~ Interview by Laura Kaye

The Contemporary Romance Writers Chapter is thrilled to have Carina Press editorial director Angela James here today to share her expertise on contemporary romance and consider YOUR pitches as part of our third pitch contest of the year! Instructions on the pitch contest are down below, but first please pull up a chair and get a pen and paper, because you’re going to want to take notes on the awesome and useful advice Angela has laid out here for writers at all levels.

Contemporary Romance: Welcome! Can you share what lines, imprints, or genres you edit at your publishing house?

Angela James: I’m the Editorial Director of Carina Press, so I edit across genres at Carina in romance, science fiction and fantasy. Though we do publish mystery, it’s not a genre I edit. At Harlequin, I also do some editing for both Cosmo Red Hot Reads and HQN.

CR: In general, what’s the difference for you between a good submission and one makes you say I must acquire this?

AJ: A good submission is one where I think the story is readable and there’s nothing bad I can really say about it. It’s just fine. An I-must-acquire-this submission is one that grabs me by the throat, has me reading late into the night and feeling like I must call the author to offer for it, even if it is 10pm on a Friday night (I’ve done this!)

CR: What do you think a great adult, new adult, or young adult contemporary romance must have?

AJ: I think they all need essentially the same thing: a compelling story line that makes readers feel as if they’re reading something they haven’t read before (even when the themes are familiar), compelling characters the readers can cheer for, fall in love with and have empathy for, and an author voice that keeps the story moving and hooks the reader.

CR: What do you think a writer needs to do in terms of story, writing, premise, etc., to make a contemporary story stand out?

AJ: Writers should look to make even familiar themes feel fresh again, whether that’s with a fantastic author voice, unique hook or angle on a story, or particularly well-drawn characters for readers to adore.

CR: What are the most common mistakes you see in submissions?

AJ: Submitting before the book is actually ready for prime time is probably the biggest. Not taking the time to set it aside to get some distance, and then do some self-editing, get a critique from a critique partner, or applying craft knowledge. Everyone seems in a rush to get published these days, so we see more and more people submitting something that might have potential to be quite good, but they’ve submitted it before they’ve taken some time to get it to the quite good stage.

I also see a lot of authors positioning their books incorrectly. Calling it new adult when it’s young adult (or when it’s neither), trying to call it by a particular genre (like new adult) simply because the author thinks that’s the hot genre and wants to position their book to be in a hot genre, or just plain getting the genre wrong, like calling it romantic suspense when it’s really contemporary romance. Positioning incorrectly can cause difficulties because then the editor/agent reading isn’t sure if the author really knows his/her market and wonders if the author would be a good long-term bet. It also creates a dissonance when you’re reading the submission, expecting one thing but getting something else entirely.

CR: Is there anything about a story itself likely to turn you off on a manuscript, even if the mechanics are quite good?

AJ: There are story elements that I don’t care for, that I generally don’t like to edit. I think we all have those subjective things that just don’t work for us, because of our own personal history, likes and dislikes. I’m not going to name what mine are because it will make someone out there paranoid or feel bad!

CR: What’s the best and worst part of your editing job?

AJ: The best part is when the book has been released into the reading public, and I see feedback from the readers about things I had a hand in. Maybe a great prologue, an epic grovel scene or some particular character trait I helped the author tease out. It’s wonderful to see how important the editor/author relationship can be in the development of a fantastic story.

The worst part? I don’t know that I can say something I’d label “the worst”. There are things that aren’t my favorite part but there’s not a lot I think of as being really bad. It’s a job I enjoy and there’s not a lot that makes me regret doing it. 

CR: Before acquisition, how important is a writer’s platform to you? To your publishing house?

AJ: We do look at the writer’s platform before acquiring a book, but the lack of a platform rarely keeps us from acquiring if it’s something we love. If it’s something the team is on the fence about, a strong platform can tip us in the right direction.

On the other hand, we have said no to projects because the author seems to have a brand and platform that’s not cohesive and feels all over the place, which would make it hard for us to grow an author to a bigger platform successfully.

CR: Can you offer some encouraging words of advice to aspiring authors who haven’t received their first contract yet?

AJ: I think there are two things I’d want aspiring authors to keep in mind. First is that there isn’t any reason to be in a hurry. Take your time, write your best book and create a career that’s going to be sticky, not one that’s rushed and will disappear because you were chasing the trends or chasing the release date instead of chasing quality.

The second thing is not to let anyone tell you what your career path should look like. Do what’s right for your career, not what’s right for someone else’s career. Don’t apologize because you want different things than your critique partners, or because you want to do it differently. Instead, make the choices because you’ve done the research and informed yourself on what will work best for you.

There are so many ways to get published, so many opportunities for writers out there—both aspiring and established writers—that there’s no reason to feel like it has to be done quickly or done just like someone else did it. Now, more than ever, each writer can forge his or her own path and there are always going to be opportunities around the corner to do so!

CR: What is on your wish list of story types to acquire?

AJ: My wish list is all over the place, including a love for contemporary crack (explanation of that here), a longing for a romantic series about a group of mercenaries, a deep lust for a dark erotic thriller that pushes the boundaries on consent and/or capture fantasies, and a wish for things that are a little more edgy or explore darker sides of human nature—or those unheroic ways of life like mafia, hit men, mercenaries…

CR: Thanks for agreeing to do a pitch contest today! What genres, subgenres, and/or word counts are you open to considering?

AJ: Our submissions guidelines can be found here and that page has all the comprehensive information about word count and genres, which include all subgenres and heat levels of romance, plus mystery, science fiction and fantasy.

Angela James, Editorial Director of Carina Press, Harlequin’s digital-first fiction imprint, is both an avid reader of digital books and a veteran of and advocate for the digital publishing industry. She has enjoyed a decade of experience in her field, including successfully launching, building and serving as editorial lead for two digital-first presses, Samhain Publishing and, since 2009, Harlequin’s Carina Press.

She has edited bestselling authors such as Shannon Stacey, Jaci Burton, Lauren Dane, Ilona Andrews, Lilith Saintcrow, Shelly Laurenston and more. She was profiled in Fast Company magazine as a digital pioneer in the romance publishing industry and is the creator of the popular self-editing online workshop for authors, Before You Hit Send. In 2013, Angela was named New York Romance Writers of America’s Golden Apple Editor of the Year.

Contact Angela: Twitter.com/angelajames

PITCH CONTEST INSTRUCTIONS

Authors are invited to submit their query blurb and first 100 words or first paragraph for Angela’s consideration. Also feel free to post questions to Angela, but please do so in a separate post from your pitch submission. The contest will run until midnight PST today, 6/25 – pitches submitted after this time will not be entered. Authors who Angela requests materials from will be announced by Monday, June 30th, so check back! And good luck!

Today’s pitch contest is open to everyone – members or non-members. But we invite non-members to consider joining our chapter so you don’t miss out on other exciting events and opportunities!

Please submit your pitch for Angela’s consideration in the following format. Please conform your blurb and story submissions to the below word counts.

Name:

Title:

Genre:

Finished Word Count:

Maximum 200-word blurb:

First 100 words or first paragraph of your story: