I was lucky enough to listen to a webinar this week that unveiled the mysteries of being a book editor.
Penguin Random House’s The Writers’ Academy hosted Behind the Bestseller: Editor Q&A with Jocasta Hamilton, the Publishing Director of Hutchinson. Jocasta talked about what her role involves, her day-to-day duties and some of the challenges of her position.
The list that Jocasta manages for Hutchinson is pretty varied. It covers fiction and non-fiction, with literary fiction, memoir, narrative non-fiction, history, lifestyle and gift books all featured. Jocasta works with some high-profile writers, including Robert Harris and Sebastian Faulks, as well as established and debut writers from across the genres.
Hearing about the books she’s published and those she’s releasing next year was tremendously exciting – particularly to a reader who always wanted to be a book editor (that’s me, by the way).
What does an editor do all day?
Jocasta is a busy lady. Her job is all about identifying a potential best-seller, polishing it and publishing it to reach as wide an audience as possible.
On a daily basis, an editor has three distinct roles:
This involves schmoozing agents, convincing colleagues that the manuscript is worth a punt, and persuading authors and agents to go with your publisher.
Jocasta said the thing she’s looking for at this stage is a passionate and strategic response to a piece of writing; it has to resonate with her as a reader but also have commercial viability.
This is when the editor gets their teeth stuck into the text. Jocasta described editing as a conversation; she reads the book around five times during the editing phase, listening hard to the words and responding honestly to them.
She then looks at the big stuff – structure, format – and the small stuff – line by line – before agreeing the final draft. Jocasta likened the small stuff edit to “taking the water out of the radiator” – basically removing any words that don’t add to the reading experience or message of the book.
This is all about getting the book to market. An editor needs to develop a vision for a book that identifies its audience, USP and opportunities that will see it soar commercially.
She considers this a joint effort, working closely with a community of marketers, sales people, booksellers, bloggers (yeah!) and readers to build the profile of the book.
The publishing process has five stages – pre-awareness; build; build (even more); pre-order; publication – and the editor is involved in them all.
It was heartwarming and fascinating to hear Jocasta talk candidly about the responsibility she feels towards her authors. From commissioning them and buying the rights, to launching the book and going after literary prizes, she supplies her writers with unwavering support.
She wants to be able to “look her authors in the eye” after the two-year process from buying to selling and know she did everything she could to get their book the profile it deserves.
Listening to Jocasta was a bittersweet experience for me. To hear her speak so warmly and enthusiastically about her job made me really regret giving up my dreams of being an editor years ago. It was my ambition to be an editor when I left uni in 2003 but, after countless rejected applications and limited opportunities in the north, I got a job in a small local publisher and thought it would be a step in the right direction. It wasn’t, and I ended up down a marketing path. Oh, well..
Jocasta was a real ambassador for editors everywhere. She called editors the “author’s champion” and I’d certainly like her in my corner if I wanted to get published.