Off to Work we Dodo: The Editor
By Anne Perry
Posted on June 9, 2014 in Books with tags Life in Publishing, Off To Work We Dodo
Hi ho, hi ho, it’s off to work we… dodo! Today we’re launching a new feature, taking you behind the scenes at Hodderscape HQ – every fortnight, a member of the team will be giving you an insight into what they do on a daily basis (no, we don’t just recreate book covers out of blu tack and fox figurines…). To kick things off, here’s editor Anne Perry.
Editor. The word conjures images of cut-glass snifters of single malt whisky, chesterfields and mahogany desks, piles of paper and red pens. So many red pens. It’s a profession steeped in its own mythology, and that mythology remains incredibly powerful today, despite the fact that no one has that job anymore, if indeed they ever did.
So it’s entirely possible that, when I tell you I’m an editor, you’ll imagine that I spend my days sacked out somewhere comfortable reading manuscripts, or hunched over a phone yelling furiously about the difference between the pluperfect and the present perfect while the author on the other end quivers in fear and promises never to get the perfect aspect wrong again.
Let’s start at the beginning: the manuscript. Reading manuscripts is a huge and important part of my job. I receive any number of submissions a week, most from agents, but rarely have time to read them during work hours. So, like all of my colleagues in the editorial department, I read submissions at night and on weekends.
There’s a whole essay to be written about what happens when I find something I like but we’ll save that for another day. Let’s say instead that I do: I’ve fallen in love with a book: Game of Thorns by Jessie Jones. What happens next? I send the manuscript to my colleagues and ask for their opinions. If they like it, I take it to a company-wide meeting and present it to my marketing, sales and publicity colleagues. If they give me the go-ahead, I offer for it. I trade calls and email with the agent. Sometimes I meet the author. I tell them about my plans for the book – everything from how I want to edit it to how we’re going to market and publicise it. Often, other editors from other houses are also bidding on the book. The book can go to auction, or someone can sneak in and try to pre-empt the auction by making an even larger offer. In the end, the author and agent sell the book somewhere (and not always to the highest bidder). As this is my story… let’s say they sell it to me.
All of the above glosses over a lot of the work that goes on internally in the lead-up to making an offer. For example, my colleagues in Sales have to estimate how well the book will sell and I base the offer I make on that. My colleagues in Marketing and Publicity often are among the first to read an exciting book and will contribute material to my offer – perhaps even a fully-fleshed out marketing and publicity plan – which takes a lot of work on everyone’s part. People have to read the exciting manuscript as quickly as they can… all while still doing the regular day-to-day of their jobs. It takes a lot of effort and energy on everyone’s part, and truly requires that the entire company get behind the book.
That said, offering on a book is one of the most fun parts of the entire job. There’s nothing that quite matches the feeling of calling up an agent to tell him or her that you love the book and want to publish it.
Anyway! Back to the Game of Thorns saga.
Hooray! I’ve just bought Game of Thorns and its two sequels (provisionally titled Cash for Kings and A Scorn of Swords.) What next?
Next comes the nitty-gritty of negotiating the contract. I propose terms, and the agent responds, and we go back and forth until we’ve agreed on things from the dates the manuscripts for the next two books in the series will be written and delivered to me to the copyright line. (And quite a lot of stuff in-between.) This, as you might imagine, can take a very long time. We also prepare a press release, announcing the acquisition, and once everyone’s satisfied with the contract negotiations and the press release, we announce Game of Thorns to the world.
Let’s say that Game of Thorns was a full manuscript when I bought it. (Sometimes we buy manuscripts on partials.) Next comes the actual editing. I’ll read through the completed manuscript again carefully, keeping track of its structure, tone and balance, and feed back to the author with large-scale suggestions. In the past I’ve asked authors to change the order of the chapters, to rework a character’s voice, to cut chapters and characters… essentially, at this stage, nothing’s sacred. This can be a particularly trying time for the authors, who’ve already lived with the book for a year or longer, but it’s incredibly important. Once we’re satisfied with the book’s overall structure, I go back through for a line-edit. I, like all of my breed, am persnickety and detail-oriented… so my line-edits are, shall we say, thorough.
All told, the author and I might go through the manuscript five or ten times – or more – before we’re entirely satisfied with it.
Once we are, I send it to a copy-editor, who goes through it again, and then sends it back to the author, who accepts or rejects the edits as she sees fit. Then the manuscript is back to me, and I get it ready to be typeset. This involves working up the text design of the book alongside the production controller (you can find examples of spectacular text design in Sarah Lotz’s The Three, Lavie Tidhar’s The Violent Century, and Adam Baker’s forthcoming Impact.) and working up the prelims and end-matter – that is, everything that comes before and after the actual text itself, from the title page to the ads at the end of the book. It might also involve commissioning a map (as in the forthcoming Smiler’s Fair by Rebecca Levene) or introducing other design elements to the finished product.
Once the book is typeset, copies get sent to the author and a proofreader for another pass. We also produce proofs (or ARCs) from the typeset pages. Marketing designs the proofs; if the book’s cover hasn’t been finished by proof stage, Marketing will create one for the book (as per the proofs for The Violent Century and Scott K. Andrews’ TimeBomb). The proof will contain all the contact information reviewers and booksellers might need to get in touch with us about the book. Publicity, Sales and I all send proofs out – often with a letter from me, introducing the book in a personal way – to generate excitement ahead of publication and help get preorders up.
Meanwhile! The proofs are returned to me and I collate the author’s and the proofreader’s corrections and make sure they’re incorporated into the final text. (I might see as many as four more rounds of proof corrections, depending on how many there are.) I also brief the art department on what I want on the cover for Game of Thorns (you can read an essay walking you through the process here, on Daniel Polansky’s forthcoming Those Above). I have to keep in mind what kind of book it is and who I want to sell it to, so it needs to meet certain expectations about how it should look as a finished product, and how all the other books in the series will look alongside the first one, not to mention how it’ll look on a bookshelf or as a thumbnail.
But wait, there’s more! The cover we’ve briefed has to be approved by the author, agent, and the Art, Sales and Marketing teams, and then generated, and the author and I have to agree on the copy for the cover, and then the Art creates proofs of the covers for me to check… and I proofread covers for my colleagues, and they check over mine, as well. And the ebook version of the book has to be generated and checked thoroughly. (Formatting errors creep in very easily, so each ebook must be individually proofread, even though the book itself has already gone through the entire editorial process!)
And through it all I keep the author and agent in the loop, letting them know where we are in the process and what our expectations are. When the book publishes, we might throw a launch for it, or I might accompany the author to various signings around town. I keep in touch with authors post-publication, and we discuss everything from what’s happening in book 2 to whether or not the author should go to GiantCon and MegaFest in the coming months. (I often go to them myself, as well.) And, of course, we’re in constant talks about book 2 – sometimes authors want to be left alone to write it on their own, and sometimes (like Jessie Jones and Cash for Kings), they’ll want to talk it through extensively as they’re working on it. Through it all, I’m there for them! (It’s not just my job – it’s fun!)
And all that’s for the typical book. Of course, no book is typical: for example, Nunslinger, our digital serial Western, publishes in ebook only and on a very tight production schedule – tight enough that we do all the copy-editing and proofreading in house.
And, of course, the above doesn’t take into account the many weekly and monthly meetings I attend, or my responsibilities for Hodderscape…
At the end of the day I oversee and assist in the publication of close to a hundred books, which means there’s not a lot of time to be spent drinking fine single malts while reading manuscripts! (More’s the pity.) But it also means that I’m constantly on my toes, constantly engaged, and always enormously proud of the finished product.
Updated to add that my fellow editor, Suzie Dooré (follow her on Twitter @suziedoore if you value your proper nouns!) spotted a typo in this post (which has been eradicated). Who edits the editor? Another editor!