Thursday, October 27, 2011

Sue Grimshaw, Editor for Random House Publishing

It's my pleasure to have Sue Grimshaw here on my blog today for this edition of Thursday with an Editor.

Sue was the romance book buyer for Borders and Waldenbooks stores for more than a decade. As of April this year, Sue is Ballantine Bantam Dell’s Category Specialist & Editor At Large.  At BBD, Sue is working primarily with the digital end of the business thus learning how to ride the waves of the changes that are ongoing of late in the romance industry.  Sue is actively acquiring for BBD’s Loveswept digital imprint relaunched in Fall this year.


        What does your job entail?
As Category Specialist & Editor At Large for Ballantine Bantam Dell (Loveswept), I report directly to Gina Wachtel, VP Publishing Director/Associate Publisher.  I’m very involved with the social media aspect of Romance At website; Facebook; Twitter; Tumblr; Google Buzz & Plus communities implementing posts; in general, facilitating daily communications.  As Editor At Large, I acquire, edit, & implement new titles for primarily, the Loveswept digital line.  As you can imagine, I do lots of reading . . . much of what I read are submissions from agents, authors, and even from un-published authors– it is great fun & I could not have wished for a better organization to work for.  I also attend many conferences through-out the country, taking pitches & facilitating workshops usually discussing the industry and its trends, as well as, what readers are looking for.  I guess I’ve become an author liaison of sorts, unbeknownst to me <G> 
I enjoy meeting unpublished authors & hearing about their books . . .then finding that diamond in the rough that you know readers will love & adore.  BECAUSE OF YOU, by Jessica Scott, is our debut for Loveswept (11/2011) & I believe this is a story readers will enjoy – the emotional level is high with a hero to die for; our heroine is strong, confident & caring --- & above all, their romance is sizzling!

2.       How many authors do you edit and how do you choose them?
Depending on the manuscript, I’m reading two to three unpublished authors a week.  I’m working about 4-5 mos out, meaning that if I received a MS today it would take me that long to get back to the author/agent with a response.  I think I’m like most editors & I choose manuscripts based on whether I think they can be a good book or not, but above all, whether I think the reader will enjoy the story.  Having had a bookseller background, I believe it has given me an insight into what readers enjoy.  As I read the manuscripts, I tend to use this knowledge as a benchmark, which is just another tool to help me decide whether or not the story is something we would publish.  On top of all that, Gina is a romance maven – she has an eagle’s eye for what works, so by the time we’ve acquired & edited a story it is golden <G>  I work very closely with Junessa & Angela, two of BBD’s savvy editors, who help me with lines edits and the other details of publishing.

3.       What are the perks of your job? The pitfalls?   
Finding that ‘diamond in the rough’ – finding that debut author & being able to help deliver her story to romance readers everywhere.  The feeling you get from making that happen is the biggest perk for me J 
Pitfalls . . . probably not being able to read everything, or being able to respond with a detailed    critique to help authors with their books.

4. What’s your favorite type of submission? Is there a specific genre you love (more than others) to edit?  I used to have a favorite sub-genre, but now, I’m more about characters . . . their development & journey.  I find I’m reading more contemporary than ever before, but I believe that is because there is more out there.  Similar in opinion to that of many romance readers, it is really all about the characters.  I guess that is why I’ve loved Nora Roberts & her stories for all these years.  Nora nails characters.

5. What do you like to read for pleasure (assuming you have any time left over in your busy schedule)? LOL – lately, my work is my reading pleasure – I love to read new submissions!  However, at some point I’m sure I’ll have to back away & read other things although they still will be in the romance genre.  One of my favorite authors (besides Nora) is Catherine Anderson, I am so looking forward to her next release.  Mary Balogh is another author who never disappoints & I’m behind on her latest books.  And some day I’d like to get back to reading Nelson DeMille – sarcasm through-out which is always laugh out loud great fun.

6. Have you ever written and published any fiction? If not, do you secretly aspire to be a writer?
God no.  I’m not a storyteller – the best authors are storytellers at heart.

7. Are you planning to attend any conferences in the near future?
Yes, I’m heading out to Silicon Valley – CA, RWA chapter meeting this Fall & then have several conferences planned for 2012 including:  RWA; RT & Romcon.

8. What’s the best advice you can give aspiring writers? 
It sounds cliché, but really, write the best book ever!  The book of your heart --- because if you feel what you’re writing the reader will feel it too.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Thursday with an Editor - Theresa Stevens

Please welcome independent editor, Theresa Stevens for today's edition of Thursday with an Editor.

In my career, I’ve been an agent, an in-house acquisitions editor, and a freelance editor. Of these three roles, which do you think gives me the most opportunity to dig into manuscripts and nurture writers? Most people guess wrong, but if you guessed freelance editing, you’re right.

Agents have priorities which allow them to shape some manuscripts and groom some authors, but they also have other demands on their time. They must maintain their networks with authors, with organizations, and perhaps most important, with editors. They must review royalty statements and contracts. They must train staff, read queries and submissions, and (depending on their policies), send out rejections. These are important jobs, things you want your agent to do, but they take away from the time they can spend on development.

Ditto for in-house editors, who function partly as project managers. They must shepherd the manuscript through pre-press, which means coordinating with sales, art, and other departments to create the physical book and get it into the distribution stream. Important tasks? You bet. Nevertheless, these things do cut into the time available for actual editing.

As a freelance editor, I have one job and one goal: making your manuscript as good as it can be. I do that not only by marking up the pages, but by demonstrating techniques which can be incorporated in future manuscripts, too. For example, if I see an issue with dialogue tags, I don’t merely fix the punctuation and edit the tag. I explain in a note why I’m doing that, the difference between a tag and a beat, and when and how to use them. I also did this sort of thing when I was editing in house and agenting, too, but it was not my primary focus. Freelance editing gives me more time and flexibility to focus on the teaching side of the process.

Now, here’s a dirty secret from behind the scenes. Some industry professionals – and no, I won’t tell you which – scorn the notion that they have any responsibility for training or nurturing authors. I’ve heard more than one of them openly mock the idea of “teaching moments,” and the prevailing attitude during these conversations seems to be, “If the writer doesn’t already know these things, why should I hire them in the first place?”

This attitude is both wise and foolish, wise because authors should certainly be writing to a certain competence level before publication, and foolish because no writer ever stops learning. Nor ever should. The curiosity and inventiveness that drive the learning process are key ingredients in the makeup of a career author, the kind who generates book after successful book. Failing to respect and nurture those impulses is a mistake, in my opinion.

Obviously, others disagree. I once had a senior editor at a “Big Six” house tell me that she would never even think to point out to an author when she’s doing something right. Another editor at another traditional press insisted that it was the agent’s job, not the editor’s, to show them how to fix an error. They have their reasons, and I understand those reasons, but I disagree with the result.

So, for me, freelance editing gives me the freedom to focus on the manuscript, and only the manuscript. I don’t have to drop my red pen to scamper off to a staff meeting. I don’t have to wonder whether marketing will want the romantic suspense to be more suspenseful or more romantic this time around. I don’t have to run up sales projections or quibble over contract terms or fret over whether an artist will hold it against me if I request changes to a weak cover. All I have to do is analyze the story and edit the prose. My goal is – because it can be – showing the author how to make the book better. And most days, much as I miss the pace and perks of life in-house, this goal is more than enough to satisfy both me and my clients.

After earning degrees in creative writing and law, Theresa Stevens worked as a literary attorney agent for a boutique firm in Indianapolis where she  represented a range of fiction and nonfiction authors. After a nine-year hiatus from the publishing industry to practice law, Theresa worked as chief executive editor for a highly acclaimed small romance press, and she is currently the Publisher of STAR Guides Publishing, a nonfiction publishing company. Her articles on writing and editing have appeared in numerous publications for writers.
Visit her blog at where she and her co-blogger share their knowledge and hardly ever argue about punctuation.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Thursday with an Editor - Kelli Collins

My special guest for today's Thursday with an Editor series is the brilliant and sarcastic Kelli Collins, Editor-in-Chief of Ellora's Cave Publishing, Inc.

1. Did you always want to be editor-in-chief for a publisher of erotic books?
Can’t say it ever crossed my mind. In school, I leaned toward science and mathematics, but I was also a rapacious reader, never went anywhere without books. My careers ended up following that path organically and, I have to admit, rather effortlessly.

2. How do your husband and family feel about your job?
They don’t feel any particular way about it. It’s what I do, not who I am, and they get that. I certainly don’t hide it, nor do I edit under a pen name (many do and that’s fine; it’s a highly personal decision). The hubs enjoys my wackier author stories. And owing to the size of my family (17 kids; hard to keep track of all those careers!), I suspect some of them probably think I’m still working in a bookstore in Florida (2 states and several jobs ago).  :)

3. What is your educational and career background?
I relocated from Michigan to Florida halfway through a finance degree. As much as I love math, I ultimately didn’t love it enough to make it a career. While living in Tampa, I charmed my way into a journalist job at a chain of alt-weeklies. (Note: I have the most amazing job luck.) I really had nothing to recommend me but a sparkling personality (*smirk*) and some natural writing talent. Ultimately, that was enough. I had worked my way up to associate editor when, in 2004, I edited a cover story about a little e-book company owned by Tina Engler…  It was inspiring, to say the very least. The next thing I knew, I was freelancing for EC. In February of 2009, I accepted the Editor-in-Chief position.

4. How many authors do you edit yourself and how do you choose them?
Technically I have 59 authors in my stable, but their writing schedules are such that I’m working on projects for perhaps a third of them or less at any given time (barring those rare times when they submit en masse; an evil plot to make me go mental, I’m sure). And I use several criteria to choose authors, all important to me, but item #1 is imagination. I can explain technical stuff; I can teach grammar and structure and the particulars of characterization, world-building, etc. I can give authors a lot of tools, but I can’t give them an imagination. If a story is unique and inspiring, if I fall in love with the characters, I’ll do what it takes to help an author translate her/his vision to the page.

5. How many editors do you manage?
I’m personally responsible for talking 14 content editors and 9 copy editors off the occasional ledge.  ;-)  The publisher, Raelene Gorlinsky, edits a small group of authors as well. We also employ 2 acquisitions editors, who work more closely with the COO.

6. What are the perks of your job? The pitfalls? (It’s okay to dish, we won’t rat you out to your boss ;-)
Great conversation is high on the list. Lol! Both in the office and with authors. I go to several conferences each year, which are a blast (I love just hanging with and meeting authors, EC’s and others). And I’ve never worked at a more fun office; we have some seriously funny people at HQ (CEO Patty Marks being the funniest of all), which is important to me. If I can’t laugh, I die. The company is also extremely generous. We all know it’s impossible to please all people, all the time. But EC really does do everything within its power to keep the authors happy. I’ve also witnessed truly extraordinary kindnesses during my time here, the sort of behind-the-scene things you’ll certainly never read about in the blogosphere. As for pitfalls…reading about sex for 7 years can make you jaded.  :)  It’s a rare day when an author surprises me with his/her sex scenes. And because of the digital nature of the job, the potential to overwork is high. I’m at home, relaxing, playing on my laptop…why NOT edit some more? I have to force myself to turn off my computer most evenings.

7. What do you like to read for pleasure (assuming you have any time left in your busy schedule)?
I rarely ever have time, but when I do…horror, suspense and a wide array of nonfiction.

8. Have you ever written and published any fiction? If not, do you secretly aspire to be a writer?
God no. And I could if I wished; EC has no rule against editors writing. A long time ago, I thought I might one day publish something, have even started a few projects over the years. But despite that aforementioned modest writing talent, I simply have no love for it. I can happily edit for 12 hours but I can’t force myself to write for 20 minutes. Editing is what I’m crazy-time passionate about, so I don’t push it. I know too many people who aren’t even doing something they like, let alone lucky enough to do what they love.

9. What’s the best advice you can give aspiring writers planning to pitch to you at a conference?
I don’t bite. So take a few deep breaths and relax. I feel just wretched when someone is so nervous during a pitch that they can’t speak. And here’s the thing about that—I’m really no big shot. I don’t get my jollies by intimidating authors. And I truly believe I can’t edit effectively, certainly not with the author’s best interest in mind, if I let my ego go unchecked. I’m not in this for worldwide editorial domination, don’t treat bestsellers differently than I would an unpublished author, and have no interest in popularity contests. I never want an author to feel as if I hold the fate of her/his career in my hands—just one particular book’s fate at EC.  The worst I can say is, “No thank you”, and if I do, I wholeheartedly encourage authors to try again.

10. Chocolate, vanilla or something entirely different?
Which day? Which hour? You know what they say about variety…  ;-)

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Thursday with an Editor - Rhonda Helms

Please welcome the lovely and talented Rhonda Helms to Thursday with an Editor. Thanks so much for stopping by, Rhonda!

Writing and Editing--Living on Both Sides of the Desk

by Rhonda (Stapleton) Helms

I started in publishing as a writer, snagging an agent and finally selling a teen romance trilogy to Simon and Schuster. But somewhere along the way I also discovered and cultivated my love of editing. Now I'm fortunate enough to write fiction and work as a freelance acquisitions/developmental editor. 

Editing isn't for everyone. Writing isn't for everyone either, come to think of it. But these two aspects of publishing both appeal to me in different ways, and each has helped strengthen the other.


The writerly side of me has benefited from my editing job because I've learned a lot about craft, the industry, and the like. I've read a LOT of manuscripts--hundreds of them--and have learned how to quickly evaluate a manuscript for its potential, analyze the plot, characters, pacing, setting to see if they intrigue me, if they feel realistic and yet compelling, if the writing is sophisticated and interesting. The first five pages hook me into a story. 

So as a writer, I know I need to make the first few pages of my story shine. But not only that, I've read manuscripts in an editorial capacity where the first 3 chapters are amazing--polished, well-plotted, fascinating characters--but the story falls apart after that. If I can't keep that sparkle going throughout the whole manuscript I know my story will be rejected. It happens ALL the time.


The editor side of me has benefited from being a writer too. I know how nervous writers get (especially new authors); they need to be kept in the loop on how the process is going to go, what to expect, how I work, what I need from them, etc. I try to explain the whole process to my authors so we're all on the same page. I offer comments in the manuscript--both positive and constructive--so they see what they're doing right and what can be strengthened. I reply to emails as quickly as I can, usually within 24 hours. I'm honest and open and professional and fun because the point is to create a collaborative environment that encourages and fosters a healthy working relationship. 

As an editor, I know the anxieties my authors face. I know how they worry about sales, promotion, craft, and so on. I try my best to be transparent and answer questions so they feel a little less lost in this massive industry.


I know a number of editors who are also writers. But guess what? You can do this's not just for people who work for a publisher. Authors can develop their inner editors. Here are a few tips/thoughts on that:

1--learn how to read analytically. When I read a novel, I have a hard time shoving that inner editor aside. But that's not a bad thing. Yes, I read for leisure, but I also read to analyze how an author's craft works and doesn't work. I read published novels to learn how author A makes her characters resonate, how author B weaves intricate pacing that makes me turn the pages, how author C makes setting feel alive. Pick up novels in the genre you're writing. Pick those books apart--what works for you? WHY? And what doesn't work--what would you do differently?

2--learn how to critique. Man, I could write a whole book on this art, haha. Critiquing not only benefits the author whose manuscript you're evaluating, it also benefits you. With novels, you're reading stuff that's already been polished and through editing. Here you can see the story in its most raw form--the SAME way you draft. You'd be surprised how much you learn by reading manuscripts in volume. So branch out and find critique partners. Ask that person what his/her strengths and weaknesses are. Learn how to not only do a general crit, but how to read for characterization. For plot. For pacing. For setting. For subplot. For sophisticated prose.

3--talk, talk, talk to other industry pros. Most editors, agents, writers are happy to answer questions. Check out their blogs, their websites, their twitter feeds, their Facebook and Google+ pages. We're giving you information on what we see, and it's all free. So take it! Editing isn't just about picking a manuscript apart. It's also the art of relationships, of communication. As an editor I interact with industry pros every day. I build those relationships. You should be doing the same.

Any questions? Ask away, and thanks for tuning in! 

Rhonda Stapleton Helms is experienced on both sides of the editorial desk. She's a published author with Simon and Schuster's young adult imprint, Simon Pulse--visit her website at to learn more about her as an author. Rhonda is an acquisitions/developmental editor for Carina Press, and she also freelance edits manuscripts--check out for services, rates and testimonials. 

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