As a senior fiction editor for Summerside Press, Rachel manages editorial processes and acquisitions for the Love Finds You™ fiction series. Prior to joining Summerside in 2007, she worked as an editor and writer for both the Christian and general markets. She has an MA in English Literature and lives with her husband and young son in Chicago.
by Rachel Meisel
I love the written word and have been an avid reader for my entire life. I used to tell people that I went to grad school so I could read literature for two straight years without being called lazy. Now that I work as an editor, I read fiction all day long and get paid for it. Even better!
I worked as an editor and writer for both the Christian and general markets for several years before I joined Summerside Press in 2007. It was a brand-new company then, and I have been honored to be part of the team from its earliest days.
Summerside Press is an inspiration publisher offering both fiction and nonfiction titles that serve the Christian market. Our goal is to publish books that are both spiritually uplifting and intellectually engaging, so our fiction is wholesome and positive yet also inspirational and relevant to readers’ lives. Obviously we want to provide readers with enjoyable and satisfying stories, but we think we can accomplish this while also touching lives and addressing some deeper, real-life issues in an encouraging (though not preachy) way.
I am the acquiring editor for Summerside Press’s Love Finds You™ fiction series. The series features inspirational romance novels set in actual towns and cities across North America; they combine the best of what readers love—romance and travel—in one package. Each novel draws on the compelling history or unique character of a real place, giving readers a taste of local life across this wonderfully diverse country. The stories are in fact quite educational; many libraries and schools are picking them up because they provide a fun way for readers to explore the nooks and crannies of North America.
Some of the books are set in small towns with quirky names such as Snowball, Arkansas, and North Pole, Alaska. Some of our historicals are set in ghost towns or popular Wild West locales such as Lonesome Prairie, Montana, and Deadwood, South Dakota. And still others are set in larger cities or popular vacation hotspots such as Carmel-by-the Sea, California and Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts.
In one of her famous poems, Emily Dickinson wrote, “There is no frigate like a book / To take us lands away…This Travers may the poorest take / Without oppress of Toll….” For the price of a paperback, readers can be transported to exotic locales they’d love to visit in person—or different centuries they never will. It’s an appealing promise at a time when many of us are having to downsize our vacation budgets.
We launched the Love Finds You™ the series in October of 2008 and release two new books every other month, with a goal to set at least one novel in each of the fifty states. We will also set several books in Canada. Each standalone novel has a word count of around 80,000, and the stories may be historical or contemporary. I consider agented, “from scratch” proposals designed specifically for the series, though we might consider an existing manuscript if it has been renamed and adapted to fit within our guidelines.
For a manuscript submission to impress me, it must contain several elements. First, it must be clear that the author (and agent) have researched the Love Finds You™ series and understand its guidelines and objectives. Because we have such specific needs for the series, it’s nice to read something that will not only fit within the parameters of the line but also make a valuable addition to it. So before I even dive into the story and the writing, I need to know that the book works from a sales standpoint.
Beyond that, a manuscript grabs me if the writing is fresh. Proposals start looking similar after a while, so I always enjoy a first sentence that hooks me. I like original metaphors rather than those I’ve read time and again. But at the same time, the writing should appear effortless. It shouldn’t try too hard or trip me up with wordiness or clunky attempts at cleverness. I sometimes want to tell authors what I told my freshman composition students: the simplest way to say something is generally the best way. And of course, I like all of this wonderful writing presented in a grammatically clean and polished package!
If the writing isn’t good, I won’t make it through the whole story. But the best writing in the world won’t compensate for a bad story. The story has to hook me. I know I’ve found a winner if the story is so compelling that it makes me forget I’m working. If I already know I love the proposal but keep reading because I’m anxious to find out what happens, then I’m liable to present the story to our review board and push for a contract.
Thus far I’ve been blessed to work with a variety of authors—both industry veterans and talented new writers. Some of our authors include well-known and best-selling CBA authors such as Bodie Thoene, Melody Carlson, and Robin Jones Gunn. Several of our authors have found success in both ABA and CBA markets.
I’m not being disingenuous when I say that I’ve enjoyed working with all of our authors thus far. I value open, friendly relationships with them. I’m happy to answer their questions, and I welcome them to come to me if they’re experiencing a problem or struggling with their writing. We value their input and solicit feedback on everything from the book’s cover to its marketing and promotion. We think it’s important to treat our authors with honor and respect; it creates a constructive work environment and motivates them to put forth their best work.
Another factor of a successful author-editor relationship is mutual trust. Both parties want the book to sell like crazy, and it’s helpful when we both realize this and trust the other’s expertise. We want our authors to succeed, because we won’t succeed unless they do.
Perhaps the one thing I wish authors understood about the editor’s job is that it’s a difficult and sometimes unpleasant one. I read a lot of proposals I’d love to contract but can’t, simply because they don’t fit into our publishing plan. There are many lovely authors with whom I’d love to work but whose writing I can’t contract for one reason or another. As agonizing as it is to write rejection letters, I understand that my disappointment is probably far less acute than the author’s. For this reason, I like to explain the reasons that led to our decision to decline a story. I want authors to understand that it’s not personal—and that we can contract only a small percentage of the proposals that come in the door. It’s so thrilling to write those acceptance letters, even if they are relatively few and far between.
Finally, I’d like to share some exciting news. This year, building on the success of Love Finds You™, we are launching two additional fiction series! This spring we launched our Swept Away romantic suspense series. These novels feature men and women finding love in perilous situations against the backdrop of the twentieth-century past. And this fall we will launch our When I Fall in Love series. Each sweet and nostalgic romance novel in this series will bear the title of a familiar love song from the 1920s through the 1970s and will be set in the era of the song’s release. Both of these series will be managed by acquiring editor Susan Downs.
I’ve enjoyed being your guest and thank you for reading a little bit what we’re doing at Summerside Press. We’d love you to drop our website, www.summersidepress.com, for more information.