Thursday, September 18, 2008

A Day in the Life of an Editor

By: Deb Werksman

Today we had our weekly editorial meeting, and I spent most of the day doing acquisitions activities, so I thought I'd share with you what that part of the process looks like for me.

Acquiring is my favorite part of my job and rejection letters are my least favorite part.

To put the quantities in perspective, I get about 100-150 submissions each month, and will publish about 50-55 books for Fall 09 (that equates to 50-55 books out of roughly 800 submissions).

The lovely and brilliant Lisa Acosta works with me to keep submissions organized and moving through, so today she and I put our heads together and came up with:

31 submissions to send to readers. Unfortunately, we only had 23 reader slots open (we send them in batches so as not to overwhelm) so 23 got assigned and 8 got put back in the files to await the next round.

14 submissions were sent to other editors whose list is more appropriate for them.

6 submissions went to Lisa's PRIORITY reading.

4 went to my PRIORITY reading (to join the 18 that were already there).

13 submissions flagged for rejection.

What gets a submission to stand out and get assigned to PRIORITY reading? A variety of things, including:
• it's written by one of my existing authors
• it came back from one or two readers with strong positive recommendations
• it has an unusually strong title*, premise* or author platform
• the project is aging, we're on the fence, and a decision needs to be made
• the project is with me on exclusive
• the project was referred to me by another editor or by our publisher

The projects that go into any given week's editorial meeting may have been read and researched already, in which case they get prepped for the meeting by being entered into our Acquisitions database and having excerpts, synopses and market research ready for others to review before the meeting.

And now, the asterisk (*)--strong title, unusual premise--does this remind you of my FAVORITE thing to talk about--the HOOK!!! Yes, here it is again!

So, as you pitch/title your book, ask yourself:
• does this clearly communicate what it is? (I get a lot of titles that don't sound like romance fiction...)
• does it stand out from everything else that's out there?
• can Deb turn around and sell this in one or two sentences?

Finally, here's a refresher on what I'm looking for:
• Single title romance fiction (including single title series', trilogies, etc.) in all subgenres--paranormal, time travel, historical, romantic suspense, contemporary, erotic romance
• minimum 90,000 words
• a heroine the reader can relate to
• a hero she can fall in love with
• a world gets created
• a great "hook" that allows me to sell the book in one or two sentences

More details at

Reminder: we're in the entertainment business!

Ok, that's my rant for today! Bring on the questions (about anything and everything!). I love to hear from YOU!!!


  1. Good morning, Deb, and thanks for another peek into the editorial process. I for one am mostly in the dark about what happens behind the scenes, so this is always interesting and valuable information for me. And I am coming more and more to understand the value of the "hook."

  2. Hi Deb!
    I think distilling a story down to one or two sentences is the hardest thing for me. I mean, it took me 90,000 words to tell it, and you've only got twenty or so to sell it! Having said that, I'll admit that, as a reader, I'm just as bad as anyone else. When I read a blurb or a magazine article, if they lose me in the first paragraph, I'm GONE!!

  3. Hi Deb!

    Thanks for a look into your process. 50-55 books in Fall 2009 is AMAZING!


  4. Hi Deb~

    Thanks for letting us into your office so to speak. I've often wondered what you did there and how you go about making these decisions.

    How does one get to be a reader? Sheesh, I wish I had the time to read like I used to. I would have killed for that duty!

    Robin :)

  5. Hi Deb! I was wondering, does Sourcebooks consider anything under 90K words? And if not, why not? Mind you, I'm not asking a sarcastic "Why not?", I'm just wondering what's the reasoning behind a 90K word minimum.


  6. Thanks for the glimpse into your job, Deb. I'm glad to hear that editors, such as yourself, don't take rejections lightly. (Having recently received one from you myself. Ouch!)

    Your company has a great reputation among my fellow authors and I wish you much success.

  7. Hi Deb,

    How long is your usual turn around time for submissions? Is Source Books an independent company or an imprint of another company?

    Thanks so much for sharing your world with us!

    Tracy Darling

  8. Deb,
    Thanks so much for your detailed explanation of what goes on in your office -- it's really interesting, and I think, important for authors to know.
    What do you think of mixed genre romances -- I'm writing a Regency historical-paranormal and trying to figure how much world building I need to do.

  9. Deb, thanks for answering questions.

    When thinking of the hook, could you also think of it as the summary that goes on the back cover of a book or does a hook need to be even more succinct than what's on a back cover?

  10. Buon giorno Deb:
    I can relate on the loglines. A past agent made me practice them until I could do them in my sleep, lol. I moaned about it, but his persistence was a great help. Of course, it's still not my favorite thing to write.

    Do you take home manuscripts, or do you leave your work at the office?


  11. Thanks for the peek into your day and for answering questions.

    What romance subgenre are you most actively acquiring right now?

  12. Hello Deb,
    Sounds like a very full schedule. Is the editorial meeting mid week the same day/time every week, one would expect so... it would be challenging to prepare if the target moved every week.

    How does one become a reader? Not that I have time, but I was just curious.

    Thanks for the look-see, I understand why you're at your desk at 6pm (or later) many nights a week.


  13. Very interesting. I too am curious about the readers. Thanks for sharing, Deb!

  14. Thanks for the peek into your world, Deb. Hmm, this "reader" thing is interesting. How many readers do you have? Are they contract workers or consultants or are they permanent employees? Do they sorta, kinda know what it is you're looking for in a book? I just love your reprints of the Georgette Heyer books - must find Black Sheep!

  15. Thanks for sharing the process with us Deb. It is interesting to hear what goes on in the secret places of Sourcebooks, Inc.! :) I, for one, am so thankful that my novels captured your attention and made the cut. I am forever grateful!

  16. How true on the hook, Deb! And a great way to catch your eye too. And that's one thing we want to do.


  17. Hi Deb! Thanks for being here today, especially with that It's so interesting to hear about the editing side of things, though!

    Ugh, hooks...I'm so bad at saying anything in just a sentence or two!

  18. Thanks for sharing, Deb. This is fascinating to me. If I wasn't writing, I'd want to know how to be one of your readers.

  19. Hi Deb,

    Like everyone else has said, thanks for giving us a glimpse of your world. Or perhaps I should say your hectic, need to stop time, or have some added to each day, world.

    I’m also a little curious on the reader part. Or these people who work for Sourcebooks? We all know this is an extremely subjective business and of course readers taste can be vast. With that in mind are you ever concerned a reader might not like the genre or the one they’ve been given and a great book could be missed?

  20. Deb, hi, and thank you so much for taking the time out to explain A Day in the Life of an Editor. I'm curious if there is one type of book that comes across your desk where you groan and say, oh, no, not another.... Thanks for being here!

  21. Hi Robin:
    The qualifications I'm looking for in a reader is someone who loves the romance category and has been reading it for a while (several years at least). My readers include booksellers, writers, students and avid consumers of romance fiction. The job pays in free books (not money, unfortunately), but I always need more readers, so if anyone is interested, or knows anyone who might be interested, please let me know!

  22. Hi Danielle: yes, and what's mine is yours!

  23. Hi Cheryl:
    You're not alone! Many excellent writers have trouble with hooks and with synopses. That is why I never evaluate a project solely on the pitch, the title or the synopsis, but always look at the book itself too. Sometimes I can see the hook just by virtue of coming at the project with a fresh set of eyes.

    BTW, in case anyone is wondering (and someone mentioned this to me today)--I ALWAYS evaluate every project that comes to me. My readers help me organize and prioritize, and their reports help me identify strengths and weaknesses, but every single submission gets my full attention before it is responded to.

  24. Hi Carla:
    Great question! I will consider a submission if it's 80,000 words or above, but below that word count, I have found from experience that the material is usually not sufficiently developed to be a single title romance.

    I have noticed that as long as I say 90,000 words is my minimum, I get submissions of 80K or more about 90% of the time. When I was saying my minimum was 80,000 words, about 1/3 of the submissions were 65-70,000 words. When a submission is that short, I will still look at the pitch and the synopsis, and on RARE occasions will read the submission and ask the author for further development, but for the most part, if a submission does not meet my basic criteria, I bounce it back without a read.

    Authors sometimes ask me, will you read it and if you like it I'll develop it more? Unfortunately, I won't agree to do that. If an author wants to develop it to single title length and re-submit, then I'm happy to take a look.

  25. Hi Diane:
    I always want people to know that when I reject something, it is in no way intended as a personal rejection, nor do I ever want to be discouraging. There is a subjective part of being an editor, and in addition, I'm not acquiring book by book, but am acquiring an entire list, and thinking about the composition of the list overall. Just because a project doesn't fit my list, doesn't mean it won't fit another editor's list. I'm always happy to find out that a book I rejected was bought somewhere else! I want to see everyone succeed!

  26. Hi Tracy:
    Sourcebooks is the largest woman-owned independent trade publishing house in the country. We're 20 years old, and publish about 300 new fiction and non-fiction titles every year.

    My turnaround time is 21 days to acknowledge receipt of an electronic submission, and 12-16 weeks to let you know whether we'll pursue publishing or not.

    That said, I do go through periods of backlog when I don't meet those turnaround times, to my chagrin.

    If you have something that's been with me a long time, please let me know and I'll prioritize it.

  27. Hi Merry:
    I love a good Regency paranormal! You have to build both worlds thoroughly to make that work. The internal logic has to hold both for the period, and for the paranormal element.

  28. Deb,

    Great to see you online! Here's a quick quesiton. Out of the 50-55 you publish, what is the break down in terms of genre (i.e. romance, fiction, non-fiction, trade, etc.)?

  29. Hi Walt:
    Great question! The hook has to be really short. 2 sentences maximum--even shorter is better. Thinking about it as the back cover copy is a great way to get at it.

  30. Hi Jannine:
    I take things home! Never enough time to read at the office!

  31. Hi Anonymous!
    I'm acquiring all subgenres equally aggressively.

    Hardest to find are contemporary and romantic suspense, and historical in time periods other than Regency.

  32. Hi Lesa! To become a reader, someone just has to email or call me and we'll discuss the requirements and see if it's a good fit.

    Yes, we have our editorial meeting once a week, same day and time, unless it has to change due to the publisher or editorial director's schedule.

  33. Hi Carol:
    Readers are "volunteers." It's an unpaid position, but we reward with free books. At any given time I have 3-5 readers and am always looking for more. Depending on how much time they have, we tailor how much we send them.

  34. Hi Carol, sorry, didn't answer the rest of your question. Readers are well versed in the category, and they understand what we're looking for. They do a brief report and often we have a short discussion. Then submissions are prioritized for my reading.

  35. Deb, an awesome, informative post. Wow, the busy life of an editor. How do you do it? It was interesting to read what attracts you most to submissions, as well as some of the turnoffs. I'll engrave those in my mind for when I submit to you. :)

    And TG, you don't totally go on the synopsis. lol

  36. Hi Vicki:
    Yes, I absolutely want to make sure that we never miss a great book, so the reader's report includes discussion points and then I read behind them. I should also mention that I sometimes have readers reading after me--if I like something and want a second opinion, or if I'm not sure about a project, I'll often send it for one or two reads.

  37. Hi Donnell:
    Actually, I'd say the majority of the books I don't pursue are ones that are "another [fill in the blank]." The most common thing missing is the "hook"--that element that makes the book stand out.

  38. Hi Scott:
    4/5 are romance fiction, the other 1/5 are historical or women's fiction.

  39. Hi Anne-Marie:
    I have the kind of job that's a lifestyle! I've always loved to read, so this is a dream job. And I get to work with the smartest, most imaginative people (that's all of YOU!).

  40. Hi Deb,

    I really liked getting a window on your day. Great post. Thanks.

  41. Hi Deb,
    Thanks for posting about a day in the life of an editor. It's amazing as an author, I see one side of the spectrum. It's nice to see another perspective and know that my "baby" is in good hands. Have a great night.

  42. Hi Deb,
    Wow! Talk about a 24 hour a day job. I really love the post and how you come to picking and choosing "The Books".

    I would most certainly be willing to chat with you about being a reader. I have read a few of the gals books already and I'm sure Danielle can give you the reviews I've written. Would love to hear what you think.

  43. Good view into your world, Deb. Do you get a lot of women's fiction proposals?

    Great questions from the commenting folks, you, too, Donnell, Linda, Edie, Carla, and Scott.

  44. Deb,

    I so appreciate your down to earth discussions of your process. The passion you have for your work, the genre and your authors is refreshing!

  45. Thanks for so generously taking time out of your crazy schedule to share this inside look.

    Nancy Naigle
    Drewryville, VA
    Love stories from the crossroad of small town and suspense.

  46. Great information, Deb. As always you bring such insight into the process of submitting, reviewing, and publishing books.

  47. Thanks for the interesting post on a day in the life of an editor. I always knew it would be busy. Really, it's as bad as an author's. Smile.


  48. Sorry to have missed out, Deb, but I was writing! (you know, that thing you're paying me for! LOL)

  49. Hi Terra:

    Thank you! I'd love to talk to you--email me at and we'll set up a time.

  50. Hi Mary, I do get a lot of women's fiction submissions and what I'm looking for in that area is projects that have a really unusual premise.

  51. I was out of town, so am very late reading this post, but had to say that I found it very educational. Thanks, Deb.