Tuesday, June 13, 2006

What Does an Editor Do?

“The truth is that the agency is the first place to go. If you do get taken by an agent you will get read by editors.”
Rachel Wade, Hodder’s Children’s Books

Rachel Wade’s words quoted in one of my previous posts (link above) are not just true of Hodder Children’s Books but were reiterated by Kelly Cauldwell, a Senior Fiction Editor from Random House, at the SCBWI-BI Professional Series talk in May 2005, although they do still accept unsolicitated manuscripts, Kelly recommends you submit to an agent first, as she has never bought anything from the slushpile.

Kelly Caudwell explained, “We don’t have the scope to build a writer up over a number of books in the way publishers use to, our job is to see the book all the way through not just to edit it.”

Kelly said, “We need to think what the big booksellers would like, as if they wont stock the book it wont sell. Talking about bookcovers and how good or enticing they look is an important part of my day. It is the cover that will give the book an edge with the booksellers.”

It is quite scary the impact the big bookstores have on the publishing world and when you realise they monopolise over 70% of the bookselling market it is understandable why writing for children has become more competitive.

Candy Gourlay in her blog, Notes from the Slushpile, discusses this is more detail:

Book publishing is becoming more commercial and it is true, the big publishing companies increasingly will not back a book unless it is a sure bet. This is probably why more authors are self-publishing - to prove they have a viable product. Kelly explained: “Being an editor is not only about getting the book into a child’s hand, but getting the book noticed by parents, trade, bookstores and libraries. We spend a lot of money on marketing. Being involved in the publishing process from manuscript to finish, completely changes the way you think about a book.”

Random House fiction department produce around 40-50 books a year. Kelly told us how she spends her general day: proof reading, copy editing, discussing potential new books, looking at the backlist and working out how they can revitalise these books for re-sale, going to endless meetings with the marketing department and finally a large majority of her time is spent in author care.

She enjoys working with an author through the process of the book. Some of the authors she works with are Jacqueline Wilson, Chris Riddel and Robert Swindell. Kelly said, “The most important skill of an editor is being a good diplomat.”

Nowadays, more gimmicks are being used to sell their books, such as collectable web cards, as with the Astrosaurs series, or glitsy bookcovers that catch your attention on the shelf. They have found that thin books, for the six-to-eight age range, do not sale as well as thicker books, as they are not so easy to see on the shelf. Random House’s response to this is to make fatter books. As you can imagine, this makes production more expensive.

Kelly’s advice to new children’s book writers is, “Be an original voice. Remember you are sending your manuscript to someone who reads over 500 a year. One of the questions I ask myself when I’m thinking of signing a book is, Would I jump off a bridge for this book? To spend so much time on a book, you have to be a fan.”

For more information on Random House visit: www.randomhouse.co.uk


Nicky said...

Two comments: I attended the first Cape Town Book Fair yesterday (supported by the Frankfurt Buchmesse) and was struck at how incredibly commercial the book business is. It is clearly an industry run by booksellers, marketers and publishers - as a writer I started to feel like rather an odious thing - somewhere way down at the bottom of the food chain - ironic, given that without writers there be no books...
A second point wrt to editors vs agents - you're right,Anita, editors do suggest writers approach agents first, the trouble is, agents tend to say, get a publishing contract first. It's very catch-22 and leaves a pre-published writer wondering if there's any hope at all in an increasingly competitive market and one where, it is said, readership is on the decline (across the board).

Anita Marion Loughrey said...

You've hit the nail on the head Nicky. Not sure what the solution is.