- by Dara Girard
Tell us a little about you and your publishing house.
I am an associate editor at Harlequin, the global leader in series romance and one of the world’s leading publishers of women’s fiction. We also publish nonfiction and launched a YA line, Harlequin Teen, in the summer of 2009. All told, we are in the business of happy endings, something the world could use a little more of in times like these, right?
One of my primary focuses here is on editing and acquiring for our contemporary romance line, Silhouette Desire, and I work fairly extensively with Silhouette Special Edition authors as well. But I also have a taste for other submissions, particularly the young adult projects that cross my desk now and again. They’re a treat, and we are hungry for new talent in this startup imprint!
What made you decide to edit fiction?
I come from a more prosaic writing and editing background—corporate PR. Zzzzz. Truth may be stranger than fiction, but fiction is much more fun—to read and to edit. And I have a lot of admiration for people who can sit down and write book-length stories, invented from whole cloth. For me, there’s nothing like watching a great imagination at work on the printed page.
Are your favorite pleasure reads markedly different from the fiction you edit?
Yes and no. My pleasure reads are all over the map, and aren’t primarily romances (that’s the no). But lately in my spare time I’ve been reading the romantic suspense novels Suzanne Brockmann wrote for Silhouette over the past ten years or so—I can’t put ‘em down. And I read quite a bit of YA, both classic (yes, even Judy Blume, gotta give Judy her props here) and contemporary. The fact is, some of the most important, complex ideas are explored in books for children and young adults, and I don’t want to miss out. Plus, I fancy myself a teenager at heart. Don’t we all?
What kinds of manuscripts do you acquire? Who are some of the writers with whom you work?
As I mentioned, I primarily acquire for Silhouette Desire, which publishes original, 50,000 to 55,000-word contemporary romances focused on passion, high finance and high-octane drama! But I am also in the market for YA and other types of stories. Check out eHarlequin.com to get a feel for the wide range of projects the company is looking for.
As for contracted writers, I work with everyone from first time to New York Times bestselling authors.
What about a manuscript grabs your attention and makes you consider making an offer?
Two important things are the author’s voice and the first twenty pages of the manuscript. If it’s true that there’s nothing new under the sun—I’m not convinced—how an author tells a story can make a submission stand out. The words they chose, the rhythm, the pacing, the dialogue—sometimes things just click. And usually that happens right from the start, so first chapters are very important. These days, there are so many distractions; if you aren’t hooking a reader from page one, chances are they won’t still be with you on page 101.
What do you look for in a synopsis?
How do you balance the commercial with the literary value of a book, either in your buying decisions or your editorial approach?
Hmm. We are story-driven here, which tends to favor the commercial side of things. But remember, voice is key to differentiating between a merely good project and a great one. That’s where the literary dimension factors in.
What makes for a great editorial relationship with an author? What doesn’t?
Respect, patience and a mutual love of chocolate. No joke. I exchange novelty chocolates—chocolate gum from Japan, you name it—with one of my authors and the sugar rush makes for a great editorial relationship, let me tell you!
Getting between a romance editor and his/her chocolate can create difficulties.
How do you handle it with an author if there’s been a slump in sales?
With respect and patience. And honesty. Remember, if we bought your project, that tends to mean we love it, so sales blips are shocking to us, too. But for me, even when I’m breaking bad news, it’s always rooted in respect and admiration for the writer. That’s a given.
How do feel about authors working with other publishers or in other genres?
It’s a fact that big imaginations can’t be contained. So though we love to keep our writers writing for us (what publisher doesn’t?), it’s a reality that sometimes we have to share. Plus, it can be fun to try to guess which pseudonym an author is writing under for which house!
Other genres don’t bother me at all. Again, it’s the big imaginations thing.
What do you wish that authors understood about your job?
How much romance editors love chocolate (see above).
What current trends do you find the most interesting/disturbing?
Interesting: e-books and vampires. I now read e-books on my iPod Touch—and love it! It’s like the science fiction stories I read as a kid come to life—and I’m living it. Crazy.
I also can’t get over the public’s seemingly bottomless appetite for vampires. Are people going crazy over True Blood and Twilight these days or what?
Disturbing: The continued turmoil in our print media industry, especially newspapers and magazines (not books so much, actually). No vibrant press, no vibrant democracy—it’s that simple. We should be very alarmed about what’s going on right now.
What advice do you have for seasoned authors in the current publishing climate?
Oh, I was hoping the seasoned authors could give ME advice. But I guess my advice would be to hang in there and follow your dream. Seriously.
Do you buy series from proposals? If so, what are you looking for?
Yes, but authors often write thematically linked miniseries for Silhouette. It’s not unusual. Miniseries are a staple of the line.
Is there anything else you’d like to address?
Have I mentioned the chocolate?