Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Karen: Interview with Flux editor Brian Farrey

Brian Farrey, the acquisitions editor at Flux, graciously took the time to answer some of my questions about YA, submissions, and what it’s like being an editor:

Hello, Brian! Can you tell us a little about yourself?

I’m the acquisitions editor for Flux, the young adult imprint of Llewellyn Worldwide located in the (currently frigid) Twin Cities. At Flux, we like to say that young adult is a point of view and not a reading level. To that end, I’m building a list of edgy, realistic teen fiction that embodies young adult viewpoints and never condescends. And sometimes, when I remember, I blog about my experiences as an editor at fluxnow.blogspot.com.

How did you get started as an editor?

My first stint as an editor was when I served on the editorial board for WATER-STONE, Hamline University’s literary journal. We chose the short stories, essays, and poetry that went into the yearly book. From there, my next bit of professional editorial work was when I took over the reins here at Flux. I’ve been with Flux since its inception three years ago, working as a publicist for the line, so I’ve been around to see the genesis and subsequent growth of the line.

What were your favorite books as a kid?

Like a lot of kids, I spent buckets of time reading Judy Blume. I was a big fan of Clifford Hicks’ Alvin Fernald books (which I think are sadly out of print). I loved VERONICA GANZ and PETER AND VERONICA by Marilyn Sachs (an author I had the extreme honor of working with as her publicist when Flux re-issued her amazing book, THE FAT GIRL). Once a year, I re-read THE WESTING GAME. I loooove that book.

What are your favorite books now?

I don’t think these types of questions are fair for true book lovers. It’s like asking one to select a favorite child. But here’s my best shot at listing books I’ve read recently that made me overwhelmingly happy:
KIT’S WILDERNESS and CLAY by David Almond (Almond might just be my favorite writer; he’s amazing. If I ever taught a writing course, I would make KIT’S WILDERNESS mandatory reading.),
LUST by Geoff Ryman,
MADAPPLE by Christina Meldrum,

SOMEDAY THIS PAIN WILL BE USEFUL TO YOU by Peter Cameron (In my imaginary writing course, I would also put this on the reading list.)

And I admit to being just a little bit of a Harry Potter fan

Books I’m currently reading: DROOD by Dan Simmons, STONEHEART by Charlie Fletcher, WAS by Geoff Ryman, THE SCREWED UP LIFE OF CHARLIE THE SECOND by Drew Ferguson.

What advice do you have for writers?

You don’t need a fancy degree to be a writer. But I think it’s helpful to have a very good sense of the industry and the marketplace. To that end: read. You can learn from writers whose material you don’t care for just as much as you can from writers whose material you adore. Know what’s out there. It’s very, very easy for me to spot a submission written by someone who hasn’t read a contemporary YA novel. Ever. This isn’t to say that you should run out and copy the first bestseller you can get your hands on. Being original is kinda important too. But having a strong overview of what’s on shelves can certainly help you understand what attracts readers’ attentions and can maybe even show areas that remain untapped.

How about advice for novelists who are just starting out?

1) Do. Not. Send. Out. A. First. Draft. There’s an unyielding euphoria that comes hand in hand with finishing the first draft of any project. It’s a honeymoon period when you think about what you’ve just accomplished and you love your work like nothing else. 9.9 times out of 10, if you give it another read (maybe after sitting on it for a while), you’ll start to see areas that could use a little work. I understand the desire to get your new baby out there into the hands of editors and agents but you’re setting yourself up for failure if you don’t polish first. And it’s very easy to tell a first draft that hasn’t been vetted. To me, a lot of first drafts read like something the author was annoyed with, as if the book is just something standing between them and the screenplay for the movie version that they spent a lot of time casting in their mind. I can forgive spelling errors and punctuation problems and part of an editor’s job is certainly to guide a writer towards a stronger manuscript. I think my biggest disappointment is reading a synopsis that promises a fabulous premise (often called “high concept”) and then delivers mediocre writing.

2) Do your homework. Before you submit anywhere, read the publisher’s submission guidelines and follow them. Every week, I get submissions from writers who DIDN’T do their homework and they send me (often at great expense) manuscripts for picture books or middle grade novels, neither of which Flux publishes. Look at the kinds of books a publisher and its imprint does and see if you might be a good fit.

Do you have a pet peeve for submissions?

Before I answer this, I want to make two things clear: anything I mention here pertains to me and me only and should not be seen as any sort of industry standard. Also, I’m not saying that these peeves will make me reject a manuscript (largely because this is the first time I’ve gone public with these minor nuisances and it would be unfair to judge people who haven’t been previously privy to my perturbances—why, yes, I’m good at alliteration, thank for asking). Pet peeves? I hate Courier font. Hate it. If I get a submission in Courier font, I immediately change it. My eyes can’t handle it. (Now, for whatever reason, the opposite is true for Garamond. I like Garamond. I don’t know why. Aspiring authors: please do not send me your manuscript in Garamond and then mention in the cover letter that you did it to please me. That will only make me more squeamish about sharing these bits of info.) Times New Roman is a good default. What else…? I appreciate good formatting (double spaced, 1” margins, numbered pages). So I get a bit grr and fist shaky when I have to format something myself.

What kind of submissions would you love to see?

Although I call myself a Harry Potter fan, I am VERY, VERY picky about the fantasy I read. I like very little. The conventional (questionable?) wisdom, when pitching your book, is to say, “it’s just like [insert name of insanely popular book here].” This has never worked for me. Largely because my very strange brain says, “Well, why would I want to publish something that someone else has already done?” What I loved about your book, Karen, was how it transcended a generic fantasy world in a very unique way: you made it relevant.

That said, I love a really genuine voice. After a while, “snarky teen girl” voice grates on me. If you’ve got a teen and she’s a girl who happens to be snarky, she’d better be more than that. (I can already hear thousands of snarky teen girl voice writers ready to fire off e-mails of protest. I’m not saying snarky teen girl writing is evil—in fact, in terms of sales, it’s quite popular--and that I haven’t bought some but I do have issues when that’s all there is to the character. I think a lot of beginning writers who admire snarky teen girl voice in other books mimic just the attitude and forget to give the character a bit of depth.)

I want to see submissions that are about honesty. Sometimes, honesty can be ugly (and that’s OK) but I really flip for books that are rooted in emotional honesty.

Any quirky details about yourself to share?

Something I never really realized about myself before I took this position is that I’m a huge sucker for a good dystopian/future gone askew book. I’m not talking Buck Rogers/25th century/spaceships future. The closer the book is to the present day and the more likely the frightening events of the book seem to me, the better. Not to jump on any bandwagons or anything but Suzanne Collins’ THE HUNGER GAMES really is fantastic. I was also enamored with James DeVita’s THE SILENCED. (That sound you hear? The mad stampede of dystopian YA submissions flooding my inbox. Be careful what you wish for…)

(Karen Kincy is a student at The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington. Her debut novel, OTHER, will be coming out from Flux in Spring 2010. Visit her website at www.karenkincy.com.)


  1. Brian, thanks for sharing your expertise & experiences. It’s always helpful to hear about writing from a different perspective. If I could figure out how to make this comment in Garamond, I would.

  2. This is a fantastic interview guys. Brian... thanks for taking the time to give such insightful in-depth answers. I too, LOVE LOVE LOVE The Westing Game. As I kid, I thought it was the coolest.

  3. VERY cool. Much appreciated.
    Beth Fehlbaum, author
    Courage in Patience, a story of HOPE..
    Ch. 1 is online!

  4. The Westing Game was one of my son's favorite books.

  5. Yay for Brian! I am at the library tomorrow looking for KIT'S WILDERNESS. And I love the garamond font AND SOME DAY THIS PAIN WILL BE USEFUL TO YOU. After being a somewhat reluctant Harry Potter fan, I'm out now. I love that guy and the books about him. So fun to learn more about you, Brian! Emotional honesty... that's figuring big in my next ya novel... Hi Sara!

  6. Fantastic advice, Brian. Thank you for sharing your thoughts -- and bonus points for sharing the love of THE WESTING GAME! :)

  7. Great interview Brian and Karen. Thanks!

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