Senior Editor, Harlequin TEEN
WG: Welcome, and thanks for stepping into my spotlight this month. To start off, please tell us a bit about yourself.
NW: Hi Winnie, thanks so much for inviting me here. I work with Harlequin as a senior editor for the Harlequin TEEN program. We focus on commercial young adult fiction targeted at girls, 13-18, though I'm pleased to say we have some loyal guy fans, too. I started my path toward a career at Harlequin without knowing it when I became a lifelong romance reader at the age of 9. I read all the different series through my school years and all the way up to college, where I attended UC Davis for animal science, go figure and graduate school, where I got my Masters in magazine journalism from Syracuse University - in fact, my graduate thesis focused on romance fiction, and I interviewed one of my all-time favorite authors, the gracious Mary Jo Putney, as part of it. I became an editorial assistant for Harlequin in 1996, for the American Romance and Intrigue series, and while I spent a few years away at McGraw-Hill and Rosen Publishing, I came back "home" in 2004 and have been here ever since.
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?
NW: Once I got that animal science degree and was out of college, I had to think hard about what really made me happy. Since I'm not a gazillionaire and a career training horses (my first love) seemed...unlikely, I looked to my other great love, reading, and thought, "is there any potential career there?" I contacted two Harlequin editors who'd been featured in Romantic Times magazine, as RT Book Reviews was known back then, and one of them invited me to call and chat. After we talked, she mentioned an opening for an editorial assistant and suggested that I submit my resume. And that was that! I do remember my first boss here mentioning that my Masters degree in magazine journalism combined with my clear enthusiasm for series romance in my interview did help in the selection process. I'm guessing that my unusual animal science background wasn't the clincher, since that's not something we search for when perusing resumes!
WG: What genres/lines do you currently acquire?
NW: Harlequin TEEN, though I can acquire for any of our programs. But TEEN keeps me so busy that I don't recommend sending me projects for other programs at this time.
WG: When was the last time you acquired the work of an author from the slush pile?
NW: Right now I don't generally see slush, as we are currently looking only at agented submissions for TEEN. However, Melissa Darnell (author of Crave) came to me as an unagented author - she'd queried me early on, just when the program started, and I invited her to send me her work. Wow, was I glad I did!
WG: Are you actively seeking out new authors, and if so, what would it take to catch your eye?
NW: We are always on the lookout for new authors. A strong opening, memorable characters and a distinct voice always catch my eye. I do see a lot of stories that have a sort of "same" feel to them, especially with the success of paranormal and dystopian fiction in YA right now. So it takes something more, that indescribable, "you know it when you read it,", to make a book stand out. But when it does, it's magic.
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?
NW: They certainly don't hurt, and in fact I have acquired a manuscript that I judged in a contest - the book that became Jennifer Morey's debut for our Romantic Suspense series, The Secret Soldier. I often ask to see submissions from contests, and though Jennifer's is the only one so far that has worked out for me, I know other editors here have acquired books via contests as well.
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?
NW: Voice. For such a simple word, there are so many factors involved. I think of voice as a story's "way of thinking" - everyone thinks a little differently, and the narrator/point of view becomes the voice of the manuscript. My colleague Associate Editor TS Ferguson describes it as "the writer's and characters' personality, put into words." In a technical sense, voice refers to an author's style. If you write in short, punchy sentences, you might create a tension-filled voice, or a sharp, humorous voice. If your style is long, complex sentences, you might create a wistful, melancholic, poetic voice, or a casual, rambling voice. Word choice also defines your voice - it can give a manuscript a young voice or a mature voice. Voice is what makes your work distinct.
WG: Have you ever considered penning a novel yourself?
NW: All the time, but, alas, no one is talking to me in my head, demanding that I tell his or her story. And I'm notoriously easy to distract, so, that "sitting down and actually writing it" thing is...problematic.
WG: How would you describe your editorial style?
NW: It changes depending on the author and manuscript. Sometimes I'm hands off. Sometimes I scrutinize every sentence. Sometimes it's something in between. My editorial "bible" is Browne and King's Self-Editing for Fiction Writers. I've gotten more out of that book as an editor than any other book I've read involving editing, though Bell's Plot & Structure is another favorite.
WG: What is your involvement with the author's creative process? With his/her career planning?
NW: On the creative side, it depends on the author. Some want or need more involvement than others. I'm here if an author wants to brainstorm or needs support. I'm also happy to let an author go do her (or his) thing. Career planning also depends on the author - some are such good self-promoters, I just ask them to keep me informed so I can keep our team informed about what they're doing and be sure to Tweet about it @HarlequinTEEN. Others want more guidance, sometimes in terms of what they should do next, or how frequently they should publish, or any number of things. There is no One Size Fits All here.
WG: What do you see as the main strength you personally bring to the table as an editor?
NW: At a guess, I have a knack for seeing potential in a project and making suggestions to help my authors make their stories even stronger. It's hard to know exactly what makes an individual put her trust in you. I'm honored that my authors do.
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?
NW: Some are read by my wonderful assistant Giselle Regus. Some are read by our new associate editor TS Ferguson, and some come to me from other editors in house who enjoy looking for TEEN projects. Mainly I ask that they tell me why they liked it and where they see it in the current YA market, plus a topline of what work they think is needed to bring it to full potential. Many submissions come directly to me, and I read them before anyone else. If I love something, I'll run it by TS and/or Giselle, depending on who has time for a quick look, to see what they think.
WG: Realistically, what is the normal timeframe for your response to queries? Partials? Fulls?
NW: I do my best to respond within 90 days, but to be honest, that doesn't always happen. But agents and authors are always welcome to check in with me for status updates. Basically, if you haven't heard from me, chances are that I either haven't started reading, or I've tried and it hasn't drawn me in but I'm giving it another chance before passing. Or my response is dependent on a response from someone else who is equally swamped.
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?
NW: It's quite important to me. I stand behind everything TEEN puts out 100%. I want to be able to champion a book with our marketing and sales teams and get them fired up about it too, and I would not be comfortable with saying something's amazing if I didn't really feel that way. Some books speak to me personally more than others, but there is something I found unique, worthwhile and memorable in every single book we've published.
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?
NW: We work as a team to create our covers, with initial input from the author to inform the team about the story and characters, including images of competitive covers and pictures of settings and people s/he has to share about how s/he envisions the book. Editorial, Marketing and Art all meet to talk about each title and create a vision for it. In general the author is not part of the process from that point, but we do keep our authors informed as concepts are confirmed and the cover develops.
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?
NW: Definitely. I've made many important connections and had my professional life filled with wonderful people through conferences. I have acquired books through conference connections (Julie Kagawa and Cayla Kluver, to name just two - I met both their agents at a San Diego RWA day-conference). Conferences are a terrific time to connect with my authors face to face as well. And every time I sit in on a session, I learn something. Pitch appointments are also worthwhile. You never know where you might meet that special new writer with just the right project for your program.
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?
NW: Yes, I do. I like to see how an author presents herself and her work, in hopes that it is in a professional and engaging manner. Our Digital team is also happy to look at our authors' social media properties and offer guidance for making them as findable and user friendly as possible.
WG: Do you approach submissions by agented authors differently from those without agents? Does your familiarity with/opinion of the agent impact this?
NW: The manuscript speaks for itself, whether agented or not. The agents I am in consistent contact with with have keen eyes, and I do trust that what they send my way will be worth considering, whether it works out or not. Most unagented submissions tend to have more basic problems that make them a pass for me - often the author hasn't developed a voice or a sophisticated style that makes me pay attention to the story instead of any weaknesses in the writing. I have received strong submissions both ways; it's just natural that the majority of them come via agents who have already screened the manuscripts.
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?
NW: Do your research on the program to which you're submitting. Know what the program publishes, how they prefer to receive submissions, and who their target audience is - and why your work could be a match. Above all, be professional.
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?
NW: I was recently contacted by a clearly inexperienced aspiring author who expected me to tell her how to get an agent, so that she could submit to TEEN and I could (as if it were a given) buy her book. That was only one incident though. Perhaps I've been fortunate, but within memory, the authors whom I've been in touch with have seemed to know publishing protocol.
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?
NW: It is very important, more so than ever in a digital age when readers expect to have more access to information about their favorite authors online. Outside of series romance, the author's name is the brand, and both publisher and author need to work to make that name findable, recognizable and accessible to readers. With the internet, we have more tools to do this than we did a decade or even five years ago; we also have more potential distractions to compete with. My advice to authors just starting out is find two forms of social media that are workable for you (a dedicated author website or blog being one of them, and then look at Twitter, Facebook and the like) and learn how to use those in such a way that it does not detract from your number one priority - writing your books. And if those work out well, consider expanding within reason. I'm not a digital expert and there are likely many sources that I'm unaware of, but the things you listed work for different occasions. You have a better chance of reaching more people in online chats, blogging, tweeting etc. You may reach a different audience via a mailing, and a very finely targeted one at signings. The key is to consider what is the best investment of your time for the greatest potential return in name recognition and sales and make sure each event has a goal.
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?
NW: My very favorite quote comes from The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery, and I've had it as my personal email signature for years. "It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye." (the fox, to the Little Prince). I also love the tenets championed by my tae kwon do instructor, Mr. Jeff Serdinsky - courtesy, integrity, perseverance, self-control and indomitable spirit.
WG: What do you do to relax and have fun?
NW: Apart from spending time with my family and friends, which is of ultimate importance, I: 1) read 2) ride my horse 3) watch all kinds of stuff on TV 4) exercise/train 5) go anywhere in nature and just breathe. I love the beach, the mountains and being outdoors anywhere away from crowds.
WG: Other than your client's work, what do you enjoy reading?
NW: Everything! In recent years I've read mostly YA, which I would devour whether I worked on it or not, but I also love adult romance of all kinds (clearly!), fantasy, science fiction, mysteries, certain types of nonfiction...it runs the gamut. Stephenie Meyer is one of my all-time favorite authors.
WG: What are your favorite movies and/or TV shows? Why?
NW: Movies I watch over and over that never get old to me: The Princess Bride (talk about the perfect storm of humor, acting, screenplay...); Moulin Rouge (Ewan McGregor, the Elephant Love Medley, �nuff said), Twilight (I love the indie feel of the first film, and the music, all the actors' chemistry), Before Sunrise and Before Sunset (I want to be Julie Delpy in these films) Recently I fell in love with Moneyball. It inspired me. Also, I grew up in Berkeley, near Oakland, and the As are my guys.
TV shows I always watch:
Reality: Project Runway, American Idol, ANTM, So You Think You Can Dance. I love music, dancing, and seeing what does on behind the scenes.
Fictional: Shows that are current: Revenge, New Girl, Game of Thrones, Dexter, The Closer. Old shows: Firefly, Veronica Mars, The Gilmore Girls.
I'm probably forgetting about many!
WG: Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on your life? In what way?
NW: When I was young, it was The Little Prince. I've never been so moved by something so simple with such a heart of truth. It makes me want to be a better person. Then, Love's Tender Fury by Jennifer Wilde. It was the first romance I ever read, and I was hooked. That led to my discovering Harlequin's series. Recently, Twilight. It re-started my lifelong love of YA fiction, and spoke to me personally in a way that felt intimate. I'm not exactly like Bella, but something about her captured something in me - that sensation of feeling out of step with everyone else, and the way Stephenie Meyer explores love and how it impacts relationships.
WG: Before we close, is there anything else you'd like to mention about yourself or the publisher?
NW: Harlequin is a global publisher with a worldwide reputation for delivering books women love to read. Romance is at the heart of Harlequin's series and many of our single title programs, but sometimes readers don't realize the breadth of our editorial programs, which include, but are not limited to, women's fiction, thrillers, mysteries, action-adventure, fantasy, science fiction, young adult fiction and nonfiction. It's an inspiring place to work.
WG: Is there a website you can point us to where folks can go to learn more about you and/or your publishing house?
NW: You can find more information about Harlequin at www.Harlequin.com and Harlequin TEEN specifically at www.HarlequinTEEN.com and through the TEEN social media on Facebook (Facebook.com/HarlequinTEEN) and on Twitter @HarlequinTEEN.
WG: And finally, thanks again for taking some time to 'stop by' this month!
NW: I appreciate the chance to be here! Many thanks for the thoughtful questions.