Feedback: An Editor’s View

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by Jeff Seymour, Carina Press Freelance Editor

A little over a month ago, Carina announced a special feedback opportunity. For every submission sent in during a week in October, we the editors would provide a few lines of personalized feedback. We would also provide responses within six weeks.

The opportunity caused no little excitement in the freelance editor pool.

Judging by all the submissions we got, it must also have been exciting for the writers who submit to us, and I wanted to take the time now that it’s winding down to let you know how the opportunity has looked from where I sit (which is on a couch, usually, but also sometimes at a desk, with a laptop or an iPad to work on, if you’re curious).

During the feedback opportunity, I received 25 submissions to read (plus a few that weren’t part of the opportunity). I went on to read full manuscripts for seven of them.

Just so everyone knows, that speaks to the overwhelmingly high quality of the submissions I received (this was true for other editors as well). I’m usually quite happy if I find three fulls to read out of 25 submissions.

The seven fulls I read totaled 693,000 words in length (though to be fair, I didn’t finish every one of them). I don’t have exact numbers for the other freelance editors, but I got the feeling that this was not an unusual amount to have selected to read. Of the seven fulls I requested, I went on to recommend one for acquisition. I ended up writing 1,682 words of feedback in total.

There were 10 of us, plus Angela, who participated in the feedback opportunity. That adds up to a whole lot read and written.

But I want to talk about more than the numbers today. Speaking for myself, and I think for many of the other editors as well: this has been fun. It was a break from the normal, and while cranking through 693,000 words of submissions in a week was hard, it was also exciting. Before I started working in publishing, I used to do things like climb huge mountains and paddle in long-distance canoe races. The feedback opportunity had a bit of that same “Oh my God, how can I possibly do this…oh my God, I just did” feeling for me.

It also had a bit of the old pizza and slush-reading party camaraderie that I associate with publishers whose editors all work in the same building. That, for me, was a lot of fun as well.

And I’d like to thank everyone who participated in it for that, from the bottom of my over-caffeinated heart.

So that’s what the feedback opportunity looked like from my couch/desk (Couchdesk? Somebody please send me a sci-fi with couchdesks. Bonus points if they have some kind of direct-brain, tentacular interface and someone’s big character tic is a mad conspiracy theory that they present an existential threat to human-(or other)-kind.).

What did it look like from yours?

The Devil is in the Details

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I was recently reading a contemporary romance for pleasure—not as an editor—and I had the annoying experience of being yanked out of a heartbreaking scene by some medical details that were inaccurate.

Did this ruin the book for me?  No.  Did I emit odd noises and mutter obscenities?  You betcha.  Do I imagine every reader of this scene had the same reaction as I did?  Of course not.  In fact, I went on to read quite a few reviews of the book, and apparently no one in the OB/GYN field happened to read this book and feel inclined to complain about this scene.  Go figure.

This experience made want to write here on the Carina blog about the special areas of expertise we have as readers that inform our experience of a book and cause us occasional “moments.”  In my case in my pleasure reading—we won’t get into my checking frenzy when editing—I unconsciously scrutinize medical details, anything in the financial field and use of the Spanish language.  Other readers can’t help but search for anachronisms in historicals, or see laws misunderstood or misapplied in romantic suspense.

I’m eternally grateful to fiction authors for allowing me to experience different worlds, bodies, careers, time periods, ages, situations, hobbies and passions.  Moreover, I think authors are incredibly brave.  They tread into the realms of their readers’ careers, personal experiences and passions.  Think of the knowledge an author needs to have to create a heroine who is a real estate agent, grew up in foster care and loves to parasail.  The authors I work with do an amazing job of researching for their books.  They interview people in the career fields of their characters, figure out the science behind breaking a car window, read countless history books and primary source materials to better understand a different era, find out how a person acts when coming out of a coma, and much, much more.

And does the work end there?  Heck no.  Now the writer has to weave in the details that enhance the believability of the story, without slowing things down or over-informing.  So, unless the information heightens the story’s tension or worldbuilding or characterization, readers don’t get every detail of it.  In my experience, fantastic authors tend to accumulate a lot of knowledge that doesn’t make the final cut.  (But I often get to see this overflow when authors respond to my queries in the margins.  Yay!)  This is also true in the genres of paranormal, fantasy and science fiction, where authors’ creative production in terms of setting, biology, history and language can be much larger than what appears in their books, and the authors fact-check against themselves to ensure consistency.

In a perfect world, all the various details in a book will ring true…ish, because reality is subjective, writers and editors are human, and you can’t please everyone.  So, have you ever read a scuba scene or calculated the time it took a character to knit a sweater…and groaned?  What are your specialties, the areas of expertise you’d like authors to write about after interviewing you?  And writers, what are you learning about for your current or next project?  What type of research do you find the most fun to do or most difficult?

Judging a Book By Its Cover (Copy)

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We all know that old saying, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” This may be true for all things except, well, actual books. A strong cover will catch the eye, suggest the genre, set the mood for the story—and compel a reader take the next step: click on the link or turn the book over to find out more! That’s where I come in.

Often when I tell people that I write cover copy, they are surprised to learn authors don’t write the blurbs for their own stories. Then they usually ask how long it takes me to read all those books. And I must confess: I don’t. Oh sure, I’d love to! Anyone in publishing who doesn’t like to read is clearly in the wrong line of work. But when there is a deadline to be met (and isn’t there always?) I rely on the synopsis.

I know, I know: many (most?) authors hate writing them! But a good synopsis won’t just get your book noticed by an editor, it can also help a copywriter craft a killer blurb that will entice readers to buy your book. While I do read some or all of a manuscript if necessary, it can be too time consuming when I’m working on several books at once (especially when I get sucked into your story and am “forced” to keep reading when I should be writing!)

So what do I look for in a synopsis? The basics: your name/pseudonym, the title of the book (if known), the series name (if it’s part of one), the genre. Often this information is missing, probably because it appears in the query letter or manuscript, which I may not have. I usually check out the copy for your other books, and try to reflect the same tone where appropriate, especially when the books are connected. So having this basic information in the synopsis itself is helpful. Yes, I can get it from my Carina contacts, but if I’m writing copy at 10 pm on a Saturday night (such is the glamorous life of a freelancer!), I’m working with more than one synopsis with no title or author name, and the copy is due Monday…

Along that same line, it’s also helpful to know the basic facts about the hero and heroine: full names, occupations or titles, as well as where (and when, in the case of historicals) the story takes place.

If you have a tagline, “elevator pitch” or a really brief description of your story, please feel free to include it (I may even end up using some of it in the final blurb.) Not to worry, I’m not suggesting you need to write your own copy. But if you can’t sum up your story in a few lines, it’s probably going to be difficult for me to as well.

Perhaps most important of all, spell out the conflict and motivation for both hero and heroine–what exactly is keeping them apart? How are they going to resolve it? If your synopsis only reveals what makes the heroine tick, it can be difficult for me to factor the hero into the copy. You might be surprised how often I read a synopsis that says next to nothing about the hero except that he’s “sexy as sin”, even when his point of view is strong within the book itself.

If your story is erotic, I need to know so I can turn up the heat. More than once I’ve written copy that was sweet rather than spicy because there was no indication in the synopsis that there were any sex scenes at all, never mind explicit ones! You don’t have to go into all the juicy details—just include “erotic” in the genre, and I’ll take it from there.

Lastly, if the story is told in first person, it would be great if this was indicated in the synopsis. Sometimes I struggle to get just the right tone in a piece of copy, only to have it all fall into place when I realize the book is in first person. The synopsis doesn’t have to be written in first person, just as long as you mention the book itself is. (I’ll still often write the copy in both first and third person to see which version works best.)

So you tell me, do you judge a book by its cover (copy)?

Bad Signs in Query Letters

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by Jeff Seymour, Carina Press Freelance Editor

Ah, query letters. Bane of the budding writer. One of the most frustrating aspects of the submissions process.

And yet your first chance to show your stuff to an editor, as well.

Before I go any further, I want to be clear that a bad query letter does not kill your chance of getting published. I start reading every submission that crosses my desk, even if the query letter on top of it makes me doubt that I’m going to read very far.

There are lots of good places to get advice on writing a strong query letter (Nathan Bransford’s blog is a good place to start). I’m not going to cover that here. Instead, I want to share some query letter problems that often predict issues in manuscripts themselves. My hope is that if you find them in your query, you’ll stop and look for the corresponding problem in your manuscript before you submit. Or better yet, hand your book off to a beta reader or critique partner and get his or her opinion.

We all want your work to be the best it can possibly be when it comes to those of us on the other side of the desk.

So without further ado, here are some bad signs in query letters:

1.) “This book can be released as (insert number) books or as one.” I know this is occasionally true. I know there are great books that have been split into parts by publishers in the past. But when I see this in a query letter, I often find structural problems in the submission attached to it, and I suspect there’s a reason for that. If you find this in your query letter, take another look at the structure and pacing of your book. Make sure your chapters link together seamlessly, the tension never flags, and the reader is never left wondering where she is and why.

2.) Random punctuation. I don’t expect a flawless manuscript or query, though I love to receive them. But when an author hasn’t taken the time to study (and I mean study–read Strunk and White! Read the Chicago Manual of Style! Painful as both can be, you’ll probably only have to do it once) how to use colons, commas, semicolons, and other marks, he or she probably hasn’t taken the time to study other aspects of writing either. If you find this in your query letter, look at the writing in your manuscript and make sure it’s clear and grammatical.

3.) Boldface. I suspect that the use of boldface to direct attention to important aspects of query letters has its roots in advertising, but it raises red flags for me. If you don’t trust me to find the important elements in your query on my own, are you trusting your reader to recognize the important details in your novel? If you find this in your query letter, make sure you’re not overdoing the telling in your manuscript, like showing your reader an important detail and then underscoring it several times with dialogue or narrative.

4.) Repetition (“Dripping with power and wealth, Malcolm has a lot of money and isn’t afraid to throw it around to get what he wants.”). Repetitive descriptions in query letters tend to presage books containing the same. If you find this in your query letter, look at the descriptions in your manuscript and make sure you’re not saying the same thing two or more times.

5.) Excessive passive voice. I’m usually a defender of the passive voice. It has lots of good uses (establishing rhythm and cadence, varying the tone of a paragraph, allowing a character to speak or think in his or her own words, etc.). But, like other grammatical constructions, it has a time and a place, and every sentence in the first paragraph of a query is not it. If you find a lot of passive voice in your query letter, go over your book and see what happens if you strengthen some of your passive constructions.

6.) “My book is great because it’s full of great characters who do great things and have great relationships.” If you tell me this rather than show it to me, it bodes poorly for the show vs. tell ratio in your novel. If you find sentences like this in your query letter, have another read of your novel with an eye for showing details to your reader versus telling him or her about them.

Something Old, Something New

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I love books that turn an idea on its head to make something new. Books that show me a new perspective on an old trope. Books that cast a familiar character in an unfamiliar plot.

Actually, I like this concept applied to my real life, too. I love book art — sculptures made from the pages of a book are the ultimate in taking the familiar and creating something new. And have you seen how unbelievable some of these sculptures can be? (The Guy Laramie pieces are truly breathtaking.) Last year, when my husband and I were planning our wedding, we decided to use books as centerpieces. (And favors!) But I wanted something to gussy up the big stacks of mysteries and romances, and came across these: Book vases.

So I set about making dozens of vases to scatter across our tabletops. Though the tutorial above shows how to make a book vase from a hardcover, I found that I preferred the size of mass markets. Tiny vases are just so adorable!

If you’d like to give tiny vase making a try, you’ll need:

1 well-read mass market paperback, the thicker the better

an X-acto knife

craft glue

cardboard (to make a template)

pencil/marker (to help give the vase its shape as the glue dries)

tape

2 small c-clamps (optional but very helpful)

 

First, decide on the shape you’d like your case to take. A simple curve is a good way to start. Cut your piece of cardboard down to size.

Remove the covers from the book, being careful not to cut the glue that holds the papers at the spine.

Now, if you’ve got a c-clamp, clamp the template to the book, and clamp both of those to a sturdy table. It’s best to clamp either end of the book, inside the cardboard template. That way, when you slice through pages, they’ll fall to the ground and your book vase will be securely affixed to the table. When I made this round of vases, I couldn’t find my c-clamps, so I just held everything together very carefully instead.

 

Begin cutting away pages. Be patient, go slowly! And be careful not to angle the blade in & under your template — you’ll end up with too-short pages that way.

Sometimes it helps to move the template down through the book as you cut (especially if you’re cutting sans c-clamps).

 

Don’t worry if some of the page edges are ragged — you can fix that (or at least smooth out the roughness so it’ll be less noticeable on the finished vase.


Spread out the pages of your vase, Don’t be too delicate — you want the spine to be pliable in order to get the best result. That’s why it’s great to use a well-worn paperback for this project. (For our wedding vases, I scoured my local St. Vinnie’s for very old mass markets.)

I really like to make two vases per mass market, so when I’m finished with the main shaping, I go back and cut the vase in half. If you want to do this, make sure you create a template that will give you two vase shapes!


Apply craft glue to the front and back pages of your book vase. Gob plenty of glue near the spine edge — that’s where you’ll want the strongest hold.

Wrap the pages around a pencil (or marker, depending on how thick your book’s spine is), pressing the glued pages firmly together. Secure with tape, as close to the spine as possible, to hold the vase together while the glue dries.


Remove the spacers and the tape, and fluff the vase pages out.

 

Enjoy!

Monster in My Closet - coverNow back to my original point: Books that take the familiar and create something entirely new. R.L. Naquin’s debut release, Monster in My Closet, does just that. She takes familiar creatures — closet monsters, brownies, dragons, reapers, and more! — and recasts them in a world that’s unique and wonderful. This is fresh urban fantasy, and when this manuscript came across my desk, I was delighted by the whimsy, imagination, and sense of fun within its pages. I highly recommend it!

 

 

The Moment

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How does an editor know that she wants to recommend a manuscript for acquisition? When does she know?

Does that special knowledge blossom after she’s finished reading the whole thing, or can she tell right from the start? Does she have to sleep on it, or does she feel she may immediately burst into flames if she doesn’t write the acquisition report right away?

For every manuscript, it’s different. Editors can often tell right away if they *don’t* want a manuscript (sometimes within three sentences!), but the moment that we decide we *do* want a manuscript — that’s unique and much harder to pin down.

In my role as an acquiring editor over the years, I can pinpoint only a few really vivid, concrete moments when I knew the manuscript I was reading was a yes. In one instance, it was the opening line of Chapter Nine, “The verbs were the first to go,” when the author introduced a POV character suffering Alzheimer’s. In another, it was a moment two-thirds of the way through a mystery, when a major character — who I did not expect to die — was murdered, and the entire landscape of the manuscript shifted around me into something bleak, heart-wrenching, and almost unrecognizable (um, in a good way!).

For Michelle Garren Flye’s small-town romance Where the Heart Lies, it was Liam’s first magic trick.

Alicia Galloway has lost her husband to war and moved to his small hometown to help out at his parents’ bookstore. On her first night there — a little overwhelmed, sad, and worried about how she’ll care for her two young children while working full-time — she meets Liam Addison. Liam was her husband’s childhood best friend, the town bad boy who grew up to be a physics professor at a nearby college. While Alicia is distracted, putting her infant son to sleep in the master bedroom, her daughter Gemma wakes up and finds Liam in the kitchen. When Alicia returns…

She found Liam at the kitchen table with Gemma, who was drinking milk and munching contentedly on a doughnut. In front of him sat a candle, a lighter, a glass and a bowl. The bowl held a little water and a coin. As Alicia paused in the doorway, Liam looked at Gemma. “Do you believe I can get the quarter out of the water without getting my fingers wet?”

Her mouth full of doughnut, Gemma shook her head from side to side. With a mysterious expression and dancing eyes, Liam lit the candle, placed it in the bowl and put the glass upside down over the candle. Gemma sat spellbound, staring at the dish, and then her eyes widened. All the water had been sucked into the over- turned glass, leaving the dish nearly dry. Liam picked up the coin and handed it to Gemma with a flourish. “For your piggy bank, madam.”

 

In that moment, I knew that Michelle had created a wonderful hero, and I knew that I’d be recommending the manuscript for acquisition. Alicia and Liam’s love story did not disappoint from there — it grew into a lovely romance that I’m proud to have worked on.

Where the Heart Lies will be released on the 16th — but you can pre-order it today. And even better, it’s on sale for 99 cents!

And Where the Heart Lies isn’t the only 99 cent deal this month — two other wonderful Carina titles  are up for grabs. Check out Only Fear by Anne Marie Becker for a thrilling romantic suspense, or By Royal Command by Laura Navarre for a sweeping historical romance.

 

No matter what you’re reading, I hope it’s wonderful — and I hope that you’re enjoying many of those OH YES moments when you know that the story you’re reading is exactly right for you.

 

 

The Thrill of Uncertainty

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I love reading romances. Naysaying literary snobs who claim romance lacks suspense—since everyone knows the couple will end up together—miss the point entirely. A great romance will make the reader wonder how the hero and heroine will overcome their obstacles to ride off into the sunset together.

I also love reading other genres too, the ones with no guarantee that the guy is gonna get the gal (or vice versa), or that the heroine will even survive. Some readers can’t deal with the feeling of betrayal when a story doesn’t have a happy-ever-after, so they read nothing but romance.

But I love the not-knowing of other types of fiction. There’s an extra edge to the thrill, like walking the high wire without a safety net. If the protagonists survive, I’m that much happier for truly having been afraid that they might die. If a novel with romantic elements ends with the h/h together, it’s all the more satisfying for the outcome having been uncertain. And if a couple doesn’t get their happy-ever-after, I can still have mad love for the story, if well told. Two of my favorite films are Casablanca and Gone with the Wind, even though Ilsa and Rhett leave Rick and Scarlett at the end.

I find non-romance fiction to be palate-cleansing. Ambiguous endings can be thought-provoking and challenge readers to interpret them. Science fiction does this too. It asks the big questions, and I love the way invented worlds can provide insight on societal values.

Sad endings can be cathartic. I’ve wept over the death of beloved characters. Sometimes I feel a little cheated by it, but often a story is even more memorable because of the effective way a character’s death is handled. I think Wuthering Heights, Anna Karenina, and Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince have emotionally powerful and memorable endings.

Some genres have conventions that satisfy readers as thoroughly as a romance’s happy-ever-after. In an epic quest fantasy, the protagonist will succeed in his/her quest, even if the final shape of that success is different that initially envisioned (and even it takes more than one book to get there). In a thriller, the disaster will be averted, even if the villain escapes to cause mayhem in the sequel. The mystery genre demands that the mystery be solved by the last page. It might not be solved in a way that enables an arrest, but the reader will know who and how and why the crime was committed.

Luckily for me, Carina Press publishes more than romance. You’ll find fantasy, mystery, science fiction, horror, steampunk, paranormal, action-adventure and historical fiction titles on our site.

Aside from romance, what types of fiction do you enjoy reading? If you’re a die-hard romance reader, when was the last time you took a chance on a story without a guaranteed happy-ever-after?

Carina Press Spring 2012 call for submissions!

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Note: please note that the submissions guidelines must still be followed in order to submit a manuscript in response to this call. Please visit our submissions page and follow the directions there.

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Hellooooo! So, the freelance editors for Carina decided it was time to do another call for submissions. We love doing these, because we get so many awesome stories in. Of course, PLEASE note that in the end, what we really want is a good story—so even if yours doesn’t fit the descriptions below, don’t hesitate to send it to us anyway! Sometimes we don’t know what we want until we get it in our inbox. You can find out more info on all the Carina freelance editors on this page.

Rhonda Helms: I’m open to almost every genre, with or without romance. But there are certain types of stories I’m eager to read more of right now, including:

military of any genre (esp. romance, thriller, sci-fi), steampunk (haven’t had a good one in a while!), atypical fantasy with great world-building and intriguing rules/uses of magic, westerns (esp. ones that use western elements to blend genres), sci-fi/futuristic with aliens and technology, romance (any steaminess level), stories with a mythological element, historicals (esp. if they feature real historical figures/events), stories set in unusual locales of any genre, super-funny romances that make me laugh until I cry, books of any genre with kick-ass heroines, deep and resonant tear-jerkers that move me but still have a satisfying ending, stories that blend genres to create a fresh and compelling world, and anything with a strong multicultural facet (please—want!!).

Melissa Johnson:

While Melissa is eager to read submissions of any genre, she currently yearns for a romance that crosses class or culture lines—whether contemporary, historical or paranormal. She feels it takes a particularly thoughtful author to make these conflicts deep and sensitive, and is thrilled when someone pulls it off. In general, she loves characters who learn from each other, see and love each other’s flaws, and grow over the course of the story.

Alissa Davis:

I look for books I can’t put down and characters I can’t forget. I edit lots of m/m, erotic romance, contemporary romance and historical romance and would love to see more of those. I also wish authors would send me medical romance, erotic historical romance, and m/m fantasy romance, and runaway bride romance. I have a weakness for geeky beta heroes, but mostly I hope to see sympathetic, well-drawn characters with real issues and a legitimate conflict keeping them from finding their HEA.

Mallory Braus: Mallory looks for characters first. Three-dimensional characters—with depth and vulnerabilities and quirks—pull her into a story faster than anything else. She’s looking for all genres, but there are a few things she’s especially keeping an eye out for:

–A zombie hunter romance!

–Psychics – Especially if you have psychic FBI agents or members of a special government agency…

–I’ve been keeping an eye out for quirky characters. Nerdy/dorky heroines or heroes. Funny relatives. Etc.

–Dark romantic suspense or gritty thrillers.

–Historical Mysteries. I’m especially looking for any late 19th to early 20th century mysteries.

–“Band of Brother” type series. Examples would be Nora Roberts’s trilogies, Suzanne Brockmann’s Troubleshooters, or J.R. Ward’s Black Dagger Brotherhood. Where an emphasis is on the building of multiple characters’ relationships over the course of multiple books.

–Stories with unique worlds/setting, including, but not limited to: steampunk, post-apocalyptic, futuristic sci-fi and urban fantasy.

Alison Dasho: Alison wants:

–Sci-fi, especially future humanity dealing with first contact, alien class issues, or cyborg/android integration. What defines humanity? Do robots have souls?

–Fantasy adventure, especially lighter, funnier worlds. I’d love to see a manuscript that tells a rollicking quest story, maybe with trolls and wizards and unicorns and dragons, and has superb worldbuilding and a quirky sense of humor.

–Mystery and crime, especially dark tones and morally ambiguous issues. I’m interested in how the victims cope with the crime after the fact, or how the criminal who maybe got away scot-free in terms of legal justice is forced to contend with karmic justice. I tend not to like paranormal elements in my crime fiction, but will make some exceptions. I would love to see kidnapping fallout stories. Is the kidnap victim grown up and how is s/he dealing with those memories? Is the kidnapper in jail, or contacting the victim for some reason? I’d also love to see wrongly-accused stories — not necessarily like The Fugitive, where the protagonist himself must prove he didn’t do it, but more explorations about how the protagonist feels when faced with an accusation. Powerlessness, reliance upon a flawed justice system, etc.

–Contemporary romance, especially complicated. Both hero and heroine with pasts — maybe she’s a widow, maybe he’s got a criminal history. I love stories where everyone is opposed to the hero and heroine being together at all, let alone earning a HEA.

Denise Nielsen: I’ve had a hankering to read any of the following

–Historicals

  • Dark, edgy historical – Victorian or Edwardian era, gothic elements, steampunk, suspense
  • Classic historical – vikings, highwaymen, revolutionaries, sea captains – strong female leads
  • Jazz era historical – think flappers, luxury

–Contemporary

  • Modern reinterpretations of old stories (myths, legends, history) in a believable contemporary setting
  • Unlikely hero-heroine relationships that work out against the odds
  • Open to the interweaving of parallel stories past and present

Jeff Seymour:

In addition to my usual requests (SF/F, unusual romance, mystery, thrillers, horror, anything you’re afraid doesn’t fit neatly into a genre), I’d love to see some short, fast-paced adventures with series potential. Elements of any other genre welcome—just introduce me to a character and a world I can devour in an evening and still want more of.

Deborah Nemeth: I love intelligent writing, stories that make me laugh or cry (or both), and sharp, motivated protagonists. I’m particularly drawn to exotic settings, rule-breakers and multicultural characters.

I’d like to acquire some unusual historicals, m/m fiction, thrillers, and steampunk. In mystery/suspense I’m always looking for an interesting sleuth(s) to build a series on. I enjoy everything from cozy mysteries to romantic suspense to procedurals. I’d also love a mystery series set in the past (any historical era) or in a future space opera/space western setting. I’m also seeking contemporary romance with strong conflict and strong protagonists—SEALs/Rangers, firefighters, cops, carpenters, cowboys, activists—in any heat level. I love epic fantasy that combines adventure with compelling characterization and unique world-building. In paranormal and urban fantasy I’d rather see a fresh twist on ninjas, superheroes, dragons, fae, ghosts, djinn, Norse gods, psychics or fairytales than vamps, werewolves, demons and zombies.

Angela James: My list is mostly full, but I have a few specific things I’m still pretty avidly looking for, and all center around a good story. I will overlook a lot in writing if the voice, characters and story are compelling:

An erotic contemporary novel-length (70k+) stand alone or series, m/f or multiples, but I’m not seeking GLBT only at this point. A space opera or futuristic romp with strong romantic elements, unique, maybe with some of the Western flavor of Firefly, but with a definite adventure feel. Sports-themed contemporary romance, any sports (yes, racing and MMA are sports!) where sports play a role in the book, whether through the characters or setting of books. Novel-length (70k+) contemporary romance trilogies or series (not stand alone contemporaries), setting can be small town, big city or exotic locale, I’m open in that regard. I’m just looking to build my contemporary list in general!

So, if you have anything that fits the editor requests (or just a great book in general!) to submit, visit our submissions page and follow the directions there. You can address your submission to one of the editors above, or the editorial staff in general. Thanks, and we look forward to reading your manuscripts!

The Importance of Misery

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When I was a kid, I tortured my dad with difficult questions.

When Adam and Eve took a bite from the apple in the Garden of Eden…was that a metaphor for them having sex? How can Grandaddy be a Christian minister when he believes in evolution? And the big one that has plagued humanity for ages: Why must there be evil and misfortune in the world?

Now, my dad is the kind of person who’ll make a go at answering any question, but he had no struggle to answer this last question.

Evil and bad things happen so that we can appreciate the good in the world. How much would you love a sunny day if you’d never been cold in the rain? How incredible does your food taste when you are hungry?

I hated this answer when I was a kid. For rainy days and mild hunger, it was barely acceptable, but for hatred, despair, rejection, persecution, poverty, disease, war, torture—you know, big time suffering—it sucked. I figured I could appreciate good things just fine without knowing misery. And what about perpetrators of evil and misery? Were they supposed to get something valuable for having done bad?

As I’ve grown up and experienced a tiny bit of the hardships life has to offer, I’ve discovered that I do like to think the bad times make me more appreciative of the good e.g. experiences with minimum-wage jobs make my later careers paradisiacal, trying to slow the progress of my lung disease has made me rediscover dancing and rock climbing—activities I wouldn’t have made time for otherwise.

I attribute purpose to hardship in order to make a coherent narrative of my life, and most humans do this: we’re storytellers of our lives. We love stories, and those with extremes of elation and tragedy are the most beloved.

So maybe instead of: Why must there be misery in the world? I should ask: How can humans accept and make sense of misery in the world? And maybe one of the answers to this question is stories.

I’m pulled into stories in which the characters go through an intense range of human emotions and experience. In a book I recently edited, Rebecca Rogers Maher’s Snowbound with a Stranger, the heroine is mired in numb loneliness and the hero has intense tragedy in his past. Their joy in each other means so much more to me because of the darkness that has blanketed years of their lives.

I also love characters who’ve been bad themselves. In another book I recently edited, Dee J. Adams’s Dangerously Close, the rock-star hero was a dissolute womanizer. His clean-up and growth are a beautiful thing to experience. His force of will engenders admiration and hope in me, and I can see how doing bad might just give someone an enhanced understanding of good.

Another question I could ask is: Can there be empathy without suffering?

One of my favorite emotions to experience in a story is empathy: my empathy for a character, and the empathy one character feels for another. When a heroine feels fury at a wrong done to the hero, or when a hero is distraught over his inability to change a horror in the heroine’s past, or when the empathy comes from the realization of the pain one character has caused the other—these are the moments that get me choked up, and the scenes I reread later.

Empathy feeds the couple’s determination to make a good future together and makes me root for them. On another level, empathy gives me confidence in humanity. If we feel each others’ pain, maybe we can savor each others’ happiness more deeply, and maybe we will be less willing to inflict pain on others. While reading stories probably won’t end misery in the world—a decent portion of suffering isn’t even caused by human action—I do think stories improve us.

Has the suffering of a character ever made you profoundly empathic, possibly given you insight into something you haven’t experienced personally? Has the empathy between a hero and heroine ever stuck in your mind long after you finished the book?

Gothic Dreams

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My husband and kids were away camping in the snow this past weekend and I had the rare opportunity to have the house to myself. This naturally led to me curling up by the fire with the dog and the cats, a glass of wine and a pile of books.

And I did something extremely foolish.

I’ve been teaching gothic literature this week and though we focused in class on Edgar Allan Poe, we also talked about gothic novels (such as Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights as well as more current reads such as The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield) before moving on to modern films (such as The Woman in Black.) We discussed the key archetypes of the genre: the old country house miles from everywhere, the darkness, the feeling of suspense that marks the action, the main character on his or her own, and the sinister feeling that something isn’t quite right.

You would think knowing all that and living as I do in an old country house miles from everywhere…well, let’s just say I should have known better than to indulge while I was alone for the weekend.

Instead, I read Jamaica Inn by Daphne du Maurier. And wished I hadn’t. It looks innocent enough by light of day – but it was quite another thing at night! My house was dark and quiet. Too quiet. The back door creaked as I opened it to let the dog out into a snowy, wind-whipped night, and standing there waiting for her to come back in, I felt a chill as if I were Mary Yellen standing on lonely Bodmin Moor waiting for smugglers to rattle by.

Next I finished Kate Moreton’s The Distant Hours, which is another book just filled with a charged atmosphere and gloom and deep layers of secrets that must be revealed.

Then I took my Kobo to bed, and wouldn’t you know, I couldn’t resist another peek at Janis Patterson’s The Hollow House which we published last year, and which I thoroughly enjoyed. It too has elements of gothic throughout—the invalid, the secrets, the house itself. Delicious.

After all that, I let the dog sleep on the bed…something she is never allowed to do under normal circumstances.

Do you like gothic elements in the books you read? What books have you read and enjoyed in this genre?