February 2014 SPOTLIGHT INTERVIEW
Editor at Large, Penguin-Random House Publishing Group
WG: Welcome, and thanks for stepping into my spotlight this month.
To start off, please tell us a bit about yourself.
SG: Hi Winnie - Thanks for having me today - I appreciate the chance to talk about romance and of course our digital first imprints, Loveswept and Flirt. Prior to working as Editor at Large for Penguin-Random House Publishing Group, I was romance buyer for Borders stores; combined I've been in the romance industry for close to 20 years. Prior that I worked many years at Kmart Corporation as buyer of cosmetics and other merchandise. Both industries are great fun, but publishing is far more exciting to me now.
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?
SG: My professional career began in business as a buyer - it wasn't until Borders financial struggles in 2010 did I seek other employment and the opportunity for an acquiring editor became available at Penguin-RHPG with their planned re-launch of the digital first imprint, Loveswept. December 2012, we announced the addition of three other digital first imprints - Alibi (Mystery); Hydra (Sci Fi) and Flirt for New Adult stories, focusing on romance and the coming of age theme.
WG: What genres/lines do you currently acquire?
SG: Although I've acquired for our print division, Bantam, my primary focus is the digital first lines and I acquire for both Loveswept and Flirt.
WG: When was the last time you acquired the work of an author from the slush pile?
SG: Last week in fact! --- We have an eSubmissions website where we review unpublished, new work. Most of my acquiring comes from agents and working directly with authors - over the years I've created some great contacts and have been fortunate to work with many of my favorite authors on either re-launching their Classic Loveswept titles and/or working on new books for our line. I love, LOVE, my job :)
WG: Are you actively seeking out new authors, and if so, what would it take to catch your eye?
SG: I am, for both imprints - we are looking for any story that is current in its telling but different - readers want highly emotional stories that are intense and edgy with enough angst to touch their hearts. Author voice is extremely important - I need to be pulled into the story from page one and introduced to the H/H by chapter three (preferably, chapter two) and need to understand the basis of the book. The characters should be telling the story allowing the reader to see, feel and experience their journey.
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?
SG: They certainly don't hurt - and yes, I do pay attention to credentials of all sorts. Indirectly I've acquired books via contests though not necessarily contests that I've judged.
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?
SG: Voice is the style in which an author writes. Put it in the perspective of people you associate with, we all have our own unique behaviors - now translate that to your characters, writing people you and I would want to know and hang out with. Their dialogue has to reflect how people communicate today, inclusive of social media; their experiences have to be relevant of today; and the stories need to reflect the diversity of the culture. In order for the reader to feel they are part of the story, or that it is believable and that it makes sense, we need to be able to relate to it in some way - and of course that relationship varies based on the story.
WG: Have you ever considered penning a novel yourself?
SG: LOL - not at this time but I've learned to never say never.
WG: How would you describe your editorial style?
SG: That's a great question - since I'm fairly new to this gig, 3 years under my belt, I personally feel like I'm still learning. I'm finding out editing is more than grammar and punctuation, story structure and plot holes . . . it is delivering the book the reader wants to read and readers challenge us daily. The best book is not always a bestseller; a great writer is not guaranteed a spot on the New York Times bestseller lists - the readers determine who is successful and who is not based on what they want to read. So not only do we need to edit and deliver a quality book we need to make sure it is a book that will sell and appeal to the reader.
As challenging as this is, it is also what I used to do at Borders -- buying romance books for our consumer and making sure I had the books they wanted to read available en masse at our stores. So I'm still doing what I've always done only in a different way. I hope that made sense :)
WG: What is your involvement with the author's creative process? With his/her career planning?
SG: Big. As long as the author wants me to partner with them we'll go through each stage together. The company has been super in allowing me some additional freedoms participating in the development and planning strategies for my authors. I've had a delightful time helping various authors make bestsellers lists - to date, our original Loveswept line now has five USA Today bestselling author titles credited since our re-launch of the Loveswept line and one of those authors recently made the New York Times list - she was our first! Although those ladies gained recognition quite quickly the building of a brand takes time and not all authors want to do what it takes to get to that stage - and it is a give and take. But yes, I'm here to support my author brands in any and every possible way.
WG: What do you see as the main strength you personally bring to the table as an editor?
SG: I should have asked my authors this question before I attempted to answer, ah well - here goes --- being so new, I'm not exactly sure how other editors work to even determine my strengths. What I hope I'm doing, is helping the author finesse her story to make it more saleable; appealing to an audience that will devour and adore the book sharing their experience with other readers. Having been a book buyer for a major bookstore chain I saw firsthand the types of stories readers enjoy giving me the knowledge to help in creating the best story for our reader base. Maybe the other strength I bring is my experience and connections within the business - that combined with my marketing savvy also benefit the author's brand. (Does this make me sound conceited - I'm really not, really, at all.)
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?
SG: No, on the contrary. I may read something and want to buy it but first want to make sure I'm not going out on a limb then I'll have another editor in house read it as well to make sure the 'fixes' I'm envisioning are indeed doable, and not a vast undertaking.
WG: Realistically, what is the normal timeframe for your response to queries? Partials? Fulls?
SG: Three to six months for most, but I've gone on longer - not intentionally, stuff happens but I do try to let people know I've finally gotten to it &/or what is going on just in case they don't want to wait any longer. I encourage authors/agents to follow up with me as well as I don't want to be disrespectful just because my organizational skills are out of whack.
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?
SG: Very important - if I don't enjoy the story I'm not going to be the best editor to guide the author in creating the best book ever. Authors should only want to work with others who truly enjoy their work and have a commitment to them as a partner in business . . . IMO.
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?
SG: 100%, as does the author. Since it is all opinion, what we like and don't, we do have to agree to disagree at a certain point if it comes down to that however, the author and myself are very involved - from cover template to design of the final 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?
SG: YES! Yes and yes. I find the conferences fabulous - I love to travel and meet authors, readers, bloggers, publicity peeps and my social media contacts as often as I can. I adore engaging with everyone in the industry, all levels - especially the readers. I enjoy all presentations, it is a good way to see what is going on in the biz; same with pitch appointments, as authors are readers too, you can see trends that are beginning to bubble. Conferences are great fun and I highly recommend them.
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?
SG: Always. A nice website is important - accolades, depending on level importance, should be easy to find. Social media interaction is important too - it is a business after all so we need to watch our 'P's' and 'Q's' (I sound like my mother - omg).
WG: Do you approach submissions by agented authors differently from those without agents? Does your familiarity with/opinion of the agent impact this?
SG: No, I really approach everything the same way - with open eyes hoping the next submission I read is what readers are ravenous for.
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?
SG: I remember a good friend and awesome editor, the late Kate Duffy who could be very gruff but typically said what she wanted to say, had made a comment once in a conference presentation, 'Double space the damn manuscript will ya?' - I may not have the exact quote but it was something of that sort *grins* - loved her! The other is to feel what you are writing, because if you don't the readers won't feel what they are reading. Romance is all about the emotion . . . the feeling, believing, enjoying - it is entertainment so entertain us with a book we'll never forget.
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?
SG: In the digital world self promotion is critical and publishers must be able to guide authors through that process --- authors need to be careful not to do a lot of work for little to no results. A little bit of everything is important but there are ways to do things that make it not so overwhelming.
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?
SG: "This too shall pass" - according to Wikipedia this is a proverb and turns out to be something I refer to when things could be better. A friend told me this once and it has always stuck in my head. Life is nothing but change and once you know (believe) that and embrace it the journey becomes more enjoyable (on top of all that I have a very strong faith, and for me that is what life is all about).
WG: What do you do to relax and have fun?
SG: I am a sports enthusiast - my husband and I love to bicycle, ski, hike and lately we've gotten into bird watching.
WG: Is there a website you can point us to where folks can go to learn more about you and/or your publishing house?
SG: Yes - there are a couple of sites - eSubmission site that gives lots of detail to our programs and process - http://www.atrandom.com/eoriginals/ ; Romance At Random .com will give authors an idea of our promotional presence as will ReadLoveswept.com - ;
You can find us on most social media @SueGrimshaw and @ReadLoveswept @ReadFlirt - we're on Pinterest, Google+, Tumblr, LinkedIn; GoodReads and more.
WG: And finally, thanks again for taking some time to 'stop by' this month!