Archive for the 'editors' Category

Romance is my day job

Patience Bloom, senior editor of Harlequin Romantic Suspense

Patience has a blog, Romance Is My Day Job, and she’s invited other romance editors to post. Yesterday was my first contribution, so check it out!

Some of us are just born romantics

Wanting heroes and heroines to get together is part of my DNA. At least it seems that way. For as long as I can remember, I’ve looked for romances everywhere.

The Evidence…

Some fun things my lunch table said they like about romance novels

harvard

I spent today at a NJ RWA panel where I, and four other industry folks, talked about the most common mistakes writers make in queries, synopses, manuscripts, pitches and publicity. It was a fun discussion, made so by the insightful questions from the audience and the good humor of my fellow panelists.

But one of my favorite parts of the day was actually off the panel, at lunch.

When I looked forlornly around the dining room, a group of funny, smart, book-loving ladies were kind enough to invite me to pull up a chair and sit with them. I’m so glad they did.

After the obligatory grammar and punctuation jokes–this was a writers meeting after all!–we got down to the nitty gritty of book discussion. I added five books to my Goodreads TBR from that conversation alone!

There were a few things we all loved, things I don’t always hear discussed when folks talk about what should be in a romance novel. So I thought I would share.

1. Complex characters. It’s a romance, so the journey together is guaranteed, but the hero and heroine also need to each have an individual journey over the course of the story. (Loretta Chase came highly recommended as someone who could do this well. Can’t believe I haven’t read her yet!)

2. High stakes. Which means, there’s something more to the story than just “will she get her soul mate or won’t she.” High stakes come pretty naturally to romantic suspense. The stakes can’t get higher than life or death. But for contemporary romance, high stakes are harder to pull off.

This seems to be where classic “hooks” come in: secret babies, secret pregnancies, marriages of convenience, forced proximity, enemies attract. The hook adds high stakes that impact the romantic plot. But adding the hook can escalate the problem. How do you pull it off without writing something that seems too similar to books that have come before?

3. Surprises. I’ve mentioned this in a couple of interviews recently, but this time I wasn’t even the one to bring it up! Someone else said it and when she did, we all agreed we’d been reading romance so long it was hard to surprise us. But when an author can make magic happen…amazing.

4. The romance as a journey of trust. Anne Walradt put it best when she recounted the premise of one of her favorite Suzanne Brockmann books, Harvard’s Education. The hero begins the story trying to protect the heroine and keep her out of combat, even though he can’t complete his mission without her skills. By the end, when they are escaping together, he turns to her and says, “Drive or shoot?”

It’s the ultimate development for an alpha hero, moving from overlord protector to comrade in arms. Really, that line gets to the heart of the matter even better than “I love you.”

Margaret Atwood talks about dead authors and the cheese sandwiches they will never again eat

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The “Dead Author” T-shirt by Margaret Atwood

At Book2Camp in February, I attended a discussion about book blogs attended by Margaret Atwood. (Just so you know, The Handmaid’s Tale is one of my favorite books, ever.)

I was a total shy fangirl, in awe that Margaret Atwood and I were in the same audience. And the highlight of the camp–not to knock all the wonderful conversations and ideas that were discussed about building reader communities, piracy and the definition of the book–was when Ms. Atwood carefully noted a list of book blogs and took special care in repeating “Smart Bitches, Trashy Books.” Teehee.

So when I was reading through Guy Gonzalez‘s blog and saw the link to Margaret Atwood’s TOC keynote address, I clicked, and watched, and laughed and took some notes.

I’d recommend anyone interested in writing, publishing, editing or ebooks watch the whole video, below. It’s worth your time.

Here are the key editor-related things I took away from Margaret Atwood’s TOC talk:

** The most important thing a good editor can do is provide encouragement and validation to an author, although not every day because that would become tedious.

** The #2 thing an editor or publisher can provide is a trustworthy name. So a reader may say, ‘if they thought it was good, then I will trust that there is some merit in the work, most of the time.’

** The final thing good editors provide is guidance, by catching unintentional mistakes via copyediting, line editing and developmental editing.

** If authors want to go the “United Artists” way, there will still be a place for editors. Trained editors are out there, and ready to be hired.

Here’s the talk:

Clips from Brian O’Leary’s speech: “containers limit how we think”

I was perusing my neglected RSS feed and came across Kassia Krozser’s fabulous recap of TOC, which I didn’t get to attend this year.

Through her links, I found the text of Brian O’Leary’s “‘Context first, revisited‘” keynote address.

It’s thought-provoking, and I recommend you read the whole thing. But if you can’t, here are a selection of my favorite quotes from the speech:

….we [book publishers] are no longer selling content, or at least not content alone. We compete on context…

Digital has made convergence inevitable. Marketers have become publishers; publishers are marketing arms; new entrants are a bit of both. Customers have become alternately competitors, partners and suppliers.

The challenge is not just being digital; it’s being demonstrably relevant to the audiences who now turn first to digital to find content.

When content scarcity was the norm, we could live with a minimum of context. In a limited market, our editors became skilled in making decisions about what would be published. Now, in an era of abundance, editors have inherited a new and fundamentally different role: figuring out how “what is published” will be discovered….

To manage abundance, we can (and do) use blunt instruments, like verticals, or somewhat more elegant tools, like search engines.
But when it comes to discovery, access and utility, nothing substitutes for authorial and editorial judgment….

Anyone want to discuss how convergence in the daily publishing workflow (not just in the marketplace) affects the editorial role? Editors already do a little marketing. As project managers we create titles and copy; we inform and approve cover art. As author liaisons, we help authors’ marketing efforts blend with company marketing efforts. Will there, necessarily, be more convergence, with other departments? (Choosing new, more specific BISAC codes for each book? Editing pages and chapters not just for story, but so they are easily chunked or searchable?)

Or, can anyone share details of what it means to use editorial judgment to improve discovery, access and utility? (I’m thinking this is about meta-data and understanding the way a user interacts with material when using a digital product like an ebook, but I’m not sure.)

As always, Brian brings up lots of interesting concepts for discussion!

My personal TOC

There are a lot of solid wrap-ups for the Tools of Change for Publishing conference making the rounds today. DBW’s webinar chose TOC Take-Aways as today’s topic, though technical problems and catch-up work prevented me from listening. Mark Coker had a piece, as did Publishing Perspectives. [Update, 2/27/10, a few more TOC links: an insightful observation about the value of chance and open-mindedness at conferences from Debbie Stier; Kirk Biglione’s DRM slides; Don Linn’s observations; and a summary of Tim O’Reilly’s speech on Teleread.]

I’m still working my way through my notes, which are way more detailed than usual, thanks to typing them instead of writing them. But I do have some personal take-aways from the conference.

1) It’s really fun to take your computer into a room with free wifi and interesting speakers. I took notes, looked up URLs as they popped up on the big screen, added books to my Goodreads to-read list as they were mentioned and had my RSS feed right there for reading should I get bored, which only happened once or twice. I wish actively using your device was socially acceptable at every conference.

2) Social media is the new SEO, especially when it comes to selling more books via word of mouth. I found the panels by Bob Carlton, Chris Brogan and Angelina Ward to be immediately applicable in my daily business.

3) Analytics will become (or have already started to become?) the new sales numbers. The amount of information that will soon be available…I mean, you can actually know if the book was bought and not read. Or, if the reader started, but then lost interest at page 20. As one presenter put it, you’ll know the multiple differences between those who read at 2 am in bars and those who read at noon during lunch. Talk about niche markets.

4) Technical guys who can create their own version of xml, automate all of their publishing systems (e.g., turn a 2-day process into a 37-second process), publish all of their royalty data for everyone to see and make money…well, they make me wish I could write a book about code and publish it with them right now.

5) I don’t like to feel that my content is brought to me by sponsors. I found suspicion creeping in every time there was a product related to a presentation, even when some of the products were ones I want to try.

6) Mobile is everywhere, even in emerging markets. The coverage is only growing. So who needs ebook readers?

7) And the most important point: It’s all about the customer–know them, meet them, talk to them, engage them, give them all the information you can, give them their choice of devices and formats, add value for them. Then maybe you can publish what they will pay to read.

#DBW–day 1

So not only did I miss what seems to have been great discussions at Digital Book World today, I have been nearly offline for the last week and a half catching up on reading for work.

Now that my deadlines have loosened their grasp just a bit, I scrolled through as many #dbw updates on Twitter as I could handle.

I was especially impressed to see Angela James’ (@angelajames) impact on the New Business panel.

amywilkins: Heehee RT @IrisBlasi Audible gasp from the audience when @angelajames said Carina’s books have no DRM–across the board. #dbwnewbiz #dbw

booksquare: RT @rilnj: RT @calreid: #dbw @angelajames No advances, 30% royalty/cover price & no DRM. R. Nash howls “you’ll be pirated!” angie: probably.

Love the gasping visual! And I’m intrigued by Angela’s response to accusations of letting in the pirates.

The DBW webinar last Thursday dealt with piracy, in a limited way (focused mostly on O’Reilly titles.) But the guest researcher, Brian O’Leary, said the initial data shows that the most pirated titles are also the titles with the most sales. Correlation? Causality? It’s unclear. (If I remember correctly, he said that the titles that were the most pirated also had 2/3s more sales than titles that were not pirated.) It seems to lazy-ol’ me that when it’s easier to buy than to steal, people will pay for the convenience, if for nothing else.

Also, aren’t publishers always giving away free reads? Like dope pushers, they know a good book will bring the addicts back for more. Samples, excerpts, advanced review copies, and libraries. Free e-books, just from anecdotal evidence, seem to do the same job. So maybe encouraging piracy is a good thing?

And then the conversation took a turn:

IrisBlasi: Discussion about ebooks getting heated. @angelajames offers to “take it outside.” #dbw #dbwnewbiz

A duel at dawn? Thunder Road? If only… It was probably more like, “Time’s up. If you want to keep chatting let’s go outside.” In any case, I can’t wait to read more about this panel from Angela and others who were there.

A few other updates stood out that were not Carina Press-related.

concentricdots: Most crucial message for publishers from #dbw today is STOP marketing products and START cultivate customers. Use the tools of change

This is where social media comes in, I suppose–but only when done right. IMO, Harper Studio’s blog is an example of the publisher getting it right. I read their blog because the posts are interesting. The blog writers, who all work at Harper Studio, cover timely topics related to publishing, media, entertainment, editing and, of course, their books. But when they do get around to writing about their books, the posts are about more than just what’s coming out and why it’s great. Instead they discuss something cool or personal that is related to their books.

Those blogs that only say “see this book/interview/author”? Ugh.

charleenbarila RT @IrisBlasi: Mindshift: Publishers are not selling the book, we’re selling the author.-@R_Nash #dbw #dbwnewbiz

Is this really a mindshift for publishers? Hmm. Isn’t that what happens with those blockbuster names like Nora Roberts, James Patterson, etc.? Harlequin folks always talk about “growing the author.” The assumption is that authors will always write more than one book, and future books will be just as good as, if not better than, the one that first caught an editor’s eye. Holding that assumption as true, an author’s audience should grow as she becomes known by more readers. Other publishers don’t think this way?

geogeller we are in the business of selling experiences, food for imagination #dbw #140conf @jeffpulver @chrisbrogan @garyvee @lizstrauss

I love this! Reading is always about the narrative experience for me, even for non-fiction. Now we readers can add to the imaginary world with other virtual experiences. Like that time when I was ten and I baked scones to go with my Philippa Carr novel–except way better.

nyefwm RT @alicepope: Sara Nelson: One of the truisms in publishing is that publishers don’t spend money promoting their backlists. #dbw

As someone who works on backlist quite a bit, I found this truism interesting. If publishers don’t spend money promoting those older titles, and authors have nearly forgotten that they wrote those books, how can editors best help get the word out? Homework for me!

Digitize me!

So I listened in on my first webinar today, a roundtable discussion hosted by Digital Book World. Today’s topic was about editors’ roles in the digital publishing space.

I learned several things:

1.) There is an awesome “new” blog called The New Sleekness. It has a lovely look and very interesting publishing punditry.

2.) I wish I had a winning scratch-off ticket so I could go to the Digital Book World conference. My budget dictated that I choose between Tools of Change and DBW, and a colleague I greatly respect suggested TOC. But the DBW organizers have impressed me with their ability to be everywhere I go and to talk about everything I’m most interested in. Do you think they’d let me check coats or clear tables in exchange for a free afternoon of conferencing?

3.) Stories are stories are stories. One participant, when discussing the role of a multi-media editor, said that many book editors look at the digital space (video, Web sites, etc.) and think, “That’s something else. That’s not what I do.” But others are beginning to think about their authors’ stories in a more integrated way.

Every editor I’ve ever worked with analyzes all stories, whether in TV, film, books or online. Most of us also see narrative arcs when others don’t (the beauty of the right political timing, for example). Once you learn to find and manipulate narrative, it’s hard to stop. Maybe multi-media editing is just an extension of this, with different tools.

4.) There is passion out there in this new publishing world. Book lovers are called lovers (and not buffs) for a reason. We love reading. We love stories. We love words. Most of all, we love to share all of that with others. The greatest boon of combining books with digital media is the ease of connecting with other book lovers and sharing our passions.

5.) If you want to go digital, love to learn. So, count me in for the next webinar, and this upcoming February talk with Richard Nash and Colin Robinson.

Team publishing at Hol

While I was slightly disconnected from the Internet over the holidays, I curled up with my laptop and read all the accumulated newsletters and links that had piled up in my inbox.

Publishing Perspectives’ feature on Hol Art Books caught my attention for two reasons.

First, their launch title, Museum Legs, was one I noted at the Brooklyn Book Fair. I accidentally went to the fair with no money, and had to write down interesting titles for later purchase or library loan. Museum Legs was at the top of the list.

See, my husband likes art museums, especially those with lots of visual art. (Think the Met and the Guggenheim.) I like the kinds of museums meant for history buffs and kids, especially those that allow a lot of of touching and encourage a lot of imagining. (Think the American Museum of Natural History or the Brooklyn Children’s Museum.)

Too much time amid visual art makes me ornery, and I can’t stay at a museum for more than an hour or two without finding a well-lit corner and pulling out a book. My husband says this is because I try to see everything, all at once. I think he’s being generous.

No matter the cause, my inability to make my way through the Met has always felt like a moral failing. Until I read the back cover copy for Museum Legs.

If you’ve ever considered going to an art museum and then thought, errr, I’ll do something else… If you’ve ever arrived at one and left a little glazed and confused… If you’ve ever thought, I might read an eight-page article about art museums but not a whole book… Then this is your story.

Museum Legs—taken from a term for art fatigue—starts with a question: Why do people get bored and tired in art museums and why does that matter? As Whitaker writes in this humorous and incisive collection of essays, museums matter for reasons that have less to do with art as we know it and more to do with business, politics, and the age-old question of how to live.

Finally, someone was talking about the way I interact with museums!

Second, the PP article discussed Hol Art Books’ team publishing model.

At Hol, anyone can propose a book project. There are no acquisition editors to man the publishing gates. The only guideline is that a book be related to the visual arts.

Any publishing professional can apply to work on a project. The hope is that they only choose books that look interesting to them.

The key is that no one–not the publishing team, Hol Art Books or the author–is paid until the book sells.

Hol prints and distributes the books; the team works only on books they love; and the author works closely with the team and the publisher to create the book they most want to write (or see translated.)

As I’m learning from Clay Shirky, sometimes love is a more powerful motivator than money. Since this team publishing model seems to be based mostly on the team’s love of, or belief in, a project, I want to explore the model further.

First, I’ll read Museum Legs to get a sense of what comes out of a team publishing effort. Next, I’ll think about applying to one of the art book projects, if there are any that really speak to me. (With my aversion to art museums, this is a long shot, I know.) Then, I’ll think about how this team publishing thing might work in other areas, like romance.

Knowing the reader

After thinking about editor platforms, I’ve come down on the side of connection. A book editor’s platform should look like this: reaching out to those who work on, write and read books. It doesn’t mean, as I had thought, selling things.

And now that the connect-to-reader meme has entered my mind it seems to be finding me.

M.J. Rose wrote an editorial for Publishing Perspectives last week that spoke passionately about publishers getting a clue about what readers want.

As someone who has spent her life in advertising doing endless research about the end user, I’m continually shocked by the lack of information publishers have about readers. And even worse their lack of concern about the info they don’t have.

Most of the post was about the relationship between hard cover book sales and postponed e-book releases, but M.J.’s paraphrase from Kevin Smokler said it all:

The inescapable truth of doing business in the 21st century, according to author and CEO of BookTour.com, Kevin Smokler, is that you have to give the customer what they want… “Should you choose to make it difficult for your own purposes, said customers will simply abandon what you are offering them and go elsewhere.”

Just as it’s easier for customers to find alternatives due to the web, it should be easier to connect with them as well.

The sheer size of the romance reading audience, and the many, many places where they discuss books online is intimidating. But at least they’ll be easy to find…

If I had a platform…

What would it look like? Can a book editor have a platform outside the publishing industry?

A recent post by Guy LeCharles got me thinking about the question. In “5 Things Books Should Learn from Magazines,” he says:

…Good magazines have strong personalities, both figuratively, via their tone, and literally, via their editors and contributors…

*** For book publishers, can anyone identify even 10 editors with ANY name recognition or influence at all outside of the industry? Every author is expected to have a platform, why not editors, too?

Yeah, why not? Well…

Unlike magazine editors who greatly shape the tone and voice of their publications, book editors are supposed to let the author’s voice take center stage. Even if the book requires heavy editing (rewriting) it is the author’s name on the cover and the author who gets the credit. A book editor, at least traditionally, is supposed to be a behind-the-scenes player. We are sometimes mentioned in dedications or letters in the front matter, but never on a “masthead.”

What if “Title of this book edited by Stacy Boyd” appeared on the copyright page alongside the disclaimer? Would readers write me letters asking why I bought this book over another? Would they congratulate me on selecting a great story? Would they even care?

If editors of books were connected by name to the books they edited, how could one editor within a house create her own editorial voice? A book editor may work with dozens of authors, contribute to multiple imprints (each with its own “identity”), or inherit projects from editors who have left the company. And though an editor can be heavily involved in a project, the true creator of the work is the author. Under these conditions, it seems difficult to create a consistent list, one that a reader can trust will always lead them to books they will enjoy.

Authors have their own voices, magazine editors shape the voices of their magazines, but book editors must work with many voices: that of authors, genres and publisher brands/imprints.

Maybe a book editor’s platform could simply be made up of her own personal taste. Sharing her opinions and publication choices with readers might make an eclectic compilation of books feel cohesive. (Though I would worry about implied favoritism if I seemed more vocal about one book than another.)

LeCharles seems to think interaction with readers might be the key to creating book editor platforms:

Long before email, blogs and Twitter came along, magazine editors were connected to their readers via mastheads and Letters to the Editor sections…. As new channels became available and popular, many magazine editors have embraced the opportunity to more effectively, and more frequently, engage their readers.

*** Other than Twitter, where they mostly talk to each other, when and where do book editors connect to readers on a regular basis? How can they position themselves to be influential curators, someone readers can trust to help good books find them instead of always having to seek them out?

Right now it seems book editors don’t interact with readers much at all. The only way we know what readers like is to look at the data from research teams and the sales numbers. Even when prime opportunities present themselves, editors and publishers sometimes give up the chance to interact with their audience. (Richard Nash had a very interesting post a while back about the nixing of the idea to open a day of Book Expo America to the public, which would have encouraged readers to engage with publishers, editors and authors.)

Maybe publishers should consider sending editors, instead of PR staff, to the reader fairs (Brooklyn Book Fair, Miami Book Fair, RT convention, etc.). Maybe editors should think of their acquisition choices differently, as a way of establishing a curated collection of books they can personally promote (instead of as books they think the company sales force can sell.) At the very least, maybe book editors should try interacting with readers, instead of just amongst themselves, via social media.

So, readers of books, let’s try this: Friend me!


DISCLAIMER

I work as an editor at Harlequin, but the posts on this site are all mine and don’t represent my employer's positions, strategies or opinions.
my book shelf:
Stacy Boyd's book recommendations, favorite quotes, book clubs, book trivia, book lists (read shelf)

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