Rachel's Write of Way

So THAT’S What an Editorial Assistant Does . . .

Posted on: January 24, 2010

Note: Before I start this post, I’m required to make a note that the opinions in this blog are mine, not necessarily those of Harlequin 🙂

I promised an update shortly after I started my job, so here it is! In short, I really love it so far. In long . . . oh boy, here goes . . . well, the first thing I did was go around and meet everybody, and of course everyone’s names went in one ear and out the other. And worse, I didn’t meet everyone because some people weren’t in their offices yet, so for the rest of the day (actually, the rest of the week) I would run into someone in the hallway, kitchen or bathroom and couldn’t remember if I had met them yet, but of course they would remember me because there’s only one of me to learn and a whole bunch of them. But everybody is so nice! For now I’m nodding and smiling at everyone; I’m sure I’ll sort them out by name eventually. The rest of my first day consisted of reading and filling out a whole lot of forms related to taxes, benefits, policies, etc . . . all that good stuff! I also had lunch with everybody who works on the Harlequin line that I’m the editorial assistant for. It was nice to have a more personal interaction and the opportunity to get to know them a little bit since I’ll be working so closely with them.

After my first day, I felt like a HUGE weight had been taken off my shoulders. I had been so unbelievably nervous for it—I’m sure anybody can relate to that standard, new-situation feeling. And there’s something so powerful, so triumphant that comes after you make it through without, of course, any of the 65,389 catastrophes that played in your mind for weeks before like a horrible slideshow. I survived my first day in corporate America! Yay! As my dad told me that night, one day of my working life down . . . about 40 years to go. But let’s work on getting comfortable in my job for now, and that way I’ll enjoy every second of those years!

Other tasks for my first week included a lot of easy, administrative-type stuff like printing manuscripts, making copies and mailing books and manuscripts to authors. But I also did some more hands-on things, too. I corresponded with one of the authors when I had to email her the AA’s (author alterations) on her soon-to-be-published novel. (I’m learning what all the abbreviations and acronyms stand for . . . slowly but surely . . . it makes me feel like I’m really, truly part of the covert secret operation that is book publishing!) I transcribed in red pen all the changes an author had made to her manuscript after a copyeditor went over it (aka if the editor made changes that the author didn’t agree with or if the author found new things to change) onto a clean copy. I filled out CIS’s (copywriter information sheets) for three titles that are being reissued in February by one of the major authors. These are forms that the copywriter uses to write the shoutline (5-10 words in big print on the backs of the books that are supposed to get readers’ interest) and back cover copy (summary of the book . . . you know, what everyone reads at the bookstore to decide if they might like the book before buying it). I had to read summaries and reviews on Amazon of the three books that are being reissued so I could answer the questions (I’ve been reading tons of Harlequin books, but I haven’t read them all yet!), such as the tone of the book, a one-sentence summary, the thematic issues, why we acquired it in the first place, the major conflict, etc.

I read a Harlequin author’s new manuscript and wrote a reader’s report on the strengths/weaknesses/changes I would make. My boss is going to send the author both her thoughts and mine (assuming mine are in the ballpark . . . haha). I had to be sure everything in the manuscript held to the standards that our imprint at Harlequin, the Christian line, maintains. What else, what else . . . it’s my job to manage the slush (unsolicited manuscripts we get for hopeful publication), query letters (letter with a brief summary of the author’s book and a request for the editor to read it) and author fan mail (I take it I don’t have to explain this one). I get to field the crazies and deflect them from taking precious and valuable time away from my busy and important bosses. If anyone calls my bosses and tries to make a query pitch over the phone, I was told that they’ll be transferred to me, and I’m to tell them that we don’t accept phone queries but to point them to where they can find our submission guidelines on the website. I got to make a cool decision the other day. The girl who used to have my position got an email query, and she asked if I’m going to accept email queries. I said sure, so she emailed the query-er and said I’m open to email submissions and she gave my email address where they could be directed. So, although I might be lowest on the editorial world’s totem pole, I’m above all you query-ers with your beloved best-sellers! I have power (sort of)! I also get to read all the authors’ fan mail to screen it and be sure no one’s saying hateful things to our fabulously talented writers, and assuming they’re nice and peachy, I look up the authors’ addresses in our database and forward the mail on to them.

Speaking of databases, there are two systems we use that I’m still trying to get used to. One contains tons of information about the authors and all their books. The other is used for logging manuscripts; every time we get a manuscript, it has to be logged in with the date. Every time it goes back to the author for revisions or returns to the editor for approval, that action has to be registered so we can keep track of the process. As the editorial assistant, my duties include things like logging these steps because it’s basically my job to ensure that the publication process—from the time a manuscript arrives in the mail to the time it’s published (and believe me, there are a LOT of steps in there—and I don’t think I’ve come across even half yet)—stays on track. I remind people about deadlines, I’m the manuscript’s liaison between author, editor, copyeditor, copywriter, artist, etc., etc., etc. They said it’ll take me a few months to get the process down (because each step happens at the same time every month), but I’ll master it eventually. I really feel like this is my dream job because I’m so organized, good at making lists and outlines and keeping everything on schedule (22 years of Type-A-to-the-extreme personality vindicated at last! Yessss . . . I knew God had a reason in mind when He made me so crazy compulsive). No, I’m not just good at schedules—I THRIVE on them. I’m a planner, an organizer. I love working out details and making things happen. I think this job and I are going to get along.

Well, I think that’s pretty much the majority of what I did this first week. Oh, I also got to sit in on an art meeting. My team was discussing what the covers of upcoming books should look like; we had a conference call with two artists and went over printouts with recent covers and statistics on how well each one sold. That way we can see some recent images we used (aka if we just had three books out last month with cowboys on the cover, we probably don’t want to use another cowboy next month) and which ones sold the best (come on, admit it—a large factor in your book-buying decision is the cover). It’ll also be my job to fill out art fact sheets in the future. From what I gather, they’re similar to the sheets for copywriters, except they’re for the artists, so they’re focused on the images in the book (what the hero and heroine look like, what the setting for the book is, etc.).

Wow—didn’t realize I did so much my first week! I really think I’m going to love this job a lot, and I can’t wait to get some more time in so I can feel even more comfortable and learn more of the duties and processes behind book publishing. For anyone who read this/made sense of all I had to say, bless you! After 13 months of job searching, it’s so nice to finally brag a little about what I’m doing and how much I enjoy it. I may have had to wait awhile, but after only four days at the job I can say one thing for sure—it was worth the wait.


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