We just had our yearly League of Utah Writers conference and I was lucky enough to spend some time with Lisa Mangum, Managing Editor for Shadow Mountain Imprint. Lisa has a wealth of knowledge and was so gracious to share some of her best insights with us.
Brooke: Thank you so much for meeting with me. You’re very well respected in the writing community and you also have four books out so we are very excited to get to know you a little better. You work in the publishing department for Deseret Book since 1997, and now you’re the managing editor for Shadow Mountain Imprint. Can you tell us a little about Shadow Mountain and how you became involved with them?
Lisa: Deseret Book Company has three imprints: Deseret Book produces slightly more than half of the line up and the books are fiction and nonfiction specifically for the LDS audience—highly religious. The other two imprints are for our national line, Shadow Mountain and Ensign Peak. They are designed for broad consumption. Shadow Mountain is not specifically religious. There may be characters in the novels that are religious but it’s not a big part, no specific LDS content. Shadow Mountain titles are family friendly with good values, clean writing, and uplifting messages.
Ensign Peak is a fairly new imprint. We are really selective about the books we pick for that imprint because the books are designed for members of all different faiths, people who believe in God, people who are looking to increase their spirituality. We want to have really uplifting material, designed to talk about God, but not in such an overt LDS way. It’s a way we can talk in general terms about God and spirituality.
We accept submissions for all three imprints, but I’m managing editor for Shadow Mountain so I’m really just looking for things to fill the Shadow Mountain and Ensign Peak line.
Most of the submissions that come in are for Shadow Mountain. We’ve really specialized in Middle Grade and YA fantasy. We’ve hit a sweet spot with that right now. We do fiction and nonfiction for adults as well and some children’s picture books, memoirs, and cookbooks.
Brooke: Are most of the authors that come to you agented or unagented?
Lisa: Most of them right now are unagented, but we accept both. Some of our authors have come to us unagented and then eventually get an agent and that’s fine. Or they have an agent up front and that’s okay too. We’ll certainly work with them. It is nice to have an open-door policy that really anybody can submit.
Brooke: Can you tell us a little about the steps once you’ve decided to publish an author? Walk us through that process.
Lisa: Sometimes getting to “yes” has extra steps. We run financial numbers to make sure that, from a business standpoint, it makes sense for us to do the book—that we could sell a reasonable amount of books for a reasonable price and make a reasonable amount of money. We also have a lot of people who review a manuscript for content and to make sure it fits with our mission. Those two steps can sometimes take a little while. Once those hoops have been jumped through and we say yes, (hooray!) we look at our schedule to figure out when would be the best time to release the book. Right now the things we are saying yes to are being slated for late fall 2015 to early spring 2016. We really need that much lead-time to get the marketing in place, to get the cover designed, and the editing just right.
Brooke: How many editors do you have?
Lisa: For Shadow Mountain, it’s just me right now. I do rely quite a bit on freelance editors for the copyedits and proofreading. Chris Schoebinger—he’s really the brains behind Shadow Mountain—and Heidi Taylor also acquire manuscripts and read them and help with some of the content editing. As managing editor, though, my job is to help make sure it all comes together in the end.
Brooke: You’ve got a lot on your plate. Can you tell us about a typical day for you?
Lisa: One of the things I love about my job is that it’s different every day. I usually spend about half-hour to forty-five minutes answering emails and returning phone calls first thing in the morning. And then because I know I’m better in the morning than the afternoon, I try to set aside three to four hours to do copyedits on whatever projects I’m working on. If I can get that done, I feel good about taking lunch. In the afternoon, I try go over the other steps on books in process. I could have anywhere from seven to ten books somewhere in the production cycle besides just doing copyedits. So I’ll check corrections, write a jacket copy or proofread something on another book. Usually right before I leave for the day, I’ll do one last pass through my email.
Brooke: So as far as looking at the queries when they come in, is that something you handle?
Lisa: Yes, I try to reserve Fridays to go through submissions and read the queries. I do that because I’m in a better mood on Fridays, and I believe submissions deserve to have me at my best and not after a long day or when I only have twenty minutes.
Brooke: How many queries do you get on average?
Lisa: I probably get between 10-12 manuscripts a week.
Brooke: So people are sending whole manuscripts in the beginning, not just queries?
Lisa: Yes. I’m happy to see both. I see more full manuscripts than I do queries. The online submission system is set up so that it’s very easy to send the whole manuscript.
Brooke: You’ve said you love finding the “diamond in the rough” of the slush-pile. What advice do you have for those of us who are still trying to BE that diamond?
Lisa: Being in the slush pile is a great way to get out of it. Submit relentlessly, not always to the same person with the same thing, but be brave enough to get your work out there. Nobody is going to find your book if it’s stuck in the bottom of a drawer.
A really good query letter can go a long way, but the truth is, really good writing trumps everything. I’ve read lots of lame query letters but then the author had outstanding first chapters and then I read the whole thing.
Brooke: If people send you pages do you always read that along with the query?
Lisa: Yes. I usually read the query, and then I try to read at least the whole first chapter.
How did you decide that you wanted to write as well? When during your time in the publishing world did you know you wanted to write a book?
Lisa: I actually wanted to be a writer before I wanted to be an editor. My mom’s a writer and an editor, so I grew up seeing that it was totally possible. It wasn’t so far out of reach—until I got to junior high, because, of course, your life falls apart a junior high. I thought I wasn’t good enough to be a writer, but I loved books so much that I wanted to stay around them. I was good with grammar and spelling, so I thought I could be an editor and maybe someday write the stuff on the back of the books.
I had been working as an editor for about ten years before the writing bug came back. Some of my friends at work started a writing group and said, “We heard you kind of, sort of, like to write.” And I said, “Well, I kind of, sort of, do.” We got together on Thursdays after work and talked about it and that’s what jumpstarted me back into writing. I had this brilliant idea to do the Hourglass Door trilogy and eight months later I had drafted the first book and sold it to Shadow Mountain.
Brooke: That’s fantastic. Are you working on any books right now?
I’ve got some ideas I’m kicking around, and I’m writing a novella for the Timeless Romance Anthology that Heather Moore does. I did one for their Summer in New York Collection and they asked me to do one for All Hallows Eve—a paranormal Halloween story.
Brooke: How exciting for you! For the wrap-up, I ask everyone to give me the first thing that pops into their mind for this series called the Nitty-Gritty Six.
The Nitty-Gritty Six
Something about you that will surprise us: I have a genetic predisposition for blood clots. Surprise! I’ve had three. I’m fine, and the doctors all say I will live. My mom and I joke that we’re like the X-men with this genetic mutation superpower.
Guilty Pleasure: Project Runway
Favorite Movie or TV Show: Breaking Bad. That is the best show I have ever seen. It’s brilliant.
Something you couldn’t live without: My husband, Tracy.
Favorite book you’ve read this year: I read an advanced copy of Atlantia by Ally Condie. It’s brilliant. Shameless plug; it comes out in October.
Three things you love to do besides write: Go to Disneyland. My husband and I have been about twenty-five times. I love watching really bad B-movies with my family. I love curling up on the couch with my husband and my cat and a rainstorm outside.
Brooke: Thank you so much for sharing all of this with us. We wish you the best of luck and I’m sure your insights will help the members of our Chapter. Thanks again Lisa!
Don’t forget to check out my last interview with Jo Noelle.
See ya next time!