Wednesday, May 5, 2010
Joan Marlow Golan, Executive Editor, Steeple Hill Books, Welcome to Seekerville!!!
Joan Marlow Golan, oh my stars, how fun is this, welcome to Seekerville! And may I just say that I love coming down to the city, browsing Fifth Avenue, stopping into St. Patrick’s Cathedral and St. Peter’s Church abutting Ground Zero, buying nuts from the nut vendors in Battery Park and saying ‘hey’ to the wild turkey that lives in Battery Park and has no idea he’s a touch out of his element.
I’m a country gal at heart, but there’s nothing like the lights of Times Square or the quaint in-the-street-bazaars of Union Square to make me feel like dancing in the streets. Talk about a rockin’ place. And of course I would be remiss to leave out baseball… specifically Yankee baseball. And Jeter, NY’s totally wonderful and talented (did I mention good-looking????) shortstop and Yankee captain. Sigh…
Okay, back on topic! I’ve stocked the cappuccino bar, we have a group of wanna-be authors manning the coffee/cappuccino/tea/juice area and they’ll be working hard through the day to impress you, no doubt. Their earnest desire makes them affordable labor. And I’m okay with that.
Our Steeple Hill authors in Seekerville have provided the food. Oh my goodness, Deb Giusti has gone all out with a delightful never-ending fruit tray set up in Georgian splendor, Missy Tippens has provided us with pecan and peach pies, absolutely amazing fare. Cheryl Wyatt has put together an overflowing cookie basket including your favorite oatmeal raisin cookies. Janet Dean has come through with a Midwestern favorite, her famous egg bake.
Camy and Glynna are helping with the Knights of Columbus mid-day fish and seafood extravaganza. New recruits Audra Harders and Tina Radcliffe are on Mountain time, whatever THAT is, so we’ve got them on afternoon tea detail. But Tina’s got great Italian roots so I’m expecting nothing but wonderfulness from our Colorado contingency! Treats from the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory are never turned away from our door. And we’re doing prize drawings all day long to celebrate your time with us. YAY!!!!!
I’ve done lemon cream pies because, well... lemon cream is just such a good way to celebrate spring. Zesty. Sweet/tart. Fun. So Joan, dig in, make yourself at home, and we’ll be glad to refill you cappuccino mug as needed. We are at your service today in Seekerville!
1. Joan, what brought you to New York originally? To Harlequin? To publishing? Can you give us a little Joan Marlow Golan history?
When I was 15, I came to New York (from a suburb of Hartford, CT) to visit a cousin who was moving from one Greenwich Village apartment to another and had asked me to help. I fell in love with the Big Apple, vowing to return one day and live in a Greenwich Village apartment of my own. It took close to another 15 years, but I did it!
As for publishing, that was an obvious choice—I’ve always been better at reading than anything else, and my epitaph should probably be, “People say that life’s the thing, but I prefer reading.” (That’s a quote from essayist Logan Pearsall Smith.) I have been a lector in church for more than 30 years now, and it’s the one ministry I’ve always been sure God called me to.
I didn’t really want to graduate from college, because I loved all that reading, so I decided to go to graduate school and get a doctorate—that way I could read for another six years. Then I found out there were people who actually got paid to read—editors—and that sounded like the dream job to me.
Although I’ve always been addicted to novels , my first publishing job was in nonfiction, and it wasn’t till the 1980’s that I found romance ( or did it find me :) )? A talented editor and very gracious lady named Judy Sullivan was then Editor-in-Chief of Richard Gallen, a romance packager, and she brought me on board to edit both historical and contemporary romances. While working for Gallen, I met Isabel Swift, who was then the Gallen liaison at our distributor, Pocket Books. Fifteen years later (in 1997), Isabel, then Editorial Director of Harlequin’s New York office, would offer me a job as Senior Editor of Silhouette Romance®.
In the interim I was an Editor at Berkley for five years, four of them working on Second Chance at Love romances , and then I “mommy-tracked” myself and freelanced so I could have more time with my family. In the 1990’s, I made a gradual transition back to corporate life, first working for a religious nonfiction publisher with very family-friendly hours. Eventually, when my husband was ready to share more of the child-rearing responsibilities, I began to think of returning to romance publishing.
I asked an agent friend if Harlequin might be interested in starting an inspirational romance series, and to my disappointment she told me that Harlequin already had one in the works. There went my hopes of persuading Harlequin to create a job for me! But the next day my agent friend called me back and said Isabel Swift had just called her and asked what I was doing, as she wanted to interview me for a Senior Editor Position. I was hired and have been happily ensconced at Harlequin ever since. :)
2. And how did you come up through the Harlequin ranks?
After 10 months as Senior Editor of Silhouette Romance®, I became Senior Editor of Silhouette Desire,® where I was reunited with many authors I had worked with at Second Chance at Love. In 2003, there was an editorial reorganization of the company, and I moved over to Steeple Hill, first as Senior Editor and then as Executive Editor. I was thrilled to be offered this exciting opportunity that drew on my skills and experience with both romance and inspirational publishing, and with both series and single title publishing. I’ve been here ever since.
3. Joan, the world has suddenly rediscovered teens and tweens. The push for YA reading is long overdue. That is honestly what turned me on to romance as an adolescent, reading sweet Cherry Ames, Nancy Drew, Trixie Belden and Penny Parrish books. Does Steeple Hill have any plans for doing their own YA line to help meet the growing trend for Christian teens who want good reads that reflect their beliefs.
At the moment, Steeple Hill has no plans for a YA line—the Love Inspired franchise continues to expand, and we’re now publishing six Steeple Hill Love Inspired® contemporary romances, four Steeple Hill Love Inspired Suspense® novels and, starting in January 2011, four Steeple Hill Love Inspired Historical® novels as well. Mothers and grandmothers do pass these books on to tweens and teens—they like the wholesome way love and romance are presented in our books and want their daughters and granddaughters to read them.
The Harlequin umbrella does include two secular YA imprints. In August 2009, parent company Harlequin launched Harlequin Teen®, which publishes secular teenage fiction, as does Kimani Tru®, winner of many YALSA awards from the American Library Association (ALA).
4. Joan, Steeple Hill is doing a remarkable job of meeting its readers’ wants and needs by providing great monthly reads. We’re second to none when it comes to getting books in the hands of the readers and so much of that growth has been under your guiding hand. Kudos to you and the staff of Steeple Hill for a job well done on a continuing basis with a strong growth curve. You’ve never shied away from starting new lines, taking chances, trying new things. That’s laudable.
One question I’ve gotten repeatedly with Tina and Melissa’s visits and now yours, regards longer reads. I won’t wax on about how I loved the single title line, but it seems I wasn’t alone in that.
Do you foresee any chance that Steeple Hill might start a longer line again, maybe in long contemporaries, historicals or another sub-genre of Christian fiction? And yes, of course, feel free to make any delightful new announcements destined to rock the world of publishing RIGHT HERE IN SEEKERVILLE!!!! ;)
We’re proud of the outstanding editorial we published in Steeple Hill Women’s Fiction, our single title line, including two Christy® Award winners and the first dedicated Christian chick lit imprint, Steeple Hill Cafe®, but the series franchise represents the greater opportunity for us in the current marketplace. At present we have no plans to relaunch a single title line. Instead, we’re focusing our efforts on expanding the Steeple Hill series.
5. I must say, thank you for suggesting the oatmeal raisin cookies. I’m feeling good about myself right now because I’ve seen the commercials. Oatmeal is good for me. And oatmeal times seven (yes, I’ve eaten seven cookies, I was a little nervous over this whole thing and skipped breakfast. Besides, as I said, oatmeal has healthy benefits. I can FEEL my cholesterol diminishing as we speak. I’m chasing it down with Starbucks cappuccino so it can’t be alllllll bad, right???)
One of our visitors wants to know if you read all potentially contracted openings. And she also wants to know what you look for in a piece of work. What grabs you in a proposal? What makes you want to say yes?
I read every first complete ms. or proposal of any writer who is brand new to Steeple Hill so I can keep current with our author base, but with two excellent and discerning Senior Editors, Melissa Endlich at the helm of Love Inspired and Tina James managing Love Inspired Suspense and Love Inspired Historical, I am less involved in day-to-day management of the series.
Melissa and Tina have superb editorial judgment, and they are the ones whom you need to wow, as well as others on the SH editorial team—our acquiring Assistant Editors, Emily Rodmell and Elizabeth Mazer, and Editorial Assistant Rachel Burkot, who reads all submissions addressed to me.
The first chapter of every contracted book is read either by myself, one of the Senior Editors, or Series Vice President and Editorial Director Randall Toye, at the time the complete ms. is accepted. It is one of our company’s relevance initiatives to ensure that every book opens compellingly, because if the book browser isn’t “hooked” by page one, she’s unlikely to read any further or to buy the book.
What grabs me in a proposal is a great opening line—I find dialogue especially effective, or a sentence that propels me into the middle of some drama. “Setup” openings and descriptions of the setting do not grab my attention, and I especially dislike book openings that depict heroine or hero in a car/bus/train/plane reflecting on the backstory in paragraph after paragraph of interior monologue, with no dialogue at all. Generally book openings work best when we are introduced to more than one character, as this not only allows for dialogue but also sets up relationships and defines character relationally. In romance, relationship is paramount. Ideally, we meet not only the heroine but the hero as well as close to page one as possible.
Also, I need to care about the protagonist(s) by the end of Chapter One or I won’t invest any more time in them. And to hold my interest, you need to supply sufficient, convincing conflict, and pace it well. If conflict is your Achilles heel (and lack of it is one of the major reasons we reject mss.), I highly recommend the book THANKS, BUT THIS ISN’T FOR US by Jessica Page Morrell, who offers excellent advice on the subject. As she states, “The best conflict stems from your protagonist’s worst fear presented at the worst possible moment.”
6. Joan, we all know that rejection is a necessary but difficult part of a writing career. It stings on both ends, and particularly when an editor sees promise in an author but things aren’t quite right…yet.
What’s your advice for the newbie approaching Steeple Hill multiple times? Any words of wisdom to help them up, over that gate and into the winner’s circle?
There’s a certain “magic” that an author has to have and can’t be taught—the ability to conjure up a fictional world the reader wants to enter and never leave, and to populate it with relatable heroines and to-die-for heroes, as well as engaging secondary characters. A good ear for dialogue is also a must, and I’m not sure if this is innate—like musical talent, it may well be.
But there’s also craft, which can be learned, and here are a few of the books I recommend to aspiring writers whose manuscripts are meeting with rejection:
WRITING THE BREAKOUT NOVEL by Donald Maass
THANKS, BUT THIS ISN’T FOR US by Jessica Page Morrell
STORY by Robert McKee
GETTING INTO CHARACTER by Brandilyn Collins
The major reason mss. are rejected by editors are because:
1)The opening wasn’t compelling, so we didn’t read any further. For editors, as for everyone, time is a precious commodity, and if our initial investment of time in a ms. isn’t rewarding, we aren’t going to continue investing time in the hope that there will be a payoff later in the book—especially when the odds are that there won’t be.
2)The characters don’t engage us. Even flawed protagonists—and we’re all flawed—have to be relatable and not totally off-putting at first meeting. The reader isn’t going to stick with an unlikable character in the hopes that halfway through the book s/he’ll be transformed. Life is too short to spend in bad company—even fictional company.
3)There’s not enough conflict, or not convincing enough conflict, or the stakes aren’t high enough, so we’re bored—and if an author can’t make us care what happens, how can we sell this book to consumers?
One of the things I like best about Harlequin (and no, I’m not buttering you up here, this is just good business!!!) is that they guard the bottom line.
7. As a writer, I’m a small businessperson. In a time when some publishers (even with the growth of Christian fiction) are scaling back, Harlequin’s careful practices keep them solvent and at the top of their game. This means they’re not afraid to pull back and stop a line that isn’t holding its own (and we know those decisions are not easy or carelessly made), but it also means they’re unafraid to put muscle behind success.
Your tenure at the helm of Steeple Hill epitomizes success. The lines have expanded, you’ve taken chances, you’ve broadened the reader base and the sales’ venues and you’ve done it in the step-by-step style that equates business savvy.
What are your favorite accomplishments at Steeple Hill? And do you see any of the current lines expanding again in the near future? And one of our visitors is wondering about your favorite aspects of your job. What delights you?
First, let me acknowledge a debt to my predecessors, Tracy Farrell, Melissa Jeglinski, Tara Gavin and Anne Canadeo, and to their editorial teams, who built up the Steeple Hill author base and set the standards for high quality editorial that we maintain today. I’ve built on their success, which is a lot easier than starting from ground zero.
I’m proud of the Steeple Hill authors, both the long-time authors and those who’ve been added under my watch, and of our talented editorial team –Senior Editors Melissa Endlich and Tina James, Assistant Editors Emily Rodmell and Elizabeth Mazer and Editorial Assistant Rachel Burkot--who’ve established and built relationships with our authors and encouraged and helped them write so many wonderful books for us.
We’re expanding Love Inspired Historical in January 2011, so I’m not ready to think about the next expansion just yet (see Matthew 6:34, for Jesus’ wise advice on living one day at a time). But as you know, Harlequin is a company that excels at anticipating and responding to markets, so you can be sure we will continue to grow and to capitalize on new formats, like iphone apps.
Favorite aspects of my job:
When I was an Editor and a Senior Editor, I had the continual thrill of discovering new authors and making those mutually delightful phone calls whereby the editor transforms the writer into an author who has actually sold a book.
As an Executive Editor, I am a manager and also have corporate responsibilities, so it is vicariously, through my awesome team’s acquisitions (14 brand-new authors were acquired for Steeple Hill in 2009!) that I now experience this thrill. I still find encouraging and building the few authors I work with supremely rewarding, but now I also have the equally rewarding responsibility of developing and supporting an editorial team, with each team member contributing her strengths and the team as a whole learning and growing together.
Special Note: Several of those new authors were former beachside hut residents of Unpubbed Island, soon to be turned into a tropical writers' retreat resort location.
Finally, I love being part of the Harlequin community, with all the advantages of working for a forward-looking global corporation that also offers the positive emotional climate of a close-knit family. I value the support I receive from managers, colleagues and direct reports, as well as the collegiality of the unique Harlequin culture and the long-term employees who’ve helped to create it. And of course I am grateful to and for all the talented and gracious authors who’ve made it possible for me to earn a livelihood in such a congenial fashion. Thank you and God bless you all.
8. E-books. Kindles. A whole new lingo hovers on the publishing horizon and it’s got to strike a hint of fear into booksellers’ hearts while it probably pumps a smidge of anticipation into publishers’ wallets. We’re gazing on the advent of a whole new generational era of book sales. I’ve already gotten e-book reviews and letters from e-book readers on Winter’s End (come on, guys, you KNEW I’d slip my debut title in here somewhere, right? It’s such a great read!!!!!) and some of my best buds are now Kindle owners. And Kelly Pickler, a cute new country music star, was just saying she bought a Kindle because she travels a lot and can’t take a bajillion books with her on the tour bus, but her Kindle can. That pretty much sums it up right there.
What do you see as the future in e-books and do you see the time frame as generational, growing as the current twenty-somethings take over as the principal readership over the next two decades? And keeping along the electronics-crazed trends, do you see Steeple Hill going with electronic submissions/revisions/galleys anytime soon?
Just to put it in perspective, I read recently (I think in Publishers Weekly) that ebook sales grew 176% in 2009 but still represented only 1.8% of all book sales. That’s less than two percent. So, to paraphrase Mark Twain, the report of the death of the printed word has—so far—been greatly exaggerated. I am a big believer in black swans and chaos theory—in other words, I don’t make predictions because tomorrow an innovative technology may be invented or perfected that will make all of today’s predictions moot.
As a Baby Boomer, I do have to take issue with the statement that 20somethings will be the principal readers over the next two decades. We Boomers are living ever longer and healthier lives, and as we retire will (hopefully) have plenty of time to read. I would be thrilled if 20somethings were keeping pace with us, but given all the other entertainment choices out there, not to mention trying to juggle work and family life, I’m not sure this will be the case so soon. I do have hopes that as they age, the 20somethings will also grow in wisdom and develop a deeper appreciation of the joys of reading. No doubt they will embrace ebooks in greater numbers, but again, I shy away from predictions that could leave me with egg on my face.
Over the next few years, I expect all of Harlequin, including Steeple Hill—and indeed, the entire publishing industry—to go totally electronic. The cost savings is huge. We already have e-galleys, and some editors have been editing electronically for a few years now. Ultimately we will likely all be editing on ipads or whatever the latest and best gadgets for this are—unless some other kind of new technology comes along that makes the electronic/digital world obsolete.
9. Joan, we’ve got a broad base of visitors here in Seekerville and we love each and every one of them. Some are quiet visitors, some are more vocal, but your visit brought questions from readers and writers alike. Thank you for that!
A couple of authors stepped up to the plate with these questions. (note the baseball reference. It IS spring after all.)
Sales numbers talk, as well they should. The question from one author is: How much? Do authors need specific sales numbers to be granted new contracts and what can an author do to boost their sales numbers?
I’m not sure if you’re talking exclusively about Steeple Hill, which is a series business and as such has a somewhat different business model from that of the single titles.
In the series business, there is no “magic number”--the series rather than the author is the primary brand, so orders are hefty for first-time authors as well as established favorites. This is a great reason to become a series romance writer, especially as it’s getting increasingly difficult for first-time authors to compete with established “brand name” authors in the single title marketplace.
In series publishing as in any business, sales are important, and we periodically review with authors how their books are ranking—in the top or bottom half or third of the series—and do our best to build and develop our authors. We are proud of the wonderful opportunities our series have given to women writers, in some cases enabling them to work at home so they could have more time with their families, and in other cases making a crucial difference in supporting their families or being self-supporting.
An author can boost sales by consistently writing “good stories, well told.” Frequency of publication, particularly when books are linked in a miniseries, contributes to boosting sales as well . To build your author name, you need to get it out there—ideally by publishing at least three books a year—with compelling, un-put-downable books that meet and exceed reader expectations. (We don’t ask much ;)).
Ultimately, author strategy is best discussed with the individual author’s editor, so I won’t speak about it anymore here.
10. Joan, the publishing industry has all kinds of standards across the board and within specific publishing houses and within specific lines of those houses.
How does Steeple Hill feel about authors writing for multiple houses as long as the workload doesn’t jeopardize quality or quantity of what’s expected for Steeple Hill?
The best way to build a career at Steeple Hill is to publish at least three books a year with us (or a minimum of two for the longer Love Inspired Historical), to establish and build a presence in one or two series and become an “author brand.” To write 3-5 books per year, as most top-performing series authors do, involves a commitment of time. Each author has to prioritize and manage her time in a way that enables her to realize her goals—and not all authors have the same goals. Each author should discuss her career goals with her editor, who can help the author develop a build strategy.
Debbi Giusti is a great example of continually publishing 2-3 books/year(Ruthy note)
In her wonderful poem “The Summer Day,” Mary Oliver poses the question, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” and that’s the question we each have to answer for ourselves. Of course, we hope our talented writers will make writing for Steeple Hill a major priority in their lives! We also greatly appreciate timely delivery of manuscripts—late delivery is our single biggest problem and can sabotage an otherwise talented author’s career.
11.And conversely, is Steeple Hill interested in picking up more occasional reads from authors who are contracted with other houses for longer books but would like to pen the shorter works that Steeple Hill is noted for?
We always welcome talented authors, and each submission is considered on its own merits. As I said earlier, there is a greater opportunity to build an author who can write three or more series books per year, but there are publishing opportunities for authors whose output is more limited as well. All of our series are open to new authors, and in particular, Steeple Hill Love Inspired Historical®, which is now expanding, offers a major opportunity to new and experienced historical romance authors. We would be especially thrilled to find more authors who can write at least two Love Inspired Historical romances a year.
12.And tagging onto that question, do you see the possibility of longer works of inspirational fiction being picked up by MIRA more often, or perhaps developing an inspirational branch of MIRA?
Again I am reluctant to make any predictions, given that we live in an ever-changing world (and one in which, to quote the musical Cinderella, “Impossible things are happening every day.”). Let’s take it one day at a time, and for now, please submit to Love Inspired Historical, Love Inspired Suspense and Love Inspired!
Joan, you’ve been wonderful! Marvelous!!!!
14. One last bundle of questions to wrap this up and I apologize for scheduling you here on a day when the Yankees are playing Baltimore at home mid-day. I’m sure you’d rather be at the 1:05 game, cheering the home team on!!!! (okay, yet another shameless plug for the boys in pinstripes.)
Joan, where would you like to see Steeple Hill go in the near and distant future? And what are your current needs for your delightful Love Inspired lines? Is there anything you’re short on or would love to see come across your desk?
Well, of course we’d love to see Steeple Hill books go straight into readers’ shopping carts :).
As far as the needs of our lines go, in Steeple Hill Love Inspired® Senior Editor Melissa Endlich would love to see more medical-themed novels, and cowboys, babies and “bonnets” are still in great demand. But also, please surprise us with your innovative stories!
An example of originality in Love Inspired is your own [i.e., Ruth Logan Herne’s] WAITING OUT THE STORM (July 2010), in which heroine is a shepherd and the hero a vet (who doesn’t like sheep!). This fresh element is skillfully integrated into the story and made entertaining as well as poignant, and fits beautifully with the biblical themes of Christ as both Good Shepherd and Lamb of God.
For Steeple Hill Love Inspired Suspense®, Senior Editor Tina James wants to remind you that stories should be equal parts romance and suspense. Themes that appeal most to Love Inspired Suspense readers are stories about small towns, or stories with strong regional emphasis (Texas or small town secrets). Also, clearly identifiable hooks such as heroes in law enforcement (cop/fireman/sheriff/FBI/Secret Service) or cowboys do better than more nebulous heroes, like amateur sleuths.
Tina is also interested in seeing stories set in Amish country, stories about bodyguards to royalty and prodigal-son themed stories. And of course she welcomes innovative stories, such as SABOTAGE by Kit Wilkinson (June 2010), in which the heroine, a horsewoman, is an Olympic hopeful, and the hero, her temporary groom, has actually been hired by her father as a personal bodyguard.
For Steeple Hill Love Inspired Historicals®, we are always looking for compelling stories with a western setting. But we need non-western stories, too. Which could mean any of the following time periods: Americana (post-Civil War), European historical eras (Tudor, Regency and Victorian England, 18th-century Scotland, etc.) and 20th century (turn-of-the-century through World War II). Again, we invite you to dazzle us with your originality, as Christine Johnson did recently in SOARING HOME (November 2010), the story of an aspiring aviatrix in the World War I era.
Joan, thanks so much for being here today! We love our Steeple Hill partners and Melissa’s quest to help empty Unpubbed Island is a blessing ten-fold. We appreciate the hard work you guys do there on Broadway and I love that you have a Starbucks downstairs. This is, indeed, a wonderful thing. ;)
We are grateful for your time, your benevolence, and that sweet, genteel nature that shines through in person, on the phone and in print. We are truly blessed to have you at the helm of the wonderful editorial staff of Steeple Hill and here in Seekerville today. God bless you in all that you do.
Visitors, remember hourly drawings!!!! Multiple winners throughout the day!!! And great food!!!!
Leave us your e-mail in your comment, please, and we'll be announcing winners throughout the day with a complete list in our Saturday Weekend Edition with Ace Reporter Tina Radcliffe.
And God's blessings on you all!