Saturday, January 7, 2012

Interview with Tor/Forge Editor, James Frenkel


James Frenkel has worked for Dell Publishing/Delacorte Press, Grosset & Dunlap, Macmillan Publishing, and for the past twenty-five years has edited books for Tom Doherty Associates (Tor Books/Forge Books). He has edited hundreds of books, ranging from a potpourri of non-fiction (self-help; health-and-fitness; biographies/memoirs; cookbooks; crossword-puzzle books; comic-strip books; science; history; sports; the occult) to a wide range of fiction: contemporary fiction; mysteries and thrillers; historical fiction; fantasy; science fiction; romantic fiction; adventure novels; Young Adult fiction; film and tie-in novels. He is currently a Senior Editor for TDA, and for twenty years has been the packager of The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror anthology series published by St. Martin's Press.
Jim is the fantasy/SF final judge of The Sandy writing contest and will be attending the June 22-24, 2012 Crested Butte Writers Conference.


  1. Which categories do you currently acquire? Which category has a special/constant place in your heart?
    Answer: I am acquiring science fiction, fantasy, mystery, thriller, urban fantasy, historical fiction, and some non-fiction, especially science and sports. If forced to choose, I ould have to say that science fiction is the nearest and dearest to me. But it’s an unfair question, because I also love fantasy, mystery, thrillers, and historical fiction . . . not fair to make me choose—it’s like saying, “We are going to drown one of your two children. Which one do you want to save?”
  1. What length synopsis do you prefer to see with a partial? Single spaced or double?
Answer: Always double-spaced; between five and seven pages, generally.
  1. In terms of submissions, what are you sick to death of and what would you like to see more of?
Answer: There’s way too much urban fantasy right now. I’d love to see more really good mysteries, especially cozies.
  1. What are the most compelling elements you feel are necessary for a good
    read? What particularly grabs your attention?

    Answer: characters that I can really care about are the most important thing. And of course, a big concept is always helpful.
  1. For you, which elements in a fiction submission are terminal problems garnering automatic rejections and which are tempting and fixable meriting a look at a revision if a talented author is willing to accept your advice?
    1. Voiceif the voice is not strong, that’s terminal.
    2. Weak Grammarcan be fixed.
    3. Common plotdeadly, unless there’s a special twist to it.
    4. Poor character developmentpeople define character development in different ways. It’s always helpful if characters are well developed; it’s _crucial_ that they be people the reader relates to.
    5. Story is too controversial (ie rape, politics, religion—what else?)—not a problem. If it’s a terrific book otherwise, controversy isn’t a real problem.
    6. Mediocre / uninspired writingthat’s a killer.
    7. Excessive use of violence or cursingdepends on the target audience.
    8. Pacing is off—plot is too slowcan be fixed.
    9. Story starts in wrong spotcan be fixed.
    10. Ending is unsatisfactorycan be fixed.
    11. Otherstorytelling—if the narrative doesn’t compel, nothing else matters. It’s dead in the water.
  • Does meeting an author face-to-face at a conference make a difference in your response time, the submission process, or the rejection process (ie. Form letter vs a few sentences of advice)?
Answer: Sometimes. Authors need to understand that it’s the work that matters. Whether one gets a form letter or advice depends more on the quality of the work than whether I’ve met the author. I always try to be polite and considerate, regardless. I don’t really do form rejections, regardless.
  1. Besides the writing, the story and the talent, what are the most important elements you look for in an author, ie. contest wins, cooperativeness, affiliations to writers organizations, knowledge of publishing industry, promotability, etc?
Answer: If everything else is equal, it’s always helpful if an author has some clue about promoting his or her work on the internet and in the real world. Being realistic, cooperative and having a clue about how publishing works is all helpful.
  1. Do you have any pet peeves?
Answer: I tire of writers who think that tricksy gambits—odd narrative approaches such as first-or-second person p.o.v., present tense; short, sharp sentences in abundance . . .
  1. What are you addicted to?
Answer: great story.
  1. What have you always wanted to do?
Answer: be an astronaut.

11. Do you have a favorite quote?
  • Answer: This is doubtless a paraphrase, and I don’t remember who said it: The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.

16 comments:

Anonymous said...

Loved the interview! Always good to know what editors wants. The grammar answer gives me hope!

Theresa said...

Thanks for stopping by, Anonymous.
I too am always wondering what Editors are currently looking for and it never ceases to amazing me the things are deal breakers for some editors/agents don't bother others. Reinforces the idea of total subjectivity and need for understanding that there really are far less hard and fast "rules" in fiction writing than most people acknowledge.

Barb Han said...

This is really interesting. I didn't know controversial topics were okay. I've always been told they're strictly forbidden with a major publisher. Too risky. It's good to know that, while I'm sure some stick the that creed, others are fine with it. Inspiring! Thanks for the interview.

Donnell said...

Barb, I think (don't know) that in mainstream controversial is more accepted. There are definitely taboos -- say in romance -- we've been told never to kill a child, pet, etc. etc.

In cozy mysteries, keep the language clean and children and pets alive as well.

But Tor/Forge appears to be a mainstream mystery publisher with a different audience, and that's what this editor is saying... It's all about the audience.

Ruby Johnson said...

James:
It's always good to know how an editor thinks and what an editor is looking for. Glad to know mysteries are still being accepted. Thanks for taking the time to do an interview.

Barb Han said...

Good point, Donnell. There are definitely taboos in Romance. I'm sure the more controversial topics, even in mainstream, would have a specific target audience (and therefore not appeal to every editor/publisher). Thanks for presenting this editor's perspective. Take care.

E. B. Davis said...

I love hearing what editors want, and that controversial subjects aren't necessarily taboo since my WIP stems from incestuous rape. Yes, it's a heinous subject, but then where else would demons come from but really bad people! Great interview, Donnell!

Ramona said...

Very nice interview--especially #5 about the problems. That should be shared everywhere.

It always comes back to writing a good story, doesn't it?

Donnell said...

E.B. Thanks, but the marvelous, Theresa Rizzo is responsible for this. She's also the coordinator and contest chair of THE CRESTED BUTTE WRITERS CONFFERENCE and the SANDY WRITING COMPETITION. I am merely her little town crier ;)

Thanks for stopping by!

thecromers said...

Great interview. I loved your comment about looking for a great mystery, it's very encouraging to me as a newly published author. My debut novel, Desperate Measures, has recently been released and so far it has received fantastic reviews, all five stars.

Cindy Cromer
www.cindyhuefnercromer.com

Theresa said...

Marvelous? Donnell you're too sweet.
Cindy, I might have made a little mistake in making that mystery comment 'cause Jim is judging the F/SF category of The Sandy, however he IS attending the June 22-24 Crested Butte Writers conference, so mystery writers could impress him during that weekend.
Ramona--#5, I'm always surprised at the answers to this question. Always.

jenny milchman said...

I love so many of Tor/Forge's releases--thanks for the insider's view!

Victoria Dixon said...

Thanks for this! Yes, it gives me hope. :)

C. A. Szarek said...

Thanx for the great information. :)

Anonymous said...

I love this man's sense of humor! Thanks for the tips.

Pam Champagne

Theresa said...

Hi Pam,
I really loved his sense of humor too which is why I'm so looking forward to getting to know him at the June Crested Butte Writers Conference. Seems he'd be a great editor to work with!