Award Winning Author Winnie Griggs

 

 

 

 

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LEAH HULTENSCHMIDT
Editor, Dorchester Publishing

 

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

LH:   Hi, Winnie! Thanks for having me here.  About me…well, let’s see.  I’ve been with Dorchester for about seven years now.  I started as an editorial assistant, took a brief trip over into the world of Publicity for a few years, and now I’m back to what I always wanted to do – editing. 

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?

LH:   I know it sounds horribly boring and cliché, but I’ve always loved to read.  Even in elementary school, the teachers said I had awfully good grammar for a fourth-grader.  In high school and college I worked in The Learning Center, helping other students with their papers.  I interned at a few metropolitan newspapers at the copydesk, editing stories and writing headlines. But I really wanted to work with fiction.  In college, all journalism students had to complete a thesis/capstone project to graduate, and I decided I was going to “acquire,” edit and market a novel.  Little did I know what I was getting into.  But the guys I worked with, who had written an epic fantasy, were fantastic. I wrote cover copy, a marketing plan and everything, and I think that’s what really helped me land the job at Dorchester.

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

LH:   I acquire pretty much just about any subgenre of romance, for Leisure, Love Spell and Making it.  I also work on men’s Westerns.

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

LH:   I believe Leslie Langtry’s ‘SCUSE ME WHILE I KILL THIS GUY came from the slush pile.  Her voice was just so distinctive and the story so hilarious, it really jumped out at me.

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

LH:   I’m always seeking new authors.  As a company, we do probably 10-12 new romance authors a year, and even now I’m still building my list.  What will really catch my attention is a gripping opening.  Suck me into the story in those first five pages and it’s hard for me to let go. 

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?

LH:   I’ve discovered several authors through contests, the most recent being Golden Heart finalist Trish Cerrone, who will have a high-adventure epic historical coming out with us next summer under the name Trish Albright.  I think contests are a great way to get feedback from editors, agents and published authors.  But for contests to help further an author’s career, they have to take that feedback and do something with it. 

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?

LH:   What makes voice so tricky is that it’s not that easy to define, especially because it touches on so many of the other components—character development, atmosphere, pacing.  I know an author has an amazing voice if I can hear that character talking in my head.  This comes out most readily in first-person novels, like Gemma Halliday’s High Heels series.  But Eve Kenin’s characters in DRIVEN were also impossible to ignore. “Voice” is just another way of saying a distinctive writing style, one more thing that helps a new author stand out from the crowd. 

WG:  Have you ever considered penning a novel yourself?

LH:   Oh Lord, no!  A blank page terrifies me.  I have a difficult enough time coming up with 10 lines of cover copy.

WG:  How would you describe your editorial style? 

LH:   Collaborative.

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

LH:   I pretty much leave the author’s creative process alone.  They present me with their idea, and as long as it makes sense logically, fits in the romance genre, and is remotely saleable, I let them run with it.  If they get stuck or are looking to brainstorm, I’m always available, but I try to keep my fingers out of the actual creative part.  They know their stories much better than I do.  With career planning, I’m more hands on because so often it’s not about the author’s writing, but how the book is being packaged or where it’s positioned. It’s my job to figure out how to take advantage of strong sales to continue an upward path, or right the ship if sales look to be a bit wobbly. 


Leah with this month's spotlight guest, Christine Feehan

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

LH:   I think working as our publicity manager for a number of years brings a fresh angle to what I do.  I’ve had a lot of practice pitching books, and everything starts with in-house advocacy.  Plus, I still have a lot of contacts, so I’m always pushing my titles to various bloggers, reviewers and other media. 

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?

LH:   All of the submissions that come to Dorchester are first logged in by an editorial assistant.  She weeds out the stuff that isn’t a genre we publish, doesn’t meet word-count requirements, and so forth.  She also usually takes a look at the first few pages just to make sure the author is capable of stringing together a sentence.  And if it passes that criteria, anything that has my name on it comes to me.

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

LH:   I try to have things back within 4-6 months, whether it’s a full or a partial.  But sometimes it strings out a little longer.

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?

LH:   I only acquire books that I personally like.  Otherwise, I’d be doing a disservice to the author.

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?

LH:   The first thing I do when it comes time to design the cover for a book I’ve acquired is ask the author for suggestions.  Sometimes they have great ones and sometimes not so great.  Of course, the same goes for me.  But we do take everything into consideration, and if it’s an idea that would work, we’ll try to follow it as closely as possible.  Our art meetings consist of myself, our editorial director, and our art director, and we all work together to brainstorm cover ideas.  Then an artist transforms the idea into reality.  And sometimes even comes up with something completely new that we like even better. 

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?

LH:   Writers conferences are a great way for me to get word out about Dorchester for folks who might not be familiar with the company.  It’s always a treat to see the authors as well, though most of our business is done throughout the year via email and telephone.  I enjoy taking pitch sessions, and I do often read those works a little faster once I get back to the office.  However, in the end, it’s the writing and not a pitch that will sell the book.

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?

LH:   I always do a Google search of someone I’m considering buying.  Surprisingly, very few of the aspiring authors I’ve looked for have websites.  Please, folks, if you’ve put something out on submission, build yourself a website.  It doesn’t have to be fancy or even updated very often (as long as it doesn’t actually get dated).  What I’m looking for is a bio (because even at this stage I’m thinking about marketing angles), any endorsements you might have, and just a basic gauge of how savvy you are about the market.  For example, does your blog talk about something of interest, or is it all about brushing your teeth that morning and what you had for lunch that afternoon?  A website is also a great place to list contest wins or other projects that you’re working on.  Obviously, this won’t make or break a deal as long as your manuscript is great, but it is something I check on.  As for reading the blogs of authors I work with, unfortunately, I don’t have enough time to get to get to them all.  But I often do check out Jana DeLeon’s because she’s always got something interesting to say.  I also read Dear Author, Smart Bitches, and redwyne.com on a daily basis to keep up with what’s going on in the industry.

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

LH:   If a submission comes from an agent I’ve worked with frequently whose taste I often agree with, the proposal will get read faster, but being agented or unagented doesn’t have any impact on the offer I make.

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?

LH:   This isn’t really any big secret, but please just do your research and follow the rules of that particular house’s submission guidelines.  And don’t make your package too difficult to get into.  ;-)  It’s amazing the amount of tape some people use. 

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?

LH:   I think some kind of self-promotion is vital. Obviously, priority #1 is writing.  The best promotion you can have is more books on the shelves. The most effective promotion I’ve seen is reaching out to readers and booksellers.  Do whatever you can to interact with and encourage fans.  Get to know booksellers and try to offer something special to them and their stores.  I know it’s a lot easier said than done, but work with your publisher’s publicity and marketing departments to come up with the best ways to leverage your unique talents.  

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

LH:   I’ve recently been enjoying the “Kushiel” series by Jacqueline Carey.  I also love historical fiction, J.R. Ward, Naomi Novik’s “Temeraire” series, Charlaine Harris and loads of other things I can’t seem to think of at the moment.

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

LH:   Submission guidelines and a full catalog of our books can be found at www.dorchesterpub.com.

WG:  And finally, thanks again for taking some time to ‘stop by’ this month!   Always a pleasure chatting with you.

 

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