Get a Free Ebook

Five Inspirational Truths for Authors

Try our Video Classes

Downloadable in-depth learning, with pdf slides

Find out more about My Book Therapy

We want to help you up your writing game. If you are stuck, or just want a boost, please check us out!

Monday, January 08, 2007

Interview with Zondervan's Sr. Acquisitions Editor, Sue Brower, Part I

Tell us a little about yourself and how you ended up as Zondervan’s senior acquisitions editor.

I have been a fiction reader for as long as I have been able to recognize words on a page—Trixie Belden, Nancy Drew, Victoria Holt, Margaret Mitchell. As a child I read in the car, at family social occasions, before I went to sleep at night, and as I was dusting the furniture for my mom. Yes, book in one hand and rag in the other, I could dust and read at the same time! My brothers teased me incessantly, but I never stopped reading.

Bottom line, I ended up as Zondervan’s senior acquisitions editor because of my love for fiction. I started out at Zondervan in book marketing (for 12 years) and eventually became the fiction marketing director. What I loved most about that job was the contact and relationships that I made with our authors. When the AE job became available, it seemed to be a natural transition. I knew our authors. I knew why they were acquired and how they fit into our overall category strategy. And I had already been evaluating and making editorial comments on manuscripts for years. This is truly my dream job—I could do it for the rest of my life and be a happy little camper. My brother now teases me that “only I could get paid to read all day.”

What direction do you see Zondervan’s fiction going in the future?

Zondervan fiction is going to have a strong portfolio of authors whose works will appeal to the core Christian market. In addition, we will be recognized as a company that takes advantage of new opportunities, trends, and fresh voices in fiction. No matter what the project, though, it will go through the screen of our mission statement…”To be the leader in Christian communications, meeting the needs of people with resources that glorify Jesus Christ and promote biblical principles.”

One of the debates in Christian book review circles is a lack of harsh reviews of CBA books. Should Christian authors be brutally honest when we review other Christian authors?

I believe reviewers should be tactfully honest when they review any book. An author does not grow in their craft if they consistently get good reviews for unpolished work. I do think the review should be constructive, clear, and specific. Criticize the book, not the author. If you cannot be honest in your assessment of a poorly written book, you will not be believed in your assessment of a well-written book.

Would you explain the process a publishing board goes through in deciding too publish a book?

First, let me explain that our publishing process is embedded within category teams. Fiction is in the Fiction/Inspiration category team. Each team is lead by a Sr. Acquisitions Editor, a Sr. Marketing Director, and National Account Executive. In addition, we are supported in weekly meetings by a Creative Director, Production Manager, PR Director, Category Team Manager, and an Editorial Process manager. Okay, so now the process.

Proposal is scheduled for the team meeting at which Sales provides unit projections. After we run the financials, and if the project meets corporate metrics, we are in the position to make an offer to the author. Throughout the process we are constantly asking: Does this book fit the Zondervan Mission? Does it meet the team strategy? Does it meet category strategies and does it meet corporate strategies? Does the consumer WANT it?

The process, once it is taken to our team meeting, takes about five weeks. Depending on how thick the stack of proposals is, it could take me up to three months to determine if I want to bring the proposal to the team.

Besides stellar writing, what can an author do to increase their chances of getting a book contracted?

· You need to know who you target audience is. What else is this consumer reading? Who is this consumer reading?

· You need an agent, or you need to go to major writing conferences like ACFW. These are the only places I am taking manuscripts from right now.

What's your pet peeve when it comes to the business of publishing?

My pet peeve is receiving proposals that never should have been sent to Zondervan. I have had agents send me proposals for secular fiction (cursing, sex, and all) that we would never dream of publishing. If you are sending out your own queries, know something about the publisher you are sending your proposals to. If you have an agent, make sure they are sending your manuscript to the appropriate places. All you have to do is check the Zondervan website to know we publish Christian fiction—primarily in the contemporary and suspense categories.

How true is the adage it’s all in who you know?

I don’t believe that at all. It is all in the writing. Great writing and story-telling motivates others to talk about your work. It doesn’t matter how many people you know if you haven’s spent the time to write a solid, intriguing, compelling, story. I cannot tell you of one author that I have acquired because of their network.

Is networking important?

I do believe networking is important because fiction-writing can be a lonely occupation. You need to build a group of supportive people around you who are going to be honest and trustworthy. These are people who will give you valuable critique. That and you need a network that will provide the grass roots support when your books is finally in print!.

How can an author take their work from good to great?

This is tough, because it is so subjective. Great to me is not necessarily the most literary book I’ve ever read. “Great” is writing a story so compelling, the characters so real, the setting so visual, that I just can’t stop talking about it to other people.

Several years ago, I read the book Ghost by Adrian Plass. I could not stop talking about it. I still remember all the character’s names, and I remember my favorite parts of the action. Given that I read over 100 books a year, this is amazing! “Great” evokes an emotion, changes lives, changes opinions, and lingers long after the book is read.

How important are writer’s conferences to the new writer?

I think writer’s conferences are great for the new writer. They offer motivation, strategies, and guidance in the overall occupation of writing. They also offer that network of like minds that love to go off in a corner and dream up stories.

I do think you need to make sure you have a goal for each one you go to. How will each workshop or seminar help move you one step further toward the ultimate goal of publication? It may seem harsh, but remember that this is your career and a business expense, not a party. The icing on the cake is if you build a strong network with other writers, but if you have gone to several conferences and still haven’t finished your manuscript or met with an agent, I would call it a hobby.

The best way to be a great writer is to sit down and write! The only way to sell you book is to meet with agents and people that can help you move forward on your publishing goals.

What else would you suggest an aspiring writer do to increase their chances of getting discovered?

To be continued tomorrow ...


  1. I've been waiting for this interview! Thank you so much for doing it. It is so comforting to hear, from someone like Sue, that is really IS the writing and not who you know. I also appreciate the encouragement to write honest book reviews. Looking forward to tomorrow's conclusion.

    Oh, and I still have all my Trixie Beldens. :)

  2. Sue, I've wanted to sit down with you someday and have a cup of tea and get to know you better. For now, this interview will suffice. Thanks for sharing your passion for fiction.

  3. I can attest to the value of the ACFW conference--that's where I met Sue! This is an awesome interview so far--great questions, Gina!

  4. Great info about a publishing committee. Thanks, Sue, for sharing with us. And great advice for writers.

    Thanks, Gina, for bringing this interview to us. Appreciate your hard work.

  5. Thanks Ladies for your thanks. It means a lot. And thanks Camy for introducing me to Sue.

    And Sue, thanks so much for taking the time out to let us pick your brain. This was a real treat.

  6. Sue, thanks for sharing your invaluable insights. I second your recommendation to attend writers conference purposefully and to meet with editors.

  7. What a wonderful and informative interview, Gina! Thank you, Sue, for taking the time to share your thoughts with us. I really appreciate what you've said here.


    :-)Ronie Kendig

  8. Thanks for all the solid, goal oriented info in this interview!

    (And btw, Nancy Drew was one of my faves too :)

  9. I'm so glad that I have been helpful to you. I realize that every publishing house and editor is different, so I can only give you some insights into my perspective. I love my work and thank God every day that I get to do what I do!

  10. Way cool ... I like this part ..."“Great” evokes an emotion, changes lives, changes opinions, and lingers long after the book is read ..." That's something to strive for.



Don't be shy. Share what's on your mind.