Tell us a little about yourself and how you got started in the publishing business.
I was an English major and on graduating from college had no idea what I wanted to do. I went to an employment agency in New York and when they found out my academic background suggested publishing. I soon landed a job at a publishing house. but back then very few women were editors. The ones that were usually were in children's books or outside the mainstream. After a few years I got a job editing for an encyclopedia, and then a small house where I did non-fiction and finally at New American Library where I handled reprints and a few originals.
What made you decide to edit fiction?
I never "decided" to edit fiction; I just handled what was assigned to me at first. Since NAL mostly did fiction I did that. As time passed and publishing became more vertical did I almost all originals, the vast majority of which were fiction.
Are your favorite pleasure reads markedly different from the fiction you edit?
What I edit as a freelancer varies greatly; some stuff may fall in an area I read for fun, but most does not.
How did you make the transition from in-house to freelance editor?
After leaving NAL I did reading for literary agents and sometimes had editing input. I slowly started to do some freelance editing partly due to to the encouragement and suggestions made to me by the former book doctor from NAL.
Do you work with publishing houses who need outside help or with authors who want editorial input before they submit?
I work entirely with individual authors and have no work with publishing houses.
What makes for a great editorial relationship with an author? As a former in-house editor, do you offer advice about publishing or marketing manuscripts to freelance clients?
What makes a good relationship is if the two of you have a good give and take; if your discussions lead to creative ideas that improve the manuscript. I talk to an author after reading and evaluating a manuscript rather than writing a report as it is far more productive. Occasionally I have a distinct idea about how to go about publishing or marketing their work.
What sort of books do you work with? Are there any genres, books or topics you wouldn't handle?
So far I haven't run into any but I'm sure at some time I could. The closest was a man who wrote a novel about his career in the IMF. He couldn't write a novel to save his soul so I convinced him to write a memoir instead.
What's the one aspect of the writer's craft that you wish every writer understood?
Everyone has their limits; they do and I do. I can't help if they're not up to fixing it or I'm not hitting on the right formula. I know a guy who had his manuscript looked over by lots of people and his agent couldn't sell it. When he got a new agent he said he could probably sell it if he made one small change. He made the change and the manuscript immediately sold to a major publisher.
What advice do you have for seasoned authors in the current publishing climate?
The market is terrible in this economic turndown. Unless you're already a really solid -selling author, to have really unique and appealing subject or to write about what is currently hot in your area. For example, if you're a romance writer, go with vampires!
Is there anything else you'd like to address?
One thing that I think is interesting about my job is that everybody thinks they can write a novel I can read music but I don't think I can compose a symphony! I get submissions from guys who are near retirement and have some idea about their professions that they want to convey to the public. Instead of writing a magazine or newspaper article or doing a non-fiction book they think they will reach more people with a novel, when instead they will never get it published without that kind of talent.
Thanks to Dara Girard for inviting Hilary to blog for us and to Elaine Isaak for the Q&A.