The Road to Publishing: One Take on Working with a (Rock Star) Editor

By Ashley Hope Pérez

In articles and blog posts about breaking into the world of publishing, the lion’s share of attention goes to the writing craft, getting an agent, and securing a book deal. But what happens after those hurdles have been jumped? What can writers expect from their editors once the deal is sealed? And what will editors expect from writers?

The Knife and the ButterflyBecause writer-editor relationships are endlessly varied, I don’t actually have the answers to these questions. In fact, as I started writing this post, I realized that the only thing I am really qualified to talk about are my experiences working with Andrew Karre, my editor at Carolrhoda Lab. Andrew bought my first two novels, What Can’t Wait and The Knife and the Butterfly, in a two-book deal back in 2009, and now I am in the beginning stages of working with Andrew on a third novel. I can’t say what it’s like for other writers, although you can find some descriptions of authors’ experiences with editors, my favorite being the five perspectives offered up hereWhat Can't Wait

For the editor’s perspective, check out this post from Scholastic imprint editor Cheryl Klein, who also has a book on editing YA. Andrew will stop by the blog on Thursday to toss in his two cents on editorial work; if you want to balance some of my gushing below with more objective reporting, you can read this feature on him in Publisher’s Weekly.

Enough preliminaries. Here’s the scoop I can offer on working with my editor.

What happens after you sign the contract with a publisher? Waiting. Waiting. Waiting. I remember expecting to hear from Andrew the day after the contract was signed, but often there’s a considerable lag (months, friends) between sealing the deal and getting the feedback that will guide the revision. Editors are working on dozens of projects—all in different stages—at any given point. The good ones are expert at juggling these demands and giving each project what it needs.

Isn’t it painful to be told how to revise? To start with, I have to say that Andrew is as close to my “ideal reader” as I expect ever to find. With all three novels, he has grasped the essential aspects of the projects as well as (or better than) I did myself. This fact secures my total confidence in his intuition and editorial recommendations; on top of that, I’ve benefitted from his ability to see subterranean connections that invited development as well as other missed opportunities. So even what might have been “pain” in the process invariably felt crucial to the mission of making the book what it was meant to be.

keep-calm-and-revise--718I should also say that the thought of revision is what gets me through the agony of drafting; revision is my happy zone, where things finally come together. I don’t mind cutting scenes or paragraphs or sentences that I love. I don’t mind writing new material. I don’t mind collapsing subplots, ditching characters, or even radically altering the point of view for 100,000 words of prose. I don’t mind because when Andrew tells me to do these things, I instantly see how much sense they make. For me, Andrew’s vision manages to expand the story’s possibilities while also clarifying what needs to be done to achieve those possibilities.

How, specifically, does the editing happen? I’ve often heard writer friends discuss the editorial letter, which I’m told is a fairly formal write-up of all the things that need to be done in revision for a manuscript to be acceptable to the editor. (More discussion of the editorial letter and an example here ) The editorial letter reflects the major first pass of editing and defines the focal areas for the main revision, after which (everyone hopes) it will be mostly scene- and sentence-level rewriting.

Unless I have suffered some serious memory loss—which is possible since I gave birth to my son during the early editorial process with What Can’t Wait—I don’t think I’ve ever gotten a formal editorial letter from Andrew. Instead, we tend to have several hour-longish phone calls where he tells me what his instincts are as far as what could or should change in the manuscript and why. Perhaps what is most important to me about how these things go is that the “why” is always intimately linked to the internal logic of the novel or its essential characteristics (as opposed, for example, to trends in the market or notions of what teens can “handle”). These conversations generally entail multiple epiphanies on my part and copious note-taking. The macro-level feedback from the phone calls comes along with scene-by-scene feedback via comments and edits in Word.

After responding to the major editorial feedback (over 2-5 months), I submit to Andrew my “final” manuscript. Once he reads and accepts it, I get the second half of the advance (the first half comes with signing the contract). There is still some back and forth and perhaps even some more substantive changes, but all the major pieces are in place. There will be at least one more full read-through with comments to address before the book goes to the next stage of copy-editing (line-by-line stuff and the standardization of things like “OK” for “okay” according to the publisher’s house style), which is done by wonderful people who work under Andrew.

2-14Book-MakingWhat’s next? Then the book goes into production, and a while later (3-6 months) I get an email with galleys that give an idea of what the manuscript will look like as a “real” book. There will also be drafts of jacket copy, which I’m glad I don’t have to write, and cover designs. With What Can’t Wait, I wasn’t in on anything until after the final cover was chosen; with The Knife and the Butterfly, I saw about a dozen preliminary designs and got to weigh in on their relative merits. From contract to the printing of advance reader copies, the process has taken between a year and two.

Any words of advice for those on the road to publishing? The truth is that—at least for your first book—you will have little say in who your editor is. Your agent will submit the book where she or he thinks it’s a good fit, and if an editor bites and makes a reasonable offer, your agent will advise you to accept. There is no room in this process for mailing editors personality tests to check for compatibility.

What you can do is embrace the editorial process as an opportunity to discover more about your novel and your work as a writer. I find that the writer-editor dynamic—inevitably centered on the book—creates an amazing triangle of insight inside of which all kinds of possibilities for the story come into focus. I hope that’s the case for many other writers, too.

12 Days of Christmas Book Giveaway!!

¡Feliz Navidad! ¡Feliz Natal! Merry Christmas!

We are celebrating the holiday with a 12-book giveaway. Here’s how it works: enter by clicking on the “a Rafflecopter giveaway” link below the book images. From Christmas Day through Three Kings Day (January 6), one lucky winner will win one of these awesome books.

12 days = 12 books = 12 winners.

One of them could be you!

Remember, when you enter, you are putting your name into a pool for any of these books, not one in particular. To increase your chances, you can Tweet about the giveaway, follow us on Twitter, like our Facebook page, leave a comment, or share news of our giveaway on your blog or website. Good luck and thanks for entering and spreading the word about Latin@s in Kid Lit! Winners will be notified each day and arrangements will be made for shipping. We will ship only within the US and Canada.

After today, you will also find this information on a page in the menu area so that you can easily find it and enter over the next three weeks!

What Can't Wait    The Knife and the Butterfly    Torn    Billy the Kid     The Savage Blue      Darkroom: A Memoir in Black and White     Thunderous whisper     Frenchie     The Living     Aristotle    Feliz    Senor Pancho

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Give Kid Lit Readers a Broad Range with Real Characters


For our first set of posts, each of us will respond to the question: “Why Latin@ Kid Lit?” to address why we created a site dedicated to celebrating books by, for, or about Latin@s.

By Ashley Hope Pérez

Like Stephanie, my personal commitment to Latin@ lit comes from my work with teens. Much of my energy as a high school English teacher in Houston went to finding ways to make reading and writing an authentic, meaningful, and empowering part of my students’ lives.

I spent a lot of time scouring our school library and talking to my reluctant readers about what they wanted in a book. No big surprise: a lot of them wanted a book that reflected their experiences in a way that would ring true. We had plenty of successes, but there were a number of students for whom it seemed that the gateway book—that critical read that would persuade them of all that words can do—was missing.

“I want a book that shows how my life really is,” I heard over and over. “Not just somebody brown, but somebody real,” one student insisted. And, “please, I can’t stand it when they make it seem like if you just get into college, you’ve got it made.” That last bit came from one of my top-performing seniors, an impressive scholar by all accounts but also a young woman who had few illusions about the conflicting demands she would be facing in the coming years.

My students—aware of my aspirations to “one day” write a novel—began to recommend (okay, insist, pester, badger) that I write the book that they were looking for, and they were both my inspiration and the first readers of What Can’t Wait. Similarly, The Knife and the Butterfly began with writing exercises I was using to give a group of freshmen in a summer school English class a way of responding to the news coverage of a deadly gang fight a few miles away. In my third novel (watch for it in 2015 from Carolrhoda Lab), I take my concern with Latin@ experiences in a new direction by bringing them to the history of my native East Texas. I explore Hispanic experiences in the primarily black-and-white world of 1930s East Texas through the story of a school explosion, family secrets, an interracial romance between a Mexican American girl and a black boy, and the pressures created by Texas’s three-fold segregation system (black, white, and “Mexican” schools existed in many places). The third novel is going to be something different from my contemporary fiction, for sure, but it’s still written with my students in mind. I like to think that it’s the kind of book that would persuade my students to think about how past experiences scar the present—and what we do to mark loss and begin healing.

It matters quite a lot to me that Latin@ lit avoid the trap of making an “issue” of ethnicity, as Zoraida pointed out. Ethnicity was a non-issue for my students, not because they lived in such a multicultural world (Zoraida’s experience) but in fact because their world was relatively homogeneous; most of the kids in the Southeast Houston neighborhood where I taught were from working class families with roots in Mexico. Even my students who weren’t bilingual regularly heard Spanish and had strategies for managing the interconnections of Spanish and English in their community.

I don’t include glossaries in my novels, as I discuss here, because my books are first and foremost for my kids—and because I believe in the resourcefulness of other readers who come along. All of that to say: writing for my kids felt urgent back when I started What Can’t Wait, and it still does today. But Latin@s in Kid Lit has a broader mission than featuring Latin@ YA: we’re about highlighting awesomeness by, for, and about Latin@s for kids of all ages, including younger readers.

When I have the chance to talk with librarians or teachers about book selection, I often beg them first to make sure their collection goes well beyond the default “diversity” titles. Book selections for younger children should go beyond portrayals of special holidays, for example. I often caution teachers about resorting too quickly to the “minority celebrity” of the hour when attempting to diversify their reading lists.

By the time my (mostly Latin@) students reached my senior English class, most of them had read The House on Mango Street—in part or in whole—a half dozen times. That was because Cisneros’ (wonderful!) and widely discussed book had become synonymous with “Latino experience” in the minds of well-meaning teachers who had little additional knowledge of Latin@ lit, and they didn’t look beyond it when making choices for their classrooms.

The absence of a broad selection of diverse titles can reinforce students’ feelings of exclusion and general disengagement from the world of books. By contrast, offering students (whatever their background) a broad range of literature can generate a lot of excitement.

I, for one, am all for excitement! In future posts, I hope to contribute to the conversation by offering my two cents on what’s happening in the world of Latin@ YA and also by highlighting some of my Latin@ kidlit reading adventures with my son, Liam Miguel.

More from me soon!


P.S. Since I talk a lot about how I came to focus on Latin@ experiences in my fiction, I’ve cribbed some of this post from a past feature I did at STACKED , another blog that YA fans and librarians should have on their radar.