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/
Personal blog: http://wanderlustful3.wordpress.com/
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!|
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?