As promised I have editor Heidi Taylor, from Shadow Mountain, here for a fantastic interview. Heidi has been with Shadow Mountain for the past nine years. She graduated from the University of Utah where she had the opportunity to study English and Creative Writing with some of the best creative minds in the business. Heidi works as a publishing manager in the areas of children, teen, and young adult fiction and non-fiction where she works one-on-one with authors to acquire and develop their manuscripts from conception to publication. She has had the pleasure of working with New York Times Bestselling author, Brandon Mull, and his Fablehaven series, and Christmas Jar’s author, Jason F. Wright, as well as dozens of very talented writers, artists, and designers. She loves searching for diamonds in the slush pile!
TSB: What are you looking for right now?
HT: Since the creation of our Proper Romance brand, I’ve been combing the countrysides for clean, well-written, smart romances of all genres: Regency, western, contemporary, etc. And since not everyone defines “clean” the same way, it’s been a bit of a challenge, but I’m holding out hope.
TSB: What do you expect from your authors? And what should they expect from you?
HT: Well, I think I most expect authors to be invested in their work. It sounds strange to say that but just because you’ve written eighty-thousand words it doesn’t make you invested in them. When I get an author on board I want them to have thought about marketing and sales hooks. I want them to be sketching out in their minds how they can get the word out about their stories. It shows me that they believe in what they’ve written. And from me, authors can expect an advocate. Someone who believes in them and can see the potential they bring to the table, and then help turn that potential into something amazing.
TSB: What are the top three things that turn you off to a query letter, and the top three that get you excited?
HT: Let’s see, one thing that really turns me off to a query letter is one that is longer than one page. A query letter is a sales pitch, not a resume. It’s short, sweet, and straight to the point. Anything longer than a page and I ignore it – unfortunately. Second, I don’t like query letters that try to be biographies. I don’t need to know about the book you wrote in your kindergarten class – I’m only interested in the manuscript you’ve sent in – the rest you can save for your ABOUT THE AUTHOR page. And finally, it drives me crazy when people tell me that their story was inspired and that it NEEDS to be out on bookstore shelves. Mental note: All manuscripts are inspired. That’s how it’s done. No one pulls stories out of thin air. Everyone writes to a muse – whatever that muse may be.
The things that really get me excited in a cover letter? Anything that indicates that they’ve written a clean romance – those get me really excited, especially if they really mean it. I love it when the cover letter is short and gets right to the point – they use their “elevator pitch”. It’s harder to write a three sentence description of a 300-page book than it is to write the 300 pages, so when I read a great elevator pitch, I know I’ve got something special. And finally, I love it when people refer to me by name. It means they’ve done their research and they know exactly who they are pitching to. That goes a long way.
TSB: If you have rejected a work, but the author has made significant revisions, can the author resubmit?
HT: Yes and no. It depends on why the manuscript was rejected. Sometimes it’s simply a timing issue and we don’t have a slot for that manuscript. Sometimes it is an issue of the manuscript not being a good fit for the publisher. In both those cases, revisions won’t do any good. If it does get rejected because of the writing but I can see potential, and it is something that might fit well with us, a publisher, I’ll let an author re-write and re-submit. It all depends on the situation.
TSB: How important is the first line and first chapter of a manuscript?
HT: This is gigantically important. That first line and first page are what hook the reader. Too often I hear “It starts slow and then gets better towards the middle.” The fact of the matter is, if you don’t have your reader hooked at the beginning, they won’t continue to read. If you don’t make an impression at the very first, you won’t get another chance. There is too much media out there for a reader to waste their time slogging through a book that never gets to the point.
TSB: What is one of the biggest mistakes you see aspiring authors make?
HT: One of the biggest mistakes I see them make is that they take constructive feedback personally. Every writer can improve whether they be seasoned or brand new. Writing skills are constantly being polished and no one gets it right the first time. Really good constructive feedback can be one of the best tools for an author if they keep in mind that none of it is personal. Feedback from a trusted source can only help to make a manuscript better.
Thank you, Heidi, for the great tips! I can’t wait to see you at the conference in four more weeks! For those of you thinking, oh, my book is perfect for her! You can sign up to pitch to Heidi by clicking ANWACon or you can send her a query via Shadow Mountain here. That’s it for now aspiring writer friends. Next week, I’ll have another interview with an agent/editor coming to the ANWA conference.
Until then keep writing and revising my friends!