It takes a village to make a book. Behind every great book is a slew of people who help make it great: artists, designers, editors, publicists.
I talked to Maggie Lehrman, one of the senior editors at Abrams. Maggie – who has been a reader and a writer for as long as she can remember – realized that she could work on books like those she loved as a child after college as both an editor and a writer. Maggie has been at Abrams since 2005, editing middle grade and young adult novels, picture books, and graphic novels. She also wrote her first young adult novel, The Cost of All Things, which was published in 2015.
What’s the average day of a senior editor like?
The day starts with email: answering questions, putting out fires, keeping people informed of the status of books. There are the various in-house meetings: editorial, production, pub board, marketing, launch, sales conference. When there’s a bit more time, there’s always a document or two or three to write: P&Ls, production cost requests, descriptions of the books for factsheets or catalogs, flap copy, letters requesting blurbs, contract requests, briefs on jacket concepts. It’s important to keep on top of the submissions coming in or you can get buried very quickly—and good projects can move fast, so you can be ready. Often I’ll have a coffee or a lunch with an agent to hear what they’re up to and to let them know what I’m looking for. Then there’s writing editorial letters and line editing, which is what most people probably think of when they think of editing. That’s the most rewarding part of the job, but with everything else going on, it can be hard to find quiet blocks of time to concentrate. Then there’s the ephemera. Like writing this!
How much time do you spend reading manuscripts? Editing? On social media? Eating chocolate?
It depends on what’s due that week! If I have an edit letter or a line edit due to an author, I might spend 6 hours a day working on it. (Can’t do much more than that without burning out on it, so most books take many days to edit.) If I’m in an auction to acquire a book, I can spend a lot of time running around gathering enthusiasm, and that takes priority over some day-to-day tasks. If it’s a “normal” week I aim to keep on top of the inbox, read submissions, etc. With all that happening, I try not to check social media too often. An hour can pass too easily if I’m on Twitter… However, chocolate is a must. You would not believe how many treats are brought in or sent to us! Especially around the holidays. It can get very dangerous.
“Chocolate is a must.” @maggielehrman talks about her editing career on @piquebeyond.
How do you balance your work at Abrams with your other passions? You’re also a writer – do they take up similar energies, or does one lend energy to the other?
Both jobs require a passion for stories, and both mean I have to think about what makes a good story work. I’m definitely a better writer because I’ve worked with such talented writers over the years. And I think I’m a little more sensitive as an editor because I know how it feels to get an editorial letter and see your book out in the world. I feel a real responsibility to my authors to bring my A-game to their work—they’re trusting me to share in their vision. And I know that I am happier and more excited and more productive if I also take time for my own writing. So balance is one of my goals, in order to do my best work in both areas. It’s one of those things that I think everyone deals with in their own way—maybe it’s not writing and editing, but it can be writing and family, or editing and performing, or anything else. Being single-minded, at least for me, means diminished returns after a while. Variety helps exercise my brain.
What advice would you give to people who may want to become editors?
Read a lot! The most useful thing for me has been developing a working knowledge of what’s out there in the children’s book world. It helps in so many ways. Good stories sink into your bones. And even stories you don’t like can be informative—if you ask yourself why you don’t like it and if there’s anything that the author could’ve done to help it, you’ve just started editing.
“Read a lot!” @maggielehrman gives advice on how to become a great editor on @piquebeyond.
What are some of your favorite books to have worked on recently? What books do you think people should have on their radars going forward?
Oh, how can I choose? All my preciouses are worthy of attention! I’m very proud of my spring YA books, On the Edge of Gone by Corinne Duyvis and The Steep and Thorny Way by Cat Winters. Each of them have gotten three starred reviews, and they’re fascinating in different ways: optimistic science fiction and ghostly historical. Coming up next spring is a delicious novel from Marianna Baer called The Inconceivable Life of Quinn, about a girl who finds herself pregnant with no memory of ever having sex. It’s engrossing, a little bit magical, and ultimately hopeful.
What else do you want people to know about being a senior editor?
All the editors I know truly love books. We are fans of each other’s books and root for our favorites just like readers do. Even when we’re running from meeting to meeting, we still get excited when the finished copies land on our desk.