We're thrilled to be joined by editors Kiru Taye and Zee Monodee from Love Africa Press, which celebrates all things Africa in romance and all things romance in Africa.
As an editor, what's the first thing that draws you to a story/author?
That the author didn't take the easy way out, either with the plot or the characters (and I'll stress, especially with the characters!) The thing is, when you edit, experience kinda makes you see within the first 10-20 pages what the plot will be like and what the characters are like already. I believe the 'easy way out' is not giving depth to the characters, not adding layers, or simply making them just borderline awful but thinking this is cute and the reader will just have a laugh (for example, the too stupid to live heroine, always forgetful, sneaky behind her man's back, personal hygiene going to the tips, eating shredded cheese from the bag in the fridge by the handful, etc.) When I see a character who, mind, isn't flawless but I can relate to (seriously, we've all had days when we know we should've washed our hair on the eve but didn't have the time), is decent in the sense of "that's what you expect from general people you're meeting everyday" and has layers, then that wins me over. Just like no one likes a hero who's a jerk—same thing here. I then look to see if the author further builds on that in the plot and if she/he carries this throughout.
We all love a fluffy HEA, but what tips a book over from romantic to cheesy?
I'd say, characters acting out of character. Let me give you an example—we're all familiar with Mr. Darcy from Pride and Prejudice. When he confesses his love to Elizabeth, it is passionate and heartfelt, but it is also restrained and mannerly in the sense this is a man who is generally the type to speak his mind but not his heart. That's what makes his confession romantic. If he had gone for a production the kind we all see the easygoing Mr. Bingley being capable of, that's not Darcy. Same as if he'd gone for an inflamed declaration the kind Wickham would do, that's again not Darcy. Those two instances would be cheesy, because it's not in line with Darcy's character.
The same applies for any romance. The flamboyant hero gets away with cheesy because we expect it from him, but the reserved hero? It all has to come from what a person like that would do or might do in real life. Another example - this couple is strapped for cash, and the man makes a big deal out of buying flowers for his woman. That's money they can't really afford, so this is cheesy and unnecessary. However, he knows she gets dry skin from the dishwashing liquid, and he gets the more expensive one for sensitive skin even though their money is tight. That's romantic. That's considerate. That's real. We tend to think grand gestures are romantic, but really, the aftermath? Who will have to sweep all the confetti that's been blown all over the place? Rose petals get crushed in the sheets and it's Hell to get that out in laundry. That's not romantic, then, it's just extra work. So keeping it real is what's romantic for me.
What are your biggest bugbears when reading a submission?
For starters, I won’t read a manuscript that isn’t accompanied by a brief synopsis of the story in the query email. Also, a manuscript that isn’t formatted correctly irritates me because that’s a huge red flag. The writer has obviously not read the submissions guidelines. And if they can’t be bothered to read that, how difficult (or easy) are they going to be to work with in future.
But worse are writers who stalk us after a submission by constantly asking when they will get feedback. This is very annoying and another red flag. We respond to each submission with an email stating the estimated timeline for feedback which is currently about four weeks. I know waiting can be frustrating but four weeks is pretty reasonable in this business.
Once an author's finished a manuscript and is ready to send it in, what are the key points that should be included in their query letter, and is there anything that shouldn't be left out of the synopsis?
Authors should note that we only take submissions via email and we do not accept partials. Complete manuscripts should be sent. Writers should read our submissions guidelines on our website before sending their manuscripts. The query email should include:
· The title (working title is okay)
· Author name
· Brief synopsis (no more than 500 words). The synopsis should include the key plot points and the conclusion.
What do you think is the next trend in romance publishing and is there a specific subgenre that you think is making a comeback?
For a while now, I've been seeing the #OwnVoices movement growing in writing, especially in romance. And this is also riding on the coattails of #DiversityMatters - the perfect example is Helen Hoang's The Kiss Quotient. The heroine has Asperger's, just like the author (making this a #OwnVoices book), and the hero is mixed race but not the African-American type you usually encounter when you read mixed race: he is Vietnamese and Swedish, and we thus get #DiversityMatters in the mix. A few decades ago, you would hardly conceive of a child born of such a pairing, because that was so 'out there', right? Not anymore!
People the world over are owning up to who they are, whether it's in diversity or in the fact that they live with a health condition or something else that impacts their lives in a unique way. So for me, these unique experiences and also unique life situations of being 'different' in the sense that it's not strictly one race/one culture for many people out there is really going to explode big. And those mixed race kids? They're growing up, reaching the adult market in the next few years—they'll be looking for stories they can relate to, heroes and heroines like them, who face issues they also face in the world as we know it. There's a market waiting for that, I'm sure.
Comeback? I see the vampires returning soon. The PNR world has gone from vampires to weres to fey to dragons and lately, sirens/merpeople. It's bound to come full circle and shine the spotlight back again on the traditional vampires that might come back with a twist (please, no sparkle!). I know I am eager for a new/different take on the myth of vampires to hit the market.
Has there been an attempt to diversify editors and those working behind the scenes in publishing, as there has been to embrace diverse authors?
I have to say hats off first to Kiru, who has taken it upon herself to bring this diversity to publishing in books and also behind the scenes. I'm not sure there are many of them like her, to be honest. Publishing—and especially traditional publishing—is still very cookie cutter. Writing is still very much white guy meets white girl and if there's anyone of color or from the LGBTQ spectrum, they're secondary characters placed there so publishing can say, "Well, look, I have a Black/Asian/Indian/lesbian/gay person in their midst!" as if that's enough to have peopled their world with someone 'different' but the core of the story is still very white and cookie cutter.
I've been seeing publicists and marketing interns with very ethnic-sounding names lately, but not much more than that. The thing is, right now, if diversity is even a thing in a book/story, the way to deal with accuracy and the like in it is to get a sensitivity reader who will go through with a fine-toothed comb and flag any inconsistencies or errors. The author takes care that this feedback is done with the person who knows this world/race/culture/whatever, and the book goes to the editor who often has no clue about the diversity issues. Things do get missed and fall in the cracks—the recent scandal about the gay romance set in the time of the Kosovo war is proof of that. Sadly, I still think we're a long way from embracing diversity in the backstage book world as we seem to have embraced it in the book/story market. Let's hope there is hope for the future, though.
How often do you get to read new manuscripts and submissions?
At the moment I’m reading submissions at least once a week and as our submission rate increases I’m sure I’ll be reading more manuscripts per week.
What's the one thing you wish authors knew about your job?
That we editors love books and adore good stories. As such, we want to love your book, to make it the best version it can be so more people can fall in love with it. We're not out to 'get' you when we give constructive criticism. At the same time, we're also human, and life happens (sickness, those awful PMS days—sorry if TMI, mothering/wifely/filial duties) so we do need a little wiggle room at times, some comprehension and empathy, because we are not robots, and in the end, our goal is to give you, the author, the best version of your book so you can unleash it out onto the world.
And what are you looking for right now?
We are looking for characters and stories that readers will remember well after they've turned the last pages of the books.
Whether your female lead is a sweetheart or a slay queen, good or bad, flawed or fierce, we want her to own her African-ness. If she's not African, then be sure to show us how she falls in love with Africa.
Same goes for your male lead.
Alpha or not, we want men we can't help falling in love with. If he's not the alpha type, give us reasons to swoon over him. Regardless of how ruthless and scary he might appear, we want to see a man with a compassionate heart even if it takes the heroine to bring it out. If he treats women like dirt at the start of the story, then you have to show valid motivation for his behaviour and his path to redemption which includes his (serious) suffering.
No one should treat a woman like dirt and get away with it, especially in fiction.
We don't want perfect characters, male or female. Flawed is good. But show an arc of personal growth.
Above all else, I want stories that grip our attention, stories that make us cry or laugh, make us get angry or sigh with pleasure, stories that we want to read again and again. We want drama, suspense, comedy, and adventure. Most of all, we want romance.
You can find out more information about Love Africa Press at LoveAfricaPress.com or on Twitter and Facebook. Kiru Taye and Zee Monodee can also be found on Twitter (Ms Taye; Ms Monodee), Facebook (Ms Taye; Ms Monodee), and Instagram (Ms Taye; Ms Monodee).
Who are your favourite diverse editors and publishers? Do you know any gems that are not getting their deserved attention? Let us know in the comments and on the social media discussion of this article using #AskTheEd.