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Mark Charan Newton Interviews His Editor Julie Crisp

Mark Charan NewtonMark Charan Newton, author of the Legends of the Red Sun series and the newly released novel Drakenfeld, has stopped by today to share an interview he did with his editor from Tor UK, Julie Crisp. Julie edits for not only Mark, but also Peter F. Hamilton, China Miéville, and Paul Cornell to name a few. Without further ado, on to the interview!

Mark: So, I interviewed you a few years ago when you first became Queen of Tor UK. The list has become pretty big since then and it’s been great to see so many new authors get established in the scene. What’s been your proudest achievements so far?

Julie: Actually I’ve progressed to Empress of Tor now. Come on, get it right. Proudest achievement? You mean apart from managing to not have a nervous breakdown for four years publishing the list solo until Bella and Louise came along to help out?! 🙂

Really, Julie Crispthere are too many to list – every time I see one of my author’s books come out on the shelves I’m like a proud Mum. Seeing my authors get nominated for prizes and well-reviewed or having readers come up and tell me how much they’ve enjoyed one of Tor UK’s books – they’re all pride-inducing moments. Seeing the Tor UK imprint get some recognition and start to emerge as a brand identity within its own right. For one thing it makes me feel I’m doing my job properly (ref question four, ahem) but also, it’s knowing that I’ve played a small part in bringing good books to readers’ attentions.

Mark: Just a couple of years is an age in publishing. How’s the genre scene changed since then? Have some trends petered out and others grown?

Julie: Well the biggest change in the last two years has probably been the ebook revolution. And the onslaught of social media. Which just exploded.

But if you’re talking about fantasy and science fiction trends – tends to be cyclic. Science fiction, apart from a few key authors, still doesn’t seem to do as well in the marketplace as fantasy – you look at Bookscan figures and, even taking out the GRR Martin effect, fantasy is still well ahead. Grimdark in fantasy seems to still be going strong, but we’re also seeing a fair amount of the more traditional style fantasy coming back as well. As for the genre scene itself – some good changes, some negative. But always lots of vocal discussion!

Mark: I’m guessing digital publishing is the biggest shake-up in publishing. It’s been a revolution, though it doesn’t seem to have worked out in quite the way people thought. Tor UK have done quite a few smart things as well – such as taking off DRM from their ebooks. So how has the digital revolution gone from Tor UK’s perspective?

Julie: We’re all for it. Vive la révolution! Seriously though, I like to think that Pan Macmillan and Tor have tried to engage with readers about what they wanted from the ebook reading experience and adapted to it. With DRM-free, well I wrote a post on it here so won’t repeat, but it’s been a positive move for our particular imprint.

Mark: On manuscripts. I remember you saying to me once – if it’s okay for me to share this with the Internet – that you really hated reviews of one of your books that suggested it needed a more thorough editing. Not that it was a criticism of your editing, but that people never knew the state of a manuscript when it came to you. So, just how much work do you put into the average manuscript? What’s it like from beginning to end? Do authors ever put up a fight?

Julie: I think this is something that probably irritates all editors a little. It’s basically telling us we haven’t done our job properly with no recourse to evidence or context.

I edit every book I work on, apart from a very small minority of US authors such as the Halo books, which we take from the US editor. As I’m sure all my authors will willingly testify. 🙂 Some range from a couple of pages and a lightly marked-up script. I’ve also done 40 pages of editorial notes and line edited, and then gone back and re-edited and line-edited again. Some manuscripts take a couple of edits, others one. It’s different with every author and every book. But I edit because a) I like it and b) because every author deserves to have care and attention put into their work to make it the best possible version.

However, the editorial process is collaboration. I can suggest, I can recommend but I’m not a dictator (Mark, don’t smirk) and the book that goes out has to be one that the author is also happy with. Sometimes I’ll suggest something and they’ll agree, or come up with an even better suggestion, other times it won’t tie into their vision of the book and we’ll agree not to change. And that’s as it should be because each reading experience is subjective.

Every reader who approaches a book will come with a different perspective, and opinion. I’ve had reviews about a book saying that it was too slow and needed cutting, and then reviews about exactly the same book saying the level of detail and worldbuilding is what kept them engaged. Or reviews saying the ending was clichéd and then reviews saying the ending was brilliant and what a cliffhanger.

So I don’t get irate when readers don’t like the book. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion but don’t say it’s because a book hasn’t been edited. FACT: it always, always has. That’s our job. That’s what we do.

If you wanted to know more about the editorial/publishing process we ran a series of blog posts over at torbooks.co.uk detailing what was involved in the day job.

Mark: I’ve heard some talk of editors of the future becoming content managers, that it almost doesn’t matter how much effort they put into a manuscript. As part of the business model of quick-moving small imprints, all they need to do is get someone else to give the books a copy edit and they’re good to go. Is there any truth in that? (From an author’s perspective, I can see the appeal to new writers who just want to get out there, but my real point of view is one of sheer horror. It’s soulless, and floods the market with poor books.)

Julie: Well that would make my job so much less satisfying, and redundant. If that happens I’ll retire and take up knitting. It’s basically a self-publishing model and one that’s in direct opposition to the other argument that editors will be gatekeepers. I’m all for being a gatekeeper.

Mark: There’s been a lot of talk about sexism in the SFF scene and you wrote a pretty well discussed blog post on the statistics of what gets sent to you. It was well received, but of the criticisms of that post was that people said that you could have done more to reach out to female writers, to actively solicit and encourage more submissions. Do you think that’s a valid point? Are there even any methods for editors to do that?

Julie: Ah yes, that post. Sigh. That was a fun few days. Yes, in part the post had been to point out that we weren’t getting much in the way of submissions from women, in any category of genre, although SF and horror were the worst, and to say ‘hi, we’re here, we’re women and we’re looking for good SF’. It was supposed to act as a shout out for any female writers who may have thought that publishing was a patriarchal establishment, to disabuse them of the notion that they wouldn’t be taken seriously and to let them know that the majority of SFF editors are women, actively looking for female writers. I got a lot of replies from women saying that they’d submit and over the next few weeks we did see an increase in direct submissions from women – so for that alone I’m glad for that post.

And it is a valid point that we need to reach out to female writers but we also want to do it in such a way that isn’t belittling or patronizing. Frankly I don’t know any woman who would want preferential treatment just because of her sex. But how? We attend conventions and writers workshops, we have an open submissions policy, we even ran a competition a few years back and the winner was a female SF writer. So it’s difficult to know what else we can do especially when time is always a constraint because, well there’s the day job! But there’s been SO much discussion about it all recently that I’m hopeful things are changing.

Mark: I’m going to put you on the spot. What do you reckon will be the next interesting trends in genre publishing? Robot erotica? Dinosaur?

Julie: You’ve been trawling Facebook again. Dinosaur erotica. Where do these ideas come from? The next big thing? Allotments and whisky. Know anyone who can write about that, Mark? I will have a think as I’m due to discuss this topic at WFC on a panel, so better have some answers by then! 🙂

Mark: There’s stacks of advice for writers on the Internet. To me some of it’s good, some of it’s dangerous. It’s largely someone’s opinion. But from your perspective, what’s the biggest mistake that you see in submissions?

Julie: Lack of research is a big one. Don’t send me your chick-lit novel. Please. Or your historical epic. Or your cookbook. And don’t threaten me that your Dad (God) will cast me into hell if I don’t publish your book, and please, please, don’t try to be funny. All of which I’ve had. Actually, linking back to another blog, agent Juliet Mushens did a great piece on direct submissions – much of what she says is exactly the same for editors. You can check it out here.

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We’d like to thank both Mark and Julie for taking the time out of their busy schedules to share this interview with us. You can learn more about Julie and her work at Tor UK on the Tor Books Blog or follow her on Twitter. Mark’s newest novel, Drakenfeld, is out now. You can learn more about it and his previous work on his website or follow him on Twitter.

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