and websites and I see interviews from time to time with publishing companies that are very useful for up and coming authors. Of course, I wanted to offer the same kind of information on my blog, so here you go! And thanks Jennifer for being so awesome to take time out of your busy schedule to answer these. (In case you're wondering, her answers are in blue.)

  1. How long have you been with Cedar Fort and in your current position? I have worked for Cedar Fort for just over 3 years. I have been in acquisitions for two and a half of those years.
  2. What has been the most exciting experience you’ve had with your work in acquisitions? I can't think of one instance in particular but I can think of two specific scenarios that get me very excited: 1) When I put off lunch or going home because I'm so engrossed in a manuscript submission. 2) When I acquire a book or an author that I didn't think would give us the time of day and it turns into an amazing partnership.  
  3. And just for fun, what has been the most bizarre experience? Hmmm...I think it would have to be the time when I took a call from someone who wanted to “update their account.” I was a little confused but sometimes people do call in who want to send in a revised version of their submission so I though maybe that was what he was referring to (?). I asked what account he was talking about and he spouted off a number. Then I asked him if he knew he had called Cedar Fort, a publishing company. He got quiet, said sorry, and then hurried and hung up. I later found out that there is a gambling hot line that has the same toll free number as us, but with an 888 prefix instead of 800.
  4.  If you’re able to, could you give us the break down on submissions with Cedar Fort? (How many manuscripts you receive in a given year. How many you personally read of those submitted? How many you accept for publication? And how many of those are fiction manuscripts?) We receive around 800 manuscripts a year and accept between 60-75 of those. Our fiction to nonfiction acceptance ratio is approximately 1:3. We publish between 100-120 books a year and each month we only put out 2-3 new fiction titles vs. 7-8 nonfiction. Of the submissions that come in, I personally read less than ¼ of them.
  5. Being a fiction author, I’m particularly interested in Cedar Fort’s penetration in the national market. How much emphasis is CFI placing on having a strong position on a national level? We are creating a name for ourselves in the national market. The buyers at Barnes and Noble, Borders, Walmart, etc. all know who we are. We have quarterly (in person) meetings with them to present our new books. We are always looking for ways to grow and get bigger as a publisher. It is a daily study of the market and what works to see how we can continue to grow our presence. 
  6. As a follow-up question, do you think the emphasis will get stronger within the next 5 years? Yes, we have a goal in the next few years to get to the point where, thanks to the support from both the national and LDS markets, we do a first print run of 10,000 books for all of our books.
  7. What are you currently looking for in a fiction manuscript? An original story, well-developed characters, and something that has a theme with series potential. 
  8. Are there any specific genres you’re absolutely craving right now? Not really, we're pretty open about the fiction that we accept. 
  9. Any you won’t even consider? We don't really do any children's books. Just about everything else is a go. 
  10. Have you ever been so involved in reading a manuscript you’ve lost sleep and/or forgot to go home from work? Yes, those are my favorite ones!
  11. How important is the query letter and what sets the good ones apart from the not-so good ones…To be completely honest, the query letter is not terribly important to me personally. Stephanie Meyer could have written in to tell me she had a story about a high school girl that falls in love with a vampire and it may have sat on the shelf as long as any other submission. It's the story, the content that we're most concerned about. However, a cover letter littered with grammar and spelling errors definitely sends a red flag. One of the best things you can do as a prospective author is let us know what you are doing, or are capable or doing, to help sell your book. Any successful author knows that selling books is a partnership and that the publisher can only do so much. When we read in a cover letter about an author who has concrete ideas already in place or ready to go as soon as we agree to publish their book, that stands out above the others. That said, even if you have fantastic marketing ideas, we have to like your book first. :)
  12. What tips can you give prospective authors with their submissions? (i.e. How does one hop out of the notorious slush pile? and… What will kill a manuscript submission faster than anything else for you?) It's hard to pin point what will make us choose to read your submission before someone else's but here are some of my thoughts.
a) Present your premise as succinctly and desirably as possible.

If you can tell us in the first (short) paragraph of your cover letter what your book is about and why we should be dying to read it, you may grab our attention enough that we decide to put it on our desk instead of on the shelf to read later. You don't need to tell us the story, just tell us why we should be interested. Also, don't waste time telling us that you were nervous to submit to us for whatever reason, let us figure that out for ourselves.

b) Tell us who you are.

If you're submitting nonfiction, tell us how you're qualified to write about the subject you've written about. If you're submitting fiction, give us details about your life that convince us that we should give you a chance. Things we care about are email contact lists, blogs/personal websites, speaking engagements, social network involvement, etc.  This type of information helps us gauge how many people you will be able to notify about your book's release and gives us an idea of what forms of marketing will be most effective. An important thing for authors to recognize is that we are taking a chance by signing your book and putting thousands of dollars into it, with the hope that we earn that money back. So, we need to know who you are and how you can help us make your book a success. Sometimes we have to turn down a book that we love because we're not convinced that we can sell it.

c) Hook your reader from the first page

It is very important that your reviewer wants to keep reading after the first page. Spend a lot of time making sure that the first line, the first paragraph, and the first chapter set the reader up so that they won't want to put your book down. Focus on opening sentences that bait the reader. For example:

It had been seven, long years.

Really? Seven, long years of what? Since what? I'm interested in knowing more. One line can create a lot of curiosity and that is key.

Here are a few examples from the greats:

There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it. —C. S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (1952)

In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I've been turning over in my mind ever since. —F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby (1925)

I write this sitting in the kitchen sink. —Dodie Smith, I Capture the Castle (1948)

Of all the things that drive men to sea, the most common disaster, I've come to learn, is women. —Charles Johnson, Middle Passage (1990)

Call me Ishmael. —Herman Melville, Moby-Dick (1851)

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife. —Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice (1813)

I am an invisible man. —Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man (1952)

You don't know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; but that ain't no matter. —Mark Twain, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885)

Things that kill a manuscript submission include:
1) A typo in the first few pages.

First impressions are important and that shows me that the author didn't take the time to make sure they were sending in their best work. Don't get me wrong, a manuscript doesn't need to be perfect, that's why we have a full staff of editors. But an error on the first page gets us thinking that you didn't even take the time to make sure your first impression was the best it could be. It's like you showed up for a job interview in your pj's.
2) Telling us that we're making a big mistake (or worse) if we don't publish your book.

3) Not following our guidelines (found on the website).

We really appreciate it when our submissions are uniform. Please follow the guidelines!


Rebecca Talley said...

Excellent interview! Thanks, Frank and Jennifer. I learned even more about CFI.

Stephanie Black said...

Thanks for the interview! It's interesting to learn how things look from the publisher's point of view.

Rachelle said...

Great Q&A! Fun to see what CFI has in the works.