Publishing is a mystery to anyone outside the industry (and to a fair few within it, if we’re honest). In a recent post I answered the frequently asked question, how long does it take to write a novel? by taking you through each stage of the publishing process. I thought it would be interesting to look at each of these in a bit more detail. Throughout this new series I’ll introduce you to all the different people involved in putting a single book in the hands of readers. First up: what does an editor do?
Meet the editor
This is Cath Burke, one of the two editors involved in my latest book, LET ME LIE.
Cath started her career as a bookseller at BCA (Book Club Associates), then moved to Harlequin Mills & Boon as an Editor, where she worked on the launch of the MIRA imprint. In 2010 she was approached to join Sphere at Little, Brown Book Group as Editorial Director. Cath is currently Publisher of Sphere Fiction and Executive Director of both Hachette Audio UK and Group Rights for Little, Brown Book Group.
What does an editor do?
As an editor, I am in the incredible position of working directly with authors on the structural editing and publication of their books. This work involves reading submissions to find brilliant new talent; working on editorial notes and edits with both new and well-established authors; formulating and driving publishing plans with other departments such as Marketing, Publicity, Sales and Rights; working closely with Design on covers; writing cover copy and metadata on books (metadata being all the information you see on Amazon about the book, as well as the bit you don’t see that helps inform the Amazon algorithm and surfaces books to readers); communicating regularly with authors and agents about all aspects of their publications and liaising with all other departments within the business, too, such as Production, Contracts and Finance.
What aspect of your job do you most enjoy?
Seeing an author’s book connect with readers is the very best bit of my job and is always exciting.
What do you like to read in your own time?
I love all sorts of fiction to read – I’ve recently read the stunning Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan and debut YA novel Nevermoor by Jessica Townsend – both wonderfully enjoyable. I also really enjoy listening to non-fiction on audio and have loved autobiographies such as Bossypants, written by and read by Tina Fey and Hunger by Roxane Gay. I also enjoy business books on Audio and recently found How Google Works an interesting listen.
How does an unpublished manuscript find its way to your desk?
For new authors, it will arrive from an agent who knows what we publish at Sphere and wants their author to be published on our list. For on-going authors, it will usually come direct from them, sending to both their editor and their agent and we would tend to read together and then discuss editorial notes.
Roughly what percentage do you acquire?
In terms of submissions we go on to acquire, that’s going to be a single figure percentage. Sphere is a focused list and we see a huge number of submissions, so we have to be very selective about what we take on and have a real vision for the publication.
What kind of relationship do you have with your authors?
Every author likes to work differently, but I would hope they would find me thoughtful, communicative, available, passionate, their ally, their publishing champion and with a focused ambition of them finding the widest audience for their books.
Do you enjoy certain genres more than others?
I do love a suspense novel or an emotional weepie.
What would be your best piece of advice for an unsigned author wanting to get published?
Read, read, read and write, write, write. What do you like about the books you read? What was it about the book you loved? Then write, write and write some more. Then, get feedback, be open to what people say, but true to yourself. Writing is a brave thing to do, you’re putting yourself out there, making yourself vulnerable to what others may think. Nerves of steel would not go amiss.
When did you first come across Clare’s books, and what did you think?
I read I Let You Go when editor Lucy Malagoni wanted to acquire it and we were talking about taking it to our Editorial meeting – it was a great read. Not long after it was acquired for publication by Sphere, I went on maternity leave and the first thing I read on my return to work was the final edited version of I Let You Go and it was mind-blowningly brilliant. I was lucky to meet Clare a few days later at the 2014 Harrogate Crime Writing Festival, a few months before publication. Two years later, I Let You Go won Crime Novel of the Year at the very same Festival.
Tell us one thing about Clare’s new book, LET ME LIE.
The bar has been set terrifically high after two sensational novels, but without doubt, LET ME LIE is Clare’s most brilliant book yet.
Note from the author: The relationship between an author and their editor is critical. I’m often asked whether I ever disagree with editorial suggestions, or whether I find it hard to listen to their feedback. The reality is that it’s such a collaborative process it never feels as though I’m being told what to do, or under any pressure to agree to suggestions. Rather than giving specific direction, my editors are more likely to outline an issue that needs fixing (eg: the second half lacks pace, or that character doesn’t feel real, or we need the story to start earlier) then leave me to find a solution to the problem.