At the beginning of the year, we featured a few posts by publishing “insiders”. Elle Kennedy and her editor, Jesse Feldman, contacted me to see if I would be interested in posting about how Elle’s new Killer Instincts romantic suspense series was acquired. I thought readers would like to follow a book from acquisition to publication based on why Jesse Feldman bought the book in the first place, why Elle Kennedy, a successful digitally published author and author of series romances, would go the route of traditional publishing when so many authors appear to be moving the opposite direction. The following is the path of publication for Midnight Rescue, the first in the Killer Instinct series. Jesse and Elle also indicated that they would pop in if you had a question.
JF: To celebrate this month’s release of the first book, MIDNIGHT RESCUE, Elle and I are thrilled to be here answering questions about the book’s journey to publication. It’s been almost exactly a year since I acquired three books in a new romantic suspense series by Elle Kennedy for Signet Eclipse (part of Penguin).
Editors say this all the time, but I devoured this submission in one sitting. The heroine’s strength, emotionally and physically, hooked me within ten pages (in revisions, we dropped the prologue to emphasize her strength even more). This was not a romantic suspense where an alpha male swoops in to rescue the heroine; this was a book where the hero and heroine rescue each other.
Although I was excited about the potential of this series and author, the practical side of my brain knew this could be an uphill fight to acquisition. We were seeing very little romantic suspense published at the time—the popularity of sweet, small town contemporaries was really on the rise. MIDNIGHT RESCUE was actually almost the complete opposite of what I thought I was looking to acquire. But I fell in love with the manuscript’s darkness – and also how the romance and banter and friendships balance it out beautifully.
EK: For me, I knew the series would be a tough sell, but my agent and I thought it was worth it to put MIDNIGHT RESCUE in front of some editors to see what the response would be. We received a several passes on the submission, most editors admitting they loved the book, but it was too dark for their list. Either that, or the market for romantic suspense wasn’t as “in demand” as paranormal or sweet contemporaries.
So I was absolutely thrilled when Jesse acquired the book because of that darkness, and took a chance on a RS manuscript.
JF: Elle’s agent set up a phone call between us. I was hoping to get a sense of how well we could work together on revisions (whether my suggestions resonated with her), how eager Elle was to promote herself, and how active she was online (I’d also investigated this before the call – prepare to be googled, authors. Have a presence online already).
EK: I loved that initial call with Jesse. Her enthusiasm about the story got me even more enthusiastic about it. And her thoughts about promotion were eye opening. At that point, I had somewhat of an online presence, but I realized I needed to do a lot more in terms of putting myself out there.
JF: Elle and I had a great talk, I loved the submission, and everyone who second read in my department agreed. Then we ran numbers and I made an offer for three books in the series.
EK: Best day ever? My agent calling with the news that Signet Eclipse made an offer. I’m pretty sure I let out a girlish shriek—and people who know me well know that I’m super subdued and rarely girlishly shriek.
I’ve been asked why I chose to go the traditional route rather than self publish digitally or go with a strictly digital publisher, which a lot of authors are doing these days. It all boils down to that childhood dream of wanting to see my name on the cover of a book, hold that book in my hands, flip through the pages, see it on actual shelves in an actual bookstore. Bookstores are my favourite places on earth. I read a lot of ebooks, of course, but for me, I just love having that hard copy of a story in my hands. So I was so thrilled when Jesse called saying she wanted to publish MIDNIGHT RESCUE.
JF: Now the real fun began: edits! I read the manuscript several times before shooting an editorial letter and line edited manuscript off to Elle. We had a phone call a few days later. Elle jumped right into revisions with enthusiasm. I remember getting emails throughout the month like, “What if I add a dog?” (Authors: there’s ALWAYS room for a dog.)
I sent Elle four pages of notes, as well as a marked up manuscript file, for the first round of broad revisions. This is pretty average length of notes for me, plus or minus a few pages. As I mentioned above, we reworked the structure of the book a little bit, incorporating the prologue more into the story and streamlining character POVs. I also discussed with Elle how the hero and heroine weren’t as active in the climactic suspense plot as I’d hoped they would be. Both characters are strong and capable, but originally they were kept out of planning the rescue mission that is the focus of the book. During a brainstorming session on the phone, Elle came up with a twist that really pulls everything together at the end.
Elle and I had a lot of conversations about how to really be sure that Abby is completely empowered and active throughout the story, even as she learns that she needs to trust her teammates and the hero. This carries over to her sex scenes with the hero, where Elle really amped up Abby taking control of her sexuality, which I love and is an important part of her character’s growth. We also talked through different scenarios for ending the book that allowed Abby to not sacrifice any of her values (or skill set) in order to be with the hero romantically.
EK: I have a love/hate relationship with revisions. It’s so incredibly difficult cutting or changing parts of a book that you worked on for so long and which has become a part of you. But I’m lucky to have some wonderful editors who are able to look at that book objectively and tell me what it’ll take to make it even better. Jesse is no exception. Every single one of her suggestions made perfect sense to me, so making certain changes was no hardship.
Oh, and fun fact: I added my dog into the book. Bear, the German shepherd mutt who belongs to one of my mercenaries, is actually my super awesome mutt.
JF: We also started brainstorming series names and cover concepts around this time. We look at what’s popular right now, and think about how to make the book stand out on shelves. This is Abby’s story, so we decided to take a little departure from traditional romantic suspense covers by depicting her alone on the cover. The difficulty was not making her seem like an urban fantasy heroine. As you can see, the designer did an amazing job.
EK: I love, love, love this cover! When it showed up in my inbox, I was actually speechless (again, not characteristic—sadly, I am a babbler). I couldn’t believe how fierce the heroine looked, and the colors were absolutely stunning. After seeing the cover for MIDNIGHT RESCUE, I had no idea how the art department could possibly top it for Book 2.
JF: The art department actually is working on the cover for book #2, MIDNIGHT ALIAS, now. Sometimes photos of potential male cover models appear in my inbox. Designing covers is fun.
EK: Once the book had a cover, it felt even more “real” to me. And around this time, Jesse had read the revisions and approved them, so the book was moving along on its journey to publication.
JF: We had done two rounds of revisions before turning it over to managing editorial for copyediting. When you’ve read something five or six times and it still resonates with you emotionally, you know it’s a gem!
EK: For me, once the book has been copy-edited, I start to freak out. Because at this point, I can’t really make any more changes—and what if I suddenly decide that something needs to change?! Standing by and letting the book get immortalized in print/digital form is like waving goodbye to your kids when they go to college. You’ve got to let them stand on their own now, no matter how scary that is.
JF: Elle turned in revisions for book #2 in the series (out next Feb) and the outline for book #3 this month. And this whole cycle begins again!
We’re giving away 5 copies of MIDNIGHT RESCUE: A Killer Instincts Novel to randomly selected comments below. Leave a question or comment for Elle or myself—do you have a question about the editorial process we didn’t cover? We’ll try to reply and maybe you’ll win a book!
Visit Elle’s website for more information on MIDNIGHT RESCUE.