Years of hard work go into creating and selling a
children’s book, and every step requires strong, collaborative
relationships between departments, among staff, with reviewers, and with our
friends in the bookselling, library, and education worlds. In that process of
turning a story into a book, the relationship between an author and editor is a
very special and important one. This week we sat down with our Vice
President and Associate Publisher, Kathy Landwehr, and asked her—as head of
Peachtree’s editorial team—to share her personal insight on the subject.
Kathy has been at Peachtree Publishers for 26 years,
and she’s been working in the publishing industry for 28 (if you count
newspapers, she added). She started her career here in publicity and marketing
before switching to managing the editorial and production departments. Having
learned the ropes from her co-workers, Kathy began acquiring. She’s been at it
ever since, working with award-winning authors such as Cynthia Levinson, Don
Tate, J. J. Johnson, Susan Stockdale, and Kashmira Sheth.
Needless to say, Kathy knows her stuff.
When we asked Kathy about the first conversation with
a new author, she said there’s one question she always asks: “Where did this
With this question, she’s asking to hear the story
behind the story, the inspiration, the journey from thought-seed to manuscript,
and to hear about it from the one person who can describe it the most
authoritatively. She explained that in the acquisitions process, an editor acts
as the spokesperson for the author and the story. Responses to her question can
give her enough material to present and properly position both writer and
writing to the rest of the publishing staff.
Kathy stressed that the relationship between an author
and editor is built on trust. So in that initial conversation, she said, it’s
hugely important that the author recognizes the editor as someone they can rely
on. After all, authors often feel vulnerable handing over their “baby” for
someone else’s critique. The author must trust the editor to do what is best
for the story, and the author and editor must both share a common goal for what
the story will become. According to Kathy, one of the biggest editorial
pitfalls is trying to make a book into something it is not, rather than making
it the best thing it is and can
Although the purpose of the initial conversation is to
give the editor a foundational understanding of the author and their story for
acquisition purposes, Kathy believes that editors should also be listening
carefully—right from the start—to discover what kind of communicator the author
is. That way, as the story moves forward through the editing process, an editor
will know how to effectively communicate, critique, and praise an author’s work.
Kathy closes every first conversation with questions
too. Asking “What else do I need to know?” and “What questions do you have for
me?” leaves the door open for communication through the work ahead.
As the editing process progresses, the collaboration
between author and editor grows in importance. We asked Kathy which part of the
process requires the most communication. Her answer? “All of them.” She
explained that different kinds of books require different approaches to
communication. With longer works, the developmental and structural editing is
very time consuming. The manuscript cannot move forward until its big-picture
bones are in place. On the other hand, something short can be just as challenging;
if a book only has 50 words, it’s that much more important that every word is
That trust-based relationship came up again when we
asked Kathy what an editor can bring to a book that an author alone simply
cannot. There was a very easy answer: “another set of eyes.” She went on to
say, “No one can develop a strong piece of work in a vacuum.” An editor strives
to see what the author no longer can, whether it’s a plot hole, an overused
word, or an opportunity to make the story stronger.
During our conversation, Kathy mentioned that although
the trust can be all-important (especially for the author), there is one other
thing the editor needs to be sure about before acquiring. She described it as
When she receives a new manuscript, she needs to be
able to visualize the beautiful thing it will become. There have been many
manuscripts that Kathy couldn’t personally visualize and therefore didn’t take
on. It is very possible that a great editor won’t acquire a great book, simply
because that editor just isn’t the right fit.
In the end, the editor is the author’s advocate, their
sounding board, their rock in the publishing world. To be those things, the
editor has to believe in the author and their work enough to champion their
story—from manuscript to book and into the hands of readers.
There you have it! Share your author-editor
relationship advice with us, and let us know what questions you’d like to ask
of your editor!
Labels: A to Z of Publishing, Authors, Illustrators