Spotlights and Soundbites: A Day in the Life of an Assistant Editor

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editor_dictionaryYPG fired its ten best questions at Allison Carroll, Assistant Editor at Harlequin, to learn more about what is arguably the most popular department in publishing.

1. Your typical workday looks something like this:

I’m not sure there is a typical day on the job. There’s e-mail, reading, editing, meetings, and more e-mail, but depending on the day, you never know just what surprises await you. The best days are when there are no fires to put out in the inbox, an author hits it out of the park with her revisions, and you find a submission you can get excited about. Oh, and when someone brings treats to the meetings.

2. The best thing about working for Harlequin is:

This is a bit of a self-serving answer, but I’d have to say it’s the people. The book publishing industry is big on mentorship, and Harlequin is a great example of this. I’ve been fortunate to have bosses who are not only great editors but also great managers, who believe that thinking about the big picture and strategizing about the future of the company doesn’t just mean working with authors on their craft, building author careers, and producing bestsellers, but developing the in-house editorial talent as well, and I’ve really benefited from that.

I also always think it’s a good sign when a large percentage of the employees at a company has been there a long time. Not only is the institutional knowledge those team members possess invaluable, but it’s an indication that it’s a good company to work for, that people want to be there.

3. The Oxford Comma: yes or no?

That varies from house to house, but Harlequin’s house style is to not use the Oxford comma, which I diligently uphold when editing. That said, it was ingrained in me at a very young age, and I find myself still using it in personal correspondence. Some habits die hard!

4. How does being an Editorial Assistant differ from being an Assistant Editor?

Two big differences I’ve noticed are when you’re an Assistant Editor are your time is your own and, with having your own list of authors, your projects have a larger scope (weighing in on cover art, promotions, marketing plans, etc.).

Organization and efficiency are crucial to an EA, and that’s also true as an Assistant Editor, but there’s a lot more freedom to pursue acquisitions, build relationships with agents, attend conferences, etc. All fabulous parts of the job, in my opinion!

As an EA, a day set aside for a big project, such as an edit, will undoubtedly be interrupted by lots of little administrative tasks and small problems your boss(es) entrust to you to handle. As an Assistant Editor, you actually have those magical days where you can read and edit all day without any other demands on your time (these days are rare, but they do exist!).

5. What career steps did you take in order to get where you are today?

I started out on a somewhat traditional path (does that even exist anymore?) that quickly turned into a trial by fire.

I interned at Dorchester Publishing about five years ago and that, fortunately, culminated in a job offer. But soon after, Dorchester began experiencing financial problems and layoffs (the company has since closed its doors after 40+ years of publishing exceptional genre fiction). I was not part of the initial layoffs, and soon I was not only an EA―I was managing the e-commerce website and newsletter lists, as well as the internship program. Taking a glass-half-full position, that was some accelerated and diverse experience I gained!

Later, I freelanced for the amazing romance community site Heroes and Heartbreakers, doing everything from writing and editing blog posts to coordinating guest bloggers to contributing to the various H&H social media platforms.

When I accepted an EA position at Harlequin, I was fortunate that my bosses recognized and utilized my previous experience. Timing played a role, too, and I was fortunate to be in a position to apply internally for my current job. As an internal candidate with external experience, I was ready for the next step and am loving being a part of the HQN team!

6. The top five skills every editor needs:

Oh, gosh, am I about to sound really pretentious? Ok, here goes…

  • Passion for good storytelling and knowledge of the market and trends.
  • Endurance and stamina—you’ll likely read a manuscript under your care three or more times before pub date!
  • Motivator and cheerleader—sure, your job is to help an author write the best book she can, but it’s not all about constructive criticism. It’s just as important to tell an author what she’s getting right as it is to help her polish and hone her story.
  • Champion—it’s not enough to love a book and be able to provide keen editorial feedback; you’ve got to campaign for support and resources from marketing, PR, sales, etc.
  • Strong relationships with authors and agents—you’re only as good as the people who want to work with you.

7. What advice do you have for those hoping to work in editorial?

Not everyone is lucky enough to start out working with the type of books they love, or even in the department they aspire to be in. Be sure you want to work in editorial. When I ran the internship program at Dorchester (a general internship that exposed interns to multiple departments), many who came into the program set on editorial left to pursue work in production, marketing, or PR.

That said, it can be extremely difficult to switch tracks the further into your career you get. If you really want to work in editorial or a specific kind of editorial (YA, sci-fi, literary, etc.), don’t be afraid not to settle! Turning down opportunities can feel antithetical to starting a career, but in the long run, it can pay off.

I guess my advice is take risks early on, be open to different experiences, and then trust your gut. I didn’t read genre fiction before interning at Dorchester, but that didn’t stop me from applying for the internship. And thank goodness I did! From day one, when I was asked to proofread a Christie Craig, I was hooked. I felt as though I’d found my people. Suddenly, I didn’t just want to be an editor, I wanted to be a romance editor. And now I am.

8. Do you read romance novels for pleasure despite having to work with them all day?

Absolutely! Sometimes I feel as though I’m one of the few people working in romance who didn’t grow up sneaking their grandmother’s Regencies or who had that cool aunt who would lend you her old paperbacks. I feel like I have so much catching up to do! I’d estimate 75% of what I read outside of work is romance. My tastes within the genre are myriad, and fortunately, romance writers tend to be prolific, so when you discover a new favorite, there’s undoubtedly an amazing backlist to glom (anyone who reads romance knows, it’s incredibly easy to glom!).

9. What books are currently on your nightstand?

Well, this is going to shoot my 75% statistic out of the water, but taking this question very literally, the to-be-read pile actually stacked next to the bed consists of:

  • Landline by Rainbow Rowell
  • When We Were Liars by E. Lockhart
  • Sylvia by Bryce Courtenay (a prolific Australian author who wrote amazing historical fiction)
  • A couple of the Psy/Changeling series by Nalini Singh (I’m terrible about re-reading, as in I do it a lot!)

10. Your definition of a book editor is:

I had a former boss ask me this exact question! What I came up with, and what he helped me come to understand and articulate much better, is that an editor’s first job is to help an author identify and communicate with her audience. Additionally, an editor is an author’s advocate within the publishing house and also has to balance the needs of the publisher with what’s in the best interest of the author. If that sounds like it can get dicey, that’s because it can!

AllisonCarrollBioPicAn Assistant Editor at Harlequin HQN, Allison Carroll is a Montana transplant who once upon a time packed all her belongings in a U-Haul and drove cross country to NYC. Her quest: a sneak peek at all the books! Her introduction to and love of all things romance began at Dorchester Publishing and continued at St. Martin’s Press’s Heroes and Heartbreakers. Allison joined the Harlequin family in 2012 as part of the editorial teams for Desire and Romantic Suspense, and has recently transitioned to HQN, where she is actively acquiring for the imprint. Feel free to follow her on Twitter @AllisonPCarroll

This Q&A was contributed by YPG member Hannah Black. For more information, visit YPG’s contributing writers page.

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