That sounds like fun…
This is what most people say when I tell them I’m an editor of children’s books. And I usually reply, Sometimes. But what I’m thinking is, You clearly have no idea what I do…
And how would they? It’s such a behind-the-scenes job. I suspect they think I sit around and read all day. (Sadly, no.) Or that I wield a red pencil and correct spelling and grammar. (Happily, no.)
It’s my job to find books for my company to publish. I work with authors and illustrators to revise and shape a book until it’s the best it can possibly be. And then I’m the book’s main advocate in-house—explaining to the sales and marketing teams why I think it’s a spectacular book that will be perfect for a particular audience. There’s more, but that’s the heart of it—finder, fixer, cheerleader.
It might also be part of my job to think that the word fun isn’t all that descriptive. Sometimes being an editor is thrilling. More often: satisfying. And frequently: crushing.
Everyone approaches the job differently, but here are the highs and lows for me:
- I love the moment of discovery. The moment when I’m reading a new manuscript and think, yes. Yes, this is wonderful. Yes, we can publish this well. Yes, people are going to love this. I feel like I’ve got a delicious secret—no one else knows yet how spectacular this book is. But they will. Oh, they will! And I get to tell them.
- Whenever anyone—any one—says they love the book too.
- The company I keep. I get to work with creative, passionate, dedicated people. Both the authors and illustrators and my colleagues in the office. Everyone cares about books. Everyone’s trying to bring something good into the world.
- When I’m the only one who loves a book. Sometimes I’m a fan base of one. Which is frustrating in the particular and also makes me doubt myself in general.
- And worse than that—when no one seems to care. I can work for years on a book and be really excited about it, and the book comes out and the reaction is…meh. Indifference can feel worse than outright dislike.
- I am never done. I will never be caught up. There is always something more I could do, should do, would like to do to spread the word about a book. Always someone I should have called to check in on. Always some chapter or scene that might have been better had I studied it a sixth time, or seventh, or eighth, and suggested a small change.
- My reading time is not my own. I should be reading submissions or the competition or the other books on our list. Reading for pleasure has become a guilty pleasure.
- It is really hard to know if I am doing a good job. There’s no completely objective way to measure your success. Sometimes books do well with very little input from me. And sometimes I knock myself out for a book and it still doesn’t work. Here’s the rub—when a book sells well or gets stellar reviews, it feels only right and just. Of course it’s doing well—it’s a great book and the author created something wonderful. When a book fails, it feels like my fault. Some books haunt me. Did I pick a not-so-good one? What could I have done differently? What might I still do to turn things around?
- Figuring it out. Sometimes I’ll be editing a book and know that something feels off or doesn’t ring true. And pinpointing exactly what’s making me feel that way, and then seeing a way to fix it, is incredibly satisfying. Like solving a puzzle.
- Even better than that is explaining to a writer or an artist that something feels not-quite-right, offering a potential solution, and having them come back with an even better solution. Then I get to feel both helpful and inspiring.
- Saying it well. There are millions of small reasons I love a book, and it’s hard to distill that love into a few sentences that will explain to someone who hasn’t read it yet why it’s special. Hitting upon the right way to talk about a book so that others get excited too is important.
- Finding the right words. Creating jacket copy for a book is a challenge. You have to explain enough of the plot to draw readers in, but not give away too much. And you have to do that in a way that gives readers the feel of a book. Is it funny or suspenseful or goofy or heartbreaking…
I’m suddenly realizing that the same wisdom I hear from writers applies to editors too—you have to enjoy the process. You can’t live for the results—for the sales or the reviews or the outcome. That part is mostly out of your control. What you can control is the doing. And if you enjoy being in the middle of a big, complex, knotty puzzle, and finding a way to make it all come together, then yes—being a children’s book editor is thrilling and agonizing and satisfying and, on especially good days, fun.