Today we welcome Dana Carey, Assistant Editor at Wendy Lamb Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House, to share an inside look at the book editing and publishing process. I had the pleasure of working with Dana on my middle grade novel, The Summer I Saved the World…in 65 Days.
Q: Welcome, Dana! So to start, what is your background? How did you arrive at Wendy Lamb Books?
A: I had a meandering journey to children’s publishing. After graduating college and doing trademark research for a year, I spent eight years in editorial at a professional nursing journal. Nurses are some fantastic and strong people! But I had this dream to work in children’s publishing that didn’t go away. So I took a big leap and went to school for an MS in Publishing at NYU. And I was extremely lucky to get an internship and then a position with Wendy Lamb Books.
A. What I love most about editorial is that there really isn’t a typical day! The many hats that you get to wear keeps an editor on his or her toes; it’s both exhilarating and challenging. A typical day for me could involve delving into a manuscript and writing notes (either for something under contract or a new submission), putting together jacket copy, researching comp (comparative or similar) titles during acquisition, pulling sales reports, starting a P&L (Profit and Loss) statement, writing copy for sales sheets, preparing for a presentation, sending out finished books or edited passes (drafts), talking with agents, authors, copy editing, design, subrights…just to name a few. Ha!
Q: Can you take us through the steps a book undergoes, from acquisitions to a final book?
A: When a manuscript is acquired it is usually assigned to a future span (a “span” is a book selling season in publishing-speak), which means the actual editing probably won’t start right away. When you do start editing, the author spends several months going back and forth with manuscript revisions using feedback from the editor in the form of a letter and marked manuscript pages and often a phone call to talk about the revisions. When that is done, the manuscript is sent on to copy editing. The author will review all of the copy editor’s changes and weigh in where appropriate. This is a helpful stage not only to clarify language and style if needed but also because the copy editor at this point has fresh eyes and can spot anything that was missed during editing.
Then the copy edited manuscript is sent to a compositor who will set the copy into the type of a book, which is very exciting because the manuscript is starting to look like an actual book! The proofreader will also provide a fresh set of eyes and pick up any small things that may have been missed previously. This is usually the last time an author will see the text before publication. But fear not, many people are still looking at these passes. And then finally you get a finished book.
Q: What grabs you in a manuscript when you’re reading? What tugs at your heart?
A: The first thing that grabs me in a manuscript is the voice. If the voice is unique, lyrical, authentic, and age-appropriate, you’ve caught my interest. The second thing that grabs me is the character. I love seeing a character who is basically a good kid and has this good quality challenged in some way, which often creates a deeper sense of tension and personal conflict.
The types of stories that pull me in are: heartwarming, funny, philosophical/psychological (what does it mean to be human, what does it mean to be a kid/teen now or at a point in history), adventure/journey stories…and who isn’t a sucker for a great Bildungsroman? I’m especially drawn to stories about kids who are struggling to belong, or are struggling with something they can’t change about themselves, such as race or sexuality. I’d also love to see more diversity in the traditional gender roles in children’s books.
Q: Is there a particular book you’ve worked on that you’re especially proud of?
A: This is a really tough question! I imagine it’s like asking a parent to choose their favorite child! But if I had to choose, I’ve loved working with Wendy on our two series of illustrated chapter books: ZIGZAG KIDS by Patricia Reilly Giff, illustrated by Alastair Bright, and CALVIN COCONUT by Graham Salisbury, illustrated by Jacqueline Rogers.
Since there is less space as in a text-only middle grade book, the author has to be especially efficient at creating scenes and establishing characters. The process of the manuscript and art evolving independently and then coming together is a magical process.
More recently, I’ve loved working with Wendy on WE ARE ALL MADE OF MOLECULES by Susin Nielsen, coming May 2015. It’s laugh-out-loud funny (really!). It’s told from two perspectives, a boy named Stewart who is a genius but socially awkward (but working on it!) and Ashley, a girl who is not a genius academically (and not working on it!) but is well aware of her high position on the social ladder at school. When their parents decide to move in together, what happens next is hilarious, tender, dramatic, and heartwarming.
Q: What are some common mistakes or faults you see in manuscripts?
A: I often see submissions from new writers with too much description, in particular too much detail of physical movements or of telling the reader rather than showing. The reader can infer a lot, not everything needs to be spelled out explicitly. Also, it’s common to see kid characters who sound too old or too young for their age. And sometimes new authors will focus on small conflicts rather than having an overarching theme or plot for the main character.
Q: What advice would you give to writers?
A: Keep reading. Read your favorites to remind yourself why you love children’s books. Read new books so you know the market. And read outside of children’s books sometimes, you never know where you may find inspiration.
Q: And finally, what do you like to do in your spare time, when you’re not hard at work editing the next bestseller?
A: My favorite things to do outside of work are walking my dog, Charlie, taking care of my cats, Willie and Gracie, and either attending or teaching a yoga class.
Thank you so much, Dana, for sharing your insights with us!
Michele Weber Hurwitz is the author of The Summer I Saved the World…in 65 Days and Calli Be Gold, both middle grade novels from Wendy Lamb Books. Find her at micheleweberhurwitz.com.