Ask an Editor: Jessica Renheim Answers Your Questions!

Posted by August 27th, 2014 we present another round of your questions for an editor–this week, answered by Dutton associate editor Jessica Renheim. Jessica has worked with New York Times bestselling authors like Brad Taylor, Dan Savage, Richelle Mead, and Kelley Armstrong. Read on for her advice to members of the Book Country community.

1.  What should a person look for in an editor? (Specifically for ones who will be working closely with you.) Also, should you have your manuscript completely finished before looking into editorial services? – Amber Wolfe

If you’re an aspiring writer who’s interested in traditional book publishing, then the first step is finding a literary agent who can represent your work and connect you with an editor and publisher. There are great sources online like Publishers Marketplace and the Literary Marketplace that can help you research agents and determine individuals who are the right fit for your manuscript; you don’t want to blindly query agents (or editors) who only work on nonfiction if you’ve written a psychological thriller, for example. Find an agent who specializes in the genre you’ve written, who feels passionate about your work, and who can help you find an editor who feels the same way. In terms of manuscript length, literary agents usually have their preferences listed on their websites for how to submit queries and material to them.

 2.  Must an author always submit to an editor’s suggestions (corrections)? – John Speikers

There will be times when an author and editor don’t see eye to eye, but usually when that happens there’s a constructive dialogue about the suggested changes.  I do think having an outsider’s perspective can be immensely helpful when it comes to discerning a work’s strengths and places where improvements can be made, but ultimately it’s the author’s call.

3.  What are the best novels — in any genres — aspiring novelists should read and learn from?  – Kevin Miller (via Facebook)

The books I’ve listed below don’t fall into any easy categorization, but I think what distinguishes these novels are the quality of their writing and storytelling, an intriguing, absorbing plot, and nuanced characters I not only care about but want to know better.

  1. The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach
  2. Run by Ann Patchett
  3. Faithful Place by Tana French
  4. The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood
  5. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon
  6. The Passage by Justin Cronin
  7. Rules of Civility by Amor Towles

4.  Do you have any opinions on chapter length? Do you prefer longer or shorter chapters? – Steve Yudewitz

I think it depends on the individual book. Certain kinds of novels like commercial thrillers and crime novels might benefit from shorter chapters to maintain a taut, fast-paced plot while other genres like historical fiction tend to have longer chapters.

5.  What advice would you give to someone that wants to become an editor or work in the publishing industry? – Anni Eayrs

I would talk to someone who works in book publishing and pick his/her brain. You really have to love books and feel passionate about the job, which often requires long hours of reading and editing at home—editors rarely get to edit at work since they’re often at meetings and occupied with other responsibilities during the day. Internships are also a great way to get your foot in the door and learn more about the business.

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