September 14, 2012

Casual Friday: Interview with editorial assistant S. Jae-Jones

Hullo m'lovely Misfiteers! (Yes, I totally stole that.)

Welcome to another Casual Friday--and my very first YAMF post! It's so exciting to be here, especially because I get to share this first appearance with a friend! *clears seat at lunch table*

S. Jae-Jones--better known as JJ--is an editorial assistant at St Martin's Press. When not editing books or jumping out of perfectly good airplanes, JJ can be found training for the NYC marathon (ha!), attempting to write a book, and obsessing over Doctor Who and Avatar: The Last Airbender.

JJ is also awesome company for theater trips, Whovian rants, and when trying to find a restaurant in London that still serves food after midnight. (Hint: this is pretty much impossible.)

Most importantly (for today, at least) she graciously agreed to an interview to let us in on the editorial side of publishing! :)

1. Most of us aspiring writers (especially when we're about to jump in the querying trenches) find out all there is to know about literary agents. But the publishing world beyond that seems to be a whole new ballpark. Can you describe a typical day in the glamorous life of an editor? ;)
It's not very glamorous, I'm afraid. :) It also varies so widely day after day that there is no real "typical" day for an editor. But my days generally follow this pattern:

After I fortify myself with coffee, I immediately tackle whatever minor crises may have arisen when I was asleep. Getting emails down to a manageable amount is crucial. After having that sorted, I draw up "to do" lists, which are generally mundane-ish administrative things: transmitting manuscripts to production, making check requests for payments, mailing galleys, copyedits, pass pages, etc. Mundane, yes, but also time-consuming. These sorts of things are also time sensitive, which gets them prioritized on my "to do" list.

If on a good day, I've managed to juggle all that before lunch, I will come back after a break to work on more "editorial" things: rejecting manuscripts, composing pitch emails to send to my colleagues for opinions on a project I want to acquire, writing blurb letters, catalog copy, launch and tip sheets, etc. At any given moment, I am working on 15 titles per season, not to mention backlist titles that still may need handling, so I usually have to figure out how to write all this copy in between juggling those.

Usually the days are also broken up by various meetings: editorial meetings in which we talk face-to-face about projects we want to acquire and ask for feedback on, marketing meetings where the marketing department keeps us apprised of what's going on for a particular book, cover/jacket meetings--depending on whether or not one of the titles I'm working on is schedule for these meetings, I may spend a good chunk of my days away from my desk.

Note that my days do not include reading or editing. There simply isn't enough time during business hours. I, like the majority of editors I know, do all their reading and editing at home and after hours. Trust me to choose the one profession that still has homework! ;-)

2. A threefold question about the publishing industry: what do you love about it? What surprises you most? And what do you wish more people knew about it?
As an extremely bookish person, you'd think the first question would be the easiest to answer, but in honest truth, it's one of the hardest. Being able to read for a living is a dream come true for wee JJ. But I think the best thing about working in publishing is that I'm surrounded by other bookish people. There is no need to explain my interests or passion to them, for they share them with me. It's a bit of a nerd's paradise in that way.

What surprises me? I think what surprised me was just how collaborative the act of publishing a book is. It isn't a direct one-to-one chain from author --> editor --> production --> bookstore --> reader. The writer and the editor shape the words, the narrative, the intangible story that isn't defined by pages or pixels on a screen. The production department makes that intangible story concrete: a physical object in your hands or a digital file on your reader. The marketing and publicity department then turns the author and book into a product, something that is commodified and packaged and sold--as a brand, as a concept. Authors who understand this process make my job so much easier, so I suppose that's what I wish more people knew about!

3. With quite a few of the Misfits on sub or about to be, we're very interested to know what the submission process looks like from your side of the desk. When a manuscript lands in your inbox, what happens next?
It goes in my queue. :) I have a very long one, I'm afraid, and I try my best to read projects in the order I've received them. If I read something and know it's not for me, I will let the agent know. If I love it, I will then pow-wow with my colleagues about it, ask them for second reads, and if they all think it's strong enough, I will then bring it up at acquisitions.
(Which I've blogged about before here:

4. You recently acquired your first two books. Can you tell us a bit about them? What made you fall in love?
Yes! Adi Rule, my lovely author, wrote a beautiful story about a young woman discovering her voice--literally, as she is a singer. The novel is set in a gothic conservatory in a dark forest, where nothing--not even her mysterious young vocal coach--is what it seems. Her second novel is a lyrical dark fairytale. Those who know me and my tastes know just why these books screamed "JJ MUST EDIT ME", but falling in love with something, like falling in love with a person, is only made clear after the fact.

The first thing that drew me in was, of course, the writing. It's perhaps overkill to describe a book about music as "lyrical", but it is. I read the first pages and was immediately absorbed by the world Adi had created--not just the setting, but the characters, and their journeys. And moreover, aside from the writing, Adi's novel contained so many ideas I love: a gothic setting, a coming-of-age story, some slight fantastic elements, music, and yes, I will admit it, a compelling romantic interest. (I'm not anti-FEEEEEEEEEEEELINGS all the time, you know.) Everything resonated with me on a deeper level and I knew I wanted to work with her almost immediately.

Oh sweet Gallifrey, doesn't a gothic conservatory in a dark forest sound like the BEST THING EVER?!

5. On the flip side, how do you feel about the ones that got away?
Oh god, so many have slipped through my fingers, seduced away from me by other offers. Alas! I actually love all the ones that got away and want them all to succeed. It's partially selfishly motivated, of course, since I want to feel validated in my good judgement, but I genuinely want something to do well because I wouldn't have made an offer if I didn't think it deserved to be published and read by the world. These books are a little bit like exes--you stalk them on Facebook, on Twitter, on Bookscan, and spy on their shelf lives, feeling alternately happy and jealous.

6. Are you looking to acquire anything in particular? Anything you'd love to find?
I acquire both fiction and nonfiction. I tend to be more practical/usage-oriented when it comes to nonfiction, so cookbooks, or general lifestyle (health, fitness, beauty, makeup), but I also love good narrative sociology or narrative history. Not much for memoirs, I'm afraid. On the fiction side, I mainly acquire young adult. I'm open to pretty much any and all types of young adult, but I like fantasy best. (Not so much paranormal though.) I also do enjoy adult literary fiction, providing it has a feminist bent to it. I would love to find novels in the vein of Margaret Atwood or Anita Diamant on the adult side!

7. If there's one thing you could tell all writers to do or stop doing, what would it be?
Googling themselves? :) Actually, there's not a lot I take issue with when it comes to writers, although I do sometimes wish they would understand that patience is a virtue.

8. Finally, since we're all misfits here, tell us something people may not know about you?
Good lord. Where do you want me to begin? ;-) The internet makes me so very glad I'm not the only one in the world with my bizarre obsessions, and boy, do I have OBSESSIONS. They usually burn hot and fast at first before calming down to a low simmer, but there are occasional flareups. For instance, I have recently gotten back into Phangirling. Oh yes, I just said it. I have been a super-duper Phantom of the Opera fan since I was about 7 or so, and my obsession reached its zenith when I was about 10-12. I know the Original London Cast recording down COLD; in fact I can perform you ALL the parts with their original inflections. I used to listen to it EVERY DAY (I cannot stress this enough), SEVERAL TIMES A DAY, and sing along (even Christine's high E!). I usually did my Spanish and algebra homework to it. I read Gaston Leroux's novel several times, and I even read Susan Kay's PHANTOM for S.S.R. in 7th grade (although I dislike the last 50 pages or, uh, tinkers with canon in ways I DO NOT LIKE).

Related to that, I seem to have fallen into a Michael Crawford crush. Oh yes. I just watched all of Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em and even his Barnum...

The depths of my fangirl tendencies are frightening, no? ;-)

Yes, yes, they totally are. I myself would never think of listening to a cast recording that often. Really. *polishes halo*

With that, let's give it up for the *amazing* JJ! And if you don't already, find and follow her on Twitter, Tumblr, and her blog, for ALL her FEEEEEEEEEEEELINGS (even when she claims she's anti those most of the time ;) )


erica m. chapman said...

LOVE it!! Great interview, ladies ;o)I agree, patience is a virtue. It's definitely something you have to practice to get better at, but I think, for me, the querying process helped with that.

Also. That book sounds amazing. Can't wait to see it out into the world ;o)

Gina said...

This is such a fabulous interview! So am I weird because I never Google myself, or does that apply only to published authors? LOL

Great job, Marieke!

Dahlia Adler said...

Great interview, both of you, and congrats on your first acquisitions!! I used to work as an EA at a big 6 as well and I loved it so much; it was really fun to relive the experience here! Love the bit about stalking the ones that got away because I KNOW I would do the same thing. Hell, I used to want to stalk the ones that got away from other editors that I only knew of from editorial meetings!

Angelina C. Hansen said...

Thanks both of you for sharing this window into the mind of an EA!

Mary Brown said...

I have read your blog its very attractive and impressive. I like it your blog.

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