Friday, July 16, 2010

Six Questions for Jason Cook, Fiction Editor/Mastermind, Ampersand Books

Ampersand Books publishes fiction, creative nonfiction and poetry. "We are looking for creative work, but only good creative work. Give us God, give us god, give us man, give us people & make us laugh. If you can make us cry, do so, if you want to lament the loss of pets & family, do not. We enjoy smiling & the bizarre sensation of the rabble-rouse. We want to feel, & we want to want, & we don't want Cheap Trick jokes inserted here, unless they are awesome." Learn more here.

SQF: According to a report by Foner Books (, “[g]rowth stagnated for booksellers in 2008, and overall book sales barely moved according to the government.” In addition, I’ve read a number of articles concerning the difficulty authors are having securing book deals. In your opinion, what is the current state of the print book market?

JC: This is kind of an exciting time to be a reader or publisher. By now, everyone knows the big dogs are bleeding money and being more and more cautious in buying manuscripts. This trend will probably continue, as big publisher's look for the next Twilight or Harry Potter. The exciting part is this: there are, and will be more, a lot of great writers walking around without book deals. Small presses have more freedom because we have to sell fewer books to break even. New printing technologies are always driving down the cost of printing, so small presses will continue popping up as the big publishers leave literary markets underserved.

The unfortunate upshot, though, is that the days of six-figure advances for literary authors may be coming to a close. Day jobs may be here to stay. Which isn't to say that book sales will be down or harder than it ever was. People that love good literature still, and always will, love it and be willing to spend money. I'd be interested to know which segments of the book industry lost the most money that year.

SQF: What are the top three things you look for in a manuscript?

First - a sense of craft. This is priority one and the first thing we notice.
Second - originality of language and avoidance of cliche's. I like authors who wonder whether "butterfly" can be a verb.
Third - we look for books that don't try too hard to make a point.

SQF: What major mistakes do authors make when pitching their books?

JC: Not reading the damn submission guidelines. If it says we don't want unsolicited manuscripts, don't submit. Don't query about submitting. Don't query about querying about submitting. Follow the rules. The editors put them there for a reason.

SQF: Of the books your company publishes each year, how many are by previously unpublished authors?

JC: All of them.

SQF: What is your advice to new, unpublished authors looking for a publisher or agent?

JC: Be persistent and look for publishers in the same field you're in. Entertain ideas that seem out-of-the-box and, if you can't afford to pay someone to do it, learn how to do it well. Also, I would advise against self-publishing.

SQF: What question do you wish I’d asked that I didn’t? And how would you answer it?

Q: Are you really as awesome as you would seem?
A: Yes.

Thank you, Jason. We all appreciate you taking time from your busy schedule to participate in this project.

NEXT POST: 7/ 19--Six Questions for Michael Aaron Casares, Publisher, Virgogray Press

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