Editor, Steeple Hill Books
WG: Hi Melissa! Welcome and thanks for stepping into my spotlight this month.
WG: To start off, please tell us a bit about yourself.
ME: Hi Winnie,I’m glad to be here! I’m the senior editor of Love Inspired, a line of contemporary Christian romances published by Steeple Hill Books. I’ve been with the company for ten years, but I guess you could say I’ve been an editor in training since I started reading at the tender age of four. I graduated from a state university in upstate New York and worked for several years on non-fiction books for Reader’s Digest before landing the job at Steeple Hill.
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?
ME: Great question! I’ve loved books and reading since I was a kid. I have photos of me as a 6 month old baby holding a book (a parenting book, no less!). In high school, I took all the literature classes I could, plus several creative writing courses. Then in college, I majored in Literature with a minor in journalism. So not only did I learn to appreciate good writing, but I learned how to write about it too, and get a writer’s perspective (e.g. it’s not as easy as it looks!). After college, I got a job temping for Reader’s Digest, that led to a full time position. Then I applied for a job at Harlequin (through a help wanted ad in the NY Times). Sometimes it’s just about timing!
WG: What genres/lines do you currently acquire for?
ME: I acquire short Christian romances for all the Love Inspired lines, including contemporary, romantic suspense and historical romances.
WG: When was the last time you acquired the work of an author from the slush pile?
ME: Actually, the last two authors I acquired were from the slush pile. I’d seen their writing in contests, requested the complete manuscript, and after reading the entire project, I just knew I had to buy them for Love Inspired.
WG: Are you actively seeking out new authors, and if so, what would it take to catch your eye?
ME: I am definitely seeking out new authors, for all the LI lines, but most particularly for LI. In July 2009 LI went from publishing four books to six books a month, so there’s a lot of room for brand new authors or authors who write for other houses who are interested in writing for Steeple Hill.
I’m looking for someone who can take the parameters of the LI line (60,000 words, stories focusing on small towns, home, family, with a Christian world view) and make it their own. Come up with something different, but not too different, from what LI has been publishing recently. Make yourself stand out from the crowd. As the authors I work with could tell you, I’m also a sucker for strong, emotional writing. If you can make me deeply care about your characters, make me cry about their story, their lives, then you’ll have me hooked.
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?
ME: I do think contests are a great help to authors. I can’t tell you how many authors I’ve bought because I’ve seen them in contests. I think it’s a perfect opportunity to get your work onto an editor’s desk.
WG: Do you enjoy one of these roles more than the others?
ME: Not really; I like the entire process.
WG: Have you ever considered penning a novel yourself?
ME: Yes, I tried my hand at writing a novel. I have 3 chapters of a really bad chick lit that will never see the light of day. And wow, it made me empathize with authors. Writing is hard work! :)
WG: What do you see as the main strength you personally bring to the table as an editor?
ME: I’d like to think of myself as part editor, part therapist, part cheerleader. I try to encourage my authors to write the best books possible, and guide them into doing so. I like to give constructive criticism to my authors as well as “regular” criticism, because telling what someone does well is just as important as what someone does wrong. Also, if sometimes an author and I don’t see eye to eye about something (a title, a plot point, etc.), I try to explain, to cajole, to encourage, but ultimately, it’s the author’s name on the front cover, not mine. Ultimately, I think my enthusiasm for romance fiction shines through everything that I do.
WG: Realistically, what is the normal timeframe for your response to queries? Partials? Fulls?
ME: We try to respond to queries within a month’s time. For partials and fulls, we try to get back to authors in 3 months.
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?
ME: At Steeple Hill we ask for an art fact sheet from our authors. This gives us information about what the characters look like, what kind of clothes they wear, any other important information that might be useful for a cover. We also ask authors what they think would make a nice cover scene. After I’ve looked over this art fact sheet, I then have a meeting with my marketing and art people, and we try to determine the best cover art ideas for all 6 books in the line that month (in my case, LI).
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?
ME: I do sometimes check out the websites and blogs of authors I work with. I like to see what they’re up to, if they’re busy blogging or working hard on their writing! It gives me a glimpse of who this person is, besides a romance author. Many authors have photos of family on their sites, and I particularly love seeing those.
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?
ME: Don’t give up! Some of the first authors I bought for the Love Inspired line were author that my fellow editors has previously rejected. You have to have faith in yourself and your writing. Just because Editor A doesn’t like your work doesn’t mean that Editor B won’t be sobbing and begging to sign you in 6 months’ time. Also, do your homework. This is especially true for the category romances of Steeple Hill/Harlequin/Silhouette. Read and study the line you’d like to write for. That’s the only way you’ll know what the editors expect from authors. If you submit a short sexy romance to Love Inspired, that’s the quickest way to show an editor your ignorance.
WG: What do you do to relax and have fun?
ME: This sounds so sad, but I watch a lot of tv. After a long day of staring at a computer screen and reading manuscripts, I like to veg out and watch television. Also, I’ve been a crocheter for a few years now. Nothing fancy, but I can make beautiful blankets and warm winter hats. Oh, and I love love love musical theater and musical films.
WG: Other than your client’s work, what do you enjoy reading?
ME: I read a lot of other publishers’ contemporary and historical romances. I’m fascinated by history, so quite often I’ll pore over books about the British monarchy or British or American history. And I’m a total map geek. I can sit and look at maps for hours. I like to know exactly where my authors live in the U.S. :)
WG: What are your favorite movies and/or TV shows? Why?
ME: I really love mafia movies, The Godfather in particular, and science fiction movies. Star Wars, Star Trek, and so on. And of course romantic comedies, with Sandra Bullock in particular.
WG: Is there a website you can point us to where folks can go to learn more about you and/or your publishing house?
ME: If you have questions about anything, feel free to stop by www.eharlequin.com . There’s writing guidelines, message boards, writing advice from editors, and more!
WG: Melissa, thanks again for taking time out of your busy schedule to sit in this month’s Industry spotlight. It was delightful getting this inside look at the way you work and play.