The Whole Megillah (TWM): What is Fig Tree Books and what is your specific role?
Michelle Caplan (MC): Fig Tree Books is a new literary publishing house founded by Fredric Price, a successful entrepreneur in the orphan drug industry who wants to publish high quality fiction about the American Jewish experience (AJE). We will publish the very best contemporary novels as well as out-of-print classics on the AJE that we believe will resonate with today’s readers. Something that sets us apart from other publishers is that we accept unsolicited manuscripts as well as submissions from agents.
As the editor-in-chief, I review, analyze, and acquire our books from agents and direct submissions. I mentor our authors on all phases of development and revision and edit all of the manuscripts. Working closely with the writers is absolutely my favorite part of the job but I am also deeply involved with production, sales, marketing and promotion since I’m the one who knows the books and why they will appeal to audiences.
TWM: Why the focus on the American Jewish experience?
MC: We are building a brand and the best way to do that is to have a clear focus. As we are American Jews, we are beginning with the area we know best: American Jewish fiction. The American Jewish experience is a rich and broad category with a long history of compelling literature as well as an area that many talented contemporary writers are dynamically exploring. Our goal is to make Fig Tree the first place readers turn to in order to find new voices as well as classics that will still appeal to current readers.
TWM: How will your books be promoted?
MC: Part of the opportunity we see is to create disruption in the publishing industry, especially in promotion. We will use a combination of both traditional and innovative digital social media that is highly targeted to readers of literary fiction. Our in-house staff is supplemented by a well-known creative group of promotion experts. The promotion for each book will be tailored to its intended audience and specific content and we will continue promotion through an extended launch period.
We are pleased to have PGW as our distributor for printed books; their experienced team will provide comprehensive distribution of our titles with book retailers and wholesalers across the country. Constellation will distribute our e-books to all the major online retailers.
TWM: What are you looking for in a manuscript?
MC: I am looking for what every editor wants—original and memorable storytelling that changes the way I look at the world. Even though we are focused on the American Jewish experience, we are open to all kids of stories: epic, weighty novels that make you think; quirky contemporary stories; accessible literary fiction; life-affirming, emotional narratives; cross-over mysteries; classics that could change your life—as long as they share an authenticity, integrity and originality at their core.
As a reader, I have eclectic taste. I adore distinctive voice-driven fiction with brilliant prose, compelling characters and a provocative central question that pulses through the narrative. I want to be as desperate to turn the page as I am drawn to linger over the prose. I am not averse to the unusual or the provocative and novels that aren’t afraid to explore something different always stand out.
Passion in publishing is important. To buy a book, I need to fall in love with it. I am always on the lookout for talent that we can establish and grow here at Fig Tree. We want to find authors we are not only excited to read, but also whom we’d be thrilled to promote. I am publishing fantastic novels on our first list and hope to acquire work for our next lists from writers who can convey something important to me.
TWM: Which authors do you most admire and why?
MC: The writers I admire are too many to mention. I read all day and night and find it so difficult to pinpoint just a few. I admire some authors for the diversity of their careers and their ability to reinvent themselves with every book. I am also a huge fan of authors who can sustain a series and a visionary world over many books. There are many authors that I will read everything they write.
I admire language that fuels my imagination, great structure, intricate plot, scale and breadth of story, humor and compassion and for getting me hooked. There are so many authors who weave strong stories on the AJE that I would love to publish at Fig Tree. I tend to fall in love with the writers with whom I am collaborating, so right now our first list authors are the ones who have captured my heart.
TWM: What is the single biggest mistake you see in manuscripts?
MC: I read many manuscript submissions every week that are good but not exceptional. What grabs me when I read is the sense that a novel knows what it is doing, where it is going, and why. I think that voice and tone are so important in writing and let you know that you are in capable hands. When a writer becomes intimidated by the needs of her narrative, and doesn’t stay committed to what is essential for the novel at every level—scene, chapter, character arc, structure—I quickly begin to pull away and question the characters’ actions and the writer’s storytelling ability. Each story element of the novel must match the need for story development, logical association, progression of ideas and emotional context and must be nurtured and integrated from beginning to end.
TWM: What do you think are the most valuable skills you bring as an editor?
MC: Behind every great book is a strong editor. Editing is a fine art and becoming more of a lost art in the current publishing climate. I am a writer’s editor—a true collaborative partner with both literary sensibility and a strong understanding of the craft of editing at a story level. I truly enjoy working with writers with different views, levels of experience and skill sets and know how to establish a rhythm with my writers as we shape the work for the intended audience. I have a comprehensive vision, an eye for detail and stylistic opportunities and will sweat every detail with my writers. I always look for the unique beauty in a writer’s work and have the skills, experience and passion to be true to the writer’s vision and help the writer to fulfill it. I will not change what makes a book original in order to force it into a mold.
Not only do I have extensive experience with developmental editing, substantive editing, and script doctoring, as a ghostwriter and coach, I have the interest and ability to work with writers from initial concept to bound book. Because of this, I’m not afraid to commit to a book that needs work. If I am sold on a book, I know that I can work with the author to bring it to life and make it soar and I love to do that.
TWM: Why should authors submit to Fig Tree Books?
MC: In this declining sales market, the creative editorial role is suffering as are the marketing efforts for the majority of books. Our authors will have the benefit of an old-fashioned publishing house with an extremely forward-thinking promotional team. I celebrate the author-editor relationship and at Fig Tree, I have support to practice the quintessential role of editor—reading, analyzing and editing the manuscripts. Selling books is important to us but we absolutely care about the books and writers we are bringing out. We welcome the opportunity to find adventurous literature not only from established authors but new sources. As a new and smaller house, our focus is on authenticity and innovation.
Very interesting but crucial aspects were missing: What type of books are in that first list? What’s the emphasis – picture books, YA, middle grade? What about religion? Are they competitors of LERNER/Kar Ben? What is Michelle Caplan’s background? Where & What to submit?
It’s adult books only right now. See the Fig Tree Books website for submissions.
Excellent, Barbara. Thank you!!
There is a lot of good information for all writers to glean from this excellent interview. Thanks, Barbara.
From Michelle Caplan’s description, Fig Tree sounds like a breath of fresh air, with values in the right direction. How refreshing for AJW (American Jewish Writers) and readers! Thanks, Sheila
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