Previously in this series: Agent | Ghostwriter | Editor | Library Assistant | Publicity Assistant | Typesetter | Cover Designer | Foreign Rights Manager |Blogger |Scout |Translators | Book charity | Copyeditor | Journalist
I am bringing back this series for a very special reason: to interview my American editor, Alison Weiss at Sky Pony Press! I absolutely had to add her to my list of publishing industry interviews, because Alison is so enthusiastic and fun to work with. (And I’m not just saying that because she’s so complimentary to me on twitter…)
I feel so lucky to have an American editor who wants to be involved in the editing process as much as Alison, because that means I get two wonderful editors in the UK and US working on my writing. 🙂
The Next Together is being released in the USA by Sky Pony in Spring 2017 (in HARDBACK!) and I really, really can’t wait. I’m even looking forward to doing more copyedits (which are not my favourite thing in the world) just so that I can work with Alison more. I was very interested in Alison’s answers about how Americanisation of UK books work. So …. onto the interview!
What does your job involve?
As an editor, my job is to take care of a manuscript from the moment it’s submitted to me (or, in some cases, the moment I find someone to write a manuscript around an idea), to the moment it’s a book on the shelves, and beyond. I directly negotiate deals (and contracts, which is unusual), and once the ink is dry, I work with my authors to turn their books into the best possible version of their visions. I also work closely with design, production, sales, marketing, and publicity to make sure each book has its best shot.
Outside of the office, I attend many writers conferences, where I meet writers at all different stages of their careers to give them access to professional feedback as they continue to work on their stories and evolve their craft. And sometimes I find great talent there, too.
How did you get started in editing?
I was accepted into Random House’s internship program between my junior and senior years of college, working at Delacorte Books for Young Readers while learning about all the other aspects of the publishing business. By the end of the ten weeks, I knew I wanted to be a children’s book editor, and nothing else.
Still, getting a job in publishing is very, very competitive, especially in children’s editorial, and it took me almost a year of interviewing at a variety of publishers before I found my first job. Egmont was opening a branch in the US, and they were looking for a sales and marketing assistant. I really wanted to be an editor. But with a brand new company, I hoped that I’d be able to grow and have a little more flexibility than is traditional, and within a few months I was lucky enough to switch to editorial entirely.
After six and a half years, when Egmont closed its New York office, I moved over to Sky Pony Press, the children’s imprint of Skyhorse Publishing, and I’ve been there for just over a year.
What are your favourite children’s books now and from your childhood?
Oh, this is a terrible, horrible, mean question, so I guess I need to start with Alexander’s Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst. I also loved Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs by Judi Barrett, illustrated by Ross Barrett, illustrated by Ray Cruz, Eloise by Kay Thompson, illustrated by Hillary Knight, all of L.M. Montgomery’s Anne books, the Mrs. Piggle Wiggle books by Betty MacDonald, Paddington by Michael Bond, The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin. (This list is just not going to end.)
As an adult, my favorite children’s books include Cat Weatherill’s Barkbelly, Jeanne Birdsall’s Penderwicks books, Louis Sachar’s Holes, Polly Hovarth’s Everything on a Waffle. On the YA side, I adore Shannon Hale’s The Goose Girl (this is probably the book that made me consider children’s publishing as a career), and Ruta Sepetys’s Out of the Easy and Philip Pullman’s Sally Lockhart books. And his His Dark Materials books. And we need some picture books, too. I’m madly in love with Mike Curato’s Little Elliot books.
And we’re going to cut me off now.
What drew you to The Next Together? 😉
I read The Next Together for the first time when I was still at Egmont. I was entirely taken with the concept of two people who find each other over and over again throughout time. I adored seeing Katherine and Matthew wading their way through all sorts of challenges to fall in love in different time periods. And I was really intrigued by the different sorts of media being used. I’ve always been drawn to stories told across a variety of media, but it’s not always easy to execute something so complex. But Lauren is a pro!
When I joined Sky Pony, I reached out to the lovely folks at Walker to see if they would allow me to take another look at the book as I knew it was nearing publication. (The fact that I already adored Lauren from talking to her on Twitter didn’t hurt, either.) And the rest is, shall we say, history!
What’s your favourite part of your job?
I love working with authors and illustrators closely to help make their books the best they can be. I’ll admit that I’m a very hands-on editor, and I like how collaborative the process can be.
How do you go about Americanising a book written for a UK audience? What do you think are some of the biggest cultural differences?
Americanization can be quite light or quite intensive depending on the project. I think the most important thing as an American editor is to be respectful of the author’s vision and the work of his or her originating editor.
A typical Americanization involves changes to conform with American punctuation and spelling—see Americanising vs. Americanizing—and often certain vocabulary, as well. Some words just don’t translate: flat vs. apartment; boot/trunk; lift/elevator.
I find school based stories hard to translate from the UK to the US, and vice versa. The entire structure and vocabulary and climate is just so different. Slang can be very tricky too. And sometimes when books have settings so integral to the story, but that will seem quite inaccessible for an American reader, it feels particularly daunting to try to create a correspondence. For instance, if a story is truly ingrained in the day-to-day of a particular part of London that you just have to know, it’s hard to make that accessible, the same way it would be for a British reader to understand the intricacies of parts of Boston or Los Angeles or Chicago.
There are many books that don’t come to the American market from the British market and vice versa. But I’m always glad when we can all find wonderful stories to share.
What are you proudest of in your career?
I still get a thrill every time I get to hold a book I’ve worked on in my hands. I know how much time and love and attention has gone into each one. And when I see a kid reading one of my author’s books, that’s the very best moment of all.
How do you go about choosing books to acquire? Is there anything in particular you’re currently keeping an eye out for on your book wishlist?
For me, I always want books with strong, stand-out voices, intriguing characters, and a story I can get lost in. And lately I’ve been increasingly drawn to projects that change my perspective on the world and change me for having read them. That’s the immense power that books can have, and those are the kinds of projects I want to be involved in.
I know that may sound very high and mighty, but I think there should be books for all sorts of readers, and a story that makes someone feel good can be just as important and have just as much impact as a work of staggering literary genius.
But there are a lot of reasons a book gets chosen or doesn’t, and I’ve been blessed and cursed with always recalling that publishing is a business, so I need to be confident that a project I take on can sell. I also need to consider what titles are already on our list, is a project a good fit, and many other factors.
Has being involved in publishing changed how you read books for pleasure?
Yes, and no. It’s certainly harder to find time to read for pleasure. So many submissions! In some ways, I think I may be a bit more forgiving of flaws in a book because I know how much work has gone into putting it together. But I also think it makes it much harder for me to fall in love with new titles, especially if they’ve received a great deal of hype. That raises my expectations very high, and so I think I’m much harder on those projects.
What advice do you have for anyone looking to get into editing?
Soak up as much information as you can—and not just about editing. If there’s something in the business you want to know more about or understand better, go ask about it. Understanding what a contract means or how subsidiary rights are sold will only make you a better advocate for authors down the line.
Use every opportunity—even the boring, menial ones—as chances to learn. If you’re asked to make a photo copy of an edited manuscript (some editors still work on paper), you can gain a lot of insight from the comments there. When you’re booking appointments, you learn the names of contacts that will be of use to you down the line.
Read, and read widely. Being able to offer comparable titles is essential for acquisitions, in-house sales, and selling books to consumers, and you’ll be better able to identify a book as “for fans of X” if you’ve read X. You’re also probably not going to start out reading, recommending, and editing the sorts of books you may like since you’ll probably be reading for someone else. You need to learn how to identify strong writing, even if it may not be the kind of project you, yourself, might want to edit. That will help you to develop discerning taste when the time comes for you to choose your own projects.
Alison Weiss joined Sky Pony Press as an editor after after six-and-half years at Egmont USA. As a kid, it was not unusual to find her huddled under the covers on a Saturday morning with a stack of books rather than downstairs watching cartoons. Reading and writing have always been passions, but sharing that passion with others wasn’t always as easy. That is until she found the children’s publishing world.
Her focus is on chapter books through YA (with an occasional picture book thrown in for good measure), and she loves everything from heartwarming middle grade to edge-of-your seat thrillers to swoony romance.
She’s worked with a wide variety of talented authors and illustrators, including New York Times bestselling author Nancy Krulik and her daughter, Amanda Burwasser, New York Times bestselling author Jessica Verday, multi-Agatha Award winner Penny Warner, ITW Finalist Kristen Lippert-Martin, Mike A. Lancaster, Mike Moran, Jessica Taylor, Kristina McBride, and Amalie Howard, among others. She also assisted on Christopher Myers’s H.O.R.S.E., which won a 2013 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor Award and the 2014 Odyssey Award.
Follow her on Twitter @alioop7 where she regularly hosts #askkidlit chats.
Thank you to Alison for the wonderful interview! If you liked hearing from Alison, you should definitely check out the new blog which Sky Pony have just started up here, which I’m enjoying reading a lot.