Assistant Editor, Harlequin
WG: Welcome, and thanks for stepping into my spotlight this month. To start off, please tell us a bit about yourself.
EM: Hello, thanks for having me! Forgive me if I preen a little at being in a spotlight again - I was a theater minor in college, back at George Washington University. (Washington, DC was the "transition" city between my hometown of Nashville, TN, and New York, where I've lived since graduating.) Now, instead of reciting someone else's lines, I get to help writers polish dialogue of their own as an Assistant Editor at Harlequin. I work on a wide assortment of lines, reporting to both Tina James (Senior Editor of Love Inspired Suspense and Love Inspired Historical) and Mary-Theresa Hussey (Executive Editor of Harlequin Desire, Harlequin Romantic Suspense, and Harlequin Intrigue).
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?
EM: The idea of working in the publishing industry has always fascinated me, but I actually got my start on the book club side. My first "real" job was for the organization that was then called Bookspan, which ran many direct mail book clubs including Doubleday, Rhapsody, Book of the Month, The Good Cook, etc. I worked primarily on the Crossings Book Club. In 2007, I had the opportunity to come to Harlequin as an Editorial Assistant, and have been very happily settled here ever since.
WG: What genres/lines do you currently acquire?
EM: I actually acquire across a pretty wide range. Currently, I've got authors who write for Love Inspired, Love Inspired Historical, Love Inspired Suspense, Harlequin Romantic Suspense, Harlequin Intrigue, Harlequin Nocturne, Harlequin Historical, and Harlequin Desire. Most of my authors are within the Love Inspired franchise where we're very actively acquiring new authors, but I'd be happy to consider projects for different lines, as well.
WG: When was the last time you acquired the work of an author from the slush pile?
EM: Last month! I work with several authors who are agented, but so far, all the ones I've acquired directly were ones that I first found in the slush pile.
WG: Are you actively seeking out new authors, and if so, what would it take to catch your eye?
EM: I am very actively seeking new authors, particularly for any of the Love Inspired lines where we currently have lots of opportunities. Characters are the key to my heart, particularly smart, stubborn, big-hearted heroines who remind me of so many of the people I love in my life.
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?
EM: Contests are definitely a great way for authors to get increased exposure for their work, and I'll admit, when an author mentions in the cover letter that they've won or finaled in prestigious contests, it catches my attention. I haven't yet acquired from a contest, but I've been in contact with authors I've judged before that will hopefully lead to something along those lines soon!
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?
EM: I think of voice as the "tone" you set for your story. Is it fun, breezy? Is it sweet and emotional? Exciting and fast-paced? I will say that it's incredibly important to make your voice as appealing as possible - I know of authors who ended up being contracted because the editor was so intrigued by the voice that she requested to see other projects when the original submission wasn't quite right.
WG: Have you ever considered penning a novel yourself?
EM: Yes, I've considered it - and that's all I'll say about that. :)
WG: How would you describe your editorial style?
EM: Chatty! Anyone who has worked with me is familiar with the abundance of scribble I leave all over manuscripts, consisting of edits to the text itself along with queries, smiley faces, bits of trivia, comparisons between the characters and various members of my family... . My goal is always to give the author as much feedback as possible, but it's entirely possible that I go overboard, especially since I know my handwriting leaves much to be desired.
WG: What is your involvement with the author's creative process? With his/her career planning?
EM: For the creative process, it's really on a case-by-case basis. Of course, once an author gets a manuscript or proposal turned in to me, there are always notes for me to pass back with some of my questions and concerns. Up to that point, though, it's the author's decision how much she wants me to be involved. I'm always happy to brainstorm with authors as much as they like - it's a fun part of the process! And if an author is stuck on a plot point, or is having trouble deciding what to do with a character, you can bet I'll have a suggestion. But at the end of the day, it's the author's book - her story, her vision for the characters, and I would never want to dictate any of that. With career planning, a lot depends on whether or not the author is agented. I'm happy to give advice when solicited, but if there is an agent in the picture, career planning would be more in their domain.
WG: What do you see as the main strength you personally bring to the table as an editor?
EM: My enthusiasm! I have fun working on books - I enjoy stepping into other peoples' lives, romances and adventures and sharing with them in their trials and tribulations. I feel that authors recognize this about me, and see how genuinely invested I am in giving their characters the best, strongest stories possible. Possibly that's why they forgive me my never-ending scribbles.
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?
EM: Nah, the buck pretty much stops here. I will very rarely send full manuscripts out for freelance reads, but that's only when it's a non-requested complete from an unknown author. I read all partials and queries myself, along with all requested or agented completes. When I do request a freelance read, I expect a full reader's report with a synopsis of the story, an analysis of its strengths and weaknesses, and an evaluation of its suitability for the targeted line.
WG: Realistically, what is the normal timeframe for your response to queries? Partials? Fulls?
EM: My goal is always to get to things within a month - but realistically, it can be more like 60 to 90 days for proposals or completes. I do still try to get to queries faster.
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?
EM: Extremely important. We've got a very collaborative environment here at Harlequin - if I receive a submission from an author that I feel has marketable potential but the story just isn't for me, I'd be strongly inclined to pass it along to someone better suited to the project. That said, if it's a case like the one I mentioned before - where the voice is great but the storyline just doesn't quite work - I'd probably write the author to explain my concerns and ask if she's got any other projects ready for possible submission.
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?
EM: We have a document known as the art fact sheet that authors fill out giving information on the plot of the story, the setting, the appearance of the main characters, and a few suggestions from the author for possible cover images. From that, the editorial, marketing, and art departments work together to try and find the best image to promote the story, suit the title, and fit with the other books available that month.
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?
EM: Conferences are of incredible value to me in terms of personal contact with authors. I'll be attending ACFW this September, and I'm so looking forward to meeting many of my authors face to face for the first time! It's also a great way for me to meet other industry professionals, and get to know other Harlequin authors who work with different editors.
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?
EM: I'll admit that I've snuck a peek a time or two when I'm considering acquiring an author. Generally, I'm trying to find out if the author is published elsewhere, or if they've won contests, etc. but if they happen to mention the lovely and talented editor Elizabeth Mazer that they've recently submitted to then I just might possibly give that blog entry a closer look.
WG: Do you approach submissions by agented authors differently from those without agents? Does your familiarity with/opinion of the agent impact this?
EM: Familiarity is the real key here. I do pay special attention to submissions from agents who I've worked with in the past and who I know have a strong understanding of the lines for which they're submitting. On the other hand, I'd also pay special attention to a submission from an unagented author whose work I've seen and liked before, even if we weren't able to come to terms on that particular project.
WG: What piece of advice or 'pearl of wisdom' would you like to offer authors who are considering submitting a work to you--or to any editor for that matter?
EM: Actually, I have two! I'm not sure if they're "pearls" but here are the links to two blog posts I've done in the past explaining how authors can impress me - for better or for worse. You can find "First Impressions - Right Down to the Wrapping Paper" at http://harlequinblog.com/2010/08/first-impressions-right-down-to-the-wrapping-paper/ and "Next Hurdle: How to Write a Proper Cover Letter" at http://harlequinblog.com/2010/11/next-hurdle-how-to-write-a-proper-cover-letter/
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?
EM: One thing that frustrates me is when I get phone calls or letters from authors who want me to do their research for them. They'll call to tell me that they have a story they want to submit, but when I ask what line they're targeting, they're dumbfounded. A little prying reveals that they know scarcely anything about Harlequin's publishing program, the types of books we offer, or the requirements of the different genres. Many of them have never even read one of our books before. While I'm happy to read and review authors' stories for overall strength, compatibility with the line, etc. it's upsetting that authors don't realize it's not my job to do the homework for them as to what kinds of stories we publish.
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?
EM: Self-promotion is a great tool, but it's always important that it be "smart" promotion, that makes the most of the author's time. After all, we don't want you to let your writing slide while you focus on other things! Web presence is an excellent way to reach a larger audience, but I feel it's important for authors to stay mostly within their comfort zone. Absolutely stretch yourself to learn about how to use social media outlets if they interest you, but maybe limit your exposure in media where you're not comfortable. For example, if you freeze up during interviews, then perhaps calling up your local radio station to see if you can come on and talk about your book isn't the best plan for you.
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?
EM: "If they serve you mud on a plate, say 'thank you, it looks delicious.'" This was the advice my mother gave me when I went on my very first trip overseas through an exchange program when I was thirteen. I was a notoriously picky eater, and my mom - who is not known for mincing words - wanted to make sure I wouldn't offend my hosts. But what started out as very straightforward advice has turned into a sort of mantra for me on being flexible, accepting new things, keeping an open mind, and dealing with challenges with a positive attitude. I actually wrote a college admissions essay on the virtues of "If they serve you mud on a plate, say 'thank you, it looks delicious.'" And it worked - I got accepted.
WG: What do you do to relax and have fun?
EM: I've always loved theater of pretty much all kinds. When I really want to treat myself, I catch a Broadway show...but most of the time, my budget really only has room for movie theater indulgences.
WG: Other than your client's work, what do you enjoy reading?
EM: I'm in three different book clubs, so that keeps my leisure reading time pretty much packed! But when I do find myself at loose ends, I love getting recommendations from family and friends. Not only do I like having the benefit of their experience to get the best of what's available, but that way I have a built-in person to talk to about the book once I'm done.
WG: What are your favorite movies and/or TV shows? Why?
EM: I don't watch a ton of TV but I do love the show White Collar. It's just such fun - and such great eye candy! I could watch Matt Bomer smile all day long.... As for movies, my all-time favorite is The Shawshank Redemption, but I've got a long list of movies and genres that I really love. I'm too much of a wuss for horror, but aside from that, I'll watch pretty much anything, and I'm an especially huge fan of the classics. It Happened One Night, The Apartment, 12 Angry Men, All About Eve, Singin' in the Rain, the list goes on and on!
WG: Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on your life? In what way?
EM: The Story of Helen Keller by Lorena Hickok was the first book I truly fell in love with when I was in the second grade. Up to that point, I liked being read to but was too lazy to do much reading on my own. After reading that (voraciously and repeatedly, until the book nearly fell apart), I became a committed reader.
WG: Before we close, is there anything else you'd like to mention about yourself or the publisher?
EM: I would like to put in another plug for Love Inspired Historical - inspirational romances of 70,000 to 75,000 words. The line has recently expanded, and we're very eager to acquire new authors! You can find our requirements here http://www.eharlequin.com/articlepage.php?articleId=1186&chapter=0 or pick up some of our great books to read and enjoy to give you a better feel for the line.
WG: Is there a website you can point us to where folks can go to learn more about you and/or your publishing house?
EM: http://www.harlequin.com is the overall website for the company. From there, you can get information on our currently available titles - in hard copy or as ebooks - and find our writing guidelines, links to our blog, and information on promos, upcoming titles, and more.
WG: And finally, thanks again for taking some time to 'stop by' this month!
EM: Thanks for having me! It's been a pleasure.