Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Editor's Perspective: Jamie Chavez

This week we are welcoming an editor who has insights to share from her experience.

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 www.jamiechavez.com.  
Professional blog: http://www.jamiechavez.com/blog/

Welcome to PASTimes, Jamie! It’s not often we get to talk to an editor on our blog, so we’re excited to have you here! Tell us a little about what you do that involves historical fiction and what your career path has been to this point.

Thanks for having me. :)

Regarding historical fiction, my father was a history major in college, so I grew up with that as a part of my DNA. We discussed history and politics and current events at the dinner table (I was the oldest of three). I’ve read a lot of popular history (nonfiction), which is a really good frame of reference to have, I think. But I prefer editing fiction, so historicals have definitely crossed my path, both personal and professional.

Regarding career path, I didn’t consciously have a thought when I was ten like I want to grow up to be an editor. But I’ve always been bookish. I read a lot, then and now. I’ve always read a lot of literary criticism and admired the famous editors. I’m the type who reads the acknowledgments. :) When I landed a job at a publishing house I had a wonderful editorial mentor who talked books with me, then talked craft with me, encouraged me, and told me I was good at it. I started reading book proposals, though, and that’s when I knew for sure.

What are some pros and cons to working as a freelancer?

As opposed to working inside a publishing house? An in-house editor must wear many hats. She has to acquire projects (seek out and pursue authors/books); she has to negotiate contracts; she has to be involved in the creation of covers and writing of marketing copy (one hopes she doesn’t do it herself) for the book; she has to ride herd on several projects in various stages of completion; she has to pay attention to the sales figures for her various authors; she has to track trends in the publishing industry … and on and on. She’s lucky if she can also carve out time for developmental editing on any one project. In any one year. And to my mind, the developmental is the fun part of the job. So lucky me, no? I only wear the one hat. I do what I enjoy most about editing every day.

Negatives to being self-employed are: no regular paycheck, and I pay not only personal taxes but also employer taxes, so when I do get a check, a lot of it is earmarked for taxes. (Don’t get me wrong: I don’t mind paying my fair share.) I also have to pay for my own health insurance and don’t have access to group rates. This is definitely a bummer. Another is the fact that I have to pursue work, I have to ask for work; that’s always in the back of my mind. So even though I only wear one hat editorially speaking, I also wear an accounting hat, a human resources hat, a salesman’s hat, and so on.

Jamie's cat Laddie likes to help out with those manuscripts!
Positives to being self-employed are: my boss is easy to get along with, and I never have to grovel to get time off for a vacation. And I can take multiple-week trips, because I can do my work anywhere, and have (Tybee Island, Georgia, say, or Dublin, Ireland—I’ve worked in both places, in the middle of long vacations). Also, I work in my pajamas a lot. It’s Bring Your Cat to Work Day every day in my office. And even though I often work late, the commute home is only fifty-six steps. :)

Tell us a little about the process of editing a novel. Some of our readers at PASTimes are readers and not authors, and they’re curious about how it’s done and how much of the author’s original intent is kept.

This is what I do; I’m not sure what other editors do. When an author has written her zillion drafts and finally thinks her manuscript is pretty darn good, her publisher sends it to me, and I begin my reading process.

I read the manuscript once to react emotionally to it (making some notes in the margin); a second time to take notes (timeline, characters, story arc outline, pacing, and on and on) and also make more margin notes. I ask questions as I read (like: Why did he react that way? How did she know that?). I keep track of every character and make notes about their descriptions and their relationships. I keep a timeline (in some books this is really important, in others less so). I like to sleep on it. I like to just … think about it.

Actually I think about it a lot before I start writing up the editorial notes. A lot of my most important breakthroughs come when I’m driving or in the shower, and yes, I’ve gotten out of the shower to write stuff down. :)

Then I write up my editorial notes. During that process I’ll end up reading most of the manuscript again. I like to use examples from the MS to make my points. Then I send the MS and my editorial notes back to the author, who reads and absorbs and questions and tweaks, and sends it back to me. We might go back and forth two or three or ten more times. The process is different, of course, in that every manuscript presents its own unique set of things to work on.

What I’ve just described here is developmental editing. Note first that different publishers have different terms for this job: substantive, developmental, macro, big-picture. I’ve even seen some freelance editors market themselves as “book doctors.” But what it means is … I’m a critic. I was/am the bossy older sister, so this role comes naturally to me. :) In fiction, a dev editor is looking at story, style, voice, structure, setting/milieu, characterization and dialogue, and the writing itself. All the things that make a novel a novel, those are the things a dev editor is paying attention to. With love and respect, one hopes. That’s certainly how I’m trying to do it. I don’t actually rewrite anything—that’s the author’s job—so everything is in the author’s voice. When I make suggestions for changes, I start from a position of “what’s easiest” or “changing the least”—but sometimes a dramatic change is best. And sometimes I suggest the dramatic change and sometimes the author comes up with it on her own after we’ve identified a snag. We’re both trying to make the book the best it can be.

Sure, I’m a paid critic; the publisher trusts me to know what needs work, and how readers will react. On occasion I have to be the bearer of (ahem) unpleasant tidings. But I try to do that from the perspective of cheerleader, best friend, colleague—not parent, boss, or annoyed lab partner.
Sometimes it’s a fine line. :)
I love this work. Each manuscript is like a puzzle, and I get to solve it. Not without help, of course. I love the collaborative aspect of editing, the give and take. I love brainstorming.

That’s the first step. Then the manuscript has to be copyedited, typeset, and proofed. I’ve blogged a lot about the different processes, which you can find here

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

Come back tomorrow for the answer and part two of the interview with editor Jamie Chavez. 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...

Loved this interview, Jamie! (And I adore Laddie!)

Thanks for sharing your heart and passion for writing and editing. I liked learning more about your process.

Yes, I like to travel. The southern states are my fave--there's a certain gentility about the south. (My daddy is a born and bred southerner.)

Our family enjoys vacationing at a smaller hub off the Gulf Coast--Dauphin Island, Alabama where the food, fishing, and R & R are great and "island time" is the best. A smaller, less touristy area and it's a super place to write. Also lots of history tied to the island. :)

Amy C said...

I don't travel much anymore now that I have small children. I used to travel a lot before they came. My favorite spot is Gatlinburg TN or Smokey Mountains
campbellamyd at gmail dot com

traveler said...

I never did travel when we had young children. Just to a great lake close to where we lived, but that was a wonderful experience since it felt like an ocean and was a beautiful interlude each summer. Now we travel a little more and I love going to the beach, especially Florida beaches. I would travel more but I was diagnosed with breast cancer two years ago and am recovering. The most memorable travel that was unforgettable was my fist ever international trip 7 years ago. We went to Italy and I was under a spell for the entire trip. Charming towns, historic cities, delectable cuisine and beautiful scenic vistas. Lake Como was my favorite. saubleb(at)gmail(dot)com

petite said...

I learned about the enjoyment of travel when I was middle aged. Before that I had motion sickness and rarely went anywhere. I still have the sensation but can deal with it. Travel gives me hope, is beautiful, fascinating and above all a memory which lasts forever. When we were young the most amazing trip was a journey out west to the Canadian Rockies, Moraine Lake, Emerald Lake and Peto Lake, which are glacier lakes. The majesty of this area is incomparable and superlative. I hope to go back one day. elliotbencan(at)hotmail9dot)com

Debra Brown said...

Though I'm dying to go to England, I have not yet. So I'll steer you to Duke's Restaurant, Lihue, Kauai, Hawaii. Fine dining upstairs (take the valet parking road) but I like to enter up there and then go down the stairs alongside a waterfall (natural- they left two walls off so the water can enter and exit) down to the lounge and casual dining. Gorgeous, perfect, heavenly. All of Kauai is wonderful. Oh, try Keoki's Paradise, too.

Debra Brown said...

Sorry, email kescah at gmail dot com

Jamie Chavez said...

Oh, Cynthia, I definitely need to put the Alabama Gulf Coast on my list of places to visit! For us it would be easily doable!

I live in Tennessee, Amy C—and you're right, the Smokies are beautiful!

Traveler—Italy and Spain are the next places I want to go in Europe! Aaaaah.

Petite, I have some friends who recently posted some incredible photos from a trip they took to Canada, and it made me want to go, for sure. I lived in Newfoundland when I was a kid … but that was a long time ago. We won't say how long. :)

Oh, Debra, that sounds lovely! I visited Hawaii when I was a teenager, but haven't been back since. I must add that to my wish list!

Thank you, everyone, for commenting!