As part of our series to introduce everyone to our Colorado Gold Conference guests, I caught Carina Press editor Kerri Buckley for an informal chat.
Jeffe: Hi Kerri! Thanks for being here on the RMFW blog today!
Kerri: And thanks so much for having me. I'm getting so excited for the conference!
Jeffe: So are we!
Jeffe: I know that you're an editor at Carina Press, but what IS your job exactly?
Kerri: Heh. You won't be able to see it in the log of this conversation, but there was just a loooong pause on my end.
Kerri: So I am an in-house editor at Carina Press—the first one, under Editorial Director Angela James. This means that I acquire and edit books for the Carina Press line. I work across genres and average 2-3 titles a month, publication-wise. That's my primary role. Beyond that, because I am in-house, I also do things like sit on the acquisition board where we review and evaluate projects. I work with marketing, publicity, sub rights, PR, and production on a daily basis. I write a lot of back cover copy. All to build our authors, position them correctly, and keep growing the line!
Jeffe: And, though you're newish to Carina, you're not new to the industry, right?
Kerri: Correct. I've been in publishing for what seems like forever, lol. I started as an intern at The Feminist Press (@CUNY) when I was in college and then was accepted into Random House's Associates Program when I graduated—that’s like a post-grad year in publishing. (But they pay you!) From there, I became an editorial assistant at Bantam Dell and stayed at Random House, in one imprint or another, for the next 8 years. I joined Carina in May of 2013.
So, full disclosure—I took what I call "a sabbatical" from publishing after those 8 years at Random House. I wrote copy, I traveled a lot, I dabbled in some other industries. But I knew it wasn't right. I knew I needed to come back to books...eventually.
AND! While I was gone? The landscape changed pretty dramatically. It was clear to me that digital was the place to be. It was an area I hadn't really worked in before, but when I started to look around and see what was working, who was growing—I saw I needed to be in digital.
So that's where I started, as I was looking and formulating a re-entry plan.
Jeffe: I love that - "a re-entry plan," like you were out in orbit, returning to Earth.
Kerri: That Carina was hiring at that time was the luckiest thing that ever happened, actually. And that I loved their/our editorial? Fated? Mebbe.
Carina was the first digital-first line to come from a major house. They were AHEAD of the game and so already working when others were still sort of getting set up. I'm adventurous but I'm not crazy. I wanted to go with the winner.
Jeffe: What a great story!
So, why do you come to conferences like Colorado Gold?
Kerri: Personally? I love the atmosphere of cons. It's like spending a few days among your truest people.
Professionally? Attending cons like Colorado Gold is a HUGE part of Carina’s business plan. It's an opportunity to find brilliant new writers, a chance to explain who we are and what we do to an audience that's interested. The author experience is #1 to us, and that experience often starts with an initial meeting—at a conference.
Jeffe: You really DO want to meet and talk to authors?
Kerri: Oh, I do. I actually love pitch sessions. Can't get enough of them, seriously. It's exhilarating for me. Kind of like speed dating. I'm always expecting the next pitch to be THE ONE.
Jeffe: Like falling in love?
And there are always at least a few crushes.
But also in an informal setting...a lot happens at conferences. Wine is ingested. Ideas are shared. Introductions are made. It's energizing!
Jeffe: We always hear the stories about the manuscript slid under the bathroom stall door - is that real?
Kerri: That has never happened to me. I kind of wish it had.
Jeffe: I've often wondered if that's an urban myth.
Kerri: On the other hand, there are some VERY, VERY successful books that have come out of conferences.
Jeffe: In fact, Kat Latham who just got nominated for a RITA for her Carina book pitched at a conference.
Kerri: Sure did. Isn’t that exciting?
Jeffe: Very exciting—so happy for her and Eleri Stone, our other Carina RITA finalist! Okay, so be honest - because this is confusing for writers - how should people talk to you, outside of pitch sessions?
Kerri: It must be confusing!
Jeffe: Nobody wants to do the wrong and horrible thing, you know?
Kerri: Yes, for me PERSONALLY it is absolutely okay to come and chat outside of pitch sessions. I just ask that we stick to the general rules of society.
If I'm in the middle of a conversation...maybe wait until I'm done?
If I'm clearly running somewhere frantically (this happens a lot—watch out!) maybe try and catch me later?
Other than that, fair game. I'm a talker.
Jeffe: That's great to know!
Kerri: Oh, I will offer a tip, actually.
Jeffe: We love tips!
Kerri: And this applies to cons in general. Having an "elevator pitch" about your book is enormously useful. Not a script—I don't want to talk to a robot—but just a 2-3 minute nutshell description of what you're working on, why it's awesome, why you love it.
Jeffe: Often the advice is to memorize your pitch.
Kerri: For a formal pitch session, okay, that works, but for the on-the-fly convos? I don’t want to hear your pitch. You should have signed up for a pitch if you wanted to play that way. I want to *talk*—but also to understand pretty easily what you're working on.
Jeffe: Fortunately talking about books is our favorite thing!
Kerri: me too!
Jeffe: The conference is six months away—what can writers be doing between now and then to prepare?
Kerri: Keep working on your WIPs, so you've got the best possible version in your mind that weekend.
Jeffe: Do they HAVE to be totally done by then?
Kerri: They do not. I will say that when we're considering work by a new author, most of the time we will want to review a full manuscript. So we might talk about it in Colorado, but I'll ask for you to hold off sending until you've got a full.
Jeffe: Do you ever give feedback in pitch sessions, about how the story might be improved?
Kerri: Yes, all the time. And I try to be nice about it.
Jeffe: I'm sure you are - I can't imagine you being mean.
Kerri: Oh, I'm a softie. But I can imagine being on the other side of that table. Who wants to hear the editor lady say they got something wrong? No one. So generally what I'll do is ask you a bunch of questions—why'd heroine do this? What's hero's motivation? HOW DOES IT END? And then I’ll throw out a few ideas.
Jeffe: Do you ever talk about a book being in a dead genre?
Kerri: Genre is a tough conversation to have. Although I'll never say one is “dead”—just maybe... “not on the upswing right now.”
Everything in publishing is cyclical. Look at Romantic Suspense! It was "not on the upswing" for a couple years—now back with a vengeance. In fact, we're looking for a series to build at Carina .
Jeffe: Very exciting news for the RS authors out there!
I know you have your wish list, as all the Carina editors do, but is there anything you're really hoping someone will pitch?
Kerri: Yes. I have a few updates to that wish list.
a) An Army Wives-style drama with *multiple* romantic arcs—Contemporary, please. I have been dying for this. b) Multicultural or PoC (Person of Color) New Adult.
c) I'm a total Eastern Europe nerd and I've been searching for THE Russian- or Polish-set novel for what seems like half my career. Could be mystery, could be contemporary, could be Romantic Suspense.
Jeffe: So, Carina is a Harlequin imprint—do the books have to be romance?
Kerri: No, they do not.
We publish mystery, crime, scifi, fantasy, action/adventure. We do not require genre fiction books such as mystery, science fiction, and fantasy to have romantic elements. We read, acquire and publish nonromance with no romantic elements, as well! If you have a mystery, science fiction or fantasy manuscript that has no romantic elements, we want to see it.
What we are not publishing, because there are other imprints at Harlequin who do, and because every imprint needs to have a focus: thrillers, horror, women's fiction, faith-based or inspirational fiction, nonfiction.
Jeffe: Lots of opportunities for our fiction writers, it sounds like!
Jeffe: Anything else you want people to know?
Kerri: I will add that mystery, in particular, is an area we are focusing on for growth in 2014-2015.
Jeffe: Any particular kind of mystery?
Kerri: Oh, everything from cozy/amateur sleuth to high-octane. Personally, I tend toward the offbeat. I like quirky PIs, cranky cops, wackadoo agents—character-driven mysteries, I suppose you could say.
Jeffe: Sounds great!
Kerri: I think so. It's a fun hunt.
Thanks so much for taking the time to give folks a sneak-peek for the Colorado Gold Conference, Kerri! I’m sure everyone will be excited to meet and talk with you there.