Tuesday, May 27, 2014

More Fun with Editors

Previously I shared some anecdotes on some of my less-than-ideal experiences with editors.

My next editor at Walker remains a good friend. She let me stray from the genre to write a Time Travel Regency (having written one herself). Byron's Child came about because I wanted to tell the story of Lord Byron's legitimate daughter, Ada, often called the first computer programmer. Unfortunately, she wasn't born till towards the end of the Regency, but a time traveller from the present—a historian who happened to have Ada's biography with her--worked perfectly.

I continued to write for Walker, but when I got divorced, I wasn't making enough to pay the bills. Regencies are very much a minority genre, and I had no interest in any other kind of romance. Though a part-time job helped, it wasn't enough.

Then I had an amazing stroke of luck. At a(n) RWA conference, I met a senior editor from Harlequin. She actually knew my name! She told me that Harlequin were about to restart their Regency line, dormant for several years. What was more, their new Regency editor was a fan of mine. You'd better believe I was on the phone to my agent at dawn the next morning!

Harlequin's "house style" differed in some respects from Walker's. For a start, it was less flexible, though I was never given any guidelines such as some of their lines required. On the other hand, my editor didn't blink at a plot involving a hero who managed to have 3 concurrent mistresses and 3 concurrent fiancees. I'm not sure Walker would have gone for that.

Already familiar with my work, she helped me adjust with many apologies accompanying every suggestion for revision. Secondly, they were around 20,000 words shorter. That suited me, as I found myself writing two books a year for Harlequin and two for Walker (as well as a part-time job proofreading for Academic Press).

My Harlequin editor moved on, as editors all too often do. I was happy with the new editor but suddenly, within a few months of each other, both Harlequin and Walker dropped their Regency lines. Corporate decisions, so I didn't even have the satisfaction of swearing at my editors.

In fact, my Walker editor had given me a three-book contract. They published the first; I'd completed the second, a sequel, and sent it in. The third was partly written. In response to a request from my editor, I'd put a baby in it—babies were all the rage in romances at the time. Or rather, I'd planned a baby. When it was cancelled, my unfortunate heroine was 8 months pregnant. She stayed that way for two years...

In the meantime, I put together a proposal for a historical/traditional mystery series. It caught the eye of an editor at St. Martin's Press, an editor for whom I have now written 24 mysteries, with another three under contract. Keith Kahla has not only been a wonderful, helpful, supportive editor for 21 years now, he's managed to stay with the publisher as it became St. Martin's Minotaur, now just Minotaur, an imprint of the publishing giant Macmillan.

But my pregnant heroine still needed a home. She found it eventually at Zebra/Kensington. My two editors there were very open to non-traditional Regency ideas.

I wrote a ghost story, The Actress and the Rake, with a deceased grandfather interfering disgracefully in the heroine's life, to the dismay of the lawyer, the only person aware of him.

I had a fairy tale retold in Regency terms that I'd written by request for Walker and long since filed away. One day when my editor was depressed, I dug it out and sent it to cheer her up. It was full of references to Shakespeare, Lewis Carroll, and Gilbert and Sullivan. I didn't think for a moment that she'd want to publish it, but she decided to base an anthology on it, with retold fairytales by two other authors. That did well enough for the three of us to produce two more similar anthologies—all thanks to a depressed editor.

They let me write some stories with "older" heroines, in their forties (!), instead of the usual 18-25 slot.

Most surprising was what happened when one of the two left Zebra and the other took over. I'd just written a book considerably longer than normal, having sold it on the basis of a two-paragraph proposal. Scandal's Daughter turned out quite different from what I'd expected—a sort of Regency Perils of Pauline. The hero and heroine travelled from Istanbul to London, facing every conceivable danger with a cliff-hanger at the end of practically every chapter. It was such fun to write, but I wasn't at all sure the editor who'd bought it would like it. And then she left before I sent it in. I was sure it would be sent back for major revisions, as in "What the heck is this?"

She loved it. Her only suggestion was that I should add a couple of scenes. Believe it or not, they were both scenes I'd meant to put in, but somehow failed to include. Talk about "on the same wavelength"! Editors can't get better than that.

Carola Dunn is author of the Daisy Dalrymple Mysteries, Cornish Mysteries, and multitudinous Regencies.


  1. You could write a new book: The Case of the Vanishing Editor. :)

  2. Wow, an author with an agent ... what's that like?

  3. I'd say you're lucky to find editors who love what you write, but they are the lucky ones to find a good writer who writes what they want. Cheers to you, Carola. Sounds like everything turns up roses for you eventually.

  4. Sounds like you've had some interesting and great experiences. It seems like agents are hard to come by for most writers, so it was fun to read about your path.

  5. For various reasons, I'm on my 3rd agent--I could write a book about agents, too.

    Yes, it's as hard for an unpublished writer to get an agent as it is to sell that first ms. I was recommended to my first agent by the editor who bought my first book, so the sale came first. When my second agent quit agenting, I had over 30 books published by major publishers but it took 18 months to find a new agent--thanks to Judy (JA) Jance who introduced me to hers at Left Coast Crime in Seattle.

  6. Your dark editor cloud has quite the silver lining, Carola. Going from initial bad experiences to the wonderful ones noted here inspires hope in the rest of us who haven't yet had either experience.


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