Saturday, February 5, 2011

A submissions editor's perspective

Hello! I am Kathryn Lively and I am an editor for Phaze Books - I have also worked as an editor for Echelon Press, Whiskey Creek Press, and for other publishers. I have been asked by the good people at Oh, Get a Grip! to blog a bit on this week's topic of cliches. Since part of my duties at Phaze involve monitoring incoming submissions (and we are looking for titles for summer and fall, BTW), this seemed like the perfect opportunity to cover the pros and pitfalls of stories that dance across these lines.

When we think of cliches specifically in romance and erotic stories, what comes most often to mind are specific characterizations and circumstances that we may believe have been done to death. We all know about the "Too Stupid To Live" heroine (even hero, in some cases) who either is too dim to see how poorly she is treated - or perhaps she chooses to turn a blind eye to her lover's unbelievable imperfections for the sake of moving the plot forward. As an editor, it is challenging to evaluate some submissions where the cliches are apparent, particularly when the editor has a good idea of how well certain stories sell.

For example, let's say an editor reads for a house where four of the top ten best-selling books for the year featured a similar plot device. It could be anything - a certain kind of meet-cute, a widow getting a second chance at love only to discover her first husband didn't die, or a main character humiliated to the point where she moves home and reconnects with an old flame. You study this house because it's your goal to place a book there, so you read these books. As a writer, you're concerned about falling into cliche traps, so you may wonder if you are risking a rejection by offering this house a work set outside this "comfort zone."

I can't speak for all editors, but I do admit that sometimes as I read I look for two things: a quality story and sales potential. Publishing is a business, and if the books don't sell there is no business. Does this mean I'm not willing to take chances? I don't think so - in the five years I have acquired works I've thrown the dice more than once. I've scored a few naturals, and hit a few snake eyes, but I don't regret the choices made. A writer should not feel as though he/she should submit a cliche that sells as opposed to something unique.

~ * ~

Kathryn Lively is an award-winning writer and editor, and executive editor of Phaze Books. She is an EPIC Award nominee and has edited EPIC Award nominated titles for Phaze Books, Whiskey Creek Press, and FrancisIsidore ePress. She also maintains a pen name, L.K. Ellwood, for other mysteries.

Kathryn's latest book is Dead Barchetta, available through most online retailers.


  1. Hello, Kat,

    I'm confused by your final sentence.

    "A writer should feel as though he/she should submit a cliche that sells as opposed to something unique."

    Are you saying that we SHOULD model our work on what the target publisher is selling, even if that means succumbing to a cliched plot? Or is this a typo and you meant to write "should not"?

  2. Typo, it should be "should not". Apologies - I have been using nine fingers to type lately, thanks to a disagreement with a potato slicer. :o

  3. The part many authors, in my opinion, tend to ignore, is that publishing is a business. Writing stories that make a writer feel good, or one that his/her family rave over is fine. But, if the acquisition editor has seen that same story ten times in as many weeks, it's just not going to fly, and shouldn't.

    Great post, Kat.

    Un, stop arguing with potato slicers, you just ain't going to win.



  4. I'm coing to this late because I was traveling saturday. Its good to hear from an editors point of view on these things.

    I feel sorry for editors. They really are torn between something exciting and new and something they know will fly off the shelves. Its a hard job.



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