From Egghead to Smut Peddler: A Publishing Journey with Ruthie Knox

I have the immense pleasure of welcoming the delightfully talented author Ruthie Knox.  Her newest release, RIDE WITH ME, is available from Loveswept (Random House) on February 13. I have followed Ruthie’s blog for a while and asked her to discuss the influence working as an editor has had on her, and to share with us the synopsis she used for her pitch to both agent and publisher. She has shared with us some wonderful insights, and I have thoroughly enjoyed having her visit.

I hope you enjoy Ruthie Knox as much as I do.

From Egghead to Smut Peddler: A Publishing Journey with Ruthie Knox

When I was seven years old, my family moved to a small college town in Ohio. At sixteen-almost-seventeen, I left for college in Iowa. At twenty-almost-twenty-one, I moved to North Carolina for grad school. And at twenty-five, I got my Ph.D., got married, and moved to Wisconsin.

Had there been any more school to go to, I would have signed right up, but having maxed out, I had to figure out what to do with myself next. I wanted to be an editor, and academics was what I knew, so I became an academic editor. I built on five years’ experience in acquisitions at a university press to launch a freelance copyediting and developmental editing business for primarily academic clients. Which is to say, I became an egghead editor for other eggheads. Perfect.

I did that for a while, and I took up knitting and became kind of obsessive about it, and then I had a baby, stopped knitting, went back to work, and got bored.

I need to be learning new things all the time, or I get restless and dissatisfied. After five years at a scholarly publisher and seven running my own editing business, I wasn’t encountering new challenges anymore. My husband suggested I might want to expand my business into a sort of academic editing empire. Instead, I started writing romance.

Mine is both a typical and an atypical background for an erotic romance novelist. On the one hand, it happens so often that woman have babies and start writing romance a few years later to stave off boredom, it’s almost a stereotype. On the other hand, I’m the only freelance academic editor I know whose goal in life is to make enough money writing sexy books that she never has to edit another bibliography.

And yet there is much that is useful about having moved from academic publishing into romance writing. For one thing, I understand how publishing works. Now, granted, I’ve never worked at a New York fiction publisher, but I have spent hundreds of hours assessing submissions, writing rejection letters, offering editorial advice to authors, and taking disgruntled authors off of ledges.

I have photocopied So. Many. Manuscripts.

More usefully, I’ve designed the interior of a book, processed and filed purchase orders from bookstores, written cover copy, and solicited blurbs. I’ve done contracts. I’ve drafted book budgets. I’ve observed how agents shape the author-publisher relationship. I’ve chased down permissions for dozens of photographs and song lyrics. I’ve watched designers make beautiful covers that authors hated and beautiful covers that authors loved. I’ve set up and manned a conference booth, sold books, talked to authors, and collapsed in an exhausted heap at the end of the day.

And, of course, as an editor, I’ve manipulated other people’s words in just about every way possible. All that before I’d written a single word of fiction.

Once I did start writing fiction, in October 2010, I wrote three full manuscripts pretty quickly. The third one was the story that became Ride with Me. I queried at the end of March 2011, signed with my agent in April, and accepted an offer on Ride with Me in July. Zoom!

I know this accomplishment involved some combination of good fortune, skill, and savvy, but as to what proportion of each, I have no idea. My opinion varies depending on whether my id, ego, or superego is operating the helm at any particular moment. Most of the time, I just figure I lucked out in a big way.

But I do think that my experiences as an editor were — and continue to be — helpful in a variety of ways. For one thing, it never hurts to have excellent mechanics. Close-to-flawless grammar and properly formatted manuscripts do have an edge over sloppy ones, particularly with persnickety people who care about that kind of thing. When your manuscript is clean, there’s nothing on the page to distract the person you’re trying to impress from the story you’re trying to tell.

For another thing, my experience in publishing has helped me to stave off any irrational fear of agents and editors. Yes, these people have a great deal of expertise in fiction that I lack. Yes, they are the gatekeepers who control whether or not I get published. But they’re also just people, like all of the agents and editors and authors I’ve worked with over the years. We’re all in this because we’re geeks who love to read good books.

A third advantage is that I understand, roughly speaking, how publishing works. I know what stages a book passes through, how labor is divided, what influences decision making. While there are differences from one type of publishing to another and between presses, there are a lot more similarities. And having been in the shoes of the contracts person, the copywriter, the editorial assistant, the copyeditor, and so on, I can understand and appreciate exactly what they’re bringing to my book.

Finally, being an editor has shaped my self-editing process. I tend to write a book from beginning to end, scene by scene, and I don’t consider a scene “done” and move on to the next one until I can read it through without a hitch. That usually requires a fairly rapid first draft, a slower second pass where I flesh out missing pieces and improve awkward language, a third pass for polishing, a fourth pass for polishing, sometimes a fifth pass for polishing . . . all before I’m ready to let anyone’s eyes on it but my own. I hold myself to a high standard.

At the same time, though, I know that written words aren’t precious. I’ve certainly hacked other people’s prose to pieces enough times to understand that it’s the ideas that matter. So if I hear from a beta reader (or from the whispering voice in my own head) that a chapter isn’t working and it needs to go, I wince a bit, and then I hack it off. If my editor tells me that the beginning of my manuscript isn’t doing what it needs to be doing, I’ll write a new beginning. I can always write more words, and chances are they’ll be better than the ones I had.

Through it all, I continue every day to seek new ways to learn more, to improve, to excel. Smut peddler or not, I’ll always be an egghead at heart.


Ride With Me Giveaway

Ruthie has been so generous to offer one randomly chosen lucky commenter a digital copy of Ride with Me. Winners will pick up their copy through Net Galley. So good luck!


The Beginning of the Synopsis for Ride with Me

Before the training wheels came off her first bike, Lexie Marshall knew she would ride the TransAmerica Trail one day. She just didn’t know she would ride it with a tall, dark, melancholy hermit.

Inspired by her parents’ stories of their own journey along the cross-country cycling route, Lexie prepares to spend the summer she turns thirty enjoying the greatest adventure of her life. She has the maps, the bike, and the legs to climb any pass between Oregon and the Atlantic. She’s anticipated every contingency and planned out the trip to the last detail. All she needs is a riding companion. Because it’s one thing to be a strong, independent woman on the streets of Portland, but it’s quite another to fall asleep alone in a tent in the middle of nowhere without worrying about axe murderers. She’s tried it. It can be done, but it really sucks.

So Lexie does what any woman in her situation would do: she places an ad in the Companions Wanted space on the Adventure Cycling website, carefully screens the respondents for signs of perviness, and picks out her biking buddy.

When Tom Geiger turns out to be two decades younger and about a hundred degrees hotter than Lexie had any reason to expect, she rolls with the punch but defends herself against her tendency to fall for all the wrong men by telling him she’s married. Which is funny, actually, because with a couple of broken engagements under her belt, Lexie has shoved marriage to the very bottom of the list of things she wants.

All Tom wants is a quiet summer alone, taking in the scenery and watching his front tire eat up 4,200 miles of asphalt. But his sister answered Lexie’s ad in his name, setting him up on the bicycling equivalent of a blind date, and by the time he finds out about it, he can’t stomach the idea of backing out and forcing Lexie to either give up her trip or ride alone. He decides to do the honorable thing and ride with her, at least until he can find her a more suitable companion.

Tom knows too well that this impulse to play the hero is his Achilles heel. Five years ago, it ruined his life. <details redacted> Since then, he’s been working as a bike mechanic, cycling in some of the world’s remotest places, and spending as little time around other people as possible. The last thing he wants is to travel across the country with an uptight, controlling woman who talks too much. Particularly a married woman whose ass looks so fine in black spandex, it’s literally painful to ride behind her.

It doesn’t help that the two of them strike sparks off one another from the beginning. Lexie finds Tom so infuriating, she stops speaking to him ten miles into the ride. To her chagrin, she also finds him so intriguing that when he still hasn’t broken the silence on day three, she challenges him to a hot-sauce-eating duel at a Mexican restaurant in the hope he’ll cave and say something, even if it’s “Holy shit, that’s hot!” By the time six bottles of sauce have bit the dust, Tom and Lexie have begun to play nice — and to worry they may have ignited a blaze they can’t put out.

Click here to find Ride With Me at Random House.

8 thoughts on “From Egghead to Smut Peddler: A Publishing Journey with Ruthie Knox”

  1. Great post and glimpse into your publishing journey, Ruthie. Thanks for sharing. :)
    The synopsis is so sparkly perfect…how many rewrites or polish passes did it take to get it that way?
    Really looking forward to picking up Ride With Me! (Now, hurry up and fiinsh the Green Bay Roofer book.)

    1. Thanks, Karla! I’d love to breezily pretend the synopsis emerged all perfect-like from my writer brain, but in fact I seem to remember sweating blood over it. For three days. The hardest part was simply getting it down on paper, and I’ve since modified my synopsis process so the first stage is the one where I force myself, despite ENORMOUS mental resistance, to vomit out whatever words I require to describe the plot, with no backtracking and no regard to quality. This works much better. Then I revise and polish, revise and polish — probably ten or fifteen times on a synopsis, before I feel like it’s ready to share!

  2. Fantastic post. Rich. Spirited. Informative. Absolutely love it.
    Wish I could highlight all the great quotes in here.

    Especially love this, the third, fourth and fifth passes for polishing!

    “being an editor has shaped my self-editing process. I tend to write a book from beginning to end, scene by scene, and I don’t consider a scene “done” and move on to the next one until I can read it through without a hitch. That usually requires a fairly rapid first draft, a slower second pass where I flesh out missing pieces and improve awkward language, a third pass for polishing, a fourth pass for polishing, sometimes a fifth pass for polishing . . .”

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