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Friday, July 3, 2009

Interview: Heather Osborn, TOR

Today we are welcoming Heather Osborn, editor for TOR. To submit to TOR follow their submission guidelines. Also we will be welcoming Heather to a special Q&A session with FF&P members on Tuesday, July 7, 2009. You will need to be a member of FF&P to view this session and participate. We'd like to thank Heather for taking the time to answer these questions.


1. You gathered a bunch of followers on Twitter when you announced you
were looking for a manuscript to fill a hole in your schedule. What was
your impression of the submissions you received from that call and do
you think that you would do something like that again in the future?

I was pleasantly surprised at the quality of manuscripts I received. Yes, there were some clunkers, but the vast majority of them were well written – which, believe me, is not often the norm when it comes to un-agented or unsolicited submissions. I am actually still working my way through some of those submissions – all told, I ended up with around 80 manuscripts. I would have no hesitation in doing a public call for submissions again.

2. Because you've mentioned it before and it deserves being mentioned
again, TOR takes unagented submissions, but you don't want a query
letter, just the first 3 chapters and a synopsis. Why do you choose to
bypass the query letter? What do you gain by going straight to a partial?

Well, the purpose of a query letter is to inquire as to whether or not someone is interested in looking at your partial. Because Tor is always interested in looking at the partials, there is no real need for a “query letter”, per se. That being said, I do encourage a cover letter to accompany the submission. The cover letter would contain much of the same information as the query letter, but would not ask if I am interested in seeing the submission, as ideally, it would be sitting on top of the submission when I read it!

3. What type of stories are you looking for in romance right now? Is
there something in particular you'd love to see cross your desk? How
many romances is TOR releasing a month?

Hmmm, I really love all different types of paranormal romance. The main thing I am looking for (what all editors look for, actually!) is a compulsively readable, well-written story. I like all different levels of heat, from super sexy to sweet. As for what I’d love to see cross my desk…hmmm, a book from Patricia Briggs, Naomi Novik, Ilona Andrews, Nalini Singh… I could go on and on! But more seriously, I just want a great read. Right now, I would love to see a great vampire, werewolf, or futuristic story cross my desk. For some reason, I don’t have a lot of them at the moment! The Tor Romance line currently publishes one romance a month.

4. You've mentioned an interest in Urban Fantasy. What particular traits
of Urban Fantasy are you looking for in a manuscript?

I love Urban Fantasy. LOVE. I try almost every new author out there, and what seems to draw me the most are strong female protagonists behaving in intelligent, realistic ways, intricate worlds, and a sense of real danger inherent in the setting and plot. Again, see Ilona Andrews, Patricia Briggs, etc. I want to be sucked into an alternate version of the world, with a heroine who rings true as an authentic character. Not one who everyone adores, one who struggles with life, love, happiness, and possibly demons.

5. Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?

Let’s see. Number one piece of advice: read your work aloud. It really helps to spot errors in the text as well as awkward and stilted dialogue. Make a book as clean as possible before submitting it. And that doesn’t mean running it through spell check. Get it critiqued, proof-read, beta read, etc. First impressions count.

And this isn’t really a piece of advice so much as a comment. 90% of the submissions I get start in the wrong place. Usually several chapters before they should. An editor will usually not read past a few chapters in order to find the real start of a story, so beginning a novel in the wrong place can be the kiss of death for new authors.

The other day on Twitter someone attributed this quote to (I believe) Teresa Medeiros: “Your book should start at the point where everything changes.” That is such fabulous advice. And I am willing to bet that if you think of the openings of any book you personally love, you will find that to be true.

6. Who is your all time favorite couple in a book?

That is such a tough question! I am a voracious reader, so there are tons of fictional couples I love. I guess for me, I have to go old school and say that my favorite couple is Anne Elliot and Frederick Wentworth from PERSUASION by Jane Austen. I know most people go for Elizabeth and Darcy in PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, but although I love P&P, Persuasion is actually my favorite Austen novel.

7. I see you are taking pitches at Nationals. Do you have any advice for
the writers who will be pitching to you?

Well, my advice would be that since you already know Tor Books accepts unagented, unsolicited manuscripts, you shouldn’t worry! Honestly, unless you are pitching something that we absolutely do not publish (children’s poetry, philosophical texts, etc), I will ask to see at least a partial. Other than that, I would ask you to relax, to understand that editors are not ogres or demons, and everything will be all right. I don’t mind if authors read off of cue cards in front of me, although I don’t think it is truly necessary. Treat me as you would anyone who asked you what your book is about. I don’t need polished cover copy, I just want to know what your book is about!

Also, it helps if you have some detailed information: Is the book complete? What genre and sub-genre is it? What is the word count? (I prefer actual word count, but estimated is fine, too.) Is it the first book in a planned series? What is the heat level? These are all things you should know about your own book.

8. Finally, twittering shows us a different side of editors and agents.
Do you like twittering and what was your favorite ride at Disney?

I love Twittering! It is actually the only social media that I find works for me. I have a sadly neglected LiveJournal that hasn’t been updated since January, and I am on Facebook but I never use it. I use Twitter almost every day. I do feel sorry for people who follow me expecting a professional editor viewpoint. I do occasionally comment on work, but never in any real detail. Instead I choose to talk about deliciously insane things like cookiecakepie and the Cupcake Truck currently parked outside the Flatiron building.

My favorite ride at Disneyworld was Expedition Everest in Animal Kingdom. I have a hilarious picture of me on it – I honestly have never looked happier than when staring down the barrel of a screaming Yeti.

Thanks again, Heather. We hope our FF&P members will take advantage of the Q&A session on Tuesday.

15 comments:

EilisFlynn said...

Okay, you got me curious about Disney's Animal Kingdom! Not a big fan of Disney or rides, but a yeti makes things much more interesting. Thanks for your post, Heather.

jeannielin said...

Cupcake truck? Ingenious!

Great interview! I had a question about traditional fantasy in romance. Is there still a demand for it? Or is it getting sideswiped for urban fantasy and paranormal?

Bryn said...

Great interview! I have an appointment with Heather at the RWA conference in a couple of weeks, and reading this made me feel less nervous about it. She sounds so down-to-earth and friendly.

Lisa Kessler said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lisa Kessler said...

URGH! Sorry I'm having computer issues tonight! Yeesh!

Let me try to comment again! LOL

Oh I love Expedition Everest!!! We went to WDW a couple years ago and my family got picked out of the line to see the behind the scenes controls for the ride, got another ride without waiting in line, and a cool "Year of a Million Dreams certificate! *boggle*

I didn't get a chance to set a pitch appt. at Nationals with you, but I hope we'll bump into each other eventually. :) My manuscript is one of the 80 from Twitter, and I'm hoping since I haven't heard anything yet, that's good news! LOL

Thanks for the great interview! :) See you on Twitter!

Lisa
aka http://twitter.com/LdyDisney

Jessica Lee said...

Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts with our chapter, Ms. Osborn! It's great to hear that you're looking for good vampire and shapeshifter novels. I keep hearing that the market is too flooded with them right now. So that was encouraging.

Jessa Slade said...

Editorial insights are wonderful, of course, but the pix & link to the cookiepiecake were earth-shattering :)

Thanks for the reminder about starting the BOOK where the STORY starts. That's good advice for every time I sit down to start the book, chapter, scene, conversation, etc.

PaigeC said...

Great info here! Thanks for sharing, Heather.

You mention urban fantasy as a real love of yours. But urban fantasy typically have less romance. Does that mean there's hope for a paranormal with strong romantic element, but where the romance is not the key to the story?
I'm another one of the 80 who hasn't heard. I thought no word meant no-go. Good to hear there's still hope! (Err...that is, depending on your answer to the above question. :-D )Keeping my fingers crossed.
~Paige :)

Amanda said...

In answer to jeannielin's question:

I think it is pretty safe to say that currently readers are trending towards urban fantasy and paranormal romance, more than they are traditional fantasy romance. That being said, there are still some authors finding success with more traditional fantasy romances. C.L. Wilson is a fine example of that. Tor Romance had success with Elizabeth Vaughan's Warprize trilogy a few years ago, and as I am a fan of traditional fantasy romance myself, I am certainly open to acquiring more of it, should the right project come along.

Heather

Amanda said...

In answer to PaigeC question:

That being said, for the purposes of the Tor Romance line, I think the split needs to be at least 50/50. 50% romance, 50% urban fantasy. Tor Romance has certainly published books with less romance in the past -- say around 30% romance and 70% other -- but we have found that the romance readers are not happy with that split. That is, if we are going to label a book as a romance on the spine, it must be at least 50% romance.

What does this mean for a great story that is less than 50% romance? Chances are it will be published as an urban or contemporary fantasy. There are tons of different urban fantasies out there -- some quite romantic, and some barely so. There is room for all different types, and since a lot of romance readers read urban fantasy, I doubt you will anger readers with one that has a strong romantic subplot.

Heather

Sharon Lynn Fisher said...

Hi Heather - Could you talk a bit about what romance readers currently like to see in futuristic? Do you feel there is a strong market for romance set in space and/or on alien worlds?

Thank you!

Amanda said...

Hi Sharon,

I think there is still a demand for futuristics. Paranormal romances like vampires, werewolves, etc, have stolen the spotlight a bit, but furturistics still have a place in the romance genre. I personally enjoy them, and am open to seeing them at Tor.

As to what romance readers would like to see in a futuristic, that is hard to say, as I am not a mind reader (darn it!). Ultimately, I think most readers would enjoy a sexy/hot story, off-planet (either other worlds or outer space), with great characterization and adventure -- something in the "space opera" vein.

Tor Romance had success with Susan Kearney's futuristic romances, beginning with The Challenge, and I would love to see more futuristics!

Heather Osborn

Suzanne said...

What a great post, Heather! I didn't score an appointment with you either.

Urban Fantasy! Woot! I am an UF junky too.

How about Steampunk, Heather? Any room for paranormal steampunk either in the romance or UF vein?

Thanks for posting this!

~Suzanne

Nightingale said...

Thanks for the insights on urban fantasy and romance. I'm currently working on a contemporary fantasy with strong romantic elements but didn't know what to call it! I answered your Twitter. Hope I'm still in. Fingers crossed.

Rhyanna said...

Thanks for answering questions. I do have a question...is a manuscript that contains elements of sci-fi/fan/paranormal and romance a romantic scifi, or is it just a romance or just sci-fi/fan/paranormal?
It also has characters from Mythology, like Sirens, Banshees, besides wizards and stuff.
I have also completed Futurisitc man, that has some sci-fi/romance/paranormal. Although it seems to start from a guy's point of view, with memories of convo with wife/ written, until they meet again...
as well as other manuscripts--with paranormal/siren's, etc.