Editor as Writer
An interview with Toni Margarita Plummer, author of The Bolero of Andi Rowe,
As you put together your summer reading list, add to the mix some short story collections, not just novels. One standout collection is "The Bolero of Andi Rowe" by Toni Margarita Plummer. Cool fact about Toni: not only is she a gifted writer, she is also a talented editor at a major publishing house. Read this month's Q&A with Toni to learn more.
Published on LatinoLA: July 13, 2011
Toni Margarita Plummer grew up in South El Monte, California and attended the University of Notre Dame and the Master of Professional Writing Program at USC. She is the author of The Bolero of Andi Rowe, the latest winner of the Miguel M?írmol Prize, and a fellow of the Macondo Foundation, an association of socially engaged writers. Toni is an Editor at Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin's Press, where she acquires fiction and nonfiction, especially crime fiction and women's fiction. For more information, visit:
Q: Which author or book inspires you, and why?
A: This may be cheating, because he's one of my authors, but I was a fan of his before I bought his novel. Michael Jaime-Becerra wrote a story collection Every Night Is Ladies' Night, published by Rayo/Harpercollins. I read it because it was set in El Monte, which is right by my hometown. I loved that someone had chosen to write about this neighborhood and these characters, which were very familiar to me. Growing up, I didn't really think of my hometown as the landscape for great literature.
Years later, when Michael was driving me around El Monte after our lunch, after I'd acquired his first novel This Time Tomorrow, having reached out to him through a friend, his mother passing along the message, Michael told me about El Monte, its history and current goings-on, and his interest and enthusiasm were so heartfelt, so genuine. He truly loved his city. That was inspiring to me. The setting is a big draw for me in books and I could see how he made this place come alive in the stories he wrote, to be accessible to anyone. That's the author's gift. Michael teaches at the University of California, Riverside and it boggles my mind to think how lucky his students are to have him. This Time Tomorrow just won an International Latino Book Award--if you haven't read it yet, check it out!
Q: Who is your agent and how did you meet him/her? If you don't have an agent, how did you come to be published by Curbstone?
A: I don't have an agent. I submitted my short story collection for the Miguel M?írmol Prize offered by Curbstone Press, for a first work of fiction by a Latino author. My manuscript was selected the winner by judge Roberto M?írquez, and that's how I came to be published! It's worked out very well and I've been happy and comfortable dealing with my publisher directly. When I'm ready to go out with a novel, I'll want to get an agent to represent me on that.
Q: In addition to being a fabulous writer, you are also a book editor. How has your publishing experience influenced your writing? How has your writing influenced your work as an editor?
A: I would say that my publishing experience hasn't affected the content or style of my writing at all. Now, it's true that when I mull over story ideas, I think about how marketable those books would be. But I also know that it's not worth it to follow trends, and I will ultimately write about something I care about. I'll keep the market in mind too, which is just smart and considerate on my part, I figure.
Working in publishing has, however, of course, very much informed my sense of how publishing works and it has influenced my ideas on promoting my book and myself. I know that as the author I carry the responsibility of getting my work out there. My publisher has been awesome with publicity, but they need me, too. My own contacts have been extremely important. Ideally, the author and publisher are working together to make the book a success. Having been on the other side, I know how much a publisher appreciates and sticks by an author who is easy to work with, who brings ideas to the table, and who does a lot of the legwork herself. I'm so appreciative of my editor, publicist, and everyone else--I know they work hard and that they've got a lot of books to handle. So, I try to be the kind of author I'd like to work with myself.
As an author, I come to meet and know other authors in capacities that probably other editors wouldn't. One author talking to another author is a special thing. That presents me with some wonderful opportunities to find new authors and to network on behalf of my own authors. I'm coming into situations now where I can speak about being both an editor and an author and that's very exciting for me. I hope other writers can benefit from my experience.
Of course, this all boils down to a lot of work! But at the end of the day, I believe each role enriches the other.
Q: What is your writing ritual?
A: I need to get one! I'm in a writing group now, so that helps to push me to write. I also really like contests and competitions. If there weren't any, perhaps I wouldn't have a book! I find the biggest challenge is simply sitting myself down in front of the computer and starting or continuing to work on something. Once I'm there, the writing comes easily. I'll have to revise later, but I'm there working and it's a great feeling. I hope to be like my authors one day. They write every day. Can you imagine?! They're novelists publishing one book a year, sometimes more, and you pretty much have to write every day in order to do that. I'm definitely more of a nocturnal creature, and I now write mostly on the computer.
Q: Other than honing their craft, what advice would you give to Latino writers looking to land a book deal?
A: I would say this to all writers: Make connections! Live your life. Pursue what you love and make friends and keep them. These are the people and networks you can point to when trying to get published. There's a difference between an author who belongs to 3 writers' organizations, has a hobby where they interact with others, is active in their college alumni group, blogs regularly, has a mailing list of 500 people, Facebook friends, and Twitter followers, and an author who doesn't have or do any of that. The difference comes down to numbers--the first author knows more people and has access to more people! The examples mentioned above are all things you can and should be working on before you even begin to pursue a book deal. It's more important for nonfiction, but it doesn't hurt for fiction either. It will help you in the long run!
At the same time, only do what's comfortable for you. If it's not natural and you're not having fun, it's not worth it, I say. But you should know that there are some very generous people out there and there are people who love books (or who just think you're swell), and they will be happy to help you in what ways they can. You just have to realize that what you're giving them in return is a good book--and that's no small thing. These friends, even acquaintances, are the ones who will support you when your book is out--they'll help to make it successful so you can continue getting published. That's where it starts.
Book events for first-time authors are almost always going to be exclusively attended by people who personally know the author! From there, you grow your fan base because they tell people they know--it's all about word of mouth. I've seen it happen. It's not always clear how a connection is going to be beneficial to your book, but it usually will be, in some shape or form. Publishers already have their own contacts, so what they're looking for from you is to add to that number, and to add your own personal touch. It's the best contribution you can make, aside from the book itself.
Marcela Landres is the author of the e-book How Editors Think. She is an Editorial Consultant who specializes in helping Latinos get published and was formerly an editor at Simon & Schuster.
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