Thursday, February 7, 2013

Q&A with Harlequin Editor Shana Smith

Today I'm thrilled to welcome Shana Smith to the hot seat. Shana started at Harlequin five years ago as the Editorial Assistant for Romantic Suspense and Desire. In October 2012, she became Associate Editor for Love Inspired, where she's now focused on acquiring Christian romance for all three Love Inspired lines.

On a personal note, Shana edited my debut novel and was my introduction to the publishing industry. She's a fabulously talented editor and a pleasure to work with.

Welcome to the Hot Seat, Shana! We're so pleased you could join us. It's not every day we get to interview an editor, so let's get right down to business!

Thanks for having me!

Your job is reading, acquiring, and editing romance novels. In other words, it's pretty awesome. But I have to ask anyway: what made you decide to be an editor, and what do you love most about your job?

I’ve always loved reading (I was that girl in school with the book hidden under my desk during class), and at one point I thought I’d like to be an author myself.  But my mom steered me towards a journalism major in college, and while I liked the writing part, I learned I really didn’t like interviewing people.  So I decided I would try to get a job in book publishing, which combined my loves of reading, writing and editing.

The things I love most about my job are discovering new authors and building relationships with the authors I work with.  Aside from the professional aspects of the editor/author relationship, I love that I can talk to authors via social media about things like their family’s new pet bunny, my fake relationship with my Starbucks barista or The Muppets.  I also especially love that no two days at work are ever the same, so this job never gets boring.  J

When you're looking for new writers, what grabs your attention and what can a new writer do to set herself apart from the slush?

A unique premise, a strong voice and demonstration of a clear understanding of the line will help a new writer stand out to me.  Something I tend to gravitate towards in author voice is a bit of humor, so if an author can make me laugh, I’m usually hooked.  The best thing an author can do is to research both the line and editor she’s targeting.  Harlequin lists the writing guidelines for every line on the website, so if you’re unsure where your manuscript might fit, check them out.  Also, reading books from the line you’re targeting is the absolute best way to get a feel for the series.  I’ll get to the part about researching the editor below. J

Not to be creepy, but I know from following you on Twitter that you love weather disaster plots. Do you also have favorite tropes? Or how about favorite hero or heroine types? Answer carefully, because you may be inundated…

I do love weather disaster plots.  I’m a huge fan of storms, snowstorms in particular, and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve reread The Baby-Sitters Club Super Special #7, Snowbound.  There’s something so fun in the adventure of being stranded somewhere by snow.  Thank you, Ann M. Martin, for feeding this fantasy of mine. J 

As for other favorites, I do enjoy a good amnesia story (the first book I acquired from a brand-new author was a really great amnesia story with a twist—What Lies Beneath by Andrea Laurence), secret babies (and I promise these are possible to write for any of our series lines—you may just have to get creative), reunion romances, “back from the dead” stories (not zombies, but situations where a character was thought to be dead and turns out to be alive), hero as protector or hero and heroine on the run in a suspense story.  I love a really fun, danger- and adventure-filled suspense!

How about peeves? Are there things you see in manuscripts that you'd be happy if you never saw again?

I see a lot of submissions where the writer focuses solely on the heroine and never or rarely goes into the hero’s point of view.  It’s crucial, at least in our series lines, to provide both characters’ POVs.  Readers want to know what your hero is thinking and get some insight into why he acts the way he does.  I also could do without villains whose actions don’t match their ultimate goal (e.g. leaving a threatening note for the heroine when what he really wants is for her to be dead—he should shoot at her!) and heroines who are either overly weak or overly angry, especially towards the hero for no reason.  Remember, your hero is supposed to fall in love with this woman.  Make sure she has qualities he would be attracted to.

Can you tell us more about the Love Inspired franchise? What are the editors looking for right now? Are there particular authors you would recommend reading to get a better understanding of the lines?

The Love Inspired franchise is Harlequin’s wholesome Christian romance imprint.  Love Inspired is the contemporary romance series, Love Inspired Suspense is the romantic suspense series, and Love Inspired Historical is our historical romance series.  The books are clean—no bad language, graphic violence or pre-marital sex in the course of the story.  The relationships should emphasize emotional intimacy rather than sexual desire.  Some authors to check out: LI: Linda Goodnight, Brenda Minton, Kathryn Springer, LIS: Shirlee McCoy, Valerie Hansen, Lynette Eason, LIH: Linda Ford, Winnie Griggs, Renee Ryan

While we’re especially interested in Love Inspired Suspense submissions right now, we are acquiring for all three lines.  And we have a new opportunity in a recently announced pitch session called Happily Editor After.

What can you tell us about Happily Editor After, and how can an aspiring writer take advantage of this opportunity?

Happily Editor After is the chance for authors to make a match with an editor who will be most interested in her manuscript.  We like to think of it as online dating…for your manuscript.  Fellow Love Inspired editors Emily Rodmell, Elizabeth Mazer and I have written our “dating” bios with information on what each of us specifically would be interested in reading.  For example, you already mentioned that it’s well known I enjoy stories with weather disasters, so an author might want to pitch her blizzard story to me.  Whereas Emily might be the best choice for a story set at a zoo and Elizabeth may be the editor for you if you’ve written a Regency romance with strong sister relationships.  Details, guidelines, our full bios and instructions on how to sign up are all available here.  Spots have been filling up quickly, but even if you miss the opportunity this time around, you don’t have to wait for another pitch session to send us your story.  We’re always accepting submissions, and now that you know exactly what three Love Inspired editors are looking for, you’ll know who to query with your great idea.  Knowing exactly what an editor likes and is looking for is sometimes half the battle, and when you and your manuscript can provide that—a perfect match!

Thanks so much, Shana!


  1. Fab Interview, Shana! Thanks so much for sharing with us. :0)

  2. Wow, great info! Thanks so much for sharing with us today!

  3. Thanks again for being here, Shana! It's always invaluable to get an editor's perspective.

  4. "I see a lot of submissions where the writer focuses solely on the heroine and never or rarely goes into the hero’s point of view." That would be me. *headdesk*

    The good news is--you were very nice about asking me to consider revising with this in mind. It was my first R&R and I learned a lot. :) Thanks for the informative post Shana!

  5. I can still remember the thrill I got from reading "Snowbound" as a girl - thanks for the fond memory! Now I might have to call my mom and see if she still has my copy :-) Thanks so much for stopping by, Shana!

  6. What an excellent and super fun interview. I appreciate the tips. Thank you!

  7. Some really interesting information.

  8. Okay folks, Shana is having some problems commenting, so I'm posting her comments for her.

    From Shana:

    Thanks for having me here today, Natalie! I'm excited to share this information about the Happily Editor After pitch as well as just general information about submitting. I'm happy to answer questions about any of it, so ask away!

    Kat is a perfect example for writers trying to get published. She took my feedback on her manuscript and applied it to her other manuscripts, kept writing and taking advantage of opportunities to submit and won Harlequin's So You Think You Can Write in 2011. Now she's working with Desire's Senior Editor, Stacy Boyd, has her debut out this month with a second title out next month and more contracted books in the works. Just because someone may not get it quite right the first time doesn't mean she should stop trying. If you get feedback and suggestions from an editor, use them and keep trying. Editors are very busy, so if one takes the time to give you personal and specific notes, use them and do whatever that editor asked you to, whether it's to resubmit that revised manuscript to her or send her something else.

    Olivia--my copy of Snowbound is sitting on the bookshelf in my apartment right next to Super Specials 1 and 4, Baby-sitters on Board and Baby-sitters' Island Adventure. :) Taking a cruise and getting stranded on an island are also fun adventures to read about. :)

    I hope anyone reading this who is still trying to get published checks out the Happily Editor After event. There are still spots available for the pitch, so go sign up!

  9. Thanks so much for stopping by, Shana! Lots of great information, thanks for sharing.

  10. Hi, Shana! It's so great to have you here. I too share a love of weather related stories. There's something about the weather being a force of its own, totally out of the control of humans and with an unpredictability factor that makes it exciting. In fact, my second release for Harlequin Romance out Oct 2013 is a snowbound story. :-)

  11. Huge thanks for coming to visit us today, Shana. Our first editor guest! Very exciting! :-)

  12. Thanks so much, Shana and Natalie. :)
    I really enjoyed this post. Lots of information and a great opportunity.

  13. Wow this interview is brilliant and just what I needed to read right now.
    Shana asked me to send in a partial after seeing my first chapter in the Love Inspired Suspense fast track at the end of 2012 and since then I have been reworking it more and more trying to get it right from the feedback she provided. I think I'm going round in circles a bit with it to the point where I've spent a lot of time wondering if it's any good at all. Seeing the things that Shana says she likes and noticing that my story hits on a few of them has given me the kick in the behind I needed to think that maybe all hope is not lost. Maybe I can do this if I get rid of all my doubt crows. So thanks again for this, I've given myself a firm talking to and I'm going to get the partial to Shana as quickly as I can so I don't miss out on a fabulous opportunity.

  14. Here are some more comments from Shana:

    Thanks again for having me today, and I'm so happy you've all found this helpful. Be sure to tell your friends and spread the news about the Happily Editor After pitch session. Jennifer, it's too bad your snowbound book isn't out right now--it sounds like we may all be living that this weekend in the Northeast. They've just issued a blizzard warning for New York City, which of course has me all excited. :)

    Louise, I remember your LIS submission--the one set at the circus! I thought that was such a unique setting and loved your idea, so keep at it. Take a step back if you need to and then look at it again with fresh eyes. And if you have or can find some critique partners to help you out, even better. Getting other people's eyes on your work can be so helpful to catch things that you as the author just can't see because you're too close to the story. I'm looking forward to reading more, so don't give up!

    Everyone keep safe and warm if you're in the Northeast this weekend!

  15. Always useful to hear what 'not' to do in a submission. Great interview!

  16. I can't thank you enough for the response Shana :-) wise words indeed. I look forward to sending the partial in to you. Happy weekend!

  17. Thanks for today's wonderful post. Shana, I've signed up to pitch you in May! Hopefully we'll be a good match. I don't have any snow, but my story does have a storm. See you there.