What’s it really like to work closely with an editor, from initial idea through to final proofs, ready for the book to hit the shelves?
We asked Author-Illustrator Chris Mould and Rachel Wade, Commissioning Editor at Hachette Children’s Group, to talk us through each stage from their own point of view.
First, our introductions…
Pocket Pirates, the journey.
Inspiration hits! Each book starts with an initial idea…
CM: I’d been re-reading The Borrowers at the same time as telling myself I was done with pirates and needed a break and to do something fresh. I also happened to bump into a ship in a bottle in an old bric-a-brac shop somewhere whilst on holiday (and trying not think about work). But suddenly it fell into place and the two came together. Tiny pirates living in a ship in a bottle in an old junk shop. What could be more fun?
RW: The killer concept is the holy grail of publishing, perhaps particularly so in children’s books. How can you sum up your book in one sentence – or, preferably, within the few words of a series title? When Chris came to me with the idea of tiny pirates living in a ship in a bottle, I knew he’d struck gold.
|Chris had been re-reading|
The Borrowers by Mary Norton
You’ve had the initial idea, what about The Pitch?
CM: This consisted of a couple of sketchbook pages where I’d nailed down the characters and set the scene with some quick visuals. And also a one-page synopsis and some sample chapters. So there was enough visually and narratively to get a grip on the series and have a feel for the age range and where it would sit in the marketplace, etc. These things are important because even you have an idea that’s great, you still need to know whether it is picture book or young fiction etc., and therefore know what you will ideally produce in terms of word count and visual content. You have to understand your own product and where it fits in on the shelf – otherwise you’re basically unprepared.
RW: As you can tell, Chris is a joy to work with when it comes to working up a pitch for a series. His background in picture books and animation means that he knows how to bring an idea to life in just a few visuals – and he understands the importance of working out the specifics at the outset. It’s crucial to make all the key decisions about number of pages, layout, number of words and illustrations, age of reader, reading ability, foreign markets and UK book retailers: that way, everyone is, um, on the same page (sorry!). For a project like Pocket Pirates, these things and the overall tone of the series are much more important than specific plots. Plus, I’ve been working with Chris for a long time, so I know we’ll work on it collaboratively as we go along!
After the pitch comes…The Submission. Over to Acquisitions:
CM: This is basically a sit-back-and-wait process for freelance creatives, and it can be a long one, so I always make sure I’ve plenty on and that I’m distracted with other things if I’m submitting. Rachel is well used to the acquisitions process and she will carefully select the right moment to take a project in there. She wouldn’t just wander in with whatever landed on her desk and I admire her for that. She looks at the marketplace, she looks at the Hodder list and then she considers the right moment. When lots of other projects are coming from other directions you have to have a strategy and be aware of what’s going on around you. She’s very definitely good at that.
RW: *blushes* Chris has been in the industry a long time so he’s well used to how long things can take at our end. It’s great to have the time to get everyone in the company on board, particularly if it’s something we hope to sell all over the world. But the editor couldn’t be happier on the day that we sign on the dotted line!
Hurrah! Book acquired, corks popped. Here comes the first edit:
CM: Rachel usually comes back to me after a first read of a manuscript and highlights problem areas, sections where I’ve tripped up or been inconsistent, and generally gives me advice on structure and pace and strength of character and plot. She is very good at allowing me the space to resolve the problems in my own way. So she wouldn’t just amend everything and give it back to me. In the very early stages of working with her I realised that what she was doing was making sure that the narrative kept my voice at all times.
RW: The editorial relationship is a partnership. The editor’s not there to re-write it: if she perceives a problem, the most fruitful way of resolving it is to work out – with the author – what his intention is, and how it can be clarified. Authors always come up with better and more creative solutions! I’m lucky enough to work with lots of authors who are really happy to receive editorial feedback … neither the author nor the editor is always right, but there’s always an answer!
What, more edits? Second edit, line edit and copy edit:
CM: One thing I don’t do is read through my original version and compare it to the edited one. That’s not helpful to anyone. And it becomes impossible to assess what’s different while soaking up the story. What’s important is the collaboration and the result that comes from the two of us assessing what’s there and making sense of it. That whole thing of Rachel looking at what I’ve done from the outside is vital. You’re so narrow-minded and closeted when you’re writing. You need the external input. It’s a bit like someone putting a light on for you when you’re sat in a darkened room. So when Rachel has tweaked and toned a second version, she will add touches here and there, but I never want to know what’s hers and what’s mine (because you forget). It’s not important and it would just be distracting to know. I tend not to be too worried about things like line edits. I get bored by them. I probably shouldn’t say that.
RW: I can’t believe Chris finds line-edits boring! I love having the opportunity to line-edit sometimes. Once Chris and I have agreed that the story is sound in all important points, I’ll work on a line-edit. This varies from author to author, and differs from a copy-edit in that a copy-editor tends to have a lighter touch. I prefer to do line-edits myself if possible, so that I can make sure I retain Chris’s voice and intentions. It’s a lot easier to do if you know that the author trusts you! Chris’s word choices are often really interesting and they’re part of what makes his individual voice, so we agreed a long time ago that we’d give ourselves the freedom to leave in the occasional bit of quirky/unusual/'difficult' vocabulary. Kids love learning new words and are very good at ignoring words they don’t understand! The copy-editing stage tends to be more focused on making sure that the grammar and spelling are accurate, and on picking up matters of consistency (were his eyes blue in the last chapter? Is it really still Wednesday?).
Edits done? More corks popping? Time for the Proof by PDF:
CM: Needless to say, this is the point where we are looking at the actual pages (albeit on screen). So there’s a level of escalated excitement as we have a first peek at artwork-meets-story, and something that almost looks like a book. At this point, we shift around and re-size certain images, and sometimes we find I’ve been inconsistent and I need to change something. It’s quite normal for me to miss details in the story when I illustrate. So, for example, I recently drew a scene in which Button was standing in front of a wristwatch to tell the time. And then I re-read the text and remembered he wasn’t supposed to be wearing any shoes and I had to draw it again. I’m a poor reader. Even when it comes to my own work!
RW: Getting the illustrations in the post from Chris always makes my day. There’s something tactile about feeling the quality of the paper and looking at the ink on the page that you can’t get from the reproductions (go and see his work in a gallery!). Putting the artwork and text into layouts (page proofs) which make sense visually and are easy to read – and beautiful – always feels the most like creating a work of art. I guess it is a little like hanging pictures in a gallery! It tends to take some to-ing and fro-ing and a bit of re-drawing or tweaking of the text before it’s just right, but that’s all part of the fun. And the most fun of all is receiving the finished copies! It can be years between first concept and publication, but on that day, it’s worth the wait.
Thank you, Chris and Rachel, for shining a light into a darkened room and revealing the process for us from initial idea to publication. Thank you for sharing your wonderful working relationship and the journey of Pocket Pirates.