As the editorial director for REUTS Publications, she has the opportunity to seek out new books and authors, as well as discover them in her slush pile inbox.
Today I have the pleasure to talk to her about the many hats she wears, and in the process, perhaps we can unravel some of the mystery surrounding what it is like on the “other” side of publishing, from the point of view of an editor.
Susan: Welcome, Kisa! First off, I’d like to thank you for taking time out of your extremely busy schedule to chat with me on my blog. Following you on Twitter, it is clear how busy you actually are! In my opening, I mentioned all of the hats you wear. It’s quite an interesting array! Please tell us a little bit about those hats, and how wearing them during your life has led you to be the professional person you are today. Do you layer your hats simultaneously, or does each hat have a specific purpose in your professional life?
Kisa Whipkey: Thanks, Susan! And thank you so much for having me.
Hmm, hats. I suppose it does look like I wear a bunch, but really, I view it as only one, regardless of the medium I choose to work in—storytelling. In fact, when people ask me what I am (writer, artist, editor, etc.), I generally say I’m a storyteller. All of my passions, from art and animation, to writing, to martial arts demos (which are choreographed, costumed routines similar to dance) revolve around one simple mission: to tell a good story. So, on the surface, it may seem like I lead an eclectic and varied life, but really, only the creative forum changes. The foundational skill set stays the same.
How does that culminate into the person I am today? Well, if I’ve learned anything from my various pursuits, it’s that storytelling is definitely my calling. And I think that pursuing it through so many different formats has given me an advantage, an ability to see stories from many different angles, not just the presentation in front of me. I’m sure natural talent plays into it too (or so I’ve been told), but I think my background often helps me figure out the solutions to some of the toughest storytelling problems.
Susan: One of the reasons I began planning this interview stems from a Tweet you posted, about being nervous taking live pitches at a conference. Tell us a little bit about that. Was that conference the first time you had the opportunity to take live pitches? Did anything surprise you during the process? I’d love to know what that was like!
Kisa Whipkey: It was the first time I’ve done that, so it was incredibly nerve-racking. You described me as professional above, but honestly, I feel like the world’s biggest goober in person! (-5 professional points right there for using the word “goober,” haha.) I’m also not keen on crowds usually, so it was terrifying. I felt bad for the authors meeting me, because I think I was just as nervous as they were. But overall, the entire experience was pretty cool. I’m naturally enthusiastic about books and all things storytelling, so it made it easier for me to connect with people and put them at ease. I don’t pretend to be anything special; I’m just me.
I think that was the part that maybe surprised me the most—the way authors regard agents and editors. Like we’re these mystical beings up on our podiums passing judgment. The “us vs. them” mentality. I don’t see myself that way. I’m a person (and a book nerd), just like they are. Am I going to love every pitch that comes my way? No, probably not, but that doesn’t invalidate their work. It just means I’m not the right editor for it.
Susan: This next question reminds me of the old Schoolhouse Rock song about how a bill becomes a law! Many querying writers are mystified by “the slush pile”. What actually happens to queries once they arrive at REUTS Publications? Describe the process a query goes through en route to acceptance for publication. What happens to submissions that don’t automatically make the cut?
Kisa Whipkey: REUTS does things a little differently than other presses, I think. We do our acquisitions via a panel comprised of the four directors, rather than having dedicated (and solo) acquisitions editors. So when we receive a query, it actually goes to all four of us and is read by all. Each of us assesses it from our area of expertise—for example, I weigh in on behalf of the editorial department, outlining the editorial strategy and assessing the amount of work needed prior to publication, the Marketing Director assesses it for its viability in the market, the Creative Director assesses it from a design standpoint, etc. Each of us will cast our vote, and the final decision is based on a majority ruling. That’s why it takes us longer than some places to get through them all—that, and we actually make a point to read every query in its entirety.
Depending on the outcome of that panel decision, we’ll either request the full (and the process starts over again—all four of us read the full manuscripts as well), or we’ll send a rejection. We actually just did a blog post that outlines this process (as well as why it takes so long). You can find it here.
Susan: REUTS is beginning to have quite the collection of authors! Tell us about what kind of timeframe it took for those authors to get from query to publication.
Kisa Whipkey: It varies, honestly. There are so many factors that go into an acquisitions decision that there’s no cut and dry formula for how long it takes. I would love to say that it always takes X amount of weeks or months, but it’s much more fluid than that. Similarly, the time it takes from acceptance to release differs depending on the project and what it needs before publication. We try to keep that process under a year, but it really just depends.
Our stance is that we’d rather do the book justice and invest the time it takes to release a quality product than rush things out the door half-finished. The industry average for traditional publishing is about 2-3 years from the time you sign a contract to the day you see your book on a shelf. We’re faster than that, but it still takes anywhere from 6 months to a year and half.
Susan: Another mystery: What happens to a novel once it is accepted for publication? How does the road to publication continue? Is there another team that takes over? Do you, as editorial director, continue to work with the manuscript?
Kisa Whipkey: We’re still a fairly small staff, so the directors involved in the acquisitions decision are the people who will ultimately work on the books. Summer, our Marketing Director, is the one who works with the author on the marketing strategy, along with her amazing assistant, Tiffany. Ashley handles the cover design herself, and I do actually work on a select number of manuscripts, taking them through all the phases of editorial—structural editing, line editing, and final proofreading. We have four other talented editors as well, though, so I don’t handle all the projects. But I am in charge of making those assignments and overseeing them, so I suppose I’m involved at least a little.
Anyway, you asked what happens once a manuscript is accepted. Well, essentially, we divide and conquer. Editorial usually happens first, since it takes the longest, but while I work on that front, Ashley and Summer work on their sides of the project as well, so that, by the time the release rolls around, everything converges. The departments are autonomous, but we all work closely together to move a project toward release. It’s definitely a team effort.
Susan: REUTS’ books have beautiful covers! Do you personally have a hand in that, or does REUTS have a cover specialist? How does the design of the cover get decided?
Kisa Whipkey: Aren’t they amazing? I love our covers! The brilliant Ashley Ruggirello, REUTS founder and Creative Director, is responsible for all of them, so the credit goes entirely to her. I have very little to do with that process, other than to act as a sounding board if she needs one.
We pride ourselves on being author inclusive, so the cover designs are created with heavy input from the authors themselves. Ashley works closely with them to come up with the best vision for their book and then from there, she crafts the gorgeous gems you see on our digital shelves. You’d have to ask her for more ins and outs of the actual process, but that’s the simplified version. The author hands her a vision, and brilliance ensues.
Susan: Is there anything else you can think of that my readers might find interesting to know about what it’s like on the “other” side of publishing?
Kisa Whipkey: Oh, boy. Let’s see. It’s hard? And not nearly as glamorous as people think? Editors have one of the highest burn-out rates of any profession—if you survive longer than two years, you’re considered hard core. And I can see why. Publishing is hectic, and stressful, and you rarely ever feel like you’re on top of anything. Society tells us that editors sit around reading all day. They don’t; in fact, reading is at the bottom of the list most of the time. What we actually do all day is this: answer the incessant deluge of emails, juggle as many as 6-8 projects in various stages of completion (and yes, that’s simultaneously), answer more queries and questions and status update requests via social media, participate in writing events and give back to the writing community, edit some more, and then maybe, maybe read before we pass out from exhaustion.
So I suppose, what I’m trying to say is this: don’t believe the image society paints of what it’s like to be an editor. It’s not like that at all. And the best thing writers can do to engender better relationships with editors and publishers is to understand that, remember that we’re human too, and show us some consideration. Most of us do this because we love it. It’s not a job that pays exceedingly well, nor is it especially full of glory (most editors are lucky to even get a mention in an acknowledgements page). So why do we do it? Because we love books, we love the people who write books, and we genuinely want to help you bring those books into the world. It’s a job of passion. But even passion has its limits. Respect and appreciation go a long way on either side of the publishing fence. Which is a message you’ll hear from me a lot. Haha.
Susan: Before we end our interview today, I’d love it if you could tell us about some exciting things on the horizon for REUTS Publications.
Kisa Whipkey: It seems like there’s always something exciting in the works for REUTS. We’ve had some fantastic releases recently—Dare to Dream by Carys Jones and Sachael Dreams by Melody Winter—as well as some fabulous ones coming out this month too—Golden by Melinda Michaels and Gambit by C. L. Denault.
We also recently announced a three book deal with author J.M. Frey via Laurie McLean and Fuse Literary that we’re super excited about, along with a two book deal with bestselling author Katie Hamstead, and the sequel to everyone’s favorite uninteresting vampire, Fred (The Utterly Uninteresting and Unadventurous Tales of Fred, the Vampire Accountant by Drew Hayes, for those who haven’t met him yet.)
We’re also being featured all month long on Katie Hamstead’s blog, so everyone should go check that out—there will be giveaways and lots of interesting tidbits about the staff and authors. And we’ll be hosting our annual Project REUTSway short story contest later in the year. So yeah, we’re always up to something. Our website is the best place to find out exactly what we’ve got up our sleeves, but we’re also on Twitter and Facebook, so feel free to swing by and say hello. We love interacting with people, and I promise we don’t bite. 😉
Susan: Thank you so much for stopping by my Writer’s Block! Okay, readers, chime in with comments below! I’d love to hear from you!
Kisa Whipkey is a dark fantasy author, a martial arts demo team expert, and a complete sucker for Cadbury Mini-eggs. She’s also the Editorial Director for YA/NA publisher, REUTS Publications. She developed a passion for storytelling at a young age and has pursued that love through animation, writing, video game design and demo teams until finally finding her home in editing. She believes in good storytelling, regardless of medium, and applauds anything featuring a snarky lead character, a complicated narrative structure, and brilliant/uncommon analogies. Currently, she lives in the soggy Pacific Northwest with her husband and plethora of electronics.
Her personal blog–featuring sarcastic commentary on all things storytelling–is located at www.kisawhipkey.com. Or connect with her via Twitter: @kisawhipkey. And, of course, to learn more about REUTS Publications, please visit www.reuts.com.