Author & Editor Teams: Editing a Fantasy Novel with Sarah Barley

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Ever been curious about editor/author relationships? In honor of our newly announced acceptance of All YA, we’ll be featuring different editor/author teams in different genres each week. Next up, Fantasy! Editor Sarah Barley teamed up with Stephanie Garber, author of Caraval, to answer some burning questions about putting the finishing touches on fantastical stories and the importance of cooperation behind the scenes. And be sure to check back tomorrow for Sarah’s questions for Stephanie!

Can't get enough of spellbinding magic, ferocious monsters, unforgettable adventures and more? You've come to the right place!


Stephanie Garber (SG): What is the most rewarding part of editing fantasy?

Sarah Barley (SB): Everyone needs another world to escape to sometimes! And there's nothing that brings people together like a mutual affection for a fantasy novel—the more geekout potential a book has, the more I want to work on it. On a completely different note, I do think that science fiction and fantasy can open up doors to conversations that are harder to have when we're reading and talking about realistic fiction. 

SG: What is the most challenging part of editing fantasy? 

SB: Definitely keeping track of everything in the world that makes the world tick. You have to ask the right questions. Of course the world is fantastical, but the internal logic of the world needs to make sense, because the best fantasy novels are the ones you can read again and again and they still hold up. But you can also ask too many literal questions and have everything unravel. Not that I've been there before...

SG: What advice do you have for writers interested in writing fantasy? 

SB: Read everything you can get your hands on! And don't hold back anything for your next books. Put all the good stuff in now.

SG: Can you describe the editing process?

SB: I almost always talk to the author before I buy anything, just to make sure that the author's vision of the book aligns with what I think it could be. During the call, I almost always say that I need to read it again before I dive into detailed notes, because inevitably, when I'm reading something that I'm excited about, I'm not picking up on all the things that need to be picked up on. You really need to read a book twice to be able to edit it. Then I reread the manuscript and send an editorial letter to the author, starting with the good stuff, then going into what needs work from big to small. If I have big, sweeping, structural edits, I won't line edit the book, but usually, I at least go in and ask questions and point out examples of what I talk about in the editorial letter. Then the author revises. We go back and forth like that until you read the book and say, "That's it. This book is done." A very good feeling!

SG: I feel as if I’m learning things from you all the time, so I would love to know: what is one of the biggest (or most interesting) things you’ve learned since becoming an editor?

SB: I feel as though I learn from you all of the time! And oh my goodness, I’ve learned so much. I’d say the biggest thing I’ve learned is that there’s a big difference between a good book and a good book that the company you’re working for will know how to market and sell. And in the same spirit, the fact that an editor’s job is not only to get the book into great shape, but to sell everyone on it in-house, as well. It’s all in the positioning, starting with how you talk about the book to your boss when you want to buy it! But at the end of the day, none that stuff matters unless you have a great book. So the editing has to come first.

SG: A while back I saw a tweet where you mentioned having read over 1,000 manuscripts since becoming an editor at Flatiron. So I’m guessing you’ve seen it all. But is there a trope you never get tired of seeing in manuscripts and books?

SB: Ha! Editors read a LOT of books. But I still get a thrill from falling in love with a new voice or story you haven’t read before. I actually told an author whose book I recently loved and wanted to publish: “Your book made me fall in love with reading again. Thank you.” It was a little dramatic, but I really meant it! And, hmm…I think the one thing that that I will always respond to is an element of surprise. I love it when a really funny book actually has a ton of heart. Or when what you think could be a sweet romance is actually really funny or bizarre. I love it when characters don’t do what you think they will…but that it also makes perfect sense, because the character is who she is. I personally don’t love it when stories and characters aren’t surprising.

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