Monday, August 10, 2009

A day in the life of an editor

I'm a little bit stressed these days--it's been a busy summer that is just going to get busier. I've now had two consecutive weekends where I've had to come into work, and three weekdays where I've been in the office past 11 pm.* What have I been doing? Well, it's performance review time for one, so I've been busy preparing my assistant's review, and also my own. And as for everything else? I thought I'd share with you an excerpt from one of my talks from Chautauqua, "Thinking Like You Editor," in which I started by sharing a typical work day in the life of an editor:

So, here’s my typical work day: I get into the office around 9 AM every morning…okay, it’s usually more like 9:15. I turn on my computer and check any voicemail messages. While my computer is booting up I get my morning coffee and breakfast—I have a whole shelf and drawer full of cereal and oatmeal, soup, and snacks. An editor needs her energy!

I check email while I eat my breakfast—email is a daily struggle for me, with my inbox containing between 200 and 300 emails at any given moment. And now that we receive most of our submissions electronically, the memory of my inbox is filled up quickly unless I’m constantly sorting and filing and deleting my email. So really, any free minute I have, I’m sorting through emails trying to cut the number down. This is why sending unsolicited email queries and submissions is not a good idea. I’m looking for reasons to delete email.

Speaking of unsolicited email queries, I recently received an anonymous emailed query. It was addressed to me, an editor at Bloomsbury, and two agents that I know, one here in the U.S., the other in the UK. I'd like to first point out that we are all female, and the letter was addressed: “Dear Sir.” It was a rambling, badly-written letter, and one line referred to the novel as: “It is properly typed, and most of the spelling mistakes have been corrected.” I love how she or he specified most, not all. And I'll also point out that the only reason why I actually read some of the email is because one of the agents replied to the rest of us making fun of it. So...don't send unsolicited queries.

Okay, so really, that first half hour or so of breakfast and email is as typical as my days gets. From there, they vary wildly, which is part of the reason I love my job so much—every day is different, and it’s almost never boring!

So now I’ll continue telling you about my NOT-so-typical work days. On Tuesdays and Thursdays I have 9:30 am meetings—jacket committee on Tuesday and editorial meeting on Thursdays. On Mondays I have an update meeting with my assistant at 10 am where we go over a submissions list of what each of us have—trying to manage the submissions pile is also an ongoing battle that I’m always losing. We talk about what’s happening that week, if we have deadlines to meet, what we’re both working on. On every other Wednesday morning I have Production meeting where we go over each title with our design, copyediting, and production departments to make sure everything is going according to schedule.

If I’m not in a meeting, I’m mainly either responding to emails (including responding to authors and agents about submissions) or reviewing various materials in my inbox that are circulating, such as picture book mechanicals, proof, marketing materials, and so on.

At lunch, some days I’ll eat at my desk and work through lunch, and other days I’ll have lunch with an agent or an author or a colleague. I actually love going on to these lunches, because I’m a bit of a foodie, and also, I like meeting and getting to know the people I work with. But these expensed lunches are one of the perks of publishing.

In the afternoons, it’s back to meetings. I might meet with an illustrator who’s coming to show his or her portfolio. I might have a meeting with a designer to go over cover ideas, or to review sketches for a picture book. I might have a meeting with other editors to discuss a project one of us wants to acquire. I might have a conference call with an agent and/or an author. I might have an informational interview with someone trying to break into publishing. I might be meeting with a foreign publisher or a packager, or in a meeting with marketing and publicity to discuss plans for a book. Or, I may have our acquisitions meeting, which we call Pub Comm. I also have biweekly update meetings with MY boss, to go over my projects or give updates and/or ask questions. And my assistant and I have monthly meetings with our senior managing editor to make sure we’re on schedule and aware of deadlines.

Because of all these meetings, and of course the preparing for meetings, it’s rare that I get to either edit or read during the work day. I take things home to read or edit at night and on weekends. And some days I’ll take a work-at-home day and edit at my kitchen table, checking email every few hours. I work at home once or twice a month, or more often when our deadline for getting final manuscripts into copyediting is coming up. I’ll also work late to have some quiet time to edit. Some days I’ll leave between 5:30 and 7 if I have something going on after work, but if not I’ll work until 8 or 9. The latest I’ve ever stayed is probably 11 pm.

**end of first section of talk**

(Okay, make that 11:30 pm. I refuse to stay past midnight. It's just not right.)

At any rate, that's pretty much how my days go. In terms of the editing part of my job, here's a paragraph from later in the talk, when I'm talking about editing (I included much of my How I Edit post in my talk, which you can read here):

Another thing that I’d like authors to remember during this process, is that at the same time I’m editing your novel over and over, I’m also editing all of the other novels on that same list. I may have up to six novels on one list, and so it’s a real juggling act. Edit, send letter, get in revision, edit, send letter, get in revision of other novel, edit, send editorial notes, etc. etc. Final manuscripts are due copyediting in May for Spring books, and October for Fall books, so the two-three months or so leading up to those key months are especially hectic.

Right now, I'm midst of my juggling act for our Fall 2010 list. I'm on the second revision for some novels, and am waiting to get in the first draft for other novels, am waiting for revisions of still more. I sent an editorial letter for one novel a week and a half ago, was in the office today finishing up another one to send tomorrow, and then will dive into the editing of a third novel. And I already have a fourth novel lined up in the queue.

And while all this is going on, I feel a huge amount of guilt because I haven't been able to keep up with my submissions pile. Grrr. I know, I know. Enough whining...back to work!

*but don't worry--it hasn't been all work and no play!


Steve Emond said...

That was tiring just to read! It's amazing (but great for us) that you find the time to post here every week!

C.R. Evers said...

Thnx for posting this! It's always great for writers to have insight into an editor/agents world.

I'm going to link this to my blog!


Kelly Polark said...

Thanks for the sneak peek!

Christina Farley said...

This was intriguing. Thanks for sharing!

Reb said...

Wow. You rock!

Untitled said...

That's amazing. Thank you so much for sharing. Such a great post and so informative. I;m wondering how someone would get in touch with you about planning an informational interview with someone trying to break into publishing.