An Editor’s-Eye View of the Making of a Book: From Pitch to Publication
You’ve had an idea for a novel. You can’t stop thinking about it. When you talk about it, it gives you goosebumps. You’ve nurtured it with coffee, sweat, tears, and occasionally even blood (papercuts: a hazard of the job). You’ve put your butt in that chair, laboring over the keyboard in the early morning before work, or late at night by the glow of your laptop. You’ve counted the words, and watched your private little idea blossom, page after page, into a story with a beginning, middle and end, fully realized characters, and a premise that won’t quit. You love it like a living, breathing thing. (I mean, you’re about to spend a lot of time and energy on this book —you’d better love it, right?) Finally, you hit the last keystroke on your masterpiece. Your book is done!
Soooo… what do you do now?
There are a few options, but as an editor at a publishing company, I’m going to take you through my own experience guiding a book on its journey to bookshelves. (Keep in mind the process might change slightly from house to house, and editor to editor.)
You might think my job officially begins when I acquire a book — because that’s when the editing starts, right? But things get going before I even have a manuscript in hand. My first mission: finding the books.
Most manuscripts come to editors through literary agents. But how do literary agents know who we are? And where we work? And what kind of books to send us? How do they know if the book you’ve just written is exactly the book I’ve been looking for?
Well, while you’re off researching and querying agents for representation, editors are doing kind of the same thing. A big part of my job is following deal announcements, researching agents, reaching out to them, and talking a LOT about the kinds of books we work on, and what we want to work on. That way, when your agent is putting together the submission list for your book, he or she will think, “wait a minute, didn’t Jocelyn tell me she was looking for a middle grade novel about friendship with a touch of magic? She would love this!” And then your agent will (fingers crossed!) send your book to me. Editors go to lunches, coffee meetings, festivals and conferences — like this one — in the hopes of finding the next manuscript we just might fall in love with. It all begins with a conversation, and hearing that first magical pitch.
So, let’s say your agent sent me your middle grade novel about friendship with a touch of magic, and I’ve read it. A few things might happen…
Scenario One: I love your book! I’ll share it with my editorial directors, and if they love it too, I’ll take it into our company’s weekly Acquisitions Meeting. That’s where I present the book to the heads of the Editorial, Sales, Finance, Marketing, Publicity and Design teams, and we figure out if this is a book we can publish successfully. A few questions we think about:
1) Did everyone enjoy the read?
2) Is there a place in the market for this book right now, or comparative titles that are selling well?
3) Does it bring something special to a genre that we haven’t seen before?
4) Do we think people will buy it?
Sometimes, the answer to these questions is more “no” than “yes”, in which case, we decide it doesn’t make sense to publish the book after all. But if the answer is more “yes”, then we look at the numbers and figure out what kind of offer we should make. Sometimes, several editors at different houses all make offers on the same book, in which case the agent might hold an auction (which involves competitive rounds of bidding, aka multiple editors fighting over your glorious book). Either way, there’s usually some negotiation after the initial offer, and if all goes well, fingers crossed, your agent and I arrive at a deal! Congratulations, you’re going to be a published author!
Scenario Two: After careful consideration, I ultimately decide to pass on your book. Sometimes, I love a book, but for various reasons, it’s not the right fit for my list or my publishing house. Sometimes, the voice or the subject matter just don’t align with what I’m looking for editorially. That’s why there are lots of different houses and editors — publishing is subjective, and what might not be the best fit for me could be another editor’s dream book! Keep calm and submit on!
Bonus Scenario: Sometimes I might like your voice and think your book has a lot of potential, but it’s not quite ready to bring to Acquisitions yet. I might ask your agent if you’d be open to revising, and send a few broad-strokes thoughts your way. It’s not a promise that my house will definitely publish the book if you revise, but it’s a step in the right direction.
Scenario One has just happened (yay!), and I am now your editor! First, I am so ridiculously excited to be working with you. Just as a writer has to feel passionately about their book to commit so much time to it, so does an editor! Alright, let’s get to work!
First, we schedule your book. A few factors go into figuring out when to publish your book. Most publishing houses have three seasonal “lists” every year: Fall, Winter/Spring, and Summer. We slot your book into one of these lists, taking into account a lot of different factors, like having enough time to actually produce the book, what other books are scheduled for around the same time, if the story has a seasonal theme (Halloween, anyone?), and so on.
Then, I write you an initial editorial letter. The first round of edits usually focuses on the big picture: plot, pacing, character development, and world building. It’s usually several pages long, and then I always like to get on the phone with the author and talk everything through. Editorial notes are almost always suggestions, and sometimes you might not agree with one of my notes. In that case, it’s always helpful to brainstorm together, and come to a solution that we both like!
Each subsequent round of revision focus on increasingly smaller and more specific details (the number of editorial rounds can vary from book to book). The last round is a line edit, where we do a final polish to make sure your writing sparkles and shines.
Then, I transmit the manuscript to our Managing Editorial department, where the book continues its journey through production. The interior of the book is copyedited and typeset. Bound Galleys are created out of the first pass of clean, typeset pages. Those are sent out to booksellers, librarians, book reviewers, bloggers, blurbers, and anyone else who needs to read the book early, before it goes on sale. Managing Editorial continues to proofread the interior and the jacket, to make sure all errors are caught before the final book goes to the printer.
About a year before your book goes on sale we have a seasonal meeting called Launch, where I’ll tell the entire division all about your incredible book. This is the meeting that kick starts Design, Marketing, Publicity, Subrights, and Sales to start putting together a publishing plan. I’ll work with all of these departments, and act as a liaison between you and the house. I might send you things like cover design options or marketing plans, and share your feedback with the teams.
Finally, it’s pub day! Bookstores have stocked your book, libraries have it on their shelves, and marketing and publicity have been getting the word out there. Enjoy this moment — you’ve earned it! Remember that idea you wrote by the glow of your laptop in the wee hours of the morning, back when it felt like no one else would ever see it? It’s now out there for the whole world to read. That can be scary — but it can also be exhilarating. It’s a feeling like nothing else in the world. It’s why you became a writer in the first place.
And, hopefully, it’s what will make you want to start the whole process over again. I’m sure you already have a new idea.
Jocelyn Davies is an Editor at HarperCollins Children’s Books, where she acquires and edits Young Adult and Middle Grade fiction of all genres. She is looking for manuscripts that capture readers’ hearts and imaginations, transport them to another place or time (whether that’s the Pacific Northwest a hundred years from now or Miami today), and explore a diverse range of identities and experiences. Previous to HarperCollins, she was an editor at Razorbill, where she worked with Jay Asher, Carolyn Mackler, and Richelle Mead, among many other authors.
Jocelyn is also a YA author. Her most recent novel, THE ODDS OF LIGHTNING (Simon Pulse, 2016) received a starred review from Publishers Weekly and was one of Buzzfeed’s “23 YA Books That Without a Doubt You Should Read This Fall”. Visit her website at www.jocelyndavies.com, on twitter @jocelyndavies, and on Instagram @jocelyndaviesbooks.