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Beyond the Book: Tessa Woodward on the acquisition and publication...

Dear Dear Author Readers,

Normally, I’d tell you to pay no attention to the (wo)man behind the curtain, but today I’m letting you in, lifting the veil, spilling all of my secrets — my editorial ones, that is.

I’m going to take you through the editorial process from soup to nuts or, in this case, acquisition to publication. And I’m going to use a real life example — Debut Author Lecia Cornwall’s Secrets of a Proper Countess (browse inside the book), due out in April!


Lecia Cornwall's Secrets of a Proper Countess The first time I heard about this project was when I received a pitch email from the agent in October 2009. Now, this was an agent I’d worked with before and who I knew had taste that was similar to mine so I took a quick look at the pitch letter. Since I knew that I liked her taste, I was pretty sure that I was going to at least enjoy the manuscript, whether it was right for my list or not. And she definitely hooked me with the words “a sexy and dangerous Regency story.”

Side note: Now that I’ve been at Avon for a while, I’ve been able to build up relationships with particular agents who have similar tastes. It means that they’re able to pinpoint specific project that they know I’ll like and I’m able to triage my submissions. Often, if you pay attention to these kinds of things, you’ll see editors who have multiple projects with a particular agent (as I now do with Lecia’s agent as a matter of fact). It’s similar to how you’re more likely to take book recommendations from someone whose taste you trust and who knows what kinds of books you like, than from someone you’ve only just met.

Back to the submission process. After I read the manuscript and really liked it, I asked Amanda, one of my colleagues, to take a look as well. It’s always good to have more than one voice when I go in to talk to our editorial director and Amanda has an incredible eye. By this point, it’s mid-November now and the agent is “closing” on the book soon. That basically means she’s set a deadline and we have to make our offer by a certain date. Luckily, with Amanda’s support, I get the green light to make an offer.


And just like that I’m part of an auction. I make my offer and set up a time to talk to Lecia and tell her some of my editorial ideas. This is one of my favorite parts because it makes me feel like those good old days of publishing we’re always hearing about are not over. Because this is when my editorial ideas matter. And how we get along matters. And how much passion I have for the project matters.

Here’s the thing, no matter how much money I might offer, if my suggestions don’t line up with what the author is willing to do, or if she and I are completely unable to communicate, then we shouldn’t make the deal. It reminds me that it’s not just a business but that who the writer is and who the editor is are intrinsically tied into the success of the book. If we don’t connect then it’ll be that much harder to make a success together. I also like to think that if we find that we’re kindred spirits and we share a similar vision for the book and the author’s career, then we will all do everything in our powers to make the deal work.

In this case, I think it’s safe to say that the conversation went well. It helped that Lecia is Canadian and I have a longstanding love for all things Canadian. But I’m sure that’s not the only reason…


Now we wait. Because we’re planning so far in advance, the deal that we’ve just made means the first book won’t come out until April 2011. That’s about a year and a half later. I imagine this must be an incredibly frustrating time for authors (but also a good time to work on book 2!) as they live in limbo until about 9 months before the book goes on sale. That’s when the fun begins.


The editorial process is different for every book, every author, and every editor. My own particular brand involves lots of post-its that eventually resolve themselves into long letters. For this book, the hardest part of the editing process was the cutting. The manuscript was a bit too long and we worked a lot (poor Lecia!) to make it perfect. In my humble opinion, we did a great job! You’ll all have to let me know in April.

Title and Cover

Meanwhile we had to come up with the perfect title and cover. Secrets of a Proper Countess was originally submitted as Unmasking the Countess. We generally have two meetings to talk about covers. The first is just with the editorial team when we brainstorm ideas and talk about titles. The second is with our brilliant art department who makes our vague desires (something pretty, and mysterious, and bright enough to pop off the shelf, and interesting, with beautiful people) turn into incredible reality.

At our first meeting it was decided that “Unmasking” wasn’t a sexy enough word. The sounds are a bit harsh and wouldn’t necessarily look very pretty on the page. Yes, we actually think about how the individual letters of the title will look on the page. We also wanted something that would describe the book a bit better. Thus Secrets of a Proper Countess was born. (Actually, we had at first wanted to call it Secrets of an Improper Countess but, as the author correctly pointed out, the heroine isn’t an “improper countess” at all. That’s the whole point of the book. So we chose “proper.”)

Our art director, armed with the descriptions of the characters, pulled a gorgeous and mysterious cover out of thin air and we had a book.

And then we wait again. Hoping that all of our hard work will translate into a smash when the book comes out in April.


Voila. That is my main part in the publishing process. Sure, I completely left out the sales, marketing, and publicity but I can’t go spilling all of the state secrets! Yet-

Now I’m off to read Lecia’s book 2.

Hope that helped dispel some of the mystery surrounding the editorial process- but not too much. Can’t start having my authors believe that I’m not a magician.

Follow me on twitter @TessaofAvonlea and at if you want to get more insight into the publishing process.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She self publishes NA and contemporaries (and publishes with Berkley and Montlake) and spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com


  1. Kim in Hawaii
    Mar 28, 2011 @ 05:27:22

    That was a fun post! I’m sure authors still think of their editors as magicians!

  2. Melissa
    Mar 28, 2011 @ 08:14:44

    Thanks for an interesting post. I have to admit that I find Unmasking the Countess to be a more intriguing title than Secrets of a Proper Countess.

  3. Danielle D
    Mar 28, 2011 @ 08:59:38

    What an informative post!! I’ve learned so much this morning!

  4. Elyssa Papa
    Mar 28, 2011 @ 09:28:52

    I love this post, but I like seeing behind the scenes…especially when it comes to how a book gets acquired and the steps following. I hope more editors do this type of post, or give readers an editor’s eye into a particular process.

    And hi, Tessa! I’ve heard so many good things about Lecia’s book and will be reading it soon.

  5. dick
    Mar 28, 2011 @ 10:31:37

    What I’m wondering about is the emphasis on taste. What would have happened to the book had the e-mail about it come from an agent whose tastes were dis-similar to the editor’s? Does an editor ever read something which, even though it doesn’t suit her own taste, she nonetheless acquires?

  6. jayhjay
    Mar 28, 2011 @ 12:02:42

    Really interesting article. I am curious about covers, as that seems to be a reader hot button on this and other romance blogs (and is a personal pet peeve). Leaving aside this particular cover, do you find you run into a lot of cookie cutter covers? Meaning interchangable hero/heroine who look nothing like the book describes, or in situations nothing like the book describes. And why this happens versus more effort to remain true to the story? Maybe you don’t want to talk about Avon covers specifically, but I would be curious about this from an editors perspective as it is an issue we talk about a lot as readers. Is this something you all consider when working on cover art? Why do you think this area falls short a lot of the time?

    Thanks for the interesting article. Jane, great idea for a blog topic!

  7. Susan Reader
    Mar 28, 2011 @ 12:23:35


    Does the “waiting” between aquisition and publication shorten with later books? Are there things that can be streamlined?

    The title though… “Unmasking the Countess” is, I think, a much better title. I would pull a book with that title off the shelf and at least read the back blurb and maybe leaf through it. “Secrets of a Proper Countess” sounds (and looks) just like far too many other books, and my eye would just slide right past it. Also, I’d say “Unmasking” is plenty sexy: it’s active! there’s a mystery! “Secrets”? Passive. Do I have any reason to care? Of course this may just be me. The widely varying tastes of the reading public must make marketing decisions all the more… interesting.

  8. Nightwriter
    Mar 28, 2011 @ 12:57:34

    Hmm. While this post was enlightening, I found it disheartening. It’s just what I suspected all along. Editors acquire books to their personal tastes and nevermind what the vast reading public might want. It’s the reason why we see the same cookie cutter books published ad nauseum.

  9. Jeanne Miro
    Mar 28, 2011 @ 13:37:09

    I'm glad I have this opportunity to thank you for the information on how a publisher actually signs an author to their “team”. I have to say that I'm glad that Secrets of a Proper Countess was the winning title and I think the cover art merges well with it as well.

    I was amazed at all the details that must be worked out and agreed upon. As a reader I think that sometimes we don't understand all the small things that must be worked out before publication can even begin. It makes me more aware of why I should be more patient if an author’s next book isn't released as quickly as I'd like it to be.

    I love being introduced to new authors and can’t wait to read Lecia’s first book. Hopefully her second book is moving along more quickly so that there won’t be a long wait for her new fans who will be looking forward to keep reading stories by this new author.

  10. Writing Roundup, March 28 « Writing « Jen's Writing Journey
    Mar 28, 2011 @ 17:07:38

    […] Beyond the Book: Tessa Woodward on the Acquisition and Publication of Lecia Cornwall’s Secrets… […]

  11. Janine
    Mar 28, 2011 @ 17:17:26

    Interesting post.

    For this book, the hardest part of the editing process was the cutting. The manuscript was a bit too long and we worked a lot (poor Lecia!) to make it perfect. In my humble opinion, we did a great job!

    I’m curious what is considered the ideal length for historical romances these days, and what the wordcount ended up being for the finished product. Can you say a little more about this?

  12. Susan/DC
    Mar 28, 2011 @ 21:19:18

    I’m another who prefers Unmasking because it indicates both the actual mask in the scenes at the masquerade and the more metaphorical masks that each of the characters wears.

    Also, a question. The Duke says that if Phineas doesn’t marry and have a son his older sister’s son would inherit. Does that mean this is one of the very few titles that can be inherited through the female line? Is that ever explained anywhere in the book?

  13. Stephanie
    Mar 29, 2011 @ 09:42:35

    I’d also like to state a preference for the original title. It seems to me that there have been an awful lot of books in the last few years that begin with the title phrase “Secrets of” or some variant of that. There’s a link above the original post to Victoria Alexander’s “Secrets of a Proper Lady.” Then, according to AAR’s review database, there’s Lisa Kleypas’s “Secrets of a Summer Night,” Sophia Nash’s “Secrets of a Scandalous Bride,” Madeline Hunter’s “Secrets of Surrender,” and Laura Lee Guhrke’s “Secret Desires of a Gentleman.” The contents of these books may be unique and distinctive, but the generic title phrase makes them all sound the same.

  14. DianeN
    Mar 29, 2011 @ 10:42:52

    I agree with others who have said they prefer the original title. It’s different from the norm, and would be much more likely to catch my attention while I’m browsing. Publishers apparently assume that readers are attracted more by a book that sounds and looks vaguely like some other book than by something different and original. I suppose for some readers that might be true, but it definitely doesn’t work that way for me! I also think publishers are motivated by the bandwagon effect. They want in on whatever is selling well, be it a particular series, a hot genre, or even a specific title that was wildly successful. And isn’t that why there are so many similar covers as well?

  15. Mary Anne Landers
    Mar 29, 2011 @ 16:57:36

    Thank you for your post, Tessa and Jane. Very informative! Apparently there are two processes that take nine months to complete, and one of them is editing and publishing a novel.

    I’m sure there are many readers who, like me, are intensely curious about what goes on behind the scenes in a major publishing house. Please tell us more! Any info short of trade secrets will be most appreciated.

    Good luck with the new releases.

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