Interview with James Frenkel
By Theresa Rizzo
Date: December 2011
Frenkel has worked in publishing since 1971. He has,
at various times, been an editor, an agent, a packager and a publisher. The one
constant in his career has been editing. He has worked for Dell Publishing/Delacorte Press, Grosset &
Dunlap, Macmillan Publishing, and for the past twenty-five years has edited
books for Tom Doherty Associates (Tor Books/Forge Books). He has edited
hundreds of books since he began, ranging from a potpourri of non-fiction
(self-help; health-and-fitness; biographies/memoirs; cookbooks;
crossword-puzzle books; comic-strip books; science; history; sports; the
occult) to a wide range of fiction: contemporary fiction; mysteries and
thrillers; historical fiction; fantasy; science fiction; romantic fiction;
adventure novels; Young Adult fiction; film and tie-in novels. He is currently
a Senior Editor for TDA, and for twenty years has been the packager of The
Year's Best Fantasy and Horror anthology series published by St. Martin's
- Which categories do you currently acquire? Which category has a special/constant
place in your heart?
Answer: I am acquiring science fiction, fantasy, mystery, thriller, urban
fantasy, historical fiction, and some non-fiction, especially science and
sports. If forced to choose, I would have to say that science fiction is
the nearest and dearest to me. But it’s an unfair question, because I also
love fantasy, mystery, thrillers, and historical fiction . . . not fair to
make me choose—it’s like saying, “We are going to drown one of your two
children. Which one do you want to save?”
- What length synopsis do you prefer to
see with a partial? Single spaced
Answer: Always double-spaced; between five and seven pages, generally.
- In terms of submissions, what are you
sick to death of and what would you like to see more of?
Answer: There’s way too much urban
fantasy right now. I’d love to see more really good mysteries, especially
are the most compelling elements you feel are necessary for a good
read? What particularly grabs your attention?
Answer: characters that I can really care about are the most important
thing. And of course, a big concept is always helpful.
- For you, which elements in a fiction
submission are terminal problems garnering automatic rejections and which
are tempting and fixable meriting a look at a revision if a talented
author is willing to accept your advice?
- Voice—if the voice is not strong,
- Weak Grammar—can be fixed.
- Common plot—deadly, unless there’s
a special twist to it.
- Poor character development—people
define character development in different ways. It’s always helpful if
characters are well developed; it’s _crucial_
that they be people the reader relates to.
- Story is too controversial (ie rape, politics, religion—what else?)—not a problem. If it’s a terrific book otherwise,
controversy isn’t a real problem.
- Mediocre / uninspired writing—that’s
- Excessive use of violence or cursing—depends
on the target audience.
- Lacking genre –specific requirements
like, suspense/sexual tension/ world-building
- Pacing is off—plot is too slow—can
- Story starts in wrong spot—can be
- Ending is unsatisfactory—can be
- Other—storytelling—if the narrative
doesn’t compel, nothing else matters. It’s dead in the water.
- Does meeting an author face-to-face at
a conference make a difference in your response time, the submission
process, or the rejection process (ie. Form letter vs a few
sentences of advice)?
Answer: Sometimes. Authors need to
understand that it’s the work that matters. Whether one gets a form letter or
advice depends more on the quality of the work than whether I’ve met the
author. I always try to be polite and considerate, regardless. I don’t really
do form rejections, regardless.
- Besides the writing, the story and the
talent, what are the most important elements you look for in an author, ie. contest wins,
cooperativeness, affiliations to writers organizations, knowledge of
publishing industry, promotability, etc?
Answer: If everything else is
equal, it’s always helpful if an author has some clue about promoting his or
her work on the internet and in the real world. Being
realistic, cooperative and having a clue about how publishing works is all
- Do you have any pet peeves?
Answer: I tire of writers who think
that tricksy gambits—odd narrative approaches such as
first-or-second person p.o.v., present tense; short,
sharp sentences in abundance . . .
- What are you addicted to?
Answer: great story.
- What have you always wanted to do?
Answer: be an astronaut
- Do you have a favorite quote?
Answer: This is doubtless a
paraphrase, and I don’t remember who said it:
The price of freedom is eternal