Greetings, dear readers!
I’m Jessica Wade, and I’m an editor at Ace and Roc, the science fiction and fantasy imprints of Penguin. The lovely Faith (AKA Gwen) Hunter asked me to write a guest post for you all, and in this case I’m going to follow the age-old dictate that says ‘write what you know’ (strange advice for fantasy writers I suppose!) and try to give a sense of what it is that I do as an editor—mostly how I shepherd a book through to publication. I hope that getting a feel for what goes on after a book is bought will be of interest, and will maybe shed some light on what sometimes seems like the faceless military-industrial complex of publishing.
So. What is it that an editor does? The answer varies from house to house, and from imprint to imprint within each house (the imprint being the smaller division of the big company, and the word you see on the spine of the book). But in general, our jobs have two very distinct parts: acquisitions and editing. Acquisitions entails reading submissions from agents, or unsolicited (charmingly called, since time immemorial, “slush”) manuscripts, and deciding what to buy for the company. Part of what I decide to buy is based on theoretical market savvy (“I read in Locus that Harper Collins is having a lot of success with post-apocalyptic naval fantasy told from the point of view of sentient sea rats! We must have some of our own!”) but mostly it has to do with whether I fall in love with a book when I’m reading. Does the character grab me from the word go? Does the author pull me into a world that is rich without being obtrusively detailed, and set up agonizing conflict? Sign me up! Typically I buy multiple books in a contract (because by the time the first book comes out, the second book should already have been delivered if we want a timely sequel). Calling a first time author is a really fun part of the job, and though I’ve been working at Penguin for nearly a decade, it’s still really thrilling to hear the joy in a new author’s voice when I talk to them for the first time.
But now Ace/Roc has a new author, so what’s next?
The editing! I edit a manuscript globally the first time around. I’m not looking for grammar or spelling mistakes (that’s the copyeditor’s job). I’m looking to make sure the novel has a satisfying structure; that the character grows demonstrably as a result of her experiences; that motivations make sense. Big, honking, world-building, deal-breaking issues. (“I note that the rat narrator has a lot of enmity for his siblings and that drives the first part of the plot, but we don’t really get a clear picture of why. Can you make sure he explains, with some telling details?”) I’ll also typically note down any smaller, continuity-type queries (“On p. 67 the rat narrator said DeLorean A’ngvarmain’s tail adornment was in the latest style, but then on p. 68 One-Eye said it was dowdy. What gives?”). Then I send them off to the poor, benighted author in an editorial letter (ok, email, but we still say letter!). I’ve written letters as short as two pages and as long as thirteen. The author reads the letter. He weeps. He sobs. He rends his clothes. He fantasizes about writing a letter back to me critiquing each point of my letter. But then (hopefully!) he sees that my changes will help make the novel more accessible or tighter and we have a chat or email exchange and work out a timeline for revisions. Then I read the new version, typically line-editing in Microsoft Word at the same time for flow and content and send it back to him. He weeps. He sobs. He realizes no one really ‘rends’ clothes so much anymore—it’s not green. He approves my changes. Voila! Off to the copyeditor. The copyeditor copyedits, kicks it back to author, the author reviews the changes. Then the manuscript is typeset to look like a book, and the page proofs are kicked back to the author, approved, and then, three months later, we have a book!
The whole process takes about nine months to a year. What, pray tell, is the indolent editor doing in the meantime? That’s the third part of our job, and it’s a doozy. Because I’m the conduit through which all the information about the author and the book flows to other departments, I do a lot of email answering. I also go to a lot of meetings, where we talk about covers and line-ups and bring up submissions for the editorial group to talk about. I look at covers and edit back cover copy. I go to cons. I obligingly write guest blogs when asked by my authors (*grin*). And all of this minutiae (‘getting nibbled to death by ducks’ is what my boss calls it) takes up a LOT of time. Probably sixty to seventy percent of my work day, so that I end up editing and reading submissions a great deal at home—and that’s true for most of the editors I know. It’s overall an exceedingly engaging job, and can be very rewarding, but it will expand to fill up as much time as you allow it to.
And with that, I’ll sign off! I hope hearing about editors and the editorial process hasn’t bored you to tears and that maybe you’ve learned at least one new thing (get to writing the apocalyptic rat fantasy, STAT, for example). I should note that I’ll be happy to respond to comments/questions, but that I’m going to be on vacation through 8/20 and may not be in range of the Internet until then. Apologies. And many thanks for your time!