Monday, August 10, 2009

What do editors do??


I'm not an editor. But I've worked with some, so I have an idea about WHAT editors do. But before I began all of this, I had a very warped sense of editors and their jobs. Think red pencil, marked up manuscripts, and a voice like Charlie (in Charlie's Angels but not nearly as nice, just almost as mysterious).
I was wrong. (Even about the red pencil).
(BTW, please feel free to correct me and add onto this never-ending list of things-editors-do).

Things editors do: (I'm especially grateful to Jill Santopolo since she's been my Raider of the Lost Arc in all this. So I have to mention her ... lots!) (And I'm not EVEN going to touch on reading through the slush pile -- that's actually a real pile, sending out rejection letters, letters asking for full manuscripts, reading full manuscripts and editing them pre-contract etc. etc. etc.)

1. BEFORE a manuscript has been acquired, editors have to be amazing salesmen. Once they believe in a project and want to work with a writer, they do everything they can (short of jumping through flaming hoops, as far as I know) to get their publishers on board. Once that's done, they have to do what none of us would ever want to do (da-dum-da-dum): face the acquisitions board. They come up with a huge profit/loss package with information about the writer, the first fifty or so pages of the novel, a synopsis, and a comparative study of novels on the market that are similar to the one they are pitching and WHY the one they are pitching is WAY cooler. And then they start to try to drum up support for the project in-house so acquisitions goes well.

2. Whew. Then they breathe. (They do that, you know. Breathe.)

3. Now here comes the obvious. They "edit" novels. But we're talking WAY more than comma splices and run-on sentences (I've NEVER had either, BTW!) :-) . Editors have this phenomenal global view of HOW the book works. And why it doesn't when it doesn't. And, as I mentioned earlier, they are arc masters, knowing that each and every relationship in the novel has to have its complete storyline. This revision process goes on as long as it needs to until the editor and writer, together, feel the project has come to a good stage and it can be passed on to copy editors (Amazing people I will mention later).

4. And then the work begins ... Yep. I told you the list was long. And this is where things get a little fuzzy for me, so here's where I'd love more input from editors and authors alike. Anyway, as if it weren't enough for editors to help writers become writers, the editors have to start BUZZ. Ahhh, the industry word for books that sell before they're for sale. But how do they do this? Good question.

* Sending your ARC (Advanced Readers Copy) to their favorite librarians and reviewers (For literary imprints, the reviews are really important.)
* Publishing houses have "sellers" just like any other business. These sellers are based regionally and are sent ARCs from houses. Getting sellers on board with a novel is really important for its success in bookstores.
* Get a blurb from a successful author on the novel. (Thank you, Ellen Hopkins!)
* Nominate the novel for some big industry awards (like The Golden Kite)
* And a bazillion other things I'm not really sure here.

5. While this is going on, novels head to copy editors -- expert grammarians, fact checkers, and, in my honest opinion, incredibly brilliant people. They comb through the manuscript looking for every timeline glitch, misspelled word, book quote, movie reference etc. In FREEZE FRAME's case, my novel went through a contract copy-editor, an in-house copy-editor, back to Jill, then to me. Twice. Yep. Lots of work and lots of fact checking. They even printed out a map of my hometown to doublecheck that my character could actually cycle everywhere he did in the novel.

6. Here's something you'd never imagine. Editors are human! I was so intimidated about the whole process only to find that I had the privilege of working with not only an amazing editor (bravo Jill!) but also such a great person. Editors are approachable and great to bounce ideas off. They have each novel in their best interests and their thoughts, ideas, and comments about the novel are meant to push the writer to her limits and make the novel a hundred times the novel she thought it could be.

So, here's an ode to the editors out there; the ones who take risks on new authors and old; the ones who believe in the power of words and that some books, however "non" commercial they are, need to be out there on the shelves.

Thank you!
(Agents, you're up next!!)


Christina Farley said...

Great post Heidi. It really is incredible how much work is put into a book. And now with all those layoffs, I've heard editors have that much more work they are taking on to make up for those who have left. Crazy.

Heidi Ayarbe said...

I know. I'm always amazed by how much an editor does. And I only wrote about a quarter of the things they do.