You’re totally doing the Julie Andrews sing-along in your head right now, aren’t you?
Well, go ahead. Let it play in the background while you peruse below, because October is hands down my favorite month of the year, and I’m about to unload the five primary reasons I love it!
Okay, I’ll admit this one gets old kind of fast, but remember—I live in Oklahoma, and we just don’t mess around with summer. You really feel the heat July through August, and much of September. So when I start seeing pumpkin spice lattes on the Starbucks board, my inner survivalist knows it’s officially time to start saving on the air-conditioning bill and pull my sweatshirts out from the back of my closet.
Meant to be a sneak peek into a Carina editor’s brain, and critiqued by a different editor each time, these critiques are posted twice a month.
The idea here is to give you a quick insight into how we might look at a manuscript as it comes across our desks on submission. We’ll strive to be critical but not mean. Because it’s only about 600 words, 2 pages at the most, the amount of feedback is necessarily limited—we don’t have access to more than a couple of pages!
We asked authors to submit one of four types of scenes: an action scene, a sex scene, the black moment or the first meeting between protagonists. This opportunity was limited to 400-800 words, but it provides both authors and those following these critiques with an opportunity to see editorial feedback deeper into a book.
It’s important to note that this manuscript was submitted specifically for the purpose of critique on the blog, we do not/will not use random submissions so no worries we’re going to pull your piece out of our submissions inbox and critique it.
The next opportunity to submit a piece for critique will be open soon, so please watch the blog or our newsletter for more.
This month’s editor providing critique is Carina Press Freelancer Editor Kate Marope.
The Short Scene
This was submitted by the author as an action scene.
Author A described this manuscript as “a romantic suspense in which a murder takes place in a locked room.”
The query letter promises an interesting read with a heroine with an art forgery past, and a romance with the lead detective in the investigation.
Rory turned onto the next street and hesitated. Sometime between the time she had passed earlier and now the street light had gone out. She stopped, debated over continuing on this path or going another street over back to her apartment, adding a few more blocks. If she hadn’t drunk that second glass of wine, maybe the fatigue wouldn’t be catching up with her. And maybe she wouldn’t have gone to see Colin after dark either.
Deciding to continue down the street, she quickened her pace, her soft-soled tennis shoes quiet as she padded down the sidewalk. Which meant the footsteps that echoed in the empty street belonged to someone else. Someone following her, not worried about announcing his presence. Someone hidden in the shadowy recesses of the buildings lining the street.
She broke into a run, her heart hammering in her chest, pounding in her ears. The footsteps came faster. Closer. Heavy steps, like a man’s. With a new surge of adrenalin, she sprinted toward the next block. One lone light shone on the opposite side of the street.
Hands clutched at her sweater from behind, grabbing her shoulder. In reflex she screamed and shimmied free. Took two steps. He lifted her off her feet. This time she screamed louder, kicking at him.
“Shut up!” he growled, tossing her over his shoulder and heading toward the alley. He was built like a refrigerator and held her legs so tight she couldn’t move. She stopped screaming when gravity worked against her. She beat on his broad back with both fists, then choked on stale cigarette smoke that puffed from his rough wool coat. Nothing fazed him.
“Stop! Police!” The voice sounded familiar.
Oh, no. Gallagher.
The man turned around, smacking her head against dark metal. He laughed. “Yeah. You look like a cop.”
“Set her down and put your hands above your head.” She couldn’t see Gallagher, but imagined—hoped–he pointed his gun at Fridge Man.
Fridge Man pushed her off his shoulder. Her startled scream filled the cool air. Her hip struck cold metal. Then the smell assaulted her. Rotten garbage. Overstuffed trash bags cushioned her fall as she landed in a Dumpster. She scrabbled over the slick lumpy surface. Something clattered and slid on the pavement outside.
“Shit.” Gallagher sounded surprised.
What was going on out there? The alley was darker than the street without streetlights, leaving her blind. The angle of the bags made her slide down into the pile of stench in the corner.
Finally at the top of the heap, she peered over the edge of the Dumpster. Gallagher swung at the bigger man, but looked like he was outmatched. Should she help him or take this opportunity to lose them both? Gallagher had saved her though. She felt around for something unmooshy to use as a weapon. Her fingers came in contact with a long stick. She held it up in a sliver of moonlight. Table leg? Clutching it in one hand, she hugged the top edge of the Dumpster and struggled out. The two men wrestled in the middle of the alley, grunting and punching each other.
She hit Fridge Man between the shoulder blades with the table leg. The wood splintered.
“My . . . gun,” Gallagher gasped.
Tossing the broken leg aside, she checked out the area. No gun-sized shadows. Swinging her foot in a semicircle close to the ground, she searched for the weapon. After numerous sweeps she managed to kick it, then scampered after it.
She’d never held a gun in her life and the weight surprised her. “I-I’ll shoot.”
Damn. Her voice trembled and her hands wouldn’t stop shaking. Fridge Man pirouetted and shoved Gallagher at her. They collided and sprawled in a tangle of arms and legs, knocking the gun from her hand. Fridge Man ran off, his footsteps echoing in the distance. A dog barked. Her heartbeat clamored in her ears and her chest hurt. She fought to catch her breath.
Gallagher separated his arms and legs from hers and rolled over to lie panting on the asphalt next to her. He looked at her, his face full of dark blotches. “Okay?”
“Me? Yeah. Thanks.” Because of her he’d gotten hurt. Again. A twinge of guilt niggled at her. “You don’t look so good.”
He rose on one elbow and swiped a hand across his face. “I’d say the other guy looks worse, but he probably doesn’t.”
She stood and dusted pebbles off her sore butt. How had he lost possession of his gun? Instead she asked the more pressing question. “Why were you following me?”
“Give me a minute.” Grunting, he rose in slow increments. Once upright, he faced her. “What were you thinking, going out alone this time of night?”
* * *
I appreciate how the author tried to set up the scene, with the ominous dark street, heavy footsteps, and somewhat weary heroine. Unfortunately, the scene left me confused because there was a distinct lack of context. Of course, taking the scene out of the greater context of the full manuscript contributes to that, but there was also confusion in not knowing what the stakes are and the general motives of each character in the situation.
The reader doesn’t know what Rory achieved by going to see Colin (and if it was worth the risk of the late-night walk), who Colin is (lover, family, or friend), and what Fridge Man intended to do with Rory (was this a kidnapping gone bad?).
If Rory went to go meet with Colin (who may be her brother, based on the query letter) with the goal to discover if he was the one to put the forged painting that led to the locked room murder up for sale, then it would benefit the scene to tell if that goal was achieved, or what further questions were a consequence of Rory’s meeting with him (e.g. if Colin and her father said they didn’t put the painting up for sale, who did? Did Colin point to someone else having an inordinate amount of interest in the painting or him?).
Then we need to take a look at Fridge Man. He was quiet throughout the entire scene (other than to tell her to shut up and to mock Gallagher), so that gave no insight into his motivations for fireman carrying Rory into the alley. No threats, no demands, and no commands (no answer for why he put her in the dumpster). Without a hint of what his intentions toward her were (or at least who sent him), I didn’t get fully invested in rooting for her to get away from him. Him throwing Rory into the garbage brought humor rather than fear or sense of danger to the scene. At some point I was sure that a surprise reveal was coming (maybe Rory knew Fridge Man and this was a prank gone wrong and not a kidnapping).
Fridge Man himself seemed like a bit of a throwaway character. He didn’t have a name, not much of a voice, and not real investment in the situation. Given how easily he disabled both Rory and Gallagher, if his motives were to kidnap Rory, why did he run away when he was winning?
As for Gallagher, he seemed oddly concerned for Rory, even though this scene takes place early on in the manuscript while Rory is still the only suspect for the murder. So, I wasn’t sure if he was following her because he wanted to keep her safe or if he was following her to make sure that she was staying out of trouble (or potentially leading him to the real killer). The fact that Rory paused to wonder if Gallagher and Fridge Man taking each other out wouldn’t solve all her problems, makes it clear their relationship wasn’t a cordial one. Yet, it seems like Gallagher is routinely rescuing Rory from dangerous situations.
I love how Gallagher was clearly out sized and outclassed, but because the POV character was inside the dumpster and searching for the gun in the dark for most of the actual fighting, the reader doesn’t get a good sense of what’s going on. What little blocking we did see was also vague. It’s clear the author wrote this scene knowing the who, what and why of each character, but none of that quite made it into the scene to ramp up the tension and progress the plot. Adding more dialogue (especially from Fridge Man), and perhaps writing the scene from Gallagher’s POV would provide more backstory and actual investment in the fight since he is the one confronting and following the other characters.
Would I keep reading?
Yes, because the author’s query letter was quite strong and painted an interesting broad strokes picture of the book. Rory’s forger past catching up with her after she becomes an assistant curator and conservator at a private museum is quite intriguing, and I would like to know why Gallagher seems oddly sweet on her right from the start.
Do you have questions about my feedback or the Critique program? Your turn to add constructive feedback for the author in the comments section! Or email email@example.com.]
Authors entering their work for critique can choose to have the blog post comments open or closed. Comments are open, so please utilize them to ask questions or to offer your own critique, but please remember to offer useful criticism. Comments will be moderated and deleted if not deemed to be useful or appropriate.
by JN Welsh, author of In Tune
Seeing women excel in their careers and businesses on the page is empowering, especially when you can learn from their stories, because secretly we’re all trying to figure out how to do it, right?
Within the pages of my books, readers can find dynamic, often humorous, mostly career-driven, multicultural women of color looking for love. Women, who when you peel back the layers they surprise you, as well as their lava-hot, sexy love interests, over and over again. Similar to some of my favorite reads. Here are five of my favorites that I always mention!
Tori Baldwin knows how to dish out love advice on her food truck as easily as she busts balls. It’s tough to go toe-to-toe with a really alpha leader of a biker community, yet she does and all while taking care of others and navigating through some intense emotional and dangerous situations. During the heart-pumping moments, I couldn’t put the book down.
Quinn Dixon loves hard and sasses even harder. She’s a heroine with entrepreneurial dreams and is thoughtful and protective of her family, friends and Jesse Peterson. Even during the oppressive Jim Crow era, Quinn strives for a better life and experiences an unconventional and unexpected love against seemingly insurmountable odds. (more…)
Carina Press wants to reaffirm our commitment to inclusion and representation in our publishing program and extend a specific invitation to Black authors, authors of color, queer authors, disabled authors and other traditionally underrepresented voices. We want to see your submissions across all romance and mystery subgenres and tropes. We strive to make our list one of inclusion, and are working hard to build a catalog that is more representative of the romance reading public. The key focus is really intersectionality—no person is completely defined by one aspect of themselves, and no character or story should be, either.
For publication in summer 2019 onward, we’ve asked our editors what they’d most like to see. Part of what we love about our team here at Carina, and hope you’ll appreciate as well, is the wide range of tastes and appreciations everyone brings to the table. There’s truly an editor for everyone—just read through to find your potential perfect match below!
We’ve also pulled together a slightly more general imprint-wide wishlist. Please remember that with the exception of mysteries, all submissions to Carina Press must fall into the larger category of ROMANCE, regardless of subgenre. This means you need an HFN (happy for now) or HEA (happily ever after) in every romance manuscript.
We would love to see a standalone or series that weaves these two asks together. An example of a series we love that manages to combine laugh-out-loud humor in a fun, contemporary romance with rip-out-your-heart emotion is Bear, Otter, and the Kid by TJ Klune.
We want to see more inclusion and representation in the mystery genre, and are looking for mysteries across the genre featuring protagonists from traditionally marginalized or underrepresented backgrounds, written by #ownvoices authors.
In mystery, we are specifically looking for:
And don’t miss our current submission calls:
We’re pleased to announce that we’re opening our submissions to proposals once again. We want to see your WIPs while they’re still in progress—no full manuscripts required to submit!
This proposal call is open to any of the genres we publish. Have a mystery proposal you’ve been dying to pitch? Writing a contemporary romance? Or maybe you’re looking to publish a paranormal romance? We want to read it!
See this page for detailed submission requirements and guidelines.
This is an ongoing call with no closing date!
We’re looking for male/male romantic suspense titles that are part of ongoing miniseries, where:
We are particularly interested in seeing submissions from authors who are part of the LGBTQIA+ community for this call.
Click here for more details on this call!
Angela James, Editorial Director (she/her/Ms.), Kerri Buckley, Senior Editor, and Stephanie Doig, Associate Editor, updated the above imprint-wide list, and welcome all queries related to it. In addition, please see individual wishlists for Kerri and Stephanie below:
Kerri Buckley (she/her/Ms.)
I’ve been asking for single dad romances for so long that I’ve decided to make it my header on this update. All heat levels and settings considered, queer characters most welcome, cute kids a must. I want the relationship between Dad and his kid(s) to pull at my heartstrings, the romance to be realistic and deep, and everyone to end up as one big, happy and possibly messy or quirky family. Hit me with your grumpy, nerdy, gentle or tough guy dads. All the dads. Please and thank you.
Stephanie Doig (she/her/Ms.)
I am looking for delicious romantic tension when I read a romance—whether it comes from charming banter, intense emotions, or earnest, no-holds-barred declarations, I want to eagerly anticipate every word.
And please read on to learn what our fantastic freelance editors are most wanting to see at this time:
Alissa Davis (she/her/Ms.)
I’m looking for romances with flawed, compelling characters who learn from each other as they fall in love.
I’m also looking for:
Deborah Nemeth (she/her/Ms.)
I’m looking for mysteries and romance with characters driven by strong goals, whether to fight injustice, rescue prisoners, catch murderers, pull heists, or rebel against galactic overlords. I have a partiality for characters and tropes that subvert expectations, including gender-flipped retellings, and for characters who display a wicked sense of humor. I’m especially interested in acquiring #ownvoices mystery and romance.
In particular I’d like to see the following:
Mackenzie Walton (she/her/Ms.)
I’m always looking for well-rounded casts, opposites-attract couples, intricate world-building, and strong, authentic dialogue with distinct character voices. And even more specifically:
John Jacobson (they/them/Mx. or Mr.)
Romances with captivating characters and rich conflict make my heart flutter. I’m looking for romances that make me pull an all-nighter just to see how the characters finally get together. Couple that with snappy dialogue, characters who are confidently competent, and traditionally underrepresented identities to make a submission fit for me. I’m also looking for:
Carrie Lofty (she/her/Ms.)
I love snappy dialogue, cheeky humor and a dry, sarcastic wit. No matter the tone, wrap me in the world you create. I need to be invested in characters’ dreams and desires, and why they can’t (initially) be happy together. What is important to them? “High stakes” doesn’t necessarily mean the end of the world—although disaster romances are my catnip. I’m skewing heavily paranormal this season. On my wishlist:
Kate Marope (she/her/Ms.)
I’m looking for pragmatic and competent characters who will do what needs doing. Characters who know what they want, and how to get it. I’m especially interested in LGBTQIA+ and multicultural protagonists from diverse backgrounds in both mystery and romance.
Ronan Sadler (they/them/Mx.)
I love deeply character-driven stories that explore the interplay between boundaries and vulnerability, history and future, social context and personal desire. I’m drawn to immersive narrative voices and emotionally detailed settings. Romance is for everyone, and I would love to see #OwnVoices submissions across genre that reflect love in its many forms.
Here’s a handy quick-view chart that gives you a look at which editors are acquiring in specific genres:
|Genre||Editors actively acquiring in genre||Not acquiring in genre|
|Erotic romance||Kerri, Alissa, Deb, Mackenzie, Angela, John, Ronan, Carrie, Kate||Stephanie|
|Contemporary romance||Kerri, Stephanie, Alissa, Deb, Mackenzie, Angela, John, Ronan, Carrie, Kate|
|Paranormal romance||Alissa, Stephanie, Deb, Mackenzie, Angela, John, Ronan, Carrie, Kate|
|Urban fantasy||Deb, Stephanie, Alissa, Angela, John, Ronan, Kate||Carrie, Mackenzie|
|Fantasy romance||Alissa, Deb, Angela, John, Ronan, Carrie, Mackenzie, Kate|
|Science fiction romance||Alissa, Deb, Angela, Ronan, Carrie, Mackenzie||Stephanie, Kerri, John, Kate|
|Romantic suspense||Kerri, Stephanie, Alissa, Deb, Angela, John, Ronan, Carrie, Kate, Mackenzie|
|Historical romance||Kerri, Alissa, Deb, Mackenzie, John, Ronan, Carrie,||Stephanie, Angela, Kate|
|Mystery||Kerri, Deb, Mackenzie, John, Kate||Stephanie, Alissa, Angela (except historical mystery), Ronan, Carrie|
|**All editors are acquiring #OwnVoices and inclusive manuscripts across their listed genres**|
|Editor||Preferred Pronouns||How to address your query|
|Angela James||She/her/Ms.||Ms. James|
|Kerri Buckley||She/her/Ms.||Ms. Buckley|
|Stephanie Doig||She/her/Ms.||Ms. Doig|
|Deborah Nemeth||She/her/Ms.||Ms. Nemeth|
|Alissa Davis||She/her/Ms.||Ms. Davis|
|Mackenzie Walton||She/her/Ms.||Ms. Walton|
|Kate Marope||She/her/Ms.||Ms. Marope|
|Ronan Sadler||They/them/Mx.||Mx. Sadler|
|Carrie Lofty||She/her/Ms.||Ms. Lofty|
|John Jacobson||They/them/Mx or Mr.||Mx. or Mr. Jacobson|
If you are not submitting to a specific editor, please address your query “Dear Editor.”
We’re pleased to announce that we’re opening our submissions to proposals once again. We want to see your WIPs while they’re still in progress—no full manuscripts required to submit!
This proposal call is open to any of the genres we publish, as outlined below. Have a mystery proposal you’ve been dying to pitch? Writing a contemporary romance? Or maybe you’re looking to publish a paranormal romance? We want to read it!
This is an opportunity for you to run your idea by a Carina Press editor without needing a full manuscript. We’re not always able to acquire based on proposal, however, so we may request more pages or even a full manuscript in order to consider it for acquisition. And remember–a good synopsis is crucial when we only have a partial manuscript to review!
Please note that this call is running simultaneously with our Male/Male Romantic Suspense Proposal Call, which has different requirements. Please submit your male/male romantic suspense proposals via that call.
General open proposal call submission link: https://carinapress.submittable.com/submit/75963/open-proposal-call
Closing date: December 3, 2018 (all submissions due by 11:59pm Eastern on this date)
Requirements for this proposal call:
View this post for the dozens of genres and tropes our editors are eager to read.
Materials needed to participate:
How to submit:
Not going to be ready in time? Not to worry. We remain open to full manuscript submissions all year long via bit.ly/write4cp, and more special opportunities are coming in 2018.
For questions about this call for submissions, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information about Carina Press, and to read our submission guidelines, please visit bit.ly/write4cp.