Andy Meisenheimer is in his seventh year at Zondervan, his tenth year of marriage, his third year of fatherhood, and his first year playing in the band Group Dancing for Dutch People, an accordion duo cover band he co-founded with band member Jim Kast-Keat. While at Zondervan, he has worked with important, influential and talented authors writing in many different impressive genres. One author writes, "Andy is the nerdy yet paternal editor you always wanted," though Andy was quick to edit that sentence down to its essence: "Andy's super cool." However, better than all of that, Andy lives with his best-friend-and-muse Mandy and their three-year-old cutest-little-boy-in-the-world near Grand Rapids, MI. They are the best part of his life.
When are you inclined to take a chance on something "out of the box" -- away from a proven formula -- and how far are you willing to go with an untried theme, style, etc?
The problem with something out of the box, an untried theme or style, is that it requires people to actually immerse themselves in a new experience. It can’t be reduced to sound bytes and flashy ads. It can’t be pitched as “Jaws meets Harry Potter”. Instead, much like an annoying girlfriend, it asks for commitment, and then like marriage demands that you open yourself up to growth and become vulnerable with your weaknesses—and sometimes look up a word in the dictionary. But some people just want something mildly amusing to read during lunch break.
I like to cook meals for my wife and kid. My blessing and my curse is that I rarely have exactly what a recipe calls for, and so I fudge a little. And then sometimes I augment recipes with my own ideas. But I preface each meal with “well, hope this worked!” It might sound scary, but my family’s learned that there’s a decent chance that my cooking is going to taste better than McDonald’s, and might even taste better than a good restaurant. And it’s definitely going to be made with healthier, fresher ingredients and cooked in a healthier way than McDonald’s.
I love that kind of cooking.
In your experience with actually meeting authors who produce what you regard as excellence, what common traits to you see in them as persons?
Brilliant writers, in my experience, are writers who are constantly writing really crappy stuff, and then tossing it or rewriting it eight times. They are the ice skater on the rink late at night, performing the same move over and over and over again; they are the painter at the museum imitating the paintings they see before them; they are the football star watching the replay frame-by-frame; they are the musician sitting around jamming with friends; they are the actor learning Shakespeare; they are the architect drawing plans that are both beautiful and functional. They are constant critics as well as studious observers of good storytelling. They have an appreciation for pulp even as they pursue literary genius. They are confident when they need to be and yet they have their trusted advisors who can say most anything.
Give us a glimpse into an ideal author/editor relationship.
Sometimes this Certain Author calls just to hear my voice. Sometimes he claims that my voice is the one he hears in his head as he writes his characters. His wife is the only one with more power over his stories than me. He’s writing his book in third person because I decided it was time to do some third person writing, and because it’d be best for his story. He couldn’t do it, wrote some first person, and so I rewrote it for him in third person. He sneaks in certain things he knows I’ll cut just so he can feel good accepting that cut. He reads the edited novel with tracked changes hidden just to see how brilliant my editing is. If he has another child I don’t think naming the kid Andrew Robert would be indecorous. We share book recommendations and gab about the craft of writing. I write in the margin exactly what I’m thinking, and he writes back exactly what he’s thinking. We know and respect each other’s style. I’m an editor, and he’s a writer. We both want the book to be a work of the highest order, and the best work he’s ever done. And deep down we know that if the other ever went to jump off a metaphorical cliff, we’d be there to say “hey, maybe don’t do that.”
But each one is different. But I don’t think symbiotic would be so terrible of a one-word answer. Now half my authors are going to think I’m weird—the other half, that is, that doesn’t already think that, and appreciate that about me.
How do you balance art and business?
Very carefully. We don’t all work for a rich anonymous benefactor whose sole concern is excellence in the literary arts. So like any editor who wants to enjoy life, I try to make sure I acquire at least a few people whose work I believe to be of the highest quality, even as I do my job and acquire the potboilers that feed my family. Do I believe it has to be that way? No. Does the company I work for have the same eye for that balance as I see it? Not always. I’m on a journey just like you. But my job is to keep looking, and keep pitching good books to my boss.
I’ll tell you the one thing I do that keeps me sane. When I’m on my own time, I spend it with my wife and kid—talk about quality—and when they’re tired of me, I read good books.
How do you think one should balance art and business as a writer?
Unfortunately, the internet allows aspiring writers to waste way too much time focused on business. Reading blogs about writing, writing blogs about reading, creating a brand and websites and tweeting and facebooking and revising your work according to the latest “rule” of writing. No editor or reader is fooled into thinking that your stuff is gold because someone’s got a great blog or tagline or brand or website or facebook. There is one and only one way to get the kind of loyalty you want from your readers. Good books. No one says “I loved this book but since I can’t follow the author on twitter, oh well. I guess I’ll just never read them again.” And conversely, “this book sucked but they have such a (killer) brand! I’ve got to read more.” Writers should focus on art until they have a business. Which in today’s world, many of you should just realize your dreams and publish your books yourself. Use that internet connection for a better purpose. And if your book’s as brilliant as you’d like it to be, you’ve got nothing to worry about.
Thanks for asking questions and letting me answer them. The blank page really scares me. That’s why I’m an editor.