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:
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!
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.
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Good luck, everyone!
Good luck, everyone!