I’ve now been a Junior Editor (well, at least it’s not a minion!) with Rebellion for six months…and it’s still going great! A friend was asking me some questions, and I thought – actually, the answers are kinda interesting. Going from a writer and editor for friends to a professional editor and formatter… what have I found in the last six months as someone who’s just stepped into a pretty new world?
Am I a better editor? Well, yes. It still scares the hell out of me that I’m the one making judgement calls on others people’s writing, and to the level that I can input on if they get published or not…but at the same time, I’m mostly passing the buck (hi, commissioning editors!) and at the level I’m now working at, it’s not so much a question of if the stories are good – because they overwhelmingly are! – but whether we want to publish a story of that type. The one thing I have got better at is adding in a personal opinion to whether a story is any good; whereas before I’d just comment on the writing, I can now weigh in with my personal opinion – which is, I think, as valid a part of reading as the actual writing skill is! If a book is beautifully written but does nothing for me, then maybe it’s not for us; if it’s something that I want to absolutely rave about, then maybe it is! Being able to convince my boss to publish something – and, therefore, being able to wave my hands and squeak excitedly about how awesome it is – is as much a part of publishing as “the writing’s very pretty”.
Do my editing level-ups have any input on making my writing better? Well…no, not really :-/ if anything, I’ve learned that I’m even more right to know I can’t edit my own work! I’ve got more awareness of tropes and how other people do things, and more awareness of the fantasy and fiction world in general – but my ideas are still mine, and the way I write is still mine. I can’t see the flaws in my stories any better for having edited other people’s than I could before I started. The thing that has helped, though, which is advice given to every writer – READ MORE.
Am I reading more? Well, yes, but unfortunately it’s not reading that I can talk about yet – and I still need to keep current with fiction, too! The thing about the endless slush pile are true, though – I have to make sure I block out time to read! And also, to writers: you have to make a good first impression. I don’t tend to read the agent’s blurb more than to get a flavour (but then the ones I currently read have gone through the agents & my commissioning editor before I read it) but if you haven’t hooked me in the first three chapters, I’ll start skimming (and others might put it down). That’s not to say I can’t cope with slow starts – it’s the writing and the characters that get me in, but something does have to be happening. You need to be driving towards a story at least.
I am definitely seeing the benefit of agents! Yes, it’s frustrating to have another layer to go through; but they negotiate the contracts (and while a lot of the contracts stuff is important, it’s also dense – it’s definitely worth having someone on your side to tell you what the benefits of various options are, even though I’m arguing over a percentage point at times…) and also – a huge plus on my side – have already vetted the books I see. A minus in that they’ve already done one layer of skimming, but a plus in that I don’t have to try to fit reading that much into my schedule! Agents also learn what the editors like, so will send things based on our criteria. There seems to be a lot of hate for the agent gateway/chokehold etc, but I can definitely see the benefit.
Commercial considerations are frustratingly big. We have to make money – that’s the baseline. It costs time and space for editors, even if one of us does all the jobs of formatting/reading/covers etc… and for every book we take on as a “I really love this and I want it to be out there!” we have to take on a “people will buy this”. Also, sequels: I entirely get the frustration of not wanting to start a series without knowing the end, but we can’t risk paying for six books when we don’t know if they’ll sell (or, we’d pay such a low price that it’s not fair to the author.) We’d buy one with an option on the next, sometimes two, maybe (riskily!) three – but you need to be buying the first ones.
Short stories are definitely useful. Having your name in the industry and proving that people will buy your work is useful; any kind of track record is good just to show me that you are out there and can do this writing thing! Also knowing industry people, or being known; panels at conventions, interviews, or even just presence at conventions are all good. If you’ve pitched us with writing before, then we’ll also likely remember you – although this is for good or for ill!
Also, pitch. To all writers: keep pitching. Keep writing. There is so much truth in the “I love this book but it’s not quite right for me now” – the It’s Not You, It’s Me of the writing world! Sometimes the last fantasy Western didn’t do too well, and I can’t spin this one past my boss. Sometimes I don’t think the world needs another grimdark. Sometimes we have to choose between a (very good!) epic fantasy and something a bit weirder, and one has to win. There is so much timing and personality and market forces and…urgh. Seriously, just keep trying. If you get rejected, then you can always shelve the novel and come back to it later.
Be easy to work with. I know, there’s all sorts of personalities in the world, and most of the time people manage pretty good working relationships. But I was reminded of how useful it is to be able to work well with people by an author I gave some (fairly harsh!) feedback to recently – and they were very sweet and grateful, when I was expecting a tantrum. It means they’ve got up several points in my estimation and actually, even though I don’t want the book in its current state, I’m more willing to take a look at it again!
Think of it as a business and you’ll get further. As as an author, you are allowed to push back. It is your book and your writing: if you’ve got a contract and publication deal then it’s a bit of a different power dynamic, but there’s usually space for negotiation on editing tweaks. If you’re going to push back (and you may have to!) then do it gently but firmly; work out where your line is and why. There are clauses in the contracts for disputes, and if I think a book I want to take will need major changes then I’ll usually say in the negotiations – but for anything minor, you should be able to come to an agreement. (Of course, sometimes it’s a flat no from your editor, and that’s why you need to work out your boundaries.)
And, one for me:
I am allowed to be enthusiastic. I love the books and authors I get to work with. I love my job, even when it frustrates me and I have deadlines piling up. I love the work, even though I’m still learning – and I hope I’ll always be learning!
I’m allowed to get things wrong. That’s how I learn. I have to make mistakes: I just shouldn’t make the same one twice.
I’m allowed to grow. I’m a professional. I’m someone who now has larger shoes and a larger outline to fill – and damnit, I’m allowed to fill it.
So – I’m happy. I’m learning. I’m growing. And I’m loving my job! I get to read amazing books for a living – what more could I want?!