Nancy Mercado (@editorgurl) is an executive editor at Roaring Brook. She graciously took time out of her schedule to answer a few questions for us. Read and take notes!
1) What exactly does an editor do every day? What’s your normal day look like?
I usually begin the day by wading through email to see what’s come in overnight and/or what I haven’t dealt with from the previous day/week/month. Email is a mix of submissions (I get about 4-6 agented novels per week), agents checking up on submissions/checks/contracts, reminders from my managing editor about deadlines (for things like catalog copy, tip sheets, a manuscript due to copyediting, etc.) or authors checking in about their manuscript/cover/marketing or just saying hello.
After email, I usually spend some time staring forlornly at the stack of manuscripts (both virtual stacks and actual ones) in various stages that need attention. Some might be in the editorial letter phase (this requires days and is not humanely possible to get done in the office), the line-editing phase (this takes me hours, and is also usually not done in the office) some might be in their 3rd pass and I really just need to eyeball them (this can take minutes and can definitely be done in the office.) Then, I might also have a production meeting, or an editorial meeting, or a meeting with marketing or the art department, or I might want to check in with an agent over the phone or over lunch.
Perhaps the most important part of my day, however, is the plotting with colleagues about chocolate and/or donuts and how we can get our hands on some.
2) Some editors say that they can tell they’re going to like a manuscript after one page — or even after the first sentence. Have you had that experience?
Yes, definitely. I think it’s the same experience that most readers have. Sometimes you pick up a book and just instantly get that “this book was made for me” feeling. Last year, I bought a book called The Year of the Beasts by Cecil Castellucci and I just fell in love with the first paragraph, which describes the excitement of a circus coming to a small town and the two sisters who are looking forward to attending. On that first page I saw the promise of an emotionally complex sibling relationship, a protagonist with a deep longing for something new, and a setting that was very real and yet almost otherworldly.
3) What do you look for in a manuscript? (Or, how do writers get out of the slush pile?)
I look for a memorable character that I want to spend more time with, I look for an honest voice that doesn’t sound like an adult trying to write about what they think kids are like, and I look for a confidence in the writing that shows me that this writer is a true storyteller with more stories to tell.
4) What’s your opinion of YA crazes/trends? Do you favor manuscripts that fit those trends?
I pay attention to the trends, but I don’t really care too much about them. For me, the acquisition of a manuscript is an extremely personal and particular process that has little to do with current trends, and everything to do with whether or not, a) I can serve the manuscript well b) I have a vision for what I would suggest to make the book better, c) it speaks to me on a personal level and d) I can imagine the reader for it.
There are always those books that can shake you out of your preconceived bias about your own reading tastes…the “I didn’t think I liked sci-fi until I read this manuscript!” or “I didn’t think I liked dystopian fiction until I read this one!” Generally, I’m not a big fan of paranormal romances or high fantasy, but that doesn’t mean that something couldn’t cross my desk that would take me completely by surprise. I used to say I didn’t like historical fiction, but then I edited Neil Armstrong is My Uncle and Other Lies Muscle Man McGinty Told Me by Nan Marino, The Girl is Murder by Kathryn Miller Haines and others, and they totally made me eat my words. I love when that happens.
5) What’s your opinion about young adults writing for young adults? (Referring to the much-discussed Ya-Ya imprint)
I don’t know too much about the Ya-Ya imprint, but I will say that I’m working with 20-year-old author Hannah Moskowitz and she’s one of the most professional authors I’ve worked with. We are working together on her middle grade novel Zombie Tag and she is hard working and enthusiastic and she teaches me a ton about the craft of writing. I think good writing is good writing, no matter the age of the author.
6) Do you have a preferred tense?
I always thought it was first person, but then when I actually look at the books I’ve edited, I find that they run the gamut. I think I like the tense that makes the most sense for the book and for the narrator. (How’s that for a cop out answer? But it’s true.)
7) What’s your favorite editor’s mark?
My favorite marks are “delete?” (because it’s so easy to clean up clunky prose using the old delete button), or “ha!” (because it’s important to tell authors what’s working for you as a reader so they don’t delete those parts!)
8 ) What’s on your bedside table right now?
I’ve got a growing stack of books that are getting very dusty on my bedside table. (Dusty because I’m ridiculously slow when it comes to pleasure reading.)
—I Hate to Cook Book: My mother gave me her copy of this and it’s hysterically funny and just as relevant now as it was in 1965.
—The Mysterious Children of Ashton Place: I’m dying to read it because I’ve heard great things, I love the title, and the cover art makes me think that it’s just my kind of book.
—Guys Read: Funny Business: I bought this because I loved the paper stock they used on the cover, and because I read the first story by Adam Rex in the bookstore and it was hilarious.
–Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Other Tales: I’m currently working on a book called The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mademoiselle Odile, so I’ve been brushing up on the original.
–The Beautiful Skin Workout: What? I found in the giveaway box at work.
–My Stroke of Insight: Found this on the street (people in my neighborhood leave amazing books out as giveaways) and since I enjoyed the author’s TED talk, I figured I’d pick it up.
—Doing Nothing: Coming to the End of the Spiritual Search: My husband gave me a copy of this book and he’s dying for me to read it so we can discuss. It’s a bit cerebral for right before bed, so I haven’t gotten to it yet.
—Cheaper by the Dozen: I’m also slowly re-reading and savoring this book that was one of my all time favorites from childhood.
—Operating Instructions: This another found in my neighborhood selection. I adore Annie Lamott and her honesty.
—Operacion Jaque: Straightforward book about the intense rescue mission that brought Ingrid Betancourt and several other out of the hands of the FARC in Colombia.
—Create Dangerously: Beautiful and thoughtful essays to read before bed.