Monday, December 2, 2013

What I Learned At Dinner With My Editor

by Stephanie Morrill

Stephanie writes young adult contemporary novels and is the creator of GoTeenWriters.com. Her novels include The Reinvention of Skylar Hoyt series (Revell) and the Ellie Sweet books (Playlist). You can connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and check out samples of her work on her author website.

About 6 weeks ago, I had an email from the editor of my Reinvention of Skylar Hoyt books. She said she was going to be in Kansas City for a conference and asked if I wanted to get together for coffee or something.

Um, YES I DO.

I had never met Jennifer in real life, so this was very exciting. We hit the town in Kansas City style (read: wearing jeans and eating barbecue) and I had a chance to ask all my burning questions.

Yes, I took my editor to a restaurant in a gas station. Anthony Bourdain would back me up on the decision to go to Oklahoma Joe's.
Here are some things I learned while we talked:

Editors have bigger needs than their literary preferences.

One thing that was clear to me by the end of our dinner was why it's hard to get a book published. Even if an editor loves a book, it still has to fit with their publishing house. We talked for several hours and here's a list of reasons that were mentioned of why a book had been rejected:
  • Not a genre they've had success with.
  • They already have an author writing successfully in that genre - they don't want to compete with their own author.
  • Grittier than what they publish.
  • Too light or simplistic for what they publish.
  • They already have a book that deals with that topic.
  • The editor loved it...but others at the publishing house couldn't get on board.
In regards to pitching...

I was a little surprise to hear that for fiction, what she wants to hear about most is who the characters are and what the conflict is. It's not about what issues are tackled in the book, what the themes are, or how the writer plans to market this idea. Characters and conflict.

And there was no way I was going to leave dinner without getting her take on one-sheets. Here's how our conversation went:

Me: What do you actually want to see on a one-sheet? Because writers get told all kinds of things, and I never know what I should do.

Jennifer: (Laughs) Maybe other editors are different, but all I want is to know about the story. I need to know the genre and word count is helpful, but I don't need a list of every character in the book or all the other books you've written. And it needs to be printed in a size that I can actually read.

Me: So it doesn't need to be professionally designed or colorful or anything?

Jennifer: No. And, really, I would rather just have a conversation with someone. Do you know how awkward it is to try to read something while somebody watches you?

Me: Say a writer came in to meet with you and they didn't bring a one-sheet. Would you be thinking, "This person is so unprofessional"?

Jennifer: Absolutely not. I just want to talk to a writer about their story.

This made me very happy because the hype for one-sheets before some of the conferences I go to always freaks me out.

They need you to pull your weight on marketing copy

The lovely people in the marketing, publicity, and sales departments at the publishing house have likely not read your book. So they really need you to give them good stuff (back cover copy, a one sentence description) for the best chances of success with getting the book on shelves and in readers hands.

Editors want your book to be amazing.

Every editor I've met loves to read. You know what they like to read the most? GOOD BOOKS. When they open up a submission, they're hoping the story captivates them and fits the needs of their publishing house.

Bronte's mantra to Ellie all through The Revised Life of Ellie Sweet is, "Don't give them a reason to say no." Writing a great book at least takes away that no.

My editor said telling writers no is the worst part of her job. I know there are rude and cold editors in the industry, but take comfort in the fact that there are big-hearted editors out there too.

If you were having dinner with an editor, what question would you ask? (And I'll see if I can find a way to get them answered for you!)


29 comments:

  1. Didn't you originally get your agent through your one sheet, Stephanie? :) I'd want to know what the editor thinks about antiheros, because that's what I'm writing right now, and I don't feel like I see it very often in YA. I would also want to know if there's anything that they're really sick of seeing or anything they wish they saw a lot more of.
    Thanks for a great post as usual!

    ~Sarah Faulkner

    inklinedwriters.blogspot.com

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    1. Good memory! Yes, I wound up with my first agent because of my one sheet. I sat at her lunch table at ACFW, totally botched my pitch but was apparently likable enough for her to remember me. When she got home she saw my one sheet in her stack and sent me an email. So they're not totally worthless!

      I'm making a list, and I'll see if I can get some questions answered for us!

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  2. Awesome! I hadn't realized that authors don't usually meet their editor/agent...do most writers have at least one time of personal contact with their agent during their career? (Not including the conference if they met them at one?)

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    1. I didn't meet my agent before signing with her, but I've since gotten to sit down and chat with her at subsequent conferences, and we video chat semi-regularly. So though face-to-face isn't frequent (we're on opposite sides of the country), they do definitely happen! And even before we met, when she heard I was coming to a conference in her neck of the woods, she tried to find a way to pick me up at the airport. Didn't work out, LOL, but she tried! ;-)

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    2. I've spent a decent amount of time with my agent, considering (like Roseanna and her agent) we live very far apart. I usually see her about once a year at conferences.

      It tends to be similar with editors. Some of met theirs because they're at the same conference, but I know lots of writers who have never been face-to-face with their editor.

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    3. I met my agent a couple of times along the way, got to sit down with her over a cup of Earl Grey when she gave me my first editions for each of my teen devo books, and then actually got to spend some time with her at a writing conference. :) But I know these are perks and don't happen for everyone.

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    4. I'm hoping for an agent semi-close, like New York, so hopefully I'll get to meet him or her when I actually have one :) I've always hated the idea of having your agent be a faceless person over the phone, so this is comforting. Thanks for all the input!

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  3. Wow, this was really interesting! Especially the whole "I just want to know about the story" part. Very nice to hear. :)

    Questions...um...gosh, I have such a hard time coming up with questions when asked for them. Every other time? I have a bajillion and don't know how to get them answered! Gah!

    Okay, I'll go ahead with the main thing on my mind...in what cases would you NOT recommend someone trying for publication? I mean, I know a few, like, not if you only want to write one book and just "have it published," not if you are going to abhor marketing, etc. But when is it just perhaps not a good idea time-wise, life-wise, skills-wise...I don't know if that makes any sense. It's all my hungry brain can come up with for now. :) I can try to clarify later. (Yes, brains can be hungry...)

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  4. Awesome post! :D I loved getting a peek at the publishing industry like this. Before reading the Go Teen Writers book, the publishing industry was strange and mysterious to me, sort of like a foreign country.

    Question for your editor (if you get a chance to ask her): Do you think authors spend too much time on the technical stuff (query letters, a synopsis, etc.) and not enough time on the actual story? What do you pay attention to more: the query letter or the story? Any advice on how to make either better?

    Thank so much! :D

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  5. Well, I want to BE an editor, so my questions would probably be "How can I stand out amongst all the other English Language and Literature graduates?", "What extra-curriculars can help me become an editor (e.g. street teams, book review blogs, teaching creative writing to kids etc.)?" and "If you want to work in a different country to the one you live in (but that speaks the same language) should you try to do either a Bachelors or a Masters at a university in that country, or would any university with a good reputation have as much chance as any other?" Oh, and "Anything else you think I should be aware of?"

    Don't worry if she's too busy, but if you can get the answers, that would be awesome. Thank you so much, Stephanie! :)

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    1. My questions are much the same as Hannah J's, but with this added one: "What do publishing houses look for in hiring editors?"

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    2. Ahh yes good one, Hannah! I have met so many other Hannahs recently...there's charity shop Hannah, the other three Hannahs at school, and three more (including you) on the Internet! Gah!

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  6. Not just a question for an editor, but a question about one-sheets. I get the picture of what it is... is the purpose just to have something about your book to hand to agents and such? Like a business card? Are there other purposes?
    Thanks in advance. :>

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  7. Ok, what are one-sheets?

    That's is awesome, Stephanie!! These are wonderful things to know!!

    My question is:
    "Do editors ever regret the changes they make?"

    I would think not, but, I don't know *shrugs*

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  8. Wow! What a look into an editor's work! Also, what's a one-sheet? And two questions: do editors ever feel obligated to keep parts that the writers poured everything into? And, do editors ever really change parts or just words? Just wondering!
    Au revoir,
    Tabby (http://tabbys-corner.blogspot.com/)

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    1. Hey Tabby I'm not an editor (yet) but I think that some do change parts of the story if necessary. I think they're calle content editors? And then there are others who fix wording, grammar, etc, called line editors. At small houses try probably have the same person doing both. Anyway, I don't think they'd change too much of the content, but if there is a plot hole, or the story is too simple/complicated, or they think there are too many characters to keep track of, they might make suggestions on how to improve or outright tell you that someone or something needs to go. This is my understanding so please correct me if I'm wrong, editors or people of GTW!

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    2. Small keyboard, please excuse the typos! Sorry! :)

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    3. Great answer, Hannah J. Just an additional note: Some editors make changes themselves. Others point out problems and expect the author to make the changes. It's good to know early on which kind of editor you're working with. :)

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  9. From Amo Libros:
    Ooh, thanks!
    Ok, question 1: What is the single change editors most often have to make to a story? Is there a sort "typical" plot hole they have to fix, or is a certain archetype of character too stereotypical?
    Question 2: Is there anything they would like to see an author do more of? Send more description to marketing, respond more quickly, be more willing to listen to suggestions without getting too defensive? (I can't think of many newbie authors who would be difficult on purpose, but I thought it wouldn't hurt to ask).
    Question 3: Is there one piece of advice your editor would give to newbie or wanna-be authors?

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  10. Stephanie, sounds like you had a wonderful time. Thanks for sharing insights from your conversation!

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  11. I know I must have at least one question I want to know about editors and publishing, but I can't think of anything atm. (Of course! haha) When were you planning on trying to answer these questions so I know to get my question in before then? :)

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    1. I got my question. :) How often is it that authors are asked to write a sequel? And what if the author wants to write a sequel, but they are declined? I guess that's not an editing question, so if you can't answer that I understand. :)

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  12. What do editors think of novel that contain poetry?

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  13. I would probably ask an editor how many manuscripts he or she gets sent in, since not every manuscript gets looked at.

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  14. This is a really encouraging post, mainly because I'm a (young) writer myself, and I always wonder what people would look for. I know that I personally have terrible grammar, but whenever anyone reads my stories they always say I have great content. Do you think a big-hearted editor would make an exception for that?

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