Issue #136 — July 3, 2012
Five Burning Questions for Emerging Writers: Leigh Stein
Leigh Stein is the author of The Fallback Plan (Melville House, 2012) and Dispatch from the Future (Melville House, forthcoming July 2012).
Interview conducted by Kit Frick
Sapling: Tell us about the process of getting your first novel, The Fallback Plan, out in the world. Did you enter contests? Open reading periods? What transpired between sending the manuscript out initially and its acceptance at Melville House?
Leigh Stein: Good question! I have a wonderful agent, Sarah Bridgins at Frances Goldin, who “discovered” me by reading my poetry and my blog. When she initially contacted me, I hadn’t even finished the first draft of The Fallback Plan (and at the time, it was called What We Do when You’re Not Here, which I thought was an awesome title, but which everyone immediately forgot as soon as I told them). Having her representation motivated me to finish the book, and then we did a couple rounds of edits, and she started sending it out to editors. It got glowing rejections. Most loved it/thought it was funny, but didn’t know how to “market” it. I think I got 17 rejections. We had basically run out of publishers to send out to. A friend of mine, Catherine Lacey, had interned at Melville House, and she offered to pass it along to the publisher, Dennis Johnson. He read it over Thanksgiving weekend 2010 and emailed me on Monday, asking me if the book was still “available” and if I wanted to get coffee. AVAILABLE!? I think I cried.
S: What was your experience with the editing of your manuscript after its acceptance? Did you have an opportunity to make revisions, either at your own suggestion or at the suggestion of your editor? How involved were you in the design aspects of the book’s production (cover image, interior design, and so on)?
LS: Sarah was a great editor for me, as we prepared the book to submit to editors. Then, at Melville House, I got lucky again with Dennis. He’s another great editor. We didn’t do any major overhauling. I’m a slow writer, and I edit as I go, so when something feels done to me, there usually isn’t much to do. But even his small edits were smart…at first, I’d read them and think, “I’m not changing that! How could he ask that of me?!” And then two days later, I’d realize he was right all along. I’m not a visual person, so I didn’t have a cover in mind for the book. I just knew I didn’t want a headless woman. A headless woman says, “This book is being marketed to women.” Christopher King, the art director at Melville House, is aces. He wrote a blog post about all the incarnations of my cover.
S: Did you publish any excerpts from The Fallback Plan in literary journals or other periodicals before the publication of the finished book? Did this seem like a necessary part of the process for this particular project?
LS: The second chapter appeared in 12th Street, the student journal at the New School. But other than that, no, I didn’t submit excerpts from it for publication.
S: In what ways have you been involved in the publicity and promotion of your book? In what ways has the press handled its marketing?
LS: I went on a huge, nine city book tour in January. Melville House’s publicity team was amazing. I got more press than I could have dreamed of getting. I wrote some guest blog posts as part of the publicity: for the Jewish Book Council, for Amazon’s Kindle newsletter, for Barnes & Noble’s online newsletter. I gave interviews. They did a campaign to college newspapers (since my book is about a recent grad), and weirdly, some of my most scathing reviews came from college students. One criticized the fact that there were typos in the “uncorrected advance proof” she’d been sent. Yowza! Reading online reviews (on Amazon or Goodreads) was brutal at times. I’ve tried to stop doing it, but it’s like I’m addicted to crack. I want to know what people are saying!
S: What surprised you about the process of having your first novel published? Is there anything you wish you’d known beforehand about putting a novel out into the world and/or publishing with a small press?
LS: Honestly, I wish I’d avoided the black hole of reading online reviews. I think people must think that because I’ve reached a certain level of publication, I’m fair game for all kinds of criticism. Also, some readers have blurred the line between me and the character I’ve written, which has also been frustrating. I loved writing Esther, but I’m not her.
S: Bonus number 6—You have a poetry collection, Dispatch from the Future, coming out from Melville House this July. Congrats! What was the process like of getting your first full-length poetry collection published in relation to the process of sending out your novel? Was there anything remarkably different about the submission or editorial process for you?
LS: Thank you! I’m so excited for this book to come out. I finished the first incarnation of this collection in 2007, before I started writing my novel. I was sending it out to contests for a couple years, and I actually submitted it to Melville House and they sent a nice rejection back, to say they can’t take on a lot of poetry collections. So it’s pretty sweet to have them publish it now! They wanted to bring my novel out first, and get attention for that, before releasing the poetry, which understandably has a smaller (but still awesome) audience.
Leigh Stein is the author of the novel The Fallback Plan, which New York Magazine called “a masterwork of the post-collegiate babysitting genre.” Her full-length poetry collection, Dispatch from the Future, is forthcoming from Melville House in July.