Interview with an Editor Series: Shauna Summers, Bantam Dell
Like St. Martin’s Press, Bantam Dell does not have a specific line devoted to romance. However, romance is a big part of Bantam Dell’s publishing focus. Bantam Dell’s stable includes Shana Abe, Mary Balogh, Jane Feather, Elizabeth Thornon, Virginia Henley and Tara Janzen. Shauna Summers is a Senior Editor at Bantam Dell. She edits such personages in the romance industry as Suzanne Brockmann, Karen Marie Moning, and recent award winning author, Linnea Sinclair. Random House pioneered the publishing of three books back to back to back. My first memory of this was Mary Balogh’s Bedwyn series.
I received Ms. Summers’ answers to the interview and then we had the blog post that did not quit. I began to feel some concern about whether we should post this review because I had to ask, didn’t I, what was the purpose of identifying Cameron Dean’s trilogy as a romance. I did so with some trepidation. Ms. Summers gave the following response:
That author is published by Ballantine, not Bantam Dell, so I can't speak to the content or the marketing strategy of the book. Ballantine is another division of Random House, but still completely different from Bantam Dell.
Now to the rest of the answers.
Can you briefly describe what an editor does. I think that readers assume that you get to do what we all dream of doing and that is get paid to read for a living. I suspect that the truth is less romantic.
Well, the truth is a little less romantic, but in general I do get paid to read. I have a list of authors I work with on an ongoing basis. They deliver manuscripts and I work with them on revisions and do actual editing on the manuscript. I also acquire for publication, which means I get submissions from agents and when I fall in love with a book that is right for our list, I negotiate the contract with the agent. I'm also the point person within Bantam Dell for the authors I work with. So I work with the art department on the cover, the production department on getting the manuscript copy edited and type set and made into a book, the marketing and publicity departments on promoting the book. Sometimes I meet with members of our sales force to talk about the titles that they will then be selling to bookstores. That pretty much covers the big stuff– .
How many romance books do you release each month? (ie. is there a set amount released in month).
We usually do two or so romances a month, but there's no set amount or slots to fill on our list.
You have an interesting conglomeration of books released under the Bantam imprint that run the gamut from women’s fiction, contemporary romance, paranormal romance, and even historical. Is there any kind of similarities you see in your authors?
The main and probably only similarity amongst my authors is that they are great writers and storytellers.
Are there any trends you see growing, expanding or contracting? What do you think is driving these trends?
Paranormal continues to be hot and it seems like erotica is growing–"certainly I've noticed a lot more publishers having erotica on their lists, including ours. I think readers ultimately drive the trends.
What is the most interesting story of how you came to buy a manuscript?
I've been lucky enough to pick a handful of authors out of the slush pile. The last one was a historical romance author named Tina St. John (this was when I worked at Ballantine), and she sent me a query letter and then the whole manuscript after I requested it. After I bought the book, she told me that she'd met me at an RWA conference a couple of years before when I worked for a different company. Since she hadn't finished her book, I'd told her to send me a query when she finished. Because I was at a different company by the time she completed her book, she didn't know if she should mention having met me or not and decided on not including that. I like this story because it shows that ultimately it's always about the quality of the book, rather than having met an editor. I'd like to believe that the cream always rises to the top.
How much time do you spend actually reading as part of your job?
I don't know that I can quantify how much time I actually spend, but it's a lot.
Do you get to read for pleasure? If so, do you have favorite authors?
I am always reading a book for pleasure and just had a delicious holiday break where I read five books in a week and a half. I'm also lucky enough that some of my favorite authors are writers that I also work with. I love all kinds of books though, particularly suspense (Lee Child is a favorite). I also loved Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl. And I've been quite into YA this year–"The Book Thief by Markus Zusak and Twilight and New Moon by Stephenie Meyer.
What are you looking for in terms of a romance these days? Any particular themes? periods? subgenres?
Nothing in particular, just great stories told by great voices.
Do you think readers today are more accepting of rule breaking romances (pushing the envelope) or are we still very traditional in our buying habits?
I guess that depends on what a reader thinks the rules are. I do see a lot of crossover in genres between suspense, fantasy and romance, and because of that I think a lot of traditional rules get bent pretty regularly.
We’ve heard some about the loss of young readership or the inability to gain that young readership. Is that changing? What are you doing to try to attract the younger readers?
All I can do is try to acquire and publish the best books I can. I think capturing young readers continues to be a challenge, but the best thing any of us can do is give great books to kids and teenagers and keep giving them until each one finds the book that makes them a reader.
We’ve heard some about the loss of older readers because of lack of content which is reflective of their lives, specifically baby boomers? Is that still the case? What are you doing to attract older readers?
I don't know that that's the case or ever was the case. Again, I look to publishing books that I think are great, rather than trying to focus on a particular readership.
Do you have a favorite way of spending time away from books?
I'm a huge television watcher, and love to knit, which helps me not feel guilty about watching so much tv. And I love to exercise, thank goodness, or all that lounging around reading and watching tv would be a real problem.
What is the worst part of an editor’s job?
Delivering bad news.
What is the best part of an editor’s job?
Delivering good news. And watching an author really develop their voice and craft.
Have you considered writing a book yourself?
Definitely not fiction–"I'm not a storyteller. But if I came up with the right subject/idea, I could maybe see myself writing some kind of non-fiction. Maybe.
It seems there are two very diametrically opposed growths: erotic romance and inspirational romance. Are those fringe trends or will they become more mainstream?
I think they both have become more mainstream than before, though how wide of an audience they'll have is yet to be seen.
Which books are you proudest of having worked on in your career?
Too many to count. But if I had to say one author, it would probably be Suzanne Brockmann.
What was considered or went into the decision making process as it related to the unique back to back to back releases that Bantam seems known for now? Was the first Mary Balogh’s series? I see other publishers starting to jump on that bandwagon a bit. Have you gotten good reader response? How do you pick which books/authors will be in this program?
I actually didn't work here when we did the yearlong promotion that included back to back books from Mary Balogh, Madeline Hunter, Jane Feather and Josie Litton. I think it's a great way to generate excitement and attention while also satisfying reader demand. You can establish loyalty and commitment pretty quickly. We have gotten great response and had great success with it. The biggest issue is whether or not authors can write that quickly.
While you are probably excited about all of the books that you have in your catalog can you share with the readers a few that we should be anticipating? Any new authors or existing ones that have exciting projects for 2007?
Karen Marie Moning's new “Fever” series really kicks into high gear this year with the second book, BLOODFEVER coming in the fall. We'll also have new books from Tara Janzen and Madeline Hunter, both of whom I love. I'm really excited about a couple of new paranormal authors we're debuting in this year–"Jaci Burton and Lara Adrian. Plus, we're also publishing our first erotica titles with HOUSE OF DARK DELIGHTS by Louisa Burton, THE DARK GARDEN by Eden Bradley and RIDING THE STORM by Sydney Croft.
Thanks so much!