I may be too stunned to write this. But I feel like I should. My editor at Kensington, Kate Duffy, has passed away. I knew she had been ill for some time, but I honestly never considered the possibility that she wouldn’t pull through. I guess maybe you would have to have known Kate to understand why, but she was just so strong. She had a strong personality, a strong work ethic, a strong point of view. She was the type of person you felt certain could beat anything.
I know many people in the publishing world knew Kate as the Queen of Romance. And she was. But I knew her as the woman who took a chance on my young adult manuscript. I was her first young adult author, and I remember when I met her she was so excited to be working in a new genre. She had spent decades editing romance, and I sensed that she had developed a fresh spark for delving into the unfamiliar. And she didn’t just take a chance on one of my novels, she bought three. Three books from a previously unpublished author. We launched my series together.
I have a lot of memories of her that I’d like to share, but here are just a few:
Kate called my agent to make an offer on Fat Tuesday 2007. I was at Mardi Gras in New Orleans at the time, and that phone call will forever go down as one of the greatest moments of my life. Kate gave that to me.
It should also be noted that Kate had only had my manuscript for four days before making an offer. I now know that isn’t the typical speed at which editors read submissions. But that’s how hard Kate worked. She made it look easy.
In our first ever phone conversation, I was standing in the stairwell of my former office shaking with nerves. And the first words she said were, “Diana, I’m so thrilled to be working with you. You’re brilliant, absolutely brilliant!” I don’t know if this was a standard thing she said to all of her new authors (though she was not one to mince words), but I remember being so overjoyed that someone of her caliber would even read my book, let alone compliment it (or buy it!). Throughout the ups and downs of my publishing journey since, I’ve often returned to those words to cheer me up—Kate Duffy thinks I’m brilliant. Smile.
Many people don’t know this, but Kate came up with the titles of my first two novels, Amor and Summer Secrets and Amigas and School Scandals. Who knows what they would’ve been called if I was left at the helm. Titles aren’t my strong suit. But Kate felt certain these were the titles that would work. And she was right.
When I first met Kate, she took me to lunch with my art director so we could discuss the cover of Amor and Summer Secrets. Afterward, the three of us walked around Barnes & Noble in Midtown scanning the YA shelves commenting on what we liked and didn’t like. They listened to every idea I had and treated me as an equal, though I had no experience with marketing a book. We came up with a collective concept together, and I now know that that experience is uncommon among debut authors. But Kate never acted as if this were out of the ordinary for her. And I suspect that it wasn’t.
Kate always responded to every email I sent her within about ten seconds. It seemed as though she was always working and she’d answer any newbie question I had. She once even explained the entire process of how a book gets acquired by a book store, and she never sounded frustrated for having to go over this for what was probably the millionth time in her career. She always had time.
Kate told it like it was. If she disagreed with you, she had no qualms in telling you why. She had a few decades of experience to back up her opinions, and with that came a bluntness that took a little getting used to. She didn’t sugar coat the truth, she didn’t tell you what you wanted to hear, she gave it to you straight. You could take it. And now having been around this business for a while, I’ve learned to appreciate this style. There aren’t a lot of people who will tell you the honest truth, and Kate was one of them. And I think this is one of the reasons she commanded so much respect.
So as I said, I’m still stunned to think of her passing. To me, losing Kate is losing the first editor who looked at my writing and said, “Hey, kid, you got something here.” She gave me the career I have now. And it saddens me to think of the writers out there who won’t be able to get that chance from her. She made authors. And bookshelves won’t be the same without her.
Kate Duffy left her mark with me and with readers everywhere. She will be missed.