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JOHANNA RAISANEN
Editor, Harlequin

March 2011

 

Johanna Raisanen WG:      Welcome, and thanks for stepping into my spotlight this month. To start off, please tell us a bit about yourself.

JR:      Thanks for shining that spotlight on me, Winnie. Officially, my title is Editor and I work for Harlequin in the Toronto office. I have a degree in political science (of all things!) and a diploma in Book and Magazine Publishing. My first job in publishing was at a legal publisher, and I helped compile insurance and property law reports. Hard to believe I didn't last there, isn't it? When I got a job at Harlequin as a proofreader in 1997, I was thrilled.

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?

JR:      I've always loved books and great storytelling, but after getting my degree at university, I was at a bit of a loss as to what to do next. I mean, political science? What was I thinking? So I packed a backpack and took off for Australia for a year. When I returned to Toronto, I knew it was time to get serious about a career, so I did some research and discovered a college program that seemed perfect - Book and Magazine Publishing, as I mentioned. I was able to turn my love of reading into a wonderful career.

WG:      What genres/lines do you currently acquire?

JR:      I primarily work on and acquire for American Romance, but I also have authors who write for Romantic Suspense, Love Inspired, Love Inspired Suspense and Superromance.

WG:      When was the last time you acquired the work of an author from the slush pile?

JR:      I think it was about two years ago. I was just saying to a colleague, though, that I'm dying to find someone new in the slush pile!

WG:      Are you actively seeking out new authors, and if so, what would it take to catch your eye?

JR:      Yes!! What catches my eye are characters who make me care about them. A strong romance that doesn't come easy - great conflict means the happy ending is so much more satisfying. I'm looking for the proposal that makes me sit up and want to keep reading.

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?

JR:      I have acquired a manuscript from a contest, and I think contests can be valuable. They are terrific learning experiences for authors and opportunities to get feedback.

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?

JR:      This is a tough one. Voice is so subjective and a little hard to pin down. Voice definitely means a uniqueness and freshness in the writing.

WG:      Have you ever considered penning a novel yourself?

JR:      I get asked this all the time, but the answer is no. I can write reasonably well, but I'm not a natural storyteller.

WG:      How would you describe your editorial style?

JR:      I try to be there in whatever way that's most helpful to my authors. Some authors like to chat and brainstorm on the phone; others take my notes and go off on their own. Whatever works for each individual author. But I'm always available to chat, answer questions or explain the process of publishing with Harlequin.

WG:      What is your involvement with the author's creative process? With his/her career planning?

JR:      The process starts with proposals. I will give feedback on proposals and have an author revise if I think it's necessary before I submit to the senior editor. Once I get the go-ahead to acquire, I will read the manuscript for revisions. Then I do a line edit on the revised manuscript. I do try to offer advice in terms of career planning, such as what to do if an author wants to try other Harlequin lines or imprints, frequency of publishing, etc.

WG:      What do you see as the main strength you personally bring to the table as an editor?

JR:      I think I'm very good at helping an author with overall story structure, developing character and conflict - in other words I enjoy the revision process and the big-picture stuff the most.

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?

JR:      We use freelance readers familiar with our guidelines to read and write reports on submissions. The freelancers give us their opinions on overall writing, character, and plot/conflict. Of course, the editors still read and evaluate each submission, too.

WG:      Realistically, what is the normal timeframe for your response to queries? Partials? Fulls?

JR:      We try hard to respond within three months.

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?

JR:      It's important to a point. We make sure we acquire books that have marketable appeal. In other words, we acquire books that will sell. And if the marketable elements aren't my personal favorite, well, I try to put myself in the shoes of our reader. What does she like? Then I help the author make her book the best it can be.

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?

JR:      All Harlequin authors fill out what's called Art Fact Sheets, detailing setting, character descriptions and giving sample scenes. The editors meet with the art directors and the marketing person every month to discuss covers, taking into account the author's input.

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?

JR:      I love going to conferences and meeting authors face to face. The personal connection has tremendous value. A lot of times author and editor can hash things out in person so much more easily than through emails or phone calls. I also enjoy getting to know people in our industry.

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?

JR:      Occasionally I will pop in to check out an author's web site, but I don't do it regularly. I can't imagine anything affecting my opinion of an author's work, except if there are negative comments about the romance genre. But who would do that?

WG:      Do you approach submissions by agented authors differently from those without agents? Does your familiarity with/opinion of the agent impact this?

JR:      Having an agent doesn't really make a difference to me. I base my decisions to acquire on 1) does the submission fit our guidelines and 2) the writing.

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?

JR:      Do your research and always work on your craft.

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?

JR:      To be honest, I can't think of any.

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?

JR:      I think self-promotion, such as blogs, signings and online chats, can be useful. When authors reach out in those ways, and readers feel a connection - as if they know the author - then there's a greater possibility of that reader buying the author's book. Some authors can handle a lot of time spent on these activities, but others can't. You need to judge how much time is worth spending on promotion versus writing, because promotion can be very time consuming!

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?

JR:      I don't have a favorite quote, but after a bit of research I came up with these:

"The time is always right to do the right thing." Martin Luther King Jr.

"If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito." Dalai Lama

"Remember, no man is a failure who has friends." It's a Wonderful Life

"There was never yet an uninteresting life. Such a thing is an impossibility. Inside of the dullest exterior there is a drama, a comedy and a tragedy." Mark Twain

These all speak to me for different reasons. Isn't the Internet great?

WG:      What do you do to relax and have fun?

JR:      I love to hike in the woods with my dog, watch tv/movies, watch hockey and baseball, visit art galleries and, of course, read.

WG:      Other than your client's work, what do you enjoy reading?

JR:      I really enjoy mystery novels: I like Sue Grafton and Jacqueline Winspear - her Maisie Dobbs character is fascinating, and I love the time period (between the two World Wars) . I also read non-genre fiction, some non-fiction and historical fiction. Right now I'm reading The Help by Kathryn Stockett.

WG:      What are your favorite movies and/or TV shows? Why?

JR:      Favorite movies: Cascablanca, When Harry Met Sally, Shawshank Redemption, Some Like it Hot, to name a few. Exceptional storytelling!

Favorite tv shows: Big Bang Theory (I crack up every episode! Sheldon is too funny.), 30 Rock (love Alec Baldwin), Hawaii Five-0 (some nice eye candy), Republic of Doyle (Canadian show that reminds me of The Rockford Files), Blue Bloods (the family dynamics are terrific), Glee (the singing!) and Amazing Race (the locations and the race element).

WG:      Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on your life? In what way?

JR:      Can I say more than one? I remember reading the classics (Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, Pride and Prejudice) when I was a teen and being swept away by the stories. I think the power of those tales cemented my love of books.

WG:      Before we close, is there anything else you'd like to mention about yourself or the publisher?

JR:      I think we've covered it!

WG:      Is there a website you can point us to where folks can go to learn more about you and/or your publishing house?

JR:     Authors/readers can go to www.eHarlequin.com. There's lots to do: chat with editors/authors, find our writing guidelines for all series and imprints, and lots of other great resources.

WG:      And finally, thanks again for taking some time to 'stop by' this month!

JR:     Thanks, Winnie!

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