Thursday, March 01, 2007

Editor Johanna Raisanen Guest Blogs!

Helen here.

I never knew what I wanted in an editor until I met and worked with Johanna Raisanen, Associate Editor at Harlequin. She’s professional, approachable, smart and flexible. Most importantly, she’s a calm island in my sea of uncertainty. She’s even willing to come on and blog with us even though I can’t be here today! Lois is going to act as hostess. Thanks Lois. And thanks Johanna – you’re the best!

Helen: Well, let’s jump right into this. Unpublished writers always talk about getting their submissions on the right editor’s desk on the right day under the right cycle of the moon. Do you ever think about how powerful you are? (She’s chuckling at this one, I know, because she’s one of the most unassuming people you could ever meet!)

Johanna: I am chuckling a little about this because I still find it so strange that people are in awe of me! Seriously, though, I do realize that editors hold writers’ dreams in their hands. I don’t take that responsibility lightly, nor do most editors, I’m sure. I have tremendous respect for anyone who writes a book and has the courage to send it to a publisher. I mean, wow! That takes guts. I also think it’s an amazing just to write a book. So my hat’s off to all of you!

Helen: I’m always curious how people get into their careers. Why editor? Can you see yourself in any other job either at Harlequin or in an entirely different industry?

Johanna: Like many people, I floundered a bit after university. I mean, a degree in political science? What’s up with that? I took a year to backpack around Australia, and, I hate to say it because it’s such a cliché, found myself! A lifelong love affair with books made me realize that I wanted to do something book related, although I had no idea how to get into publishing. When I got back to Canada, I did some research and found a college program called Book and Magazine Publishing. It was perfect! I learned the ins and outs of editing, marketing, copyediting, cover and layout design. And after a forgettable two-year stint at a legal publisher (blech!), I got hired as a proofreader at Harlequin. The rest is history. I love my job and can’t see myself doing anything else. Although if I somehow got paid to travel the world I wouldn’t say no to that! What do you think of my chances? (Ha!)

Helen: Shh, don’t tell your boss I suggested this … travel editor. Better yet, travel writer! It’s wonderful you have that experience of backpacking in Australia. You did that alone, right? It’d scare the begeebees out of me if my daughter wanted to do that. Did you ever feel frightened or threatened?

Johanna: Hmm. Travel writer, eh? Something to think about, but, yeah, don’t tell Kathleen!

As for Australia, yep, I went by myself. The only time I was scared was at the airport in Toronto about to leave. It was a huge step for an introvert like me. But I found that it was the best thing I’ve ever done. Traveling alone meant I had to step out of my comfort zone and meet people. I had so many wonderful experiences and met so many interesting folks from all over the world that I’m so glad I did it. Now I enjoy traveling on my own. Two years ago I went to New Zealand by myself and again made some amazing connections and had some fascinating conversations.

Helen: I’m jealous, love to travel. ::big sigh:: Okay, back to the real world … so you started out as a proofreader and you’ve been at Harlequin for almost ten years, right? Have you always been in the Superromance line?

Johanna: I was the proofreading supervisor for a while, then I got the assistant editor position working with Laura Shin on Supers in the fall of 2002. Now I’m an associate editor, but on the American Romance line with Kathleen Scheibling, although I still work on Supers with some authors.

Helen: Anything dramatically different about this new line? Like it so far?

Johanna: American Romance is a great line, as is Supers. I love the family elements in both. With AR there’s a great sense of community, focus on setting and celebrating the American spirit. Don’t ask me to pick a favorite between the two, though!

Helen: Ready for a gritty question? It seemed like Harlequin exploded several years back with new lines and approaches. Do you think that had anything to do with the company’s recent financial woes, or is it more likely that Harlequin is just one of many companies suffering within the publishing industry?

Johanna: Harlequin always tries to set the trends and strives for great innovations. A lot of work goes into new lines and approaches and when they don’t pan out the way we hope it’s a disappointment. But I think that if we don’t try to stay relevant to our readers we’ll be in trouble.

Helen: That’s a good point, and there’s obviously been a lot of talk about the tough year Harlequin had financially and the layoffs that took place a couple months back. Many writers are concerned their editors are going to be even more overworked than before. Could mean inferior product.

With my accounting background, I have a bit of a different view on the matter. Most companies going through tough financial times are forced to make some tough choices. I probably would have been concerned if Harlequin hadn’t made some adjustments in staffing. The publishing industry as a whole has taken some hard knocks lately.

What do you think?

Johanna: Those layoffs were tough. We lost a lot of great colleagues, but what people need to understand (and I think most people do) is that publishing is a business subject to market cycles. And these things happen from time to time to keep the company healthy. It certainly was not an easy decision. I also think that the publishing industry as a whole has struggled for a while, not just Harlequin. There are so many other things vying for our entertainment dollar that it’s been tough. I’ve heard that movie ticket sales are down, book sales are down–people just have so many more choices today.

Helen: I heard on the news this weekend that book sales were up for the first time in years, so maybe the cycle is turning our way. We can hope, anyway. From your perspective, what does the future of series romance look like?

Johanna: Series romance is here to stay. There are so many exciting voices in series that keeps the genre fresh, and at Harlequin we’re always striving to keep series relevant to today’s reader.

Helen: Even though you’ve moved to the American Romance line, will you still take queries for Superromance, or is it best that they go to Laura Shin or Victoria Curran?

Johanna: New submissions to Superromance should go to Laura or Victoria.

Helen: So what are you looking for in submissions? Aside from the technical aspects, formatting, grammar, spell checking, what makes you stop and give serious consideration to a manuscript?

Johanna: When I get a submission that makes me sit up and want to keep reading I get a little chill of excitement. I love finding new authors–it’s the best part of my job. Specifically, I look for great characters--characters that I can root for--and solid conflict. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen stories where the conflict between the characters is based on a silly misunderstanding. Conflict, true conflict, makes the reader wonder how on earth the hero and heroine will ever get together.

Helen: How does a writer do new and fresh without chasing trends?

Johanna: When I say new and fresh, I mean different ways to express or interpret popular themes. Let’s look at the secret-baby premise. That’s been done many times. A typical way to set this story up is to have the hero betray the heroine and thus she decides to keep her baby a secret. A more unique way to execute this premise would be if the heroine thinks the hero is dead. Now this may have been done, but already it’s a more interesting set up. How you construct your characters’ personalities will also affect the unique qualities of your story. Put your own stamp on it.

To me trends are about the bigger picture. Say, for example, that paranormal is popular at the moment—that’s a trend. This would determine the subgenre you wish to write for.

Helen: Interestingly enough, the second book you bought of mine is a secret baby plotline where the hero has betrayed the heroine, so what you’re saying makes complete sense to me. I’ve heard it said that there are a finite number of plots. It’s all about how we write them.

I’ve been dying to ask this. Do you remember why you bought my first book? Was there one particular thing that jumped out at you?

Johanna: I loved your first book! I remember through some mixup it was accidentally sent to Supers and to Intimate Moments (now Romantic Suspense). I think IM got it first, but I was ready to battle the New York editors for it–kidding! I just knew that you had to be published. The writing was so crisp, the characters totally believable and the drama kickass.

Helen: LOL! You’re so sweet, and, yes, I am blushing.

Agent, no agent, what’s your preference?

Johanna: No preference.

How many first time authors have you bought within the last year? Is there still hope for unpublished authors?

Absolutely there’s hope! I brought two new authors to the Superromance lineup last year, and I’ve just read a submission for AR that I loved. I think all series are always looking for fresh new voices.

Helen: Do you ever get the chance to read for pleasure?

Johanna: Funny you ask that. Before January 19 I would have said I hardly ever get to read for pleasure any more, but that fateful winter day has me changing my answer. I slipped on some ice and fractured my left ankle (the doc said it was one of the most spectacular breaks he’d ever seen!). I’ve been on short-term leave and haven’t been allowed to put any weight on the foot for about six weeks. So, my new answer is yep. I’ve got time now! I like to immerse myself in mystery novels for a change of pace, and I’m currently reading Elizabeth George. I’m only on her third book so I have some catching up to do.

Helen: Ouch! That had to be some fall. Is your ankle healing as expected? Will you be on crutches for a while yet?

Johanna: I have an appointment to get my cast off tomorrow, and I think I’m getting a walking cast. Hooray for mobility!! It’s been awfully tough being off work and laying around on my rear end for a month. The worst part is that I haven’t been able to go home because I live on the fourth floor of a four-story building.

Helen: Gotta wrap it up. Anything else you’d like to add, like, oh I don’t know, “Buy Helen’s book?”

Johanna: Yes! Buy Helen’s book! She’s terrific and her book, TREASURE, is terrific! And I wanted to mention that I had planned to include some photos of my dog, Potter, and some pics around the office. But due to this stupid cast on my leg, I can’t. So I apologize for the boring blog entry!

Helen: There’s nothing boring about it, Johanna. Potter’s a cutie, though. I can vouch for that. Thanks from the bottom of my heart for coming to blog with us today.

Johanna’s open to questions, folks, so ask away!


lois greiman said...


Here you are! Ahem...I was supposed to publish your blog this morning but thanks to my infinite ability with technology, managed to make it disappear. Kathy Eagle then swept in like a visiting angel and fixed everything so....tada!!

Thanks so much for riding with us today. Helen can't say enough good stuff about you. All the rest of us have editor lust. :)

So...after screwing up your blog, pulling my daughter's car out of the ditch, (another 5 inches of snow) and fixing the electricity in the barn...I'm finally on track and ready to say welcome, welcome, welcome.

It's so wonderful to have you here with us.

And I have a question for you: In your opinion where is publishing headed? Should we pay more attention to e books? Or are print books solid, but simply taking a new direction?

Anonymous said...

Hi Lois!

Thanks so much for having me. Great question, too. I think e-books certainly are growing and taking up a bigger part of the market, especially with younger readers. I can't really see printed books disappearing, though.

I can see the opportunity for really creative ways to market printed books in future. Could be exciting, no?

I'll be popping in throughout the day if anyone wants to join in the discussion. I'd love to hear what other people think about this!


lois greiman said...


I just got an email from a reader a couple of days ago asking where she can find my novels in e form. Then she found them before I even had a chance to look into it--which is good because I'm totally unaware of that side of the business. I think that most of us, as authors, tend to think of books as those lovely tomes we can hold in our hands and curl up with at night. Maybe it's time that changed though because I think you're right, the younger generation is so in tune with techonology.

Which brings me to another question: How do we appeal to the twenty-something (or younger) crowd? How do we get them to pick up our books?

Betina Krahn said...

Hi, Johanna! We've heard so much about you-- we're thrilled to have you in the convertible with us!

So sorry to hear about the broken ankle. . . but there was a silver lining, right? Sometimes the obstacles in our paths slow us down so we can catch a breath and take stock of our lives. My motto: turn it into something good. A good lesson to learn.

Meanwhile-- what kind of dog is Potter? We've got all kinds in the car-- goldens, shepherds, schnauzers, labs. Occasionally they find themselves into our blogs-- like Helen's recent one on her release date.

Also, thanks for "discovering" one of our leading lights-- Helen. I LOVED "Treasure." Wonderful book. Great characters and fascinating setting. I was thrilled at how she got it all worked in! Can't wait for her next one!


Debra Dixon said...

Johanna-- Welcome! We are all predisposed to adore you, not because you're an editor, but because you made Helen a happy camper! She's such a great writer.

Now, for the question that will define you as a person...favorite childhood book ?

Anonymous said...

Oh, thanks so much for the warm welcome and the kind words!

I adored Helen's book, as I mentioned! I'm so happy that it's being received so well. Her next one is terrific, too, coming out this June. (Had to get that plug in!)

Now you've done it. You asked me about my dog! I've warned many people about this as I can go on a bit about my crazy dog. Potter is a mutt, and I always say she looks like a Golden Retriever except she's smaller (about spaniel size) and black. I got her from a shelter when she was six months and we've been buds for seven years. Right now I'm missing her something fierce since I can't take care of her with this ankle. I know she's in good hands, though. My dad has a farm with all kinds of great smells, barn cats to chase and a border collie to play with. As well as two horses to terrorize. Ahem. See? I told you I could go on and on...

Back to books. My favorite childhood book? I adored LITTLE WOMEN and had a lovely hardback copy when I was little. I was heartbroken when our family dog, Sparky, chewed it to bits. It's funny, I never replaced it. An excuse to go book shopping, I think! (Although I never really need an excuse.)

As for appealing to younger readers, this sometimes seems like a challenge. I know Harlequin has downloadable books, e-books and some of our titles have been published in manga form (the Japanese "comic" book format, with amazing art). The last format in particular is directly targeted to the YA market.

So good to be in such great company! I'll check in a little later.


lois greiman said...


As Jenny Crusie said yesterday...artwork is so important. What do you look for in a cover? And how much imput do you and your authors have? And again, do you think there's a difference between what the younger audience is looking for version older readers?

Kathleen Eagle said...

Hi, Johanna!

Lois's "swept in like an angel" comment is an overstatement, but I'm so glad I was able to push the right button and make your terrific interview "appear."

We were blogging about the NASCAR books the other day--what a coup to make the front page of the NYT! How did the powers-that-be at Harlequin come up with the idea for a series pairing Romance with stock car racing?

Christie Ridgway said...

Johanna: Ouch on the ankle and missing your dog. Sounds like things are looking up, though.

As for Louisa May Alcott...I read Eight Cousins before Little Women. Somewhere is my beloved copy of Eight Cousins (which has a bittersweet romance in it)which I believe was a library cast-off. My mom would be appalled at how much I spend on books today because I was practically raised in the library and never bought books until I started buying Harlequin Presents (no lie) with my babysitting money.

There's a question for you. Why are Presents so popular? I've picked them up again and boy, you can tell they're popular by how quickly they sell out. I think they're delicious in such a wonderful, retro way.

Kimberly Van Meter said...


So glad you're back to the office but it must've been nice to catch up on your TBR pile. Catch you next week!


lois greiman said...

Thanks again for visiting with us Johanna. Hope you're all healed up and reunited with Potter soon. And he named after Harry Potter?

Anonymous said...

Hi everyone!

I'm so sorry I sort of disappeared on you all! I had a few technical glitches of my own. But I didn't want to leave you hanging, so I'll wrap up my guest blogger stint now.

Regarding covers, the author's input is invaluable. She (or he) knows the book best--that's why Harlequin/Silhouette authors have to fill out Art Fact Sheets. Then the editors present the story to marketing and art, and we try to fit the imagery to the content. Now sometimes covers don't always turn out the way we envision, but every effort is made to showcase the book to its maximum potential. After all, the cover is part of what sells a book and we all want great sales!

As for the NASCAR deal, I'm not sure how that came about (I'm not really involved in the NASCAR program). I think it's an interesting opportunity, especially since NASCAR has so many female fans! I had no idea the sport was so popular. I loved the speed-dating event that was held, I believe, at the Daytona 500. What a fantastic idea!

Ah, Presents. Those were my introduction to Harlequin books at about age thirteen! I think they're still so popular because the reader knows exactly what she's going to get--pure romantic fantasy. And who doesn't love an alpha hero?

Finally, no, I got Potter before I had read the books, but now I'm a huge fan. So it all worked out!

Thanks again for inviting me to the convertible. It was a fun ride!

All the best,