Sunday, August 26, 2012

The Best and The Worst of Being An Editor

Post #2 from Nancy! I hope you enjoy the inside peek into what being an editor means, and also what it takes to be one. I'm thinking I may be able to twist her arm for answers if you have questions you're dying to ask. (No, you can't ask her who Sammy's dad is.) (And yes, she does know.) So put your questions in the comments and I'll see what I can do. Anyway, here's Nancy!


That sounds like fun…

This is what most people say when I tell them I’m an editor of children’s books.  And I usually reply, Sometimes.  But what I’m thinking is, You clearly have no idea what I do…

And how would they?  It’s such a behind-the-scenes job.  I suspect they think I sit around and read all day.  (Sadly, no.)  Or that I wield a red pencil and correct spelling and grammar.  (Happily, no.)

It’s my job to find books for my company to publish.  I work with authors and illustrators to revise and shape a book until it’s the best it can possibly be.  And then I’m the book’s main advocate in-house—explaining to the sales and marketing teams why I think it’s a spectacular book that will be perfect for a particular audience.  There’s more, but that’s the heart of it—finder, fixer, cheerleader.

It might also be part of my job to think that the word fun isn’t all that descriptive.  Sometimes being an editor is thrilling. More often: satisfying. And frequently: crushing.

Everyone approaches the job differently, but here are the highs and lows for me:

The best.

  • I love the moment of discovery.  The moment when I’m reading a new manuscript and think, yes.  Yes, this is wonderful.  Yes, we can publish this well.  Yes, people are going to love this.  I feel like I’ve got a delicious secret—no one else knows yet how spectacular this book is.  But they will.  Oh, they will!  And I get to tell them.

  • Whenever anyone—any one—says they love the book too.

  • The company I keep.  I get to work with creative, passionate, dedicated people.  Both the authors and illustrators and my colleagues in the office.  Everyone cares about books.  Everyone’s trying to bring something good into the world.

The worst.

  • When I’m the only one who loves a book.  Sometimes I’m a fan base of one.  Which is frustrating in the particular and also makes me doubt myself in general.

  • And worse than that—when no one seems to care.  I can work for years on a book and be really excited about it, and the book comes out and the reaction is…meh.  Indifference can feel worse than outright dislike.

  • I am never done.  I will never be caught up.  There is always something more I could do, should do, would like to do to spread the word about a book.  Always someone I should have called to check in on.  Always some chapter or scene that might have been better had I studied it a sixth time, or seventh, or eighth, and suggested a small change.

  • My reading time is not my own.  I should be reading submissions or the competition or the other books on our list.  Reading for pleasure has become a guilty pleasure.

  • It is really hard to know if I am doing a good job.  There’s no completely objective way to measure your success.  Sometimes books do well with very little input from me.  And sometimes I knock myself out for a book and it still doesn’t work.  Here’s the rub—when a book sells well or gets stellar reviews, it feels only right and just.  Of course it’s doing well—it’s a great book and the author created something wonderful.  When a book fails, it feels like my fault.  Some books haunt me.  Did I pick a not-so-good one?  What could I have done differently?  What might I still do to turn things around?

What satisfies:

  • Figuring it out.  Sometimes I’ll be editing a book and know that something feels off or doesn’t ring true.  And pinpointing exactly what’s making me feel that way, and then seeing a way to fix it, is incredibly satisfying.  Like solving a puzzle.

  • Even better than that is explaining to a writer or an artist that something feels not-quite-right, offering a potential solution, and having them come back with an even better solution.  Then I get to feel both helpful and inspiring.

  • Saying it well.  There are millions of small reasons I love a book, and it’s hard to distill that love into a few sentences that will explain to someone who hasn’t read it yet why it’s special.  Hitting upon the right way to talk about a book so that others get excited too is important.

  • Finding the right words.  Creating jacket copy for a book is a challenge.  You have to explain enough of the plot to draw readers in, but not give away too much.  And you have to do that in a way that gives readers the feel of a book.  Is it funny or suspenseful or goofy or heartbreaking… 

I’m suddenly realizing that the same wisdom I hear from writers applies to editors too—you have to enjoy the process.  You can’t live for the results—for the sales or the reviews or the outcome.  That part is mostly out of your control.  What you can control is the doing.  And if you enjoy being in the middle of a big, complex, knotty puzzle, and finding a way to make it all come together, then yes—being a children’s book editor is thrilling and agonizing and satisfying and, on especially good days, fun.


Gabrielle said...

It's sounds like a whole lot of work being an editor,but its probably a great feeling when your done with a book,and when it does great.

Gabrielle said...

And it goes to show you,there's always bad and good things no matter what you do.

Unknown said...

Aw man! We cant ask her who the dad is! Then can i ask this: How long have you known? Have you known since book 1, or did u decide in book 6....
did u think ah! that wud be perfect 4 her dad! when u were workng on the 2nd book? How do u decide important stuff like that? From book 1 did u no that there was people like dot, holly, casey, and stuff in her future?
And wow!=) i didnt really know that much about what an editor does! it sounds like its worth it though.=)
One more question: How do u get people to read books that are first out and stuff? Some titals are so LONG or BORING or both, but inside the book is really awsome!=) like the first time i saw Sammy Keyes, me and my friend had an argument about who was gonna read the book with tiny printing in 2 days! (that was for a book competition thing..) And now i really love those books, but there are so many titals in the world, and how do people find out if ur book just got out if ur a first time author?=)
that probably didnt make any sence...=)

Jessica said...

1) How did you get started becoming an editor? What other paths could people take to become one?

2) What made you decide to become an editor rather than a writer (or were you ever a writer)?

3) What are the most important traits or characteristics a good editor should have? What traits or qualities would make someone a better editor than writer (and vice versa)?

I have more, but I'll leave it there so other people can get their questions in.

Kylie said...

This is so cool to see what the Job of an editor is like. I have actually considered becoming an editor my self, so this was a really good inside view of it. I think your job is one of the coolest jobs there is. I mean you never know if the book you pick up is going to be the next Harry Potter. I wonder what it was like for the editor if Harry Potter when she first read the book. I mean with out her there wouldn't be a Harry potter. And without you we might not have a Sammy Keyes. That is what I find so cool about your job is like you are digging through a mine for that one piece of gold. It is just so amazing.

And I have a question: Do you what Hudson's past is?


Yusa said...

Wow amazing!
My questions...
What other author or books would you recommend for US?
What other authors have you edited for and worked with?

Unknown said...

Do either of u no or have any idea wat killer cruise and kiss goodbye art will be like? Or wat kiss goodbye is even ABOUT... i have no idea about that.
My friend wanted 2 no wat u and Nancy's favorite SK books are=) Or if either of u have a favorite 'part' in the series, like one of mine was I'm an anaconda from Rawanda, hug me back or I attack!=)

Optimistic4ever said...

That sounds like a lot of hard work, but rewarding work!

You may just have inspored me to look into being an editor...

bookworm said...

Kylie's question made me also ask the question I've been dying to ask but keep on forgetting to ask.................

Will there be a book that will just feature Hudson's past? That'd be awesome. :D

And I've always wanted to be an editor.......... getting paid to read. :D
But I want to travel the world and get paid for that, too, so my chosen career path is now journalism. :)

Unknown said...

do u think u will write any more books after Sammy Keys is done

Anonymous said...

Your insight was so interesting, full of things I've never thought about! What advice would you give to aspiring authors on getting published? To be honest, I'm not even aware of the process of getting published-- is it just googling a few publishers, sending in a few chapters, and crossing your fingers? Thanks!

Jessica said...

It looks like the questions I asked about being an editor will be interesting to some others, too. Here are a few questions on behalf of the aspiring writers:

1) What's your #1 piece of advice for an aspiring writer?

2) What are the three biggest mistakes you see writers in the slushpile making?

3) What are two things a writer can do to stand out (positively) in the slushpile?

Jessica said...
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