***ttq here! Just like a girl never forgets her first kiss, an author never forgets her first sale. Mine happened in 1992. But the process began two years before that. I met then Harlequin Superromance Senior Editor, Marsha Zinberg, at a conference in Scottsdale Arizona. It was my very first writer’s conference. I wasn’t a member of anything. Had never even spoken to another professional writer before. I arrived just as introductions were being made at a cocktail gathering. Marsha had just been introduced. I was there to meet her. I’d heard she was going to be there and I’d read every single Superromance since the line’s inception. I intercepted her before she had a chance to sit down. Over the next two hours Marsha was gracious through her fatigue, classy through my rudeness in breaking every rule of etiquette between writers and editors, and most of all, she was brilliant when it came to books. She worked with me for two years, helping me to hone my craft. She bought my first book. And I have been, and am still, contracted with Superromance, non-stop, ever since. Marsha knows her stuff! Today I am thrilled to bring Marsha to you. So…everyone, please welcome, former Harlequin Executive Editor, Marsha Zinberg!***
My romance with stories, books, and the written word began fairly early. I can still see myself at age four, sitting on my knees, gazing morosely out the window at my older brother as he headed off to school. I couldn’t understand his lack of enthusiasm as my mother hustled him out the door. I was so envious. He could read! I was desperate to read, and if I could just go to school, then I’d learn how!
Fast forward to the fourth grade. Every other Tuesday after school, my best friend and I would ride our bikes to the parking lot of the local grocery store, where the Bookmobile was scheduled to stop to serve a newish suburban community not as yet blessed with their own local branch of the library. We were allowed to borrow four books per visit. My friend and I would consult before making our choices, ensuring neither of us had previously read any of them and that they all appealed to us both. Then, once we had devoured our own four, we would swap, because we would go through our allotment sooner than the next scheduled Bookmobile visit. When I reconnected with that friend decades later, she reminded me that one of our main activities together was “eating books!”
I never dropped the habit. I consumed not only fiction but every issue of National Geographic from the time I was about ten or so, nurturing a life-long curiosity about distant lands as well as a thirst for travel that has not abated. I chewed my way through an Honours English degree at the University of Toronto, which in those days included mandatory courses in both Anglo-Saxon and Middle English, and every other possible period of English, American and Canadian literature that existed until I graduated. Not yet satisfied, I went on to complete a Master’s degree, specializing in drama and the novel. Fascination with story structure, the architecture of plot, the genius of character development, has been in my DNA, I think, well before my mother was reading Madeline…over and over…to me.
I didn’t necessarily intend to become an editor, but it happened fairly organically. I had been leading women’s book discussion groups while my children were toddlers, but by the time my son was in kindergarten, I was already casting about for something more permanent when my brother-in-law drew my attention to an ad placed by Harlequin for an assistant editor for their Superromance line. Three years later, I was senior editor. Some of the most challenging and enjoyable projects I worked on in addition to series were the out-of-series continuities I developed with my team, together with the input of many authors I had the pleasure of working with. As the scope of my duties increased with the executive editor designation, I handled non-fiction, hundreds of reissues, anthologies, mysteries, men’s adventure–well, just about everything. My husband does get a little annoyed when I edit restaurant menus. (doesn’t anyone know how to spell these days??) I do try to restrain myself….
I come from a large family and a wide social circle that takes celebrating milestones seriously. So over the years, between my corporate and private lives, I had found myself composing and delivering speeches quite regularly. And eventually, helping others with their speechwriting dilemmas. Though I resisted for a long time, I began writing speeches professionally several years ago; it has provided me with many memorable moments and the opportunity to meet dozens of fascinating individuals from various corporate, philanthropic and social spheres.
A few months ago, I was asked to help with the tribute to a client’s dear friend for a special birthday celebration. The honoree was a huge Elton John fan, so instead of a speech, I was asked to rewrite the lyrics to four or five Elton John classics, composing mini-stories, descriptions and gentle teases about the birthday girl so that her guests could sing them to her. Can you guess how many times I listened to those songs in order to get the meter and the rhyme just right? It was a challenging assignment, but also great fun!
Just a few weeks ago, as I was driving down the highway one evening on the way to a play, I received a panicked call on my cell from a man who had been asked to deliver the eulogy at a colleague’s funeral. He was concerned because he felt that everything he had to say about the fellow was too risque for a public speech. I told him I was sure we could work it out. “How much time do we have?” I asked him. “When is the funeral?”
“Oh, he’s not dead yet!” he informed me. His wife thinks it will be anytime now, but I had lunch with him last week and he seemed ok to me!”
I do love the speechwriting business! You just never know what will be thrown at you…..and there’s practically always a tight deadline! So my company, The Write Touch, keeps evolving, as clients ask to me to tackle all sorts of projects stretching across various mediums and markets. In addition to becoming a pseudo-lyricist, I’ve written a short film script, some landing page copy—which corporately is known as strategic messaging, an acceptance speech for a posthumous award presented to the family of an Italian immigrant turned self-made millionaire, several speeches given at the official opening of a new hospital wing, and countless wedding tributes for grooms, dads, brides and other members of the wedding party. And edited….just about everything, restaurant menus included.
Nowadays, after thirty years at Harlequin, several decades’ worth of attendance at the Romance Writers’ of America, Novelists Inc and other writers’ conferences, lots of travel (but never enough!), hundreds of editing projects and scores of speeches under my belt, I feel so blessed to be able to choose the projects I want to work on. My lust for the bon mot makes me happiest with some writing or editing project always on the go. In the last eighteen months, since I’ve left the corporate publishing world to work at my own business, I’ve also de-cluttered my home of thirty-four years, sold it and moved with my husband to a condo, travelled to China, celebrated the fourth, sixth, seventh and ninth birthdays of my grandchildren, and transplanted my garden to my daughter and son-in-law’s backyard. While renovating the condo, I tackled all the writing assignments I just mentioned above, clicking away at odd hours in a temporary office set up in children’s basement.
When I’m not tinkering with words in some form or another, I’m happily on call for my share of grand-parenting duties. One of our favorite activities? We write stories. I help the kids compose their own imaginative sagas, and then I turn them into books.
I guess you can take the girl (or grandmother, in this case!) out of the book biz, but the book biz will never really be out of the girl, because I do miss my formerly consistent diet of novel acquisition, analysis, and editing. And even more, I miss the relationships with so many authors that arose from my publishing duties. Which is why, now that the dust has settled, I’ve decided to renew my ties with the book business by offering my services and experience in a way that suits the needs and rhythm of the current market.
Many established authors I’ve known throughout the years are now taking the opportunity to reacquire rights to books that may have been published many years ago. They have the means and opportunity to republish them, often digitally, but they face the dilemma of feeling that the books need updating, yet the demands of their front-list publishing schedules leave them no time to do that work. That’s where I come in. Heck, I may have even edited that book the first time around, or at least have been familiar with it in its original form! And for newer authors, or those now publishing independently, I can offer my editorial expertise to get their work into the best possible shape for publication.
I’ll also be welcoming potential clients and taking appointments at the RWA tradeshow in New York this summer. I’m so looking forward to seeing many familiar faces and making the acquaintance of new authors who may need my services!
Are you going to be in New York? Please visit The Write Touch at Friday’s trade show. You can also contact me at email@example.com or 416 543 8282 for more information or to set up an appointment. And if not…..well, I’m always happy to hear from authors! I’d love to chat about how we might work together!
And just to get the discussion started, what do you think: should “old” books be updated, or do references to cell phones as big as an old radio add to the charm? What’s your preference….leave the original pristine, or “refresh” it?