Thank you so much for submitting questions for Book Country’s Ask an Editor blog series! Brian S. Geffen, Assistant Editor at Philomel Books, discusses what a typical day is like for him, and whether the editing process differs between new writers and seasoned writers.
1. What is a typical day like? – Anni Eayrs
The different tasks really vary week-to-week for an editor—though the answer is a bit cliché, it’s true. The work may consist of reading manuscript submissions from agents, editing contracted manuscripts (both line editing and conceptual editing), writing copy of all sorts (jacket copy; title information sheets that provide background on upcoming titles for the Marketing, Publicity, and Sales teams; catalog copy to introduce new books to booksellers), working with designers on interior and jacket design concepts, negotiating contract terms with agents and foreign publishers, and keeping informed about the general world of children’s publishing beyond one’s own publishing house. It’s easy to get engrossed in one’s own work, but it’s very necessary to be on the pulse and know what else is out there in the wider publishing world. I’m also the assistant to the Publisher of Philomel so I help out with some of the administrative tasks of the imprint as well. The varied workload really allows me to exercise different forms of creative thinking, and I find it very enjoyable and fulfilling.
2. Is the prose of a book better to be specific to an age group, like YA or MG? Would a book that combines these age groups be more difficult or easier to commercialize? Speaking specifically in the fantasy genre. – DCLabs
This is an important question, and I happen to love fantasy both as an editor and as a reader. I would say it is absolutely necessary to write prose to a specific character’s age, but audiences can vary. If your protagonist is ten-years-old, you need to write an authentic character of that age, and usually, with children’s books, the protagonist’s age is the guiding force to determine in which category a book lives. Typically, young adult starts with characters that are thirteen and up. That being said, many books have characters of different ages, some of which are older than thirteen and others that are younger. If you find yourself in this scenario, I would write the story that comes to you organically, and if you are seeking the traditional publishing route, leave it up to agents and editors to slot your book in one category or the other. If you’re self-publishing, you’ll have to determine whether the book’s tone and themes are better suited to a middle-grade or young adult audience as a hodgepodge of characters of different ages can go either way. I don’t think a combination of characters of different ages makes a book harder to commercialize—another cliché, but if your book is fresh and has a plot, characters, and ideas that appeal to a wide audience, the book will hopefully find a large pool of readers. There is also a lot of crossover these days—for example, many adults are reading YA!
3. Do you ever run across a book that needs no editing? – Gayle Gardner Lin (Facebook)
If such a book exists, I haven’t found it yet. When authors write, they are so heavily invested in their stories that they often cannot see certain flaws and areas of improvement that an outsider can identify and help the author enhance. As the author reads and rereads his or her story, it becomes even harder to see these flaws and areas of improvement—though one may find new insights through rereading one’s work, it often takes a fresh perspective to really give a story that extra kind of attention it demands. The collaborative process is a beautiful thing, and editors reside in the background, gently pushing both the story and writer to create the best work he or she can produce. I actually think it’s great that books that don’t need editing are rare or nonexistent—though the author is behind the steering wheel, the contributions of editors and assistants who work alongside more senior editors are ultimately invaluable. (Though of course, being an editor myself, I am somewhat biased!)
4. When it comes right down to it, do editors deal with new writers differently than they deal with seasoned writers? – mason-rhett-ford (Tumblr)
In my opinion, to create great stories, the relationship and trust between an editor and author needs to be strong. That relationship is built over time, and for an editor, the main task early on is learning the author’s tendencies, strengths, and weaknesses. Beyond building a relationship, most debut authors are new to the formal revision process, new to deadlines, and new to many of the procedures that one encounters through writing, revising, and publishing a book. I think with new authors, editors need to lend guidance so that authors can become better acquainted with how the whole bookmaking process works. However, when it comes down to purely editing a manuscript, the process is generally the same whether the author has written one book or twenty. As I said earlier, every author and book I’ve encountered needs editing, it’s merely a matter of being used to the process or not. Seasoned writers pretty much know exactly what to expect whereas debut writers are encountering new experiences, and it’s a learning process, but a very fun and satisfying one.
About Brian S. Geffen
Brian Geffen is an assistant editor at Philomel Books, a division of the Penguin Young Readers Group. He is the editor of HUNTER by Michael Carroll, the fourth installment of the Super Human series. Brian works closely with Philomel’s Publisher on a list of titles that include the picture books of Oliver Jeffers and Loren Long; middle grade novels such as FANTASY LEAGUE by Mike Lupica, John Flanagan’s RANGER’S APPRENTICE and BROTHERBAND series, and the ALEX RIDER series by Anthony Horowitz; and YA novels like SCHIZO by Nic Sheff and STILL WATERS by Ash Parsons.