Editor Spotlight

Elizabeth May, Assistant Editor at Kensington Publishing Corp.

Brought to you by the Communications team as an offshoot of the Industry News Agent Spotlight segment - This interview features Elizabeth May, an assistant editor at Kensington Publishing Corp. Founded in 1974, Kensington is located in New York City and is known as “America’s Independent Publisher.” It remains a multi-generational family business.The house of New York Times bestselling authors, including Fern Michaels, Lisa Jackson, Joanne Fluke, William W. Johnstone, and many others, Kensington publishes over 500 fiction and non-fiction titles each year. Its diverse imprints include Zebra, Pinnacle, Dafina, and Lyrical Press which are well known for providing readers with a range of popular genres such as romance, women’s fiction, African American, young adult and nonfiction, as well as true-crime, western, and mystery titles. In addition to the close to 500 new books, the company releases through its diverse imprints per year, it has a backlist of more than 3,000 titles. Kensington is considered a leader and innovator in such areas of publishing as African-American, cozy mysteries, westerns, women's fiction, and romance.

Elizabeth sought out WFWA to talk to members about Kensington, publishing at large, and her manuscript wish list. This interview was conducted by Elena Mikalsen, a member of the Industry News team, in March 2018.


What kind of novels is Kensington looking for right now?

Kensington is a commercial fiction publisher with strong roots in the romance, women’s fiction, and mystery categories. We have really built a name for ourselves with cozy mysteries over the last few years, and are the number one publisher of Westerns. We’re expanding our non-fiction list starting in 2018, and we just recently launched Rebel Base, our Sci Fi/Fantasy Imprint, so we run the gamut!


What are you most interested in seeing land on your desk?

My ideal project would be women’s historical fiction, with strong selling points such as an event, or person told from a new angle. An example would be Amor Towles’ The Rules of Engagement or Marie Benedict’s The Other Einstein.

I like historical fiction to have an emphasis on upmarket writing, even when the concept is a bit more commercial.

I think generally we our looking for authors who have honed their craft, have an idea of where their work fits in the current publishing landscape, and have a workhorse ability to promote their books and connect with the readers. (I know that’s a lot) An old or popular topic or story told through a new perspective and fresh twist is always great.


What trends do you expect to see in publishing in the coming year or two?

I think we are going to see a lot of the same that we have seen in the past few years. Women’s Fiction is really a genre that encompasses many genres--- historical, romance, suspense, etc. so it can be hard to generalize. But there are certain areas that seem to remain strong over the years in various niches. Such as WWII related titles, and other historical fiction. Issue driven content like Jodi Picoult, and domestic noire/ suspense, like Liane Moriarty, and even darker.

Diversity! Readers and publishers are looking for diverse voices, and Own voices. Also with the sweeping reach of the #MeToo movement in the last few months, we may see a swell of fiction that takes that into account. Nostalgia seems to be a big trend across other medias and markets, a la Stranger Things. So we may see a swell in women centric books that take place in the not too distant past, like the film Lady Bird did.

Unfortunately, I think we are also going to see a continuation of the challenges that have hit us hard over the last few years. Decline in retail space combined with a fresher decline in ebook sales will make it even harder for new and midlist authors to get a foothold. Especially in genres and tropes where there is total oversaturation. Such as ‘woman returns to the hometown she left to start new life…’ type premises. It’s a hard pill to swallow, but publishers have to swallow it every day. All one can do as an author, or book publisher, is be aware of the situation and try to adjust.


Anything else you’d like to tell us about yourself or Kensington?

Kensington is a really unique place to work as we are one of the largest publishers in the country, and simultaneously one of the few still independently owned and family run. I can think of other large independent houses, but not one that has stayed in one family through multiple generations (but if I’m forgetting one let me know!) and I’m really proud to work for a company with that history.

Our owner and CEO, Steve Zacharius is one of the most transparent, hands on executives in the business. He is constantly at author and industry events. It’s very common for an author to sign on to a publishing house and have only a vague idea of what is going on behind the scenes, and who is making the decisions. But what you see if what you get with Steve, and with Kensington. It’s refreshing to say the least.

Kensington is one of the only major publishing houses that accepts submissions from unagented authors. All of our editors have profiles on our website, describing what exactly they are looking for and how to query them.


Thanks so much for having me!

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