Thursday, February 04, 2010

Pro-File: Interview with St. Martin's Toni Plummer

Pro-File: Toni Plummer

Toni Plummer grew up in South El Monte , California , a working-class suburb of Los Angeles . She earned a B.A. in Philosophy from the University of Notre Dame and a Masters in Professional Writing from USC. Toni is an Associate Editor at Thomas Dunne Books, a division of St. Martin ’s Press, where she acquires fiction and nonfiction. Some of her authors include New York Times bestselling author of Slumdog Millionaire Vikas Swarup , California Book Award winner Michael Jaime-Becerra, Edgar finalist Sophie Littlefield, up-and-coming debut mystery author Brad Parks, and Rita Award winner Caridad Ferrer. Toni is a winner of the Miguel M├írmol Prize, and her short story collection is forthcoming from Northwestern University Press. She lives in Brooklyn .

What made you decide on publishing as a career?

Like many other liberal arts majors, I didn’t know what I was going to do after college. I hadn’t really thought that far ahead! But I knew that I loved reading. One thing led to another and after graduate school, I moved out to New York. The publishing jobs were what interested me most, and, fortunately, I was able to land one.

What was your first job in publishing?

I started as an editorial assistant at Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press in 2004 and have been here ever since. Before that, I interned in the backyard shed of a literary agent in Los Angeles, but I don’t really count that.

What was your first big surprise about the publishing world?

It’s so small! Really, everyone knows everyone else. Or, if you don’t know someone, you know someone who does.
With all the doom-and-gloom pieces constantly being written about publishing, what’s your take on the future for books?
I don’t think that publishing is ending, it’s just evolving. Naturally, there are kinks to work out as we move into new territory, namely, e-books. But I think there’s always going to be a market for stories, or “content”. And there are a lot of people out there who still love buying and owning physical books. I know I’m one of them.

Have vampires finally tapped out (please say yes)?

I’m afraid not! Although I should say that my first foray into genre fiction was Anne Rice’s The Vampire Chronicles. I was addicted. It’s hard to imagine it getting better than that! But maybe I should see what these new-fangled vampire novels are all about…

How would you describe your typical day at St. Martin’s?

A whirlwind! It’s an office, so think: getting signatures on paperwork, answering emails. I must write or answer maybe 50 emails a day--the most charming being from Ed Gorman, of course. But there are also all the tasks unique to our business: transmitting manuscripts to Production, writing jacket copy, preparing materials for the Sales department, attending editorial meetings, talking to colleagues about submissions. I’m handling books at all different stages of the publication process, and we’re constantly getting in new material. So, organization is key. All my reading and editing is done after-hours.

Are you excited about starting to build your own list of writers?

Yes! The best part of the job is seeking out stories that you love and getting to share them with others, first in-house and then hopefully with the public. It’s immensely fulfilling to see your authors well-received by critics and readers. Speaking of which, one of my authors Sophie Littlefield is nominated for an Edgar Award for her first novel, A Bad Day for Sorry! I’m casually blowing on my nails right now.

What kinds of novels are you looking for?

I’m looking for mysteries, from light, funny ones to really gritty, thrilling ones. I respond to humor, well-drawn characters, and stories with a strong sense of place. I’m also looking for women’s fiction, literary and commercial. Multicultural, historical. I like some romance in my novels, but if it dominates the plot, it can become too much for me. You’ve heard this a million times, I’m sure, but an editor starts out as just a reader. You have to fall in love with the characters, the voice. Other more objective factors come into play too of course, and other people. But it all starts with you falling in love.

When you have time, who do you read for pleasure?

Are you talking to me? Seriously though, I like reading short fiction, because I can get a nice sampling of many different authors in a short time. The Akashic Books noir series is really nice for that. A few of my favorite authors (who are not my authors) are Julia Alvarez, Philip Roth, John Updike, Andre Dubus III, Susan Straight, and Michael Chabon. I value reading for pleasure more than I ever did before!


Richard S. Wheeler said...

This is a marvelous interview and she is a thoughtful, delightful editor. She is truly an asset to her company and the authors she has acquired.

I'm glad you are interviewing editors. They are simply more interesting than authors. My all-time favorite book is Maxwell Perkins, by A. Scott Berg. I reread it frequently.

RJR said...

I had the pleasure of being the first author Toni handled on her own as an editor at SMP, with my Rat Pack books.


Sophie Littlefield said...

I'm proud to say that Toni is *my* editor. Back when we first spoke - nearly two years ago - I was SO green and ignorant of nearly every aspect of publishing. I count myself extremely lucky to have learned on the job with Toni showing me how it's done and taking good care of my books. She's got a gift, and heart, and that's a winning combination. I'm looking forward to working with her for many more books!!

Kenneth Mark Hoover said...

Good interview, thanks!

I also linked it to my "News" section on my own website, hope you don't mind. :)