My editor is Alissa Davis, once an editor in New York, now a stay and home mom and editor for Carina Press. I’m quite jealous of her lifestyle! Here she answers questions about editing and some other stuff.
Tia: I saw in another of your interviews that you ditched the study of English Literature to get a degree in Publishing. What exactly do you study to get a degree in Publishing? How the business works? The editing angle? Something else, entirely?
Alissa: All of the above. I took quite a few editorial-focused classes because I knew going in that I wanted to edit, but the core curriculum at Pace includes courses in sales, marketing, general publishing knowledge, desktop publishing, book production, etc.
Tia: Please share some of your best moments as an editor.
Alissa: The first book I acquired on my own was this great fantasy romance by Tammy Kane titled Breath of Fire. It had an uncooperative virgin hero, a sassy yet desperate heroine, and very cool dragons. I loved it but the set-up just gave me fits. It was one of those deals where the actual events that took place were pretty straightforward, but the circumstances and world-building rules had to work precisely in order to make the first meeting between the heroine and hero believable. I had a memo pad full of flow charts I’d created to make sure the world-building was sound. Tammy and I had gone through those flow charts step by step during these mammoth editing sessions over the phone. And when that book got a great four star review in RT, I nearly cried.
Tia looks up Breath of Fire real quick—found!
Tia: I think a lot of writers have a mistaken impression of what an editor is all about. Are they like the art restorer, taking what is there and bringing out the best in it, or a conductor, leading and directing their one-person orchestras? Or maybe another analogy would work better?
Alissa: I’m curious about these mistaken impressions and have a question of my own: What did you think an editor did before we worked together, and how did going through the editorial process change that impression?
Tia: Well, I had only worked with nonfiction editors on work-for-hire pieces, where their word was Law. I would write humorous articles on science topics, and they would edit it to the house writing style—which meant a lot of off-color humor. I didn’t see the final version until they sent me the author copy. In one article, they actually edited a scientifically inaccurate statement into the piece.
Therefore, I was surprised at how much you left up to me. You would write, “awkward—please fix” and leave the how up to me. Or, you would suggest a better word or phrase, and it would inspire some other word or phrase, and I would boldly change your edits (being in one’s 40s has its perks, and one of them is chutzpah) and you were fine with it.
Alissa: Yeah, I always tell my authors I want them to be happy with the final version of their book. Ideally the editorial process is a collaborative one, with the author and I bouncing ideas back and forth until we stumble upon the perfect thing. As for that inaccurate statement edited into your piece, I can only imagine you must’ve wanted to take out an ad in the paper letting everyone know it hadn’t come from you. Yuck.
Tia: Luckily, none of those articles had a byline.
Alissa: Okay, back to answering your questions. Pinpointing one analogy is difficult because each book has a different set of editorial needs, and I tailor my approach to take that and the author’s personality into consideration. If you put all of my authors in a room and asked them about their editor, it would probably sound like they all had different ones.
Sometimes I’m an archaeologist, struggling to uncover plot threads and character motivations. Other times I’m the fifth-grade teacher, giving the paper an A but pointing out dangling modifiers and suggesting the removal of superfluous adjectives. I love my job most when I’m the conductor, guiding the musician through the piece over and over, pointing out the problem areas, making cuts and suggesting new variations on a theme until the pacing, the emotion, the mechanics, the artistry, all ring true.
Tia: Does your job only entail the actual editing, or are you involved in other stages of the book production process?
Alissa: I’ve had different degrees of involvement at different houses. At Carina I read subs, write revision letters and acquisition reports and, of course, edit manuscripts, but I also consult on cover art and cover copy for each of my authors’ books. One of the things I’m thrilled not to be doing is actually writing the cover copy. Back in the days when I wrote copy for my books and sometimes for other editors’ books (Ah, the joys of being an editorial assistant!) I’d go through four or five drafts before producing something acceptable. Some people, like Jenny Bullough at Carina, have a knack for writing awesome copy. I am not one of them.
Tia: How did you become a member of the Carina Press Editorial Team?
Alissa: Excellent timing. I’d just returned to work after being away on maternity leave, and though it felt wonderful to be editing again I hated missing my baby twelve hours a day. And seriously, do you have any idea what they charge for daycare in New York? It’s like another mortgage.
Then several things happened in the space of a few weeks. A company in my husband’s hometown offered him a job and we decided to move. I love what I do too much to stop doing it, so I asked Angie about finding freelance editorial work. She was looking for a few more Carina editors, and it was a perfect fit.
I have the support of a lovely executive editor, a community of talented editors, and the wonderful Carina team at the Harlequin offices. My authors are all amazing, and I’m just as proud of their books as I am of any I edited in New York. Best of all, as I was answering this question my twelve-month-old saw that the dog couldn’t reach her chew stick, so the baby got down on her belly, figured out how to get the stick out from underneath a piece of furniture, handed the stick to the dog and told her, “Good girl!” It was the first time she shared something and I was home to see it.
Tia: What kind of novels do you enjoy reading and editing the most?
Alissa: I read across most sub-genres of romance, but twisted fairy tales and fantasy romance are at the top of my list. Some of my favorite fantasy romance series include C.L. Wilson’s Tairen Soul books and Mercedes Lackey’s Five Hundred Kingdoms.
The books I have the most fun editing are those with compelling, believable characters who suck me into their worlds and journeys. I just finished Zoë Archer’s Collision Course and am already waiting impatiently for the next book so I can reunite with one of the secondary characters.
Tia: Do you have anything else you’d like to add?
Alissa: Yes. I’ve been begging for a foodie romance for ages and am still looking for the perfect one. Contemporary, historical, m/m—as long as it’s tasty please send it to my attention at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tia: Foodie romance – is that what it sounds like? Stories involving recipes and cooking?
Alissa: Yup, though there’s no need to include actual recipes. I’d love to get a hero who’s a food critic or a heroine who runs a bakery, or anything along those lines. As long as the romance centers around cooking and eating, we’re good. There’s something so hot about love in the kitchen—delicious food, mouthwatering smells, steam, and lots of flat surfaces!
Tia: Ok, now I’m hungry. Thanks for stopping by!
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