Monday, March 23, 2009

Cynthia DiTiberio, Editor, Avon Inspire, Welcome to Seekerville!

Cindy, welcome to Seekerville! What a treat to have you with us. I love that you bring a whole new generational overview into Christian fiction. You’ve got the chutzpah and life experience (and lack of wrinkles, darn it!) that offers an open dynamic.

So, tell us. Avon Inspire. Inquiring minds want to know. What have you got going there that has you on-the-edge-of-your-seat excited?

We’re of course thrilled with the success of Shelley Shepard Gray’s Sisters of the Heart series, which includes HIDDEN and WANTED. These are for fans of Amish fiction but there’s a dash of suspense as well.

Shelley was one of the only authors Avon Inspire acquired that hadn’t published in the inspirational market before, but due to the popularity of Amish fiction, and the fact that it was still a relatively untapped market, we took a chance. It’s been wonderful to see readers come to the series, and we just signed up a new one! The last book in the Sisters of the Heart series comes out this fall and then we’ll have a new series for fans in January!

I’m also so pleased that we are entering into the romantic suspense genre this summer with our first book with publishing veteran Debra White Smith. TEXAS HEAT goes on sale at the end of June.

It’s a riveting romance between a woman wrongly accused and the police chief (who happens to be her former sweetheart) who pledges to prove her innocence.

Avon has acquired work from some well-known and respected CBA authors. Kris Billerbeck, Lyn Cote, Linda Windsor, to name a few. I know when your imprint launched, you were looking for published authors to help create a solid baseline. Is that still the case or is Avon Inspire open to new authors, the untried voices in Christian fiction?

We’re still sticking with well-known authors.

Cindy, what do you look for in a book? What grabs your attention?

A premise that feels original and writing that won’t let you put it down.

Cindy, the Seekers began their group as a bunch of tiara-wearing contest divas. Instead of letting competition drive us apart, we forged a group because of that competition, with one goal in mind: To pray each other into publication. With nine of the original fifteen now contracted or published, we’re well beyond the half-way point! How do you feel about romance contests? Can contest coordinators contact you about judging? Do you ever request a manuscript that’s piqued your interest in a contest?

Unfortunately contests aren’t really a big focus for me. I’ve judged one contest in the past but unfortunately my schedule doesn’t allow for it anymore!

You’re an approachable editor. I loved chatting with you at the ACFW conference in Dallas. Your panel answers were sharp and savvy; meeting you in person was like having coffee with a friend. And your presence on an editors’ panel brings the median age down, LOL! (Now every middle-aged and above editor will hate me, Cindy, you know that, right????) Your age is a blessing, though, because you’ve been raised in a time where people are more open to things like interracial marriage and adoptions, blended families, and open issues. Do you see Inspire allowing more insight into those areas?

We definitely love to speak to issues of our day. While we all love to read to escape, it’s always nice when reading also illuminates! One author who has focused on interracial relationships is Lyn Cote with her historical series Texas: Star of Destiny. The series follows the forming of the Texas state, which was such a melting pot of Mexicans, the Spanish, Americans, and Indians! But it was also controversial to cross those boundaries at that time. In THE DESIRES OF HER HEART, a New Orleans lady falls for the half-Indian scout who is leading her family’s wagon train into the wilds of Texas. Not only does it resonate with issues of today, Lyn writes with such riveting detail, it’s a true delight to get a picture of the forming of our nation.

Okay, personal stuff, but not TOO personal. I never do age and weight, although in your case it wouldn’t even be close to an embarrassment and you’d just make us old fogies whine and sigh…

Do you love the West Coast? Were you born there or a transplant? Are you a Starbucks girl? Favorite foods? Favorite movies?

I do love the West Coast, but am not from here. I was born in Chicago, moved to St. Louis when I was 5, and lived there until heading to college at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Right after college, I applied for a job at a church out in California doing college ministry, thinking it would be a temporary move and a fun first job out of college. After a year in California, I got my job at HarperOne and have never looked back. (It didn’t help that I fell in love about a year after moving out here and my husband loves the Bay Area). I do miss my family (my mom is still in St. Louis) but I successfully convinced by twin sister Annie to move out here and she’s now getting her masters in social welfare at UC-Berkeley.

I’m pretty laid back, love to be outside (living in California only feeds this!), love reading (yes, even though I read for work, I still love nothing more than curling up with a good book!). I recently read Persuasion by Jane Austen (I’d never read that one), am re-reading Anne of Green Gables, and then next up on my list is Barbara Brown Taylor’s Altar in the World.

I am a Starbucks girl but only when I have gift cards! Then I’ll usually just get a regular coffee (I drink it black) or if it’s later in the afternoon, I’ll indulge with a latte (Gingerbread are my favorite during the holidays). For some reason I can’t do lattes in the morning… if the coffee is diluted with milk it doesn’t feel strong enough somehow!

Cindy, your covers are beautiful. Truly well done. The Amish covers for Shelley Gray’s work are lovely, and reflective of the work within. Do authors have a say in their cover work?

I ALWAYS consult with my authors on cover. I think it’s so important that the cover convey the tension and drama in the book and who knows that better than the author themselves?

Tell us what it is about the Amish that draws Christian fiction in multiple ways. I’ve read books that respect the Amish life and books that want to save them from damnation. What’s up with that?

Personally, I think Christian readers are drawn to stories about the Amish because you know that the content will be safe in terms of no drugs, drinking, sex, or swearing. I also think there is something about the Amish stories that feel like historical romances (the traditions, the old-fashioned ways of doing things) but the characters are also often confronted with modernity and must sometimes face issues that are at such odds with their way of life. There is an order and simplicity in the ways of the Amish that I think we sometimes all wish we could get back to.

Walk us through a typical day. Do you take things home to read or can you read/edit in the office? And do you really think Rice-a-roni is the San Francisco treat?

Like most editors I know, we don’t do any reading or editing in the office, most of that happens at home, or lucky for me, on my commute each day (I live in Palo Alto and have an hour and ten minute commute via train each way which allows me plenty of reading and editing time).

In the office I am catching up on email, talking with authors, brainstorming titles and subtitles, talking to agents about new projects, working with the art director on jacket design, preparing to launch a new season of titles (which means working on the descriptive copy, selling points, audience, and competitive titles and putting it into our database), and much, much more. As an editor, I both acquire a title and work on the developmental edits of the manuscript once it is delivered. I really see my job as being a project manager – making sure production has what they need, talking to the marketing team about plans, making sure the jacket design is strong, writing the flap copy, talking with the publicist about plans, pretty much every stage of a book , editors are involved in one way or another.

Cindy, thank you so much for playing with us today! The Seekers appreciate the time and effort you editors put in on our behalf. We know your job is much more than reading books and playing on blogs. Amazing stuff.

Gals and guys, I've got pastry trays set up along the back wall. The pineapple sweet rolls are from an old Hungarian recipe. Oh my stars, they're wonderful! The coffee's on and we've got Starbucks catering this morning. Fruit trays should be arriving at any moment according to a reliable source. Grab a cup of something delightful and feel free to jump in on the conversation.



  1. Cynthia,

    Thanks for taking the time today to tell us about what you do. Very interesting.

    Since you work with established authors, would you mind defining that a bit? I take it you mean previoius sales numbers must be at a certain level? I'm guessing you mostly work through agents.

    I'd love a quick example of how you acquired one of your authors. Also, do you require authors to limit themselves to only writing for Avon?



  2. Awesome interview! Thanks so much to Cynthia for taking the time to do it!

  3. 'Mornin', girls!!!

    Cindy's on West Coast time so I don't expect her until later, but I'm hoping for a great big Seekerville welcome.

    So there's food, coffee, tea, and great conversation. And oh my stars, DON'T you love the detail and beauty of those covers????


    Cathy, and Jessica, so nice to see fellow early birds!

    Blessings on you both.



  4. Welcome to Seekerville, Cindy! Thanks for giving us a peek at the life of an editor. Avon Inspire covers are gorgeous! Congrats on the success of the line.

    As a writer and reader of inspirational fiction, I'm delighted with the growth of the market. And hope it continues. Any thoughts on that?

    Ruthy, Thanks for the delicious pineapple sweet rolls.


  5. Welcome to Seekerville, Cynthia! Avon Inspire covers are so beautiful & attention-grabbing that they should attract readers who may not otherwise even think to give "inspirational" a shot.

  6. Welcome Cynthia and let me add to the thanks for taking time to chat with us. I especially enjoyed hearing about your love of the Bay Area since I grew up there and still have family in the area. Do you attend the Mt Hermon conference in Santa Cruz area?

    Do you ever accept manuscripts from authors who pitch to you at conferences?

  7. Thanks Ruthy and Cynthia for sharing. I must confess, I've only ever read an Amish story as a wip from an old critique partner. The "safeness" and "innocence" of this type is a definite bonus, especially to a mom with teenage daughters who steal her nightstand reads from time to time.

  8. Cindy, Thanks for being out guest on Seekerville.
    I appreciate you taking the time. The covers are really beautiful. I didn't realize you had all those authors working with you. Great line-up.

  9. Good morning Seekers and friends!

    Thanks so much for stopping by and chatting it up with us.

    Writing about the Amish has become some big stuff in Christian fiction, hasn't it? And I love seeing plain people on my treks down back roads and main drags. In fact one of these days I'm going to head down Route 15 (got used to that when Lawyer Boy was in school in D.C.)and stop at an Amish quilter along the Susquehana and buy one of her quilts. Beautiful workmanship.

    And if I didn't make my own yummy jams, I'd buy some of those too. Speaking of jams, I've got sour cherry and strawberry rhubarb to go on our fresh Easter braid bread. So yummy... fresh from the oven. The bread, not the jam.



  10. Cindy, thank you so much for being with us on our blog today! It's so interesting to hear about a day in the life of an editor.

    And congrats on your marriage! The last time I saw you (at RWA/the FHL luncheon) I believe you were about to be married. :)

    Ruthy, great interview. And thank you for the yummy goodies! I'm starving for lunch already. And it's only 11!


  11. Welcome, Cindy! Yes, I think I even sat next to you at lunch that year you were at the FHL mini-conference at RWA--and flashing that gorgeous engagement ring!

    Do you foresee a time when Avon Inspire will open the doors to first-time or at least less well-known authors?

  12. Great interview, Ruthy and Cynthia! Loved hearing move about the inner workings at Avon Inspire.

    And those covers are gorgeous!

    Pass me a white mocha cappucino. Or maybe I need to start drinking real coffee, straight up to keep me awake!

  13. Hi everyone! It's such a pleasure to get to chat with you all today. So many familiar faces!

    Due to the fact that the Avon Inspire list is so small (ususally only 2 books per season, or 6 books per year), it really limits us on the authors we bring on. Many of the authors that we now publish were authors whose agents I approached to see whether they were up for trying something new. While I'd love to start bringing on some new, fresh talent, with a list that small, it's just not possible at this time. We have titles slotted through 2010, which means my acquisitions are a bit on hold (every now and then there's an opportunity that we just can't pass up and do 3 books per season but that's rare).

    Our goal has really been to do fewer titles in this genre but to give each title the attention it deserves. And especially in the current publishing climate, less can sometimes be more.

    Cathy, regarding whether we require our authors to write only for Avon, it depends on the author. We like for them to just write for us, but, for example with Lori Copeland, she writes historical for us, but then contemporary for Zondervan (our sister company). Thats worked out very well.

    Sandra, I do accept manuscripts from writers at conferences, but I can't say that I've ever acquired a manuscript in that way. I haven't been to the Mount Hermon Writer's Conference, even though it's practically in my backyard! It's a long conference, which means being away from the office for a long time, thus I've never had the chance.

    I look forward to more questions and again, thanks for having me!


  14. Cindy, hello!

    You know, getting a list off the ground with fewer offerings is good and bad. Bad for the limitations it puts on a 'house' or an editor, but good because we've all seen houses go gung ho, falter and fail. Better to earn your audience and grow.

    And Avon's strong reputation in straight romance makes for a great base.

    Pam, here's your white mocha! That's a favorite around our house, with a splash of raspberry drizzle.



  15. Thanks for the interview, Cindy! It's nice to hear what Avon Inspire's up to these days.

  16. I enjoyed this interview with Cynthia. Thank you, Ruth. I agree the covers on Avon's books are so beautiful. Pat

  17. Thanks so much for being in Seekerville, Cynthia. Will you be at any conferences coming up?

  18. Gosh, I am sooo sorry I am late, but wanted to welcome Cynthia to Seekerville and say that I have enjoyed many of the new Avon Inspire books that have come out. I am soooo glad Avon Inspire is out there for Christian readers and authors! I pray for unprecedented success for this line.


  19. I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


  20. Betty, we're so glad you found us!