Years of hard work go into creating and selling a children’s book, and every step requires strong, collaborative relationships between departments, among staff, with reviewers, and with our friends in the bookselling, library, and education worlds. In that process of turning a story into a book, the relationship between an author and editor is a very special and important one. This week we sat down with our Vice President and Associate Publisher, Kathy Landwehr, and asked her—as head of Peachtree’s editorial team—to share her personal insight on the subject.
Kathy has been at Peachtree Publishers for 26 years, and she’s been working in the publishing industry for 28 (if you count newspapers, she added). She started her career here in publicity and marketing before switching to managing the editorial and production departments. Having learned the ropes from her co-workers, Kathy began acquiring. She’s been at it ever since, working with award-winning authors such as Cynthia Levinson, Don Tate, J. J. Johnson, Susan Stockdale, and Kashmira Sheth.
Needless to say, Kathy knows her stuff.
When we asked Kathy about the first conversation with a new author, she said there’s one question she always asks: “Where did this come from?”
With this question, she’s asking to hear the story behind the story, the inspiration, the journey from thought-seed to manuscript, and to hear about it from the one person who can describe it the most authoritatively. She explained that in the acquisitions process, an editor acts as the spokesperson for the author and the story. Responses to her question can give her enough material to present and properly position both writer and writing to the rest of the publishing staff.
Kathy stressed that the relationship between an author and editor is built on trust. So in that initial conversation, she said, it’s hugely important that the author recognizes the editor as someone they can rely on. After all, authors often feel vulnerable handing over their “baby” for someone else’s critique. The author must trust the editor to do what is best for the story, and the author and editor must both share a common goal for what the story will become. According to Kathy, one of the biggest editorial pitfalls is trying to make a book into something it is not, rather than making it the best thing it is and can be.
Although the purpose of the initial conversation is to give the editor a foundational understanding of the author and their story for acquisition purposes, Kathy believes that editors should also be listening carefully—right from the start—to discover what kind of communicator the author is. That way, as the story moves forward through the editing process, an editor will know how to effectively communicate, critique, and praise an author’s work.
Kathy closes every first conversation with questions too. Asking “What else do I need to know?” and “What questions do you have for me?” leaves the door open for communication through the work ahead.
As the editing process progresses, the collaboration between author and editor grows in importance. We asked Kathy which part of the process requires the most communication. Her answer? “All of them.” She explained that different kinds of books require different approaches to communication. With longer works, the developmental and structural editing is very time consuming. The manuscript cannot move forward until its big-picture bones are in place. On the other hand, something short can be just as challenging; if a book only has 50 words, it’s that much more important that every word is exactly right.
That trust-based relationship came up again when we asked Kathy what an editor can bring to a book that an author alone simply cannot. There was a very easy answer: “another set of eyes.” She went on to say, “No one can develop a strong piece of work in a vacuum.” An editor strives to see what the author no longer can, whether it’s a plot hole, an overused word, or an opportunity to make the story stronger.
During our conversation, Kathy mentioned that although the trust can be all-important (especially for the author), there is one other thing the editor needs to be sure about before acquiring. She described it as “visualization.”
When she receives a new manuscript, she needs to be able to visualize the beautiful thing it will become. There have been many manuscripts that Kathy couldn’t personally visualize and therefore didn’t take on. It is very possible that a great editor won’t acquire a great book, simply because that editor just isn’t the right fit.
In the end, the editor is the author’s advocate, their sounding board, their rock in the publishing world. To be those things, the editor has to believe in the author and their work enough to champion their story—from manuscript to book and into the hands of readers.
There you have it! Share your author-editor relationship advice with us, and let us know what questions you’d like to ask of your editor!