Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Women Who Rock Wednesday: Jennifer Heddle!

First off, I want to apologize for the infrequent blogging. First I was meeting a deadline, then I was doing spring cleaning and now I have the worst cold ever. It's so bad that I had to cancel my trip to visit my friend Chris in Kansas, which I was really looking forward too. But the good news is that I got back from the doctor and I don't have strep or the flu. After the illness clears I will be back to blogging on a regular basis. And I have an awesome, awesome, awesome interview and contest today to make up for my absence. But before we get to that, there are prizes to announce.

I still haven't heard from the winner of Jeri Smith Ready's book Bad to the Bone, so WriterWannaB_NY from blogger contact me this week or I'll have to draw a new winner. Sweetmelissa818 from blogger is the winner of Linda Gerber's Death By Denim. Email me at stephanie at stephaniekuehnert dot com with your address to claim your prize!

Okay, I am very excited about today's guest, a woman who rocks very very hard... my editor, Jennifer Heddle! I mostly bring you a lot of author features, but behind every rockin' author, there is a kick-ass editor. Working with Jen on my books, I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone and Ballads of Suburbia has been like a special, one-on-one post-graduate education in creative writing (can Simon & Schuster give me an honorary doctorate if I pass?). She is incredibly talented and insightful. And I'm sure that if you are an avid reader like me, you are curious about how things work at publishing houses. Jen was kind enough to take time out of her very, very busy schedule to tell us a little about it. So without further adieu, meet today's woman who rocks, Jennifer Heddle, Senior Editor at Pocket Books!

Q: The book lovers who read this blog probably know that without editors they wouldn't have good books to read. You do a very, very important job. You're a senior editor for Pocket Books, working on imprints such as MTV Books and Downtown Books. What was your career path and how did you decide to become an editor? I'm assuming there was a lifelong love of books involved and a natural inclination toward good grammar ;) But some of the book loving teens who read this might be going, "Hey, that sounds like my kind of job!" and wondering where to start. What did you go to college for? Did you do internships along the way?

Jen: I was a voracious reader my entire life (and yes, I did very well in English and grammar), but a career in publishing didn't even occur to me until about halfway through college. I was majoring in journalism because I kind of thought I wanted to be a reporter, and also figured it was a way to major in writing but to do so in a "marketable" way. I discovered fairly quickly that a vocation which required you to approach strangers in public and ask them questions was not for me. But I enjoyed the program and feel that I was picking up important writing skills, so I stuck with it while valuing the artistic outlet of my creative writing classes and beginning to consider a career in publishing. I never had an internship, per se, but did have two part-time jobs in publishing while I was in school. I spent a few months helping out in the art department at Penguin thanks to a connection through a mutual friend, and then in my senior year I got a part-time assistant job at Macmillan Library Reference. When graduation approached Macmillan offered me the job full-time, and although I knew library reference was not where I wanted to spend my life, it was a job in publishing with a great boss and I figured I would be a complete idiot to turn down a concrete job offer, so that was my starting off point.

So in conclusion I didn't exactly take the traditional route! I was lucky to find a couple of unusual opportunities and parlay that into other publishing jobs along the way. But as someone who now occasionally supervises interns, I do think internships are valuable and would certainly recommend them to anyone interested in the field. I know I learned a lot just from that part-time job in the Penguin art department.

Q: Now this may change their minds about wanting to be editors....what is your average day like? I know you have long hours, are reading on weekends, and have to wear many hats to bring a book from manuscript to published and successful.

Jen: I think the biggest misconception about editors is that we sit around all day (in an expansive, beautifully decorated office with skyline views, of course!) picking our way leisurely through a manuscript with a red pen. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact it's rare that we editors get a chance to actually read or edit in the office. I spend most of my day answering emails from authors and agents and co-workers; answering questions for co-workers in other departments; going over everything an editor needs to look at and approve: cover copy, cover art work, catalog copy, press releases, contracts, etc.; attending meetings; working on sales information sheets and other info for internal use; dealing with any negotiations I might be having; keeping my boss apprised about different projects; answering phone calls; and the list goes on. Often you can walk into your office in the morning and think, "I am going to get Manuscript X finished today" and then you open your email and there are a bunch of fires you have to put out and before you know it it's after lunch and where did the day go? Now THAT is a typical day for an editor!

One thing to keep in mind about being an editor is that the editor is essentially the hub that all the other departments go through at one time or another. So you have to work with the art department; the marketing department; publicity; production; sales; subrights; copywriting; contracts; legal; managing editorial, etc. Everything goes through you at some point, so while you are of course doing your best to focus on your editing, you also need to know (or pick up) enough about what all the other departments do to help them be able to do their jobs in the best service of your books.

Q: What do you love most about this very demanding job? What keeps you motivated to keep doing it? And are there any parts you absolutely hate? Aside from authors using caps lock, too many exclamation points, and Jeri Smith-Ready tells me you're not a fan of the word "shudder."  

Jen: I guess what I love most is, well, editing: getting to work with authors to help them make their books even better than they were before. There's nothing more satisfying than getting a revised manuscript back from an author and discovering that they've gone above and beyond your expectations and really pushed themselves to take the book to the next level. And getting that finished book in your hands is pretty satisfying, too, although probably not as satisfying as it is for the author! It’s often said that you have to love publishing in order to make a career out of it, and I really think that’s true.

As for parts that I hate, I guess the getting up in the morning part is the toughest for me. ;) And any job at a large company involves paperwork and such that can be tedious but has to be done. I guess I do have a thing about exclamation points, possibly generated by that Seinfeld episode where someone gets on Elaine's case for using too many, and any of my authors can tell you that I don't hesitate to point out when I think they’re being too melodramatic or using “purple prose.” As for shudder....I don't remember the context in which I gave Jeri a hard time about it, ha ha. But I do think shuddering is one of those things that gets overused in prose when people don't actually do it all that often in real life. That and crying from laughter. Most people have to laugh really hard to actually cry from laughing, but in books it seems that any minor chuckle brings forth tears of mirth. That's one of those clich├ęs that make me a little nutty.

Q: Since it's Women Who Rock Wednesday, we like to give props to the women who've inspired us. So can you tell us about some of the female authors or characters that you've really adored and been inspired by over the years? Any other women who have influenced or inspired you?

Jen: Oh wow, this is a tough one. As far as authors, I would have to say Margaret Atwood, Susan Isaacs, Lois Duncan, Barbara Hambly, Anne McCaffrey, and Anne Rice were all influences on me in terms of my realizing what authors are capable of doing with language and story. Those ladies all at one time or another inspired me to want to write, and to read. Fictional characters from page and screen who have been my heroines include Princess Leia (hey, I'm a child of the 80s), Lessa from McCaffrey's Pern series, Dianora from Guy Gavriel Kay's Tigana, Nancy Drew, Wonder Woman, Dana Scully, and Miranda from Sex and the City, not so much because I admire her but because at times I feel like I am her. Non-fictional inspirations include Nellie Bly, Kateri Tekakwitha, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Carrie Fisher and Emma Thompson. More recently I’ve admired Rachel Maddow, Pink, Kelly Clarkson, and journalist Lisa Ling.

Q: Now for my standard Women Who Rock Wednesday questions. The first is a two-parter. What was the first album you purchased and the first concert you attended?

Jen: Well. When you first told me about this interview, I told you I might have to lie about this one, but I guess I will just tell the truth: the answer to both of these questions is Jack Wagner. You know, Frisco from "General Hospital." I was in sixth grade, DON'T JUDGE ME. But the first album I remember being "mine," in that I specifically requested it as a gift in first grade, was the Grease soundtrack.

The first concert I went to without any adult chaperone was, I think, The B-52's. Is that better?

Q: And I'm looking forward to your answer to this because I know you have some stories to tell... Please dish about your biggest rock star moment. It could be a big moment of success in your career, a time where you met someone famous and had the Wayne's World "I'm not worthy" experience, or where you got the total rock star treatment?

Jen: Oh wow, this is a tough one (and embarrassing, too). I did enjoy the one and only time I was an editor guest of honor at a convention, at OryCon a few years ago. I had a "handler" assigned to me and didn't quite know what to do with that. The poor kid would keep coming up and asking me if I needed anything, and I kept saying no. I'm not sure what kind of high maintenance drama he was expecting, but really, as long as I had a bottle of water on me I was fine. The treatment was nice, though. Approaching this answer from the other side, I've met a fair share of celebrities and have had varying degrees of "I'm not worthy!"-ness, or not, as the case may be. If I'm being completely honest the experience that had me acting most like I was channeling Dana Carvey's Garth was the first time I met Bradley Whitford, who I was completely infatuated with when he was Josh Lyman on "The West Wing." I saw him at a movie premiere in Manhattan and somehow managed to get up the nerve to ask to take a picture with him. When the moment was over, I literally had to find a chair and sit down because I was afraid my legs could no longer hold me up. I'd never turned to jelly in quite that embarrassing a fashion before. (If I ever meet Ewan McGregor, it's all over.) I was similarly starstruck when I met Carrie Fisher, but still managed to tell her that I hoped she kept writing. “I’m trying,” she said. That’s all any of us can do.

As a prize today, I asked Jen if she would like to give out one of the books she's worked on. Of course she has actually edited a few of the books we've had giveaways of lately including Shrinking Violet, Bad to the Bone, and Going Too Far. This is the book she chose and her reason behind it:

"I wanted to come up with a giveaway that felt appropriate for the 'Women Who Rock' theme, and I think A RUSH OF WINGS fits the bill. Heather Wallace is a strong, determined FBI agent whose world is turned upside down when she meets the next potential victim in a serial killer case: a vampire named Dante who fronts a goth band and owns an underground club called Club Hell. What's so great about this book aside from the fantastic writing is that it's up to Heather to save Dante, and not the other way around. Dante may be the rock star, but Heather rocks all on her own."

Umm, yeah that book sounds so cool! Fortunately Jen said she'd send me a copy too! To enter to win all you have to do is leave a comment and I'm sure you have a ton to comment on because Jen's insight to what an editor *actually does* is amazing. And I also love her for the General Hospital confession, as a hardcore One Life to Live fan, I don't think it's anything to be ashamed of at all!

So comment away and check back next week when our featured rockin' lady will be Jessica Hopper, author of The Girl's Guide to Rocking.


Joanne Levy said...

Interesting 'behind the scenes' post! Thanks for sharing!

Diana Dang said...

Thank you Jennifer for such a great interview! It's a great insight on what it's like to be an editor, a field I may consider going into!

Liviania said...

My mom's computer hasn't been loading your blog, but I finally got it to work. Lucky me, since you had such an awesome guest! I want to work in publishing, so I really enjoyed this interview. ^_^

Authorness said...

Fantastic interview, Jennifer and Steph! I loved finding out what really goes on at a publishing house. Jennifer, Jack Wagner has unveiled a few of his songs on The Bold and the Beautiful--'You're My Soul Reason' (or something like that) comes to mind. Very classy!

Get well soon, Miss Stephanie!

~ Vanessa

Thao said...

I already read the book, it was such an awesome one and I love Heather to death. I'm so glad I found out what an editor actually does, seems like they're drown with moutains of work :( but amazingly they find time to edit the books and make them better.

Llehn said...

Great interview! Thanks for sharing. Dante sounds way sexy, my kind of vampire!