Interview with James Frenkel

By Theresa Rizzo

Date:  December 2011


Bio: James 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 Press.


  1. 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?”


  1. What length synopsis do you prefer to see with a partial?  Single spaced or double?


Answer: Always double-spaced; between five and seven pages, generally.


  1. 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 cozies.



  1.  What 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.



  1. 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? 
    1. Voice—if the voice is not strong, that’s terminal.
    2. Weak Grammar—can be fixed.
    3. Common plot—deadly, unless there’s a special twist to it.
    4. 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.
    5. 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.
    6. Mediocre / uninspired writing—that’s a killer.
    7. Excessive use of violence or cursing—depends on the target audience.
    8. Lacking genre –specific requirements like, suspense/sexual tension/ world-building
    9. Pacing is off—plot is too slow—can be fixed.
    10. Story starts in wrong spot—can be fixed.
    11. Ending is unsatisfactory—can be fixed.
    12. Other—storytelling—if the narrative doesn’t compel, nothing else matters. It’s dead in the water.


  1. 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.



  1. 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 helpful.



  1. 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 . . .



  1. What are you addicted to?


Answer: great story.



  1. What have you always wanted to do?


Answer: be an astronaut



  1. 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 vigilance.