WEEK FOUR: An Interview with Stacy Whitman
I always look forward to the Utah-based convention LTUE (Life, the Universe, & Everything) as it is one of the best places (locally) for me to network and connect with other authors, agents, editors, and publishers. You would be surprised at how many movers and shakers attend this event.
I have developed great friendships and forged bonds that have strengthened my drive and determination throughout my writing career. At this LTUE, I made the decision to meet with various professionals within the industry, pull them aside, and ask them five specific questions in five minutes. Most of these interviews sparked lengthy conversation beyond what I could have hoped for.
These men and women have shared with me their insights and experiences, their stories and their advice. For aspiring authors, fans, and fellow literary community members, I'll share each of these thirteen interviews in the space of thirteen weeks.
Rafael: I’m here with Stacy Whitman and I’m here to ask her five questions in five minutes. So my first question for you Stacy, is what was the primary reason you became a publisher and editor? Why do you do what you do?
Stacy: Mainly it’s children. I’m a children’s book editor. I do novels for children and teenagers. I think about the access to novels I had at that age and the amount of diversity in particular that was available at that time and what is currently available to kids now. The idea of having access to diverse books is why I do what I do.
Rafael: It’s a personal reason. That gives you greater drive to succeed! Well here’s my second question: who do you think is a better judge of writing talent, agents, editors, publishers, other writers, or readers? This is meant to be a bit of a multifaceted question.
Stacy: That is a complex question that doesn’t have one good answer. Writing and reading is so subjective that ultimately it comes down to…well, when you think about critical theory I’m very much in favor of reader response. It comes down to every reader deciding on whether that book is good for them. I think there is no one person that is better than anyone else (at being a better judge of writing talent). I think what matters is that we have an ecosystem of readers and that everyone has valid thoughts and opinions that bring out all sort of nuance.
Rafael: I’m glad you say that, because I believe that it is an ecosystem, where everyone has their own opinion. Since a writer caters to the readers, their consumers, readers have a level of say on what they personally want—although they could love a writer who has arguably little talent, or visa-versa. So what is your daily schedule of editing, writing, and publishing?
Stacy: It varies every day. As a publisher of my own imprint I do a lot of marketing in addition to editorial work. I work for a small press, so I wear a lot of hats. In the morning I will usually put out what fires need to be addressed and whether that’s oh our proofs have come in from the printer and we need a fast turn-around, or maybe an author has a question, or there’s a conference coming up that we must plan for. I don’t usually get down to really edit until about eleven A.M., then oftentimes almost immediately I go, oh yeah, there’s a meeting now so I have to stop and go to that. (Laughs) At eleven A.M. I try to get into the book I’m currently editing or go deep in thought about cover design, or interior design, or have a conversation with freelance editors. I have a freelance editor that works for me and we have long discussions about whatever stages of process we’re in. Then I’ll go to lunch and I’ll watch K-drama (Korean drama) while I’m having lunch and I won’t think about work because I’ll need to have that down time. After I come back, I’ll try and deeply edit until late afternoon and oftentimes that goes late into the evening. Sometimes I don’t leave the office until seven or eight.
Rafael: Oh wow.
Stacy: The reason for that is because I try no to take work home because I want my home life to be home and not work.
Rafael: After a long day like that, you definitely need a separation between the two. Now you told me you do a lot of marketing, so what would you say is one of the best marketing strategies this year for writers who are either traditionally published or self-published? This considering all the technological and cultural changes we’ve had.
Stacy: Number one is to always have a website that you keep updated. And maybe satellite social media that you’re using and engaging in—but not spamming people on. I get so much spam from writers who don’t know how to engage with their readers and then spam me in their mentions. Some have published a book, but then they want to be published by a publisher. What I would really like to see are authors engaging with their audience somehow.
Rafael: Writers that are providing back to the community.
Stacy: Exactly. And whether that’s school visits—because I’m thinking about children’s books in particular—all the way up through YA, school visits are great. Schools love to have authors come visit. There’s also book signings or conventions like this. Those are all great ways (to market). The number one thing an author can do to market their book is to do what works for them. There is not one thing that will work for them, but something that all authors must have is a website with good information about your books, where you can be seen—whether that’s online or offline—and where to buy your books. Also, there needs to be a way to contact you if someone wants to bring you out for something.
Rafael: Gosh, that makes me feel good about the fact I have my own website I keep updated! So, my last question for you is what has been the most difficult challenge in your career that you have overcome and have been proud of?
Stacy: I was laid off in 2008. The financial crisis hit publishing really hard and I freelanced for a while. It was a tough year-and-a-half where no one in publishing was hiring. I was actually here in Orem at the time. I had moved from Seattle after leaving Wizards of the Coast and being laid off. That was a creative time as well. It was the time when the idea for what is now my imprint (which started off as a small press) came about. I did a Kickstarter campaign which caught the attention of Lee & Low, which is the company which I work with now. They acquired it and had me move to New York. I have been doing that for nine years. The challenge of being unemployed, underemployed, and being freelance was big, but it led to something even harder. Because I was able to create a job for myself, for the last nine years I’ve been basically running a start-up. It has been fun but it’s difficult because if you say well, I see a need in the industry, but it’s never been done before, you still have to carve out a niche for it in marketing and in the company that hired you. I feel like we’ve finally come to a point where we really know what we’re doing! (Laughs)
Rafael: It’s impressive that you used your difficulties as an opportunity to self-grow creatively.
Stacy: I didn’t know that was what I was doing at the time!
Rafael: Let me ask you a quick bonus question. What advice would you give to authors starting out right now?
Stacy: The biggest thing any author can recognize—no matter what format you choose to publish in, traditional or self—is that publishing is a business. You have created art. The art part of the business is done (after the editorial process) when you start the publishing process. Once you have a book in hand and going out and trying to sell it, it is now a business. What that means is that for self-publishers, you need an editor, good design, and good marketing. If you are running a self-publishing business, because that is what you are doing if you are selling your own book(s), is you need to figure out ways of making those things happen. And if you are doing that with your partner or publisher, recognize that those people are there to help you make that happen.
Rafael: Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me today Stacy. I had a lot of fun meeting with you and discussing the industry!
Stacy: I as well!
Stacy was a blast to talk to. She serves an open voice willing to share her wisdom within the writing industry. I am very grateful I had the chance to meet with her at LTUE!
Stacy Whitman is the founder and publisher of Tu Books, an imprint of Lee & Low Books that publishes diverse middle grade and young adult fiction. Stacy is a founding member of the CBC Diversity Committee and currently serves as a Publisher Liaison to We Need Diverse Books. She holds a master’s degree in children’s literature from Simmons College. Prior to launching Tu Books, she was an editor for Mirrorstone, the children’s and young adult fantasy/SF imprint of Wizards of the Coast. She has edited elementary school textbooks at Houghton Mifflin, interned at the Horn Book Magazine and Guide, and spent a brief stint in grad school working as a bookseller.
Here is Stacy's website: http://www.stacylwhitman.com/
If you liked this post, read the next one here:
Once selecting a category, choose a blog post by clicking "previous" or "next" at the bottom of the page.
If I'm not writing, I must be dead.