Editor Interview: Brian Farrey of Flux

Brian Farrey on Brian Farrey: “I am the new acquiring editor for Flux, the young adult imprint of Llewellyn Worldwide. I previously spent three years as senior publicist at Llewellyn Worldwide, where I helped launch the promotional efforts for Flux.” See also The Flux Blog.

What kind of young reader were you?

If the letters were arranged in a format that made sense to me, I read it. I can’t decide if it’s a blessing or a curse to become more discerning when you get older, but growing up, I read anything I could get my hands on.

I gravitated towards science fiction and any book featured on the PBS shows we watched in class. (There was one show–I can’t remember the name–where a narrator read you an excerpt from a book while an artist sketched the scene being narrated. That’s where I got all my pre-Internet book recommendations.)

In my teen years, I moved away from sci fi and into more realistic fiction. Today, I read all over the place but my tastes continue to be informed by everything I absorbed in the early years.

Congratulations on your new job as the editor at Flux! What inspired you to make YA literature your career focus?

Thanks! YA has come into its own so much over the last decade. There’s some exciting, exciting stuff happening around the world in terms of YA literature, and I felt like this was a dialogue I wanted to be part of.

How about editing more specifically?

I jokingly told the members of my writing group recently, “Yeah, being an editor is great. It’s like doing a writing workshop only the writer has to do what I say.” That is, of course, a gross exaggeration.

I suppose I got into editing for somewhat selfish reasons. There’s a lot of talent out there, and I want to be the one who discovers it. (Or at least one of the people who discovers it.) I love working with writers. They speak my language.

How did you prepare for this career?

I recently finished my MFA in creative writing at Hamline University, which felt like an intensive boot camp for fiction.

While there, I served on the editorial board for Water-Stone, Hamline’s literary journal. These experiences really helped shape the way I see fiction. It’s easier to see manuscripts that have potential and how I might be able to guide the writer to drive it home.

What do you see as the job(s) of an editor in the publishing process?

I think editors need to nurture talent, and I truly relish the partnership that that brings about. People I’ve spoken to think the editor’s job ends with finding good writing and buying it.

The part of the job you don’t hear a lot about is how an editor needs to have a vision for the book. They need to have ideas for the cover, how to market it properly, ways the author can promote themselves. They need all this stuff because, in a lot of ways, they represent the author at the house and should be there to shepherd a project through the many processes.

What are its challenges?

The fact of the matter is that when I take a project to my editorial board, I can’t get them to buy into it by simply gushing over what I think is amazing writing.

The challenge, for me, is setting aside my love of writing to become a cold, hard businessman who presents the logical rather than emotional reasons why we should take on a particular project (i.e.–why will this make us money).

Even now, I feel a little awkward about saying that, as if it’s a dirty little secret in the industry. But it’s not.

The good news is that I don’t take something to my board unless I’m in love with the writing and I know it will satisfy all necessary business requirements. So it’s win-win.

What are its rewards?

Cruel as this sounds, I love watching an author bounce off the walls with excitement as the moment of their book’s release draws near. I get excited with them, and I hope they can maintain that same level of thrill each and every time a new project of theirs hits the market.

What makes Flux special? How is it different from other houses?

Actually, I think we’re very similar to other YA publishers. The colleagues I know at other houses share my passion for good writing, and we’re all trying to do the best work we can.

If we’ve carved out a niche, it’s that we take risks and we really shoot for strong narrative voices (but I challenge you to find a house that doesn’t claim the same).

I hope that if we stand out in the minds of authors it’s because we can offer that writer/editor synergy so necessary to bringing a project to fruition.

What new directions should we know about? Do you have a different “take” on the line than your predecessor, and if so, how?

That’s the number one question I get asked. Most often I get asked that question in fear: “are you going to change everything?”

The fact is that Andrew Karre and I shared a very similar vision for Flux and my goal is to adhere to that as much as possible.

That’s not to say that I won’t experiment every once in a while (anybody got a YA steampunk they want to pitch me?).

What titles would you recommend for study to writers interested in working with you and why?

If I taught a course in writing–not even necessarily a course in YA writing–I would make David Almond‘s Kit’s Wilderness (Delacorte) mandatory reading.

I often tell people that I find it to be a technically perfect novel, a brilliant synthesis of everything I’ve ever been taught constitutes good writing.

I love a strong, distinct voice. Some of the best I’ve seen recently are in Christina Meldrum‘s Madapple (Knopf, May 2008), Peter Cameron‘s Someday This Pain Will Be Useful To You (FSG, 2007), and Elizabeth Scott‘s Living Dead Girl (Simon Pulse, 2008).

What recommendations do you have for writers in the submission process?

Absolutely, positively number one–do your homework. This is good general advice, whether submitting to Flux or any house. I can’t tell you how many picture books and middle grade titles I get daily (some mailed unsolicited at great expense). Flux doesn’t publish these types of books, and our submission guidelines clearly say that.

Some people dream of being the underdog. They want to be that diamond in the rough, plucked from the slush pile and thrust from obscurity to fame. Mass mailing a manuscript to dozens (if not more) publishers who simply can’t consider your book is the surest path to bankruptcy, not literary fame.

Understand the best places to submit to. Look at the books published by a house that interests you. Have a sense of what’s out there. Don’t go into this blindly.

What are pitfalls to avoid?

Please don’t send out a first draft. Please. I know how great it feels to finish a project, and I understand the desire to send it out ASAP to see who likes it. But don’t.

Get some trusted beta readers (non-family members preferred). Give their feedback due consideration. And revise.

Could you describe your dream writer?

My dream writer is enthusiastic but realistic. Confident but open to suggestion. Talented but willing to revise.

As a reader, so far what were your three favorite YA books of 2008 and why?

Ohmanohmanohman. You sure don’t throw softball questions, you go right for the throat. Making me pick, that’s just mean. Okay…

Madapple by Christina Meldrum (Knopf). A wonderfully lyric debut novel.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic). I’m a sucker for good dystopian books.

And the third book is a yet-to-be published manuscript by an established author that came across my desk recently. I wasn’t able to acquire it, but it blew my socks off.

(I know this one is cheating, especially because I can’t even say what it was, but it really is one of the very best things that I’ve read this year. Ask me again in 2010 when it hits the shelves, and I’ll rave about it.)

What do you do outside your editorial/publishing life?

I love to put the Food Network on in the background and putter around the kitchen. Summers are all about getting on my bike and taking off. And I’ve been known to haunt a few of the Twin Cities’ many theaters. (I’m a bit of a musical theatre fan.)

Is there anything you would like to add?

No, seriously. I’m dying to see a really well-written YA steampunk. The address is if you’ve got it. Anyone? Anyone?