Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Day Two of The Editor's Perspective with Jamie Chavez

Welcome back! We've got more for you from editor Jamie Chavez!

Jamie Chavez worked for more than ten years in the publishing industry (and more than twenty as a professional copywriter) before striking out on her own as a freelance writer and editor in 2004, working from the swanky second-floor office in the pink house with the green door. She counts many national publishing houses as clients, many authors as friends, and spends her days making good books better.

You can read more about her—including her blog about writing, editing, books, authors, words, language, and the publishing industry—at

Professional blog:
Personal blog:

What are some of the biggest and most impactful changes you’ve seen in publishing since you started?

Oh, my, that’s a huge question. Basically, we’re in the middle of a technological disruption of the publishing industry that started, really, with the advent of personal computers. Things that were done by hand—designing book covers, say, creating the mechanicals a printer would use—began to be done in software like Quark and PageMaker. That was the beginning of “desktop publishing.” Remember the phrase “camera-ready”? We don’t make film before we go to print anymore. That part of the industry morphed or disappeared.

Personal computers also led to the rise of the Internet, and with it, web-based retailers like Amazon. That changed sales and distribution functions in publishing houses. And desktop publishing also took us to print-on-demand. That was the beginning of the self-publishing revolution. All that happened before we even got to the development of e-readers, which is the game-changer that everyone points to now. But you see the disruption started long before that.

The thing is, technological disruption isn’t a new concept. The internal combustion engine was a technological disruption in its time. Things change. But books aren’t going away. :)

I blog about the publishing industry (among other topics), but there are a lot smarter people than me talking about these things. Look into Mike Shatzkin, Jane Friedman, and Porter Anderson.

We sometimes ask authors which book is their favorite, but we won’t ask you who your favorite author is to edit. But what type of author is your favorite to work with?

Jamie's cat Bean going over the work agenda.
Someone who is prepared to be a pro. I don’t mind at all if someone doesn’t “know the ropes”—we all have to start somewhere. But I mean someone who is ready to dig in and work; who understands this is business and thus separates the work from herself; who wants to learn (I myself learn something from every edit). Honestly, the best authors recognize 1) there are things they will likely never catch, because they are just too close to the work, and 2) the editor is on her side! Really! I’ve written a lot on this subject, but “Anticipation, Antici-PAY-yay-shun …” and “My Name Isn’t On the Book But My Fingerprints Are” describe what an author should do when she gets her editorial notes and how I feel about my work, which is to say I love it. :)

What do you think readers are looking for in historical fiction?

I think all novels have an element of historicity to them. That is, you want them to ring true to the setting, even if it’s a contemporary one. I personally look for authenticity in historical fiction—no anachronisms, and I’m pretty sensitive to language. I don’t buy into the it’s-only-entertainment defense; I think you should get it right or go home.

Ken Follett’s awful books The Pillars of the Earth and World Without End (I think he may have written another one now; I try not to look) are a classic example of bad historical fiction. They’re set in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, but the characters have twenty-first-century attitudes and use twenty-first-century language. The women are independent and treated as equals; serfs and peasants act as if they have human rights—but these concepts were unknown to people of that era. Even kings were illiterate, but Follett has average people reading books—and owning them, which would have been unheard of. Ugh.

(About the language, it wouldn’t necessarily be fun to read dialogue as people spoke in the twelfth century, so a balance does have to be struck. Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall is a great example of language solution: it’s been said she created an idiom that’s part modern language and part archaism. And it works.)
Aside from that, I think readers look for the same thing in historical fiction that they look for in any fiction: lovely writing, a good story, an interesting voice, and maybe a place to get away to for a little while. :)

Which time periods do you think publishers favor right now and what do you think we’ll see more of in the future?
Jamie's cat Spot assisting in the office.

To be frank, I have no idea. I’m sure there are trends, but I’m not following them. (I have a hard time keeping up. It’s only me here in this office, and sometimes I have to, you know, work.) I think a great story well told will sell no matter what the experts say is trending.

Do you have a favorite setting?

Paris, France. Ooo-la-la, darling!

What are some of your favorite historicals not edited by you?

Oh, go get a cup of tea for this one. I could go on and on. :)

I love the cultural history I glean from books not traditionally considered historicals, like, say, all the Canadian history and culture I pick up reading Louise Penny’s mysteries, or the Native American culture and history in Louise Erdrich’s novels. John le Carré creates places and times that are perfect in every detail (The Russia House, say, The Tailor of Panama, The Constant Gardener, oh). Small Island by Andrea Levy, Anil’s Ghost by Michael Ondaatje. Anthony Marra’s A Constellation of Vital Phenomena was brilliant.

When I was a lot younger I loved James Michener (Hawaii, Centennial, The Source, and on and on); I also loved Leon Uris (Exodus, Mila 18) and OMG James Clavell (Tai-Pan, Shōgun, both of which I read multiple times). In high school I adored Mika Waltari’s The Egyptian, The Roman, The Etruscan. I mention these titles but should add I haven’t revisited them to see how they stand up to my more grown-up readership.

I was introduced to Georgette Heyer in high school, too, and while I know you’ll find her books in the romance category, they’re still deeply entrenched in a historical period. And they are still absolutely splendid—I’m working my way through them again. There are some aspects of the writing that are dated (she uses adverbial dialogue tags, for example), but Heyer is a craftswoman of the first order. She sets up a scene and then leaves it at precisely the right moment. And she’s funny.

OK, OK—here are some “traditional” historicals that I really loved: Ahab’s Wife (Sena Jeter Naslund), Girl with a Pearl Earring (Tracy Chevalier), Atonement (Ian McEwan), The Dress Lodger (Sheri Holman), An Instance of the Fingerpost (Iain Pears), Year of Wonders (Geraldine Brooks), The Help (Kathryn Stockett), A Long, Long Way (Sebastian Barry), Life After Life (Kate Atkinson), TransAtlantic (Colum McCann), and oh I do love Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel. (I haven’t read Bring Up the Bodies yet; I’m hoarding it until I know the third book is out. Because I want to wallow in them. I might reread Wolf Hall too.)


What errors in published novels irritates you the most? Is it hard to read for pleasure when your day job is editing?

I had folks warn me that I might lose my love for reading once I started reading for a living, but that hasn’t been true for me. I read every chance I get. Typos don’t bother me at all, because I’ve been in the business long enough to know they will slip through no matter how hard we try. And I generally don’t mentally edit the things I read for pleasure. I’m not particularly judgmental; every once in awhile I might notice something that makes me roll my eyes (for example, a prospective suitor arrives with a bunch of tulips and our protagonist tells us she put them in a wine bottle—please) and I did blog about all the editorial issues I found in one really awful book, but that was an anomaly. Mostly I’m a very enthusiastic reader.

Ebooks or paper? What is your preference?

Ha. Generally speaking, paper. But I have an ongoing book storage problem. And an e-reader is very, very useful for travel, which is something I do regularly. (It’s also great for walking on the treadmill.)

That said, I no longer buy electronic nonfiction, because I am not a linear learner. I want to mark pages, underline, come back and look at something again, compare it, read the footnotes in place, and so on. And you just can’t do that easily on the e-reader I own.

What do you like to do when you’re not working or reading?

Travel, garden, cook interesting meals, spend time with family and friends, sit on the deck, sleep.

What is your best advice for writers who are looking for an editor?

First, you should ask yourself if the manuscript is ready for an editor. I don’t ever want to see a first draft. Editing’s not an inexpensive process, and an author would want to send his or her very best effort to an editor to get the most bang for the buck. So you should send, say, what you’d send with a book proposal. If you’re getting “good rejections” (“it’s good but not quite ready”) on that manuscript, I would say you’re ready for an editor.

Once the decision’s been made to hire a professional, I think it’s fair to ask what books that editor’s worked on (I post all of this on my website), and how long he or she’s been doing this type of work. You should clarify just exactly what is included in the edit. And ask for recommendations. (I have testimonials on my website but can put prospective clients in touch with past clients too.) You should probably ask how long before the editor can begin work on your project; my lead time is three to six months.

It is not fair to ask for anything else—like a work sample—without expecting to pay for it. Also, you should expect the editor will ask for word count and a sample of the manuscript (a couple chapters and a short synopsis, say); I use this to quote a price and to decide if the project is something I want to take on.

Anything else you’d like to share?

Buy books. Read them. Buy more. :)

Thanks, Jamie!

Jamie is giving away a novel she's enjoyed, a title by Georgette Heyer. For a chance to win please leave your email in a comment (name at domain name dot com) by this Friday, 8AM EDT and the answer to the following question:

Do you like to travel? Where’s your favorite place to go? Be specific, right down to the coffee shop, favorite park, romantic B&B, or friends you see when you’re there. And if you're a writer, has this locale ever shown up in your writing?


Cynthia Herron said...

Jamie, another splendid post! Thanks so much for all your insight and the wonderful links--this is super!

I adore your reading diversity. I appreciate your thoughts on the publishing industry, and you must know my heart did a little tap dance just now... "Books aren't going away."

And--I just want to squish Bean with sugar! (Ozarkian roots coming out. Sorry. Means "love on him.")

Oh--can I add a few more travel destination faves? (Savannah. Ohhh--the history, the food, the people! The beauty. The culture! And St. Simon's Island. For the same reasons.

I'm ready to pack--let's go! :)


Jamie Chavez said...

Thank you, Cynthia! Now you're talking about the coastline I love! Love Savannah! Tybee Island! And I have never seen but want to see St. Augustine, FL.

traveler said...

Very interesting about Nfld. We have been there and loved every minute of this area since we explored The Maritimes as well. Being from Canada but having moved to the U.S. it is always of interest to me.

Jamie Chavez said...

Newfoundland: my father was in the air force, at that time flying helicopters. I think it was a search-and-rescue sort of thing. They also dropped hay for the wildlife in the area. We lived in Stephenville, and he was stationed at Ernest Harmon AFB. 7 months of snow, 2 months of slush, 3 months of really lovely weather. :)

Jamie Chavez said...

Newfoundland: my father was in the air force, at that time flying helicopters. I think it was a search-and-rescue sort of thing. They also dropped hay for the wildlife in the area. We lived in Stephenville, and he was stationed at Ernest Harmon AFB. 7 months of snow, 2 months of slush, 3 months of really lovely weather. :)

petite said...

Travel for me is novel since I grew up when only wealthy and business was common.Travel was something which we dreamed about, learned about from books and heard about from friends whose slides were shown. I haven't caught up yet with the youth who travel the world on a whim and a dime. But when I do travel is allows me to become someone else, not an adventurer since no one can do that anymore, but carefree and relaxed. Beaches are my haven since they stretch on forever, allow walks which never end and dreams which are momentary.
By the way did you read the wonderful book, The Day The World Came to Town: 911 in Gander, Nfld.

Jamie Chavez said...

Petite -- I have not! But I just added it to my list. Thank you! :)

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