The holiday steampunk collection announced!

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I was reminded that I didn’t announce the authors and their novellas that were selected to be in our 2011 steampunk holiday collection, releasing December 2011. The call for submission, which went out this spring, was the only such themed call we’ve done to date. It’s been asked if we plan to do more, and right now the answer is probably not more than once a year. For now, we’ll keep the majority of the collections/anthologies we do by-invitation-only, with the possible exception of one a year.

The steampunk holiday call was highly successful for us. Not only did we acquire four novellas for the holiday collection, but we also acquired five others, for release in 2012, and sent out revise and resubmits for an additional three! The calibre of the submissions, as you might tell from just those numbers, was outstanding and incredible. Thank you to everyone who submitted!

With that said, I offer my congratulations to these for authors, who will appear in the 2011 steampunk holiday collection, and will have their novellas release both separately and as a bundle. We welcome two new-to-Carina authors, and two returning Carina authors.

Far From Broken by J.K. Coi

Untitled steampunk novella (set in Australia!) by Jenny Schwartz

Untitled steampunk novella by Stacy Gail

This Winter Heart by PG Forte

As a point of interest, our other two holiday collections, which were by-invitation-only will include:

Josh Lanyon, K.A. Mitchell, Harper Fox and Ava March in a collection of m/m romance tales.

Jaci Burton, Alison Kent, HelenKay Dimon and Shannon Stacey in a contemporary romance collection.

You can purchase all three of these collections, or the individual novellas, on December 5, 2011!

Editor call for submissions!

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Hi guys! Several of us editors decided we wanted to do a call for submissions we’re dying to get 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. :D

Now, that said, let’s dish:

Rhonda Stapleton: I’m dying for some stories with epic worldbuilding, such as historical in any era (especially featuring real historical figures), futuristic/sci-fi, “atypical” fantasy, etc. I’m open to romance and non-romance, with any level of steaminess. I’d also love some more contemp romances, steampunk with other elements, and stories featuring minority characters. I’d really dig a good thriller too, one that keeps me on the edge of my seat.

Mallory Braus: I’m open to almost all genres/categories/concepts. But there are a few I’ve been hoping to find in my inbox…

  • Zombie Hunter Romance
  • Psychic FBI Agents
  • Fun, quirky heroines or heroes
  • Steampunk
  • Regency/Victorian Historicals
  • Genre Blends

Alissa Davis:

  • I’m still seeking foodie romance. (Sherry Thomas’s Delicious is an excellent example of romance centered around food. It’s a historical, but I have no time period preferences.)
  • It’d be great to get more fantasy romance, and I’d love to see some m/m fantasy romance.
  • I also want more BDSM, erotica and erotic romance.
  • I recently edited a steampunk erotic fantasy romance called Journeyman’s Ride by Marie Harte and fell in love with the juxtaposition of Norse mythology and steampunk technology. If you have a book with a whole bunch of sub-genres successfully integrated into one story, please send it my way.

Melissa Johnson: I’d like to see a prehistoric romance.  Seriously.  We have some ancient history, but rarely does anyone do prehistory.  I would imagine it is almost like sci fi in terms of openness of worldbuilding, although the author should research stone and metal technologies, and specifics of land, climate and wildlife for the era.  With Jean M. Auel’s Land of the Painted Caves coming out this week (3/29), dare anyone write a romance set in a similar era? I’d also love to see a contemporary multicultural romance where there are meaty cultural differences to bridge and real misunderstandings to angst over. Like all of us editors, I want to see any manuscript if it is well-crafted.  If the world you’ve built overflows the pages of your manuscript, if you can answer odd questions I come up with about your characters because you’ve thought about them that much–then I want to read your manuscript.  If my heart rate actually increases, from fear or strong emotion, while I read your manuscript, then I am thrilled, even if your setting and tropes are familiar.  If you show me something about the world and about people that I haven’t seen or thought of before, and if you do it in a way that I am wowed by your subtlety and cleverness, then you’ve got me hooked.

Gina Bernal: My first love has always been historicals and I’m always open for historical romance, fiction and mysteries. Unusual time periods and settings (Romans, harems, the Dark Ages, renaissance Italy, WWI, etc.) and not-you-average characters (non-aristocrats in Regencies for example) are a plus. And I don’t mind a little grit and grime either—some of my favorite TV historical dramas are DeadwoodSpartacusThe Tudors and Rome. Speaking of television, my recently acquired addiction to the show Army Wives has piqued my interest in stories featuring military characters that are not romantic suspense. On the alternate reality front, I’m looking for a great new dystopian/post-apocalyptic world or a shifter story that gets to the heart of pack politics. Short stories are my go-to on busy days, and I’m interested in novellas in all romantic subgenres. Outside of romance, family drama-based women’s fiction or can’t-sleep-at-night creepy psychological thrillers are both on my must have list.

Lynne Anderson: Though my first love is romance and all its subgenres—in which I’m happy to read any heat level and any pairing (hey, everybody deserves a HEA or HFN)—I’m currently accepting submissions of any genre or length. I love it when writers aren’t afraid to take risks. I’m especially fond of cross-genre stories and unique premises. Characterwise, I’d particularly love to see interracial and/or multicultural pairings, and LGBT. My favorite protagonists are flawed individuals who ultimately triumph through the strength of their will and character.

Denise Nielson:

  • a gothic victorian with a bit of supernatural thrown in and a strong misunderstood hero
  • a norse historical - vikings and longships and adventure
  • a medieval/Arthurian legend/Romans in Britain theme
  • world war II spies and resistance fighters

Deborah Nemeth: She is drawn to characters on the margins—smugglers, outcasts, thieves—as well as straight-shootin’ Rangers, Seals, MI5 agents, detectives, sheriffs, superheroes. She loves multicultural stories and unusual settings, as well as British ones. Genres she can never get enough of include

  • Steampunk and alternate history,
  • Mysteries: cozy English village mysteries, historical mysteries, private eye mysteries.
  • Lighthearted capers (heists, espionage),
  • Historicals: Regencies, Edwardian, Georgian, Belle Epoque/Gilded Age, Victorian, Italian Renaissance, Tudor, Jazz Age, WW2, Age of Sail, Medieval, Crusades, and exotic settings (China, India, Persia, Japan, Siam, Istanbul, Arabia, Africa…)

If you have anything that fits the editor requests (or even just a great book in general) to submit, visit our submissions page and follow the submissions directions there. You can address your submission to one of the editors above, or the editorial staff in general.

Things we don’t reject books for…

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Every so often, I get either a panicked email from someone who’s submitted and are convinced their manuscript is going to be rejected for forgetting some basic information in some part of their submission, or I’ll receive a reply to a standard rejection, with the person informing me they know we must have rejected their book for XYZ reason. So I thought it would be helpful if we had a blog post highlighting some of the reasons we at Carina Press do not reject manuscripts.

1. We don’t reject manuscripts because they’re not romance.

Yes, we publish romance. But we also publish non-romance. We don’t reject a book because it didn’t have romance (or as one author said, because it wasn’t a “bodice ripper”), or because it does. We’re interested in adult genre fiction, both romance and non-romance, and a quick browse through our catalog will show you we publish both.

2. We don’t reject manuscripts because they’re not…trashy, sweet, sexy, innocent enough.

Along the same lines as #1. We’re not rejecting manuscripts left and right over here because there’s not enough sex or because there’s too much sex. We don’t have a secret sex-meter set up that uses a complex algorithm to calculate whether there’s enough sex and dings when the book hits that just-right stage. Write the heat level that fits your work. If that means there’s no sex because it’s not a romance or because it’s a sweet romance, fine by us.

3. We don’t reject manuscripts because you forgot to put your word count, genre, pen name, or some other basic information.

Trust me, this happens…all the time. If we rejected everyone based on just this, we’d only have about 10% of submissions left to look at. So take a deep breath, don’t panic, and let us evaluate your story, rather than your ability to follow directions.

4. Which leads me to…we don’t reject manuscripts because you didn’t follow directions for submitting.

But we will ask you to resubmit. We don’t look at incomplete submissions, but we don’t send a rejection either.

5. We don’t reject manuscripts because we don’t like the author (or because someone else has told us they don’t like the author).

I’m not sure I should even say this, someone out there is going to get paranoid, but it’s important to us that we like your manuscript, not necessarily that we like the author. We can read the internet as well as the next person. We know you can be abrasive, irritate your fellow authors, say unkind things and generally be a bit of a pill. If your book is good, we’re willing to overlook all that. (Caveat: this is different than someone who’s publicly made a general ass out of themselves and/or acted incredibly unprofessionally with us or with others. Yeah, we might reject a manuscript for that)

6. We don’t reject a manuscript because it falls in too many genres.

Look, we published a m/m paranormal erotic menage romance w/thriller elements. If you’ve written a good book, we’ll find a spot for it.

7. We don’t reject a manuscript because it falls in too “niche” a genre or isn’t a genre that seems hot right now or because it’s in an unusual time, place or setting.

See #6. If you’ve written a good book, we’ll find a spot for it.

8. We don’t reject a manuscript because it has a terrible title, we hate the character names or your pseudonym.

But if we acquire it, we might ask you to change those things!

9. We don’t reject a manuscript just because your previous book at another publisher didn’t do so well with readers, reviewers and sales.

But we’re going to be looking at all of the elements to see if we can figure out why that happened.

10. We don’t reject a manuscript because the characters are physically imperfect or have a handicap, aren’t beautiful or glamorous, or don’t fit some character stereotype. Or because of their background or profession.

I present Shall We Drown in Feathered Sleep by Michael Merriam as Exhibit A

11. We don’t reject a manuscript because the author doesn’t have a blog, participate in Twitter, Facebook or the social media of the month.

But if we acquire the manuscript, we will be asking you about marketing and promotion plans, and encouraging an updated, simple website.

12. We don’t reject a manuscript because of a few typos, or because the author doesn’t have a thorough grasp of grammar.

We do want a submission that’s been self edited, and maybe been looked at by a critique partner or beta reader. It doesn’t need to be perfect. Just not sloppy and disrespectful in its un-edited state. And we will look for signs of learning via the editing process in future manuscripts. If you keep submitting manuscripts with the same errors always pointed out, we’ll have to talk.

13. We don’t reject a manuscript because a Harlequin imprint has rejected it.

Being rejected by a Harlequin imprint doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not “good enough”, it can simply mean it doesn’t fit that line’s guidelines and requirements. Harlequin editors have actually recommended authors send to us instead. So a rejection from a Harlequin imprint doesn’t mean a rejection from Carina.

14. We don’t reject a manuscript because it’s got bad formatting, the wrong font style or size, or is the wrong format.

If it’s the wrong format, I’ll simply ask you to resubmit. If the formatting is wonky, well, we can fix that. And font size/type is easy to change for our reading pleasure. Do we want you to use a standard format and font? Yes, please, don’t get creative. Not only is it hard on our eyes and does take a few extra minutes to change, but creative formatting can make a file too large, which makes it unwieldy to move around from email to device and back again.

15. We don’t reject a manuscript because you used first, third, second or omniscient POV.

We’ll read and publish books in any POV, as long as it’s a good book and it suits the story.

16. We don’t reject a book because you didn’t write a good synopsis

Now, with this one, I must admit that it can make it harder to acquire the book, but it doesn’t make it an automatic rejection. Harder to acquire because sometimes the acquisition team looks to the synopsis for answers during the acquisition process. Also, we use the synopsis post acquisition for marketing, cover art and cover copy, so a good synopsis does matter. But we don’t reject a manuscript based on the synopsis.

17. We don’t reject a manuscript because the editor doesn’t like the genre.

We make every effort to match manuscripts to editors, and if an editor gets a manuscript in a genre that doesn’t suit her but she sees the merit of the writing, she asks to pass it on. We have several authors who now work with two editors at Carina Press, because one editor works on one genre with them, and the other editor works on the other. Sometimes, it is about getting in front of the right editor, and we recognize that.

18. We don’t reject a manuscript because we’ve rejected one of your manuscripts before.

You might not hit on the first manuscript, or even the second or third. But we’ll keep reading your submissions as long as you keep writing them, and we might find that perfect fit for us eventually.

19. We don’t reject a manuscript because you didn’t address us by name in the query letter (or addressed us by the wrong name).

It’s hard to know how to address a query letter, when you’re not sending to a specific person. We know and we look past that. I’ve had people call me by the wrong name (ie: hello, Samantha, remember when we met at XYZ conference and we talked about your daughter?) and while it makes me laugh (and groan) it’s not cause for rejection. Do pay attention to details, but don’t stress if you realize you’ve gotten it wrong.

If you’re wondering why we do reject manuscripts, you can read one of my older posts here. At the heart of it is that we’re really quite interested in a good story. Now, will we get aggravated if you don’t follow submission guidelines and you do some of the things mentioned? You bet we will. And aggravation is not always the best frame of mind you want in an editor. But none of these things will cause us to reject a manuscript. Of course, if you combine a whole bunch of these into one submission package, like the errors, bad formatting, wrong name, terrible synopsis, we might wonder just how well you’d do when it comes time to edit–attention to detail is crucial at that stage.

At the end of the day, here’s what we ask: Write a good story. Write your very best story. Edit it. Edit again. Ask someone else to look at it. Let it sit for a few weeks, before you hit send. Look at it again. Read our submissions guidelines. Follow them. Write an informative query letter. Send your submission. And then give us time to read it and don’t follow-up until our timeframe is up or until you need to tell us someone else has offered for it and we have two weeks to give you our decision. All the while you’re waiting, be writing your next story. Your very best story. Because writing your very best story is how you don’t get rejected.

Steampunk Holiday Submissions Call

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Carina Press is pleased to announce a call for submissions for our 2011 holiday collections. This will be the only open collection call for 2011 and is an excellent opportunity for authors interested in participating in the normally by-invitation-only Carina Press collections.

Carina is looking for steampunk novellas with a winter or winter holiday theme, to be published digitally both individually and as a collection in December 2011. The novellas should be from 18,000 to 35,000 words and feature steampunk elements as integral to the novella. The stories do not need to be romance, or even have romance elements, but can be straight steampunk, or steampunk with romantic elements, and can also feature elements of mystery, thriller, horror or other sub-genres. Additionally, there is no set heat level for these stories, so they can have no sex, or be ultra-sexy, or anything in between.

Essentially, we’re looking for interesting, creative, well-written stories within the steampunk niche that will appeal to readers’ imaginations and add to our growing catalog of steampunk stories.

The steampunk holiday collection will be supported by a marketing and promotion campaign both online and in print. In addition, though the collection won’t currently be offered for sale in print format, each author chosen to contribute to the anthology will receive a set number of limited edition print copies for their own use.

To submit, please send your completed manuscript and synopsis, along with query letter to submissions@carinapress.com by May 15th, 2011. In the subject line, please put Steampunk Holiday: Manuscript Title and Author

All submissions will be reviewed and final decision made by June 15th, 2011.

For questions about this call for submissions, please email Angela James at submissions@carinapress.com

For more information about Carina Press, and to read the submission guidelines, please visit www.carinapress.com

*permission to forward granted*

The Art of Acquisition

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Acquisitions is more art than science, so there is no formula that will tell you exactly what an editor is looking for in a manuscript.

The first time a manuscript crosses my desk, I have to decide whether to keep reading. This can depend on any combination of factors, but in the initial pass, I look at it with an eye to three things:

1.      Is the premise engaging?
2.      Is the writing sound?
3.      How do I feel about the story?

Is the premise engaging?
This encompasses so much. Have we met the characters? Do we have a sense of the setting? And is there a driving action that compels us to read more? Although I will sneak a peek at your synopsis to see what you have in store from a plot perspective, I don’t need to know everything right at the start. In fact I prefer not to, to let the sense of who these characters are and what they are up to unfold with the story. But there must be enough to engage me right from the start. Do the characters seem real? Is there some conflict emerging? Is there a solid hook?

Is the writing sound?
Fear not, I am not looking for a perfectly executed manuscript (though, hey, I will take that too!). But I do want to know if the writer has a basic technical understanding of how to create pacing and dialogue, how to transition between scenes and points of view, how to use narrative voice and when there is too much exposition. Grammar is also important. I wouldn’t turn away a book because of misplaced modifiers or dangling participles, but if your manuscript is littered with multiple errors, it may make me the teensiest bit gun shy.

How do I feel about the story?
This is that elusive voice editors talk about, and is by far the most subjective element of acquisitions. Does the book speak to us? Does it feel fresh and interesting? Is it something I will continue to be excited about after countless rounds of edits? If I recommend a book and the team accepts it, then I will be reading it critically another half dozen times (at least) between now and the time it is published. So it is important that I love the story, that I understand what you are trying to do and that I am excited about working with the material on a long-term basis.

I won’t know all this until I finish the whole book, and at that point I will also be looking at numerous other factors as I decide whether or not to recommend the book to the Carina team. But these three things give me a framework in which to read your manuscript. Does it mean if you don’t have a solid hook, or I don’t love it right from the start that it will be rejected? Not at all. We want to discover great stories just as much as you want to publish them, and we love working with authors to polish their manuscripts.

What does it mean when you’re asked to revise and resubmit?

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Many months ago, when I did a post on our acquisitions process, I promised to do a more informative post on what we call revise and resubmits (aka R&Rs). Many authors may have heard the term, or they may have even received one, but just not been sure what to do with it. And I’ve heard of many authors who think of an R&R as a rejection.

So let’s talk about an R&R from the Carina Press editorial point of view. At Carina, I try to encourage the editors to think of submissions in terms of probability for acquisition first, pass to another editor second, revise and resubmit third and rejection last. We don’t reject unless we don’t believe the manuscript is a good fit for one of the other three possibilities.

Why do we do a revise and resubmit?

It can be a variety of reasons, really, but most often, there are several factors at work 1) the editor sees a lot to like about the manuscript 2) she likes the author’s voice and potential and 3) despite all of those, the manuscript needs significant revisions in one or more areas. Sometimes, if an author is someone we know well or have worked with before, we’ll acquire a book with the understanding that we’ll be doing (really) significant revisions. But for the most part, we don’t like to acquire a book if we’re going to be asking for some major changes. Why? Because it’s not fair to the author, for one thing. You don’t want to sign a contract, thinking the basic structure of your book is fine with the editor, and then suddenly find yourself ripping out major chunks or making changes like cutting a character or subplot.

And on our side of things, we have no way of knowing if an author is either willing or able to make those changes. Some authors believe a book should be accepted “as is” with only basic editing done after that. Some authors simply haven’t yet developed the skill necessary for making the revisions we’re asking for. And some authors just aren’t interested in doing the revisions. These are things it’s better to find out before the book goes to contract, so we utilize the revise and resubmit.

Did I just get a rejection?

The revise and resubmit letter should never (ever) be viewed as a rejection. Trust me, if the editor wanted to reject your book, it would be a lot less time consuming. The R&R letter can often take hours for the editor to craft, after they’ve made extensive notes while reading your book. We don’t just whip out an R&R letter in 15 minutes and send it out. It gets crafted by the editor and then read by me and we discuss. We want to make sure that the letter is clear, lays out the issues, but also tells you why we love the book and want to see it again.

So, in my mind, I think a revise and resubmit letter should be viewed as the highest form of praise an editor can give you, short of actually contracting the book. That they took so much time to give you feedback means they saw a lot to like in the book. Don’t ignore that letter and think your chances with that publisher are done, read through it and see if you agree with their critique.

The author point of view

On that note, I know that there are authors who don’t care for the revise and resubmit, because it’s not a contract, and so you’re making the changes on faith. And there is no guarantee of a contract (we’re careful to note this in our letters) so you may make changes and still not find your book acquired. So once you get the letter, you do have some decision-making to do. Read the letter, evaluate the changes, walk away from it for a day (or two) and see if time and distance gives you objectivity to the letter (sometimes it can sting to get such a thorough critique) and then come back and evaluate: do you agree with the requests (at least some, if not all)? Are you able to do them? Are you willing to do them? Will making these changes result in a book you can sell elsewhere if they don’t end up working for the requesting publisher? Or will the changes result in a book that you feel isn’t true to your vision of the book? These are all things you should ask yourself before you either A) tackle the revisions or B) decline to make the revisions.

Revise and Resubmit etiquette

If there is such a thing. If not, I’m making it up now! There are also times when we’re in the situation of deciding whether or not to offer an R&R and we ultimately decide not to offer the revisions, but instead pass on the work. Why? Because, as I said earlier, R&Rs take a tremendous amount of editorial time and effort, and we know not every author is going to want to do the requested revisions. So we try to balance what we know of the author, their opportunity to publish the book elsewhere, and the likelihood that they’ll be receptive to revisions and go from there. I’m not sure there’s anything that stings more for an editor who’s put hours into a manuscript than to hear “Thanks for your revision suggestions. I sold the book to another publisher before I heard from you and I know you’re going to be happy to hear that I’m going to use your suggestions to make the book even stronger!”

Okay, well, that involves a whole other world of etiquette (the one in which you TELL a publisher if you’ve sold a book, and pull it from submission but…ahem…I digress) but it’s still happened where we’ve had people take the revisions, make the changes, strengthen the manuscript and then sell the manuscript elsewhere. And, yep, that’s certainly the author’s right. But it explains why we think carefully about whether we’re going to do a revise and resubmit.

So what should you do if you receive a revise and resubmit letter from a publisher/editor/agent?

1) Don’t feel you have to respond immediately. If you want to acknowledge receipt, that’s always nice, just send an email thanking them for the feedback and asking for time to think about it.

2) Take a few days to think about it. Once you’ve decided, let the publisher know that you’re going to either tackle the requested revisions, or that you appreciate the time they put in, but don’t feel the revisions are what’s best for the book at this time. It’s okay to say no. But letting the publisher/editor/agent know either way is very courteous.

3) If you decide to do the revisions, take your time. Don’t rush. This is probably your last chance for this manuscript with this publisher. And we’re going to raise an eyebrow if we get your revisions back in a day or two (no really, we don’t think this is possible). Do a thorough read or five of your manuscript. Carefully read and re-read the editor’s suggestions. Have a critique partner or beta reader give feedback. Do Not Rush.

4) If you decide not to do the revisions and think the suggestions are worse than that orange and green plaid sweater your Great Aunt Hilda gave you for your last birthday well, go ahead and vent about it. In private. To a few close friends. Not to your entire Twitter, Facebook and blog readers. That is not very courteous.

5) Last, above all, pat yourself on the back that, no matter what happens, someone thought your book had enough potential to take the time to send you that letter. That’s pretty flattering and you should be proud of the hard work that got you there!

Tired Openings

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by Deborah Nemeth, Freelance Acquisitions and Developmental Editor for Carina Press. You can follow her on Twitter @DebNemeth.

When reviewing a manuscript submitted for publication, editors are looking for many things, just as readers do when browsing for a new book. Voice is important, and so is compelling action in the first scene. Whether I’m in a bookstore opening a novel or at my desk opening a manuscript submission, a tired opening may sway me to pass on to the next one.

A tired opening is one editors have seen so often, it makes us suspect the rest of the story will be predictable. As with any writing “rule” or “advice,” there are always exceptions, but it might be helpful for authors to be aware of some of the ones we’ve seen done to death.

Some slow openings suggest a lack of experience. Brand new authors often begin their novels with the life story of the protagonist, filling us in on his or her birth, childhood and education. Sometimes we get his complete ancestry, with maybe a geography lesson thrown in too. Are there published novels that open this way? Yes, but not many new authors are landing contracts for commercial fiction manuscripts that contain this type of first scene.

Less experienced authors often open their stories (and maybe every chapter) with the hero/heroine waking up. This is an opening I’m really sick of, even though I’ve seen it work well when given a twist. I’m drawn to stories that open in action, with something interesting happening, and I don’t want to see the heroine getting dressed and driving to work. Closely related to this is the dream/nightmare opening. I’m not fond of dream sequences in general, so I have to force myself to keep reading if you hit me with one in the first paragraph.

“It was a dark and stormy night” has been done before. Description can work but only if compellingly presented to convey mood, tension and character.

In romantic suspense and mysteries we often get a prologue in the villain’s viewpoint as he’s murdering someone, so it’s refreshing when we see something different.

In romances and women’s fiction, I’m tired of the BFF telling the heroine or hero she/he needs to get laid. And the heroine catching her husband/lover in bed with another woman (or man). A few others include the heroine getting a makeover to win the hero’s heart and the jaded Regency hero making love to his mistress before dumping her.

We won’t always pass on a ms that contains one of these openings, but they may give the project a handicap that will take an awesome voice to overcome, and there’s a chance the author will be asked to revise the first scene during edits.

What should an author do instead? Begin your ms when the story does. Open with action and/or tension, showing your hero or heroine passionately pursuing a goal, worrying about a problem, or thrown into a sticky situation. Don’t overload us with the characters’ pasts, but show us their present and future—where they’re trying to go, what they’re trying to accomplish or avoid.

Here are a few Carina Press novel openings that hook me. On the first page of Storm Warning by Toni Anderson, a Columbian drug lord asks an undercover DEA agent what should be done with the DEA agent spying on him. In the next scene, we meet the heroine as she sees the ghost of her father, then pulls a dead body out of the surf. Kim Knox’s Gambit opens as truth crawlers burrow into the heroine’s flesh prior to an interrogation. As Silver Bound by Ella Drake opens, a woman is fleeing her crime lord husband. The hero of Amy Atwell’s Lying Eyes is hunting for missing jewels. If your story doesn’t contain a lot of suspense/SF action, you can still hook us at the outset with other kinds of tension and interesting situations. In the first scene of Inez Kelley’s contemporary romance Sweet as Sin, the hero is returning lingerie that blew off the heroine’s clothesline.

Readers, how about you? Are there opening scenes that you’ve seen too often? What are some of your favorite openings?

Where did the soul go?

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Earlier this past summer, I asked if there were any questions people wanted to ask editors. One of the questions, posed by Carrie was: “Is there such a thing as a MS that’s been critted/polished to death?” The answer is yes, emphatically yes.

When I read this question, I was reminded of a blog post I wrote over 3 years ago, for the now-closed blog, Romancing the Blog. I went searching for that post, and you can read it in its entirety here, but I’ll snip part of it here for you:

The one-manuscript author. I’ll bet most of you know or have known a fellow writer like this. Someone who wrote a book. One book. Finished it. Polished it. Maybe rewrote it once or twice (or ten times) to fit the genre trends. At one time it was a paranormal. No wait, an erotic romance. No, a paranormal inspirational. It’s been entered into every contest known to the romance industry and had to be retired from the contest circuit because the judges now recognize it by the opening line.

This is one example of a manuscript that can be polished or critiqued “to death”. It’s the manuscript that’s had so many versions, that the author has worked on for so long and concentrated solely on, that it’s lost all sense of the author’s voice. It’s lost its soul.

I frequent a few writers’ forums, and it’s not unusual to see an author post wondering when it’s time to let go of a manuscript, or that they’re afraid of letting it go. Some authors get past this, but some think maybe…maybe they should wait. Change just one more thing. Fiddle with that wording just a little bit more. And they lose perspective, they have no distance from the manuscript and finally, the edits they make don’t improve the book…they just change the book. And not always for the better.

I suspect that, for an author, sometimes it’s difficult to know that happy medium between editing enough and over-editing. How do you know? Here’s a few things to think about:

* After you’ve written the book, set it aside for a few weeks and then edit. It will give you some necessary distance from the words and the story, and help you see what’s there instead of what’s in your head.

* Editing shouldn’t take only a few hours, but it also shouldn’t take months (or years). If you’re still fiddling with the words months after you typed “the end” then you’re probably running the risk of over-editing.

*If you’re researching and implementing every writing rule ever hinted at, you might run the risk of killing your natural voice. Should you be conscious of your use of certain things like adverbs, dialogue tags and POV. Sure. Should you edit out every “violation” of the rule in your manuscript? Probably not.

*On the other hand: Be bold, but not too bold. Breaking every “rule” isn’t necessarily going to reflect positively either.

*Don’t edit so much that you stop loving the story. If you don’t love it, why should an editor or agent?

*Don’t let fear rule you. If you never decide it’s ready to send, you won’t hear “no.” But you’ll never hear “yes” either.

Show me something novella

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Sorry, sometimes I can’t help but play with the blog titles. Earlier this week, while participating in an #askeditor chat on Twitter, someone asked if we were looking for/accepting novellas. The answer is emphatically yes and I mentioned that I’d been preparing a call for novellas.

As we plan our 2011 publication schedule, I’ve noted that we have plenty of novels (70k+), which is fantastic but we like to insert novellas into our publication schedule as well, in order to give readers access to stories that don’t involve quite the same time commitment. I’m actually a big fan of novellas myself, because they fit much more easily into my editing schedule than novels do.

So this is our official call for novellas. I did this once before, via Twitter, and we had great success from it. Right now, we’re particularly interested in seeing shorter works from 15k (nothing under that, please) to 40k. Of course we’re still very actively acquiring above 40k, but we’d love to see some novellas along with our longer submissions. We’re not seeking in a particular genre/sub-genre, so please feel free to submit both romance and non-romance, erotica, science fiction, fantasy and any sub genre in between. If you’d like to target a specific editor, you can see what they’re seeking here.

Please keep in mind that we aren’t currently acquiring YA. You can find out more details of our submissions guidelines and FAQs on our website (that’s probably where you’re reading this but just in case…www.carinapress.com) and submissions will be ongoing. This isn’t a limited-time call!

I should also mention that right now, everything submitted prior to October 15th has been assigned to an editor (and shortly, that will be everything submitted prior to this week) so manuscripts submitted now won’t be sitting around long waiting to be seen by an editor!

Any questions can be posted in the comments here of the blog, or on Twitter to @CarinaPress or @AngelaJames (just remember it’s easy for us to miss @ replies there so if we don’t respond, you might comment here instead). And you have full permission to forward the text of this post and use it on any forum or blog you think might be interested. I look forward to seeing your submissions!

How do acquisitions work?

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Every so often we have someone ask, via interview, at conferences, or during conversation how our acquisitions process works at Carina Press. I’ve often wished I had a handy link that I could just say “go here for all your answers” because it’s not a short answer. So now I’m going to create one and give you some insight into our process, which will also help you get a sense of timeline as well.

To start, all submissions run through our submissions@carinapress.com email address. Even when a submission is sent directly to a freelance editor from a returning or referred author, the submission is forwarded to me at that address so we can track it in our system, and have a record of all submissions.

Once a submission comes in, it’s entered into the system. Generally, submissions get assigned to an editor for reading within 2-3 weeks of hitting the inbox.

Submissions are assigned based on a preference basis. This means I keep a spreadsheet (a very thorough spreadsheet) of editor genre preferences. They’ve indicated if  a genre is preferred, something they’ll read or something they don’t want to see. This allows me to match up editors and manuscripts, so no editor is reading a genre they don’t enjoy, and they are often reading genres they love. Additionally, I check in with the editors every few months to see if they want to make updates or changes, or if they’d like to see more or less of a genre. Also, I should mention that editors are paid for each step of the process, so we’re not asking for free labor from our freelancers and they have incentive to meet the deadlines (and incentive to read, read, read your submissions. It’s a win all around!)

When editors indicate they’re ready to read submissions, I send them out in batches of ten. Editors then have a week to respond with a preliminary report (of a few sentences to a paragraph for each book) based on a read of no more than 3 chapters (and often much less, as they get good at weeding through submissions). Do they recommend rejection, a full read or a look by another editor. Sometimes it’s a genre they enjoy, but a particular book is not for them but seems to have potential. For instance, we had a recent submission of dark urban fantasy that the original editor found a little too violent, but recognized as good writing, so she suggested a second editor have a look. That ended in an acquisition!

Once the editors have returned their prelim reports, they have two weeks to return reports on any manuscripts kept for full reads. Based on those reads, they recommend either acquisition, rejection or revise and resubmit (we’ll talk about revise and resubmits in a later post).

Manuscripts recommended for rejection get filed by me for response, unless the editor has worked with the author in the past, then they may send the response. Those recommended for R&R will get responses from the editor. And those recommended for acquisition get moved to a special folder and put on the agenda for our weekly acquisitions team meeting.

At the weekly meeting, I present the editor’s recommendation report and an acquisitions team member (comprised of people from marketing, production, promotion, sales, community and editorial) volunteers to read it. From that time, the team member reports within 2 weeks at a team meeting what their recommendation is. If the team member didn’t like it, it’s given to a second team member to read. Two people must say yes (the editor being one and a team member being the second) before a manuscript is acquired, but a manuscript isn’t rejected or sent for R&R without at least two acquisitions team members looking at it first, to give it a fair chance.

If you’re counting along at home, this means that once the manuscript reaches the acquisitions team, it can take up to 4-5 weeks (depending on when the report is received, especially if it’s received the day after the weekly meeting) for it to go through this step of the process. Acquisitions team members also report on the manuscript, and offer feedback.

After we’ve agreed to make an acquisition, I assign it to my list of calls/emails to make. I generally make these every 2 weeks, unless there’s an urgent deadline on a manuscript. If an author is in the US or Canada, I make the offer call. If an author is outside US/Canada, I send an offer email. And from there, a new process begins!

So, if you’ve been counting along, you can see how we come to need 12-16 weeks for some submissions. The process can be prolonged in several places: if the original editor recommends it be seen by a second editor, if the acquisition team needs more time or a second reader, if anyone in the process (the editor or me) needs more time in the process. The reports I’ve mentioned along the way, those are what I use to evaluate and send rejection letters. Sometimes the editor has included critical advice I think it will benefit the author to see. Sometimes the reports’ language is meant for my eyes only. We’ve discussed rejections in detail here and here.

And now you know the secret, behind-the-scenes acquisition/submissions process. Did it answer questions or raise more?