Friday, September 2, 2016

Concept to Completion: Editor

Since this is a holiday weekend we are posting a little early. Have a great Labor Day!

This series of Concept to Completion started during a Skype session with Editor Kelly Delaney. I took a class with her and invested in the one-on-one session. (SO WORTH IT.) I asked just how many hands are on a picture book from writing to reader.  You know what I found out? WAY MORE THAN I IMAGINED.

Today I’m happy to introduce Kelly Delaney, Associate Editor at Alfred A. Knopf Booksfor Young Readers.

Thank you for coming out today, Kelly. So we all want to know, what exactly does an editor do for picture book manuscripts?

Editors work with authors to make the text as clear, concise, and engaging as possible. We also work with the design department to select an illustrator and, with the book’s designer, act as the go-between with the illustrator and author as the sketches and final art are developed.

After the text and illustrations are on their way, we present the book to the rest of the company—sales, marketing, publicity, subrights, etc.—and work with them to make sure the book finds its way into the hands of readers who will treasure it. There are a million little details in between, but that’s the gist of it!

That’s a lot of people you have to deal with! What happens when you fall in love with a picture book manuscript?

Usually I take the manuscript to an editorial meeting to solicit feedback from colleagues about its quality and, more importantly, its marketability (just because I love something doesn’t mean it will sell). If we’re in agreement that it’s worth acquiring, I fill out a form and a spreadsheet detailing how much I think it will sell and why, based on its sales hooks and comparative titles. I use those details to craft an offer, and present it to the book’s agent.

Do you ever have to fight for a story you love?

Yes. Sadly, not everything with great writing is marketable, and publishing is a business. I’ve often gone back to an author and asked them if they’d be willing to revise based on my editorial feedback in an attempt to bring it to where it needs to be. Sometimes this leads to an acquisition, but often I do just need to let a book go. That’s never easy, but in that situation I’ll usually tell the author (or agent, more likely) that I’d love to see more work from them in the future.

How long do you edit a picture book or, a better question may be, what were the shortest and longest periods of time you spent editing a picture book?

I’m working on a book now that is ready for copyediting a week after I signed it up! The edits were very spare and didn’t require any major restructuring. Other books can take much longer, depending on what needs to be addressed or on the author’s schedule—they may have other projects that take priority, which we’ll factor into the book’s schedule. And of course, more edits may come with the art. It can take anywhere from a few days to a few months, but I’ve never worked on a book that didn’t need any editing at all.


I’ve never worked on a book that didn’t need any editing at all.


That is a great thing to keep in mind. There is always room for improvement. Is there a separate copy editor in your house or do you do the copy editing after the big picture changes are made?

We have a copyediting team that looks at every book several times.

A team?! Wow. Is editing a 9-5 gig or do you find yourself doing editorial work at home?

I read at home a lot. It’s easier to get it done away from email, a busy office, etc. I don’t think I’ve ever brought a picture book home with me, though—just novels.

How much caffeine/sugar/health food of choice is needed to fuel you through your workday?

 I don’t really track my diet in this way, but I usually have an iced coffee in the morning and eat as balanced as I can (though an abundance of treats and snacks in the office seems to be an occupational hazard of working in children’s publishing). My energy is more impacted by how active I am, so I try to work out daily and/or walk to and from work. 

Something we should all try to work into our day. My hair looks like Wally's when I'm done a work out. And you can feel free to share the chocolate in your office. Just sayin'.

So is there anything else you think authors should know?

Remember that revision is a part of the process that doesn’t end when your manuscript is acquired—and that an editor wouldn’t work to revise something with you if they didn’t love it. It’s not an attack on your work, but an attempt to make it as strong as possible so that it will appeal to as many readers as possible. We all have the same goal, which is to get your book into the hands of as many readers as we can!

Also, I’ve talked to a lot of writers who worry about details like how to format a manuscript submission, how art notes should look, and things like that. That should not be a source of stress for you. Be organized and clear, and follow any submission guidelines that exist. The more important part is to focus on your writing and hone your craft. If I love a manuscript, an unnecessary art note is not going to change that.

You heard it here authors and illustrators: Editors are on our team and want the same things for our books as we do.

Thank you so much Kelly for taking time to share your job with us. It’s great to peek behind the curtain and see just how much work, and how many people work, to get a picture book out into the world.

Next time...Art Director

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