Sometimes life gives you a big, fat present. Meeting Jessica Almon Galland, young adult and middle grade editor at Penguin’s imprint Razorbill and having her influence in my life and writing was one of those gifts. Working with Jessica made me a better writer. Period. I am sure everyone that has had the pleasure of working with her feels the same way. Today we have the honor of hearing her thoughts on editing, the publishing industry, love and a handful of other goodies. This interview just brims with her warmth and smarts. I am also touched by her honesty as she describes her journey to where she is now.
Jessica, what do you think makes a good editor? Do you think it is an innate gift or something that can be learned? Has your style changed over the years? Do you find the better the writer, the better the editing experience? Or do you like the challenge of a complete overhaul?
This may sound like I’m downplaying an editor’s role but I really do think the ability to put ego and intellectual opinions aside and tap into the experience of the average reader is the most important piece of being a good editor. Without it, the other things that make a good editor — a strong sense of rhythm, communication skills, empathy — are directionless.
So I don’t think my style has changed over the years. When I’m editing, I’m flagging things that would distract me or disrupt my reading experience if I had picked the book up at the library, or at my favorite bookstore. I actually think editing can be more difficult when I absolutely love a manuscript the very first time I read it. Because that in itself is a bias, and I have to figure out how to shed it. (It’s always a bit of a bummer to shed the love bias!)
When a writer isn’t – how shall I say this – up to par…how do you get them to give you what you need? It must be tempting to just write it yourself sometimes. I would imagine it takes heaps of patience. Do you consider yourself a patient person?
I do consider myself patient — until I’m not. Ha! Everybody has a limit I guess. I’ve been pretty fortunate to work with talented writers all around. But there are certainly styles of writing that aren’t exactly my taste, which doesn’t make them bad or wrong. In those cases, I have to train my eye and my gut to respect that style and hunt for things that ACTUALLY aren’t working — things like redundancies and gaps in logic — as opposed to things that I maybe don’t relate to or love, but that are by no means problematic.
It didn’t take long for me to learn not to fall into the trap of rewriting. It’s like pulling a thread on a sweater. And the truth is, you’re not making it better. You’re just making it different. It’s not worth the effort, and the author’s bruised ego!
When did you know you wanted to be a part of publishing? How did you get your start? Did you imagine yourself working as an editor when you began?
Oh my God, I had NO idea. I never thought of myself as an editor. But a lot of my day is spent examining characters, their childhoods giving way to (something like) adulthood, and if I look at the story of my life, my path to becoming a Young Adult editor started, probably, when I was just a kid.
I didn’t like to read. I had attention issues, and found it impossible engage with a written story. I was kind of bullied about it — I went to the same school from kindergarten through high school and am pretty sure some of the people I grew up with are STILL surprised I’m not a total dumb-dumb! It’s a difficult thing to explain, the feeling of knowing things, of understanding them, but of not being able to express or communicate that because I’m not hitting the milestones of everyone else around me. So, I had something to prove.
My escape was always films, and as a teen I became a big cinephile cliche, smoking cigarettes with a VHS tape of LA DOLCE VITA under my arm. I studied Modern Culture and Media with an emphasis in film at Brown, and when I graduated, I wanted to be in that industry. But after a year working in motion picture marketing, I was a bit less certain. The movie industry was all in LA, and I wasn’t ready to move.
Someone suggested I apply to positions at full-service agencies, and by some miracle I landed a job as the assistant to the head of the book department. I knew nothing and was terrible, so God bless her for sticking with me and giving me my start in publishing. I learned to truly love books during that year and a half, and I can’t imagine what my life would be like if I never had that chance.
How has the landscape of publishing changed since you’ve been in the business?
Well, the obvious answer is that e-readers have become ubiquitous, and digital sales are now a significant piece of the pie. I also remember when Oprah’s Book Club picks would make a publisher’s year. They’re still a big deal, but without the show, it has slightly less of an impact.
What attracts you to young adult literature? Do you see yourself staying in that space long-term or are you open to moving into different genres?
There’s a lot of freedom in Young Adult lit, I guess because you’re dealing with characters experiencing a range of things for the first time, and so there’s this tremendous sense of possibility. I like living vicariously through that. I think I am open to staying in Young Adult long-term, but also open to other areas. I read a ton of adult nonfiction, for instance, and sometimes I think about working on those types of books.
Do you ever just get tired of reading and just want to cuddle up on the couch with Netflix? How do you overcome?
Um, YES. Overcome? Not so much! Especially ever since “Gilmore Girls” has been streaming on Netflix.
I just do the best I can. I never want to leave my authors hanging, and generally do a lot of editing in what is technically my free time. But I justify certain days and nights off to binge-watch something because I need to be relaxed, rested and happy to stay sharp at work. Anyway, it’s not like I’m paid extra to edit manuscripts on weekends!
What excites you about 2015? What are you looking forward to? Professionally? Personally? Do you believe in resolutions? I know you are a newlywed (congrats!), married to filmmaker and musician Jordan Galland. Do you two plan on a co-creative endeavor? How is it having two creative types in the house?
Professionally, I have so many books coming out in 2015 that I have been waiting to unleash on the world, ranging from epic fantasy to bittersweet contemporary to hip nonfiction titles you’d find at Urban Outfitters. It’s always tough to predict how any given title will take to the market, but whether it’s good or not so good there is ALWAYS a takeaway — and I’ll be hunting for it.
Some of my dearest friends are getting married this year — all fabulous destination weddings — so I’m also looking forward to some fun trips to Isla Morada, FL, Old San Juan, Puerto Rico and Gstaad, Switzerland, to name a few! I may go broke as a result of all this jet-setting, but travel is the one thing worth going broke for, IMO.
As for married life so far, I highly recommend marrying a creative if you, too, are creative. Jordan is like my secret weapon! We are constantly going to each other to talk through problems and flaws in a particular project, or when we’ve hit a wall and need a little inspiration, or when we’re doubting our instincts and need support. I’m not sure we’d ever officially work on something together, but we’re always working together, if that makes sense.
Before we say goodbye, any must reads you can recommend? What was the last thing that kept you up into the wee hours?
Lately, I’ve been pretty obsessed with memoirs by women artists and thinkers. Recently I’ve read and loved: COUNTRY GIRL by Edna O’Brien, MINOR CHARACTERS by Joyce Johnson, NOT THAT KIND OF GIRL by Lena Dunham and REDEFINING REALNESS by Janet Mock. I’m currently reading GRACE: A MEMOIR by Grace Coddington and finding it absolutely delightful.