Ever wonder about the behind-the-scenes stories of the book publishing industry? Well, wonder no more, because each month we’re featuring an interview with a well-known book blogger, editor, or agent. For May, we’re thrilled to welcome fabulous developmental editor, Kristen Weber!
What was your first job in (or out of) editing/publishing? How did you end up in this career path?
I was pre-law in college. I think that’s a path many people who love to read and write end up on. But the reality of all the loans was staggering, so I decided to take a deep breath, take a year off from school, and see what I could do with books, my first true love. I sent my resume to all the publishing companies I could find and ended up interviewing for an assistant position in the subsidiary rights department of Hachette Book Group. This was the perfect spot to land.
The subsidiary rights department is in charge of selling the rights to a book in different formats, like audio, large print, or to foreign publisher. I got to be involved in every step of the process as these licensees replicated our books in their own formats. This exposed me to all sorts of different departments and employees and I ended up befriending Sara Ann Freed, who ran the legendary Mysterious Press. We bonded over our love of mysteries and manicures and when she needed a new assistant, I applied. The rest, as they say, is history.
What exactly is a developmental editor, and what does one do?
A developmental editor looks at many elements of a story including voice, setting, narrative structure, and pace to see how it all comes together. Like a doctor diagnosing a patient, developmental editors need to figure out how to help a manuscript reach its full potential, while keeping the author’s own voice and vision intact. Unlike copy editors-who take a manuscript that has already been developed and subject it to a much more technical process focusing on elements such as spelling, grammar, punctuation and formal style, developmental editors are more concerned with the big picture. Developmental editors are typically just called “editors” at publishing houses.
Now that I work freelance, I’m careful to make it clear that I am a developmental editor instead of a copy editor. I’m the one that you should come to before you start submitting your project to agents or once you start and you’re receiving nice but vague rejections you have no idea what to do with. And besides editing your book, I’ll stick with you during the submission process or as you self publish, offering advice and support. No developmental editor can guarantee publication, but that’s always my goal. And I’m happy to say that most of my freelance clients have ended up with agent representation and/or published in some way.
Do you have a fun or interesting story about a past client (no names, of course!) or manuscript you’ve worked on that you’d be willing to share?
I’m often asked how one can become an editor, and the best way is to find someone to mentor you (and of course, read, read read!). I was so lucky to have that type of relationship with Sara Ann Freed, who trusted me and would often let me edit her manuscripts on my own.
One time, she gave me the manuscript of a very famous, not-to-be-named celebrity. It needed a lot of work, so she sent me to his office and I helped the author break the story out literally page by page. We plastered his entire office with printed-out pages of the manuscript and worked on it like a puzzle, as we tried to figure out the best way for the mystery to unfold. It was a lot of work and not what anyone would think of as traditional “editing,” but it was so much fun to get outside the office and involve myself completely in someone else’s brainstorming process.
If you could go back in time and act as developmental editor for a famous author, who would that be?
I am lucky that I actually edited so many of my idols. I’ve edited M.C. Beaton, Marcia Muller, and Marget Maron, all true luminaries of the mystery field. It doesn’t get much better than that, but I’d love to have also worked with Sue Grafton. Her Kinsey Milhone mysteries are what started my love of the mystery genre. Ironically, I did interview at her publisher and with her editor when I was searching for my first job, but fate brought me to Mysterious Press.
Describe your favorite type of author to work with.
Someone who understands the process. You’re not going to find any editor—or agent—who tells you your book is perfect, although many authors come to me secretly hoping for that. Nothing is perfect. I’m reading on another level than the typical beta reader or critique partner. I know what it takes to get your novel published, because I used to be one of the gatekeepers. I love authors who are open to hearing my comments. They might not agree with every single one of them, but I love when they try to make them work within their own vision. Ideally, working with a developmental editor will help you improve not only the one manuscript you hired them for, but your entire writing process.
Please read more about Kristen below and say hello in the comments!
Kristen Weber began her career in the subsidiary rights department of Hachette Book Group, but quickly switched to the editorial side, eventually overseeing Grand Central Publishing’s legendary Mysterious Press. She most recently worked in-house as a senior editor for Penguin’s New American Library, where she helped launch Obsidian, their dedicated mystery imprint. Now working as a freelance editor in Los Angeles, she has helped her clients land agents, secure deals with publishing houses, and publish independently—some going on to win awards and hit bestseller lists.
You can learn more about Kristen and her services here: www.kristenweber.com