Behind the Scenes: Meet Denise Roy, My Editor at Penguin!

Hi everyone! I’m excited to introduce a new series on my blog called “Behind the Scenes” where I’ll be sharing conversations with several of the folks at Penguin and elsewhere who have been instrumental in making my novels successes, and I am ever grateful to them. And, because so many people don’t know all the work that goes into creating a book (beyond just the author), I thought it would be fun to introduce you to the cast of characters (truly wonderful people) who have worked on The Violets of March and my forthcoming novels. So, to begin, I interviewed my wonderful editor Denise Roy at Penguin! Here’s my recent conversation with Denise (who appears in the photo below in her office in New York—with my books on her desk!):

Sarah: I think it’s a common misconception that editors only “edit” books, because the job is so much more all-encompassing than that! (I know, because you have been there at every point along the way for my books in the last year!) You really have shepherded my novels every step of the way, and I’m so grateful for your support. Can you share a part of the job as an editor that readers may not know much about?

Denise: On the occasion of my grandfather’s ninetieth birthday, a hurricane was bearing down on south Florida just when that year’s National Book Award finalists in fiction were being announced. The phone lines were dicey, but one of my authors had been honored, and the author, her agent, my publisher, and my assistant were all trying to get through to share the exciting news. When I explained the excitement to my family, my father asked, “You mean, you pick the books?”

Sarah: Haha. I love that.

Denise: Since then, he’s adopted industry lingo, asking, “Any new acquisitions lately?” Essentially, book editors have three main concerns: Signing new projects (which means choosing from among numerous submissions, and negotiating terms with the agent who represents the writer in question), editing the manuscripts authors deliver (making sure the final version is ready in plenty of time for the sales force to read before they present the title to booksellers), and getting involved with all the details—book jackets, interior page design, publicity and marketing plans—that happen as a manuscript transforms into a published book.

Sarah: I think it was you (or maybe Elisabeth, my agent) who told me about your fascinating editing style—that you take a manuscript home and set the pages out on the floor so you can see them all together and then mark them up that way. (Did I just dream this up, or is this indeed how you approach some of your projects? If not, please disregard the question!) This is so fascinating! How did you start editing this way and why do you find it helpful to do it?

Denise: I approach editing as I would a jigsaw puzzle, challenged by making all the pieces fit together perfectly. So, yes, I really do spread manuscripts out on the floor when there are structural or pacing questions to unravel. Every manuscript is different, though, so I try to tailor my editing plan project by project. Sometimes phone conversations with the author to brainstorm plot details or character arcs are crucial; other projects are best served by the onion approach—peeling the layers back to reveal the best expression of the book.

Sarah: You read so much, and I’m always so amazed and honored that you remember the smallest details of my stories (sometimes even better than I do!). How on earth do you keep these details organized in your mind with so many books and authors on your plate? I think I need to start taking your vitamins.

Denise: More game theory here—Remember “Concentration” or “Memory,” in which cards are flipped in search of matching pairs? I couldn’t get enough of that game as a child, and I’ve transferred to the editing process the skill of remembering where all the pieces go, and how they support the architecture of the plot. It’s an unusual skill set, but the rewards come when favorite details linger in the mind, and inspire the imagination.

Sarah: I knew we were meant to work together—I used to be obsessed with “Memory” type games as a child! (And I know we share a love for the Frances books too!). Now, tell me about some of the books you’ve edited that are coming out in the next few months. I’d love share some titles for my readers to add to their winter and spring reading lists!

Denise: Connecting first-time authors with their audience is a personal passion, so the upcoming season holds the special anticipation that only the opportunity to publish distinctive debuts–four novels, Seré Prince Halverson’s The Underside of Joy, Sarah Pinneo’s Julia’s Child, Melanie Thorne’s Hand Me Down, and Meredith Goldstein’s The Singles—as well as Claire Bidwell Smith’s memoir, The Rules of Inheritance—can bring.

Thank you, Denise! Readers, is there a question you’ve always wanted to ask about what goes on behind the scenes in making a book? I’d love to hear! More installments of this new feature coming soon.

13 Comments
  • November 1, 2011
    reply
    Anita LeBeau

    What a great idea for a continuing segment!! I think an editor is a fascinating role in publishing, and how wonderful you have found Denise!! Those debut authors and their books sound very interesting….ahhhh, the ever growing list of books to read!!

  • November 1, 2011
    reply

    I love this idea! thanks for thinking about us readers (and future published authors).

    I would love to know if Denise is also an author. I found in my academic work that editing improved my writing immeasurably. So Denise, as an editor, do you find yourself wanting to write–or writing more?

  • November 1, 2011
    reply

    Sarah! This is such a treat. I love hearing about the publishing industry in every form- from the editor to the printing to the marketing. I am obsessed with learning more and I cannot wait to see what else is in store.

    And Bravo to Denise for being so incredible.

  • November 1, 2011
    reply
    Elizabeth

    Thank you for this series – it is so interesting to hear about all the behind the scenes things. So you have an agent and an editor – is there anyone else that you work closely with?

    Also, I’m curious about how one is first published – does it begin with a book proposal? or do you have the entire book written and shop it around?

    I loved The Violets of March and am anxious for Bungalow!

  • November 1, 2011
    reply

    Great idea! I really look forward to reading this series of blog posts. Thanks for giving us aspiring writers some more insight into the business!

  • November 2, 2011
    reply

    What a great series you’re starting – this was really interesting to read!

  • November 5, 2011
    reply

    What a fascinating interview and series! I was so interested to hear about that “Memory” connection. My guess is that it’s far more than that..my guess is that she has a photographic memory. My son has one, my grandson does, as well. It’s an amazing gift and there’s nothing like it. They literally don’t forget! LOL
    Thanks for this thoughtful entry.

  • November 6, 2011
    reply

    Denise was my editor for THE RULES OF INHERITANCE and I am just in love with her! She has told me so much about you, Sarah, and I just came home from a visit to her office with several of your books! Can’t wait to dive in. The three of us will have to get together sometime!

  • November 7, 2011
    reply

    This was great! I loved getting to know more about the behind the scenes business in the writing industry.

  • November 9, 2011
    reply

    Fantastic, Sarah! Thanks for taking the time to introduce us to the faces behind your book. I look forward to reading more!

  • November 14, 2011
    reply

    Hey! Look who it is!

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