With a publishing industry that is ever in flux, it can be hard for an aspiring author to figure out what information is relevant and what she needs to do to be successful. Recognizing this, literary agent Andrea Hurst and writer/blogger Cherise Hensley present a series of weekly interviews with publishing industry specialists. The AUTHORNOMICS Series features literary agents, editors, authors, marketing experts and more talking about their opinions on the publishing industry, writing, and what a writer needs to know.
AUTHORNOMICS Interview with Allison Lyons
Allison Lyons began her career at Harlequin as an editorial assistant on the Silhouette Intimate Moments line. Now, after more than 16 years, she’s found a home at Harlequin Intrigue as an Editor. Since romantic suspense is so popular, you can be sure that her desk is never empty. And although she works with so many prolific writers, she still gets excited at the prospect of finding new authors. Her focus tends to be on romantic suspense submissions, but she’s open to hearing about projects that would fit any of Harlequin’s various lines, both print and digital.
How did you first get into the publishing business? What attracted you to Harlequin, in particular?
Believe it or not, I answered an ad in the New York Times. Very old-fashioned, considering the fact that everything’s done online these days. But then, it was 16 years ago… The job asked for an Editorial Assistant and I definitely knew the name Harlequin. How could I not apply to a job with such a reputable publisher?
What kind of background or skills should a person have if he or she is looking at editing as a career-choice?
First I’d say the person needs to be an avid reader. Anyone who plans to get into the publishing business, especially on the editorial side, needs to have a true love of books and the written word. Also, a strong knowledge about what makes a good story, as well as a close eye to detail, particularly good grammar and spelling skills.
As an editor for Harlequin Intrigue, what does your average day look like?
Busy! Of course, each day is different but, typically, the first thing I do (after getting a much needed cup of coffee!) is check my email. I first try to address the simple things before moving on to the harder, more complex questions/concerns. After that, I’ll work on either reading or editing, depending on which assignment is the most pressing. Throughout the day, I’ll often meet with my boss to discuss scheduling of books in the Intrigue line and catch her up on what projects I’m working on. If I don’t have any meetings, I can get back to reading/editing. I’ll brainstorm with authors on the phone, draw up new contracts, talk to other editors about the exciting projects they’re working on, etc. And, when there’s time, look through unsolicited projects to find the next great book. Of course, there are more cups of coffee involved as well!
Harlequin is different from many publishers in that it has specialized series that carry shorter books, such as Harlequin Intrigue, Harlequin Presents, or Harlequin Romance. How are the stories that are chosen for your series different from other Harlequin imprints?
Harlequin Intrigue books are 55-60,000 word romantic suspense stories. The romance and the suspense run parallel, with a little more focus on the mystery side of things. However, there must be a fully fleshed out and satisfying romance. Bedroom details aren’t necessary, but the tension and connection between the hero and heroine has to be palpable and believable. These two are generally running for their lives so their attraction is immediate and intense and there isn’t a lot of time to “date.” They know pretty quickly if they want to be together…even if they won’t admit it to each other. Or to themselves.
When looking for new submissions for your Harlequin series, do you look for certain storylines or archetypes that work better in these series?
While it’s true that certain “hooks,” as we call them, work best in Harlequin Intrigue (protector heroes, Western settings, secret babies, law enforcement heroes, etc.), we’re always looking for compelling stories that are well told. A strong connection between the main characters is crucial, as is the hero’s ability to keep the heroine safe in the most dangerous of situations. The focus needs to remain on them and their dire circumstances, so we look for a strong attraction and how it plays out. And, of course, the good guys should always win.
Many bestselling romance authors have started their careers at Harlequin writing novels for your series. What kinds of submissions do you usually keep an eye out for? How can someone make his or her submission really stand out from the crowd?
My first bit of advice, always, is to read the books. I can’t tell you how many submissions I’ve gotten in which a writer thinks her book would make the “perfect” Harlequin Intrigue and it’s just way off base. It’s clear she didn’t do her homework. I always tell prospective writers to start with a bang—literally. Kick things off right in the middle of the action and you’ll hook an editor immediately. It’s a lot harder for us to put aside a story in which people’s lives are already in danger. We’re immediately invested, we care, we need to know what happens and if they’ll survive. Definitely pay attention to what sells in each line and try and use some of those hooks when you’re first submitting. Again, it shows you’ve done your homework. It’s also helpful to reference some of the books you’ve loved in your cover letter. It helps us make a connection with you and shows us you enjoy reading what we publish before we’ve even gotten to page one. Also try and find out what the different editors are looking for. Editors on the same line have different things that appeal to them. One might like reunion romances while another might like one night stands. Of course, that requires asking around or paying attention to which editor is working on which books (you can learn a lot from the dedication page!), but it’s worth it.
What are some common submission mistakes you see authors make?
It’s obvious when a writer doesn’t know the needs of the line. If you’re submitting a sci-fi story to Love Inspired, we know from the query letter that you have no idea what that line is all about. Also, please proofread your work! It’s very jarring to read a submission that’s riddled with spelling and grammatical errors. And one of my biggest personal pet peeves: when you spell my name wrong. Please don’t do that. To any of us.
Why should potential authors put Harlequin Intrigue on their wish lists?
Because we publish great books by wonderful writers! Each story is a fully contained mystery and romance, edited by people who love what they do. We’re always looking for new writers!
What makes traditional publishing stand out in comparison to the growing self-publishing industry? While I get the appeal of self-publishing, I’ve heard it said so many times how much the authors appreciate having a trained editor reading their work. Their relationship with their editors has lasted longer than some marriages! We’ve been there for the birth of children and grandchildren, have cheered them on when times are good, but also consoled them when times are bad. In the end, we’re able to provide a much needed skill that’s necessary if you want to have a true, dedicated readership. Unless you’re a very savvy businesswoman, with unlimited resources at the ready (marketing/PR/art), you’re going to need help putting out the best possible product.
You have proclaimed that you’re a “fan of serial killers”. What do you think makes them such a compelling topic for writing? I sound a bit diabolical, don’t I? I’m actually a really nice person with an affinity for the ultimate bad boy, I guess. They’re such a complicated and exclusive group that it’s hard not to want to understand what’s going on in those twisted minds.
What was the last book you read that you simply couldn’t put down? There are too many I’ve worked on here so, instead, I’ll say Stephen King’s Doctor Sleep. That man knows how to tell a story—and creep me out!
Do you have any upcoming projects we can look out for? Always! I’m working on miniseries from numerous authors: Delores Fossen, Carol Ericson, Paula Graves…to name a few. I’m also about to see the publication of my New York Times bestselling author Linda Goodnight’s first HQN, THE MEMORY HOUSE (April 2015).
Thank you for interviewing with us, Allison!
Andrea Hurst has over 25 years experience as a published author, developmental editor for publishers, and skilled literary agent. She works with both major and regional publishing houses, and her client list includes emerging new voices and New York Times best-selling authors. Andrea represents high profile Adult Nonfiction and well crafted fiction. Her clients and their books have appeared on the Oprah Show, Ellen DeGeneres Show, Good Morning America, National Geographic network and in the New York Times.
Cherise Hensley is currently pursuing her M.A. in English at the University of Idaho. She graduated from Whitworth University with a B.A. in English and marketing and also has a copy editing certification from UC San Diego. She has interned with Andrea Hurst Literary Management as well as the Rock & Sling literary journal and has been involved in the production of other print media such as newspapers, magazines, and yearbooks. Cherise is an editor and a writer, and loves discovering new books to distract her from everyday life.