Friday, October 20, 2006

Young 'uns

Going along somewhat with Meghan's post on appearance and Libby's comment about "young and hot," I'd like to expand on Fuse#8's post about youth.

It's true, there are many young editors in the business, and it's also true as The Analytical Knife mentioned that many female editors leave publishing houses to become agents or freelance when they decide to have families. And it's true, almost every editor at my publishing house is under 40. But I know older editors at other houses, and as I mentioned in my comment on Fuse, I think a lot of the perception is that the younger editors are more actively looking for new authors and projects, and are also more active about attending conferences and publishing functions, and hence are more visible in the industry.

Do I think youth is an issue in editing? To an extent, yes. I know I'm a better editor now than I was 3 years ago, even 1 year ago. But I think there are pros and cons of being a young editor. (And let me just add that there are exceptions to the following, to be sure. This is just my opinion)

-passion and enthusiasm, excitement for the job (not burnt out)
-eager to find new talent, actively looking to acquire
-time for and interest in working with an author on revision before contract if the submission isn't quite ready
-closer to the ultimate demographic of readers

-not as established in the company, not as common to have a "lead" book from a more junior editor
-not as knowledgable about ins and outs of publishing and the company, including sales, marketing, and publicity concerns
-not as experienced in the art of editing
-not as many contacts
-not as wise

Although talent and intelligence does not come with age, wisdom does. I've certainly continually learned from my mistakes--and make them I do! And although yes, I'm still young, I also know that I'm not looking for new talent as much as I was 5 years ago. To be sure, I'm always keeping my eyes open, but I also have a group of authors and illustrators that I love and want to continue to work with, and don't want to crowd any of them out. And I don't have as much time to work with a promising author on revisions before acquisition as much as I used to.

When I first started meeting authors, especially older and established authors, I was very self-conscious about my age and whether they would respect me, whether they would feel weird to have someone half their age or more edit their work. Kinda like having a doctor who is younger than you--that's starting to happen to me now (and they're not Doogie). But now that I've paid my dues, been in publishing over 7 years, am solidly in my 30s, and have the title "Editor," I don't think about it as much anymore. Although I still have my moments--while in Oregon for the SCBWI retreat, I did have to correct an author when he asked how a twenty-something ended up with the name "Alvina." I was also carded while having beer with Gretchen in Oregon. That hasn't happened in a while. And the two times in the past year that it has happened, I had two different bouncers stare at my ID and actually say things like, "You're THAT old?!" and laugh. It reminded me of the time, years ago, when I was sitting in the emergency exit row of the airplane, and one of the flight attendants actually asked me if I was over 14!!! I was at least 25 at the time. That was a little depressing. But I know it's a blessing. My parents look a good 10 years younger, and I have that to look forward to when I get older.

Do any of you have a preference on the age of your editor? Any positive or negative experiences either way?

Speaking of being young: as I was writing this I mentioned to a friend that I was writing about "young 'uns" and he said, "You should write about Funyuns."

I love Funyuns. Just the name makes me laugh. They remind me of childhood. And you know another childhood food that I love? Cupcakes! Yes, cupcakes. Don't forget to vote in our Cupcake Contest.

Nice transition, eh?


Agyw said...

Okay, this will probably be WTMI, but I'm going with it, because it's one of my biggest fears. If you can't out yourself in a public place in front of your (hopefully) peers, then you've not outed yourself.

Long story, circuitous route to this field, but I had other interest, that I also didn't develop (gotta love our insecurities). I was musically inclined and never went beyond the small scene for two reasons, self-confidence racked with the lack of ADD and self-confidence racked with how I felt about the way I looked. I'm not hideous I don't think, and I've managed to procreate and make two very beautiful girls. But I've got the kind of face that some have considered very attractive and others have thought me a dog and shared it to that very face. And now I'm older and it's exacerbated.

Tooth problems all my life, poor nutrition and late pregnancy, my smile is an issue. It's now affecting my work. I'm dragging my feet for the same reasons of success as not. Intellectually, I know that most of what it is is fixable appearance-wise, but I know the how appearance affects others, I've done far too many things in my life to not be aware of it. I thought Chautauqua was all about the loss of my mother and my economics. But I realized much of it was the physical aspect. Most of the talented people there were pretty or at the very least attractive in that arresting way that gives people "author"ity. So there you have it.

For me, it's not been an age thing, though the last five years had been a challenge (wanna feel old, have a baby at 42, creak!), it's the appearance thing, and it's getting harder rather than easier. Maybe when Lemony Snicket retires I should change my name to Cumquat Snagglebod, and remain anonymous. Maybe it'll be easier then.

Libby Koponen said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...


It is an interesting question and one I have considered. I am older than you are. Quite a few digits difference. I have thought about the fact that I may be working with a younger editor at some point.

My first reaction is dismay, because the relationship feels parental in many regards. I look to an editor for judgment and approval. Older and wiser seems a natural fit. Younger and frisky seems a little strange. But in truth, the qualities most important to me are not linked to age. Good instincts, knowledge of story, intelligence and respect for others are critical factors. I appreciate it when an editor responds in a timely fashion to queries, when it is clear that s/he has spent time thinking about a problem and provides useful suggestions.

It pleases me to hear that you are cultivating those authors and illustrators that you have. I believe time and attention bestowed on persons can cause them to blossom forth in wonderful ways.

The perfect editor just like the perfect agent is a topic often found on list servs. What makes for a perfect author or illustrator from your perspective?

Warm regards,

Anna Alter said...

Hmm, I feel mixed on the age issue with editors. I've always had older editors that were more experienced than me, and that has been a good learning experience. But sometimes I feel like you can get stuck being the editor's "student" of sorts, like there is an eneven power relationship that will never change. Of course editors do have a certain amount of power over your work, they are the ones who make a lot of decisions about your books. But I guess what I'm trying to say is now I am enjoying working with people who are closer to my age, sometimes younger. It makes me feel like we are more at a peer level, and that the decisions we discuss are not a matter of right and wrong, but they are subjective things that we can discuss as professionals. I guess, as you said Alvina, there are pros and cons both ways. The best editor understands what you are trying to say and knows how to pull your best work out of you.

Laura Atkins said...

I thought about this a lot too, especially when I was an editor. One thing I heard authors complain about (though not mine, at least to my face!), was that when their editor left a house, they were suddenly left with a new, often young editor, who took over the project. And they felt there was a lack of respect or appreciation for the history of that book, or understanding of who the authors was and his/her connection to the house.

My sense of this complaint is that it was geared more towards larger houses where there can be fair amount of movement. The biggest publisher I worked for was Orchard, which wasn't that big...though there were issues about editors taking over older projects.

But aside from that, I agree with what you've said. When I was an editor, I had energy, enthusiasm, and was very keen to find new authors/artists. Had I stuck around for longer, I'm sure I would share your interest in continuing to develop those relationships.

And I'm one of those people who jumped ship at 31 - not to have kids, but because I got fed up with all the politics in publishing, and the commercial/corporate side of it which affected even the small house where I worked (Lee & Low). I loved children's books in general, and didn't want to feel like my loyalty had to be completely tied to one place. So I moved to academia, which seemed a place where I could explore children's books in a larger and more open way. Though there's never a perfect solution, I've found.

Anyhoo, long comment, and interesting post. I think the Katherine above was someone I worked with in my earliest days, who was wonderfully encouraging to a new, entry-level editorial person (and continues to be so today)...

Anonymous said...

I spent enough time when I was in my 20s having coworkers at my day jobs comment on how young I was that I still get a bit uneasy when I hear fellow writers complain about "baby editors." I still remember thinking when I had those jobs that no one can control what age they are (it wasn't like I was being young on purpose!), and that surely there were better criteria to judge me and my work by.

Anonymous said...

Interesting discussion, Alvina. I "grew up" in the high-tech industry as a young (early 20s), bright, ambitious, not unattractive female in a very old-boy industry. It was tough. I thrived. I earned respect with some people, would never get it without a (secret) sex change operation from others. That's life.

Here I am much later looking to break out as a children's writer. With many young, bright, ambitious, not unattractive (grin) women in editorial positions. So far, in my experience, they've all been fascinating individuals. I can relate to where they are in their careers, and respect their professional expertise regardless of their age. And without exception, they've been respectful of my life and other professional experiences outside of children's books.