Interview with an Editor: Heather Osborn, Tor
Heather Osborn is a trailblazer. She worked for the first erotic romance publishing house, Ellora’s Cave, and acquired authors that have now become household names. Recently, Osborn took the role of acquiring editor for Tor which is primarily known for its focus on science fiction and fantasy, becoming the first epublishing editor to move into a NY publishing house. Over the past few years, Tor has made a concerted effort to reach the female reading demographic. I’m a huge fan of Elizabeth Vaughan’s Warland trilogy which came from Tor’s Paranormal Romance line. Osborn aims to broaden Tor’s presence within the women’s fiction market. Read on to find out more.
Jane: I think that you are the first epublishing editor to be hired by a NY Publisher, right? Why do you think that is?
Heather Osborn: As far as I know, I am the first e-pub romance editor to move to a New York house. As for why I was hired by Tor/Forge, I think it was a combination of many different things.
First off, I have always viewed editing as a full-time career for me. As such, I have always been prepared to relocate to where a dream job is. After contract editing for Ellora’s Cave in Southern California (where I grew up), I moved to Ohio to take a full-time job with them in Fall of 2004. While working for Ellora’s Cave as an in-house editor, I had the opportunity to represent the company at many industry conferences like BEA, RWA National, EPICon, and many other regional RWA cons. That helped put my name out there and make me known to the romance world at large.
When Tor asked me to fly into NYC to interview, I didn’t hesitate to say yes, and I went into it knowing I would have to pick up and move in a very short amount of time if I got the job.
Secondly, I have had the great luck to work with many authors who also work for New York publishing houses. Authors like Cheyenne McCray, Allyson James, Lacey Alexander, and Cathryn Fox, to name a few. When asked by Tor, many of these authors gave favorable reports to their agents about my editing skills and professionalism.
Lastly, when I came to interview for the job, I was able to provide a well rounded background in the book industry at large. I have a combined 10 years experience as a bookseller for both Waldenbooks and Barnes and Noble, and as such, not only can I edit books, I can also bring knowledge of the market and avid readers to bear on my analysis of submissions for Tor.
Oh, and don’t forget the most important thing–"luck!
Jane: What are the differences between your editing job with Ellora’s Cave and with Tor?
Osborn: Well, there are big differences between e-publishing and print publishing. The biggest being schedules. In the e-pub world, you pretty much make your own release schedule, and while it is always a good idea to be scheduled in advance in order to be able to promote more effectively, if a book ends up not being on schedule, the inconvenience is fairly small.
In the print world, you are always working at least a year ahead, and sometimes even more. For example, the earliest opening in the Tor Romance schedule is Late 2008.
Obviously there are even more differences like paperwork and forms and meetings, but as I have only been on the job a few weeks, I am still bust discovering all of them!
Jane: How many romance books do you release each month? (ie. is there a set amount released in month and under what imprints?) Will this change in the near future?
Osborn: Currently, Tor Romance releases one book a month. Tor is in the process of expanding into Romantic Suspense, with the first, Kiss Me Deadly by Susan Kearney, coming out this July. Starting next year, the months that we release a Tor Romantic Suspense book we will also release a Tor Paranormal Romance, bringing our monthly releases to two. Eventually I see Tor releasing two romances a month.
Jane: Are there any trends you see growing, expanding or contracting? What do you think is driving these trends?
Osborn: Well, having come from Ellora’s Cave, I would be remiss not to mention erotic romance as a huge current trend. However, I want to let you know up front that Tor has no plans to launch an erotic romance line, ala Spice, Red, or Aphrodisia. Tor is open to “super sensual“ romances, but these are nowhere near the level of heat you see in an Ellora’s Cave release.
Another big trend is Urban Fantasy. I am a huge fan of the genre, and would love to see some urban fantasy romance added to Tor Romance’s lineup. As for what is driving the trend? Obviously, kickass shows like Buffy, Alias, and now Heroes have had an influence, as well as manga, anime, and comic books.
One trend I am seeing a bit too much of now is vampires. Let’s face it, there are already plenty of big name authors writing fantastic vampire series. I am not sure there is too much more room. Obviously, if the next JR Ward came knocking at my door, I wouldn’t refuse it, but in order for me to want it, it needs to be AMAZING.
Jane: What is the most interesting story of how you came to buy a manuscript?
Osborn: Well, I haven’t yet bought for Tor, but at EC I had a couple of interesting buys. As a brand new editor, one of the first manuscripts I looked at was by a category romance author writing (in deep secrecy) as Lacey Alexander. After reading her story, French Quarter, in a day, I snapped her up. Now Lacey is a multi-published author, and has recently come out to the romance world as writer Toni Blake.
My most recent great buy comes out of judging a contest. The winning entry was so hot, so interesting, and so well-written, that I couldn’t wait to read the full. After making me wait a couple of months, the author finally sent the book to me and I snapped it up for EC. It ended up being one of the last books I edited there. Alien Overnight by Robin L. Rotham releases at EC on May 9th. Try it, I know you won’t be disappointed!
Jane: How much time do you spend actually reading as part of your job?
Osborn: I spend almost no time reading while in the office. I usually use all of my office time to answer e-mail, regular mail, and edit. I read after hours while at home. When you break it down into percentages, I probably read (not counting the re-reading as part of editing) for about 30% of my job.
Jane: Do you get to read for pleasure? If so, do you have favorite authors?
Osborn: Yes. I am a big believer in always reading for pleasure. Even if I can only read for 10 minutes a night, I do it. Otherwise, I might burn out on submissions. The genres I read are primarily romance and sf/f.
For romance, I read JR Ward, Carla Kelly (huuuuge fan), Gaelen Foley, Ruth Wind/Barbara Samuel, Loretta Chase, PC Cast, Lynn Viehl, Linda Howard, Diana Palmer (I can’t help it, it’s an addiction!), Marjorie M. Liu, Nalini Singh, Robin Owens, Susan Brockmann, and many many more. (I deliberately did not list any favorite EC authors, because if I list one, I need to list them all!)
For sf/f, I read Sara Douglass, Mercedes Lackey, Diana Pharoah Francis, Patricia Bray, Patricia Briggs, Charlaine Harris, Linnea Sinclair, Sharon Lee and Steve Miller (love them!), Keri Arthur, Holly Lisle, Kelley Armstrong, Tamora Pierce (a favorite), Laurell K. Hamilton (I just can’t quit her– ), Rachel Caine, and many more.
Jane: What are you looking for in terms of a romance these days? Any particular themes? periods? Subgenres?
Osborn: Well, as I already mentioned, I love Urban Fantasy, and would love to see more of it for the romance line. Romantic Suspense is also of interest, although it should be noted, nothing that hints of Category romance, please. If I had a dollar for every “woman on the run from the mob who meets up with small town sheriff (and former Navy SEAL)“ submission I have seen–"well, I might not be rich, but I’d be on my way!
I also see Tor eventually expanding to include really well-written contemporary romances. Again, nothing category romance. Think Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Jennifer Crusie, or Deborah Smith. The kind of book that you finish reading thinking “that was a great story“ not “that was a great secret baby story!“
Of course, like all editors, what I am really looking for is a great book!
Jane: Tor is primarily known as a science fiction and fantasy powerhouse who has been providing a small contribution to the paranormal romance shelves. It sounded that with your hiring, Tor plans to branch out and increase its female readership. What plans can you share with us about Tor’s future in women’s fiction?
Osborn: Well, Tor has already been promoting its books to the female readership through its Women in Fantasy program, which is often advertised in RT. They are eager to grow their market to include more women, and have made it clear to me that if I am submitted books that would fit better in the Science Fiction or Fantasy lines I should feel free to pass them on.
Jane: 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?
Osborn: Can I say yes to both? I think there is a tightrope with romance that needs to be walked. For me, the most important rule that cannot be broken in terms of romance is the happy (i.e. romantic) ending. The reader must feel as though the romantic relationship in the book is special and will last. Any book that does not have an HEA is not a romance. Of course, in this day and age, HEA is not necessarily a wedding and babies and a white picket fence. Regardless of how it is done, the HEA is still vital.
Within the context of that HEA, other rule breaking is possible. I am willing to try everything at least once.
Jane: 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?
Osborn: You know, loss of young readership is something I have been hearing about for years, and I am not quite sure how to take it. There will always be avid readers, and there will always be those who “hate“ to read. And yes, in this digital age, books have to compete with many other forms of entertainment, but one might say that of everything in this world. Computers compete with videogames compete with movies compete with iPods, and so on and so forth.
I would think the massive popularity of Harry Potter shows that kids are still capable of reading for fun and pleasure. Tor attracts young readers through its Starscape and Tor Teen lines of books.
Jane: 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?
Osborn: Well, I don’t believe it is really my job to pander to specific age groups or types of readerships. You could really drive yourself nuts trying to do so. After all, are paranormal or futuristic books really reflective of anyone’s current realities?
Certainly, a lot of women’s fiction purports to reflect the lives of boomers, so it isn’t as if there is nothing out there! My mother is both a baby boomer and an avid reader, and she continues to read the types of books she has always loved–"mysteries. As she reads everything from Janet Evanovich to Martha Grimes, I think I can safely say she still finds the stories entertaining, despite her age.
As far as attracting older readers goes, I will do the same thing I do to attract readers in general –" buy and publish great books.
Jane: Do you have a favorite way of spending time away from books?
Osborn: I truly am a book geek. I love reading for pleasure! But non-book things I enjoy include RPG video games (final fantasy, w00t!), Mario Kart, an obsession with the Lord of the Rings movies, and Karaoke Party Revolution.
Jane: What is the worst part of an editor’s job?
Osborn: Rejecting the meh books. The ones that are decently written and plotted, but that don’t have any sort of spark to them. Those rejection letters are hardest to write.
Jane: What is the best part of an editor’s job?
Osborn: Finding and contracting a really great book.
Jane: Have you considered writing a book yourself?
Osborn: You know, that is the question I hear most often! Growing up, it was assumed that since I was such an avid reader, I must want to be a writer. Not true. I can honestly say that I have always wanted to be an editor when I grew up. Damn, I guess that means I’m a grown up now!
Jane: It seems there are two very diametrically opposed growths: erotic romance and inspirational romance. Ellora’s Cave and by extension, you, were at the forefront of growth for erotic romance. Are those fringe trends or will they become more mainstream?
Osborn: I don’t see either one ever dying out completely. Obviously huge trends like we are seeing right now with erotic romance can’t last forever, but the companies and authors who are doing it the best, and who truly understand what the readers want, will still be there after the boom ends. Also, you can’t put the horse back in the barn –" women have discovered that they like reading well written, well plotted romances with explicit sex –" they aren’t going to forget that all of a sudden.
Jane: In follow up, where do you think erotic romance will be in five years?
Osborn: It will definitely still be around. Maybe with not quite so many releases a month, and not quite so many authors as we see today, but it will be there.
Jane: Which books are you proudest of having worked on in your career?
Osborn: Man, this question could get me into big trouble. It won’t be a short list! I am really proud of working on Lacey Alexander’s Hot in the City books, Allyson James’s Shareem books, Kate Steele’s Werewolf books, Cheyenne McCray and Mackenzie McKade’s first Return to Wonderland book, Lord Kir of Oz, Robin L. Rotham’s first book, Alien Overnight, Anna J. Evans’ Perfectly Wicked books, Bev Havlir’s Karn’al books, and Cathryn Fox’s werewolf book, Unleashed. I am probably leaving a lot out, but these are the first that come to mind.
Jane: 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?
Osborn: Well, as I said, the schedule is booked through the end of next year, so you won’t be seeing my stamp on the Tor Romance line until then. However there are plenty of great books to look forward to. This July our first romantic suspense, Kiss Me Deadly by Susan Kearney, launches. Authors like Patti O’Shea, Jamie Leigh Hansen, and Jordan Summers, will make their Tor debuts in the coming year, and we will also release books by established Tor authors like Kassandra Sims, Cathy Clamp & C.T. Adams, Jenna Black, and Patricia Waddell.
Thanks so much!
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