Interview with Editor Peter Senftleben from Kensington Books
Please welcome Peter to our blog. He stopped by to give our readers a new perspective from the other side. I met Peter when he spoke to my local RWA chapter, Heart of Carolina Romance Writers, in Raleigh, NC. Please tell our readers a little bit about you, such as why did you become an editor?
As you can read about in many a conference bio (or, you know, below), my college degree is in chemical engineering and math. *Record scratch* Whaaaaaaaat? Yeah. But I’ve always been a reader and loved books (I even wrote—badly—when I was younger…), and I wanted to do something I enjoyed for the rest of my life. Since I was reading two or three books a week, why not try to figure out a way to make a living doing that? I was lucky enough to intern for a prestigious literary agency, where I learned a lot, then assisted at another, smaller agency. But there’s a lot of businessy stuff to do on that side of the desk, and I’ve never been all that interested in it (or good at it, to be frank), so I was able to parlay that into an editorial job at Kensington, where I’ve been for just over eight years. I get to work with fantastic writers developing, polishing, publishing, marketing, and adoring their books.
Please tell our readers about the publisher you represent.
Kensington is an independent commercial publisher; we’re kind of a family company. We just celebrated our 40th anniversary last year! We publish a wide range of fiction and select nonfiction, but we’re probably best known for our romances. Readers can find out about all of the company’s history and research more of our books at our website. While we still, of course, publish in print, we’re also looking to grow our digital first imprint, Lyrical, especially with new authors in genre fiction.
Describe the genre of the most recent release, and is it the only genre you represent?
I actually had three releases in March: a literary commercial novel, a cozy mystery, and a male/male contemporary romance. So, no, it’s not the only genre! As you can see, my interests are pretty broad, which is one of the best things about my job. It keeps it fresh when I’m not reading the same type of book day every day. I also edit thrillers, Southern fiction, historical and paranormal romance, romantic suspense, some new adult and erotic romance, and I even have a fantasy romance series (though that’s kind of an outlier).Do you have any rejection stories to share? Like a manuscript you passed on that turned into a best seller?
Do you have any rejection stories to share? Like a manuscript you passed on that turned into a best seller?
Yeah, I’ve passed on a few projects that I didn’t love that ended up on bestsellers lists, and some I did love but others loved with more money. LOL. One in particular I hated hung on to the New York Times list for months. But it goes to show how subjective publishing is, so writers can’t take rejections too personally. All it takes is the right person saying, “Yes, I love this!” to be successful.
For authors or prospective authors: what influences your decision to read a submission: the query letter; synopsis; an agent’s submission; etc.
The query letter is really the most important bait for me, and I think for almost all editors or agents. (For agented submissions, it’s the pitch letter, which is basically a query.) I need to know what the book is about in order to become interested in it, to see if it’s even the type of book that would fit our list. Then it’s the actual book itself that’s important. The query makes me want to request the manuscript; the manuscript—writing, characters, plot, voice—needs to keep me reading. To be completely transparent, though, there are certain genres that I’m particularly seeking at any moment, either out of personal interest, holes in the pub schedule, or an instinct about a possible trend, so submissions that hit those criteria will stand out more.
What is the biggest no no you see in submissions that makes you reject them?
The biggest reason for rejection is fairly general: a lack of understanding of the basic elements of a good book. I’ve actually developed a conference workshop on the fundamentals of fiction because I keep seeing the same things missing. It’s usually conflict, which makes for a boring story. Sorry, I don’t want to read about your characters’ day to day lives. What’s happening to them that’s out of the ordinary to make me want to invest in them? The other major thing is inconsistent point of view, aka head-hopping. It seems to be acceptable in some regions of the world, but the omniscient POV doesn’t work for me—and I don’t think most writers making that mistake intend to write omniscient.
And while I’m not a stickler for typos or simple errors, not following submission guidelines is the ultimate no-no. Sometimes I get blank emails with the query attached. No. I’m pretty confident I can say nobody has that in their guidelines. Following directions is kind of like the first test; we’re not trying to trick anyone, just use our time wisely.
For submission guidelines, visit Kensington Books
Peter Senftleben is an associate editor at Kensington Books, where he is building his own varied and distinguished list. He joined Kensington in 2006 after sharpening his editorial skills and red pencil while working at literary agencies. A graduate of Tulane University with a degree in chemical engineering and math (yes, math), Peter occasionally indulges the numbers side of his brain with a challenging Sudoku puzzle or by baking, but he can more often be seen watching trashy television shows.
Peter is currently acquiring many types of fiction; his interests include: mysteries, thrillers, mainstream and women’s fiction, urban fantasy, paranormal fiction, all subgenres of romance, gay fiction, and young adult novels with crossover potential. Peter is often drawn to distinctive voices, stunning writing, realistic characters, and stories that will make him LOL (literally), cry in public, scare the bejeezus out of him, or engage him so deeply that he skips meals. He does not want to see anything with terrorists of any kind.
You can follow him on Twitter at @gr8thepeter
Posted by Nancy Lee Badger