Busy day

It’s funny how when you finish a project and decide the next day you’ll catch up on all those things you’ve put off, the pace actually quickens rather than slackens. I’ve spent the last two days working longer than I have in a while, but it’s fun work. Going through piles of paper I’ve been meaning to get go through for a couple weeks. It feels good to be clearing out and checking things off the task list that have been flashing red for way too long. Now I have a couple short-term things I need to do that I’m trying to squeeze into two days, and of course it won’t happen, but I’ll try. Or maybe I’ll fall asleep.

Dramatic sword-drawing

I’m flipping back and forth on TV between a documentary called Planet Twelve: The Secret Life of 12-Year-Olds which isn’t showing me any new secrets but is funny to watch all the same, and the beginning of The Return of the Musketeers, the opening scene of which begins with a closeup of a hand drawing a sword slowly and dramatically, only to pan out to a man straddling the rafters of a 1649 French pub, apparently drunk.
All the while, my cat knocks over boxes in the other room, and I think he’s going to kill himself one of these days.
But back to the drama of being twelve. The documentary is actually a good introduction to the social hierarchies of twelve-year-olds, laying it out in concise vignettes of what it’s like to be popular, a jock, normal, slightly lower than normal, and on through to the bottom rung. For anyone who lived through junior high, you’ll probably cringe to watch it but nod all the same.
I haven’t gotten beyond the first scene of the Musketeers movie, because I had to pause it to rescue the cat (I heart DVR/T
ivo/whatever you call it). But the opening scene hasn’t impressed me so far. I think my radar for openings has really fine-tuned since my first days as a slush reader. If I’m not hooked right away, I’m bored. However, hooks for me in movies are different than I might expect of books–see: my passion for the BBC production of Persuasion, for which I think I’ve only met five people in the world who love it as much as I. Anyone else who has seen it tells me it was too boring to get through. I doubt in a book I’d be as hooked by men rowing an admiral to his ship to say the war is over or a middle-aged baronet being told he must retrench. I think it’s the Chopin soundtrack that does it, really.
That’s what I *should* be watching right now. I’ve just inspired myself.

Writing vs. editing

It fascinates me how much the editing process intertwines with the writing process. I like to write a little myself, and it’s clear to me that my talents run most clearly to the editing end of the process. I’m fine with that–it better be, if that’s how I make my living! When I write, It’s very hard for me to turn the editor off. I can look at someone else’s plot and say that this part needs to be moved here, and that we need to lead more with such-and-such, and that we ought to streamline the pacing here… but it’s much harder for me to do that with my own work.
I suppose the main reason for this is that I spend so little time on writing my own fiction (though I’ve spent years writing nonfiction for jobs and school–newspapers, a trade magazine, grad school). I’ve been working on the same book since my last year of undergrad, about six years ago. I wrote a novella version of it for a class in grad school, which was a major milestone for me, but something still was missing about the plot. Back in November during Nanowrimo, I finally hit upon an idea to make it something beyond a generic high fantasy
retelling of a fairy tale. But of course immediately upon hitting my stride, I got computer problems *and* a lymph/sinus virus that knocked me out for months (culminating in sinus surgery). It was all I could do to get myself to work, so the writing had to be put off. (Reason #325 why I will never be a career writer: too many other things getting in the way that are more important to me, such as my job–which I love far more than my own writing. No excuses. Just reality. And that’s okay–but if someone reading this is an aspiring writer, hopefully this illustrates in the reverse how writing needs to be near at top of your list of career aspirations. For me, I find an equal choice between writing in my own time and doing the dishes or watching Lost.)
So I like to think I know how it feels when writers give me excuses for such-and-such happening–I really do!–and I really admire those for whom writing is their number one job priority. Juggling writing with other responsibilities that can sap your creativity really is a tough job.
I think that’s helped me, actually, to be a better editor. I understand that writers do hit blocks, and can be there for them. When an author hits a block, I can be the resource they need for coaching, a second pair of eyes to see mistakes and continuity problems, another creative mind to spark new directions–and even when my suggested direction isn’t t
he exact answer, I might help the author spark a new idea and see places that don’t work quite right for the reader.
I’m thinking of these things in tandem because I just sent off comments to an author for a book that really thrills me, and planned on spending some time this afternoon tinkering with my own story for a while. I was thinking about how good this author’s writing is, and how much I’d love to be able to write like that. But that even if I never finish my own book, it wouldn’t matter–because I’m able to be a part of creating books that I love, no matter whether I write them myself or not.
I’m sure you’ve heard the saying that editors are just frustrated writers (much like the saying that most lawyers are frustrated writers). I’d say yes and no, which probably contradicts my opening sentence that writing and editing are so intertwined. The writer part of me is both distinct from and completely intertwined with the editor part of me. I love telling stories, and I love reading stories, and when a story inspires me as this particular fairy tale has, I really want to tell a new story that incorporates it and makes it my own. The editor part of me just loves good stories and wants to help them be told better. It’s almost like having a dual personality when I write for myself–which one will be dominant today when I’m trying to write?–but then the editor/literary critic completely
takes over when I’m working. But deep down, the writer is reading the same stuff the editor reads, and saying, “Wow, they’re good.”

You must read this book

When it’s published, that is. I’m just finishing up an edit on the first book in a new dark historical series for teen girls that comes out next year. I can’t tell you much more than that, except to say that it’s *good*. I love my job. I get to read fun books for a living. I highly recommend it.

Places I’ve visited

In answer to . It’s been growing this last year, and hopefully will grow more this summer if I get to go to ALA.

create your own personalized map of the USA
or check out ourCalifornia travel guide
I’ve only been to one country outside the U.S., and that’s Scotland–well, count the whole U.K., I suppose, given my layovers in the Manchester airport, but I never did leave the airport, so it doesn’t really count. I live in Washington–hello, I need to go to Vancouver or something, get myself using that passport more often.

Garrison Keillor on writing

Forwarded to me by a friend at work. It does seem to be at least a stereotypical line between different kinds of writers. I can’t say, though, that I’ve ever heard a writer talk about the agony–more, the hard work of it. Writing is definitely hard work, as much as any other job. But he does make his point in a very entertaining way.

Okay, let me say this once and get it off my chest and never mention it again. I have had it with writers who talk about how painful and harrowing and exhausting and ALMOST IMPOSSIBLE it is for them to put words on paper and how they pace a hole in the carpet, anguish writ large on their marshmallow faces, and feel lucky to have written an entire sentence or two by the end of the day….

Continues here:

Random Sunday thoughts

My cats have been chasing each other around the house this morning, I suppose filled with spring fever. Well, they do this every day, so really I should just mark it down to them still being kittens, even though both of them look nearly grown. They’ve also recently discovered the fireplace, which to them must be a really cool cave to explore or something. Now that I’ve made it off-limits, it’s even more intriguing. This is such a badly designed apartment in so many ways–the flu is horizontal for quite a ways, and large enough for a cat to fit in, especially a curious one like Tildrum or Mogget. Mogget is a tuxedo cat with little white socks on his paws–normally. Now, his white parts are almost as dark as his black parts, covered in soot that won’t wash off. I’ve tried twist-tying the chain closed (my last apartment had glass in front of the chain, so it was easily kept off-limits), but they seem to still be finding a way in when I’m at work. I come home at night to little sooty paw marks all over everything.
It’s a beautiful, sunny day outside, but I feel like staying in. I’m supposed to be at church in 15 minutes, actually, but I have a feeling I won’t find parking because it’s a conference today. I should have left an hour ago just to get there in time to park.
I’m working on reading Scott Westerfeld’s latest installment in the Midnighters series, Blue Noon. Halfway through. I love the concept of this series, and it’s told in a satisfying way. Next on the list–at least from the library pile of books–is Uglies, by the same author. Of course, there’s also the even larger pile of books I’ve been meaning to get to on my own bookshelf. Ever since I became an editor full time, I’ve had ADD when it comes to reading other books. It’s not that they’re not good books–it’s that when I come home, if I have reading to do for work, I should be doing that, and if I don’t, I’d rather rest my eyes and do something non-readerly. I’m getting past it, though, slowly.

Getting started as an editor

Ala alg’s post about getting a job in publishing.

When I tell people that I edit children’s books, their first answer is, “Oooh, how fun!” My answer is usually something like, “Yes, but it was also a lot of hard work to get here. And I’m still working.” But having a lot of fun while I do it!

Getting my dream job was not a straight path, unlike many in trade book publishing. The stereotypical path of a children’s book editor is to start out as an editorial assistant in a New York house and work your way up. You use certain skills as you do that, though, that I also used in my much-longer path to figuring out just what I wanted to do and how to do it.

Behind the cuts below, I’ve talked about each phase of my path to becoming a children’s and YA fantasy editor, but to sum up, I worked my way through college in publishing jobs, being willing to take any job or internship that presented itself as long as it was giving me more experience in the field. I was willing to work for cheap, if anything—while scrounging to make a living because I had no family money. As I worked at it, eventually I got jobs that led me closer and closer to my goal. After graduation, I still didn’t get my dream job, though, and needed to go to grad school to get that extra edge in the children’s lit field. While in grad school, I got some more experience, working for an educational publisher. And then, in a stroke of good networking at a part-time bookselling job, I got a tip that led me to the job opening for my current job. Long road, but using the same elements that everyone else did: who you know and what you know. Network and build your skills. And then move to where the jobs are.

It starts way back when I was an animal science-prevet major at the University of Illinois. I decided I hated chemistry. So I picked the best-sounding major that would keep me within the College of Agriculture, so I could keep my scholarship. Thus, I became a human development and family science major. Worked in a few preschools.

At the time I had a friend who worked at a local prepress. My friend copyedited college textbooks, and it occurred to me that it would be a lot more fun to do that than to chase toddlers and two-year-olds around for $5 an hour at a daycare with no benefits. I love kids, but teaching wasn’t fitting me, especially teaching an age group that was mainly potty-training.

I got hired there as a typesetter, programming books in Unix in the early 90s, about the time that Quark was first being introduced. Another team was figuring out Quark, but I worked on math and physics textbooks, and the equations came out looking better when done in Unix.

Later, taking some time off school, I went home and worked at the local newspaper for a few months. I then moved to Utah, where I got a job editing phone books for Phone Directories Co., where I was considered the expert at catching errors in the White Pages. Talk about repetitive and detail-oriented. While working at PDC, I was also working on finishing my bachelor’s degree at BYU. I ended up quitting PDC so I could go back to school full-time.

I got a job on campus at the library in the Special Collections department, where I got to see ancient texts, Victorian books, and all sorts of amazing things about the history of publishing. During summers, I juggled that job and a job at the University Press, where I used my photography skills (one of my many majors in those years) to make slides of artwork for professors to use in class. While working at the press, though, I also got to help out in the press itself whenever they needed an extra hand.

During this time, I took a children’s literature class as an elective in my major (back to human development and family studies, with an emphasis on children’s literature, so I could graduate quicker, even though I was toying with the idea of becoming an editor after graduation). It was like lightning struck–wow! I could combine these interests! I could do good things for children, and I could work with books! It was an epiphany—one I can’t believe I had earlier.

So I took an editing class in the English department. Completely out of my major, but I thought I needed to hone my skills a little. In that class, I met , who announced that Leading Edge magazine was looking for students to join its staff as slush readers. My time reading slush at that magazine directly led to getting my first job out of college. Plus, I’m still good friends with many of the people I met there.

Also in that class, I heard that the director of the Humanities Publication Center was hiring an editorial assistant for the next semester. Not only did I take an unpaid internship with him the next semester, I got the EA job, so I did a lot of copyediting of campus journals like the Journal of Microfinance and the Journal of Comparative Religion.

After college graduation, I couldn’t find a good full-time job in Utah (big surprise), so I moved home to western Illinois to figure out where to go next. I had no money to just up and move to New York, so I knew I needed to find something a little more local, even if it wasn’t my end goal of children’s literature.

No real opportunities presented themselves near home, but I did know some people in Chicago, and called them up to see if I could stay with them for a few days while I interviewed for a job. These friends suggested that I cold-call all the publishers in the Chicago area from the phone book, just to see if they were hiring. So I went down the list alphabetically, and Barks Publications was hiring. When I sent in my resume, I didn’t even know what they published, but I was hungry for a job, and they’d just had their publisher’s assistant quit. I took the job.

Turns out they published a trade magazine in the electromechanical aftermarket (industrial electric motors, and everything related to them). My grandpa was an electrician and I grew up on a farm, so it wasn’t too much of a stretch for me to learn all I could about motors so I could be advanced through the company and become an editor. I started out answering phones
at the front desk as publisher’s assistant, and a year later, I was associate editor, in my own office writing articles, editing columns, and copyediting the whole final magazine.

But I still wanted to do something with children’s literature, so I read all I could, joined the local SCBWI chapter, and even tried to take a night class in writing. But that class was filled with literary snobs who looked down upon children’s lit, genre fiction, and generally anything commercial, so I dropped it within a week and started looking for other options.

Eventually in my search, I found children’s literature master’s programs. There was the writing for children master’s at Vermont College, or there were children’s lit programs at Illinois State in Bloomington and at Simmons College in Boston. At that time, I attended an SCBWI presentation by Anita Silvey, who once edited the Horn Book magazine and had just recently retired from being editor in chief/publisher at Houghton Mifflin children’s trade. She taught at both Vermont College and Simmons College, so I asked her advice when she signed my book. Her answer–“If you want to be an editor, Simmons College, no question.” No other school had the contacts and the depth of education in the literature itself, she said.

Simmons it was. I never really planned on being in a master’s program–it took me nine years to get my bachelor’s, and that tends to discourage one from going on to higher degrees–but I thought that even if I never finished the program, I’d be better off for having experience in the children’s field.

Grad school, especially in Boston at a private college, is expensive. So I started looking for ways to make it less expensive. One part of that was getting a job: temping at Houghton Mifflin in the School division. When they offered me a full-time editorial assistant position, I took it and went on sabbatical to raise a little money for school. Soon they’d promoted me to associate editor when they discovered my experience. I made a lot of good friends at Houghton, and editing social studies textbooks for 5th and 6th graders really taught me a lot–both about editing/the publishing business and about history, geography, and culture.

But I still wanted to work in trade children’s books, so I went back to school after about a year. Took Anita Silvey’s publishing class, took a really great folklore class, and a lot of other classes that really delved deep into the literature. Got an internship at the Horn Book that fall, sorting books and doing other clerical jobs for both the Magazine and the Guide. Had a great time being a “intern fly on the wall,” as Roger Sutton once put it, getting to sit in on meetings about how they chose the starred books each month.

The next semester I got a part time job at the local Barnes and Noble, because that was the last place in the book business I’d had a job and because I needed the cash. What a blessing that I did! I got to know a few coworkers, and in talking with , found that she was as into fantasy and science fiction as I was.

While in grad school, I’d also started networking as much as possible with editors from publishers in Boston and New York. Whenever there was a conference in town–WorldCon came to Boston in 2004, where I met Anna Chan from Tor, and ALA Midwinter was in Boston in 2005, where I met a few other editors at various houses, who all said to let them know when I graduate and they’d help me find where the openings were.

About a month after I started at B&N, comes into work and says, “Hey, did you see that Wizards of the Coast is hiring a children’s book editor?” I hadn’t, because all those editors I’d been talking with said to wait till after graduation to start looking for a job–preferably after I’d moved to New York.

I figured I’d apply anyway, even though graduation was still a good two months away, figuring that if the interview process took time, it’d be close to graduation, so what did I have to lose?

Happily, I got a first interview, by phone. Then a second interview, by phone. Both went really well, and I felt like I’d work really well with the senior editor in charge of Mirrorstone Books, and that the company would be a good fit–great benefits, great city. So when I got the offer, even though New York was certainly closer, it was a bird in the hand thing. I could move to New York (with barely any money) and gamble that I’d get a job in children’s lit that would let me work on fantasy, or I could move to Seattle and start on children’s fantasy from Day 1.

Right when I got out here, I found out from a writer friend that her editor at Bloomsbury was hiring an associate editor. Part of me kicked myself for not having patience, but the other part of me says that who knows? Maybe eventually I’ll find myself at Bloomsbury, or maybe I’ll just start publishing books like the ones I love so much from Bloomsbury.

I picked the bird in the hand, and it’s really worked out for me. The series I edit are doing well, and I have a new series coming out next year that I’ve helped develop from the beginning. We’re even starting to take manuscripts for standalone books. I’ve really grown as an editor, while getting to watch the imprint grow, too.

If you’ve made it this far, I hope you’re not bored by the details. Like I said at the beginning, it’s always a combination of improving your skills as an editor–both as a generalist and within your chosen field–and networking so that you know people who know where the job openings are. Then, you move to where the job openings are. For most, that means New York. I was lucky to find a job in a city with a little lower standard of living, but it took me a long time to get here. Good luck in your own search.

Another sample

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