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PATIENCE SMITH
Senior Editor, Silhouette Romantic Suspense


SEPTEMBER 2010

 


WG:      Welcome and thanks for stepping into my spotlight this month.

WG:      To start off, please tell us a bit about yourself.

PS:      I'm the senior editor for Silhouette Romantic Suspense and I've been with Harlequin for almost thirteen years. My background doesn't really jibe with my profession but here it is anyway: I went to Oberlin College in Ohio, majoring in French and Latin, then as I taught high school in Albuquerque, I got my master's degree in French at the University of New Mexico.

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?

PS:      While I was writing my depressing master's thesis, I started reading romance novels as a distraction. This was a red flag that I didn't want to be an academic. After that, I studied the publishing world and read as many romances as I could find (no Kindle back then so I hoofed it to the stores and library). I was interested in many kinds of books: nonfiction, literary fiction, Romance, Thrillers. Publishing seemed like the best next step for me. When I got to New York, I wound up and stayed at Harlequin.

WG:      What genres/lines do you currently acquire works for?

PS:      I can acquire for all of them, but I have more authors that write for Silhouette Romantic Suspense, Special Edition, Nocturne, Steeple Hill Love Inspired, Love Inspired Suspense, Harlequin Romance, American Romance and Harlequin Historicals.

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

PS:      Last year. It's quite exciting when it happens.

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

PS:      I'm always looking for new authors and the way to catch my eye is - as corny as it sounds - is through a great story.

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?

PS:      The very first author I acquired came from a contest. At the same time, good writing is good writing, no matter what contest credits a writer may have. Contests do bring a story to the editor's desk, but I won't turn away a writer if they don't have those kinds of credits.

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?

PS:      A way of writing that sucks you in. The premise itself could be ordinary, but if the voice is sharp and captivating, I will read it with pleasure.

WG:      Have you ever considered penning a novel yourself?

PS:      Often. I tried writing a romance novel but couldn't get past the third chapter. The hero and heroine had no zing, no chemistry, and I didn't know where the story was going even with a synopsis. How do writers keep the conflict going? I'm in awe!

WG:      How would you describe your editorial style?

PS:      Pretty chameleon-like. I tend not to hack, carve, and paste, but can adapt depending on the writer. I work with some writers whose work I barely need to touch; others' books may need more rewriting/structuring and then I'll dig in.

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

PS:      It depends on the author. Some have a clear vision of what they want and I serve as a cheerleader. Others need guidance and I'm ready to help brainstorm with story ideas, where to target, time management, and broader goals within series or single title aspirations.

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

PS:      I'm pretty fair, efficient and enjoy my relationships with authors. I'm terrible at responding to phone calls, but am good with email, getting very involved with each project and seeing where my authors need to go with their writing.

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?

PS:      Most of the submissions are read by the fearless Shana Smith, SRS's editorial assistant, but I also read a bunch of them. She's an excellent critic so will usually give me submissions with notes attached.

WG:      Realistically, what is the normal timeframe for your response to submissions?

PS:      I try to respond to submissions that hit my desk within two months. Sometimes I'll respond in a week, sometimes two months. I love to read, so I try to be fast.

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?

PS:      This is a tough question to answer. As I mentioned, I am fair, mostly because I will aggressively pursue even a book I don't like if I think readers will love it. In some ways, my liking a book doesn't matter as much. How controversial is that??? Though, it's rare that I dislike a book that I buy.

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?

PS:      For SRS, I have a lot of input and usually go into our meetings with an idea of what I'd like to see on the cover. The author's input is super-important. The author knows the book better than anyone so her/his vision helps us immensely. Then it's up to the art department to work its magic.

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?

PS:      I receive a lot of value from conferences. First of all, like the writers, we are cooped up in an office and it's great to put faces to the emails, books, and phone voices. Many of my authors go over their next stories, I meet new authors, and touch base with agents. Conferences are very important, otherwise, you are working in a vacuum.

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?

PS:      I don't usually check authors' websites unless Silhouette Romantic Suspense or my name are mentioned (yay, Google Alert!). There just isn't time. I try to focus just on the work itself.

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

PS:      Because I read fast, I tend to put submissions in the same pile. Nothing gets lost and I can keep track of all the proposals. An agent's input does have an impact on me, in that I know someone I respect has also read it and recommended it. Everything gets read.

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?

PS:      My only pearl of wisdom is the one I told myself so many years ago when I was trying to write my thesis and kept getting distracted: "Stop what you're doing right now and go write another page."

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?

PS:      The writer's life is fraught with insecurity. Some of that can be exciting, especially since your livelihood is dependent on your vast imagination. The key is to remind yourself that writing is a business and that the editor's job is to help, not hurt. I've had a fairly blissful time with authors, but if I get any push-back, it's from revision letters. Usually, though, an author will come back afterwards and say, "You were right."

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?

PS:      Self-promotion is very important, especially in series books - I find. I mean, it's always important, but with series books, it's great if the author is visible, communicates with her/his authors, writes a newsletter, has a web presence. It's all good, as long as it doesn't eat up too much writing time.

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?

PS:      I tend to quote from Julia Roberts's movies. ("Big mistake. Huge.") Anything she says is meaningful to me. Either that or I will lap up the quotes from Criminal Minds. I tend not to remember what people say until it's drilled into my head a few hundred times.

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

PS:      I knit, watch movies, run and obsessively read tabloids.

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

PS:      I love celebrity memoirs, self-help, and most Thrillers. I'm also a big fan of People and The New Yorker.

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

PS:      As mentioned above, anything with Julia Roberts, mostly because we're the same age, have (had) red hair and I came of age around the same time Pretty Woman caused a sensation. I also love crime dramas like Criminal Minds and The Closer. My one guilty pleasure is The Real Housewives of New York City. Movies: Too many to name but enjoy a range, from Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman in Notorious to Steven Seagal's Fire Down Below.

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

PS:      I've never confessed this publicly before but when I was 20, I had the flu, in Paris, of all places. I couldn't do much, though somehow managed to go to a bookstore where they had books in English. I pulled out Mario Puzo's Fools Die and crawled home and into bed. I must have read the book in less than two days. That experience made me fairly certain I'd be involved with books.

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

PS:      The great thing about Harlequin is that it offers so many opportunities for writers. We always need them and are aggressively looking for storytellers. So, keep those submissions coming!

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

PS:      eHarlequin.com is *the* place for all things Harlequin. Or you can also check on my blog by searching my name on the site. Hope to see you all there!

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

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