Monday, April 2, 2012

Interview: Steve Saffel, Senior Acquisitions Editor, Titan Books

by Janet Fogg

Today, Chiseled in Rock has the very great pleasure of interviewing Steve Saffel, Senior Acquisitions Editor, Titan Books. Before joining Titan, Steve tells us he “worked in publishing long enough to beg institutionalization.” He entered publishing via Marvel Comics and then moved to Del Rey Books where he edited science fiction, fantasy, alternate history, horror, and nonfiction. In his work with Titan Books, an international publisher specializing in popular culture, he edits science fiction, fantasy, alternate history, horror, graphic novel collections, media tie-ins, biography, classic fiction, art books, and more. Oh, and Steve is also an author, having written THE definitive book on Spider Man: Spider-Man The Icon: The Life and Times of a Pop Culture Phenomenon.

CIR: Steve, thank you so much for joining us here on the Rock! First of all, any recent changes in the types of manuscripts you’re seeking?

Steve: Since Titan is one of the world’s most prominent popular culture publishers, with a focus on film, television, and graphic novel properties such as Supernatural, Alien, Cthulhu, and Sherlock Holmes, we look for things that fit within those parameters—strong, iconic characters, compelling action and pacing, and an identifiable target audience. While this provides focus, it also leaves us tremendous latitude in the genres, including detective fiction, fantasy, horror, and science fiction.

CIR: Would you briefly describe Titan’s preferred submittal method?

Steve: As with so many publishers today, submissions are generally on an invitation basis. Most come through agents, though we may develop a relationship with an author at an event or via mutual acquaintances, and request a proposal or manuscript. We try to keep an eye out for new talent, though in every case we seek projects that fit within that entertainment appeal that comes from our popular culture roots.

CIR: Any upcoming Titan releases you’d care to mention?

Steve: I’m very excited by David Kowalski’s alternate history Company of the Dead, which just released. Its focal point is one of the greatest icons of the 20th century—the Titanic. An attempt to stop the ship from sinking corrupts the time stream and leads to an action-packed novel with military elements.

I’m working with author Dana Fredsti on a trilogy of zombie novels, beginning with Plague Town, out in about a week. Jonathan Maberry (Patient Zero) gave her a terrific quote, calling it “Sexy, weird, and creepy…” Dana has worked in Hollywood, including an appearance in Army of Darkness, and she’s developed a very cool, sarcastic heroine named Ashley Parker. The trilogy has a nicely different take that will build from book to book, expanding in Plague Nation and Plague World. We have a terrific working relationship, and she was the one who gave me the coveted title of DEO—Dark Editorial Overlord.

And I’m excited to be bringing the brilliant Sax Rohmer Fu-Manchu novels back into print for the first time in many years. We’ll be reissuing the entire series.

CIR: Titan occasionally runs competitions; would you share a recent example?

Steve: I’ll confess that I’m not as much a part of that—those are run by our sales and marketing team, who do a terrific job. Each project will have a different hook or appeal, and their mission is to find as many people as possible who would enjoy the book.

CIR: Do you have any pet peeves when it comes to submissions?

Steve: My greatest pet peeve is with me. My list includes novels, anthologies, art books, graphic novels, and as the American arm of Titan, I work closely with sales, marketing, publicity, and merchandising. What this means is that I’ve been a nightmare when it comes to responding to submissions. My e-mail pile-up is taller than Pikes Peak, and that frustrates me. Otherwise, most of the people who submit work to me are patient and polite, and I can’t ask for anything more.

CIR: Pet peeves when working with an author?

Steve: I rarely run into this, but occasionally I’ll work with an author who is entirely closed to discussion. This is incredibly frustrating, since I never try to tell the author, “You must do it my way.” My approach is, “I think something needs to be done here, and here is an example of what I think needs to be accomplished.” If an author bottom-line disagrees, that’s fine—it’s his or her book, not mine. If the author has a different way to accomplish what needs to be done, that’s even better, since it means we’re on the same wave length, but I’m not imposing my words on their work. But if an author won’t even discuss the issue, then the creative process breaks down.

CIR: How about pet peeves when being interviewed?

Steve: I’ll let you know when I have one. Again, it would be with me—like submissions, interviews sometimes fall victim to the 24-hour day in which I have 27 hours of work.

CIR: You’ll be in Colorado Springs in April for the Pikes Peak Writers Conference to present a discussion of the modern narrative (as it has been affected by other media), and a workshop on biographical writing. How about a sneak preview regarding the modern narrative panel?

Steve: One thing you find in many popular novels is a pacing that reflects, in some aspect, the media age in which we live. Audiences are influenced by the pacing and delivery styles they see in film, on television, and online. Those influences affect the reading choices they make, and I think the writer can adopt some of the tools without losing any of the substance inherent to their work. Paragraph, line, and chapter breaks, for example, don’t require you to cut anything, yet can impact the delivery in a striking way. Rather than fighting the other media, we can learn from them and steal their advantages.

CIR: What do you love the most about being an editor? What frustrates you?

Steve: What I love most is working with writers and artists. Often I get off of the phone with one of them, and just sit there thinking, “It doesn’t get any better.” The frustration still comes from the fact that I want to do more and more of it.

CIR: Any predictions about what might be the next big thing in publishing?

Steve: No, it’s likely to come out of the blue. Thanks to the electronic media, we’re going to see more and more content, 24-7. We’ll have access to material that used to appear in mimeographed ‘zines and manuscripts that stayed in the drawer.

CIR: What trend(s) do you see fading?

Steve: Everything waxes and wanes—especially in the filmed media that often drive our reading habits, as well. In my area, I thought zombies might fade, and worried for Dana Fredsti. But The Walking Dead is stronger than ever, and World War Z will only fan the flames—as will Plague Town. I do think trends may start and end abruptly, but they can begin anew just as quickly, thanks to the lightning-fast nature of Internet communications. Thanks to things like Green Lantern and Green Hornet, I might have thought superheroes were on the way out, at least in film, but The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises will keep them on top.

CIR: What’s one piece of advice would you offer to authors everywhere?

Steve: It’s so simple as to be ridiculous—write. So often I see writers who doubt themselves, and they need to be reminded that there are many thousands of people who never put a word on the page. So if you’re a writer who is driven by the need to work with words, and you put those words on the page, you’ve succeeded completely. Take satisfaction in that, and joy that you can continue to do so for as long as you want. No one else can take that away from you.

CIR: Is there a question you wish I’d asked you?

Steve: I wish you’d prodded me earlier and said, “Where the @#$%& are the answers to my questions!?”

CIR: Now, in accordance with our CIR M.O., it’s time for an off-track question. What did you dream of doing when you were twelve years old?

Steve: Drawing superheroes and making stories about them. I could never have imagined that I would have been doing what I do.

CIR: Steve, thank you so much for your time and such thoughtful responses! We look forward to seeing you in Colorado next month! (Here’s a tip – Steve enjoys fine, dark beer, so if you see him in the bar at a conference and he looks thirsty...)

For more information about Titan Books please visit their website, blog, Facebook page, or follow them on Twitter.


Patricia Stoltey said...

Excellent interview, Janet. And Steve, thanks so much for sharing your expertise here at the Rock.

Sisters of the Quill said...

Steve, you are awesome. I remember sitting with you and Janet in the back of a great ball room at (I think) the Southwest Writers Conference, watching and commenting about the speaker, the originator of the Chicken Soup series. Nuf said on that one. Then at PPWC at the bar, talking comic books. Look forward to seeing you again soon! Karen Lin

Dana Fredsti said...

Steve, you EARNED the title of DEO. And you are the most awesome editor ever!

irishoma said...

Thanks for such great insight. Fantastic interview. Love the simple advice for writers to Write.