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SEPTEMBER 2009 SPOTLIGHT INTERVIEW

DEB WERKSMAN
Editor, Sourcebooks

 

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

INTRO

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

DW: I was an English major at UC Berkeley, went through a stint at New York art galleries, and studying art history, and then dived into publishing in 1989 with a political satire magazine that my husband and I founded. In 1992 we published our first book, and I've been publishing books ever since.

I sold my company to Sourcebooks in 1998 and came on staff here, and after many years acquiring gift books and other non-fiction, I am now acquiring all fiction:Jane Austen-related, historical, commercial women's fiction, and single title romance.

I'm located in Connecticut. Sourcebooks' main office is in Naperville, IL and we also have an office in New York City, which is where our children's and YA editors are.

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?

DW: In 1989 my husband and I started publishing a political satire magazine that got a lot of national media attention and books became an offshoot of that. We closed the magazine in 1992, and I started another magazine and went full-time into books in 1994. In 1998 I sold the company to Sourcebooks, at which point I was offered a job in any department I wanted, and I chose editorial because I love to work with authors and bring their books to market.

WG:  What genres/lines do you currently represent?

DW: I acquire for our Casablanca imprint, which is where all our romance fiction and non-fiction goes, and for Landmark, which is our fiction imprint.
I'm looking for single title romance in all subgenres (paranormal, historical, romantic suspense, contemporary and erotic romance).
We're also the country's leading publisher of Jane Austen-related fiction, so I acquire lots of that, also historical fiction (Georgian through Victorian England mostly).

On a very selective basis, I'm also looking for commercial women's fiction, but it has to have a very unusual premise and a strong romantic element.

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

DW: Last week! It happens all the time.

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

DW: Yes, I'm seeking new authors, including debut authors, authors with a track record and bestselling authors who might be in search of a new publishing home. A track record will always catch my eye. A proposal that follows my submission guidelines (which can be found here: Sourcebooks ) will catch my eye. A great title will also get my attention, but in the end the hook is the most important thing.

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?

DW: I have acquired books that I discovered through a contest, but I use different criteria when I'm judging a contest than I do when acquiring, so it's not been often that I've found something to acquire that way. In a contest, the entries are judged in relation to each other and ranked. For acquisitions, the work has to fit my publishing criteria.

I think contests can help an author!I always pay attention when I see that a manuscript has won or finaled in a contest. Contests can be a good way to get editorial feedback, but in the end, the book has to fit my criteria.

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?

DW: "Voice" speaks to the quality of the writing and of course the writing quality has to be there. However, I look for 5 specific criteria:

  • a heroine the reader can relate to
  • a hero she can fall in love with
  • a world gets created
  • there's a strong hook that allows me to sell the book in 2-3 sentences
  • the author has a career arc

WG: Have you ever considered penning a novel yourself?

DW: Never! I like a piece of paper that already has words on it!

WG: How would you describe your editorial style?

DW: Sales-driven and incredibly enthusiastic! How I edit once the book is acquired is very much a give and take with the author. It's a very collaborative process, with me standing in for the reader, and reporting back to the author about the reading experience.

I'm not a writing coach, so I tend to do more pointing out of weaknesses and relying on the author to solve any problems, but I do always share my ideas with my authors. In the end, it's the author's book and she/he has to be proud of it.

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

DW: I'm always working to adapt my process to the author's creative process. So I always call the author to discuss my editorial notes before I send them out in writing. However, deadlines are real, and I always want authors to give me realistic deadlines.

I do a lot of work with authors on their career planning. That's an essential aspect of today's publishing environment and our authors benefit from the strategic planning of their editor and publisher.

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

DW: Passion and professionalism (that's two!)

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?

DW: I screen all submissions as part of the log-in process and they then flow into two streams. Some I send to my Kindle to read, others I send to my assistant to have a reader read ahead of me. Readers work through all submissions in the order in which they were received, so sometimes they're ahead of me and sometimes I'm ahead of them. We meet about once a week or so to go through everything that's been read and decide on the next step for it.

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

DW: Happily, right now I'm at about an 8 week turnaround. 10-12 is realistic. I read until I'm clear whether I want to publish or not, so that could be the entire submission or only part of it. I love a full�if it exists, I like authors to go ahead and send it, but I do acquire from partials for authors who are previously published.

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?

DW: It's more important that I believe that readers will like it, and that it meets my criteria. But of course personal taste comes into play, and I get really excited when I can LOVE the work I'm acquiring.

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?

DW: I give cover design direction when I launch the book, including comparable/competing covers for the designers to look at. I see the cover art as it routes through the company during the approval process, and then I send it to the author. I also see it again when the ARC closes and when the book itself closes. I think authors should participate in this process every step of the way. Authors' feedback is useful, so even when they love a cover they may have a suggestion that's really helpful. It's very important to remember that the cover does not have to be (and in fact probably shouldn't be) literal. The vast majority of our authors love their covers the minute they see them. In every case we're able to get to a cover that the author can be proud of and excited to promote.

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?

DW: Yes, I love writers' conferences and the opportunities they provide to meet with my own authors face to face. I also love the opportunities to meet the keynote speakers and to meet authors who might be interested in publishing with us. I appreciate the opportunity to introduce Sourcebooks to authors who may not know us yet, and to show off some of what we can do, and I also value the opportunities to meet with other industry professionals.

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?

DW: I do sometimes look at websites and/or blogs of authors I'm considering acquiring. I'm looking for professionalism and marketing savvy.

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

DW: If the pitch is hot, that will get my attention no matter whether the submission is agented or not. Naturally the agents I work with a lot who know me well and know what I like catch my eye fast, but I'm always trying to give proper consideration to every submission, because I don't want to miss any gems!

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?

DW: If you take the time and trouble to find out (via their guidelines) how an editor want to be submitted to, your submission will stand out.

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?

DW: I don't think I have seen much of this. It's an opportunity to remind authors, though, that the editor is a professional, this is how he/she makes a living, and therefore, all interactions should be at a very high level of professionalism.

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?

DW: Self-promotion is absolutely essential. Our authors work with our PR and marketing departments to craft specific plans for their books, and the extent to which the author makes him/herself available for ALL of the above, and reaches out to his/her readers in every possible way they can think of, I do think it makes a big difference.

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?

DW: I've always loved this quote from poet Audre Lord: "When I dare to be powerful - to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid."
It moves me and inspires me, and reminds me to stay focused on what's important, 'the vision,'and not allow myself to be stopped by fear.

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

DW: I love world travel (especially with my husband and teen kids), I love to knit, do yoga, participate in courses and assist at Landmark Education, and READ!!!

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

DW: I love reading other authors' romance fiction, an occasional mystery, and non-fiction by Malcolm Gladwell, Atul Gawande, occasional business books, yoga books, and The New Yorker and Vanity Fair magazines!

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

DW: My favorite movies are the Jane Austen adaptations (in the AE/BBC production of Pride and Prejudice with Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle, it takes 6 hours before they kiss, but it's worth it!) and I love other costume dramas, too. I tend to catch TV shows a long time after they've left the air when my kids bring home the season DVDs. I've been watching some of the Nature channel episodes and they're amazing! I don't spend much time in front of the TV, but sometimes I'll surf through the previews in the pay-per-view movies for an hour or more and have as much fun as if I've seen an entire movie!

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

DW: For many years I re-read Jane Austen every year, until finally I had to have more, and that's what led me to the sequels, and that took me in a whole new direction in my career!

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

DW: Sourcebooks is the country's largest woman-owned independent publishing house and we're known for our sales and marketing. We've had enormous success with our fiction, and we're very excited about growing authors to the next level of their careers.

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

DW: www.sourcebooks.com

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

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