Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Exclusive Interview and Q&A with Elayne Becker--and a Big Tenth Birthday Book Giveaway!

Happy Tenth Birthday, Miss Snark's First Victim! And a HUGE thank you to EACH OF YOU for being part of this community over the years.

It's no exaggeration to say that I'm thrilled beyond measure to be working with Elayne Becker at Tor Teen. Her heart for my story and her incredible insight and editorial superpowers (not sure what else to call them--this gal knows her stuff) are making this journey toward publication an incredible one.  (I mean, when your editor writes, "I punched the air with my fist!" when she reads a change you've made, what more can you want?)

Here, without further ado, is the interview I've been promising:


Elayne Becker


Jillian: So you're now an Associate Editor at Tor/Forge Books and Tor Teen (congratulations!). Can you tell us a bit about the journey that brought you to this place?

Elayne: As I'm sure is the case with most publishing professionals, my journey began with a lifelong passion for reading. With children's books in particular, I remember the impact my favorite novels had on me as I was growing up. At a certain point, I suppose it just hit me: what if I could turn that passion into a career? And if I could help put novels on the shelves that might become favorites for the next generation of readers, even better. Fast forward several years, and I'm about to enter my fourth year at Tor. (After studying Classics and History, I might add--no English degree for me!) It's been quite the ride! Working my way up from the entry assistant level required a lot of hard work and long hours, but reaching the stage wherein I get to champion new voices (like yours!) has been a blast and a privilege.

Jillian: I love that you are championing authors, which is above and beyond "editing" or "publishing". What does the process look and feel like to you, from first peek at a submission to that glorious moment when you make an offer?

Elayne: Yeah! A common misconception is that being an editor means spending your day reading and editing manuscripts, when in reality, there's a lot more to it. We're on the front-lines when it comes to working with other departments in-house and endeavoring to secure the best opportunities we can for our titles. 

 As far as the submission process goes, the best word I can use to describe it is: slow. Due to the busy nature of this job, most of my reading time has to be squeezed in after hours or during that rare quiet week. (I often feel guilty about making agents and authors wait a long time for my response, but I always prefer to give careful reads--and feedback, when I can--rather than rushing an answer out the door.) That being said, time constraints aside, reading submissions is tons of fun! Probably one of my favorite parts of the job. There's such a large breadth of talent out there, and it's a treat to be privy to so many stories in the making. I can usually tell within the first chapter if the writing is at the level I'm looking for. Then, if the foundation is solid, I look at other markers--characters, pacing, worldbuilding, etc. It's important to note that all of those things can be excellent and I might still not feel like the right editor for the project. 

Ultimately, it comes down to which story feels right for me, and which I think I can promote to the best of my ability. Not much beats that moment when you find that book that steals your heart and needs to be yours. Several factors go into whether I can make an offer, and what that offer entails. For instance, before I even buy a book, I'm already looking at comparable titles, generating bullets for sales, examining its place in the market, and figuring out how to position it in a way that would maximize its chance at success. Making the offer itself is incredibly exciting -- but also sometimes nerve-wracking! When I love a book, I love it, and there's always the possibility that my offer will not be the one accepted.

Jillian: So, clearly this is a love relationship from the start, and like any relationship, there will sometimes be rough spots. What are some of the more difficult things you encounter between acquisition and release? What can authors bring to the table that will make this process run more smoothly?

Elayne: Generally speaking, one of the hardest parts of the publication process is the fact that there will always be variables outside of our control. We buy books because we love them, we believe in them, and we believe we can sell them. But we can't always predict the outcome. Patience is truly a virtue in this industry. And so, when authors offer patience and understanding, it's enormously helpful. Kindness really does go a long way! Be aware that editors collaborate with several different departments in-house on a daily basis, and as a result may be slower to respond. Understand that editors can't control every part of the process. (Unfortunately! 🙂) Recognize that not every step will be as you envision it, and be open to making changes to the manuscript; your book is your baby, and your editor will respect that, but they'll also recommend changes that will enable you to make your story the best it can be. Be passionate, and fight for your book. But, difficult as this may be to hear, manage expectations. And always, always keep writing.

Jillian: And, of course, you're taking your own advice here, since you are also a writer (freshly agented--congratulations!). I know firsthand the passion and purpose you bring to your authors' stories. How do you balance your time and creative energy between editing and writing? In what ways does your own writing journey bring depth to your career as an editor?

Elayne: Thanks! While I'm usually pretty good at switching between my editor and writer hats, the two do inevitably bleed together a bit, which I feel is a good thing. I like to think that being an editor who's also a writer means I have more empathy for my authors. I know what this journey means to them, and because of that I take my role as their in-house representative incredibly seriously. Also, I know that things on my side of the desk can feel rather "behind the curtains" for many writers, so I try to be transparent about the process, to the extent that I'm able. Essentially, it's just another form of treat others the way you hope to be treated! 

And, for the record, the reverse is true as well; being an editor has absolutely been beneficial to my writing. Industry knowledge aside, editing the manuscripts on my list, and listening to colleagues describe the changes they're recommending for their own projects, has enabled me to approach my own writing with a more solid foundation than I'd previously experienced. 

Components I tell authors to watch out for -- character development, pacing, worldbuilding, etc. -- are things I tell myself as well. In terms of balancing time and creative energy, I won't lie -- it can be difficult! Working a rather intense day job means I have to squeeze in writing time whenever I can; namely, early mornings before work (bless Bath & Body Works for their forest-scented candles), and throughout the weekends. Sometimes I joke that I've forgotten how to be a person, because I'm not exactly sure what it's like to *not* always be working! It can also be a little challenging to not have that mental divide, since I wake up and think about books, go to work and think about books, and come home and think about books. But, I'm not complaining. I feel incredibly fortunate to have a foot in both doors, and as I said, each informs the other!

Jillian: Well, I'm thankful to be on the receiving end of your boundless insight and experience! In closing, I'd be remiss not to ask you the quintessential interview question: What do you read for pleasure? What are your favorite Books of All Time?

Elayne: Ooh! I don't have as much time to read for pleasure nowadays as I would like, but my queue is a mixed bag! I typically alternate between adult and YA, and recently I've been introducing more nonfiction into the mix as well; Gillian Gill's We Two, a biography of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, and Robert Moor's On Trails, are two books I've been enjoying immensely. 

In terms of all-time favorites, how do I choose?! J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings is definitely my favorite series of all time, for so many reasons--the timeless quest, the characters, the land, the insane worldbuilding... I could go on and on, so let's just say, I adore it. Juliet Marillier's Daughter of the Forest has some of the most beautiful prose I've ever encountered; it's a gorgeous story about a girl persevering in the face of adversity in order to save those she loves. Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre and Jane Austen's Pride & Prejudice are certainly on the list--partly because I admire the authors, and partly because I see myself in their protagonists. Anything Ruta Sepetys writes, and especially Between Shades of Gray. Harry Potter, of course, and my favorite in the series is Order of the Phoenix. If we're stretching back to childhood, I have to mention Anna Sewell's Black Beauty and Erin Hunter's Warriors series (the original) -- I've always been an animal person, so novels about horses and cats were definitely my jam. And finally, Shannon Hale's The Goose Girl, which I've probably read eleven or twelve times by now. It's a fairy tale that never ceases being magical.

Jillian: A wonderful glimpse into the world of books you love--thank you, Elayne! And thanks so much for this interview.

AND NOW FOR THE Q&A!

Leave your questions for Elayne in the comment box below. Ask her anything you'd like to know! Note: I will accept questions for 24 hours; after this time, I will delete any questions that show up, in the interest of respecting Elayne's time. She will answer as many questions as she can today, and she will return on Monday to answer any remaining questions.

On behalf of everyone--thank you, Elayne!


THE GIVEAWAY



Enter below for a chance (or many chances!) to win ALL THE BOOKS! Eleven people will win 1 book each, and 1 lucky winner will win a box of NINE BOOKS. Titles and authors are listed in the rafflecopter box. The raffle closes at midnight, and winners will be announced tomorrow.

(Note: If you've already subscribed to my newsletter, you can still check off that option for your mandatory entry. I'll be double checking all winning entries, so as long as your email is on my list, you're good to go!)

Good luck, everyone!

a Rafflecopter giveaway




31 comments:

  1. Hi Elayne! This was such an interesting interview and a great insight into what goes on as an editor. Your job sounds amazing but also I can see where it would be challenging to not be working all the time, particularly when you are so passionate about it. Congrats on securing an agent! That is so exciting :)

    I found it interesting when you spoke about making bullet points about how to position the book in the market. Before an author secures an editor, do you as an editor have to convince your team that this book looks like it would be a potential seller in the current market? Is this why you build up points and make comparisons with other similar titles that the book might fit nicely with for interested readers?

    Thank you again,
    Loie

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    1. Hey Loie! That's exactly right. I have to convince several departments throughout the process that my projects have the potential to sell, and generating selling points/finding comparable titles that have done well are useful tools for building that case. This practice begins at acquisition, but carries on for many months, and lays the foundation for when we present titles to our sales team.

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    2. That is so interesting, thank you for sharing :) !

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  2. Hi Elaine. Great interview answers ( and questions of course)
    When you are editing can you tell if someone is a pantzer or a plotter? Does they way people work make a difference to the whole editing process.
    Thanks.
    Marie

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    1. Hey Marie! Interesting question. I can’t always discern a writer’s process by evaluating their manuscript, but I can tell when characters, plot points, etc are lacking complexity and depth, or when solutions have been thrown in to more or less slap a band-aid on the issue. Whether this is due to lack of planning, or simply planning that needs to go deeper, I can’t say for sure. But personally, I recommend plotting over pantzing; it often leads to a smoother revision process when certain issues have already been worked through from the beginning.

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  3. Hi Elayne! Thanks for doing this interview - so insightful. Any tips on comp titles? My agent and I try our best to pick comp titles but I sometimes wonder if we're hitting the right ones. I know you don't want to pick the absolute bestsellers in your genre, but otherwise it can be hard to know if you should go with ones that strike a similar tone, have similar settings/plots, etc. Thanks again!!

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    1. Hey Heather! Good question. This can be a tricky process for editors as well, so you’re not alone! You’re already on the right track, knowing that you shouldn’t only toss out the mega-bestsellers. I recommend spending some time in a bookstore, browsing the stacks for the genre in which you’re writing. You can also do some internet research; Google is your friend! You don’t want to get too bogged down in details or go too obscure, but one technique is to pull from more than one comp. For example, say your book has the complex worldbuilding of X with a kickass protagonist in the vein if Y. I think finding comps that strike a similar tone/share overall building blocks is more important than latching onto similar settings or plots. Good luck!

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    2. Thank you! Very helpful. :)

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  4. Thanks for a great interview, Elayne and Jillian! My question for Elayne: what's at the top of your #MSWL right now?

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    1. Hey Krista! I’m going to borrow from my #MSWL profile and say that I’m always looking for good historical fiction and fantasy. I’d also love to find a unique twist on a classic fairy tale or myth! Right now, I’m particularly interested in finding more protagonists with disabilities, invisible or otherwise, because that’s a subsection of the We Need Diverse Books campaign that I’d love to bring more attention to. Also, HORSE BOOKS. I want all of the horse books!

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  5. My daughter wants to be an editor, do you have any advice you can share?

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    1. Hey Sethia! My advice would be to seek internships where possible, whether in a publishing house or a literary agency. I interned with an agency prior to working on the editor side, and I found it very educational! She can also try to set up informational interviews with publishing professionals she has a connection to, for instance alumni from her school. Read a lot in the genre she’d like to work in, but also be open to working in different categories than she has in mind. And, persevere! It’s a tough job to secure, but not impossible.

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  6. Hi Elayne! What's a piece of writing advice you frequently share with your authors?

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    1. Hey Cristin! Generally speaking, one of the biggest pieces of advice I end up giving is, don’t rush through the revision process! Take your time and give it the thought and planning it requires. To touch on something more specific, I’m big on character arc and often push writers to really identify their intention with their protagonists. In what ways do you want them to develop and grow throughout the novel? I’ll give my own thoughts on where the characters should be heading, and ways to refine what’s already introduced in the narrative into something stronger, and this can spark some really interesting conversations with the authors.

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  7. Great interview. I don't have a question but wanted to say thanks, especially for the book recs. Since LOTR and Daughter of the Forest are two of my ALL time favorite books/series, I'm super excited to look up Ruta Sepetya. Thanks again Elayne and Jillian!

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    1. Yes! They’re amazing. Definitely look up Ruta's work!

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  8. Thank Jillian and Elayne for the great interview! My question: if a book is subbed to you with some great elements you enjoy but something's not quite right about it (maybe pacing is off or a character arc isn't working), will you ask for an R&R or take a chance on it or are editors generally too busy/the market too competitive to do that?

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    1. Hey Tiffany! Good question. This really varies on a case-by-case basis and depends on a few factors, including how extensive the desired changes are, how good the writing is, how drawn to the premise I am, and how much potential I believe it has. All manuscripts need work, so the main reason I ask for R&R’s is to see if an author can revise. If they can, I’ll be more inclined to take a chance on their book!

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  9. Hi Elaine! Thanks for a great interview. I have a question! What are your thoughts on changing genres once you're published? Can it be done or should you stick to what you're successful with/your main audience?

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    1. Hey Maggie! I think you can do it, but it can be wise to write within one genre, at least for a few books. This is so you can build your audience, who would hopefully then follow you if you do switch genres.

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  10. Which book is your favorite? ;) Thanks for the opportunity! Happy 10yrs!!!

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    1. Rochele don’t ask me the hard questions!!

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  11. Hi Elayne. Thanks to you and Jillian for an insightful interview. Is there one thing you would recommend authors read for before submitting a full MS? Something that gives the submission an extra sparkle and shine?

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    1. Hey Jen! I always recommend reading within the genre you’re writing, and reading actively. This means paying attention to what the author is doing, both stronger and weaker points. Do you love their characters, and if so, why is that? Are you always immersed in their narratives, or do you find your attention drifting? What do you admire about their books, and what do you think is working? Conversely, what isn’t working? I believe reading actively in this way helps you polish your own writing, and polish always adds a lovely shine to submissions!

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  12. Hi Elayne. Thanks for this thoughtful interview. I was especially interested in how your life as a writer influences your life as an editor. And you named some of my favorite books! Love Goose Girl and I've read Daughter of the Forest numerous times. Juliet Marillier's series influenced my Wilde Island series. Pacing is my biggest problem. I write fat then have to lean the novel down. Do you have any recommendations on how to approach pacing? Thanks in advance for taking the time to answer all our questions.

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    1. Hey Janet! Great to find a fellow Goose Girl and Marillier fan. When examining pacing, its important to keep in mind that each chapter should be advancing the story. Look at your scenes and consider: what's the conflict in this scene? How does its resolution drive the next part of the narrative? I find that having an outline, even a rough one, at the start helps to streamline the process and cut down on some of the fluff. And, the more you work on this, the more intuitive it'll become. That's the hope, anyway! Good luck!

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  13. Great interview! I see a ton of agent interviews, so one from an editor is a real treat! Thanks for taking the time.

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    1. Thanks, Betsy!

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  14. hi! not a question, I just wanted to say thank you for taking the time to answer everyone else's questions <3 Very cool interview!

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    1. Thanks, Alyssa! Happy to.

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