Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Terri Bischoff - The Woman Behind the Books

I thought it was time for folks to get to know a very important person at Midnight Ink – Terri Bischoff. Terri is the Acquisitions Editors at Midnight, the person who reads all those submissions and decides which books to pitch to the powers-that-be for purchase. So here it is – up close and personal with Terri Bischoff:

Terri, before coming to Midnight you owned a mystery bookstore, dealing with the end product. How does that compare to being at the beginning of a book’s journey through publication? Do you miss being a book seller?

Being on the front end is very different, but just as exciting. I would get so excited when new releases or ARC’s came in… here I get excited when I read a great manuscript. It is tremendous fun to be involved in the development of a book.

I miss bookselling. I miss the personal connection to customers. I was certainly in my element in a bookstore, and I miss talking about crime fiction all day long. I do not miss owning a bookstore!

Had you worked in publishing before coming to Midnight?

Nope. I started bookselling in ’95 and I worked in three different indie bookstores before my partner and I purchased Booked for Murder in Madison, WI. We had BfM from 2003 to 2008.

You are coming up on your one year anniversary with Llewellyn/Midnight Ink, isn’t that right? What changes have you implemented in the way they acquire mysteries or what accomplishments are you particularly proud of?

It will be a year in October. I honestly don’t know what changes I may have implemented - I just jumped in with my own style. I am incredibly backlogged with submissions because I try to make sure to give every submission a fair chance. I’m sure other editors would hit the rejection button much faster.

Well… I am incredibly proud of the work we did on Murder in Vein. It’s not the first book I acquired, that was Assault with a Deadly Glue Gun by Lois Winston, but Murder In Vein is the first of my acquisitions to be published and the first hard cover published by Midnight Ink. 2011 is going to be scary and exciting. We have a ton of debuts and I acquired a lot of the list. So keep your fingers crossed for me.

What is on your wish list for the future of Midnight Ink? Where do you see Midnight Ink going in the next few years?

I was just asked this at our most recent sales conference by the sales manager. I want MI to be a force in the world of crime fiction. I want to acquire the best books we can. I want to steal authors from the large NY publishing houses.  I want agents and authors to think of us right away when they start shopping their manuscripts. I want our books to win more awards (which we will in time).

What is your take on the growing popularity of e-books? Do you feel e-books will have a negative impact on the sales and future of print books or will the two be able to cohabitate in peace?

I think e-books and printed books will get along in time. E-books aren’t going away. Nor do I think bound books are. I can’t read on a computer all day. My eyes just can’t take the strain. I love browsing in bookstores and holding a new book. I know I’m not alone!

What do you look for when digging through your submission pile? Anything specific, such as subgenre or topic, you’d like to see coming across your desk?

I am currently not looking for anything specific. I think writers should write the story that they have inside them. If it’s not for us, it might be the right fit for another publisher.

What types of books are you receiving way too many of?

Really dark, paranormal stuff. A lot of Janet Evanovich rip-offs. Since we publish on the softer side of the crime fiction spectrum, I get a lot of submissions that read the same.

What makes a submission stand out from the rest?

Sometimes it’s very hard to put my finger on “it”. When a submission has “it”, you know it rather quickly. I also get a lot of “almost there.” Those are much harder to judge.

That said, I am looking for books that are both plot and character driven. The storyline has to be compelling and believable. I want to know the characters and why they do what they do.

What makes a submission cause you to toss it aside? Be as specific as you can.

First, if they don’t follow the submission guidelines on the Midnight Ink website.

Second, cutesy or messed up fonts. Seriously, I don’t have time to reformat submissions. Right now I estimate that I have over 300 submissions in my inbox.

Third, any submission that refers horror.

Fourth, when the author doesn’t know the genre – for example, calls William Kent Krueger a cozy writer.

What do you think will be the next big trend in mysteries? Are you already searching for manuscripts featuring that topic?

I hear it’s currently zombies. Good thing I have a book on the 2011 schedule that features several different paranormal characters, including zombies.

I wish the trend would go back to crime fiction. Right now I think writers are trying to cross as many genre’s as they can. I can understand the marketing reasoning, but it’s getting harder to differentiate between a romance with a mystery sub-plot and a mystery with a romantic sub-plot. Don’t get me wrong, I like relationships in books – but the romance cannot consume half of the book.

If you could only give one piece of advice to a hopeful writer, what would it be?

Be as knowledgeable about crime fiction as you can. To do that, make friends with your local bookstore folks, join mystery organizations like Sisters in Crime (especially a guppies group), attend conventions and network.

What is your all-time favorite mystery and your all-time favorite non-mystery book?

Seriously? That’s like asking me to pick between my three boys. Can’t do it.

Some of my favorite authors (by the way, I refuse to include any Inkers for the same reason – mom is not playing favorites) – William Kent Krueger, Ian Rankin, Karin Slaughter, C. J. Box, Dana Stabenow, Julia Spencer-Fleming, Lee Child, Charlaine Harris. By the way, my list changes depending on what I’ve read most recently. I haven’t read any non-fiction in a while that wasn’t related to child development. But when I do, it’s usually history or funny memoirs like David Sedaris.

Since you have to read so much for work, does it diminish the pleasure you receive from reading for fun?

No, it doesn’t take away from the pleasure, but I don’t read as much for pleasure as I used to. It’s getting harder to find the time.

Have you ever gotten the itch to write yourself?

Because I live half my life reading books, I have plots running around in my head all the time. When I can’t sleep at night, I make up stories and eventually I fall asleep. But I don’t have the courage, time or perseverance to sit down and try to write a novel. I have a deep respect for writers – not only for the art of crafting characters and their stories – but for the dedication it requires. I am happy to be a reader.

Thank you, Terri, for being with us on Inkspot today, and for giving us a glimpse into your career at Midnight Ink.


Beth Groundwater said...

Great interview of Terri, Sue Ann! And I can't wait to talk to you in person, Terri, at the Colorado Gold conference in September after chatting mostly via emails and Facebook. If no one's mentioned this on the Guppies email loop yet, I'm going to!

Darrell James said...

Fantastic interview, Sue Ann! Terri, this insight into your world is priceless. I think it must take overwhelming dedication at your end as well.

Alan Orloff said...

Terrific interview, Sue Ann and Terri! May all your predictions/hopes/goals be realized!

Terri Bischoff said...

Hey Beth - I can't wait for the conference. We'll have a great time.

Darrell - dedication or complete insanity on my part... most days I don't see a difference!

E. B. Davis said...

Terri, I hope that you keep accepting submissions because mine is still cooking, but not far from finished.
Sue Ann-Just started reading your books and I'm sold. I'm looking forward to your next ghost story too!

Kathleen Ernst said...

Thanks for the peek behind the scenes! I can't imagine trying to choose among so many submissions. And Terri, thanks for keeping BFM going during your tenure.

Diana said...

Terri - Your broad knowledge of crime fiction is invaluable and I'm thrilled you are on the MI team! Your 2011 lineup is beautifully diverse, it will be a thrill to see the impact this will have on the MI future!!

Terri Bischoff said...

Thanks Alan!

E.B. - I don't think we'll close submissions any time soon, so feel free to send it when you are finished.

Kathleen - it is tough choosing between submissions. Particularly when you have a handful that are really good, but basically the same! It's hard to pick the best or most marketable.

Diana - Thanks for the kind words. :)

G.M. Malliet said...

I love it that MI takes chances.

They took a chance on me!

Lois Winston said...

Terri, I had no idea mine was the first book you bought. I'm honored and a bit overwhelmed!

E. B. Davis said...

Thanks Terri, I'll send it to you when I'm done. Thanks

Terri Bischoff said...

Gin - MI made a great decision taking a "chance" on you.

Lois - I can't quite remember exactly, but I think yours was also one of the first manuscripts I read. Guess it made quite the impression!!

I really am proud to work with all you Inkers, new and old. Y'all are fabulous! Thanks for letting me jump into Inkspot for a day.

Alice Loweecey said...

Great interview, Terri and Sue!

Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

Thanks, everyone, for showing your support for Terri today. I know, as far as my writing career goes, she has really helped me take it to the next level.

Vicki Doudera said...

Enjoyed this interview, Sue Ann... it is great to get to know Terri better.

Anonymous said...

This is a great interview! Love your blog, I'm so glad I found you.

Carole said...

Good interview. I enjoyed meeting you at the California Crime Writers Conference in June. You seemed both approachable and knowledgeable, and I enjoyed talking to you.