Welcome to the blog, Carolyn!
1 1. Could you tell us a little about the progression of your publishing career and your current role?
My degree is in education and English and I expected to be a teacher. Along the way, though, life took one of those turns that can change everything. I took a summer job at a Christian Bookstore, working for a wonderful store owner. I planned to be there for the summer and find a full-time teaching job the next year, but I learned that my love of books and the joy I found in connecting people with the perfect book or Bible made this a great job for me. I worked there for 10 years and became the store manager and book and Bible buyer. During that time I developed relationships with most of the major publishers and worked for Zondervan as a dealer advisor.
I was offered the job of editorial director at Harvest House Publishers, as they were looking for someone who understood the retail marketplace and was familiar with the full breadth of books available. I was also, of course, an avid reader and loved the prospect of working with writers and seeing their ideas become wonderful books. I eventually became the VP of Editorial and was with Harvest House for 15 years. It is a wonderful, focused, family-owned Christian publisher and I learned so much during that time about what publishing is all about and what it takes to make a book. It does take a village! I took the job of Executive Editor with Zondervan 18 months ago and am thoroughly enjoying my role of acquiring non-fiction Trade books. I still live in Eugene, Oregon but I travel regularly to Grand Rapids to work with my colleagues at Zondervan and around the country to meet with authors.
2. How do you know a story is a “winner” when you read it?
I love reading fiction although I don’t acquire much in that arena. But with fiction it is usually a combo of a great “voice”, engaging characters, and a story that makes me want to turn the page. I’m looking for something fresh, as so much of the fiction we see – and even publish – feels the same. It’s like watching the pilot of a new television show or the beginning of new movie – sometimes it just hits and you feel it. It grabs your attention and you want to spend time in this world. It can even be in a very typical genre but still stand out. You know it when you read it.
3. What is the biggest mistake you see writers make in their submissions today?
I think the biggest mistake may be not understanding what editors need to help their publishing team decide to publish a new book. We need to see that you have a great idea, a significant – or at least growing – platform, and strong writing skills. The platform issue is very important but it doesn’t have to mean that you are the pastor of a large church or a speaker for major women’s conferences. You do have to show that you are working hard to gain a following and that you have made progress in that arena. Speaking, blogging, writing for magazines and newspapers, leading workshops on your topic – all can be really important to a publisher. Then give us a marketable topic (and the reasons that it is – do your research!) , and finally, and very importantly, hone your writing so it’s as strong as it can be.
4. What would you say are the biggest myths in publishing?
That you must have a large platform to get published. It certainly helps – and you will hear that from every publisher – but there are certainly exceptions. Sometimes it’s all about a great story and good storytelling. Look at Heaven Is For Real!