Interview: Ginjer Buchanan

Ginjer BuchananGinjer Buchanan will be a guest lecturer at the Odyssey Writing Workshop this summer. Buchanan was born in Pittsburgh, PA. She earned a Sociology degree from Duquesne University, and a master’s in Social Work from the University of Pittsburgh. She was employed as a social worker in Pittsburgh for two years, and then moved to New York, spending 13 years working for a foster care and adoption agency. She eased into the publishing world in the ’70s by doing freelance work for various SF publishers, including a stint as consulting editor for the Star Trek novel line at Pocket Books. In 1984 she accepted a job as a full-time editor at the Berkeley Publishing Group (now part of Penguin USA). She has had several promotions over the years, the most recent in January of 2007, when she was made editor-in-chief of Ace and Roc, the SF/F imprints of Berkley and NAL. She acquires and edits mostly in those genres but also has several mystery, horror, historical fiction, and non-fiction pop culture writers on her list.

What are the most common problems in the manuscript submissions you receive?

There are two most-common-problems: First, a lot of material is simply not that well-written. And second, even manuscripts that are otherwise adequate lack originality.

Which subgenres do you see way too much of? Which subgenres do you not see enough of?

These days, we have a deluge of Urban Fantasy. As to what we don’t see enough of—I guess I’d say military sf. It works well for us in mass market.

Many authors struggle to write synopses of their novels to submit to agents and publishers. What do you want to see in a synopsis? How long do you like it to be?

You know, I hear that all the time. But the truth is, a synopsis is just the author telling someone what happens in his or her novel. I’m not sure why that’s so difficult, but apparently it is. Anyway, it shouldn’t be any more than a couple pages. I always ask for one, even if I have bought a book from a finished manuscript. Marketing uses it.

You are the editor-in-chief of both Ace and Roc, the two science fiction/fantasy imprints of Penguin USA. Can you describe the differences between the imprints?

Ace is the oldest sf/f imprint in the business. It was founded in 1953 by Don Wollheim. It has a very long history and a very deep backlist, which includes some of the touchstone names in science fiction, both living (Joe Haldeman, John Varley, Bill Gibson) and dead (Heinlein and Herbert). Haldeman, Varley and Gibson, by the by, are still contributing to the front list, as well. Ace is a bigger list and it is more diverse. Roc is much younger. Its identity was established in the ’90s, and it skewed toward new authors who wrote non-traditional fantasy. When the lists were brought together, in the sense that the same editors buy for both, we were given the task of keeping the separate identities as much as possible.

Most writers don’t understand the concept of a publisher’s “list.” Can you describe the make-up of your list at Ace and Roc, how many books you publish each month, and how many slots you have for various subgenres? How has that list changed over the last few years?

Ace publishes anywhere from 5 to 6 mass market titles a month and 2 to 3 hardcover/trade titles. Some of the mass markets are reprints of the hc/trades but many are originals. Roc does 3-4 mass markets and 1 to 2 hardcover/trades. There are no specific subgenre slots. We try to balance both lists between sf and fantasy. The last few years—which have been enormously successful for both Ace and Roc—the lists have actually grown.

As a guest lecturer at this summer’s Odyssey Workshop, you’ll be lecturing, workshopping, and meeting individually with students. What do you think is the most important advice you can give to developing writers?

Three things; be familiar with the genre that you want to write in. But read outside that genre too. And when it comes to marketing your material, be it to an agent or an editor, do your homework and target your submissions.


For more information about Odyssey, its graduates and instructors, please visit our website at http://www.odysseyworkshop.org.

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