Monday, October 31, 2011

How I edit 2.0

Re-posted from the Blue Rose Girls


I've been meaning to update this post about my editing process for a while, as it's changed a bit in the last five years, mainly having to do with technology. Of course, in many ways my process has also remained the same, so I'm following the same general format/text of the original post. So, here goes:

The author will think I'm a horrible editor. They'll think the changes I'm asking for are absolutely stupid and unnecessary.

I get the same anxiety when I send off an editorial letter to an author as I've heard an author gets when he/she sends off their manuscript to an editor or reader. (Okay, well, maybe not "the same" but similar.) I don't want to hurt authors' feelings or anger them. I don't want them to think I'm incompetent, disrespectful of their work, or crazy. I have the highest level of respect for the creative people I work with, because I could never do what they do. I know they're putting their trust in me, trusting me to understand their work and help them make it better. And that's a lot of responsibility!

This anxiety is lessened significantly after I've worked with an author or illustrator for a while, because by then mutual trust has been established, but I do get that same anxiety when working with someone for the first time. I will say that overall, the anxiety has lessened the more experience I have. Although I do always think, "Just because an author has never called me up crying or screaming after receiving my edits, doesn't mean there can't be a first time!"

I hope that my editorial letters have the right balance of praise and constructive criticism. I know that it can be intimidating to receive an in-depth edit, which may include requests to overhaul the manuscript significantly, and to also make lots of annoying nit-picky changes. But I hope my authors know that I love their writing, love their work, and know that we're on the same team.

The task of writing an editorial letter to me is daunting, and I certainly had no idea how to go about doing it when I edited my first novel (sorry, Libby!). But I learned as time went on; I learned from my mentors, and I learned from reading the correspondence files that circulate in my department: each week, everyone in editorial (when we remember) places copies of our editorial letters and other outside business correspondences into a centralized folder which is then circulated throughout the editorial department so that we can be aware of other editors' projects, problems that other editors are having that may be similar to our own, and also so the junior staff can read many different editorial letters to start to understand how to write them. I found this to be a crucial learning tool when I was first starting out as an editorial assistant.

I think every editor develops his or her own editing style, and I've certainly honed my own throughout the years. My process is always changing slightly and is adjusted for specific books and authors, but here's my general process:

1) First, I read through the manuscript (this is my favorite part of the process!). I generally do this on my eReader, and therefore I make very few notes--I'm just reading for the experience. On occasion I'll jot down things I notice--usually broad, over-arching things--but I'm really looking to get a fresh read, and am reading for the overall experience as a final reader would. Is it enjoyable? Am I pulled into the book right away? Is the pacing off? Do I care about the characters? Does the plot make sense? Is the ending satisfying?

2) Then, if I can, I'll let it sit for a few days. Sometimes, right after the first read I think, "there's nothing I could do to improve that novel!" But inevitably things will come to the surface during that "sitting" time: issues with the plot or believability, questions about certain characters, solutions (suggestions, I should say) to problems I've been having with the book, resolution to how I've been feeling about the ending, etc. I also want to see if the book "stays with you"--do I remember it several days later?

3) After a few days, I'll sit down again with the manuscript on my computer and read through it carefully again, line by line. I do some line-editing now, although I think I'm generally pretty light overall in this regard. I'll call out sections or underline sentences that feel clunky or awkward and just aren't working for me, but rarely will I actually reword things myself--I'm not a writer myself, so I like to give the author the freedom to work it out themselves. I use the comment function in Track Changes the most, and on occasion I'll make a quick note and say "see letter" if I know I'll expand on my thoughts further. While I do this, I'm also jotting down notes in a separate Word document that I'll expand later into an editorial letter. If a section strikes me as particularly lovely or memorable, I'll make sure to mark that as well--praise is always good!

4) I'll go over my comments again while drafting the actual letter. This step not only allows me to clarify my notes for the author, but to also review my edits and decide if I still agree with them. I expand on issues I need to in an editorial letter, trying to offer several suggestions for how I think an issue can be solved as I go. I'll add and delete comments/edits as I go along. In terms of the editorial letter, I'll usually just type things out into a Word document chronologically (as they occur in the manuscript) first, and then later go through and reorganize it by topic--characterization, plot, pacing, believability--whatever I think the main issues are in the manuscript.

5) I tweak the letter a lot. Get it to the structure I want, and add the opening and closing. I always start and end the letter with praise and encouragement--this is very important! I also make sure to include a section making sure the author knows that these are my suggestions only, not demands, and that he/she should only make changes he/she is comfortable with. I print my letter out and edit it on paper two or three times until I think it's ready, and then send it off. If there's time, I'll ask my assistant to read over my letter before I send it to catch any typos or sections that are unclear. Then I email the letter and the marked-up manuscript to the author.

Now that I've moved to electronic editing, I've found that my editorial letters have gotten shorter--on average, 2-3 pages (in the past, I'd say the average length was 5-7 pages). This is mainly because of the freedom of Track Changes and comments--it used to be easier to put everything in the letter because of my atrocious handwriting, but now that I can type those comments, I find it easier to expand on my thoughts directly on the manuscript.

I fully expect authors to disagree with me sometimes, and if they offer me an explanation later to why they disagreed and didn't revise something, that's fine with me. Occasionally there's an issue that I feel especially strongly about, and in those cases, I'll keep requesting the change on subsequent revisions, reiterating why I think it's a problem. I'll bring in fresh readers to see if they have the same issues--if so, I'll bring it up with the author again. If not, I'll let it go. Generally, I won't ask more than three times. Ultimately, it's the author's work, and we can't force the author to make changes he or she is not comfortable with, or in agreement with.

This process repeats until the manuscript is "done." I'll usually bring in my assistant to edit the book alongside me for one or more rounds, depending on the project and how busy we all are. In this case, we'll both make comments directly on the manuscript, and I'll incorporate her comments into my editorial letter. Generally, the first editorial letters are more general, and as we go I get more nit-picky about the little things, and the last edit is just "clean-up" of all of the little things that are left. I've never taken less than two rounds, and on average it takes three or four, oftentimes more. Sometimes it feels like it's never really done to the author--they want to keep tweaking and revising. But I do get a sense that a manuscript has been taken as far as it's going to go, and can declare it done and get it into copyediting. I also like to get another editor who hasn't read it before to give a "fresh read" of the final or almost-final manuscript to make sure that we didn't miss anything glaring--at that point, both the author and I are so close to the manuscript, so a fresh read is an important step.

So, there you have it: my editing process. Of course, depending on the time crunch, sometimes this process is cut down--in later drafts, I'll combine 1 and 3 and delete 2 (when I'm reading a revision, unless there were many structural changes or major plot-point changes, the "fresh read" isn't as crucial a step). Or I'll combine steps 3 and 4. Or I'll cut down on how many times I edit my own letter.

I am an editor, and although editing is probably one of the most important parts of my job, I feel that it's only 10-15% of my job description/time put in. But as daunting as it sometimes is, I do relish it--it's my favorite part of my job. I love examining these works of art carefully, trying (and I emphasize "trying") to get to know the book as well as the author does. I do respect the work, even as I seemingly "rip it apart," and ultimately I just want to help the author get the work to the next level and get it ready to introduce to the world.

For you editors out there, is this close to your process? And for you authors out there, any comments or suggestions on how to improve the process would be welcome! How do you edit your own work? Also, has technology improved the process for you? Grace revealed at our IBBY panel that she preferred the old way--editing on paper. I may have to switch back for her! Do the rest of you prefer getting your edits on paper or electronically? Or over the phone or in person?

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, before and after

Re-posted from last Monday from the Blue Rose Girls blog.


As Grace mentioned, we're in Fresno together for the IBBY regional conference. They asked us to speak together about Where the Mountain Meets the Moon. To prepare, we dug up all of the old drafts of the novel, and also my editorial letters/edits (to my horror, I discovered that although I had saved the different drafts with my edits in Track Changes, I had neglected to save any of my editorial letters, as they had been in emails and not saved as separate documents. Luckily, Grace was able to find them in an old email account. Whew!)

Some of the fascinating (at least to us!) things we found:
The 1st draft was 22,859 words; the final draft was 42,840 words, almost twice as long!
The 1st draft had 26 chapters, and the final book had 48 chapters.
The green tiger was not in the original draft.
In the original draft, the parents didn't try to follow/find Minli.
In the original proposal, Minli was named "Cai" (and then "Kai").
The first working title was God of the West. The next title was Never-Ending Mountain.

I also read a portion of my first editorial letter for the book. As I mentioned at the panel, my letters with Grace tend to be a little more casual than to some other authors who I don't know as well. With Grace, I cut to the chase quickly--but I always start with praise! Here's a sampling:


So, I thought I'd get down in writing some of the things we discussed over the phone. But just to reiterate, I loved it. I think overall, it's extremely well crafted with a wonderful story arc. The novel is moving, magical, and engaging. I think this is in really great shape! I have a few main comments, most of which we've discussed:

1) The novel feels a little slight right now, and things overall feel a little too easy for Minli. I'd like to add at least one more big challenge for her, and also make a few of the existing challenges a little more difficult/drawn out. For example, she seems to find the King in The City of Bright Moonlight too quickly--she should struggle with this more. I like the idea you mentioned, of having her spend one night with the boy and the buffalo.

Overall, don't be afraid to put your characters in peril! I don't think I worried once about whether Minli would succeed in her quest, or feared for her safety or her life. This made for a comforting, pleasant read, but I think more conflict overall would go a long way toward making this more rewarding.


3) It's not believable that her parents would just wait around for her at home for her to come back--have one or both of them go after her? Or have them send someone else after her? If they do stay behind, you need a convincing reason why, and also her reunion with them at the end needs to be more dramatic. Wouldn't they cry? And what did they do while she was gone? Did they set up a shrine to her? Pray for her every day? Maybe they sent the old man selling the fish after her, or maybe a man from the village, or a kind traveler passing through?

It was interesting looking back at the publication history of this very special book--and we had fun telling the story, too. We should be on more panels together, don't you think?


If you're in the Los Angeles area tonight (Monday, October 24), head out to the Mysterious Galaxy Bookstore at 7:30 for Laini Taylor's signing of Daughter of Smoke and Bone. I'll be there.

2810 Artesia Blvd. Redondo Beach, California

Check out the glowing New York Times review here. "[A] breath-catching romantic fantasy about destiny, hope and the search for one’s true self that doesn’t let readers down."

Hope to see you!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Love story, part 2

The rock. The day before.
A week ago, on a warm Sunday afternoon in October, Greg proposed to me on a rock in Central Park.

Now, some of you might remember this blog post from over five years ago. In it, I talked about how my parents met, and how they got engaged on a rock in Central Park. Well, Greg remembered that story well, and crafted a plan.

I was busy with work all weekend (I had three novels to edit), but Greg asked me to come out to a fundraiser with him on Sunday afternoon. He said it was for a charter school his friends Pat and Frank supported. I actually had a ton of work and was a bit distressed and said, "I really don't think I can go." He asked if I could go "for just a few hours"--he said I could meet them later if I didn't have time to go to the whole thing, so I agreed to do that. "But I reserve the right to leave early" I said. At around 1 pm, after dressing in a jacket and tie (he had me pick his tie after presenting me with a few options), Greg left the apartment, and I told him I'd meet him around 4:15. He told me to take the Q train to 57th and 7th, and then to call/text him to find out where they were, and if I couldn't reach him, to text Pat.

When I got there, I tried calling Greg but he didn't pick up, and then texted both him and Pat. Pat texted back right way, and it turned out that she and Frank were at the station to pick me up. She said Greg had gone ahead, and we would just walk about 10 minutes in the park to get there.

It was around then that I was suspecting something might be up, but didn't want to assume/hope too much.

Pat and I chatted on the way (she told me ALL about the fundraiser), and then a few minutes later Pat pulled me aside. She pulled a piece of paper out of her bag. "I'm supposed to give you this" she said. On the paper was the picture of my parents on the rock that I had posted in that blog post:
My parents, Fall 2006
Of course, then I was pretty sure I knew what was about to happen.

"And now I'm supposed to give you this," Pat said, and handed me a homemade card with photos of me on the front. Inside were song lyrics for this song (with a few of the details crossed out to match how we met-- "London New York," for example.):

And then Pat said, "Here, listen to this," handing me her iPod and headphones, playing the song for me to hear. 

"Now, follow me," and we kept walking.
Pat took this picture of me on the walk
I was listening to the song (which was quite beautiful and touching) while trying to remember where that rock was--I kept scanning the park (which was quite crowded due to the lovely weather) to see if I could find Greg. Finally, we turned a corner around the rink, and there he was, looking very dashing in the pink tie I had unwittingly selected for him, and I think I basically ran to him.
It's kind of a blur after that, but I recall Greg saying, "So, there's no fundraiser," and then he brought me over to sit on the rock (the same rock my parents were sitting on in the photo), and handed me a little box wrapped in a bow. As I was opening it, he asked me to marry him. "Of course I'll marry you," is what I think I said.
Opening the box with the ring
Pat and Frank were taking pictures the entire time, and Greg said there was quite a crowd of spectators around who applauded, although I didn't register any of that.* He said he had to keep asking people not to sit on that rock for an hour or so before I got there. He decided that pacing back and forth on it and looking possibly crazy was the best technique for keeping unsuspecting picnickers away.

Anyway, Greg told me later that he had read that blog post about my parents' proposal a while ago (he said he had pretty much decided that was what he was going to do when he first heard the story), and then wandered around Central Park with the photo of my parents on the rock, comparing background trees and branches and tiny rock features until he was certain he'd found the exact one.

Oh, it was a glorious day. And, as my father told me after hearing the story, "Now your marriage will be as solid as rock!"

*Apparently, there was a plane sky writing at the same time, and people had stopped to look up to see what was going on. Then, they looked down at us and saw what was going on, and applauded. We found out later that the writing spelled "Last Chance"--ha!

Monday, October 03, 2011

Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life movie, and Chris Colfer (again)

Cross-posted from the Blue Rose Girls


Wednesday night I went to the premier of the movie Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life based on the book by Wendy Mass. Wendy had been working with another editor at Little, Brown (hi Amy!), and when Amy left the company, I became Wendy's new editor, but Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life was the transition book--Amy freelance-edited the book from her new home in Maryland, and I was the in-house editor. I love this book--it's still one of my all-time favorite Wendy Mass books, and believe me, there's a lot of competition. But it's a great example of the type of book I love most--it's sweet, funny, and challenges the reader think about life. In this case, the literal meaning of life, of course. And the movie did the same for me. It's been quite a while since I've read the book, so it was wonderful to relive it on the big screen. It made me laugh, and it made me cry. There were a few differences from the book, of course, the most obvious being that Jeremy's mutant candy collection isn't in the movie--oh well.

The movie isn't going to be released in the theaters, but is currently available as an exclusive at Walmart, and then will be released more widely next Spring. See more info on Wendy's blog here. Also, I love that almost all of the commentors on Wendy's blog seem to be children. And they're so enthusiastic and insightful. I especially loved this comment from Ingrid H:

Awesome! The trailer was really cool! I’m kind of glad that it’s not
coming to every theater, since it’s sort of an off-beat book, and that
would make it more main stream. Congrats Wendy!

Most of the stars of the movie, including Mira Sorvino, were in attendance. Mira's children and father (actor Paul Sorvino) were also there. The event ended quite late (almost 10 pm), and Mira's young son was crying that he needed to go "to his house" because "it's so dark outside"--of course, this was right outside the theater under bright lights--I guess this was his way of saying that it was late and he was tired. Poor kid

We did a media tie-in edition cover to coincide with the movie. We pretty much used the movie poster design, but decided to focus on just the kids:

But the original design with the keys still exists:

Congratulations to everyone involved in the movie! Thank you for bringing this book to life.


On Saturday evening, I went to the New Yorker Festival to see Chris Colfer interviewed by New Yorker editor Susan Morrison. There a great wrap-up of the evening here. I was especially fascinated by the audience, which seemed to be mainly young, avid fans of Glee and Chris's specifically. The wrap-up I linked to had a great description:

His answers were met with aws, gasps and giggles from the audience, who made a mad dash to microphones during the Q&A to express their nervous adoration and question him on a variety of topics ranging from what it's like to kiss his on-screen boyfriend Darren Criss, ("Darren's a good kisser. And he knows it.") to what parts of himself he wished were in Kurt ("He was very lonely,  but I wish he didn't feel like he need someone to be loved. It was a lesson for me as well.").
And when asked about his book deal, props to Chris for mentioning Little, Brown by name!

He also briefly discussed his forthcoming novel, a children's book called "The Land of Stories," which he said he'd been thinking about since he was seven years old, when his younger sister was diagnosed with a rare from of epilepsy and he was seeking an escape.

"I had this old book of fairytales that my mom was given by her mom. I'll never forget because you opened the pages and all the illustrations were actual pictures of dolls in freeze form of the story," Colfer shared. "I remember in the moment never wanting an escape more ever, I wanted to literally dive into the book. I then came up with the story about these two twins that went to fairytale world and all the adventures they had, adventures I wanted to experience rather than what I was going through.  I promised myself then if I ever had the opportunity to write it in a book, I would."  Now Colfer has a two-book deal with Little Brown, with the first installment due out August 2012.

Now, I just have to finish editing The Land of Stories so all of Chris's fans can actually read it!