Pen Friends ~ We are elated to have Blink YA Book’s Editor Jillian Manning with us today. Hope you enjoy her insights, tips, and recommendations!
SP: Welcome Jillian! Let’s start personal ~Who are you and how long have you worked as an editor? Which books made you fall in love with the publishing industry?
I’m Jillian Manning, one of the editors at Blink YA Books. I’m a Michigan girl, cat lover, list maker, and avid YA reader. (Grown-up books? Yikes.) I’ve worked in publishing since my early college days, and have been an editor here at Blink for over two years. According to my mother, I started reading when I was two years old (though that may be a parental exaggeration), and I haven’t stopped since. I grew up reading Tamora Pierce, J.K. Rowling, and Caroline B. Cooney, and I decided I either wanted to be them or work with people like them. When I found out being an editor meant you could read for a living…well, I was hooked.
SP: Mistakes, faux pas, cliches and the like–which do you see in debut authors and what tip can you give them to fix it before querying?
First, let me say I love working with debut writers (I have three on my list right now!). Debuts have a ton of enthusiasm and are so much fun to work with. But, of course, sometimes newer writers fall into common writing traps…and experienced writers do too! Here are some issues I come across:
- A weak query letter: Query letters are hard to write, but so important. If the query doesn’t capture my attention, odds are I won’t even take a look at the manuscript. Be sure to capture the hook, the drama, and the key plot points of your novel in a compelling and concise manner. Extra tip: If you’re writing fantasy, don’t include a dozen made-up places or terms in your query—that can be overwhelming and a little off-putting for an editor.
- Typos in the query or sample chapters: No manuscript is perfect, but if I see a wrong your/you’re in the first three pages, I get worried. Those preliminary materials must be as flawless as possible.
- Overdoing voice: I acquire young adult novels, but most of those aren’t actually written by young adults. I come across writers from time to time who try so hard to capture an authentic teen voice that they slip into stereotypes like Valley Girl speech, texting abbreviations, or use of trendy language. Your best bet is to write a book that will feel timeless and relevant to any teen or adult who picks it up.
- Insta-love and love triangles: Short version—these are overplayed. Long version—read this blog post!
SP: Pet peeves in editing?
Pet peeves…well, in addition to the items above, one of my biggest pet peeves is formatting. Strange, I know, but getting a manuscript that isn’t properly formatted means more work for me! (For the record, correct formatting includes: 1” margins, double spaced paragraphs, indented—not tabbed!—first lines, one space between sentences, and Times New Roman font.) I’m also not a fan of overusing adjectives or adverbs—they slow you down!
SP: Which genres do you love editing?
I love all things YA—from contemporary to fantasy to historical. I also acquire the occasional picture book or board book, which make for an entirely different editing experience. With a short text, every single word counts, whereas novels have a lot more leeway.
SP: What are editors looking for? What stands out to an editor?
In every book I consider, I look for a marketable hook, standout writing, and a passionate author. With so many books in the marketplace, a novel needs to have a strong hook for sales and marketing. For example, one of the books currently on my list was pitched as “Veronica Mars meets Downton Abbey.” Um, yes please! (P.S. That book is The Lost Girl of Astor Street—go buy it!) Strong writing is a mix of the author’s technique and the editor’s taste, but I’ve found it always shows when a writer has revised their manuscript and received critiques from other writers. And finally, a passionate author makes the job more fun…and a lot easier. Social media and author events are a large part of today’s book marketing, and having an author who can connect to readers in person and online makes a world of difference.
SP: When do you know that a writer is not ready to publish?
A writer must be able to take constructive criticism. Editors don’t always know best…but we do most of the time. When I come across a writer who isn’t willing to make changes to his or her manuscript, I know they aren’t ready for the publishing world. Having thick skin and a willingness to compromise is key to growing as a writer and succeeding as an author.
SP: What important changes/trends do you see happening in writing right now?
I’m so excited to see the publishing world becoming more inclusive. Each year I find books that teach me about new viewpoints, issues, and cultures, and that type of writing will be invaluable to young readers (and us older readers) who are developing opinions about the world. Books have always been a space for creativity and exploration, and the stories we are seeing now shed light in a world that’s filled with dark biases and misconceptions. I also love the surge in kick-butt heroines. Nobody’s sitting in a tower waiting for a white knight—they’re all out there saving themselves and the world.
SP: As an editor in a publishing house, what is your favorite role?
I love bringing new voices to readers and helping authors turn their stories into books. For me, the two most exciting times to be an editor are when the book is acquired and when you finally hold the finished book in your hands. These are moments of celebration with the author and with the team that brought the book to life, and they make all those hours of hard work more than worth it.
SP: Are there any upcoming books that would you like to tell our readers about?
Only all of them! J But to keep it simple, here are the four YA titles I’ve edited that are releasing in 2017:
- The Lost Girl of Astor Street: A 1920s murder mystery in which 18-year-old Piper Sail’s best friend Lydia goes missing, and Piper braves the dark underbelly of mob-run Chicago to find her. If you love Veronica Mars, you will love everything about this book.
- It Started with Goodbye: This modern twist on the Cinderella story features a sassy graphic designer heroine, a swoon-worthy Prince Charming, a fairy godmother modeled after Blanche from Golden Girls, and a host of other awesome characters.
- In 27 Days: After a classmate commits suicide, Hadley Jamison makes a deal with Death and goes back in time 27 days to save the life of a boy she barely knows. I found this story on Wattpad—it has over 21 million reads!—and the author is a college student. Young writers, take heart!
- The Thing with Feathers: A poignant exploration of a girl living with debilitating epilepsy who starts her junior year of high school trying to keep her condition a secret from new friends and crushes. My favorite character in this book is the protagonist’s seizure dog, Hitch. He will melt your heart! (Also, there are Emily Dickinson quotes galore, which you may have guessed from the book’s title.)
SP: What advice would you give writers going the traditional publishing route?
Find a literary agent! Most publishing houses don’t accept unagented manuscripts, so having a literary agent is key to getting a foot in the door. Agents also help negotiate contracts, handle payments, and advocate your book with publishers. They also act as gatekeepers and matchmakers and make the entire process so much easier
SP: On the flip side of things, what advice would you give an aspiring editor in a publishing house?
If you’re just starting in publishing, I highly recommend the summer publishing programs—the Denver Publishing Institute, the Columbia Publishing Course, and the NYU Summer Publishing Institute. I attended DPI, and it was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. If you’re working in publishing already but not as an editor, keep looking for opportunities to assist your editors. I was lucky to work with some amazing editors early in my career who gave me chances to try new things and take on new responsibilities. And beyond that, READ! The best editors are insatiable readers who know their markets and the genres that are growing.
SP: Thanks Jillian!
Nova, signing off.