Interview conducted via e-mail by Pat Stoltey
Terri Bischoff owned a mystery bookstore for several years, but now she’s the acquisitions editor for Midnight Ink, publisher of crime fiction in almost all its forms. Several Colorado authors have been signed by Terri—Shannon Baker, Beth Groundwater, Linda Hull and Cricket McRae—and Terri also joined us at the 2011 Colorado Gold Conference where she took pitches from hopeful authors.
We welcome you to Chiseled in Rock blog, Terri. Thank you for agreeing to this interview.
Pat: It’s obvious you’ve been interested in crime fiction for a long time. But what about when you were a kid? What did you want to be when you grew up?
Terri: I read everything I could. I specifically remember Encyclopedia Brown and the Hardy Boys. I have a memory of me in elementary school, waiting for the bus after school, reading a really fat romance book. I would skim over the naughty parts, but I had run out of things to read and I found that at home!
Pat: What did you like best about owning a mystery bookstore? What did you like least?
Terri: There are several things I loved about owning a mystery bookstore. I have a bunch of author friends, some of whom I have the pleasure of publishing now. I also became great friends with many customers. And when I got a box of ARCs, it was like Christmas! What did I like least? Running the actual business. Huh, sort of mirrors my likes and dislikes as an acquisitions editor!
Pat: You are now the acquisitions editor for Midnight Ink. Tell us about your typical work day (and especially how many manuscripts you usually have waiting in your e-mail Inbox).
Terri: I don’t really have a typical day. I am checking and answering emails all day long. I can have three meetings a day or none. (Note that in one meeting, we could address four different books.)
As an acquisitions editor, I walk the book thru the entire process. I present it to the acq. ed. board which requires me to research the book and its comparable titles. If we ok it, I make an offer and negotiate the contract. With the input of others, we request revisions – then I have to read the revisions when they come in. I present cover ideas, title ideas and tag lines and we decide on those as a group. For each season, I present at an internal sales conference. I discuss each book and place it in the market so sales, marketing and publicity have all the info they need to do their jobs. And these are just the highlights. Juggling is important in my world.
Sadly, I spend the least amount reading submissions. I don’t know right now how many submissions I have, but I am over a year behind, which is why I had to partially close submissions.
Pat: According to the Midnight Ink online submission guidelines, you do not take unsolicited submissions, but will accept submissions from agents or from contacts you’ve made at conferences or mystery conventions in the last twelve months. For those writers who are interested in pitching to you in person, which conferences will you attend this year? What do you look for in an 8-10 minute pitch?
Terri: So far I am only scheduled for three conferences – Love is Murder, Malice Domestic and Bouchercon. I am also doing the RMFW May Education Event (May 19th at the Renaissance Hotel in Denver).
What do I look for in a pitch? First, I am a person just like any other person – talk to me and make eye contact once in a while. Second, know your book. Don’t call it a cozy if you graphically blow away four people in the first two pages. Third, tell me the key parts – word length, genre, main character info and plot info. Leave me time to ask questions – don’t mindlessly prattle.
Pat: When you review a crime fiction manuscript, what are the five most important things you look for in the first chapter?
Terri: Five things? I don’t know that I have any rules… the first chapter has to grab me. Either the character or the crime has to intrigue me.
Pat: In subgenres, what are you tired of seeing and what would you love to see?
Terri: I don’t know that I am tired of seeing anything. Even though vampires are trending down, if a well-written, well-conceived manuscript came my way, I would give it a shot. I don’t chase trends because it’s a waste of time. I am only interested in finding the best crime fiction out there.
Pat: Do you reject manuscripts for excessive violence or gore, profanity, or certain kinds of crimes?
Terri: I personally don’t like crimes involving kids, but I wouldn’t necessarily reject it. The only types I reject without hesitation are horror or fantasy/sci-fi crossovers.
Pat: At this time, are you more interested in mystery series or standalone novels and why?
Terri: We publish mostly series books because that is what most mystery readers are interested in – readers want the plot but also characters they can come back to. But as I expand the line and publish more thrillers and such, I will be picking up standalones. Thrillers rely more on the action and plot rather than the character development.
Pat: Writers are often advised to have a web presence before even selling their first manuscript. Of the following web and social media opportunities, which do you consider most important for the debut author: a website, a blog, Twitter, Facebook, or Goodreads? Are there any others you recommend to your authors?
Terri: I wouldn’t recommend a heavy social media push until you have a contract in hand. Most books take 12-18 months to publish with a traditional publisher. That is plenty of time to drum up interest. I would rather an author spend his or her time revising their book. And when book one is turned into the publisher, start working on book two immediately. I would not EVER recommend getting a website with the character's name or the name of the book until your editor has confirmed that name – publishers change titles most of the time, so don’t waste your money.
Pat: What do you do for fun when you’re not being an acquisitions editor?
Terri: Hmm… I used to read, but not so much these days! I love sports, so going to a baseball game or watching football is what I do on most weekends. I bowl. Fishing if someone is there to take the fish off! I also have three boys, aged 6, 4 and 4. They are a handful, so mostly I just try to keep them fed.
Pat: Terri, thanks so much for answering our questions. We hope to see you at another Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Colorado Gold Conference soon.
Terri Bischoff blogs at Under Cover of Midnight—The Midnight Ink Blog with Terri Bischoff. Her January 3rd post on New Year’s Resolutions lists her personal and professional goals for 2012 (after she mentions her entertaining reasons for never making resolutions). The blog also features guest authors (and photos that reveal more about what an acquisitions editor does at work and at play).
Terri can also be found on Facebook and Twitter @TerriBischoff
For more information about Midnight Ink and its books and authors, visit the publisher’s website. The authors’ blog is InkSpot.