This week we have a Q&A with SF&F editor Anna Jackson. Big thanks to Anna from David Gullen for taking the time to answer his questions with such interesting, clear and informative answers.
Hello Anna. Thank you very much for agreeing to be interviewed for the Milford SF Blog. Please tell us about your current role.
I’m Senior Editor at the science fiction and fantasy imprint Orbit – part of Little, Brown Book Group. It’s my job to steer authors and their books right through from the initial commissioning stage to publication and beyond. My role involves looking out for new writing talent, negotiating book deals, structurally editing manuscripts, devising titles, jacket copy and cover design concepts, and working with sales, marketing and publicity teams to successfully bring books to the market. It’s a really varied, interesting and creative job, and I love what I do.
What drew you to the publishing world, and why did you want to become an editor?
It was definitely my love of books. I’ve always been a keen reader, but it was during my university degree that I particularly developed a love for closely analysing literature. I loved the idea of working with authors creatively and being involved in discovering the new writing talents of the future.
What do you think a writer should expect from their editor?
They should expect their editor to work hard with them on making sure that the final manuscript which goes to print is the very best it can be, and will provide a satisfying reading experience for the target readership. To do this, the editor needs to be able to judge the manuscript with an objective eye, to have a strong market awareness, to be able to give rigorous constructive criticism and ultimately, to be honest with the author. A writer should also expect the editor to do everything in their power to make sure that the book reaches its target market. The editor needs to be a great ambassador for the book and to be able to convey their passion for it in an effective way – so that their enthusiasm can spread through the publishing house and on to the book retailers and the target readership.
Does your working day, or week, have a structure?
My working day in the office mainly involves a lot of email communication, discussing publishing strategy with the rest of the team and writing all kinds of sales copy. I think that many people who don’t work in publishing imagine that editors just sit in the office and read all day. But the reality is that there are so many other necessary tasks that we need to perform that we actually have to do most of our reading outside office hours, in the evening and on weekends. Luckily though, most editors are more than happy to do reading in their spare time!
Who wrote your favourite childhood books, and what was so important about those books for you?
There are probably no surprises here: Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien – I just loved how it took me to a whole new world but with characters who felt so relatable and likeable. Boy by Roald Dahl – it features so many amusing episodes which made me laugh and gave me such a warm feeling in my tummy…The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton and Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger – both of these really spoke to me, and connected with all the mixed-up feelings I had as a teenager…Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury – I was so awed by how powerful and poetic it was, and it definitely inspired me to work in science fiction.
What are the three great secrets to being a good editor?
You need to get good at delivering criticism in a constructive way – and remember that if you are telling an author all the things that are wrong with a book, it helps to also list all the things that are right! Because it can be very hard for authors to receive just a whole bucketful of negative feedback.
You need to be patient, understanding but also tenacious – and you need to be prepared to help an author through many, many drafts of a manuscript when they are finding it a struggle to get their book to work. Your persistence will pay off.
You also need to know when to let something go – because at the end of the day, it’s the author’s work, and they have the final say on how they want their book to turn out. As an editor, you’re just a guiding voice, not a dictator!
How do you know when you’ve got a truly great book?
When it excites you so much that you simply do not want to put it down. Whilst reading it, you resent having to do any other activity which distracts you from reading the book. When you’ve finished it, you’re sad it’s over and want to read it all again. You also instantly want to tell at least ten other people about the book and convince them that they need to read it. I’ve been very lucky to work on a large number books like this, but three particular ones which spring to mind right now are The Girl With All the Gifts by M. R. Carey, Touch by Claire North and The Last Days of Jack Sparks by Jason Arnopp.
Is it difficult to turn off your editorial eye and simply read for pleasure? What do you like to read outside of work, fiction or non-fiction, and favourite authors?
Yes it is hard to turn off my editorial eye – and it’s also hard to carve out the time to read just for pleasure when there’s always an unending pile of manuscripts to read for work. But I do still manage to find some time to read just for pleasure – especially on holiday. I like to read a whole range of fiction. I try to read a good selection of the books which have won the major awards like the Man Booker, the Costa, the Arthur C. Clarke award etc…I’m not a huge reader of non-fiction, though now that I’ve had a child I’ve needed to refer to lots of parenting books!
Do you have any favourite writing style and technique books you can recommend for writers?
I’d really recommend Stephen King’s On writing: A Memoir of the Craft. Not only is it a really fascinating autobiography of this grand master of fiction, but it also offers some fantastic in-depth advice on writing technique, encouraging authors to write concisely and cut out the fat in their manuscript…Any aspiring authors should also read Carole Blake’s From Pitch To Publication, as it contains many tips which will help you immensely on your journey to getting published.
David was born in South Africa and baptised by King Neptune at the equator. His short fiction has appeared in various magazines and anthologies, including New Scientist’s ARC, Albedo 1, and the Sensorama anthology from Eibonvale. He is a winner of the Aeon Award and been shortlisted for the James White Award. His novel, Shopocalypse, was published by Clarion (2013) and will be re-issued by NewCon Press later this year. He is also one of the judges for the 2016 Arthur C. Clarke Award. David lives in Surrey, England, with the fantasy writer Gaie Sebold and too many tree ferns. He is currently the chair of Milford SF Writers.