Welcome Faith Black, Editor at Avalon Books where she acquires romances, mysteries, and Westerns. Previously, she worked at New Horizon Press and Cambridge University Press. She is a graduate of Williams College where she earned her degree in English. She also received her Masters from Rutgers University in English and previously studied at Oxford University. Faith joined Avalon Books in December 2006 as Associate Editor and was promoted to Editor in April 2008.
Tell us a little about you and your publishing house. What makes Avalon different from other publishers?
Avalon publishes 60 books a year (6 cycles - one every two months - of 10 books each) in the genres of romance, mystery, and western. We publish both contemporary and historical romances while the mysteries are all contemporary and the westerns are all historical. We publish only family friendly material. And our romances are strictly of the "sweet" variety. That means no sex (or even the insinuation of it). I know, I know. But trust me, you can have a truly entertaining, sparkling romance without sex. And in case you were wondering, nope, no sex in the mysteries or the westerns either. Also, there shouldn't be foul language or a lot of drinking. Because of our family friendly rules, we get a lot of submissions of inspirational literature, but this isn't what we do either. We're not a Christian publisher and we don't publish inspirational literature of any kind.
What made you decide to edit fiction?
Fiction has always been a passion of mine and is where my love of reading first began. I used to work for an academic press, editing textbooks and monographs, so making the switch to fiction was a welcome respite.
Are your favorite pleasure reads markedly different from the fiction you edit? If you could only own three books, what would they be?
I don't tend to read a lot of genre fiction in my spare time. I think now that I spend most of my day dealing with fiction I tend to read more nonfiction in my downtime. Keeps a nice balance. I hate having to pick favorite books because I have so many but if I could only have three I guess I would have to say: Pride and Prejudice, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers, and can we pretend that the Harry Potter books exist in one extremely large compendium so I can have them all with me?
What kinds of manuscripts do you acquire? Who are some of the writers with whom you work?
I acquire manuscripts in the genres of romance, mystery, and western. Avalon books are wholesome fare with no cursing, limited alcohol usage, and no sex. But we're not a Christian or inspirational publisher. People sometimes make this mistake. Some of my authors are Holly Jacobs, Carolyn Brown, Shirley Marks, Ilsa Mayr, Kent Conwell, Nikki Poppen, and Michael Senuta. I would love to list all of my wonderful authors for you as we have such an amazing group and I have been privileged to work with all of them.
What about a manuscript grabs your attention and makes you consider making an offer?
There's that indefinable quality that makes something, as I like to call it, "un-put-down-able." If I don't want to stop reading, then that's a good sign. I've been known to stay in the office long after everyone else has left because I can't wait until the next day to find out what happens. Things that catch my eye are things that are out of the ordinary. Especially with romances you tend to start to see the same plot lines and the same conventions time and time again. This can get tired and as an editor, you get sick of seeing the same thing every time.So when something comes along that's different, that stops me in my tracks.
As an example, one of our recent titles, Romancing the King by Jocelyn Saint James has a hero who is an Elvis impersonator. Now that's something you don't see every day. Also, an upcoming, not yet released title, Love ‘Em or Leave ‘Em by Angie Stanton (pub date February 2010) is set in the midst of a "Bachelor"-like reality TV series. Something that catches my attention will keep me reading.
What do you look for in a synopsis?
Part of this goes back to the last question - something that grabs my attention. What is it about your book that is going to make it different from all the other romances/mysteries/westerns I've been reading? What's your fresh take? Synopses shouldn't be too long. Sometimes people want to put all the details in, which is absolutely an impetus that I understand, but short and sweet is the way to go.
Some editors hate sharks, others hate prologues-is there anything that's an automatic turn-off for you?
I hate to make categorical statements like this but I do have a few pet peeves. The one major one is when books purport to be set in a specific place but it's clear that the author either hasn't spent much time there or done the research as thoroughly as they should have. We see a lot of books set in NY and it's really obvious when people write about NY who haven't been here. You have characters driving around the city or doing other similarly implausible things or eating at restaurants that have closed (though, in fairness, that's a pretty easy mistake to make since restaurants often close here very quickly). It's so important to do your research wherever you're setting your book. This especially goes for historicals. Make sure everything is correct and you don't have any accidental anachronisms.
What makes for a great editorial relationship with an author? What doesn't?
I have great relationships with my authors and this is my favorite part of the job. All of my authors are great but I find the ones that are easiest to work with are the ones who are fairly laid back, the ones I have a friendly rapport with. It's a give and take relationship and there's sometimes butting of heads over editorial decisions and the like but it's best not to be combative because that will just lead to tension in the long run. I think a good author-editor relationship is like a car, low maintenance is best. We're a really small office and we're not used to having people just drop by. If you're an author of mine and you want to come into the office when you're in NY and you set that up with me, that's great. We love to have people come in. But we've had prospective authors just drop by the office unannounced attempting to drop off their manuscripts to us in person or to follow up with us on a manuscript previously submitted. A word to the wise to all aspiring authors out there, this is not a good way to go about getting an editor's attention.
What do you wish that authors understood about your job?
Even if I've had your manuscript for a few months and haven't gotten back to you doesn't mean I hate it and am going to reject it. On the flip side, it doesn't always mean I'm going to buy it either. We get a lot of submissions and we try to read them as quickly as possible but sometimes it takes us a while. Be patient and we will give you an answer just as soon as we can. I have no idea how frustrating it must be to wait for the call or the letter but rest assured we will try to make that wait time as short as it is within our power to do so.
What current trends in publishing do you find the most interesting/ disturbing?
The trends question is always tricky I find. There seems to be a never-ending demand for science fiction and supernatural romances, things involving vampires and zombies and shape shifters, etc. At Avalon we don't really go in too much for trends which puts my mind at ease a little, personally. I've never considered myself very trendy in general. I don't know that there are trends that particularly disturb me though I can say from a personal perspective that supernatural romances of any variety really aren't my cup of tea. And of course I did really enjoy the Twilight series so maybe that makes me a giant hypocrite.
What advice do you have for seasoned authors in the current publishing climate?
I think there's a lot of negativity surrounding the publishing field at the moment but I think it's important not to take that doom and gloom to heart. People have been forecasting the death of publishing for decades now and it still hasn't come to pass. Nor do I think it's likely to. The economy right now is hard on everyone but what goes down must come up and we'll all come through just fine on the other side. Try not to let this affect your writing or dampen your spirits. Houses may not be acquiring at the level they previously were, but keep at, keep submitting. Perseverance is key.
Thanks to Laurie Alice Eakes for inviting Faith Hill to blog with us today and to Elaine Isaak for providing the questions.