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February 2011

SHAUNA SUMMERS
Executive Editor, Ballantine Bantam Dell (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.

SS:      I'm an executive editor at the Ballantine Bantam Dell imprints of the Random House Publishing Group. I began my career at Bantam Books, then moved over to Ballantine, and after a two-year break from publishing, returned to Bantam Dell in 2005. Then amidst corporate re-structuring a couple of year ago, Ballantine and Bantam Dell merged so I've sort of worked at the same place my whole career.

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?

SS:      I've always loved books and been a big reader. After college I attended the NYU Summer Publishing Program and landed an entry level publishing job afterwards. Pretty quickly I realized that editorial was where I wanted to be and opportunities grew from there.

WG:      What genres/lines do you currently acquire?

SS:      I acquire all kinds of commercial fiction, particularly romance (all sub-genres) and women's fiction for Ballantine Bantam Dell.

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

SS:      It's been a long time, well over ten years. I actually still work with the last author I found in the slush pile. She wrote historicals under the name Tina St. John then, but now writes paranormal romance as Lara Adrian.

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

SS:      I'm always seeking new authors. It's very hard to describe what it is that catches my eye - great storytelling and great writing seems a little general. All I can say beyond that is voice - that magical something that makes me 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?

SS:      I've never acquired a manuscript through a contest. I don't think the credits necessarily help an author's career, but aspiring authors might get helpful feedback through the judging process and get their manuscript read by an editor.

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?

SS:      It's very hard to define, but I know it when I see it. See my answer above...

WG:      Have you ever considered penning a novel yourself?

SS:      Not since I started editing. I'm a good writer, but I'm not a storyteller.

WG:      How would you describe your editorial style?

SS:      I try to work in whatever way is most helpful for my authors, so it varies. I really enjoy the collaborative process - brainstorming, revising - so I do quite a bit of it (or rather help my authors with it), though at varying degrees depending on the author and the book.

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

SS:      Again, I try to adapt for whatever an author needs. Sometimes that means a lot of back and forth at the proposal stage. But I also have authors who don't talk to me at all about what they're doing and just deliver the final product.

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

SS:      I'm an all-purpose reader and I like all different kinds of books. And as I've already mentioned, I really love the editorial process and working with authors at every stage of writing/creating a book.

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?

SS:      Often my assistant might read a submission before I do. She'll give me an overview of the plot and what she thinks its strengths and weaknesses are.

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

SS:      I try to keep it under two months, but that varies.

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?

SS:      I feel it's very important that I personally like the book.

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?

SS:      I always get input from my authors. And I'm the one who presents these ideas (as well as my own) to the art department. From there it becomes a collaborative process and decision with the art director, our publisher, me and the author.

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?

SS:      I enjoy conferences - particularly seeing my authors or other authors and colleagues that I might not interact with otherwise. I don't find editor/author appointments to be useful and have never acquired anything from an author I met through an appointment.

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?

SS:      I do keep up on my authors' websites. More and more that is a key component for an author to build and interact with her readers. I might look at an author's website or blog in considering acquisition, but my main focus will be on the book itself.

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

SS:      I'm more likely to respond quickly to an agented submission, particularly if it's an agent that I have a relationship with. But other than that I consider every submission equally.

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?

SS:      Proofread!

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?

SS:      That's a tough question, as I'm not sure what misconceptions are out there. I do sometimes see on blogs or other places the idea that editors don't like or respect or care about the genre or the books they work on. That is not true at all!

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?

SS:      I think this is different for every author. Some authors are great bloggers, but others don't translate well in that forum. I do think a good website is important, but other than that I think it depends on what the author can manage and still write as quickly as possible.

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?

SS:      Drawing a blank.... On my screensaver I have a quote from my favorite television show "Friday Night Lights": "Clear eyes, full hearts, can't lose."

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

SS:      I travel a fair amount (I went to Indonesia and India last year), watch too much television, knit, spend time with friends, cook, eat, exercise. I used to go to the movies a lot, but I don't seem to as much these days.

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

SS:      I read a lot of romance and a lot of YA as well as general fiction, particularly a lot of what is on the bestseller list or whatever sounds good or is recommended by colleagues or friends. I read more and more non-fiction. Two of my favorite non-fiction books from last year were "The Healing of America" and "Born Round."

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

SS:      My favorite question! I am currently watching: Parenthood, The Good Wife, Mad Men, Friday Night Lights, Grey's Anatomy, 30 Rock, Modern Family (probably my favorite right now), Vampire Diaries, and Top Chef, American Idol, and So You Think You Can Dance. I also watch The Daily Show religiously. My favorite movies from this past year are The Social Network and The King's Speech. Oh and I really liked The A-Team. I wish that had done better.

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

SS:      Not that I can think of...

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

SS:      Not that I can think of...

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

SS:     We are going to be launching a new romance website next summer, so stay tuned on that! In the meantime, www.randomhouse.com

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

 

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