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JUNE 2012

Karen Schurrer
Fiction Editor, Bethany House

 

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

KS:      I worked at Bethany House Publishers, a division of Baker Publishing Group, for a couple of years before making the transition to the editorial department in 2000. I have a bachelor's degree in Biblical Studies, Psychology, and English Lit, though I worked for many years before finding my dream job - editing fiction.

I am a lifelong Minnesotan and love my state, in spite of the winters - although my husband and I have recently started spending some time in the southern states when the cold is at its worst.

We have two children, a daughter-in-law and a son-in-law, and two sweet granddaughters - they are the joy of our lives.

WG:      I understand you don't actually do acquisitions. Can you tell me about the kind of work you do for your house?

KS:      Bethany House has acquisitions editors, whose main responsibility is to acquire authors and manage their book projects. And though at times I go to conferences representing Bethany House in an acquisitions role, I do not actually acquire authors or manage the full scope of their book projects. As a fiction editor, my main responsibility is to work with fiction authors after the first draft of their manuscript is submitted. With input from other editors and reviewers, I compile an editorial-comment document, outlining strengths of the story as well as areas we believe need to be revised and fine-tuned. The author and I use that document to discuss revision possibilities, and after the author had submitted the rewritten document, I do the first edit.

At this stage, I edit the story to enhance big-picture elements like pacing, clarity, plot and character arcs, character development, etc., sometimes working closely with the author to make revisions, but always taking care to stay true to the author's vision and voice.

WG:      What genres/lines do you currently work with?

KS:      I have a broad range of reading and editing interests, and I can appreciate pretty much every genre of CBA fiction. I have worked with or currently work with authors writing historical and historical romance (in a broad range of settings and time periods), contemporary women's (sometimes literary) fiction, suspense and romantic suspense, and a genre the industry currently terms visionary, which has included fantasy (often medieval), contemporary allegory, scientific/medical suspense, and science fiction. Though there are genres that are selling better for Bethany House these days, we are happy to consider manuscripts in any of these categories.

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?

KS:      As I said earlier, I don't acquire for Bethany House, but I do give input on manuscripts we are considering, and I (and my fellow editors) frequently serve as judges for writing contests. We are currently considering several of stories first read as contest finalists for publication. So I wouldn't say so much the credits themselves, but rather the exposure the contest provides to editors and agents.

WG:      Have you ever considered penning a novel yourself?

KS:      I have considered writing a novel over the years - I think most fiction lovers would be fooling themselves if they didn't admit to having a story idea or two rolling around in his or her head - but since I came to the editor role, I believe my becoming an author is less likely. Having found such joy in being an "aunt" for so many authors' book-babies, I feel less compelled to have my own book-baby.

WG:      How would you describe your editorial style?

KS:      I am very collaborative - possibly to a fault, at times. I much prefer working through the more significant editorial issues with an author rather than making a decision on my own. Of course I make numerous editorial/revision decisions on my own in every manuscript, but I often find the best solution comes from collaboration (both with the author and with other editors).

I am also very analytical, especially related to plot and character arc. I like to think I help the authors I work with create more logical plots and consistent characters. I don't know ... maybe they would just call me picky. =D

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

KS:      I am fully involved in an author's creative process when I am providing rewrite feedback and editing a story, and I ask all my author's to feel free to ask my opinion (for brainstorming and the like) throughout their writing process. However, here at Bethany House, the early discussions about what stories to write and other aspects of career management are handled by the author's acquisitions editor.

One thing that is very beneficial at Bethany House (I am not certain whether this is true of all publishing houses) is that, unless scheduling conflicts arise, we try to keep authors with the same editor for all their books with us. This is very helpful for continuity and building a healthy, confident working relationship.

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?

KS:      Yes, I have bookmarked and regularly visit author sites (my own authors' as well as many others) - especially blogs, since they are more often updated and the information tends to be more interactive. I can't say I look for anything in particular, but I do enjoy getting a glimpse of the author behind the books, and what they enjoy and appreciate in all areas of their life. So I guess I prefer the blogs/Web sites that help me know them as well-rounded people. But the other information is good too!

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?

KS:      "First, do no harm."

That is my editing philosophy in a nutshell. Once an author has delivered his/her book baby into my care, I hope they know, though I am not perfect, I am doing all I can to help it become the best book possible.

Also: (I have been collecting quotes on Pinterest, so it is hard to pick just one, but ... )

"Never let Success get to your Head.

Never let Failure get to your Heart."

I think that is self explanatory - and so important to remember.

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

KS:      Besides reading, I love photography, traveling, spending time with family, dreaming of making things and decorating (mostly via Pinterest these days). I watch a bit too much TV, but love Once Upon a Time, Castle, Person of Interest, and Downton Abbey, (and coworkers are trying to talk me in to watching Sherlock).

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

KS:      I enjoy reading just about everything - especially that of CBA - but I am in a season where I am reading either my own book projects or books I "should" read for various work-related reasons. But that is okay - I am having fun. I am, however, planning to read One Thousand Gifts, by Ann Voskamp, because so many people have recommended it.

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

KS:      If I thought long enough, I think I could come up with a specific book, but instead I think of the joy that reading novels has brought me over the years. Whether it was while lounging in the sun or snuggled away with the sound of pattering rain all around me; whether I was on my own or within arms-reach of my best book-loving cousin (who has gone on to heaven too soon for me), I still have a sense of the adventure I had at every age - exploring captivating worlds new and old; meeting new friends whose lives lingered in my thoughts for days afterward; experiencing the chill of fear encountered, the energy of joy expressed, the warmth of love discovered. What could be better than that?

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

KS:      We have wonderful, talented, dedicated authors at Bethany House, but we are always looking for authors to join the family. At this time we are only considering proposals presented to us by agents, or from authors we met at conferences and who have a novel idea that we feel has potential to meet our publishing needs.

If you don't have an agent, consider a conference. Most conferences list the publishing houses that will be represented in a given year, and agents attend conferences too. If you can't make a national conference (the most notable for fiction being the American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) conference), many publishing houses are represented at regional conferences, as well. And consider entering contests. Editors and agents often judge the final rounds of these contests.

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

KS:     People can find out about Bethany House and our books at our Web site: www.bethanyhouse.com. You can also like us on Facebook, and follow us on Twitter (@bethany_house) and Pinterest (in the early stages). And check out some of our book trailers on YouTube (www.youtube.com/user/bethanyhouse).

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

 

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