Editor Advice: Romance Expert Leah Hultenschmidt of Dorchester Publishing (Part I)

Publish date:

This is Part One of
a two-part interview
with Leah. See Part II here.

Leah Hultenschmidt
is an editor of Romance and Westerns at Dorchester Publishing, where she has worked for nine years. After several years in heading Public Relations and Promotions, she’s now back to doing what she loves most—editing books. Some of her most recent projects include the USA Today best-selling Immortals series and Angie Fox’s New York Times best-seller The Accidental Demon Slayer. Leah has been named among the Who’s Who of Professional Management, and in 2006 was a finalist for PASIC’s Editor of the Year Award.
Leah also founded and edits the (awesome) Romantic Reads blog.

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Leah Hultenschmidt

GLA: Thanks for joining us, Leah. How did you become an editor?

LH: I started helping people with their writing in fourth grade, at the recommendation of my teacher. So I’ve always known I wanted to be in the field somewhere. In college, I had internships at the Albany Times Union and the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel on the copydesk, writing headlines and proofreading articles. But editing is a lot more fun when the stories don’t have to be true. I started at Dorchester as an editorial assistant, moved over the promotions/website side and spent a few years heading up Publicity, then came back to editorial when a spot opened up.

GLA: Tell me about Dorchester and what it does.

LH: Dorchester is an independent publisher of mass-market fiction in the genres of romance, horror, Westerns, thrillers, and noir mysteries. Our imprints include Leisure Books, Love Spell and Hard Case Crime.
I think what really differentiates us as a house is a willingness to take a chance on something different and the personal attention we give to our authors. A lot of people feel like they’re joining a family when they come to Dorchester.

GLA: What percentage of submissions do you get that are agented vs. unagented? Do you or an assistant read all unagented submissions?

LH: I personally read anything that’s specifically addressed to me. I’d say my submissions are probably just about evenly split between agented and unagented. Maybe a few more on the agented side.

GLA: I have to assume that all or most agented submissions that come in and pretty tight and clean.

LH: Ha! You’d be surprised.

GLA: When you’re dealing with just an author, where do you see writers going wrong in their query letters? In their synopses?

LH: Most writers who have done their research are fine with the query letter basics - the genre, the word count and any major awards (first place in chapter contests) or publishing credits (previous books in the same genre; not magazine articles, etc.).
It’s the middle where we run into trouble. This is where authors should think of the letter as a tool to get the author or agent excited about reading the proposal. Tell me what makes this marriage-of-convenience (or whatever it happens to be) story different. Make me fall in love with your hero or intrigued by your heroine. Others have said this before, but I can’t emphasize it enough: Pretend you’re writing back cover copy. It’s not easy, but it’s well worth the effort. If I’m pumped by your cover letter, I’ll give your manuscript a longer leash to get me hooked.
The synopsis doesn’t have to be beautifully written. I don’t even usually look at it unless I’m intrigued by the first few chapters and want to read more. Then I check it out to make sure the ending works and/or there’s nothing completely wild thrown in the middle. I prefer synopses that are about 3-5 pages, long enough to work in the details (including the end!) yet not so long that I lose track of everything that’s going on.

GLA: You didn’t get out to the big RWA conference in DC, but are you already hearing things from the conference? Anything you can tell us about big picture stuff? The industry? New subgenres breaking out? Stuff like that...

LH: Oh, you always hear plenty of things. But depending who you talk to you, you can get a completely different take on the exact same subject.
Some folks think historicals are finally going to make their big breakout. And a number are getting some great buzz. But until the stores see the actual sales, I still think it’s a bit of an uphill battle for non-brand name authors to make it really big.
One thing we’ve found is an emerging market is the fantasy romance a la Angie Fox, C.L. Wilson, Kathryne Kennedy or Jade Lee. We’d love to see more of it.

GLA: Do different subgenres of romance have different word counts?

LH: Not officially. We’re looking for 75,000-90,000 words. Within that spectrum, I think the romantic suspense tends to be longer sometimes just because there’s more plot to work in with both the romance and suspense parts. But I don’t think there’s much difference between paranormals and historicals.

GLA: On your submissions guidelines page, you explain how you’re specifically looking for 8 subgenres of romance (e.g., historical). Of these 8, are there any where you’re looking for great submissions for not finding any? In other words, are you going through the slush pile wondering why everyone writes historical but no one writes time travel?

LH: Funny you mention time-travel, because it’s true I don’t see a lot of it in the submission pile. I think perhaps because it’s difficult to come up with a new twist—or a way to get the character back in time that isn’t too hokey. But it’s definitely a genre I’m up for.
To me, what makes a proposal in any subgenre great is that it stands out in some way yet is still very accessible. I’m really craving something different. For example, I just finished editing A Midwife Crisis by Lisa Cooke, which will be out in February. Her touch of humor and characters are fantastic, but what really sets it apart for me is the Appalachian setting. I haven’t seen too many of those. And when something is different, it really makes me take notice.

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Want more on this subject?

  • Agent Scott Eagan of Greyhaus Literary gave plenty of great advice on writing romance when interviewed here on the GLA blog.
  • The new 2010 Novel & Short Story Writer's Market has boatloads of listings for romance and fiction writers, and also has interviews with romance authors Susan Wiggs and Kate Allen.
  • Read about What Agents Hate: Chapter 1 Pet Peeves.
  • Want the most complete database of agents and what genres they're looking for? Buy the 2011 Guide to Literary Agents today!
  • If you've got a short romance story of 4,000 words or fewer, why not throw your hat into the ring with the Writer's Digest Pop Fiction Contest.

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