Editor Editorial: Interview with Lindsey Hall

To finish this mini-series of interview with editors, I wanted to jump back in to the publishing houses, after speaking with Julie Crisp and John Jarrold – both are now independent, having worked for houses previously. Both are also big names in the industry. So I wanted someone on the inside, in the here and now, someone a little less well known (at least here in the UK)…at the minute.

Enter, Lindsey Hall.

Lindsey has published one of my favourite books of all time, and its only a debut. Talk about setting the bar high. Not only that, but she’s worked with another debut author who’s right there on the top of my TBR list, with another two authors’ debut works set to be released later this year. 4 IN 1 YEAR! How does she do it?

Well, she’s an editor, of course.

…they have powers.

Hi Lindsey – I’m forcing myself to stay on topic, that of ‘the role of the editor’ and not just talk about the amazing books you’ve got coming out this year. First, and for those that don’t know you: who are you, what do you do, and something/special an interesting fact about you? Go!

Hi Michael! I’m Lindsey Hall, an editor at Hachette Book Group. I acquire science fiction and fantasy for Orbit, and commercial fiction for Redhook.

Something interesting about me? Hmm.. well, I’ve been learning to speak Russian and will be traveling to Moscow and St. Petersburg this summer to put it to use.

If you had to summarise the role of the ‘Editor’ how would you do it?

If I had to summarize, I’d say an editor’s job is being a book’s champion. From the first moment you read and love a submission, you want to get everyone else as excited as you are – the rest of the editorial team, the marketing team, the design team, other authors, readers in the bookstore – everyone! If you’ve ever had a submission rejected because the editor didn’t have “the right editorial passion,” that’s not just an excuse. Books can be objectively good, but not necessarily the right book for a particular editor, because when they take on a new project, they have to love this book enough to shout about it from the rooftops, to tell every single person they know and meet why they *have* to read this one.

What made you want to become an Editor? And how did you become one?

My first memory of wanting to be an editor was when I eight years old. I owned roughly 70 R. L. Stine books and was just dying for the next one to come out. I remember saying to my mom that if I were R. L. Stine’s editor, I’d get to read all of his books before anyone else – and that’s how I feel about all of my authors today. I get so excited when one of their new projects delivers and I get to dive back into their worlds – as my job!

I actually became an editor through what I imagine is a pretty standard path. I studied Literature and Creative Writing in college, then moved to New York and worked as an intern, then eventually was hired as an assistant at Orbit, and have never looked back. J

To dispel some of the mystics surrounding the profession, as an Editor, what’s the one thing that people (authors or prospective authors in particular) don’t know about your job, but you’d like to provide an insight into?

One thing I personally didn’t expect was how social an editor has to be. I didn’t fully appreciate how much public speaking and networking is involved —presentations, pitching books, meeting agents and authors, going to conventions, being on social media, etc. Honestly, though, as much anxiety as all of that stuff gives me (surprise, I’m an introvert!), I think the socializing is a really cool aspect of being an editor, and has made me a more confident and outgoing person in general.

I imagine a lot of authors feel this way too, and may be surprised by or have to adjust to the social expectations. This is particularly relevant nowadays, with the prevalence of social media. Writing itself may be a mostly solidarity act, but the ability to connect with readers and with your writing community is also important.

As an editor, what’s the most rewarding part of your job?

There are SO MANY. How can I even choose? A few of my favorites are:

-Reading a new submission and getting that excited, tingly, “I HAVE TO HAVE THIS” feeling

-Seeing readers get excited about a book I’ve worked on. As a reader, I personally love discovering new books that I can get lost in and love and cherish, so it’s pretty incredible to help bring that experience to other readers.

-Giving authors good news. When I can present an author with a cover they love, or a review for their book from one of their own favorite authors, or a great sales figure. When I get to do these things, and see authors’ enthusiasm or gratitude or EEEEEE moments, it reminds me that I’m helping someone’s lifelong dreams come true, which is just one of the best, most rewarding feelings.

And on the flipside, what’s the hardest part of your job?

I know authors must feel this a thousand times more intensely, but it’s always incredibly nerve-racking waiting to see if readers love a book as much as I do. It’s one of the hardest parts because it’s not something we can really control. Between the author, editor, and wider publishing team, we can affect the quality of writing, editing, cover art, marketing, publicity, etc., but it’s still always a hold-your-breath moment, waiting to see if readers are going to connect with and love a book like you hope they will.

So, stepping away from the big questions – what’s a typical day in the office look like?

In publishing, we work on a seasonal schedule, so there isn’t necessarily a typical day, but some things that typically happen over the course of a full season: I read submissions, acquire, edit, collaborate with our art and marketing teams, pitch to our sales force at quarterly conferences, write jacket copy, send manuscripts to authors for early blurbs, meet with agents, and of course, make time to do interviews with awesome bloggers.

(Disclosure: I didn’t pay her to say that…)

On the note of ‘typical’ let’s talk commissioning. What is it about a MS that makes it stand out to you?

Voice and pacing typically make a manuscript stand out to me. I’m open to most subgenres and plots if the voice feels unique and three-dimensional enough, and if the pace keeps me turning pages. I have a manuscript wish list of course, but I’m open to the idea that sometimes I won’t know I wanted something until it’s right in front of me. An engaging voice and pace from the outset can make me want to keep reading a book that, from its description alone, may not have seemed like something I would typically enjoy.

So, once you’ve picked an MS from the fold, what’s the typical treatment that it receives? In a recent mini interview series with several fantasy debut authors, it was really interesting to see the different experiences each MS went through in terms of editorial amendments, and how these impacted the lengths of a story, for example.

As you say, there isn’t really a one-size-fits-all editing process, especially since books come in on submission in varying stages of finality.

Something typical, though, is an early conversation about the vision for the book. I always want to make sure the author and I are on the same page about its overall direction, since that will affect the edits, the cover, the copy, everything. For example, I had a submission come in last year that was initially pitched as YA historical fantasy. From the very first page, it had an incredible voice and pace — I ended up staying up all night to finish it. I knew I really loved it, but I was seeing it as an adult second world fantasy instead of YA historical.

So, I called the agent and talked through my thoughts with her, who then shared them with the author. As it turns out, the author’s vision was very much in line with the potential shape I saw for the book. And, in a process that was smoother than I could have ever imagined, the author nearly doubled the book’s length as she expanded on character developments and backstory, world building, epic action, and crazy awesome politics that made it more firmly high fantasy and for adult readers.

That book was absolutely brilliant on submission, and it’s absolutely brilliant now, but if the author hadn’t agreed with the direction I saw the book taking, it wouldn’t have been nearly as productive or cohesive an editing process. Another editor may have read it and seen it going in a totally different but equally awesome direction, which is why I try to have conversations about the big picture vision for the book as early on as possible, most often before acquisition.

With wordcount in mind, being one of the factors in making a story a book, what other factors make or contribute to a marketable product?

It’s always helpful to have a strong hook – a one or two sentence pitch that explains what the book’s about, while also highlighting how it’s interesting and unique. Here’s a recent example of a pitch, for an upcoming debut novel, that simply and vividly captures the premise of book: “Two reluctant partners on the Wardwatch, one a human and one a dwarf, have to catch a murderer loose in their Tolkien-esque fantasy city – it’s The Lord of the Rings meets Lethal Weapon.”

When I saw that pitch in a submission, I instantly wanted to know more. An ideal hook gives the reader a sense of the characters, conflict, and world in a way that helps them make the snapshot decision of whether they want to read the book—which in this case I definitely did!

Within the fantasy space, is there anything in particular that you believe traditional publishers are looking for? More dragons, non-western settings, strong female leads, diverse casts, complex magic systems?

I’m looking for books with any or all of the above. I can’t speak for the whole industry, but I know at Orbit, we’re actively looking for books with diversity in all forms. Representation for women, the LGBTQ community, people of color, as authors and characters. New and creative magic and worlds. Dynamic plots and twists on familiar tropes. I’ve been seeing more and more books that feature these elements, and in some really incredible ways. Keep it coming!

On that note, do you think there’s any area of the fantasy genre that’s on decline? And why do you think they’re declining?

I don’t know that any areas are declining exactly, but it’s inevitable that once a subgenre becomes immensely popular, it will in turn become immensely saturated, and then for a time, seem to be in decline as people move on to the Next Big Thing. Time proves most things cyclical though, and trends often come back around.

If a story is a good story, we want to acquire it and find unique and creative ways to get it into the hands of people who will love it, regardless of whether it’s part of a currently growing or declining subgenre.

Now, to put you in the spotlight a little, which of all the books you’ve worked on is your favourite, and why?

Oh, man! This is truly an impossible question. They’re all quite different and wonderful in their own ways, and I really do love each of them.

It’d be rude not to ask – but is there a book in you? I mean, we all have a story to tell, will you write one?

Never say never, of course, but I don’t think so. I’m constantly blown away by the brilliance, skill, and creativity of the authors I work with. I really don’t know how they do it, and I’m very happy and lucky to be able to help get their books out and into the world as their editor.

With writing in mind as we come to a close, and not to hijack a question that everyone asks…but I’m still going to, what advice would you give to a) would-be editors, and b) would-be authors?

I was given some advice when I was starting out that really stuck with me, which was simply: “You know what a good book is.”

On both sides, as an editor or an author, I think it’s easy to doubt yourself and your writing ability or editorial eye. But at the end of the day, I think I can safely say that we’ve all read a hell of a lot of books — some of which we’ve enjoyed and some of which we haven’t. To be a good writer or editor, you have to have a basic understanding of how and why a book is enjoyable, but also appreciate that everyone’s definition of enjoyable is different. There are massively bestselling books that haven’t wowed me and books that most people haven’t heard of that I’ve fallen completely in love with. As an editor or an author, you have to remember to trust yourself, trust that you know what a good book is, and be able to take edits, criticism, and rejection without losing that confidence in yourself and your work.

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