Monday, March 5, 2012

What An Editor Wants In An Author - Guest Blogger Susan Litman

"What Does an Editor Want in a Writer?"

Seems like a simple question, doesn’t it?  Naturally, my first answer to this is always going to be, “I’m looking for a fresh, exciting voice and unique storytelling!”  But there’s so much more to the author-editor relationship. After all, editors are readers – we got into publishing because we love books.  So our ultimate goal is always to find authors who are interested in delivering great stories, well-told.

In the best possible world, the author-editor relationship is a collaborative one – a partnership.  If revisions and changes are necessary, I’ll discuss them constructively, with an eye towards making changes (sometimes minor, sometimes not-so-minor) that will stay true to the author’s voice and vision while still meeting the needs of the imprint/publishing house, and ultimately making the story the best it can be.  We’re advocates for our authors, so it is part of our job to help make sure their work shines.

It helps if the author has a good understanding of the unpredictable nature of the publishing business, and a strong sense of professionalism.  This might be a creative endeavor, but it is also a business – never forget that. 

Along those lines, it’s important for a writer to meet deadlines, because this keeps the production process rolling smoothly, and enables us to publish your books more strategically and develop your presence in the market.  As well, while we’d never want anyone to write to a trend just for the sake of doing so, in category romance it is important for the author to understand what their targeted series is about – what the audience for Harlequin Special Edition is looking for in a story versus Romantic Suspense or Blaze.  Being able to consistently deliver on the series promise is something we take into account when evaluating a manuscript.

But let’s go back to voice and story – because those are the building blocks of the editor-author relationship. When I start reading a new manuscript, I’m looking to be engaged right away.  And if an author can draw me in to the characters and setup – even if there are flaws throughout (after all, nothing is perfect!) – so much the better.  Because when it comes down to it, it’s easy to teach a new author the ins-and-outs of the business and help them improve the technique of their craft, but if they can’t deliver the most basic element – a great story – then there’s not much to work with.

--Susan Litman

  Editor, Harlequin Special Edition

  Twitter: @susan_litman


  1. Thanks for blogging today, Susan. I'm unpublished and querying agents and getting some good feedback on my writing, but they are saying it is harder than ever to break into category. Two have even said it might be easier to break in via single title.

    Do you think it is tougher in this market to become published as a debut category author?


  2. Thanks Susan and Scott. A very interesting read.

    Great to see it comes back to the story and a good reminder about the business side.


  3. What a nice surprise to see you pop up as guest blogger Susan. I'm unpublished and targeting Harlequin. I have had some recent successes on the contest circuit, and my partial has been forwarded to you following my Gotcha win.I do hope you enjoy it.

    I'm in the process of writing a spin-off. Would setting this story five years later be considered too long a gap?

    And thank you Scott. Your blog is always interesting and informative.

  4. Nan,

    Susan said I could go ahead and follow up for some of these questions. She might chime in a bit later as well.

    Your question about becoming a debut author is certainly something many writers are thinking about. Unfortunately, I do believe the category market, like the single title market is seeing many of the same things. Until the economy shapes up, authors have to be "beyond amazing" to break in.

    In the past, editors and agents could take risks on authors and slowly work them into the system. Now, they simply don't have the money to invest in taking that amount of time. I know I have pitched stories where the editor has told me the writing is fantastic, but it still wasn't enough. Ugh, that hurts.

    Stick with it though. I do believe things will turn around.


  5. Lee,

    The time gap question is an interesting one. I think what most authors want to see is a follow up story that is much closer to the prior book. They simply want to "continue the story."

    I would recommend just treating this like a "new story" and don't make any connection to the prior story. Keep it a stand alone and run with it.

    Hope this helps!