Editor? Editor!

Yesterday I sent out a list of questions to our current authors in hopes that they’ll take a few minutes out of their sure-to-be-busy last week of the year and answer in witty, engaging, informative ways. I know it’s a lot to ask. And I struggle with this. Where does the job of an author end? Should I, as an editor, be asking this stuff of my authors? Shouldn’t I leave them alone to toil away on their next projects?

I think that, back in the halcyon days of publishing, the writer’s job used to end with final edits. You were sent a galley, you made the corrections or argued about them, and you were done. Maybe you’d venture out to do a book tour. Maybe you’d sign a few copies when you dropped by the local bookstore. But mostly you were at work on your next book and, beyond checking clips of reviews sent by your agent, when you were done with a book you were done.

Now, though, more is required of authors. And more is required of editors. As an editor, I might spend one day a week actually, you know, editing. The other days I spend copywriting, marketing, giving design input, trying really, really hard to think of the Next Huge Thing, emailing follow-up, ever-more-strident emails about missed deadlines, contacting experts in the field and begging them for their expert opinions on our books, blogging, and wading through social media accounts. Editing is my favorite thing about my job and it’s also the thing I do the least.

But it’s still a great job.

I’m thinking about all of this because of this NPR story that I listened to while waiting for my windshield to deice enough for me to drive off. Editing is one of those jobs that is hard to explain. I used to think, back when I was *merely* a writer, that editors functioned as glorified spell checkers. They fixed your grammar. But then I became an editor (luckily my boss was willing to take a chance on someone with this level of misconception) and discovered that editing is more about being able to see the details of a book and the larger picture at the same time. It’s like we wear a special kind of glasses.

We’re on the cusp of a new year, and with this new year I’m starting a new blog. I mean, this one has been around for a while, but now it’s got a shiny new package,. It’s a blog about editing, and writing, and my kids, and my cats. And about books, because books are my favorite.

Welcome. What are you reading today?

Trying to Inspire

_MG_6072

Does Soot the Cat look inspired?

I write and edit children’s nonfiction books and I’ve been wondering lately–am I, are we, so focused on functionality that we’re missing the chance to inspire?

Most of the conversations around the office have to do with how to make our books easy for teachers to use “right out of the box.” We provide essential questions, common core correlations, glossaries, primary sources, a whole platter of design elements that make it easy for them to tick the standards boxes while still providing their students with a comprehensive education. That’s our goal. And I think it’s a good goal.

We have experts read our books before we publish them, not just to score a few lines of endorsement to print on the back cover, but to make sure our books are appealing, to make sure people will enjoy reading them, to make sure we succeeded in providing a useful commodity.

But all of our endorsers are grownups. They’re teachers, librarians, homeschoolers, professors, experts of industry. Know what they’re not? Kids. None of them are under the age of 25.

And this is starting to worry me. Do adults really know what kids are going to find inspiring? Do I?

My best ideas for kids’ books come from my kids. Yeah, I’m lucky to have them. When we binge watch whole seasons of Doctor Who (as a family so it counts as family time!) and then spend hours discussing the possibilities of time travel, alien life forms, morality in the face of alien invasion, I wonder if maybe a book about the science of science fiction might be in my future. When the yearly poetry unit roles around again and my kids starting spouting metaphors, it occurs to me that a book teaching kids to read poetry might have some worth.

But, again, these books are functional. They are written for adults to use with kids, not for kids to pick up spontaneously whenever they are struck with the urge to fritter away an hour on the page. What makes kids reach for one book and not another? What makes a book attractive to kids? Am I serving kid readers as well as I could be?

Fiction is a whole different world. One I’m actually more comfortable in. I can pick up a middle grade or young adult novel and I can get a pretty good idea if kids are going to like it. It’s a gut thing, but it’s also a character thing and a tone thing.

The nonfiction books I write and edit have no characters. They definitely have tones, ones that I work hard to get exactly right. They don’t have plots, but they are organized against a specific framework. The best part of my books are the sidebars. This is where I get to be as inspiring as possible. I inject tiny biographies of amazing people, quotes from persistent people, weird (and gross!) factoids about the topic. The sidebar material is almost always my favorite part of the book. Is this enough? To kids come away with enough inspiration?

I don’t know the answer to this. But I do know I need to ask the question. And I think finding the answer is going to take a while. And a lot of books.