Interview conducted by Joanne Kennedy and Gusto Dave
Grand Central Publishing offers fiction and non-fiction titles from authors like Chelsea Handler, David Baldacci, Queen Latifah, Nicolas Sparks, Pam Grier, and James Patterson just to name a few. Some pretty heavy hitters. Before she took the position with Grand Central, Latoya Smith was an editorial assistant at Kensington. While acquiring her degree, she worked for New York Times bestselling author Teri Woods who started self-publishing with success long before the E-book revolution and now is widely regarded as a visionary who predicted our present publishing landscape. All of us here on the Rock think so anyway.
Dave: From Temple University, you earned a Bachelors in Journalism. Did you ever give network news a shot?
LS: Unfortunately, I did not, though I did want to write for the newsroom when I first started at Temple. However, once I began working for Teri I knew that book publishing was the career I wanted to pursue. Sadly, there wasn’t a degree program at Temple for book publishing at the time, so I took the next best thing which was Journalism with a concentration in magazines. At one point, I thought I’d start my own magazine but after learning the failure rate of the magazine business, I decided to stick with books.
Joanne: I know it’s impossible to pick a favorite child, but do you have a couple of recent or upcoming books you’re particularly proud of?
LS: There are three projects that I am extremely excited about coming in 2012. The first is a new low-country contemporary romance series by Rochelle Alers. The next is a wonderful Alice Sebold-esk novel from bestselling author Dorothy Koomson, which publishes in April. And last but not least, the newest addition to the GCP list, New York Times bestselling author, Carl Weber whose next book comes in the fall.
Dave: A writer should take editing and polishing their manuscript as seriously as possible. However, if you receive a manuscript and enjoy reading it, but there are a couple of errors in it—for example, an omitted conjunction and maybe a dangling modifier, both of them towards the back of the book—would that be a deal breaker? I always worry about this even though I edit mine three times then send them to a couple of proof readers.
LS: I understand that no one is perfect. However, sometimes errors can hinder the reading experience. I cannot say that I’ve ever passed on a novel because an author misspelled a word here or there or forgot to add a comma. What I am looking for is a unique plot, characters I can become enthralled with, great and natural sounding dialogue, and a world—whether contemporary or paranormal—that will suck me in from page one through to the end. Ultimately, I am looking for a satisfying reading experience.
Joanne: It’s time for the standard “trend” question. Is the dark urban paranormal subgenre still going strong? Do you see any other subgenres making a resurgence right now?
LS: Dark paranormal is still going strong! I think the greatest thing about paranormal is the author’s ability to take the story anywhere they like, so the reader gets an exciting, new experience every time! That’s what draws people in. Sexy historical romance and small-town contemporary romance is also making a strong comeback. What’s special about these genres, at least to me, is that they allow the reader to escape into another world for 300 or more pages.
Dave: Who are some of the cool people you’ve met thanks to your job?
LS: Wow! That list is large but I will do my best to mention them all: Pam Grier, Man-Kind, Chris Jericho, Blair Underwood, Lynn Whitfield, Dr. Cornell West, Sonia Sanchez, T.I., Sherri Shepherd, Jimmy Fallon, Isaiah Washington, Tyrese, Tasha Smith, Faith Evans, Jamie Hector, Marsha Haygood, Leslie Small, Terrie Williams, and lastly the crew from The Today Show.
Dave: Lots of journalists write books at some point during their careers. Are you working on a ‘tell all’ or a fiction piece?
LS: I’ve actually done some ghost-writing in the past. A few people have asked me to write an inspirational piece, specifically geared to young adults trying to become successful, not only in publishing, but in life. I am seriously thinking about it, but haven’t started yet. I do think I’ll complete my first novel or work of non-fiction very soon.
Joanne: What do you feel are the best promotional tools for writers? While I’m busy writing the next (even better) book, what are the best ways for me to spend my limited time and money?
LS: SOCIAL MEDIA! I can’t tell you enough how much we have taken advantage of the various online tools that cost little to no money. No matter the avenue, word of mouth will always be the strongest tool for an author. Making sure people know about you and your product is most important. Utilizing social networks, blog talk radio, blog tours, book club outreach, in addition to attending conferences and creating various tchotchkes to promote your books are great and inexpensive ways to promote yourself and your brand.
Dave: If I’m ever in Philly on a book tour (Okay, I’m dreaming a little, but I am interviewing an assistant editor with Grand Central Publishing…I got to at least sound confident) where do I go for the best cheese steak sandwich?
LS: Ha! I know people always talk about Jim’s on South Street but I happen to be a HUGE fan of cheese steaks from Max’s on Broad and Erie. Delicious!
Joanne: I know you’re looking for a great hook, a unique voice, and compelling characters—but what else can a writer do to make their query intrigue you? Does a website or self-promotion make a difference?
LS: Of course! An impressive resume can go just as far as a good story.