One thing that really stood out to me during the #DearPublisher conversation was the idea that some people believed that editors are glorified proofreaders. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. Any writer can tell you that the editor/author relationship is an incredibly important one and that a great editor can take a good book and push the author to make it into something truly amazing.
So today, we have a great interview with one of our very own editors, J.A., to explain to you a bit about what goes in to the editorial process. If you have follow up questions, be sure to leave them in the comments section for her to answer for you!
And off we go…
1. What are some different types of editors? What are their roles?
Different types of editors who might work on a book could include a copyeditor, a managing editor, and the book’s main editor (who will sometimes have a designation like Associate or Assistant Editor, Senior Editor, or Executive Editor, which are just different steps in the editorial chain of command).
Editors can shape a book in various ways. We work with the author on developing and balancing plot, character, pacing, setting, and all the elements that go into a book. Over the course of development, we will look at every word in every line of the book multiple times, checking for style, clarity, and meaning. We make sure the story is constructed and communicated in the best, most authentic way possible. This is true for all books, from novels to picture books.
With a picture book, the editor will also have some role in shaping the look of the book, working closely with the art department on elements such as illustrator selection, storyboarding, and text style and placement. A copyeditor takes a nearly finished text and adjusts its mechanics—everything from sentence structure to punctuation—and checks that everything is in keeping with house style.
2. What is the relationship between the editor and the author? Who contacts who, and what kinds of things do you and the author need to keep in touch about through the editorial process?
The editorial process officially begins when a contract is signed between the author and the publisher. The editor will usually contact the author at this time and a time line will be established for getting the book to print. Depending on how much work a manuscript requires, an author may hear from an editor very frequently, or hardly ever. Communication can be by phone or email or even in person. In all cases, though, it’s important to keep the lines open in both directions. An editor may contact an author about developmental issues or changes to the text, while an author may contact an editor with responses to editorial feedback or new ideas relating to the book.
3. What is the relationship between the editor and an aspiring illustrator? Illustrator and author?
Editors are always keeping an eye out for talented illustrators who might fit with the various projects they are working on, so maintaining a professional website is always a good idea. However, most of the final art decisions really rest with the art department, and much of what happens during the course of production would go through the art director. Often times, the author and illustrator will not communicate directly. It seems strange, but it’s not at all unusual for the author and illustrator of a book to never have met or spoken to each other.
4. What’s the difference between the editorial process for picture books and chapter books?
The editorial processes for chapter books and picture books are more similar than different, actually. Chapter books have more words to edit, of course, but picture books have illustrations, so in terms of time and effort, there’s not as much difference as you might think.
In both cases, we ask similar questions:
- Is the story compelling?
- Are the characters strong?
- Is the plot engrossing?
- Is everything happening in the best possible order?
- Is the pacing effective?
- Are there any unnecessary words or ideas?
- Are there any necessary words or ideas that need to be added?
- Is the structure solid?
- What are the book’s themes and how can they be best expressed?
In the case of picture books, there is the added issue of what the art is saying, and whether sometimes the text says something the art should be saying, or vice versa. Another thing that comes into play when editing picture books is checking rhyme schemes and patterns within the book. Someone needs to make sure that these are executed as flawlessly as possible.
5. How many authors is an editor typically working with at any given time? How patient should I be with my editor?
Please be patient with your editor! Editors mean well, but we are almost universally overburdened with things to read, things to edit, and things to manage. Our to-do lists are always miles long, and as soon as we scratch something off, another thing appears. That said, you should always feel free to initiate a conversation with your editor about anything that concerns you as an author. It doesn’t matter how many authors we may be working with at a given time, if you’re worried about something or have a question, send an email.
6. You liked my story, now what? What exactly are we editing here, and do I have to say yes to everything my editor tells me to do?
Just because an editor likes your story doesn’t mean it’s ready for publication. An acquired book is not always a finished book, by any means. Editors and authors have shared goals: we want your book to be the best, most amazing book anyone has ever read. This takes time and attention, and then more time and attention. It’s an ongoing process in which some books have a longer way to go than others. Different editors will change different things about a book. It all depends. And no, you don’t have to say yes to everything your editor tells you to do. However, I think that most authors and editors work to build the kind of relationship where they feel comfortable discussing their reasons for wanting to change (or not change) a text. Sometimes in these discussions, new options will arise. Better options. And, because of this, the book improves. Think of the process as collaborative, not adversarial.
7. How long is a book in the editorial stage? (How long will I have to wait before I can buy copies for my friends?)
There’s nothing like the excitement of waiting to see your new book on the shelves. How long any given book takes to get published depends on a number of factors. Does it require a heavy edit with lots of revisions? Is there art included? (If there is, the artist’s schedule will have a lot to do with it.) Is the book seasonal or does it relate to an upcoming event or anniversary? All of these things play into a publisher’s decision about when to release a book. Some books hit the shelves mere months after being acquired, but most take years.
8. If there was one tip you could give to aspiring authors on what NOT to do, what would you tell them?
Don’t send off a manuscript the minute you finish writing it. Put it in a drawer. Take it out. Take it to a critique group. Revise. Put it in the drawer again. Wait. Think about it. Do market research. Go to the bookstore. Read. Read some more. Go back to your manuscript. Revise. Think about it. Then send it in—maybe.
9. How often do you work with neophyte, slush pile authors?
Right now, I have two first-time authors I’m working with. One of those manuscripts is a picture book I found in the slush pile. There’s nothing like the thrill of discovering a gem among the thousands of submissions we get each year. However, it happens a lot less frequently than I wish it did. Overall, maybe ten manuscripts a year from the slush pile make it further along in the acquisitions process, with only one of those (maybe) being likely to actually get acquired. Slush is not for the faint of heart!
10. Do I have to work through an agent?
No. Peachtree accepts unsolicited submissions. If you send it, we’ll read it. (It may take us six or seven or nine or ten months, but we’ll read it.)
11. What kind of things are editors looking for from their authors?
The ideal author is willing to go anywhere and do everything necessary to promote their book. Professionalism, enthusiasm, and a willingness to work hard are at the top of any publisher’s wish list. Will you visit schools? Attend conferences? Do signings? Do you network? Are you personable and friendly? Are you serious about being an author? These qualities can make a bigger difference than you think!
Thank you so much J.A. for taking the time to talk to us and let us know a little bit more about the editorial process. Is there something that we missed that you want to know? Now is your chance! Leave a comment and we’ll get your questions answered!
And in case you missed Part one, you can read it here.