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Deb Werksman, Sourcebooks Acquiring Editor, Takes Your Questions

We're pleased to welcome our lovely editor, Deb Werksman, back for another spin on the blog. She'd be delighted to field questions about the kinds of books she's buying, but please, no pitching stories. And now, here's Deb!

Dear Authors:

For today's blog, I thought I'd talk a little about book publishing. Then, I'll reiterate what I'm looking for in terms of acquisitions (so you can skip ahead to that part if you wish!), touch on the subject of pitching your book, and then I can't wait to hear your questions.

Did you know that:
*romance fiction is the best selling category in the bookstores, 26.4% of all books sold in 2006?
*trade book publishing grew 5.5% overall in 2007?
*in 2007 there were over 400,000 (count 'em!) books published?
*one of the biggest chain book retailers announced it's reducing inventory this year by 25%?
*the vast majority of books published will sell 1000 or fewer copies?
*all books are currently sold on a returnable basis?
*the publisher pays "co-op" money for placement on tables and endcaps in the stores, or face out on shelf?

What does this mean for you?
*you're in the right category! Fiction and romance fiction are both growing.
*you must position your book with a great "hook"!
*you must be a tireless promoter

What does this mean for Sourcebooks?
*it's tougher than ever to sell your book "in" (to the buyer) and to sell it "through" (to the reader)--so saleability is an absolutely essential part of our acquisitions strategy--that's why sometimes I say in a rejection letter "I don't know how to sell this"

*the package is really, really, really important! It is NOT necessary for the cover to be literal--it has to communicate the subgenre and differentiate the book, and it has to make the reader want to pick it up! It's great if the hair color/eye color/build of the characters is correct, but beyond that, the cover has to be designed with the marketplace in mind--NOT with the content of the book in mind

*we're going to do everything we can to get you opportunities to promote your book, and we're relying on you to take advantage of all those opportunities and to create other opportunities

Finally, a subjective thought--we're in the entertainment industry! So write your books with that in mind--your reader is looking for an experience!

And now, what you all REALLY want to know! What are we looking for?

Single title romance fiction (single title series and trilogies, too) in ALL subgenres--paranormal, historical, contemporary, romantic suspense, erotic romance AND innovative women's fiction (show me something NEW!)

85-110,000 actual words, please!

Criteria for romance fiction are:
1) a heroine the reader can relate to
2) a hero the reader can fall in love with
3) a world is created
4) I can differentiate it in 2 sentences (ok, maybe 3!)

I prefer electronic submissions, as attachments in Word (.doc) files--synopsis and full manuscript are fastest.

I went into this in more depth last time on this blog, so check out my earlier blog, and also more detailed guidelines are on our website:

I'll be at RWA nationals in SF in July/August so if you want to pitch your book to me or meet me in person, contact RWA and slot yourself in! (not necessary if you're already a Sourcebooks author)

So, let me tell you something about pitches:

1) be bright, be brief, and be gone
2) let me know IMMEDIATELY what the subgenre is
3) pitch the "hook" first, then go from there
4) feel free to ask me questions when you're done pitching
5) you may be nervous and that's ok--I'll be able to hear what I'm listening for even if you're nervous!

Ok, what else do you want to know?


  1. Great info, Deb! Thanks for being here today.

  2. I love how specific you are! great detail. Thank you.

    How long are you taking to respond to email queries at the moment?

    How long is a reasonable time for a person to wait before following up on that query?

  3. Awesome blog, Deb. I second Chris's comments. For a writer, the details are highly important. You'll be getting a query from me soon.

  4. Deb, you covered everything. Very succinct. Thanks for the info.

  5. Hi, Deb, I'm popping over again from Romance Bandits to say welcome back.

    Thanks for sharing so much great information about the industry. It's hard to find a editor who's so forthright about what he/she wants and can condense it into bullet-able points.

    One of the things that's intrigued me about Sourcebooks is how supportive they are toward their authors.

    Could you elaborate on your comment "You must position your book with a great hook"?

  6. Hi Deb, thanks for sharing!
    I'm wondering about the women's fiction. Are you interested in Southern Women's Fiction ... and is "voice" enough to differentiate you as a new writer in that genre??

  7. Great post, Deb!

    And true on those who come in nervous. They just need to learn to breathe and relax.


  8. Thanx a bunch for joining us today, Deb!

    Are there certain things an author should do in terms of promotion? Any big DON'Ts?

    Looking forward to seeing you in San Francisco,

  9. Thanks for all of the information, Deb. My historical time period is a trilogy set the 1849-1853 gold rush era. Is this a period popular right now.

  10. Great list of industry facts, both heartening and hair-pulling crazy-making. *smile*

    Thanks for dropping by for a chat!


  11. Hi Deb!

    Great info, very detailed which is a dream for authors.

    Just wanted to say hi since you answered most of my questions in your initial post and the remaining one I had someone else already asked. :)

  12. Hi Chris:
    I'm queuing everything up, and I've finally caught up on being able to confirm receipt of email submissions within 21 days. So it should be within 21 days that you hear back on a query. However, you could just go ahead and send the synopsis and full ms with the query, so if I want to read more, I have it and it doesn't have to go back in the queue.
    I would follow up on a query after 22 days and on a synopsis/ms submission after 5 months.

  13. Hi Jo:
    Yes, the "hook" is really important and it's a question I get a lot. The hook is a very short (2-3 sentences) statement that differentiates your book from everything else out there. I love Robin Kaye's hook for her GH winning debut, Romeo, Romeo, which we're publishing this fall: "Every woman wants a man who's as good in the kitchen as he is in the bedroom!"
    It tells you:
    1) the book is funny
    2) the hero is nurturing
    3) it's not something you see a lot of
    Think of it this way--your editor has to send a salesperson, who may or may not have read the book, to see a buyer, who is looking for a reason to say "no." What can that salesperson say in 10-30 seconds that's going to get the buyer to say "ok, we'll take X thousands"?

  14. Hi nlnaigle: Thanks for asking about women's fiction. I haven't got as clearly defined criteria for the women's fic as I have for the romance fic, and what I'm really looking for is what's going to replace Jane Austen sequels on my list when that market slows down. When I say "innovative" women's fiction, I mean that it's something unusual and has a great hook. I'd be interested in taking a look at your Southern women's fiction, and it certainly can't hurt to have a great voice! But what's the hook?

  15. Hi Cindy:
    In terms of promoting, here's the "don't" list:
    *Don't contact a bookstore buyer directly unless you have a pre-existing relationship
    *Don't go into a bookstore and ask for your book and not tell them you're the author
    *Don't respond to ANY negative reviews, blogs or comments, unless there is a question to answer (another way to say this is: don't answer anything that isn't a question)
    *Don't ever do anything to alienate a reader, bookseller, buyer, media contact or anyone in your publishing house--you MUST be a team player at all times

  16. Hi Marlene, I'd love to check out your trilogy. I haven't seen a lot in that time period lately.

  17. Hi Deb,

    Great post! This is the information those of us who are diligently perusing this career need. I love the honest facts.

    It’s also great to have a little insight to the client/editor relationships and what makes them work so well.

    I’m in the process of sending my manuscript to you from your request at the Dallas RWA conference. I know, it’s been a while, but it wasn’t complete when you asked me to pitch.

    This brings me to my question. If someone pitches something in which you know it’s not complete and you ask to see it once completed, would you want them to put requested in the email or does that make any difference as far as it being read and timing?

  18. Great answer on the "hook," Deb. I think sometimes we authors get caught up in the "trees" of our books and have a hard time paring it down to one "forest" LOL.


    On a followup note, is there anything specific that your line would NOT like to see, or you're sick to death of seeing LOL, or that's too "out there," maybe?

    Thanks to all your Casa writers for being smart enough to invite you to blog with them. Lots of very timely and pertinent info.

  19. Just stopping by to say hi! Thanks for the great information!

  20. Hi Deb,

    Speaking of the upcoming RWA conference in San Francisco, how would you prefer writers to approach you? (That is if they don't have an editor appointment scheduled). Some editors are okay with writers approaching them with a short pitch, other editors prefer this not to happen or for the pitch to only occur if the editor invites it after some other conversation, etc.

    Do you have any conference Do and Don'ts Tips you'd like to share?

  21. Hi Deb!

    Another Romance Bandit swinging over to say hello! It's great to see you again.

    Thank you as always for your succinct comments on do's and don'ts and the industry as well. It's so helpful!!

    I'm looking forward to "hearing" your answer to Jo's question about what you're sick to death of, or what you think is saturated in the market. :>


  22. Hi Deb,

    Thanks for posting such great info.
    My question is are you looking for paranormal that is lighter in tone or are you more interested in dark and sexy?

  23. Hi Deb from another Romance Bandit!

    Excellent post - it's so refreshing to receive specific, actionable advice and information!

    We've heard a lot about how straight contemporaries are a hard sell - what is your view on this?

    And what is your view about sports heroes (like hockey hunks *grin*)?

  24. Hi Vicky:
    If something isn't ready until some time after the pitch, just remind me that we met whenever you send the material. I'm acquiring all the time. It doesn't matter if you indicate "Requested" or not--everything gets duly considered.

  25. Hi Jo: There isn't anything I would say absolutely not to send me, but I would be cautious about plot devices that don't really happen much in real life. I've seen an awful lot of kidnapped or murdered sisters/parents. Also, if you're writing romantic suspense and your hero/heroine is in an agency (FBI, CIA) then you need to give the reader a real sense of what it's like to have that kind of job. This is missing in most of what I see.
    Finally, I don't know how to sell inter-racial or multi-cultural romance right now.

  26. Hi Cindy:
    I want to hear pitches. If you can't get an official appointment with me, please send me and email and I'll try to see you at another time slot. If you see me in the elevator or ladies room, please pitch your book to me. I'm there to meet authors and hear about their books. Don't be shy!
    In terms of Do's and Don'ts for the conference:
    *Do hone your pitch so you can give it in 10-30 seconds. Subgenre & word count, followed by hook, please. You'll be so glad that you're prepared. You'll get hundreds of opportunities to practice and fine tune your pitch--if you go in ready, this will be incredibly valuable.
    *Don't worry about being nervous when you meet with editors and agents. It's natural. Take a deep breath and then pitch. Remember, you're interviewing us too.
    *Do come to the Spotlight on Sourcebooks on Saturday 11-noon so I can meet you!

  27. Hi Lis:
    I'm happy to look at a light paranormal. Bring it on!

  28. hi, Deb!
    Just wondered what your feelings are regarding e-book authors. Some publishers still do not consider them as "published".
    Excellent blog. I like the way you've clarified your criteria.

  29. Hi Anna:
    Straight contemporaries may be tough to "hook" and that subgenre is in its down cycle, but I believe that there are always readers for every subgenre. It just gets harder to launch into a subgenre when it's down cycling. "Hook" is going to be even more essential.
    Regarding sports heroes, that in and of itself isn't going to work as the hook, but I'm very excited about Marie Force's Line of Scrimmage which we're publishing this Fall. Her hero is a pro football star quarterback, but he's very real and human as a character. Here's the hook: "Star quarterback Ryan Sanderson is at the top of his game, but his career has cost him his marriage. He's finally figured out what's important in life, and now he'll do anything to win back his soon-to-be ex-wife. But her new fiance will do anything to stop him."

  30. Just had to stop in. I love all the covers for the Casablanca authors' books! And how generous, Deb, to offer to hear a pitch in the ladies room! Maybe that old 'slipping the manuscript under the stall' will come back in vogue? :-)

  31. Hi Jeanne:
    If you're published in e-book and you've sold well, that can be a plus. I'm going to have to evaluate on a case-by-case basis. It depends who the e-book publisher is, whether you're self-published, etc.

  32. Thanks, Deb.
    Would publishers like Ellora's Cave, Loose Id and Liquid Silver Books be among those you'd consider respected e-publishers?
    BTW, this is really an excellent way to get up-to-date information. Very much appreciated!

  33. Hi Jeanne:
    Those publishers you named are likely to want to do your print edition themselves. And if they don't, they might not consider sales to be high enough, so that's going to be a problem for us. I prefer self-published with some clear success. But if in doubt, try me...

  34. Taking a chance on shooting myself in the foot here- lol.

    Your current instructions require a digital word count of 85,000 words.

    I have a 90,000 formulaic word count manuscript. Adding some additional depth to portions of the story to increase the word count to an 85,000 digital count wouldn't be difficult - but it strikes me as an enormous waste of time if you don't care for either my voice and/or the premise of the book.

    Would it be too bold of me to send this to you under the condition of: if you like the premise and my voice I'd be glad to revise to meet your standards, or would this be a good time to go hide under a rock? Lol.

  35. Thanks, Deb, for your answers. I'm glad you're not ant-sports heroes and I hear you on the hook and the picth. Hope to catch up with you in SF.

  36. Deb,

    Thanks for the reply re: conference do's and don'ts!


  37. Wow, Deb! This is great information and it's so cool of you to share it with us. Thanks for coming!


  38. Deb,
    Just wanted to pop in and say hi. Wise words as usual! Can't wait to see you in San Fran. Name your poison at the bar and it's yours!

  39. Hi Chris:
    Regarding word count, I just want to be clear that I'm looking for single title length and quality, and that usually needs 85-110,000 words.
    My preference is that you adhere to our guidelines and expand your book before sending it to me, but if:
    1) you truly in your heart of hearts believe it meets all my criteria
    2) you know exactly how to expand it to the word count I need
    then go ahead and send it to me. I'll consider it a partial. In your cover letter, remind me we met here on the blog, and outline clearly how you plan to expand it.
    I'd always rather err on the side of seeing the work.

  40. Thanks, Deb. I'm glad you mentioned the Sourcebooks Spotlight. That's a great op to get a feeling for what the house is like, as well as meeting folks.

  41. Hi Deb - thanks for your time and expertise. I currently have a ST in your pile and it includes a FBI-type male character. I was interested in your recommendation (regarding law enforcement types) to 'give the reader a real sense of what its like to have that kind of job'.

    I've had editor feedback to ensure that 'it doesn't become all about their jobs' (the heroine has a really interesting job, too, and its closely linked to the plot) and so I guess you're talking about showing the impact of that particular calling on him, his choices etc, rather than necessarily recreating detailed, world-building type aspects of a law-enforcement type?

    Can you clarify?

    Thank you!

  42. Hi Deb, thanks for the great info and tips!

    My question is with regards to heat levels. Do you see the industry moving toward the hotter end of the scale these days or are there still places for sweeter stories?

    Looking forward to Anaheim!

  43. Hi Deb,

    I've recently finished the first single title in my historical romance trilogy. It's a duck out of water story (think Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice meets Shawshank Redemption) that takes place in British Regency period but is mostly set in an Australian penal colony. In pitching would you recommend I focus first on the Regency element as it's currently more popular and "known" or the Australian element as it sets the manuscript apart?

    Looking forward to RWA12, and thanks for taking questions. I was so happy when I saw this link of Grace Burrowes Facebook wall today!


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