Thursday, February 28, 2013

How Do I Become An Editor?

by Roseanna White, editor for WhiteFire Publishing

Several of you have expressed interest in someday getting into editing, and after answering questions privately a few times on how I got into it, I thought it would be fun to chat with some of the Christian market's top editors and see how they got these sweet gigs!

So I sought out editors I know from houses both big and small and asked them all the same four questions. I think you'll be surprised by the variety of answers! Drum roll please.



KAREN SCHURRER


BETHANY HOUSE


1.) How did you get started editing? How did you become an acquisitions editor?

I got started editing by being in the right place at the right time. I worked as the assistant to a VP at Bethany House, and because of my input regarding manuscripts that were being considered for contract, they were willing to give me a chance in the editorial department. And I have been working there for almost 15 years. I am not an acquisitions editor for Bethany House--I am a line (also known as substantive) editor. I work with authors to revise and polish their manuscript after the first draft is submitted, and I do the first edit of the book.

2.) What's your favorite (or conversely, most challenging) part of the job?

I love reworking stories and characters with authors. I am a logical person, so it is often easy for me to notice plot issues--logic, timing, etc. I am sure this is sometimes frustrating for authors, but I believe, in the long run, the revisions make it a better story.

3.) What's one thing you wish all writers knew or did before submitting?

In my opinion, characters are key. If readers are not intrigued by, attracted to, rooting for the story's characters (main of course, but even the secondary characters are important), they are not going to connect to the plot the way you hope they will or care about how well the story is written.

4.) Funniest moment? Pet peeve?

Pet peeve--manuscripts that feel as if the author wrote with a thesaurus in hand. Even if an author has an incredible vocabulary, I suggest they avoid using the big guns. Obscure words that are difficult to easily figure out in context undermine the effectiveness of the story. Stories told beautifully, with simple descriptive words, are much more  effective.

KIM MOORE


HARVEST HOUSE

1.) How did you get started editing?
 My journey to editing was a bit roundabout. I didn't start out planning to be an editor. I wanted to be a translator. I have a bachelor's degree in Japanese from the University of Oregon. I minored in linguistics because I love language mechanics. I studied French and Spanish as well. A lot of editors I know have English or journalism degrees, but at our house we also have editors with degrees in philosophy, Russian, and music. A thorough understanding of English grammar and a good ear for words are the two most important things for a person to have if they want to be an editor.

For me, the pursuit of a career as a Japanese translator would have meant having to move away from my hometown, and my sister had a baby just as I graduated college, so I decided to stick around for a while. I started proofing manuscripts for Harvest House to supplement my regular salary as a legal assistant. It wasn't long before I began to notice problems in the stories, and I would point those out to the managing editor. She realized I was seeing things in the manuscripts beyond just the proofing, and when one novelist, grateful to have an issue corrected before her book was published, asked Betty to have me involved in her next project, Betty gave me the opportunity to edit it. I never looked back. After two and a half years of part-time work at my dining room table, a full-time position opened up in-house and she offered me the job. And there I was, an editor in my hometown. Only God could have made that happen.

After six years as a project editor, I was promoted to senior editor. At our house this job description includes acquiring books. I attend writers conferences and connect with agents and other publishing professionals to find the best projects I can. An acquiring editor needs to have a good understanding of the house he or she works for as well as the market that publisher is trying to reach. I always say that if we were all the eye, where would the hearing be? Each person involved in CBA publishing has a role to play. The most important thing we can do is to find out what that is and do our best in it, trusting God to fill other roles as He sees fit.

Today I acquire fiction and nonfiction, and I edit, which includes the substantive edit, line edit, and copyedit for each project I'm assigned. It's a full and truly lovely career. I've been at it now for 17 years, and I hope for at least that many more.


2.) What's your favorite (or conversely, most challenging) part of the job?
  My absolute favorite part of the job is interacting with the authors. What a hardworking, creative, fun, and talented group of people they are. Nothing makes me happier that when I'm communicating with one about a story. I'm also here for whatever they need from the house. If I can't provide an answer to a question, I find out who can. It's all about the authors for me, and I love that.

The most challenging--and sad--thing about my job is saying no to proposals. I hate that. I wish we could publish everything, but it's such an incredibly expensive endeavor these days. Even when the writing is not at a level we are looking for, the heart behind it is precious. And, unfortunately, I have to say no more than I get to say yes to things. It's a hard part of my job that never gets easier.


3.) What's one thing you wish all writers knew or did before submitting?
 I wish all writers knew that they will probably only get one shot at a review with a particular editor, and so their proposal has to be as good as it can be. We don't require a specific formula at our house, but when I see writing that is full of errors and sloppy, I am surprised and sorry for the wasted opportunity. They won't get a second chance.


4.) Funniest moment? Pet peeve?
  Editors live for moments like this in a manuscript. This unintended but funny error was in a recent Amish novel.

        “I certainly don’t know anything about engines,” said Sol, indignantly. “And this car is one of the matters we need to discuss, if I can have your full attention.”

        Elam straightened his spine and laid down the wench. His pleasant expression faded rapidly as he wiped his hands on a rag. “I’m on rumschpringe. I haven’t joined the district yet.”

Of course, Elam laid down his wrench, but it's an example of why good editing is so essential to the meaning of the moment.

DINA SLEIMAN


WHITEFIRE PUBLISHING

1.) How did you get started editing?
I started editing because I believed in the WhiteFire mission, and I volunteered to help. When Roseanna asked how I wanted to contribute, I told her I'd always been interested in acquisitions. Over time I've also become the lead content editor. Probably because when I started writing I had no concept of plot or scenes, and so I had to thoroughly learn how to do those things well and now can pass the knowledge along to others.

2.) What's your favorite (or conversely, most challenging) part of the job?
I love finding wonderful books and giving authors the good news. Conversely, ugh! I hate having to tell people no. I especially hate when they come back and argue with me. And while I love meeting people at conferences, sometimes I get a little glassy-eyed by the end. If you ever see me wandering the halls of a conference saying "Ba, ba, ba, ba," you'll know why. Please see me safely returned to said conference director. LOL.

3.) What's one thing you wish all writers knew or did before submitting?
 I wish writers learned to write a good proposal. It makes a huge difference in helping me evaluate their work, and I need a good proposal to convince the committee to buy the book. Of course, I also wish they'd learn to write good books with vibrant characters, strong active scenes, and well-balanced plots.

4.) Funniest moment? Pet peeve?
Oh fun! I had a guy trap me into having dinner with him at a conference, and then select a booth for two, so he could regale me with his wonderfulness and convince me he knew more about writing fiction than I did for nearly an hour. About thirty minutes in the fire alarm went off. Did that stop him, nooooo! He continued his diatribe as it blared, "Beep, beep, beep," in the background. By this time I was getting a headache and annoyed and started cutting him off and asking him important questions about his manuscript. He kept changing the subject and returning to his lecture. I started yelling stuff like, "Plot, characters, scenes, active moments! I need to see them! Can you give me that?" Did it phase him? No again. After trying several times to excuse myself because I was dancing for chapel that night, I finally had to just get up and walk away while he was still talking. And he actually had the audacity to submit to me after that. I found the restraint to say, "No thank you. I don't think you fit our line."

KAREN BALL


(Has worked as executive editor at Tyndale, Multnomah, Zondervan, and B&H Publishing Group, now freelance)

1.) How did you get started editing?
 I had a friend who told me about an editing job that was opening up at the magazine where she worked. I was hired as an assistant editor, then became the editor. From there I went into book editing.
 How did you become an acquisitions editor?
Through a combination of passion and hard work. I'd been an avid reader all my life, so had a strong sense of what did and didn't work with fiction. Also, my boss could tell how much I loved authors, loved working with them, and loved story. Within a few years of taking the job as a book editor, I was working in acquisitions.
2.) What's your favorite (or conversely, most challenging) part of the job? 
Favorite part: coming alongside authors and working with them to bring their craft to a whole new level, and walking through a bookstore and knowing I had a hand in hundreds of books sitting on the shelves!
Most challenging: working with tight deadlines or authors who aren't teachable. Either one is difficult and frustrating.
3.) What's one thing you wish all writers knew or did before submitting? 
You have to work hard to refine your craft and to understand the market. Too many people submit proposals to agents and editors long before they--or their writing--are ready. You don't just suddenly decide you're going to be a doctor. You study and learn how to do it well. Same thing for career writers: take the time--and invest the money--to do the job well.
4.) Funniest moment? Pet peeve?
Funniest: when I was working on a nonfiction book about different religions, and discovered that Spellcheck had changed every Mormon to Moron and Mormonism to Moronism. Thankfully, I caught it before it went back to the author!

Pet Peeve? People who think they can write or edit without any training. And people who catch typos in a published book and complain, "Where was the editor?" If they knew all the things the editor DID catch, they'd understand that no one can spot all the mistakes. Just because a typo shows up in a published book doesn't mean the editor didn't do his or her job. 

SANDI ROG

 DeWARD


1.) How did you get started editing?
 I never wanted to be an editor. I wanted to be a writer. When I hooked up with someone to edit my manuscript, I discovered I couldn't afford her prices. She'd already edited some short pieces for me, so she made the suggestion that I "critique" her story, and she would edit mine as an even trade. After that, she was impressed enough with my editing, she hired me to work for her. I didn’t want to, but I ended up doing it anyway. I became an acquisitions editor with DeWard Publishing because of the success of my own books with them. They knew I was also an editor, so they asked me to take over their fiction department.

2.) What's your favorite (or conversely, most challenging) part of the job?
The most difficult part of the job is reading through a genre that I have very little interest in.

3.) What's one thing you wish all writers knew or did before submitting?
 I wish writers would study the craft before submitting.

4.) Funniest moment? Pet peeve?
 My pet peeve is how little writers can make, and out of desperation a writer takes the lowest bid just to be published.
~*~
So there we go! As many different answers as people you ask, but some common themes too. What do you find most surprising from these stories? Most encouraging? I can't guarantee all these editors will be by today, but I suspect a few will drop in, so don't be shy. ;-)

20 comments:

  1. Thanks for the post, Roseanna! I know this doesn't really fall in your field, but I'm interested in how literary agents get into the biz.
    ~Sarah Faulkner

    www.inklinedwriters.blogspot.com

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  2. I am by no means a young writer, but I saw Ro's post in the ACFW MA zone on FB and wanted to read the post. Very interesting and nice to learn more about these editors. Some of this made me laugh out loud. I think editorial work has to be a tough job. Thanks Ro, Sandi, Karen S., Dina, Karen B. and Kim. Blessings!

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  3. I find the whole process incredible...and such work! I definitely like hearing the many stories. I am not a writer (except for my blog), but do wonder about working in the publishing industry some day. I don't know what it would be...Roseanna, maybe you can create a survey/quiz to help people know what they would be good doing! :)

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  4. This post and at the most perfect time! I've been considering possible careers lately and editing seems like a great fit for me :) I looooooove reading. Getting paid to proofread stuff? Yes, that's so me. One of my friends actually asks me to proofread her stuff sometimes so I'm taking that as a sign ;)

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    1. This could have come from me, I agree with it so much. :D

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  5. This is such an excellent post, Roseanna, thank you! In my careers course one of the careers I looked at was editing, and I'm dying to know more about it. This post was perfect - I'll try to remember this for the future!

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  6. Fascinating post, Roseanna. Thanks to all the editors for taking the time to answer questions! :)

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  7. Wow. Very interesting. Thank you editors for you answers, and all the hard work you put in to make the author's stories shine!

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  8. This was so amazingly interesting and fun! It really got me thinking - I especially loved to read all the funny moments and advice for writers seeking publishing! Thank you so much!
    P.S. Just bought "How to turn your first draft into a published book." (!!!) I have been sitting for the past three minutes staring at my kindle just DYING for it to pop up on screen and it just now did! Thank you so much to all who put time into the making of this book. You have no idea how much I appreciate it!

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    1. Yay, Leorah! I think you must have been one of the firsts since it just went live this morning!

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    2. :D That is so awesome! (Hear that you all?!) I am so far absolutely loving it and though I am not yet finished, I think I can safely say that this is definitively going to be a book I will be returning to!

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  9. This was really interesting! I've always wondered what it would be like to be an editor.

    (Also, really excited to see the release of the GTW book! I'm definitely going to buy.)

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  10. Oh, the error Kim shared made me snort! How hilarious. And that she majored in Japanese! I love how everyone's journey was so different.

    Great post, Roseanna!

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  11. A lot of my friends like me to edit their papers for lit class because even though I edit hard, it makes their papers better. I love to read, so I've considered editing. I thought it was cool how Kim's house has a philosophy, Russian, and music major. It's good to know I can always change my mind after college. Thanks for the post Roseanna, and thanks to all the editors for taking the time to reply!

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  12. I've never thought much about editing, but it seems like a cool job. I'm glad I got to know more about it. Thanks for the post!

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  13. Great post, Roseanna! So insightful and interesting to see a little about what it's like to be an editor.

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  14. Wow, this was really interesting and helpful. :) Thank you so much to all the editors who shared their stories and Ms. White for organizing this post for us!

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  15. I'm very much interested in editing - I've edited extensively for a friend, and always find myself longing to do it when I'm reading others' works. Thank you so much for getting more information for us!

    I do have a question. How necessary is it to have a degree to become an editor?

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  16. What fun to read everyone's responses. Thanks for doing this, Ro. It was not only fun to participate, but you helped me learn things about my fellow editors. Like the fact that the wonderful Kim Moore and I share a love of languages--I was a multiple languages/journalism major. I studied French, Spanish, and Russian, and my original intent was to write and translate children's books. Isn't it amazing how God uses our journeys and passions to bring us to the perfect vocation?

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    1. Fun!! And it's no wonder we all get along so well. =) My Greek/French studies in college gave me such a love for language too...

      Russian, though! You and Kim are full of surprises. So awesome to learn this about you guys. =)

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