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The Editor - An Author's Best Friend?

Who is the mysterious person wielding the red pen? We all know the word "Editor" but what, exactly, do they do?

To answer these questions, we went to the source, best-selling author Lori Foster, who kindly consented to interview her own editor, Kate Duffy of Kensington Publishing, and get the real facts behind the title. We deeply appreciate the generosity of both these charming ladies in sharing their time and their opinions with us - thanks, Lori and Kate!

Lori: As an editor, what do you do for your authors besides edit?

Kate: At Kensington, the editors are the gatekeepers. What this means in practical terms is that wherever possible, we talk to you for the rest of the company and to the rest of the company for you. So for example, if you are missing your author copies or need royalty info or any of a hundred other things, we follow up.

Lori: What’s your favorite part of being an editor?

Kate: The enormous paycheck. Oh, how I crack myself up. No the answer is – great writing and being the first to read it.

Lori: Your least favorite?

Kate: Bad writing

Lori: How should an author package her manuscript when sending it to you? (I remember you joking about bringing out the “jaws of life” on some manuscripts. Because they were so heavily taped and packed and bound, you thought you’d find Wedgewood china inside, and instead it was just a manuscript. :)

Kate: Just use a Jiffy bag and go very easy on the duct tape.

Lori: What is a typical day in the life of editor, Kate Duffy?

Kate: Email and phone calls - from a request by the sub rights department forwarded from our German agent that I check to see whether they can publish an author's work in Germany using her better-known pseudonym. (This took 3 phone calls and 2 emails to accomplish) To people enquiring about the status of their manuscripts to resolving a fight with an agent (I still would like to smack her). All in all, I fielded more than 20 phone calls and double that amount of email in the morning.

Turned 2 manuscripts into production for copyediting and sent through the paperwork so the authors could get paid.

Changed travel plans for March. Instead of going to Vancouver (Hilary is going in my place) Kensington wants me to go to the London Book Fair and they are at exactly the same time. 5 phone calls and 5 emails later, I am still working out the logistics.

Discussed book I want to buy with the publisher. She’s read the first 50 pages and thinks it’s too British for our market. I addressed her concerns, and am now waiting to hear back from the three other people I asked to read the same partial.

Lunch with author, art director and director of publicity. Realize I have put the wrong title on a Dec. Brava and when I get back to the office, I discuss this with the publisher. She seems relieved I have come to my senses.

Open mail. Well, some of it anyway before I am called into a quick schedule meeting. My MM Brava schedule is not coming together so I promise to work on it over the weekend so we can revisit first thing on Monday.

Shoot down another editor's idea for a title and explain why I don't think it's right. She agrees.

Go over contract issues that have arisen in 2 contract negotiations, one of which is a deal breaker for us and I tell the general counsel to let the agent know that.

Sign off on catalog blues and 3 cover mechanicals and four chromalins. Come up with cover line for one of the mechanicals after the publisher says we need one. Go over cover copy with the copy department and after they make a few changes, I email the copy to the authors and wait for their feedback and updated bios, which I then cut and paste onto the copy and send back to the copy department.

One of my authors sends me a schedule of some autographings and local publicity she is doing which I forwarded to publicity and they sent it on to sales.

Art director stops by to show me work-in-progress cover that I love and we will talk about at Tuesday's art meeting.

Lori: What are the guidelines for the various Kensington lines?

Kate: We don't furnish guidelines. Most publishers don't. Brava authors write what they want. Kinda.

Novels are 90-100,000 words. Novellas are 25-30,000 words and novellas for anthologies with six authors (six-packs like Jingle Bell Rock) are 15,000 words. All publishers' addresses are on the copyright page of the books they publish. Send a query or query and first three chapters with SASE if you want it returned or the complete, it's up to you.

Lori: What kind of proposals do you like to see?

Kate: A proposal is usually a 3-5 page synopsis of the work. In the case of a novella, it can be much shorter. In broad strokes, you outline the plot. You do not include dialogue and you try not to editorialize i.e. "This is the part that will make you cry." It is a description of the story you have written, without going into every single detail. And if you can't do it, get a friend to, but you really should try. I have to describe books I've bought to many people here who are not going to read them and I can tell you this synopsizing thing gets easier the more you do it.

You do not need an agent to submit material of any kind to me.

If you have a completed manuscript, it is best to send the whole thing. The more I know - the better able I am to come to a decision. But a synopsis and first three chapters are fine, too.

Lori: How important is the synopsis?

Kate: I gotta tell you - a great synopsis is just not that important. The synopsis comes in most handy after the book is bought and the cover copy is being written. It is solely about the book and the quality of the writing. I do understand writers’ anxiety concerning synopses, but in this instance I fear it is a titch misplaced.

Lori: Is there anything – a theme or character type - that a writer shouldn’t do?

Kate: Don't let anyone tell you what you can or cannot write. The trick is in pulling it off. But to not even try? That's crazy talk. (I just love that phrase.)

If it works for you - don't tamper with it. There are no rules, no boo boos, no cant’s or shouldn’t.

When I ran Meteor, I announced that we would not do romances with religion, politics or Elvis Presley sightings. I had been the editor of IS ELVIS ALIVE? and had the pleasure of talking with 2 Elvii personally.

We ended up publishing books with all three of those elements. Just do what's best for your story.

Lori: How involved are you with getting books to new places, i.e., Bravas to Australia?

Kate: I’ve had meetings with both UK and Australian publishers and not one saw the potential of Brava and the Bad Boys. I continue to try as do our subsidiary rights people. And I thought it was a no-brainer. I think it would be spectacular to have an Australian partner in this.

Lori: What about getting the books, specifically the Bravas, to bookclubs like Venus and Doubleday and Rhapsody?

Kate: We submit every book to the book club editors and they make the decision.

Lori: Do contest wins carry a lot of weight with you?

Kate: OK, this is just me. I rarely request to see what I've judged and that means nothing. It doesn't mean that I do or do not want to see it. I am asked to rank finalists and that's what I do. I never write anything on the manuscript. I don't edit what I don't own. In short, lazy me does only what I am asked to do.

Only once in the many contests I have judged was I even asked if I wanted to see the winner. "Oh," I thought, "now that you mention it, that might be a good thing." And I bought it. You will love MOSTLY MARRIED by Lisa Manuel, Zebra, April 04.

Lori: Do you request a lot of manuscripts from conferences?

Kate: At various large and small conferences, the organizers provide for a limited number of meetings with editors and/or agents. We’re given the choice of individual or group appointments. I prefer individual. So, for about 10 minutes or so we chat about what you are writing. I don't care if someone hands me a one page synopsis to read, reads from prepared notes or just wings it. Unless the story is completely outlandish, I will generally ask to see something because I cannot tell from talking with you whether or not you can write. You, however, can tell from talking with me whether or not you want to work with me.

Lori: Who is responsible for errors and inconsistencies in books? The author, obviously, but the editor too?

Kate: It would be my responsibility, as well. Without a doubt. Sure, the author wrote it but I am the editor and I should do my homework. If I haven't worked with the author before, meaning if I just inherited a series, I should read the backlist. I would have a lot of explaining to do around here if a big mistake happened on my watch. I really hope this question doesn’t refer to one of my authors and that you are setting me up to resign. I really love my new office.

Lori: You live in NY. What are some of the perks?

Kate: Back in November 02, Joan Schulhafer (Dir. of Publicity and dear, dear friend) and I were sharing a cab across town. We stopped over by Rock Center and the NBC offices when we saw this crowd of people striding up the middle of the street, dodging traffic. Joan starts to grouse about tourists and the tree not even being up (yep, the spirit of the holidays, that's our Joan). In mid-rant, I stopped her and said "Joan, not tourists - RUSSELL CROWE!" He was obviously with an assistant, looking for his limo, and the crowd was people wanting autographs. He was six inches from Joan and a foot more from me as he walked right next to our cab.

Fine looking fellow.

Other celeb sightings - Katharine Hepburn, Al Pacino, Liam Neeson and Natasha Richardson, Gene Wilder, Walter Cronkite, Lauren Bacall, Candice Bergen, Woody Allen and Soon Yi, and then tons of people I have seen on Broadway but I don't think it counts if you have to buy tickets.

I love New York.

Lori: What do you like to do in your off time?

Kate: Sometimes, I just collapse. I hate housework and even though I am not really good at it, when it’s not a school night, I like to cook. I read a lot, for work and for pleasure and I love old movies and some not so old movies. I have a wonderful family and great friends who put up with me.

Lori: What authors do you enjoy reading off the job?

Kate: How much time do you have – Linda Howard, Linda Lael Miller, Julie Garwood, Christina Dodd, Cathy Maxwell, Victoria Alexander, Nora, Jo Beverley, Betina Krahn, Jennifer Crusie, Alexander McCall Smith, Minette Walters, Elizabeth George and others too numerous to mention. I like narrative non-fiction, biographies and mysteries.

Lori: Can we have a Kate Duffy bio? And please tell us about your very fascinating family.

Kate: Professionally:
Kate Duffy has worked in publishing for over twenty-five years. She has worked at Dell, Pocket Books and Paddington Press (London) as a senior editor. She was the first editor-in-chief of Silhouette Books, as well as editor-in-chief of Tudor Publishing and Meteor Publishing. She is currently an editorial director at Kensington Publishing Corporation in New York. In 1991, she became the first individual to receive the Romance Writers of America Industry Award. She was given The SPIRIT Award by the San Diego chapter of the Romance Writers of America. And in November, 2000, she was honored at the Romantic Times’ convention for her contributions to the romance book publishing industry.

My dad is a retired doctor. His father was a doctor, in fact, chief of staff at the hospital where I was born. His brother, Paul, was a doctor and his brother-in-law, Edgar Frazell, was a doctor. When young, I thought there were two sexes – women and doctors. My mother is an actress, and her brother is Peter Boyle. I am divorced with no children. I have a sister who is a producer at NIGHTLY NEWS WITH TOM BROKAW and a brother who is press attaché at the US Embassy in Rome.

And there we are! A look at the incredibly busy, challenging and exciting life of an editor. The person to whom romance readers owe a unanimous vote of thanks for the work she does, the effort she puts in to each and every manuscript...and the result - more reading pleasure for us, the fans.

Once again, we'd like to offer our thanks to Kate Duffy (and a big "whew" after reading her daily schedule), and Lori Foster, who so graciously agreed to participate in this fun interview. To both Kate and Lori, many more years of continued success - the world of romance is very much in your debt.

Submitted via Paula, October 2004

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