The Contemporary Romance Writers Chapter is thrilled to have Mary Altman, Editor at Sourcebooks is here today to share her expertise on contemporary romance and consider YOUR pitches as part of our series of pitch contests! 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 she has laid out here for writers at all levels.
~ Interview by Abigail Owen
CR: Can you share what lines, imprints, or genres you edit at your publishing house?
MA: I acquire for the Sourcebooks Casablanca line. This means my focus is on all genres of Romance (contemporary, romantic suspense, historical, paranormal, erotic, etc.) and New Adult roughly 80,000 to 100,000 words long. I do not acquire Women’s Fiction or Young Adult at this time.
CR: In general, what’s the difference for you between a good submission and one makes you say I must acquire this?
MA: A killer hook is the first thing I look for, the higher concept, the better. Competition on the shelf is fierce. I need a book that has a strong hook that readers can’t help but notice. If you can describe your book in 1-2 sentences (or even 1-2 words!), then you’re likelier to have a strong hook.
CR: What do you think a great adult, new adult, or young adult contemporary romance must have?
MA: Characters a reader wants to spend time with, including a hero she can fall in love with. The most memorable books in romance tend to be remembered for their characters first. If you can make a reader fall head over heels with your hero, you’ve created a truly great romance novel no matter what subgenre, hook, or plot you’re writing.
CR: What do you think a writer needs to do in terms of story, writing, premise, etc., to make a contemporary story stand out?
MA: I like to call it the “yes, and?”, and Trends blow through contemporary romance at a dizzying pace, and it’s increasingly difficult to find a hook that hasn’t been tried before. When crafting your hook, think about whether it touches on something that’s already going on in the space. If so, make sure there’s an extra layer to that hook– the “yes, and ?” that will make it stand out.
CR: What are the most common mistakes you see in submissions?
MA: The most common mistake is the failure to pay attention to what the acquiring editor is looking for. It doesn’t matter how much I may love a book if it is 60,000 words, it is too short for me to acquire it.
CR: Is there anything about a story itself likely to turn you off on a manuscript, even if the mechanics are quite good?
MA: I tend to have a simple rule of thumb when it comes to heroes if I would not encourage my best friend to date him, then I don’t want to see the heroine dating him. That doesn’t mean that a hero can’t start out seriously flawed and grow through the story, but there has to be something about him that draws me to him. I have to be able to fall in love with him, and to trust that the heroine is safe being with him.
CR: What’s the best and worst part of your editing job?
MA: The best part of the job is working with authors to make already-fantastic manuscripts stronger. I consider myself a highly collaborative editor. I will wade into a manuscript with my sleeves rolled up and work with the author to make sure the rhythm of the story is right, the emotion comes through clearly, the perfect word to evoke the perfect reaction in the reader is used. The worst part of the job is saying no to people. I hate passing on manuscripts.
CR: Before acquisition, how important is a writer’s platform to you? To publishing houses?
MA: I work with plenty of debut authors who have no platform when I acquire them. I will usually ask them to start making author friends and building an online presence at least five months before publication, but they don’t have to have one already in place when I acquire them.
CR: Can you offer some encouraging words of advice to aspiring authors who haven’t received their first contract yet?
MA: Just like there’s a reader for every book, there’s an editor for every book. Editors are individuals with individual tastes. Just because your book hasn’t quite landed with one editor doesn’t mean it won’t resonate with another. Keep working on your craft, make sure you are sending out polished manuscripts with strong hooks and compelling characters, and your book will eventually land in the lap of your perfect match. Most importantly, remember that you will never find the editor who is clever enough to have a vision for your book if you stop submitting. Keep trying, and good luck!
CR: What is on your wish list of story types to acquire?
MA: Contemporary romance with a unique and compelling hook if it’s a small town romance, there needs to be a yes, and that makes it stand out in a brutally competitive space. Romance that crosses genres in interesting ways. Action-adventure romance, perhaps? Romantic suspense with meticulously researched military themes I would kill for a great Top Gun romance! I also love romances where the hero and heroine are together in isolation and have to rely on each other for survival. Paranormal romantic suspense is a space that I’m excited about. I’m also on the hunt for an unforgettable fantasy or science fiction romance. Honestly, if it has a hook I can’t ignore, it doesn’t matter what subgenre it is.
CR: Thanks for agreeing to do a pitch contest today! What genres, subgenres, and/or word counts are you open to considering at this time?
MA: I acquire all subgenres of Romance (contemporary, romantic suspense, paranormal, historical, and erotic.) I also acquire some New Adult. Manuscripts should be complete at roughly 80,000 to 100,000 words.
ABOUT MARY ALTMAN
Mary Altman was born in South Carolina and still considers herself a Charlestonian at heart. Her love of reading came from an early obsession with The Hobbit and The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, and she’s only gotten geekier over the years. She has a passion for travel and lives in a tragically unhip corner of Brooklyn with her fiance and an overflowing TBR pile.
Social Media: Twitter @marykaltman
Authors are invited to submit the below for consideration. Also feel free to post general questions, but please do so in a separate post from your pitch submission. The contest will 11/22 6:00am EST to 11/2 11:59pm EST) pitches submitted after this time will not be entered. Works being pitched must be completed and ready for submission.
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 Mary’s consideration in the following format.
- Author Name:
- Book Title:
- Finished Word Count:
- Maximum 200-word blurb:
- First 100 words of your story:
Submissions won’t be considered if they don’t meet the guidelines. Authors who Mary requests materials from will be announced within one week, so check back!