Monday, March 1, 2010

Q & A with Erica Sussman, Editor Extraordinaire!

I asked my fabulous editor Erica to do a Q & A, and being terminally awesome, she agreed. A bit of background: Erica is an editor at HarperTeen, she has gorgeous, naturally curly hair, and she is the best editor ever. I think that's really all you need to know.

Q: What first drew you into editing, and why did you focus on YA?

I found this career in a slightly roundabout way. I had a bunch of friends in college who went into publishing right after school, but they had all been English majors and they had all had publishing summer internships. I wasn’t an English major AND I had always worked at summer camps. So, I didn’t think publishing of any sort was an option. Fast forward a few years. One of my best friends from high school had been working at Harper Children’s and had been telling me – literally since she started – that I would love her job. And I kept telling her that I couldn’t get into publishing because I didn’t have any experience and all that stuff but…I sent her my resume and got an interview.

And OH MY GOODNESS – the entire time I was at the interview – talking about books that I loved (which: who knew this was an actual job?!) – I couldn’t get over HOW MUCH I wanted to join the ranks. Luckily I got the job and…the rest is history. See? Slightly roundabout.

Q: You're flipping through the channels and the following three things are on: A singing reality competition, The Sound of Music, and Penelope. Which do you choose?

Sound of Music, of course! How is this even a question? I STILL have lofty ambitions that involve dancing and singing in a gazebo. Anyway, singing reality competitions always make me a little uncomfortable because I can’t deal with watching people screw up, and, um, what is Penelope? I’m resisting the urge to Google right now.

(Note from Kiersten: It is a SIN that you haven't seen Penelope.)

Q: Although you didn't enter her, Berkeley just won the Cutest Dog in the World by virtue of a massive write-in campaign. How do you celebrate?

How do you know I didn’t enter her? I can be very sneaky when I want to be! I will celebrate by giving her homemade treats, which was her birthday (“Berkday!”) gift last year.

"Oh boy, oh boy, I think those are for me! ME!"

Q: Which trend would you rather see die: Vampires, or the trend about asking editors about trends?

The second one, please! First of all, it’s easy to see what the trends are at the moment, so it always surprises me when people ask me what’s big now – just walk into a bookstore! And in terms of what trends are coming up – I can usually rattle off a few things that seem to be on the horizon, but it’s never a good idea to write to trends, because you end up with something that feels like it’s trying too hard. I also always want writers to remember that trends by their very nature are passing things – some may stay around for a while (Why yes, Vampires, I’m looking at you), but there are always others in the wings waiting for their moment to shine. And truly good books can burst through trends.

Q: When editing a manuscript, what makes you decide that certain scenes/storylines need to be cut? (Not that, uh, you'd EVER cut ANYTHING of mine, because my writing is perfect as is, right?) (Wrong. Erica is SO GOOD at pointing out flaws and how to make them better.) (And she's so freaking nice she could be telling you something sucked and you'd still feel better about yourself while reading it!)

Hee. It’s funny how subjective editing is. That’s why I always tell my authors that if I cut something that they feel strongly about keeping, they should keep it! Of course, I always have my reasons behind what I’m saying and doing, and I like to spell my reasons out in my editorial letters, in order to ensure that the author and I are on the same page. (This means my letters are long. And wordy. But hopefully helpful.)

That said, it’s hard to put my finger on exactly why I cut what I cut (or change what I change). I read manuscripts that I’m editing multiple times. Once through without taking any major notes, once through while I scrawl down notes to myself and notes in the margin, and then oftentimes I’ll read it one more time after that just to make sure I’ve got the flow down. It’s easier for me, coming at a manuscript with fresh eyes (as opposed to the eyes of the writer), to see what information may not need to be there, or what may be slowing things down. I’m a big stickler for dialogue feeling natural, and for characters feeling like they’re real and relatable (even when they’re not human). And I always read something with an eye to making it as pacey and compelling as possible.

(Erica's editorial letters are very, very helpful. I'm so proud of how PARANORMALCY bloomed under her direction!)

Q: What do you wish your authors knew (about writing, editing, publishing, life in general...)?

Hrm. I wish all of my authors knew how good the shows The Middle and Modern Family are! They’re so fun! Also, Make It or Break It is totally underrated. Also, everyone should re-watch Field of Dreams because MAN that movie is wonderful.

Oh, wait, I bet you were looking for me to shed some light on publishing. Well, for those people trying to sell their first novels: I guess I wish that everyone realized that those of us who work in publishing are real people. I love the people I work with – everyone is so smart, so kind, and so committed to what they’re doing. We love creating quality books! And I know that it’s hard to think of all of us in a good light when you send your manuscript out and…don’t hear a response for a little while. Or don’t hear the response that you were hoping for. I promise: the rejections aren’t done without thought. There’s always a reason behind it, and just because your manuscript isn’t right for the first people you send it to, it doesn’t mean that it isn’t right in general (though you should definitely pay attention to any comments you get back from editors).

(This is true. Real people who are very nice and very good at their jobs and want to love your manuscript just as much as you want them to.)

Q: What's the hardest part about working with writers?

Hm. I am going to flip this question into the positive version and say some of the reasons that I LOVE working with you! (Then you and all your wonderful readers can guess at aspects of working with authors that can sometimes be hard) (Look at me, editing your question. It may be your blog, but I’m still an editor!)

First and foremost, you are always professional. You ask great questions, you make great comments, you know what’s going on with the market, and you understand how to publicize your book in the most effective ways possible. Second, you are understanding – you realize that even if I can’t reply to a question right away, I will reply as soon as I can. You are never pushy. And third – you’re incredibly talented, but not at all full of yourself. You’re willing to put a lot of hard work into making sure that everything you write is the best piece of work it can be.

(Aw, I love her SO MUCH, you guys.)

Q: Many people wanted to know what drew you to Paranormalcy, and what made you decide to buy it, knowing how much time you'd have to spend working with it. (And me. But that's a plus, right?)

I know Right Away (as in, within the first 10-20 pages), whether or not I’m going to like a manuscript. As you can imagine, I get a lot of teen paranormal submissions, so I’m always on the lookout for one that doesn’t feel like it’s trying too hard to stand out (with convoluted plots, or overly dramatic language, etc.). With Paranormalcy, I started reading it on my subway ride home, and didn’t stop. And I laughed. Out loud! Evie’s voice had me hooked from the first page and she effortlessly drew me into her story. A few days later, I sent Paranormalcy to the editorial director of my group, told her that I liked it, and asked her to give it a second read. A few days later she came in and told me she kept bursting out laughing while she was reading it on the Elliptical machine. And anything that makes exercise fun? Is special.

Paranormalcy combines this killer voice with a brand new kind of world. You’ve taken all of the paranormal tropes that are so popular with teens, and you’ve worked your own brand of magic on them. So it’s special, and different, and just so much fun to read. And! Finding out about your blog and was a HUGE HUGE plus because I was able to take the manuscript into meetings and say “Look! Not only has this debut author written this awesome manuscript, she’s also already doing everything we love our teen authors to do!”


Q: If I were to dogsit Berkeley, how many bounty hunters would you hire to track me down if I tried to dognap her for my very own?

Umm…I’m just going to assume that you weren’t actually hoping to ever dogsit for Berkeley, because I think you’re officially out of the running. But just for that veiled threat of dog-theft, I’m going to let Berkeley edit your next manuscript:

"I am the best editor in the world. But first: a nap."

(I would be okay with this as long as you send me pictures of the process.)

Q: As an editor, what is your absolute favorite part of the process of making a book?

Errr…everything? I love finding a manuscript that speaks to me; I love presenting books at our editorial and acquisitions meetings and getting people here on board; I love editing manuscripts; I LOVE talking to our amazing design department about covers (and then sending covers to authors!!); I love presenting books to our sales and marketing teams and seeing them get excited; and I LOVE LOVE LOVE getting finished books at the end.

Wow. I’m not sure that’s a very helpful answer. Of course, there are plenty of moments along the way that are hard and stressful, but they’re almost always punctuated by great moments that make the little things seem very insignificant.

(And I'm sure those authors LOVE it when you send them covers that are quite possibly the most beautiful covers in existence and that they spend hours staring at and squealing over. Not that I'm a horrible, horrible tease or anything.)

Q: And finally, when was the exact moment you realized you were the Best Editor Ever, and have you commissioned a plaque yet?

Isn’t it your job to get me a plaque? Why don’t you get on that already?

(I'm going to send you Penelope on DVD first!)

Thank you so much, Erica! And now my readers can all love you almost as much as I do.


L. T. Host said...

Makes me wish I wrote teen fiction!

Great Q&A Kristin and Erica, thanks for doing this :)

lora96 said...

Thank you Thank you!

Fun, insightful post that gives us all hope b/c there are wonderful, book-loving editors out there.

Also, Berkley is really cute. "Berkday" made me lol.

(Not that I would ever dart around the house after an indignant poodle crooning "Is it Beau-Beau's Birfday in two days? Is it? I think it is!")

And we who aspire to eventual publication would prefer vastly a long and well-reasoned letter as opposed to "Please remove pages 147-190 as they suck. A lot."


lotusgirl said...

What a great interview! You two are fun and helpful. Now there's a combination. Thanks for all the wonderful advice.

Natalie Whipple said...

Yeah, so Erica is adorable. Berkeley too. You two make such a great team!

Kristan said...

Aww, now I want to snuggle a puppy! The one in the pictures, and the one waiting for me at home. And maybe a few more. Mmmmm puppies...

Oh, and books! I want to snuggle books too. Especially books written by Kiersten and/or edited by Erica, 'cause y'all are both awesome. Thanks for this interview!

Candice said...

I see why you love Editor Erica! She obviously has great taste in movies and books, which makes me confident she will love Penelope (such a great movie!).

Debra L. Schubert said...

I already love Editor Erica for several reasons: 1) she picked The Sound of Music, 2) she didn't know what Penelope is, 3) she loves Modern Family, and 4) she loves you and your brilliant work!

I'm going to make sure she's on my agent's radar screen.

GREAT Q&A - I'll be tweeting it right about.....NOW!

Linda G. said...

No wonder you rave about your fabulous editor--she sounds wonderful. And puppy pictures, too! What's not to love?

~Jamie said...

Why isn't everyone I know watching Make it or Break it?

Anyone that can have Back Handspring Fights is AWESOME!

:) Thanks Editor Erica for coming out and being awesome. You should twitter with us.... we promise not to scare you. :)

Xjaeva said...

This was a great Q&A.
I love how you make the scary publishing people real people.

Plus, this just makes me way more excited for Paranomalcy.

Donna Gambale said...

Great interview. Thanks for the insight, Erica! I can tell how much you love your job.

Rebecca Knight said...

HAHA! How awesome is it that you found an editor as funny and cool as you are? :D You guys make a great team!

Thank you for the insight, and for tips on what makes editors happy to work with an author :). Yay!

Anne Riley said...

I loved this post! Erica sounds wonderful. I hope I'm lucky enough to get an editor like her!

Carolin Seidenkranz said...

I really enjoyed reading that. Great Q&A, thanks for doing it! =)

Also, Berkley is adorable!

Krista V. (the former Krista G.) said...

Great interview, Kiersten.

And PENELOPE is wonderful - saw its preview on another DVD (can't remember which one right off the top), ordered it from the library, picked it up, LOVED it. Still trying to happen across it at Target, but I'm starting to think I'm just going to have to give in and order it online.

And isn't it an original screenplay? There are precious few of those these days, it seems, especially ones that are as charming as PENELOPE.

Claire Dawn said...

I'm with LT! Wishing I wrote teen fiction right now!

Penelope is awesome! Sound of Music might just barely edge it out though.

Still can't wait for parnormalcy!

Christina Farley said...

What a lovely interview! Such fun and I love the relationship the two of you have. Can't wait now to read the book!

Kiersten White said...

I'm so glad you guys appreciate how wonderful Erica is : ) She is an absolute pleasure to work with, and I'm grateful every single day that she's the editor I ended up with! Everyone should be so lucky. Except then she'd have no time at all, so I think I'll keep her for myself and a few select others!

Daisy Whitney said...

Fantastic interview! Really insightful!

Sharon Mayhew said...

Super interview, Kiersten! I just did my first blog interview...It's not as easy as it appears to be when you hit post. It takes research and time. Thanks for sharing with us. :-)

Whirlochre said...

Thanks for posting this.

And it's true — the dog is just cute.

Samantha Bennett said...

Love Penelope! We watched that movie on a girls night. It was hilarious to see my friend (who works at Disney and loves all thing sparkly) explain the plot to my very, ahem, non-Disney friend. "Well, it's about a girl with pig snout..." ;)