Publisher Showcase: An Interview with Carina Press Editor Deborah Nemeth
In the previous post, we learned about the philosophy behind the brand-new Carina Press (Harlequin’s digital-first imprint) and why it should be on every science fiction romance author’s submission list. Now it’s time to sharpen the focus.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Carina Press editor Deborah Nemeth to learn more about what she’s specifically seeking, especially in science fiction and science fiction romance submissions.
Here’s what she had to say:
In a recent interview, you expressed interest in acquiring space operas and steampunk, as well as “an anti-war sex-strike comedy (an updated Lysistrata) set aboard a closed community like a spaceship.” Please tell us more about your interests. What other kinds of space opera and steampunk settings and stories would excite you?
I read widely and acquire in most genres, including genre hybrids such as SF thrillers, futuristic romantic comedy and m/m space opera romance. I like superheroes, characters with psychic powers, and stories that mix elements of fantasy and SF. I’d love to acquire a SF mystery or romantic suspense in a galactic, futuristic, or Victorian/Edwardian setting that features a really cool sleuth, a character the author could base a series on. Bottom line, I’m looking for good stories. While a great premise will wow me, it’s often the simple, easy-to-grasp ones that will grab me, rather than ones requiring elaborate scientific explanations. Think of the simple premise of the TV show FlashForward—what if everyone passes out for a few minutes and gets a vision of themselves in the future?
For science fiction romance, are you interested in any particular types of heroes and heroines (e.g., cyborgs, space pirates, scientists, airship captains)?
I adore a rogue who redeems himself/herself, so rebels, smugglers & pirates operating outside of the law appeal to me, yet I’m also attracted to uber-honorable law enforcers, detectives, warriors and military servicemen (love those sexy men in uniform!) but I’m actually open to any protagonist who has strong passions. Kickass heroines appeal to me, but I can fall for quiet, thoughtful heroines and beta heroes if their goals are compelling enough. For me, that’s key—the characters must want something fiercely enough to make me care about their goal, so that I make an emotional investment in their story. Scientist protagonists are fine—provided the story doesn’t get lost beneath of the weight of the science. And it’s important that an action-filled romance contain conflict between the h/h—and not rely solely on the conflict resulting from them facing the same danger, so that we get romantic/internal conflict as well.
Do you prefer lighthearted/action/adventure stories or more literate SF? Or something else? What about heat level?
I like both lighthearted action romps as well as darker or more thoughtful works. I’m looking for richly textured world-building that doesn’t overwhelm the storyline. In general, I’m more interested in characters’ goals and journeys and the story’s conflict than I am in how the technology works. I’m not fussy about heat level, either (at least not when the beings having sex are human—I’m much pickier about explicit alien sex involving non-humanlike sexual organs), so I’m open to anything from sweet to blazing hot.
When reading submissions, what grabs your attention? What makes you sit up and want to read more?
Strong conflict. Passionate, flawed heroes and heroines. Unusual premises. A well-paced read that grabs me by the throat from the first scene and keeps me turning the pages with tension that builds to a powerful climax. And I’m a sucker for emotion. If you can make my throat tighten at the resolution of the story, you’ve probably got me.
What can authors do to maximize the chances of their stories being accepted?
Make sure the conflict and stakes are strong enough to carry the story, that it doesn’t turn on a simple misunderstanding that some honest communication wouldn’t straighten out. Make sure you’re showing, not telling, enough of the story so that you’re drawing your readers into the experience, thereby engaging their emotions on a deeper level. Make your characters suffer. Make sure things get worse for them as the story progresses. Put your characters into a corner so tight that your readers can’t figure out how they will overcome their obstacles. Allow your heroes and heroines to change and grow over the course of the story.
Beyond that, it’s a question of honing your craft. I’m looking for tight writing. Polish, tighten, polish some more. Begin/end each scene with hooks, cut unnecessary exposition, be ruthless about eliminating repetition. Every word must carry its weight. It’s helpful if authors have crit partners and/or beta readers who aren’t afraid to give them honest feedback.
What elements do you feel makes a science fiction/science fiction romance story derivative?
Sometime I’ll read a manuscript and it just feels as if I’ve read the story too many times before. And I’m not interested in regurgitations of Star Wars or Star Trek—thinly disguised Vulcan or Jedi stories set in a rebels vs. galactic empire settings start to read too much like fan fic.
How far do you read into a submission before you know if the novel is right for you?
That rather depends…I may read around thirty pages, double spaced, before deciding whether to continue reading, pass it to another editor or reject. But I’ll give up sooner if warranted. Occasionally we’ll get a submission from a brand new author whose writing is so choppy or incoherent or dry that a page or two is enough for me to know that it’s not right for Carina Press. If the writing flows well but there’s no sign of conflict in the first ten pages, I’ll stop. Most of the time, if a manuscript is one I end up offering for, I’ll be excited from the first page. When I get those prickles of excitement, I always hope they’ll carry me through the full ms. Sometimes a manuscript starts slowly then gallops, or has a promising beginning but lacks a big enough climax, so I may offer a revision letter and end up acquiring it later. I never offer a revision letter unless I’m seriously interested, so it’s always disappointing when authors don’t follow through.
Tell us about a few of your favorite SF/SFR novels. What elements in those stories made them unique?
The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenager is brilliantly structured and has a great premise. I love The Sparrow by Maria Doria Russell, a first-contact story, and its sequel, Children of God, a series which explores philosophical questions of theology and morality as well as being exciting, complex novels. At the erotic end of the spectrum, I love the futuristic romance With a Touch by Rhiannon Leith for its wonderful prose and its ability to engage my emotions and make me believe that the psychic heroine and her two rebel heroes will indeed have a happy-ever-after together.
Is there anything else you’d like to share either about your interest in acquiring SF/SFR or forthcoming titles you’ve edited?
I accept direct submissions. I prefer to receive the full manuscript, rather than a partial or a query, and I’m looking for stories in all lengths from 15k to over 100k words. Authors may email me at deborahnemetheditor @ gmail.com with a query letter pasted in the email and a synopsis and the full ms attached in .rtf or .doc format.
I’m very excited to announce my most recent acquisition for Carina Press: Gambit, a super-sexy, fast-paced SF romance novel by Brigade member Kim Knox. This is one of those stories that pulls you in from the first page and doesn’t let you go until long after you’ve closed the book:
Captain Haf Beyon ferries cargo for whoever stumps up the credit and has no qualms about fleecing the unsuspecting rich. When she’s kidnapped and offered unimaginable wealth to deliver Daned Traern—disguised as a near-naked flesh-pet—to his home system, she has no idea how dangerous the mission will prove. Haf is dragged into a world of insane princes, mercenaries, hidebound tradition and sentient stones. A world her mother did everything in her power to protect her from. A world made so much more dangerous by the man at her side.
Another one of my recent acquisitions is an as-yet-untitled novel by m/m romance author Christine Price. Combining SF and paranormal elements, it’s about a rogue researcher who imprisons psychics at a derelict institution, the paranormal element coming into play with the introduction of a vampire hero.
My first Carina Press science fiction romance project will release on June 21. Hunters, by Michelle Marquis and Lindsey Bayer, is an erotic space opera romance about a bounty hunter who will do anything to bring in her skip.
Since Deborah Nemeth began reading before her fourth birthday and stops only when she absolutely has to, it was probably inevitable that she would major in English literature and eventually become an editor. As an utter bookslut, she loves to read all sorts of things, from SFF to mysteries to historical romance. Over the years she’s lived in Ohio, Michigan, Chicago and Puerto Rico, although she spends most of her time in places such as Arrakis, Bath or Middle-earth. Currently she lives in the Mid-Atlantic with her husband (a candidate for sainthood) and two beautiful daughters. You may follow her on Twitter at @DebNemeth.