former editor at NYC's
Simon and Schuster

By Heather Harreld - WordSmitten Correspondent
In WordSmitten's exclusive interview with book editor Marcela Landres,
you'll read about a search for voices to be discovered.

Her journey as an editor has taken her through a unique Feng Shui publication
to a Spanish edition
of "Shelters of Stone"
and now an educator and consultant.

 Marcela Landres

Marcela Landres is on a mission that propels her outside of the normal routine of a book editor. Landres, who was an associate editor in the Touchstone/Fireside division of Simon & Schuster for more than seven years participates as an invited speaker at publishing conferences and workshops. One of her goals is seeking the "Hispanic Terry McMillan" to expand the reach of these contemporary voices. In addition she teaches a workshop on procedures for writing book proposals at the Learning Annex in Manhattan.

Looking for talent

From the beginning of her career at Simon & Schuster, where she had worked for many years, Landres has actively searched for writers who represent the lives of Latinos who have grown up in the United States.

Despite the recent popularity of Hispanic writers like Isabel Allende, Laura Esquivel and Jorge Luis Borges, Landres is targeting another market. As opposed to works written about daily life in Latin America or those depicting stereotypical Hispanics, she wants to acquire books describing the modern lives of U. S. Latinos.

Landres compares the market for contemporary Latino writers today to the African American literary market of more than a decade ago.

While Maya Angelou and Alice Walker had achieved success, most works in this market featured illiterate former slaves and life on Southern plantations. It was not until McMillan's "Waiting to Exhale" rocketed to success in 1995 that books depicting modern-day blacks gained popularity.

"Before that happened everybody said black people don't read books," she says.

The Latino market is in the "pre-McMillan" stage, with most works describing Latinos who run with gangs and don't fit into their high school because of an accent.

"This whole ghetto story or gang story ...doesn't apply to a lot of Latinos," she says.

"The rest of us don't see that reflected anywhere. I am looking to discover and publish voices that up to this point really have not been heard. It will make me laugh. Every page I'll say, 'Oh my god, that's me or...oh my god that's my mother.'"

Because the mainstream publishing business has not undergone the epiphany related to the market for Latino writers that McMillan generated for African Americans, there is not an established infrastructure - writer conferences and associations - to help bring to the surface undiscovered Hispanic writers.

Uncovering new voices

To uncover these new voices, Landres appears frequently as a panelist or presenter for organizations such as the San Diego Writers Conference, The Latino Book & Family Festival, The Association of Hispanic Arts and The Columbia Publishing Course.

By venturing beyond her desk at Simon and Schuster, Landres had found success acquiring books from first-time authors who were not represented by an agent.

For example, Landres had discovered Iranian-American author Dora Levy Mossanen at the San Diego Writers Conference and subsequently purchased two of Mossanen's novels. The first is a debut novel called "Harem" set in the Jewish Quarter of ancient Persia depicting enslaved women. One reviewer recently described "Harem" as the "voice of an Isabel Allende of Persia."

Mossanen deeply appreciated Landres' respect for her style, insulating the book from changes that would cause it to waver from its original form.

"The style was not changed, but she made it a better novel," Mossanen says.

"It has a very exotic and sensual tone to it, and Marcela understood that. She respected that. Marcela is very interested in strong women characters - women characters who triumph despite all odds. She likes that there is sense of place and a strong sensual tone to it."

In addition to overseeing the Spanish language imprint Libros en Espanol, Marcela is seeking mysteries for the Manolo Blahnik crowd, commercial fiction, gay/lesbian relationships, inspirational, pop culture, motive tie-ins, self help and New Age titles.

"Whatever is already published isn't necessarily new and innovative. Sometimes it's good to look at the shelves ...and really look at what's missing."

Landres' fondness for New Age subjects is what initially attracted her to Hazel Dixon-Cooper's book proposal on astrology spoofs called "Born on a Rotten Day." Landres had met Dixon-Cooper at the San Diego conference. She had suggested the author meet with an agent also attending the event. Simon & Schuster had purchased two books from Cooper, who describes Landres as a hands-on editor.

"Marcela is a true editor," Dixon-Cooper says. "She line edits the manuscripts. She puts in commas. She put in notes in the margins."

Despite Landres' busy schedule working on more than 30 books a year, Dixon-Cooper said Landres is very accessible to her and willing to answer even the "kindergarten questions" from the first-time author. Landres does like being close to the writing process and has even suggested ideas of her own to authors themselves.

"I am much more inspired and sustained by my choices for I have a vision of what I do," she says. "I don't take an agent out to lunch and say, 'This is my idea. Go out and find someone to do it.' If I am closer to the process of putting it together it works better."

Take for example the national bestseller "Move Your Stuff, Change Your Life: How to Use Feng Shui to Get Love, Money, Respect, and Happiness" that continues to hit the top of the charts. Landres came up with the idea herself, tracked down a writer and guided her on the content.

"It's the first and only Feng Shui written by and for Americans that is useful," Landres says. "The others are much more theoretical. Writers write what they read. Whatever is already published isn't necessarily new and innovative. Sometimes it's good to look at the shelves ...and really look at what's missing."

In addition to treading carefully when opting on a topic, Landres advises authors to prepare themselves for the teamwork critical to publishing a book. Connecting with a good agent is key for authors to learn about what is going on behind closed doors at the publishing house after relinquishing a manuscript.

"Writing a book is a solitary endeavor. You are God. You make up all the rules. Publishing a book is a group effort. When you sign that contract ... you are no longer God. You are a member of the team, and sometimes you are not the most important person on the team. From the cover designer to the production manager, from the marketing supervisor to the publicist, members from every department contribute to the process of publishing a book. We are all working towards the same goal. Usually, the one person who does slow down the process is the author-by missing deadlines!"

Marcela Landres list of projects included
these book acquisitions while at Simon and Schuster:

"Latina Power"
By Dr. Ana Nogales

"The Gift of Shyness: Embrace Your Shy Side
and Find Your Soulmate"
By Alexander Avila

and the Spanish edition of "Shelters of Stone" by Jean Auel.

::WordSmitten Media::

To reach her goal of uncovering new Latina/Latino voices,
Marcela Landres now provides solid writing tips
and a very unique site to help her connect to the Latino writing community.
Visit the site for Marcela Landres, sign up for her newsletter, and be sure to
return to for the latest news on her projects.
Click here to sign up for her workshops at the Learning Annex.

We write with the porch light on, expecting at any moment
that either truth or irony will appear on the doorstep.

Copyright ©2001- 2007 WordSmitten and All Rights Reserved. WordSmitten Media
WordSmitten, WordSmitten Quarterly Journal (WSQJ), Word Smitten, and the WordSmitten logo are trademarks or registered trademarks of WordSmitten Media in the United States and other countries. The Storycove, Native Shore Fiction, Word Safari, the Writing Conference Report, and Writers Conference Report are service marks of WordSmitten Media. All Rights Reserved.