We’ve recently started a series of blog posts over at Torbooks.co.uk aimed at shining a light on various aspects and roles of those of us involved in Team Tor at Pan Macmillan. To give you, the reader, a greater insight into how the book you so lovingly place on your bookshelf, got there. To help kick things off I’ve written a brief piece about what it is I do as the Editorial Director of Tor UK. Apart from, obviously, drink coffee and read books all day!
My job is two-fold, one to find, buy, publish and represent authors of quality speculative fiction—the other is to build and develop the imprint brand of Tor in the UK.
Being an editor requires various skills: the fast-talking of a double glazing salesman (launch meetings, pitching acquisitions and representing your author to the best of your ability internally), an artist’s creativity (briefing covers, checking text designs, writing catchy cover copy), the aptitude of a juggler (when five authors deliver at once, there’s a pile of submissions to rival Everest, and you’re being chased by every single department for something), the patience of a saint (attending meeting upon meeting upon meeting) and the pedantry of a... well the pedantry of an editor (espying all those minute details in a script such as characters changing eye colour half way through, timelines not being consistent, story arcs needing tweaking etc. etc.). A work experience person recently labelled all editors as being “mildly mental”—that’s probably not far off.
There’s a LOT of work involved, it’s far from the traditional view of champagne flutes and glamorous parties with long discussions about literature until the early hours of the morning, or publishing lunches which start at 12 and finish the next day. There are long hours, most of us read and edit out of the office in our spare time as the minutiae of publishing doesn’t actually leave much time for reading—or editing. BUT—and it’s a big but—there’s not a single editor I know who doesn’t love their job. That’s why we do it.
So here’s a brief overview (trying to keep it short as we’ll go into more detail with some aspects in the script to shelf post coming later) of some of features of the job I think you’d find interesting:
Submissions and acquisitions: We get a lot of submissions—both from agents and via the direct submissions route. On average, about 15-20 per week. As there are only two of us commissioning at Tor UK we have to be very select about what we’re publishing, so very few of these make it through to the acquisition stage. If we do find something we love, we get the rest of Team Tor to read it first. We then present it at our weekly editorial meeting and discuss potential publication strategy with the directors and MD of the company. We consider sales, marketing and publicity points—and if we all feel that this is a novel we all love and can see working, only then do we make an offer.
Editing: Once offers have been accepted, contracts signed and celebratory meetings held with the author, then we start the nitty gritty process of editing. Editing is an intensely personal business and everyone does it differently. I’ll edit physically or on-line, depending on what the author feels most comfortable with. I read through the script once, just for the overall view—making a few brief notes as I go when things jump out at me. Then I’ll read it again, scrutinizing for inconsistencies, discrepancies in storyline or characters, sentence structure, grammatical errors, how the story arc feels, pacing and readability.
I often get asked “how do you know what to look for, how do you edit?” and for me, when it comes to the plot and pacing, it’s as much about sensing as knowledge. After having read so much, you feel whether a certain part is working, and another isn’t. You ride the arcs and troughs of the story and come to understand its rhythm and cadence. And when things aren’t working, it feels disjointed, or your attention is vaulted out of the story and into the physics of the structure. That’s when the red pen comes out....
I mark up the script, and make usually quite detailed editorial notes. But none of it is meant to be dictatorial and it’s very much an open and clear dialogue with the author. We suggest rather than command. At the end of the day, everyone has to be happy with the finished book.
Covers: Editors brief their author’s covers—usually after having had a discussion with them about the book, any images/scenes/characters they think would be appropriate. I’m lucky with Neil, our designer who commissions most of Tor’s covers, in that I can go hang out at his desk and have involved conversations about how we think it should look, and they do get very detailed! Editors usually write cover copy as well, although sometimes an author will write and we’ll tweak.
Publishing strategy: I’ve lumped quite a lot under this heading. There are a lot of meetings and different departments involved in every stage of publication. So editors schedule books (after having spoken to sales about best times for publication for them and avoiding any clashes with similar titles on our own list), we create AI copy for sell in and data feeds that transmit to on-line retailers, we launch titles with sales presentations internally to help sales, marketing and publicity with their own strategies for the book, we talk to audio if there’s potential there, we check copy (marketing blurbs, more cover roughs and variations than you can shake a stick at, PR material), send out proofs for review coverage from comparable authors, help organise/run events for retailers/reviewers to meet the author, plus try to raise pre-awareness of authors/titles through social media (Facebook, Pinterest/Twitter and Blogging). And throughout it all we’re representing our authors’ best interests in-house, trying to think of new and innovative ways to capture the reader’s attention and liaising with every department involved in publication to try to ensure it all run smoothly.
This is aside from attending conventions, networking with agents, reviewers and other publishers and all the day-to-day admin not least of which is working through the hundred or so emails we get on a daily basis. Cloning technology for humans cannot come soon enough!
It usually takes about a year from when a book comes in to when it’s actually published and there’s a whole host of hugely enthusiastic people involved in making that happen. I’m lucky to work in a company which is incredibly passionate, friendly and driven when it comes to the books they publish. I’m also lucky in that the authors I work with are a fantastic bunch (shhh don’t tell them that, they’ll think I’m going soft on them).
So do I enjoy my job? Without a doubt! Who wouldn’t?
This article was published first on Torbooks.co.uk here.
Julie Crisp is the Editorial Director at Tor UK.