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Erin Taylor Young,
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Barbara Collins Rosenberg
The Rosenberg Group
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Mary Sue Seymour
The Seymour Agency
The Knight Agency
Marketing & Promotion:
Sara Reyes and Gwen Reyes
October 2016 SPOTLIGHT
Editor, Harlequin Superromance and Heartwarming
WG: Welcome and thanks for stepping into my spotlight this month. To start off, please tell us a bit about yourself.
VC: I've been editing since I graduated from university with an English and Humanities degree in the late 1980s. I started at the bottom of the ladder at a national consumer magazine in Canada, then transitioned to trade magazines where you become an editing jack-of-all-trades, and then freelanced for about a decade, launching a special interest consumer magazine, among other writing and editing contracts. That's when I started working with Harlequin, as a freelance copy editor for the Gold Eagle action/adventure imprints. It's been 13 years since I came aboard full time as an editor, starting with Harlequin Superromance.
WG: Can you tell us why you decided to pursue a career as an editor and what steps you took to get you where you are today?
VC: Well, I wanted to be a writer. I wrote fiction since I was a kid. But then I graduated and didn't have the practical skills coming out of university to turn that into something serious. My sister was in magazine sales and that seemed to be a career I could wrap my head around! Starting at the bottom, at nights I went back to school for a more practical education at a college where magazine journalism was taught by industry members: magazine journalism (editing, copy editing, fact checking, etc.).
WG: What genres/lines do you currently acquire works for?
VC: Two big contemporary series: Harlequin Superromance (80,000 words) and Heartwarming (clean, 70,000 words).
WG: When was the last time you acquired the work of an author from the slush pile?
VC: Let's see…Mon., Sept. 19. (I'm writing this on Fri., Sept. 23!) Beth Carpenter, agented by Barbara Collins Rosenberg, has just signed a two-book contract for Harlequin Heartwarming. Two connected stories set in Alaska. Hope to see them come out in September and December 2017!
WG: Are you actively seeking out new authors, and if so, what would it take to catch your eye?
VC: Absolutely: bring on the new authors (although apologies to those who have submitted to us and are desperately waiting for a response…we need books, but be careful what you wish for because we can't read fast enough to be as timely as we'd love to be and still meet our contractual deadlines).
How to catch my eye…that is so difficult to express. Of course we want storytelling that works within the parameters of our individual series (check out all the Harlequin Series writers guidelines on our website at harlequin.com). But that's just the basics of submission. We want highly motivated characters who need to achieve specific goals before they meet their romantic other. Those original goals are necessary because they raise the stakes. High stakes lead to strong pacing in stories. If hero needs X and heroine needs Y, but loving each other means they might have to sacrifice X and Y…but they can't do that because they NEED them…so their motivations drive the action of the story…then that leads to excitement, subtext, the unknown twists and turns, the unexpected path to love. We can usually tell from a synopsis and three opening chapters if stakes are going to be high, if the pacing is going to be a page-turner the reader can't put down… If the reader (represented by me) can see the romantic ending and is waiting for the hero and heroine to catch up to her.
Back to how to catch my eye: smart writing and storytelling. Don't show me things and then explain them, let me be smart enough to get it on less. Surprise me with character reactions. Let the characters' motivations lead to action; don't muzzle their responses and substitute them with romance clichéd attraction/thoughts. Let me, the reader, feel smart rather than spoon-fed as I read.
WG: Do you think contest credits help an author further their career? Have you ever acquired a manuscript that you discovered via a writing contest?
VC: Yes, I have acquired from contests, for sure. Having a contest credit on a submission pitch, however, doesn't usually sway me on a story.
WG: When asked what they look for in a new author, most editors and agents will mention a fresh and/or strong voice. How do you personally define voice?
VC: See my response above re: how to catch my eye. Make me feel smart as I read. From story structure I can't see a mile away, right down to the nitty-gritty details such as cutting out adverbs in a line where the very line itself shows the adverb without needing it. ("She did a surprised double-take" would become "She did a double-take"; shown without also telling/explaining.) From big elements to small, make me feel smart for getting it without beating me over the head with it. That's fresh and strong voice. Too many writers don't trust their readers to get it. And that over-writing and showing and telling, and sprinkling in explanations and romance devices/cliches, leads to writing sounding like other writing = not fresh, not strong.
WG: Have you ever considered penning a novel yourself?
VC: Not in many years-since university beat it out of me!
WG: How would you describe your editorial style?
VC: Do editors have a style? I work with a diverse group of authors, each with his/her own style. I aim to look for their patterns, to reduce the unnecessary so that the necessary stands out, to strengthen the authors' intent so that their style has maximum impact. My style is all my authors' styles, I guess? (Maybe you'd better ask my authors what my style is!)
WG: What is your involvement with the author's creative process? With his/her career planning?
VC: I am here to help authors figure it all out: story and career. I want books but I also want what's best for the authors. And in this era of publishing, authors have a lot of choices. I support them being fully informed and experimenting with different avenues of reaching their readership. I try to be part of that conversation and make it as easy for the authors as possible to get their books out there-and be happy with what they're doing.
WG: What do you see as the main strength you personally bring to the table as an editor?
VC: My huge respect for the writing process. I don't think I ever wrote anything longer than 6,000 words in my day as a writer. Writing an 80,000 word story? Incredible.
WG: Are some/all of your submissions read by someone else in house before they reach you? If so, what sort of feedback and/or screening do you expect that reader to provide?
VC: Most submissions are first read by our editorial coordinator before we divide them up for a second read among the team. (Senior editors read everything recommended by team as being ready for contract; as well, I personally have some of my own reads-some first vetted by our coordinator, some not.)
WG: Realistically, what is the normal timeframe for your response to submissions?
VC: It's supposed to be 90 days. The team is behind because of shifts within the group (expecting one assistant editor back from a three-month writing retreat in October, phew!) so it's a bit erratic right now, to say the least.
WG: Given that you feel an individual author's manuscript is marketable, how important is it that you personally like the work in order for you to pursue acquiring it?
VC: I personally read Epic Fantasy for my genre pleasure, not contemporary romance. I don't think personal tastes really comes into editing. (As a magazine writer and editor, you wouldn't believe the number of stories I had to create about things I knew absolutely nothing about.) Having said that, smart writing (how I define fresh) gives me deep satisfaction, so I need the stories to read "smart" to go to contract.
WG: What input do you personally have on the cover art selected for the manuscripts you acquire? What level of involvement do you feel the author should have in this process?
VC: Editors are the voice of the author. We have read the books, we know the tone and voice, we have worked with the author to put together what we call an Art Fact Sheet, which has scene suggestions, character descriptions, etc. When we brief the covers with Marketing and Art, we try to shape the authors' suggestions to give the title the most impact. But we also have to make sure we don't have four identical covers going out in one month, so we try to distinguish the books to make them each stand out. Personally? I feel like a middleman, the bridge between the author and the creative team. It's a huge responsibility and I find creating cover art incredibly stressful! My #1 goal going in is to make the author happy with it. Marketing and Art each have different goals-and we need all three goals to make the strongest cover.
WG: Do you feel that writers' conferences provide significant value to you in the way of personal contact with your authors, other authors (either published or unpublished), and/or other industry professionals? Do you receive any value from other offerings such as the presentations, pitch appointments, and/or networking opportunities?
VC: 100%. It's the same for editors as it is for authors. Conferences connect you with people, issues, trends, industry mood, education, gossip…everything.
WG: Do you visit the websites and blogs of authors you work with or of authors you are considering acquiring? If so, is there something in particular you look for that potentially impacts your view of the author and their work?
VC: I used to, but I don't have time anymore. What I miss most? Visiting the harlequin.com community sites. I used to be on there every day.
WG: Do you approach submissions by agented authors differently from those without agents? Does your familiarity with/opinion of the agent impact this?
VC: When I get something from an agent, there's a better chance I will be the first reader (rather than me dividing it with the team…although that still could happen if I'm swamped). Simply because an agent is like a first reader. So that job has already been done and I'm the second reader. Versus an unagented submission where there's been no first reader's critique yet.
WG: What sort of misconceptions/ unrealistic expectations have you encountered from authors about what an editor's role is that you would like to correct?
VC: Just that when we make an edit, we are not "correcting" anything. (Maybe the copy editor is!) I believe every author can benefit from edits that strengthen their voice and story. There's no corrections in editing. There's only strengthening.
WG: How important do you think self-promotion is to a writer's career? If so, is there a particular area of promotion that you feel is most effective?
VC: In this day and age? Very important. Unfortunately, not being an author, I'm not the one to advise on the most effective avenues. I've heard from authors that their newsletters are the number one vehicle for successful promotion…I've also heard from our social media colleagues that facebook is more effective than twitter. Other than that, I really don't know.
WG: I love to collect quotes, all kinds of quotes - inspirational, quirky, motivational, profound, etc. Do you have a personal favorite you'd like to share?
VC: What doesn't kill me makes me stronger…!
WG: What do you do to relax and have fun?
VC: Scour the real estate websites for a little cabin in the woods with a river running past my bedroom window…within commuting distance of Harlequin.
WG: What are your favorite movies and/or TV shows? Why?
VC: (Confession: I'm slightly a reality TV junkie. Even watched Bachelor in Paradise!)
WG: Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on your life? In what way?
VC: The Yearling. It inspired me to write when I was young. Excruciatingly emotional journey to adulthood. And now, of course, I want to rescue all the animals and am a vegetarian and cat rescuer. No deer will be killed to save any crop on my imaginary farm.
WG: And finally, thanks again for taking some time to 'stop by' this month!