Here is my favorite post so far today on the WriteOn Conference site. Martha Mihalick gives us a taste of what it is like in a day of an editor:
I can hardly contain my squees. Because we have Martha Mihalick, associate editor at Greenwillow Books, here! And how often do you get to pick the brain of an editor from a top YA imprint? Well, today’s your lucky day! Martha’s here to let you inside her head as she reads.
From Submission to Acquisition: An Editor’s Choose Your Own Adventure
It’s the end of the day! You send those last emails, make sure all the most recent submissions are on your ereader (three from agents today alone), write a note to yourself about what to do first thing tomorrow on a post-it and stick it to your computer monitor. And then you run for the subway.
Ah, a seat! That’s the plus of staying in the office till seven. You pull out the trusty ereader and eye the two dozen novel manuscripts you need to read.
Should you choose:
A) the one you got last week but couldn’t get to right away because of that revision of a Fall 2011 book that came in and needed to be edited?
B) the one that came this afternoon and sounds really exciting?
C) the one that came two days ago and sounds like a lovely literary gem?
Hmmm…well, the agent of B had lunch with you last week, and you remember how excited she was about this one in particular. She said she was sure it was right up your alley. This one could go fast. You choose B.
Forty minutes later, you arrive home. As you walk from the subway to your apartment, you decide:
A) I want to stop reading and watch Vampire Diaries instead. Proceed to I.
B) I want to keep reading. Proceed to II.
You’ve been saving that Vampire Diaries episode on the DVR since last week, but, really, the reason you don’t want to keep reading is:
A) Nothing has happened in the 50 pages you’ve read so far, and you have no sense of what the main story is. Proceed to #1.
B) The protagonist is flat for you, and you’re not connecting with him at all as a real, living person. Proceed to #1.
C) The voice is stiff and sounds like an adult talking down to a teen rather than a peer talking to a peer. Proceed to #2.
D) Oh, god, another paranormal romance just like the two you read last week. Proceed to #2.
Even though you haven’t been caught by this one aspect of the manuscript, are the others strong? Is the writing and the voice good? Is there potential for the element that’s problematic to improve later on? Are your concerns ones that could be addressed in revision?
A) Yes, it’s possible that it could improve further in or that the issues would be resolved in editing. Proceed to #3.
B) No, there isn’t any aspect that grabs you, and it would take a lot of major work to change that, even in a revision. Proceed to #2.
You’ll decline the manuscript tomorrow.
You’ll read more on the subway ride to work tomorrow morning, but right now it’s TV time!
You are loving this manuscript! You get to your apartment, pour yourself a bowl of cereal for dinner, and curl up on the couch to keep reading. Vampire Diaries will keep for another night. By the time you’re ready for bed, you’ve read over half of the manuscript, and it’s still hard to put down. What is it exactly that’s got you so completely drawn in?
A) The voice is fresh, nuanced, authentic, and completely believable. Proceed to #4.
B) The writing is strong and well-suited to the voice and the plot. Proceed to #4.
C) The characters are living, breathing people who you care about and you need to know what happens to them. Proceed to #4.
D) The plot is surprising, well-paced, and exciting. Proceed to #4.
Did you almost pick at least two of the other choices? Was it hard to choose just one?
A) No, the strength of the manuscript was very clear, and the other aspects are going to need a lot of attention in revision. Proceed to #5.
B) Yes, I struggled to decide what I like best! It’s all so good! Proceed to #7.
Is that one strength really enough to carry the manuscript? Can you see the potential for the others to become stronger? Do you know whether the author is good at revising?
A) This one strength is totally blowing you away. It feels like nothing else you’ve read recently. You’ll call the agent tomorrow to ask what the author’s revising process is like, but you feel confident that your concerns will be addressed in revision. Proceed to #7.
B) You love the one strength, but you just aren’t sure that it’s enough to make up for the other elements that are lacking. It’ll be a lot of work, and you’re not sure whether the author is a good reviser. Proceed to #6.
You give the manuscript to your colleagues tomorrow with a memo saying what’s blown you away, but also that you have X concerns about it. You wait impatiently while they find time to read it among their own submissions and acquired manuscript revisions. When they have, you sit down and discuss everyone’s take, and
A) Everyone agrees on its strengths, and also on its weaknesses. But feels there’s still great potential…if the author can revise well. Proceed to #8.
B) Everyone agrees that the strength is a great one, but unfortunately also that the weaknesses aren’t surmountable. Proceed sadly to #2.
C) Everyone agrees on its strengths, and that you were crazy for worrying the weaknesses were too big to address in revision. Proceed to III.
You give the manuscript to your colleagues with a memo positively raving about this story. When they’ve read it, they agree by running to your office the minute they finish so that you can gush about how good it is. But wait! There’s more to think about now! Proceed directly to III.
You’ll call the agent tomorrow and tell her how much you love what the author’s done. But, unfortunately, you don’t think manuscript’s strong enough for you to take it on yet. You have your fingers crossed that the author will be open to revising and sending it to you again in the future. In which case, you proceed back to the beginning.
Where does this manuscript fit in with your list? With the many books out in the marketplace? How will you present it to the acquisitions board?
A) It’s original, fresh, exciting. It has the timeless hooks that always draw readers in, but is also not like anything else out there right now. Proceed to IV.
B) It is sure to get rave reviews and be a critical darling. Proceed to IV.
C) Okay, sure, it’s another paranormal romance, but it’s an entirely new twist that will surprise and enthrall readers. Proceed to IV.
It’s time to go to acquisitions! You know exactly how you’re positioning this manuscript (crazy popular award-winning TV show meets incredibly awesome bestselling book, of course!), have talked to the agent to learn how unbelievably amazing the author is to work with, and feel certain that both the book and the author have a bright future ahead of them. Proceed to V.
That’s a whole nother blog post, friends.
Martha Mihalick is the associate editor at Greenwillow Books, an imprint of HarperCollins. In nearly nine years there, she has worked with many acclaimed authors and artists, including Kevin Henkes, Lynne Rae Perkins, Peter Sís, Megan Whalen Turner, Chris Crutcher, and Naomi Shihab Nye. Martha edits books for children and teens of all ages, from picture books to young adult novels. Some recent titles are: Mistwood by Leah Cypess, Do Not Build a Frankenstein by Neil Numberman, and Me and the Pumpkin Queen by Marlane Kennedy, among others. You can find her elsewhere on the internet at marthamihalick.com and @curiousmartha. And you can see what Greenwillow Books is up to at greenwillowblog.com and facebook.com/Greenwillow.
Needlesstosay, if my resolve to work on all writing elements wasn't strong-willed enough before...It is now! I will definitely think not twice, but several times before submitting my work to any agent. I want it to be the best it can be. And for now, sadly enough, it isn't quite there yet. (BUT IT WILL BE SOMEDAY PEOPLE!) =)