Kick Off of The Countdown to Conference

Hello everyone! Today the Sizzlers are kicking off our Countdown to Conference. What  conference you ask? Why the 2010 Silken Sands  Conference at Pensacola Beach March 19-21 of course. Today we are honored and elated to have an interview from one of the fabulous editors who will be attending the conference. So I welcome you all to read, comment, and learn from Kensington Publishing Corp, editor Megan Records.

First off on behalf of everyone reading this I would like to thank Mrs. Records for taking the time to participate in the countdown and attending the Silken Sands Conference. So without further ado, I give you the questions and answers we’ve all been looking for:

[Sizzlers]. Tell us what you think is hot and what’s not. ?

[M. Records]

Hot: dark paranormals. I am seeing a larger variety of creatures these days: angels, genies, etc, but werewolves and vampires still dominate. I hardly ever see funny paranormals. Shame, because I like those too!

Hot: historicals in which the characters have “modern” issues. I say “modern” because these issues existed back then, but were not really discussed or brought to light until more recently. For example: domestic violence.

Hot: historicals where the heroine is not a virgin, or is a virgin but grew up on a farm and/or reads, so is not completely ignorant of the mechanics of sex. I’m seeing much more of these than I have before, and loving it. I don’t mind the naïve virgin, and I know that’s historically correct, but I can only read so many where the heroine wonders exactly what is in a man’s pants.

Not: I never say something is “not.” I say that it might be more difficult to make these elements work. For instance, it is probably easier to make a white tiger shifter a sexy hero than, say, a 3-foot tall leprechaun. But will I say it can’t be done? Never. I’ve bought books in which the premise didn’t sound like my thing, but the writing sold it to me (a historical set in Mongolia? Who would have seen that one coming?). It’s all about the writing. If the writing makes it work, then you can sell me anything.

[Sizzlers] What types of work are you most interested in seeing at the 2010 Silken Sands Conference?

 

[M. Records]

 

I have a lot of room in Brava at the moment. Brava is our more sensual imprint; sexier than Zebra, but generally without the kinkiness found in Aphrodisia (ménage, sex in animal form, bondage, etc.).

I also buy for Zebra, and I’m certainly willing to read manuscripts for this line, but right now there is so little room that I’m having to turn projects down even if I like them.

I would like a good urban fantasy, or perhaps a historical fiction novel.

I don’t work on Aphrodisia, gay fiction, non-fiction, mysteries, etc. I am perfectly happy to give you the name of an editor at Kensington that does, but my insight into these genres is limited, so I probably won’t be able to give you much feedback.

[Sizzlers] This question goes back to the “writer rumors”, but so many times I’ve heard that agents/editors will throw out a manuscript if they see grammatical errors. Personally, this is a huge one for me as I am grammatically challenged.  Many times authors will edit and edit then send to a contest and have their manuscript ripped to shreds because they used “ing”, “ly” or “was” to much for the judges liking. Do you look for these issues when reading requested material or is it more about the story?

[M. Records]:

I like to use an analogy of a job interview to explain this. If you walk in and your shoes are a bit scuffed, or you are just really having a bad hair day, that shouldn’t be held against you. However, if you are in torn, wrinkled, dirty clothing, and smell like you haven’t bathed for days, that’s going to be a big black mark.  Similarly, if you have a few typos or grammatical errors, most editors will not hold that against you. But if there are glaring errors repeatedly throughout the manuscript, that’s going to be a problem. In dialogue, ok, because most people don’t speak in perfectly grammatically correct English, but otherwise, too many errors are going to hurt you. It may sound unfair, but you have to set some standards. If a singer hit too many wrong notes, you probably wouldn’t want to continue listening to them. Same principle applies.

As to using “was” etc, too much, that speaks more to the writing style than grammatical errors. If the writing feels repetitive, or the sentence structure is always the same, it makes it hard to stay interested. I don’t think I’ve ever said someone used “was” too much, but other repetition can really get to me. For instance, if you use the word “stunning” 3 times in two paragraphs, and it isn’t a situation where the character is dumbstruck and can’t think of what to say, then that stands out when I’m reading. If you end every bit of dialogue with an adverb, e.g.“he said quickly,” “he said glaringly,” “he said grudgingly,” “he said invitingly,” after a few pages, my brain will go on overload.

After that long ramble, if you want it in one sentence: The writing should never hinder the story; it should only enhance it. Case in point: this interview. I can almost guarantee that it’s not entirely grammatically correct. But that doesn’t detract from its general readability (I hope!).

[Sizzlers] What is your opinion on emarket vs. traditional print? I know this is a hot topic and we all appreciate whatever comments you can give us.

 

[M. Records]:

To me, they are two similar but different animals. E-books have the advantage of being able to take risks that traditional publishers are not. I’ve seen more than one trend start in e–books and then move to print once it was deemed “successful enough.” And I’ve bought several authors that originally started in e-books and are now writing for Kensington. On the other hand, print publishers have distribution, and a certain reputation that can make readers stick with them instead of going to e-books. The goal of both is the same: to sell books. But how they go about it and what they are able to sell is different.

I like to think of it as the young rebel teenager vs the senior citizen (can you tell I like analogies?). The teenager has fresh ideas and a new perspective, and often evolves and adapts more quickly than the senior citizen because they haven’t been around as long and aren’t set in their ways. But does that mean that all the experience and methods of the senior citizen are useless? Of course not. Both have something to bring to the table, and once they both realize this, they are able to learn something from each other.

Full disclosure: I have an e-reader. I use it for manuscripts, library books and free e-books, but I haven’t bought an e-book in the 3 months or so that I’ve had it (and I didn’t usually buy them before that because reading entire books on the computer gives me migraines.) The books I read in my spare time are generally from traditional publishers. Partially this is because many of my longtime favorite authors are from print houses. And partially this is because I am more aware of new authors in the print market, seeing as that’s what Kensington does and what most of my contacts focus on, and I get a lot of these books for free. It also helps to have something physical to point to when my husband asks, “Wait, how many books did you buy this month?”

[Sizzlers] I know that when I am researching an agent or editor, I Google them, check their Facebook page, and tweet them. I read their posts and blogs.  I try to see if their tastes would lean toward my writing style or not. And I try to get a feel for their personality to see if we might “mesh well” if the opportunity ever arose. If you have a manuscript on your desk, do you ever check the same accounts for that author?  Do you ever check to see what he/she is posting? If so, have you been influenced by what you’ve learned?

 

[M. Records]:

I freely admit I am an Internet addict. Generally speaking, though, I only look up authors after I’ve already made an offer. The exception to this is if something in their cover letter feels sketchy. For instance, if you say you are a published author, but do not mention any houses, I go look it up. If you say you are an award-winning author, but don’t mention any specific awards, I Google it. Or occasionally, I get a submission and think, “Why do I know that name?” and of course cannot rest until I’ve found the answer on the web. But for the majority of manuscripts, I do not do any initial sleuthing. With the number of submissions I get, it’s just not feasible unless I already have an interest in the book.

[Sizzlers] If an author has queried you and you’ve rejected that query/partial and the author emails you asking for details on why you’ve rejected their ms, what is your process here? Do you give specific reasons on why the manuscript may not have been for you?

 

[M. Records]:

This is probably the biggest single pet peeve of any editor you will encounter. When an author does this, however nicely, it puts them on my mental blacklist as “high maintenance—stay away!” If I had any details about why I passed on it, I would have said that in my initial letter. Authors seem to feel it’s an editor’s job to give them feedback, and it is, if you are an author under contract. Otherwise, I have no obligation to do so. And let’s be honest, sometimes I don’t get far enough into a manuscript to give any viable feedback, or I can’t say what I really want to say without being horribly impolite, so I send a rather generic letter.

That said, I do appreciate that authors want to improve, and when I have something specific to say about the manuscript, I say it. If I think the manuscript could be great with some revision, I mention in my letter than I’d love to see it if/when the author revises. If I think the writing is just amazing but the particular project just doesn’t fit well with us, I ask to see any other projects the author has in the works. I always try to be very honest in my rejection letters, without being harsh.

Related to this is the “rejection rebuttal,” in which you explain why a comment in my letter is incorrect, or tell me you don’t think I “understood” your book. Only do this if you want an ironclad way to ensure that I will never buy your book, and you don’t want any other editor at my house to buy it either (because yes, we talk).

[Sizzlers] As a final wrap up could you tell us some of your pet peeves in the industry? Or is there anything happening in the industry you’d care to comment on or discuss?  We’d love to hear some of your views and opinions on the state of the craft and the market.

 

[M. Records]:

Oy, pet peeves could go on for a while :] Besides the one mention above, another one is the “equality complaint.” Various versions of this are:

“I sent you my manuscript in Oct, and this author send you hers in Nov, and you sent her a letter already and not me. Why?”

“This author at your house got 25 galleys and I only got 15. Why?”

“I heard you got a quote from [insert big name author here] for this book, why not for mine?”

I will say to you what my mom sarcastically said to us kids whenever we made this type of complaint: “It’s because we love him more.” Publishing is not equal. Marketing attention varies. My response time for manuscripts varies. Do not make comparisons.

Caveat: I can hear the voices now…“But what if I think her response to me might have gotten lost in the mail/email or I just want to double check that she got the manuscript?” Sure, go ahead and ask. Just don’t mention another author when you are doing so. And for heaven’s sake, wait at least 3 months before asking for an update, unless you have an offer. Excessive checking in will get you blacklisted. I am a very stubborn person; if you nag and push me to do something, I will resist just to be obstinate. Childish? Yes. But at least I can admit my faults, right?

On to happier topics, the industry. Romance is still selling. It is one genre that where sales were actually up for us last year, when many other categories were falling. Ironic, when romance is what I like to call “the bastard child of the publishing industry.” But I’m convinced it’s this very stereotype that has helped romance remain successful. Romance authors and readers are a community like none other in the publishing world. We band together to help each other succeed. We blog, we cross-promote, we give each other quotes. Do you know how rare it is to find a group of general fiction authors sharing a blog? And yet, that’s pretty commonplace in the romance community. We can go to local conferences where readers can actually meet New York Times bestselling authors…usually you don’t get to do that unless you buy a book at a signing. We all know that there are a lot of naysayers out there that think romance is fluff and nonsense, so we do everything we can to promote ourselves and the genre as a whole. Would romance be the top-selling paperback genre if this wasn’t the case? Somehow I don’t think so.

Okay I forgot to mention that Mrs. Records will be checking in from time to time. Feel free to ask questions as she may answer them. Thanks again to her for this great interview and remember Thursday we will have author Cat Johnson guest blogging. All right off to ask Mrs. Records one more question 🙂

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32 Responses

  1. Awesome interview, Megan. Can’t wait to meet you at Silken Sands. I love that you embrace your faults- that’s a way to stay firmly planted in reality. I appreciate the insight into your process, too.

  2. Great interview. It’s always good to know what editors like and don’t like, it makes it so much easier as a budding author to know the ins and outs of the industry.

    I hope you enjoy the conference!

  3. Thanks for sharing, Megan. I’m amazed at the amount of information you’ve supplied in six questions! Can’t wait to hear more from you during the editor/agent question and answer session at Silken Sands.

    Hope the conference is enjoyable–and productive–for you. We certainly appreciate your being there!

  4. What a great interview! Thanks so much for the great information, Megan and Sayde!

  5. Thanks so much Megan and of course thanks also to the wonderful ladies here at southern sizzle for sharing.

  6. Thanks everybody! I was feeling pretty chatty, but I hope there is useful information in there somewhere :]

    And feel free to ask questions!

  7. Ok, since Megan has said we can ask questions I will :). When you see an author is epublished does that have the same “credit” as traditional print published authors to you? Basically would it benefit an author to get a few credits from smaller presses before querying larger ones?

    So maybe that was two, but I’m feeling greedy and no one else has asked questions yet so I’m taking advantage 🙂

    Thanks again for doing to interview Megan we all really appreciate the time you have taken to do this.

  8. Great interview, Megan! I’m looking forward to meeting you at the conference.

  9. First and foremost, the manuscript has to be great. Being previously published does not make me like your manuscript more or less. So in submission stage it doesn’t matter much.

    Where that type of thing comes into play is when I’m trying to get the okay to make an offer, or trying to give the publicity and marketing depts help in getting your book out there. In terms of making an offer, print pub is what really counts for us, because we are a print publisher. Print sales history is what we are working with when our sales team goes in to sell to the corporate buyers. E-pub authors have no print history, so it’s the same as selling a brand new author. For print pubbed author, are your numbers good? These days it’s getting harder and harder to revive a career. I’d rather have a brand new debut author with no sales history than a published author with poor sales history. This sort of thing can make or break whether I’m able to offer for the manuscript.

    In terms of marketing, having a previously published author makes things a bit easier. Usually you’d already have quotes and some reviews we can borrow from, and of course a readership. But I would never not buy a manuscript because the author didn’t have this.

    Does that make sense?

    • Yes, unfortunately for me it does make perfect sense and now I have to look alot closer at the two contracts I have now. Thanks again for the interview and for making me use my brain more today.

  10. Hi Megan,

    Thanks for taking the time to do this.

    Can you give a description of “Urban Fantasy”….

    Thanks,
    Dawn Chartier
    http://www.dawnchartier.com

    • Urban fantasy is Buffy-esque. Often it’s set in a city and has a kick-ass heroine, but not always. There is romance in it, but it takes a backseat to the world building. At Kensington,it’s Richelle Mead’s succubus series. J.R. Ward’s later books in the Brotherhood series could be categorized as urban fantasy, and I think Jeaniene Frost’s series with Cat and Bones could as well. I find urban fantasies often start out as paranormal romances, but either the romance just isn’t prominent enough, or it breaks certain romance “rules”…for example, maybe the heroine has detailed sex scenes with more than one guy (not at the same time).

  11. I should say, while being e-pubbed doesn’t necessarily help my sales team, it has never once hurt anyone. Practicing your craft is never a bad thing, and there are lots of reasons why authors choose e-pubbing over traditional print. I’m just saying that trying to use it as a “stepping stone” to print pub isn’t particularly helpful in my situation.

  12. Hi, Ms. Records. Great interview. I have a question for you. Do you ever see the return of the historical western romance?

    • I haven’t ever seen it go away entirely. We have several authors on the Kensington list doing westerns. Is it less prominent than paranormals and the English historical romance? Sure. And I don’t think they will ever become as big as these categories. But they are definitely out there.

  13. Great interview. I appreciate your candid comments. I wish I were going to the conference.

  14. Megan,

    Just curious if you have an opinion on the “Steampunk” genre. Have you or your editors seen alot of this type of writing come through?

    • Actually, I have a series coming out by Zoe Archer, and some readers have deemed it steampunk. I was a bit surprised, because it didn’t quite fit what I understand the genre to be. The characters have gadgets that are probably a bit ahead of the time, but the book also has magic, so I thought of it more as a consequence of the paranormal than as steampunk.

      I haven’t seen any submissions that really fit the bill, and I’m not entirely sure I would be interested in it. It would all depend on the writing, I suppose. If the “newfangled” elements feel like a natural part of the story, then I might go for it, but my gut says that most of the time they are going to feel intrusive and unnatural. Of course, I didn’t like paranormals until about 5 years ago, and now I’m all over them. So I’d be happy to be proven wrong by some fabulous example of steampunk.

  15. Megan, you answered so many questions my critique partners and I toss around when we meet. I will forward this link to them ASAP.

  16. You were quite gracious to allow me to do a hallway pitch last year at RT in Orlando, along with Deb Werksman. I very much appreciated your giving me the e-mail of Peter Senftleben to query. And he requested a partial!

    Peter was even gracious enough to reply to my e-mail in November reg. the status of my partial, saying he hadn’t had time to read it yet.

    It’s so very refreshing to recieve replies in this day of if-you-hear-nothing-we-don’t-want-you. Kudos to Kensington for bucking the trend.

    Thanks for an interesting interview. Looking forward to seeing you in Columbus.

    Maureen B.

  17. Hi Megan. What a great interview. The information and insight on what your thinking is important to all of us. I look forward to seeing you again at the conference next month. Again, it was a pleasure to have you with us. Paula Hardin

  18. I finally thought of a question! How much do contest wins play in your decision to request full manuscripts? If an author does have several wins under their belt, do you believe they’re more likely to be published than an author with no wins?

    • Depends on the contest. The Golden Heart holds weight, and a few others. But generally, winning more contests doesn’t make me more likely to love your manuscript. It’s great for the author because you get feedback and can improve your manuscript. This feedback may help you get a contract you wouldn’t have been able to get without the changes, but the actual “win” doesn’t sway me one way or the other. Some authors win lots of contests, but the scenario in the manuscript is just not for me. Or conversely, some authors don’t enter contests at all, due to time/money constraints or lack of interest, and that isn’t held against them.

      It’s all about the manuscript, folks. No amount of experience/wins/cajoling will persuade me to like a manuscript that I hated when I read it. This says nothing about your manuscript, really. All it says is it is or isn’t my taste. And trust me, you want an editor that LOVES your manuscript. Editors are your only advocate in house. Most sales people only get to read a handful of books a year. If your editor isn’t excited about your book, she can’t get other people excited. So while it may seem like smaller details like contest wins and e-pub history are going to make or break you, they’re not. It’s just icing.

  19. Hey, Megan!

    Really loved the interview. Always interesting to get insight from industry. I’d planned on attending Silken Sands with some of my NOLA STARS chaptermates, but it coincides with my family vacation. Such a fun conference and I was looking forward to catching up with you. Hope to see you at Nationals this year.

    Have fun on the beach!

    Oh, question…what about novellas? Do you see that as a way for a new author to break into publishing?

    • For some houses, absolutely. One that comes to mind is the Red Sage Secrets books. Authors can get exposure to whole new audiences. At Kensington, we prefer to fill our anthologies with authors we already have under contract for full-length novels. We want that same exposure to new audiences, and we want it for authors we have an invested interest in. The hope is that once the reader finds this great story, they’ll want to read more by that author. On very rare occasions, we’ll contract an author for a novella only. Novellas also slow down the acceptance process a bit–in order to make an offer, I have to have a plan for the anthology, including the other authors I’d like to put into it. So with us, it’s easier to submit full length novels.

  20. Thanks for giving such an informative interview. Is Kensington looking for romantic suspense these days? What do you consider the minimum word count for Brava? Thanks so much.

    • I could use some romantic suspense in Brava…maybe in Zebra but it would have to be pretty innovative, because we have a lot of romantic suspense in that imprint already. Brava is ideally 80k-100k. I’d prefer longer over shorter, hands down. I have had manuscripts in Brava that are shorter than 80k, but since it’s a trade format, the books start looking really thin after a certain point.

  21. Hi Megan,

    I’m chiming in really late, but have enjoyed reading the comments. Thanks for being so candid with your answers.

    A few years back, Kensington started a $3.99 program for debut authors to make it a bit easier for readers to take a chance on new authors. It’s an innovative approach. Have you been able to determine the success of that program yet?

    Thanks!
    Tracey Devlyn
    http://www.RomanceUniversity.org, Est. May 2009

    • We’ve since discontinued that program. I think it worked very well initially, but then the economy went downhill, and readers wanted to spend their money on authors they knew they already liked, and were less likely to take a chance on a new author if they had a tighter book budget. That’s my theory, anyway. We don’t have an “official” reason.

  22. Your paragraph about the romance industry, from it being the bastard stepchild of publishing, to it also being the most loved and accessible to readers, and the tightest community among authors, was dead on. Thank you for putting it so eloquently.
    Cat Johnson

  23. Figures, always last to the party. 🙂

    If you should peek back in, what would be one suggestion you would make for anyone pitching?

    That one something, that people do wrong, or maybe right?

    Great interview, and thank you for taking the time to come and share.

    Dana-vitch36

  24. Great interview! Looking forward to pitching to you at Silken Sands!

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