A Day in the Life of an Editor - with Anne Groell

I hope you all had a fabulous Christmas and a very Happy New Year. I spent much of my time reading submissions, watching Sherlock, Neil Spring's Harry Price: Ghost Hunter and Doctor Who and trying to keep various family members from killing one another. Ahhh Christmas! :-) 

Copyright BBC

Copyright BBC

New Year, new start and I thought we'd dive straight back in and continue with our insight into the publishing industry and who does what. Having been an editor for 15 years, and still doing rather a lot of it now - I suppose I could have done this myself - but really - so much more interesting to talk to someone else. :-D

So from across the other side of the pond, we chat to Anne Groell who is an SFF Executive editor over at Random House USA. A fabulous multi-tasker not only can she juggle everything from editing George R. R. Martin through to Terry Brooks, Robin HobbNaomi Novik, Scott Lynch, Connie Willis, and doing the US editing for Peter F. Hamilton, (you may have heard of some of these authors?! ;-)) but she’s also a great cook (the things that woman can do with a chicken) and a brilliant face painter. Phenomenally busy and always on the go – she takes a few moments to tell us what a ‘typical’ day is like in the day of an editor.

How does one describe the typical day in the life of an editor?  Not easily – because one of the greatest rewards (and, admittedly, occasional frustration) of the job is that there really is no such thing as the typical day. Every day is different and unique – and not just because of the particular quirks of whatever literary world you are currently inhabiting as you edit. (Though that is part of it.)

No, it is more that editors are involved in a lot more than just than the nuts and bolts mechanics of getting the actual book right. We write the title information sheets and impassioned speeches that go to the sales force, convincing them how wonderful our books are.  We write or edit back cover copy, consult on the cover art, and coordinate with marketing and publicity, among many other things.  We are, first and foremost, the author’s number one champion and cheerleader in the house, trying to convince everyone around us that this book, of all the other books, is the one everyone must love and buy. And all that takes time, attention and thought.

We are also acquiring editors, which means that in addition to the books we already bought and that need editing, there is always a pile (these days, all electronic) of submissions waiting to be read, in the hopes of finding the next great thing to buy. In fact an editor’s typical day is mostly a complex balancing act, or triage, between what you most want to do and what you most have to do.  And while sometimes the two are one and the same, they often are not.

When I am deep under the skin of a book, editing away, I like to give the book my fullest possible attention, and so I tend to completely ignore my email or social media until bombs start going off. And then I have to break off and deal with those. (After a really good bout of editing, I often have to spend a few days cleaning down a mailbox filled with well over a thousand mails.) And that is not the mention the submissions, which are most frequently with a number of editors – so sometimes you have to drop everything and read something quite quickly when another editor has expressed interest or made an offer.

Authors also have a tendency, when you are working with many of them, to all turn in their stuff simultaneously – especially ahead of big holidays, when the goal is to get stuff off their desks and onto yours.  I am frequently in a position where five or six projects come in nearly simultaneously, and then you have to balance which to do first.  In a truly just world, this should be all about who turned their book in first, but usually ends up being about whose production schedule is the tightest. And then, of course, as you are editing your way down the stack, the revisions on the earlier books start coming back, and those have to be worked in, too.

So really, it’s all about balance and juggling – though, admittedly, some days I am better with keeping all the balls in the air than others.  And the deeper I am into an actual edit – when that literary world is really the only place I want to be – the worse I become at managing everything else.  Because, at the heart of it, this really is my favorite part of the job: the actual editing – really becoming one with the book and learning what makes it tick. But that, in itself, is not a trivial task – especially when it comes to time management.  I always tell folks that, when I buy a book, I really have to love it, because I read it a minimum of three times, and often a lot more.   

Every editor works a bit differently, but my personal MO is that, on my first read, I do the really close line-reading and individual sentence editing, while chunking the whole plot up into my head. (Going full out, I average about 25 pages an hour,  or 200 pages a day, which mean a nice, chunky 800 pager can take me 4 solid days to get through if there is nothing else to do – but there is always something else to do, meaning this often stretches to a week and a half.)  

Then, the minute I have finished the first read, I turn right around go back to page one, and read it all again, doing the big concept stuff, now that I know where the ending is going. (This bit goes a bit faster, but we’re still looking at 200-400 pages day, depending on how much needs tweaking.) Then when the revisions come back, I read it all through again – and again, depending on how many editorial rounds are needed. (Because, sometimes, you don’t see the big plot hole in the middle of the book until you have cleared away all the brush, first.)

And as all of this is going on, of course, other fires are kindling and demanding your attention.

But crazy as it can be, I love it.  The thrill of falling into a new book that you totally adore and know you must share with the wider world is an unparalleled gift.  And helping the author to then make that book the very best book it can be is both enormously fun and deeply satisfying – leading to kind of an insane amount of pride in the final product when it finally comes out.  I know that authors often feel that their books are their children.  Well, let me tell you that an editor feels exactly the same way.  Maybe I am more their teacher than their mommy, but I still adore every one of them, and try to send them out in the wider world better and brighter then when I first met them.

George-RR-Martin-feat.jpg

I also love all the new things I get to learn.  Thanks to George R.R. Martin, I now know how to edit cookbooks, calendars, colouring books, fake history books, and graphic novels.  And I also love that each day brings a new challenge to solve, whether it be how to best pitch a book, or how to solve a sticky plot problem.  There is really never a dull moment – and how many people get to say that about their jobs?

The great irony, of course, it that, if an editor is doing her job right, she should be completely invisible. But I promise you that, here behind my veil of invisibility, it is a non-stop crazy thrill-ride!  And I wouldn't have it any other way.

I think Anne pretty much sums up how the majority of editors working in publishing feel. Working with between 15-25 authors at a time, constantly juggling the demands made on their time from publishing schedules, meetings and submissions. With the added complications now of social media and online marketing - the editor's role has expanded and evolved from just being a demon with the red pen to so much more. Still none of us would do it if we didn't enjoy it and bringing an author's work to fruition, working to get their writing the attention it deserves, well . . . it's the most satisfying part of the job.

Next up we take a look at A Day in the Life of a Designer . . .