Editorial Director of Sourcebooks Casablanca Deb Werksman
Deb Werksman is the Editorial Director of Sourcebooks Casablanca. She previously ran her own publishing company. Werksman is the country's foremost editor of Jane Austen sequels, and acquires single title romance in all subgenres, as well as historical and women's fiction. Sourcebooks is the country's largest woman-owned independent publishing house, and they are known for their sales and marketing, as well as our focus on building authors' careers.
How did you get your start in book publishing?
In 1989 when desktop publishing became widely available, I started a political satire magazine, and in 1991 we published our first books and calendars. We got distribution in the book trade, and then Sourcebooks became our distributor in the gift trade, and in 1998 I sold the company to Sourcebooks.
What do you feel that the experience of publishing with an independent book publisher can offer authors that big five publishers cannot?
I think publishing with Sourcebooks will give authors a real sense of teamwork and the ability to communicate within the organization that simply isn’t available in a conglomerate. New and mid-list authors won’t have to spend any of their own money on marketing, and they’ll get an aggressive sales/marketing/PR team who’ll be working on both new releases and backlist all the time.
“A literary agent can help authors understand the process and know what to expect...”
What do you find helpful about working with literary agents?
A literary agent can help authors understand the process and know what to expect, will have a broad view of the market and can share with an author what’s working in the marketplace, beyond what’s happening at one publishing house, and can also serve as a sounding board and valuable team member as the complexities of the publishing process unfold.
Are you looking for any particular type of book right now in the women’s fiction/romance space? What’s working well right now in women’s fiction/romance?
I’m looking for stories that have a very strong hook—to the extent that we can talk about your book as a story that readers haven’t heard before, we can pique their interest. Tropes are not hooks, so it really has to be an intriguing statement that positions your book as unique. I am looking for romance fiction that includes a little bit deeper of the woman’s journey so the reader can really relate to the heroine and cheer her on her journey.
(Sourcebooks Publisher Dominique Raccah & Editorial Director Deb Werksman discuss the criteria for a Sourcebooks romance novel)
“We want every book we publish to succeed...”
What do you love most about being a book editor at Sourcebooks?
I love the teamwork and the talent—we’re always demanding more of ourselves. We want every book we publish to succeed, so anyone at any point in the process can say, “Hey, let’s try this positioning statement” or “Let’s try this on the cover,” or “What would the author think of this title direction?” and we pull in all the points of view and bring a stronger product to market. That gives us a print market share increase of over 12% in 2018, and not many romance publishers can say that.
Are you reading anything for pleasure that is different from what you would normally work with in your capacity as a book editor at Sourcebooks?
I’m reading A Gentleman in Moscow right now, and also working my way through Louise Penny’s Chief Inspector Armand Gamache series. I love world-building in my fiction, and so I also enjoy Elin Hilderbrand and I read non-fiction as well—Malcolm Gladwell and Atul Gawande are two of my favorite non-fiction authors.
“...market conditions push authors to build their brand very thoughtfully...”
There have been quite a few changes in the women’s/fiction genres following the advent of eBooks and Amazon as a tremendous force in the marketplace. Where do you see the women’s fiction/romance sector of publishing headed in the future?
The readership in this category is voracious, so I think an original, well-positioned debut will always get a chance. I think the market conditions push authors to build their brand very thoughtfully, and that requires a level of consistency and excellence that provides readers with a reading experience they can count on, while delivering an original story every time. I do think the glut makes it important for authors to take a long view—faster isn’t better, better is better, so be sure you create your own processes in a way that will allow you to deliver book after book after book over a long career.
Which are your favorite women’s fiction or romance writers conferences and why?
I find Romance Writers of America a very useful conference—it has a strong educational program and gives authors a lot of opportunities to meet agents and editors. I think every author working in the women’s fiction/romance space should be involved with their local RWA chapter—there are many excellent local and regional conferences, and the local chapters are sources of inspiration, critique partners, and lifelong professional learning.
“...it’s all about originality and positioning—in order to get your book read by literary agents...”
Do you have any advice for writers looking to break into the women’s fiction/romance space?
I think it’s all about originality and positioning—in order to get your book read by literary agents, editors and ultimately readers, you need a hook that’s original and attention-getting. Tropes are not hooks and a plot summary is not a pitch, so once you’ve written your story, you need to step out of the writer zone and into the reader zone. What do you have to communicate that readers can’t get anywhere else?
Might you be able to share any advice with those looking to get their start in book publishing or become book editors?
There are numerous good publishing programs, including Denver Publishing Institute, NYU Publishing Program, and many others, which expose you to all aspects of publishing. We actively recruit from these programs, and when we see one of them on a resume, it’s a plus. We also have a very successful internship program that rotates our interns through all the departments in the company and we have many full-time editors who started as interns with us.