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Friday, May 08, 2015

Editor Interview : Ameya Nagarajan, Commissioning Editor, Children's & Young Adult, Penguin Books (Part 1)

Ameya Nagarajan
Ameya Nagarajan can be fun. You would think that editors are not people, you can hang out with, but putting that thought to rest is this editor. 

Answering questions, like what she basically looks for in a book, an ideal writer's qualities, and patiently expaining to us what the entire editing process consists of, and asking all you writers out there to Rewrite, is this editor. 

This is only the first part, the second part is coming up, Next Week!!

What are you looking for in a book, when it first comes to you?

Story! I am in the camp of editors who says, I don’t care if the writing is stunning and lyrical, it still needs a story. Which, makes me one of those people, who is bored senseless by most of what is lauded as literary fiction these days! 

So, yes, what I want when I get a manuscript, is a great story. It doesn’t have to be a new story or a wildly different story—it just needs to be a good strong story. And it needs to make sense.

What, according to you are the qualities of an ideal writer?

A person who meets deadlines! Hahaha, no I’m kidding. Well, okay, not entirely. Um, I think that writing, like any profession, requires professionalism.

Sometimes, people give you feedback you don’t like; sometimes, you and your editor disagree—it’s not the end of the world.

Yes, the book is your baby and it’s hard to hear things like that character is unnecessary and so on, but you have to remember that the editor is also looking out for the book, and he or she has distance, you might not have. So be polite. 

I’ve had authors call me a liar and scream at the receptionist because I was at lunch and didn’t reply to an email immediately—the same authors who don’t reply to emails, themselves. Then, there are those who call you at 10 pm.

On Sunday. Come on guys, I have a life too. 

So, my favourite authors are the ones who are polite, don’t take feedback personally, have faith in me and are professional: they’re reliable with deadlines; they respect personal space and time; they are willing to accept that all of us at the publishing house do our jobs. And then we can be friends too, because I can talk to them honestly. 

Could you explain your process, from writing to editing, and finally, printing and marketing?

What, the publishing process? Wow ok, that’s an essay question clearly heh.

Different publishers do this differently. We at PRH get manuscripts, which the editor then reads. If she (we’re an all-girl team at the children’s division) likes it, she shares it with the ream for thoughts.  
Then, it is pitched to sales, and if they like it they give us projected figures, with which we try and see if we can make the financials work. And when they do, we make an offer. Negotiation etc.

Once accepted, we move to contracts and editing. About 6 months before the publication date, the editor briefs the design team on the cover, and also writes a blurb. Author input is highly welcome and valued, of course.

Then once the author and I have finished our edits, it goes to the copyeditor who checks for minutiae of grammar and punctuation, makes sure everything fits our house style, and does some fact checking and consistency checking. And then it’s typeset. At this point, we proof read, as does the author, and changes are restricted to errors, like typos and so on. And then the book goes to press! Two months later, the book is in your hands. 

Marketing and sales start their thing, with marketing pushing for about a month, and sales, making sure the books are in the market.

What is the one thing, you would you tell an aspiring writer? (feel free to include as many tips as you would like)

Rewrite. Don’t submit anything less than a fourth full draft. I promise you, you’ll immediately get our attention. Get beta readers and listen to them. People, who will be brutally honest and tear you to shreds.

Make sure you know, who you’re writing for—yes crossover books are cool but they are flukes. If you know who you’re writing for, your writing will be focussed and easier to place.

In India, write non-fiction! We love our non-fiction. If you’re writing fiction, strip your plot down to a single sentence. Until you can do that, you haven’t got it figured out. Once that’s done, you can expand and branch and run off on tangents, but you’ll always know which is the better direction to take, because it’ll take you back to your stripped line.

Write outlines. I know most writers hate the idea; they want the story to come to them, but it works. You wouldn’t believe the number of authors who thank me for making them do it. This is especially useful in non-fiction, of course, but it helps with fiction too.

What do you think an editor can add to the writer’s work?

Hah that’s an unfair question =) I’m not exactly unbiased no? Editors give you, perspective. We aren’t as close to the manuscript, and we know the market. We also help you smooth out things like jargon or ambivalence. 

An author is often so familiar with the story that they don’t see gaps that an editor, because they are not so close, will stumble over. I like to use the analogy of sculpture, when I’m feeling poetic. The author sees the figure in the stone, and brings it out, but the editor runs the final polish.
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