Saturday, October 22, 2011

How to Be an Editor

Hey there blogosphere! Sorry I've been missing for a while. Midterms tried to eat me, but after a long and exhausting battle, I have emerged victorious. (In this case, that means being home for fall break, eating REAL FOOD and snuggling with cats and visiting my dance studio with my mom.)

But I have exciting things to tell you about, blogosphere! Have you ever wondered what it was like to be an editor, or thought about a job in publishing other than that of novelist? Well, my Editing & Publishing class took a field trip to New York City, where we visited TEN publishing houses in TWO DAYS. It was madness - there was a lot of sprinting between subway stops - but there was also a lot of mind-boggling awesome. We went to several of the Big Six publishing houses, as well as several smaller, lesser-known houses of varying sizes. I took so many notes, guys! And I am going to share with you some of the wisdom these editors, editorial assistants, and other awesome publishing folks shared with us.

(in no particular order)

1. Informational interviews. Do them. Email people who do the job you want to do and ask if you could meet with them and ask them questions. Who knows? If they're looking for an assistant or know of a job opening, you might just get it.

2. Internships. Do them too. Editorial internships are, of course, the hardest to come by, but as one nice person put it, "the way to get into anything in publishing is anything in publishing." Internships at literary agencies were a recommended way to start, as there are more literary agencies than mainstream publishers (and also editors love that extra insight to the agency side of life).

3. Do your homework. Read Publisher's Weekly, MediaBistro, GalleyCat, et cetera, et cetera. Keep up on the trends in the genre you want to work in. Follow what's going on with ebooks and other Big Important Publishing News. Look up everything you can about the imprint for which you're applying.

4. Know your genre. One editorial assistant (she was fresh out of college) said that a lot of people searching for entry-level positions try to sound impressive by citing the types books that one reads in college English classes when their interviewers ask about their favorite books. Unless you're applying for a job at an imprint that deals with republishing the classics or is extremely literary (again, do your homework), don't do that. If you're applying for a job at a sci fi/fantasy imprint, read and be prepared to talk about sci fi/fantasy books - and especially the books you liked published by that imprint.

5. Have a job that is related in SOME way. Work in a bookstore. Work in an office - learn how to use the copier and Microsoft Office. Work as a writing tutor - and if you beta read, especially if you read for someone whose book has been published, put that in a prominent place on your resume. (And make sure that the shiniest parts of your resume are listed first.)

6. Move to New York. If you are seriously looking for a job in publishing, move to New York first. Then if someone really likes you, you are available to start working as soon as they need you, not after the time it takes you to move.

7. Networking, networking, networking. Getting a job in publishing is quite often about who you know. Don't know anybody? Don't panic! Just meet people. Do internships and stay in contact with the people you work with and for. If you can afford it, NYU has a summer intensive publishing program, which is by no means required to work in the industry but a great way to meet people and get your foot in the door. Do informational interviews. Et cetera.

8. Know what to expect. Being an editor doesn't mean that you are in your office reading all day long. Editors mostly read submissions in their spare time, and editorial assistants do lots of copying and other gofer type tasks. Also, editors have to be quite social and chat with agents and other industry professionals to scope out the market. Also also, there's math involved. Not complicated math, but still math.

9. Use your tech-savvy-ness to your advantage. We're the generation that grew up with the Internet and are the pioneers of social media. We know how to do this - and it's a very marketable skill. Different people we talked to stressed this to varying degrees, but I think it is important - and if you have a few extra tricks up your sleeve, things that aren't required but might be useful, like html coding, so much the better.

10. Be nice. A lot of publishing is establishing relationships with other people - with others on your editorial staff, with agents, with authors, with librarians, with booksellers, and so on. None of that will work well if you are mean to people. Make sure that you present yourself as the kind of person you would want to work with.

This trip was a completely fantastic opportunity; I've learned so much and I had such a good time. I hope this list will be helpful to you guys as well!

Thursday, October 13, 2011



Automatically makes everything better.

I hope all of you are having a good week! *hugs all around*

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Midterms = Doom

This week and next week are midterms for me, guys. So I might be a bit sporadic about posting things.

So I will leave you with some fun videos. Like this one:

Also, my friends and I went to see the livestream of the 25th Anniversary Phantom of the Opera concert, and it was made of awesome. However, I have only just recently begun to get PotO songs out of my head, and let me tell you, it is incredibly awkward to go about one's daily business when this is the song playing over and over in one's mind:

... yeah.

Also, have I told you guys about And how it is the best possible way to destress for five minutes? Because there are cats. Yay cats!

And now I have to go practice. *salutes*

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Historical Footnotes

I'm taking a class in Historical Fiction this semester, which thus far has been my favorite writing class here at IC ever. (My professor is also awesome; last night she read from her new book TEN THOUSAND SAINTS, which I have not yet read, but which was blurbed by ANN PATCHETT of all people!! It also involves laser tag on the NYC subway system in 1988, so I now really have to read it.) I'm loving this class to pieces because I'm reading and writing things that I actually want to be reading and writing, rather than slogging through 'important' short stories and pretending I can write contemporary fiction because that's what's expected of me in an educational setting.

So far, in the two novels that we've read (THE BOOK OF SALT by Monique Truong and THE LITTLE BRIDE by Anna Solomon) and, to a lesser extent, in Professor Henderson's own novel, the authors have presented their readers with one of history's untold stories. THE BOOK OF SALT involves the gay Vietnamese chef employed by Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas in Paris; THE LITTLE BRIDE is the story of a Jewish girl sent to South Dakota as a mail-order bride in the 1880s; TEN THOUSAND SAINTS is about the straight-edge scene in 1980s New York City.

One of the most interesting and, I think, important things about historical fiction is that it allows writers and readers to explore those untold stories. It allows us to imagine the lives of those people left out of the history books. It allows us to bring the past alive in a much more concrete way than a textbook that tells us "in 1793, Marie Antoinette was guillotined." Through fiction, and especially through the untold stories of history, we can empathize with the people who lived before us in ways that the 'facts' might not necessarily allow us to do.

History's untold stories are also a great place to find inspiration. All three authors have discussed in interviews (well, all right, I asked Professor Henderson about it at her reading last night, because we talk about it in class all the time) that they stumbled across a historical footnote that inspired them to write their novel. For Monique Truong, it was a mention of "Indo-Chinese cooks" in Alice B. Toklas' cookbook. Anna Solomon was Googling herself and discovered another Anna Solomon on a website about Jewish women pioneers. Professor Henderson said last night that her "footnote" was her husband's stories of growing up in the East Village. I've recently been inspired by the discovery that during the Irish Potato Famine (called The Great Hunger in Ireland), thousands of pounds' worth of food was being harvested from Anglo-Irish estates and shipped to Britain. This was something wholly left out of my previous historical education, and I wondered what it would be like to see all of that leave your country when you and everyone you knew was starving. And even worse, what would it be like to be the ones handing that precious food over?

History books (and yes, also things like Google and Wikipedia) are full of those footnotes, practically waiting for someone to stumble across them and become inspired by them to write those untold stories down. The next time you lovely readers are in need of a new idea, pick up that history text you were bored by once. Maybe there's something waiting there to inspire you.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Unreliable Narrators

The topic of the unreliable narrator comes up quite frequently in college writing classes. We'll read a novel or a short story - always of the 'literary' variety, of course - and in class, the professor will ask if we can fully trust the narrator and there will be a strange mixture of quiet nods and quiet headshaking, with no one or very few people wanting to actually answer the question. The answer is usually no, as over the past month or so of digging quite deeply into literary fiction I've decided that one of its defining features is extreme closeness to the protagonist*, so by nature of that the reader cannot believe everything that is said. If everything is seen solely through the lens of one character's perspective (sometimes two), not everything that that character thinks or feels will be the truth.

But what about a character who deliberately misleads the reader? Someone who lies all the time, perhaps, or someone who has a lot to hide.

I played with this idea a little bit in Letters to Oliver, but although individual characters did not necessarily have the whole story, the reader did, because the reader was privy to all of Emily's letters and could see what things she was concealing from which people. That's my favorite part about the epistolary format, and something I've talked at great length about in my historical fiction class - when we view a character through what they write down to send to another character, what they conceal, from whom, and why says even more about them than what they do say.

But I'm in a bit of a predicament now. I need to start working on my final project for historical fiction (which I think will also become my next novel project, if it goes well), and the main character, Maire, might possibly be a pathological liar. However, I have no idea how to pull this off in third person format. (Or regular first person narration, really, but that's less of a problem because I hate writing in first person that isn't epistolary.)

Do you guys have any suggestions? Recommendations for books or stories I could look at? Stern comments telling me that I am out of my mind and should drop the idea altogether? Anything you have to say would be most welcome.

Also, a related question: how do you feel about unreliable narrators in fiction? Do you like them? Hate them? What's your preferred format - a narrator who is unreliable to the characters around them but not to the reader, or a narrator who obscures everything for everyone involved? Have you ever written such a character?

All right, I think that's quite enough questions for your Tuesday. Have a lovely day!

*The point of this post is not to discuss literary vs. genre fiction. That is a can of worms I have to open on a near-daily basis in class and would rather leave quite alone.