Find Out Why Every Author Needs a Good Editor
Clare Whitston is an editor at Oxford Children’s Books. She worked with Nikki Sheehan to create Who Framed Klaris Cliff. Here she gives some feedback on the winning entry in our recent competition, as well as an insight into her job:
The Winning Entry:
"The Swinging Lullaby is a compelling piece of writing, full of intrigue and mystery. I loved the world the writer created – the descriptive passages evoke a dream-like quality that I really responded to. Backstory is subtle but effective – the woman on the swing already has a reputation – how long has she been sitting there? Is the baby even real and what happened to the girl on the swing? All these questions buzzed around in my head, long after reading the piece, which is a really good indication that the author has been really effective in creating a mood and grabbing the reader’s attention.
An Editor's Job:
An editor’s job is to spot a good story when they see it, acquire that story for their list, and then help the writer to create the very best work they can. The end product is the culmination of hard work and dedication, from the author themselves of course, but also from the editor, designer, marketing, sales, and production teams.
The usual route that stories find their way to us is via an agent but editors do well to remember that stories are everywhere. Part of an editor’s job is also to seek out the stories they want to read and to be open to finding new stories in unexpected places. Editors often share their wish list with agents, talk to published writers about the possibility of trying something new, or go to a writer with a seed of an idea and help them create something wonderful from it.
Once I’ve read a submission that I really like, I will share it with the editorial team and we discuss it together. How would we position this book and what kind of reader would enjoy the story? Are we confident that we can make it work? I write a pre-acquisition document, explaining why I think we should publish the manuscript. This will include market position, competition, and why I think the story is special. I share all of this with the heads of sales, marketing, rights, and our publisher. If they feel enthused by the story too, I will pitch it at a publishing meeting where I will (hopefully) be given sign off by the finance team, to make an offer. The acquisition process can take time and throughout this, an editor must have a really clear idea of what they want for the book and its author.
Once a manuscript has been acquired, the editor and author usually meet to talk about the author’s vision for the book and talk about the schedule. Debut authors are often surprised to hear that it takes, on average, eighteen months to get a book published. This is mainly due to the selling cycles of the bookshops. Having a cover, selling material like a bound proof or marketing presenter, and the manuscript to send out are all vital ways to build the buzz, pre-publication.
At OUP, the author normally has two editors (the person who acquired the book and a support editor) and a designer. The editor is the main point of contact for the author and they will answer any queries the author might have and liaise with them over the cover copy and cover design.
The author and editor may already have had a discussion about the kind of edits which may be needed prior to the acquisition, but I will always give the manuscript a close read and send the author an editorial letter, as soon as possible, once it has been acquired. I imagine this might be one aspect of the process that the writer might feel nervous about but it’s important to remember that by this stage, the editor has probably read the manuscript one or two times already and has felt passionate enough about it to pitch it to others in house, during the acquisitions process. Putting the editorial letter together is one of my favourite parts of the job. It’s an opportunity to share with the writer the areas I think are working well and to start off the discussion about the areas which I think they can develop further. The editorial process is just that: a discussion between two people, both of whom want to make the story the best it can possibly be.
When I’m compiling an editorial letter, I think about whether the plot and structure work, whether the voice is believable and if there are any interesting themes which the author might expand upon. I also think carefully about whether I think the readers are going to find the story satisfying and compelling in some way.
There’s no fixed amount of time for the editorial process and it’s different for every book I’ve ever worked on. Part of the editor’s job is to work out what’s best for each individual manuscript and go from there.
When an author and editor are happy with the final manuscript, it goes off for copyediting. The copyeditor will spot inaccuracies (in a character’s appearance for example) and will mark up the text to comply with a publisher’s house style. The copy editor sometimes has queries on the text and these will be sent back to the author, via the editor.
The manuscript is typeset and then proofread. The author has another opportunity to read their work at this stage, before it is finally published.
Receiving advance copies of the published book is really special. It’s the combination of hard work and devotion and a belief that this book deserves to be read by as many children as possible.
I work in children’s publishing because I believe that stories are really important. Children read stories for all kinds of different reasons: to explain the world around them, explore complex emotions, to wind down, to laugh, or simply to read for reading’s sake. Anyone with a desire to be published should remember that editors love stories! I start every new submission, excited about the possibility of finding a new gem to add to our list."
Clare Whitston, Commissioning Editor
Oxford Children’s Books