Behind the Bookshelf: Susan Chang

Have you ever wondered what the daily life of an editor truly looks like? Senior Editor Susan Chang shares a typical day in the office, working on books for our Tor Teen and Starscape imprints. Enjoy this look behind the bookshelves at Tor!

Thursday, July 6th
8:15 a.m.
This is a short week and I have a lot to get done before I leave for my next conference—Readercon in Quincy, Massachusetts—next Wednesday. So I get to my desk super early. I have two main goals for today: 1) prepare the acquisition paperwork for two projects I want to acquire and get it to Robert (administrative manager and assistant to Publisher Tom Doherty) this afternoon so that he can distribute the info to our acquisition committee; and 2) edit the second draft of a manuscript I received from the author about a month ago. I’m going to be seeing him at Readercon so I want to make sure I have some cogent notes for him by then.

First, breakfast. I devour my sandwich while browsing Gothamist. Oh good, no train derailments this week. For a change.

8:30 a.m.
Answer emails. I’m always trying to get to “in-box zero” but sadly, have forty-nine messages in my “Urgent To Do” in-box. I delegate some tasks to Zohra, our department’s assistant and marketing coordinator and to Becca, our summer intern; email back and forth with our art director about a cover sketch; accept a meeting invite from our marketing director; answer an author’s email asking about sales figures; and decline three manuscript submissions I read over the long weekend. I usually try to give agents some indication of what didn’t work for me—whether it’s the writing or the premise or whatever.

9:37 a.m.
I get to work on the second draft manuscript I’m editing. My usual process is to start by outlining the book (this is after I’ve already read through it once without making any notes). I write down the chapter number, the pages that the chapter covers, the number of pages in the chapter, and the main action or story points in the chapter. I do this so that I can get a sense of the structure and large, global issues such as pacing, momentum, characterization, etc. As thoughts, questions, solutions, and suggestions occur to me, I write those down as well. Outlining by hand helps things “percolate” in my brain and subconscious. Later I’ll type up my outline and notes, creating the basis of my editorial letter to the author.

10:47 a.m.
I’ve outlined about half the manuscript. Over the years, I’ve discovered that I’m most productive when I spend ninety minutes to two hours on any editorial task before shifting gears. I decide to finish the outline tomorrow. Time for a bathroom break. I love working in the Flatiron Building—except for the bathroom situation. There’s a women’s room (with two stalls) only on every other floor.

10:51 a.m.
I read and answer more emails. I see that our production manager has emailed me the production estimates that I asked him for yesterday, so now I can run P&Ls (profit and loss projections) for the two projects I’m hoping to acquire.

11:15 a.m.
I run the P&Ls by entering data into an Excel template that allows us to estimate the profitability of a potential acquisition. These data include things like: retail price; estimated first year sales; royalties; production costs for paper, printing, and binding, etc. One book easily meets our target contribution to overhead so I feel good about that one. The other doesn’t quite make it, but it’s very close. I’ll review the P&Ls with my boss, Kathleen Doherty, Publisher of the Children’s and Young Adult Division of Tor, after lunch.

11:43 a.m.
More emails. I skim through the industry newsletters I subscribe to, including Publishers Lunch and the PW Daily newsletter. On PW Daily I click on a link to an article about the author of the Voynich manuscript. I bookmark it to read when I have time. I’ve always been fascinated by the mystery of the Voynich manuscript. Hmmm…I wonder if there’s a book there? I start thinking about lunch.

11:55 a.m.
I email our art director asking him which covers will be ready to show at our Spring 2018 launch meeting next week. This is a key seasonal meeting at which editors present their titles to the marketing and sales departments, and it’s always a good thing to show covers.

12:05 p.m.
I run across the street for a stereotypical sad desk salad.

12:20 p.m.
I eat lunch at my desk while looking at cute animal pictures on on Reddit’s r/aww board. Watch kitten Tupperware party gif. So adorable!!!

12:44 p.m.
Finish eating and do a few personal chores.

1:02 p.m.
Get back to my acquisition paperwork. I still have to review the P&Ls with my boss. Meanwhile, I put the finishing touches on my acquisition forms, which I started drafting last week. These are forms that editors use to present a compelling argument to the acquisition committee about why we should make an offer for a book.

This is where an editor translates their nebulous emotions and instincts about a book (OMG, I love love love this book!) into cold hard facts. Specifically: acquisition pitch (why do we need to publish this book); author information (who is the author and how can they help us sell this book); selling points (what are some sales handles we can use to sell this book); “comp” titles (what are some previously published books that we can compare this book to and how many copies did they sell)? Because that’s our goal: to sell books.

1:34 p.m.
One of my lovely authors, Sarah Porter, is here to drop off some artwork we’ll be raffling off to promote her latest YA novel, When I Cast Your Shadow. We chat before I take her downstairs to give the paintings to publicist Lauren Jackson, who is going to use them to pitch features at various online magazines.

2:21 p.m.
Soon after Sarah leaves, Lauren emails both of us the fantastic news that When I Cast Your Shadow has received its second starred review. Hooray! The pub date is not until September 12 but we’re starting to get reviews from trade journals such as Kirkus Reviews, School Library Journal, Booklist, Publishers Weekly. This gives librarians and booksellers time to place orders for the books. We’ve gotten two stars out of the three reviews we’ve seen so far. I run to Kathleen’s office to tell her the good news and also take the opportunity to show her the P&Ls for the two projects I’m hoping to acquire. She approves them for the meeting.

2:24 p.m.
Reread the starred review. (A few times.)

2:26 p.m.
Back to work on my acquisition paperwork.

2:49 p.m.
Done! I email the completed acquisition packets to Robert, who checks them over to make sure everything is there before forwarding the material to the committee (our publishers, associate publishers, and marketing director)—including the founder of Tor/Forge, all-around great man, Tom Doherty. The committee will review the material before the meeting on Monday afternoon. I’ll be asked to present to the group when it’s my turn. For now, I can run out and get coffee!

3:02 p.m.
Catch myself reading the starred review yet again. It’s such a good one! Yay! I email back and forth about it with Sarah and her agent. Will probably forego the coffee since it’s now after 3:00. My two big tasks for the day have mostly been accomplished, so I can veg out for a bit. Right?

3:08 p.m.
Uh-oh. Remember that my go-to photographer, fellow editor Ali Fisher, isn’t here today and I wanted some pictures to illustrate this article. She’s the only person I trust to take a not-too-terrible picture of me. So I research how to take a selfie. Take one. Feel stupidly self-conscious. I think this may be my first ever selfie.

3:14 p.m.
Take another selfie. Ick. Delete it immediately. Back to work. Arrgh! Now I have forty-nine messages in my “Urgent To Do” in-box. But I will get to in-box zero one day! I manage to delete some emails, archive others, and figure out my priority tasks for tomorrow. Write them down in my bullet journal.

3:42 p.m.
Robert comes to tell me that I need to find another comp title for the middle grade project I hope to acquire; I only gave him one and they need two or three. Ugh. Fine. Back to the trenches. A viable comp title is one that has sold a realistic number of copies. Not too many. Not too few. I feel like Goldilocks.

4:03 p.m.
Finally find a good comp title and give it to Robert.

4:09 p.m.
More emails. Check to see if there are any “Urgent To Do” tasks I want to do enough so that I can do it and get the number down.

4:16 p.m.
Yes! Have managed to get the number down to forty-one. Time for a bathroom break.

4:26 p.m.
Decide to work on writing this newsletter piece until it’s time to go home. I’ve been typing this into a draft Gmail window intermittently throughout the day but will now go back and revise and edit. After my afternoon r/aww break.

4:33 p.m.
AWWWWWWW!!!

4:36 p.m.
GACK! Suddenly remember that I have to renew my passport so that I can go to Bouchercon (World Mystery Convention) in October. It’s in Toronto this year. Find online passport renewal form and start filling it out.

5:07 p.m.
Place completed passport application and required material into envelope, ready to mail out tomorrow.

5:10 p.m.
Time to call it a day. Shutting down.

5:12 p.m.
Oops, more emails. Really shutting down…NOW.

I hope you’ve all enjoyed this little glimpse into A Day in the Life of an Editor. Thank you for reading!

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