Q&A with my editor

While I was Writer in Residence over at Inside A Dog last month, my wonderful Text Publishing editor Alison Arnold and I had this genius idea for a post in which I  would ask her a few questions about editing.

We didn’t quite get organised in time to run it on Inside A Dog, but I think it works just as well here. And thanks again Ali – these answers are great. 🙂

What do you look for when considering YA manuscripts?
Books that make me miss my train stop. (Awkward, since I take a V-line home.) Books that feel fresh and unforced. Books where at the start I notice how gorgeous the writing is and at the end I barely notice it at all because I’m so engrossed in the story. Books that tells stories. Books with crush-worthy characters. Like Rafa (Gaby’s love-interest in the
Rephaim), or Wolfboy (Nia’s love-interest in Leanne Hall’s This Is Shyness and Queen of the Night). There were quite a few people who read Shadows before it went to press and without exception they all emailed me to tell
me they’d fallen for Rafa. My favourite email was two words long: Rafa. Swoon. The best writing going on at the moment is in the YA field. I just love it.

What is your favourite part of the editing process?
I love the beginnings when I don’t have to make hair-tearing-out decisions about persnickety things like styles and whether hell-beast is one word, two or hyphenated. I love helping an author to dream big across their story. After that, I next love continuity. I know this is weird, but I enjoy figuring out that the thing a character said happened on a Monday actually happened on a Wednesday and pulling that little thread that threatens to pull the book’s timeline apart. I love the very hilarious conversations that end up happening with my authors and I quite enjoy emailing back and forth about a thousand times a day. ‘So, in the email you sent at ten with the subject line “I can’t believe this one got
through”, I’m not quite sure what you meant about my comment on page 43, para two.’ Oh, okay. I don’t love that quite so much.

As an editor, do you focus on one thing at a time?
I don’t work very rigidly when I edit, as in I don’t organise my time into a structural edit, a copy edit, a line edit. At the beginning you are mainly working on structure, but whatever you see on the line you pick up. At the end you are mainly working on the line. Finding major plot-holes shortly before press always makes you feel like vomiting. Often not knowing whether hell-beast is one word or two makes you feel like vomiting too.

Can you read a book without wearing your editor’s hat.
Yes! Or I would have to quit my job.

What happens if an author or editor disagree on revisions?
It doesn’t happen as often as you might think. Editing is more of a conversation than I imagine aspiring writers think it might be. It’s not so much a red pen ‘do this, do that’ type process, but a long, ongoing discussion. I would always plead my case, but I also pick my battles. Some things are more important than others and, when the book is out, my name is not on the cover.

What is your all-time favourite book?
My all-time favourite kids book is Homecoming by Cynthia Voigt. Lately I have been inhaling anything written by Maggie Stiefvater. The first character I fell in love with was Lord Peter Wimsey in Dorothy L. Sayers 1920s detective books. I was thirteen. He was forty-five and ugly. I didn’t care. The last character I fell in love with was Rafa in the Rephaim series. I am also a huge fan of Cath Crowley, Simmone Howell, Kelly Link, Leanne Hall, Vikki Wakefield. (Ali reserves the right to add to this list when she thinks of writers she’s missed!)

Ali and me (at the launch of Shadows in Brisbane, July 2012)

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