Welcome Peter Senftleben, an editorial assistant at Kensington Publishing. He has been there for two years and is still not used to all of the paper cuts.
Tell us something about yourself and your house.
Kensington is one of the largest independent publishers of hardcover, trade, and mass market paperbacks. We release close to 600 titles a year through all of our imprints, and while we're known primarily for romance, we are also industry leaders in such areas as African American and Gay and Lesbian books. More information can be found at www.kensingtonbooks.com.
I started at Kensington in December 2006 as editorial assistant to the Editor in Chief, John Scognamiglio. Since then, I have co-edited some books and I have recently begun to acquire my own projects. My interests in fiction are pretty broad; I'm especially looking for urban fantasy, suspense/thrillers, mysteries, mainstream fiction, paranormal romance, erotica, and gay/lesbian fiction. When it comes to non-fiction, however, I only like pop culture, entertainment, and humor. If there are terrorists involved, it's most likely not something I would be interested in seeing.
How did you get into editing fiction?
Prior to joining Kensington, I worked at a couple of literary agencies, so I got a taste of that side of the desk and learned my way around the business from a different angle. I learned all about contracts and royalties and what it takes to manage an author's career, but I was most interested in finding new talent and developing projects to their full potential before submitting them to publishers. Unlike most, I actually didn't mind reading queries and manuscripts. But for an agent, that's only a small part of the responsibilities, so I wanted to find somewhere where I could focus on that. Editing fiction is also a way for me to exercise my creativity, in a sense, and indulge that side of my personality.
How are tasks delegated among assistant, acquiring, and managing editors?
It's all very dependent on the publishing house, so I can only answer with respect to Kensington. And even within houses, an assistant's job depends on for whom one is an assistant. I'm lucky enough to have a very self-sufficient boss, so my administrative duties are small. Other assistants in general tend to provide more administrative support whereas my focus is reading and evaluating submissions. Editorial assistants (or assistant editors, which is the next step up) and acquiring editors aren't necessarily mutually exclusive. All of the assistants at Kensington have been here a while and we're acquiring our own books. The acquiring editors not only read submissions but are involved in every phase of a book's publication, from cover image to cover copy to marketing plans and sales. The managing editor's job is basically to keep everyone on task and make sure we all meet our deadlines.
What kinds of manuscripts do you acquire? Who are some of the writers with whom you work?
I'm acquiring a bit of everything, really, but like I said, very little nonfiction. Most of my authors are new, including two for our Zebra debut program: Christie Kelley (historical romance) and Gina Robinson (romantic suspense). I worked on Meri Weiss's CLOSER TO FINE, which is incredibly touching women's fiction with great characters, and THE SCREWED-UP LIFE OF CHARLIE THE SECOND by Drew Ferguson, a hilarious gay coming-of-age novel. I've also bought erotic romances from e-published Lorie O'Clare and Shelli Stevens, as well as three books in a new mystery series by Annelise Ryan. Then there's T. Greenwood, my favorite author since I discovered her books about six years ago, whose next two books I was lucky enough to buy. We'll be releasing TWO RIVERS in January 2009, and it's already getting a lot of much-deserved buzz. The entire company has fallen in love with the book and we're all very excited about it. I also recently bought a debut Southern novel by Ken Wheaton, a wonderful new voice behind an absolutely delightful story.
What about a manuscript grabs your attention and makes you consider making an offer?
Ultimately, it's an amalgam of every element, but I really need to fall in love with the characters, the voice, and the writing. Of course, there also has to be an engaging plot to make me want to keep reading, which stems from a compelling conflict and a quick pace. The book also has to fit our list and have a place in the market. For example, no matter how good a chick lit novel might be or how much I might personally enjoy it, they just don't sell as well as they used to, so the chances of an offer are very slim. With romance especially, the voice is key, and the characters need to have chemistry.
What do you look for in a synopsis?
I know a lot of editors who prefer a short synopsis, but I like them to be fairly detailed, in the 5-10 page range. I don't need it to be scene-by-scene, but I like to know what's going to happen. This is especially important for an author who sends me a partial manuscript. I need to get a feel for the plot and how everything ends-sometimes an expected or clichéd ending can kill a perfectly good story. Please don't give me a cliffhanger so that I have to request the full manuscript.
Has there been a time when you advocated a work that John was lukewarm about?
There has, but that doesn't mean it got very far! John's been with Kensington for a while and knows what will work on our list and what won't, but if I like something enough, he'll encourage me to present it at an editorial meeting and see what happens. Usually it gets shot down, but not for lack of trying; it's mostly a case of a book being publishable but not right for us at the moment.
You and John work in a female dominated area of publishing, in readership as well as industry. What sort of reactions do you get? Do you think your gender makes a difference in how you respond to books?
I don't think we get any reactions because of our gender, though when I tell people outside of publishing that I edit romances they sometimes seem surprised. There are enough male editors that it's not so much of an anomaly, but being a male romance editor is where it's a bit different. But I've learned that in some instances you have to detach your personal responses from how you read a manuscript. Of course we always want to be excited by our books and be their greatest advocate, but there will be times when a book might not bowl me over but I can recognize the quality in it and know there is an audience for it. I've been a reader my whole life, so I can tell what makes something good even if it's not the type of book I would pick up on my own, and gender has never been an issue there. I'm not embarrassed to read romances, no matter how erotic; I just want something that will entertain me or transport me to another world, away from my desk and computer.
Are your favorite pleasure reads markedly different from the fiction you edit?
No, and that's the best thing about this job. I'm pretty much reading the types of books I would be reading anyway (and now I get paid for it!). To be a good editor, one has to be familiar with the genre of a particular book, to know what makes this project stand out from similar ones, and to keep up with the market. What editor wants to read and reread a manuscript that isn't something they'd pick up in their off hours? That's why this is such a subjective business and why writers should research which editor at a publisher is most appropriate for their work.
What's the first novel you remember reading? What impression did it make on you?
I honestly don't remember. I grew up with my nose buried in books, from Clifford the big red dog to Nancy Drew and Encyclopedia Brown, through required reading in school, and a short YA horror phase. I was reading adult books in sixth grade, about three a week, so it's all a blur.
Is there anything else you'd like to address?
I just want to emphasize that any author who is submitting their work to a publisher or agent, be they NINC members or unpublished authors who might come across this, really needs to do his/her homework. Research submission guidelines, make sure the editor/agent you're submitting to is the right one for your type of book, don't query every editor at a publishing house (we do talk to each other), include an SASE with your query, and just be professional. Published authors still need to be professional, too, so watch what you're writing on those blogs!