Today is a very special day! As part of an editor interview special, The YA Bookcase has the pleasure and honor of interviewing editor and author Danielle Ellison from Spencer Hill Press!!!!
In this two part series, we will take a look at the publishing world from the eyes of an editor and the eyes of an author. This week, we’ll see the editor’s slant. Next week, the author’s viewpoint. So read on and don’t forget to tune in again next week!
What made you decide to become an editor?
I didn’t set out with the desire to be an editor. In fact, I never even thought about it until it happened. I first sought out Spencer Hill Press as a book blogger looking to gain some experience in marketing. But then, I was there and Kate Kaynak (owner, editor-in-chief) had me help out in other areas—and that first area ended up being editing. I did a pass of one book, then another, and another. Somehow, somewhere in there, I fell in love with editing and Kate asked me to step up as an Associate Editor. Since then I’ve become a Senior Editor, and while it was never part of my plan, I can’t imagine where I’d be without it. I enjoy it so much.
Why Spencer Hill? And why do you feel you make a good match here?
Honestly, I didn’t know much about publishing from a perspective other than that of a writer, and I knew even less about small presses. I had a friend who knew Kate (I’d met her only once at that point) and my friend suggested I email her about an internship. She was very welcoming and excited. From the beginning Kate’s passion drew me in, and since then she’s found ways for me to use mine. Passion is important to me.
I’m a good match at SHP because it’s a place where people are like a family. That sounds silly, but it’s true. I know my authors, my co-workers, my interns, the readers—we’re all connected. There’s a popular analogy about small presses/big presses being like choosing between a large university and a small college. I went to a small college where I knew everyone, by face or by name, and my professors knew me, my goals, my challenges. It was an amazing experience. I thrive on connections. SHP goes above and beyond to be involved, and that’s something that’s irreplaceable.
What is the first thing you notice about a submission?
Honestly, the title! Since it’s what is seen in the subject line. Titles always spark some sort of interest because that’s their job. Then, I always read the first page because the most important thing to me is the voice. If there’s voice that I’m drawn to, I’ll keep reading the story. I try to read the query, or at least glance at it, before I get too far into the story to make sure it’s something I’m interested in. Some submissions can be surprising because the concept of the query isn’t ‘my thing’ but then a voice, a character and/or the writing will make it my thing. I really think that as editors, we don’t know what we’re looking for until we get it.
Any pet peeves on queries or submissions?
I don’t know if it’s a pet peeve, but a word of advice would be cut to the point. We get a lot of really long queries that don’t tell us anything about the story. Open up immediately with the conflict, and then back up a little to build the conflict, and end with the stakes. Only give me the main conflict; I don’t need the subplots. You want to pull me in and make me want to know more, without it being overwhelming.
On pet peeves: Don’t assume I want your work. I dislike when queries say, “I’m sure you’ll be interested in…” because you don’t know that. I don’t even know that. Don’t tell me what I want, SHOW me that I can’t live without out it.
What are your favourite books of all time?
My favorite author is Jennifer Donnelly because she can weave beautiful words like no one else I’ve ever read. I love all her stuff—YA and Adult. Aside from her, I obviously love Harry Potter and The Hunger Games.
I don’t really have favorite books, but I have a list of must-reads that include: Stolen by Lucy Christopher, The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson, Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor, The Archived by Victoria Schwab, Altered by Jenn Rush, The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins, Some Girls Are by Courtney Summers and many, many more.
I also love the books I’ve edited for SHP, all of which come out later this year. Reclaimed by Sarah Guillory, The Dollhouse Asylum by Mary Gray, Fireblood by Trisha Wolfe and Extracted by Sherry D. Ficklin and Tyler H. Jolley. They’re very, very different books but I think that they each encompass something distinctly loveable.
Any guilty pleasure reads?
My guilty pleasure is TV! I don’t have a lot of free time, so that’s how I’m usually spending it. Pretty Little Liars is my guiltiest pleasure on TV because it bugs the crap out of me but I can’t stop watching! (And no, I haven’t read the books…)
Name three things you would love to see in your inbox…
I’ll give you four!
A superhero story. (I’m talking like Avengers good. Or X-men good. Or Heroes season one good. Or superhero pirates? Superheroes!)
A book with unique magic and ambiguous characters. (Think BBC’s Merlin meets Captain Hook of Once Upon a Time! How cool would that be?)
Story where the villain is the love interest. (Because that would be awesome.)
A really great contemporary. (Something like Friday Night Lights or a historical a la Revolution or an epic sweeping NA/YA romance a la Gone with the Wind or a story with really fantastic characters and drama, like One Tree Hill. I can dream.)
What is the most common flaw you see in new manuscripts?
The most common flaw in manuscripts is character—especially motivation! The second is show vs. tell. The third is probably descriptions/pacing/tension/plot variations. It’s actually something I recognize often and easily, and once you fix one the others make themselves more obvious as they are all very connected.
Character motivation is key. If I ask, “Who is your character? What does he/she want? What stands in the way?” then you have to have an answer. If not, then your character has no clear motivation and without clear motivation the story has no purpose. In addition to motivation, we need to know what characters are seeing/feeling/thinking, especially in first person. Those are things that can’t be glossed over. Pulling out a character’s motivation (even when the motivation may change throughout a story, because that can happen) really strengthens the narrative. It can be a large overhaul, especially if a manuscript is finished, but motivation drives the story.
Show vs. tell is a common problem that’s (typically) related to character. If you tell me how a character feels, what a character wants, etc. instead of showing me, then that makes it difficult to connect with the character (and the world.) I recommend before you send any queries that you read the book aloud backwards, so you can see all the places you show vs. tell. Or ask a friend with a good eye. After you find a flaw once, it becomes very obvious throughout.
Fixing the above can sometimes cause an issue with descriptions/pacing/tension/plot. Especially if your character’s motivation has to be changed or be tweaked, OR you have to rework show vs. tell in a story. Be aware of these things. They vary with the amount of flaws fixed and the author’s strengths/weaknesses.
I would say 90% of the first (and sometimes second) passes of manuscripts always deal with these areas!
Who is your ideal author type to represent?
I like to work with people who like to work with me. I like authors who have a good attitude, who like to laugh, who work hard, and who have high standards. I’m very giving of my time and my ear to my authors, and I consider us to be a team. I work hard, but I also play hard and love to have fun with them and build real relationships with those who want that.
I also need people who are flexible and want to be challenged! If you are an author who doesn’t want your book to be heavily edited, then I wouldn’t submit to me, because your book will be edited. It’s better to come into this process with an open mind, with honesty, and with flexibility. If I have to fight with an author over and over again on the same issues, then I’m not going to want to work with them in the future.
I want to say again that editing a book is a team project. Once I (or any editor) buy your book, it’s no longer just your book. It’s our book. My name is attached to this too, and it’s important to me that I work with people who have the same vision. My general policy is “try.” If I think the story should do this, and you think the story should do this, then we’ll try your way and we’ll try my way. Then, we’ll see what works. Usually it ends in a happy medium.
I’m also a very honest editor. If something is wrong with the MS, it’s my job to fix it. I’m not as concerned with holding your hand or telling you how amazing it is. If I bought the book then I already loved it! Now, we have to make it a story that others will love. I’m available to my authors, but I don’t have time to sugar coat things or make them feel warm and fuzzy. (I do say positive things in my notes, and my Skype calls!) All of my current authors are very aware of that and most of them love me anyway. And because of that—because I want ‘great’ and not ‘good’ and because we work together honestly—it will show in the books that come out and readers will love the stories as much as I do.
(Also, I’m super lovely, even if this answer sounded a little scary! *hands you cookies*)
Tell us something you can’t resist in writing…
I’m a fanatic for Arthurian legend and knights. (I love me some knights!) I also love pirates, re-imagined fairy tales, snarky voices, ninjas, hot boys in general, girls who kick butt, and love triangles—when they are done well!
As far as stories, I love voice, characters, and writing. Voice is something that can’t be taught; it exists or it doesn’t. Characters keep me reading, so I have to at least be interested in them. And good writing gives me goosebumps—I love that. (Obviously, not every book can do that. Some books are books you read like candy, and that’s okay, too.) If the voice and characters or plot are original enough, that’s what I want to read. I can fix characters. I can fix plot and pacing and all the other problems, but if there isn’t voice or characters or scenes then there is no story. And if you can’t or won’t make the changes suggested then the rest of it doesn’t matter.
So, now you know a little more about Awesome Editor Danielle. Tune back in next week to see what Danielle thinks from the other side of the table…as an author!