Patricia Briggs’ latest Mercy Thompson novel Fire Touched came to paperback last week, deliver another exciting lycanthropic adventure to readers whose already groaning shelves can’t handle the weight of another hardcover books. With Fire Touched out in the wild, and another book about a month away from release (Silence Fallen — 3/7), I thought it might be fun to chat with Briggs’ longtime editor, Anne Sowards. It turned out to be a very informative conversation. I learned more about Silence Fallen, and also the day-to-day life of an editor.
UNBOUND WORLDS: I think that a lot of my readers would probably want to know what an editor does, exactly. It’s not the same thing as proof-reading, right?
ANNE SOWARDS: There are definitely some misconceptions about what an editor does floating around. The one I get all the time is that I read books all day. I wish! The other is similar to the one you mentioned, that my role is to correct typos or grammar mistakes. While both of these are aspects of what I do, there’s a lot more involved.
I’m an acquisitions editor, which means I actively look for books for the company to publish. I read submissions and decide whether it’s right for us. (Usually, I’m doing this reading on the train and not at the office, though—at work I’m too busy answering emails.)
Then I negotiate the deals with the agents, review contracts, and work with the author and the book throughout the entire publication process. That includes editing, but what I do is more “big picture” editing, sometimes referred to as developmental or content editing. I look at story and plot and character and discuss with the author what changes could help make the book better. Never fear, the book is also reviewed at a later stage to correct grammar and spelling—but because we’re such a big company, a copyeditor handles that, not me.
I also work with the art department to create a selling cover for the book, write marketing materials for use in-house and cover copy (the description of the book on the cover) for readers, present the book to the sales department, and act as the point person for the book, to handle any questions that arise, whether internally or from the author or agent. There’s more I’m forgetting, but those are the basics.
UW: What are some of the more important things an editor needs to be able to do? Can these things change from author to author?
AS: Be a fast reader! The top priority is always reading and editing the projects I’ve already required, but it’s important to keep on top of submissions as well. I never know what fabulous manuscript might be waiting for me in my inbox.
Every book is unique, so there are definitely things I do that change from project to project. Some books might need extensive revisions, others come in very clean.
One thing that doesn’t change is being the advocate for the author and the book within the publishing house. I’m the first person to read the book and my job is to get everyone else as excited about it as I am.
UW: How has your work as an editor changed the way that you perceive books, generally? Do you find yourself examining the things you read for pleasure in a different way that you would have before?
AS: Good question. The main thing I’ve noticed is that I’m less patient. If the story hasn’t intrigued me in some way within the first few pages (maybe a chapter or two, if I’m feeling generous) I’ll stop reading and move on to something else. In my “civilian” days before I started working in publishing, I would almost always finish the book, whether or not it was great or just OK. But now I don’t have a lot of time to read for pleasure, so when I do, it needs to really grab me.
I also read more nonfiction than I used to—I find it refreshes me to dip into something different than what I’m reading for work.
UW: When did you start working with Patricia? Has your professional relationship changed over the years?
AS: I’ve been working with Patty for quite a while, close to twenty years. I became her editor early in her career with her third book, When Demons Walk, when I was still an assistant, so you could say we grew up together.
We got along well from the beginning, both professionally and personally, and bonded over books—we have similar taste, so we’d always be giving each other recommendations. I didn’t meet her in person for a number of years since she was out west and I wasn’t senior enough to go to conventions, but when we finally did it was awesome. I always look forward to meeting up with her and talking—we can chat for hours.
The Mercy Thompson series actually came about in part because Patty and I liked to talk about books, and we were both Laurell K. Hamilton fans. At Ace, we were seeing that reader interest in urban fantasy seemed to be increasing, and my boss asked me if one of our current authors could write one. I thought of Patty, since I knew she liked to read Laurell. She wrote a terrific proposal for Moon Called and the rest is history.
As far as how our relationship has changed, I’d say it’s more that it’s matured and developed. We’ve grown together and found success together; I went from an editorial assistant to an executive editor, and Patty from a midlist author to a #1 New York Times bestselling author. It’s been an amazing journey.
UW: What are some of the things that you remember the most about working on the latest novel?
AS: We were working on the edits right around the time the cover reveal went live. We loved it, but it was a bit of a different look from previous covers (tighter in on Mercy) and you never know. Patty and I were thrilled with the positive response from readers.
UW: Were you surprised by the direction the story took or any aspect of the characters’ development?
AS: The Mercy Thompson series is primarily told first person in Mercy’s viewpoint, though some of the books have had scenes from her mate Adam’s POV where it was necessary for the story. But in Silence Fallen, Mercy and Adam are physically separated part of the time, so we get a lot more from Adam’s perspective than we ever have before.
And as a reader, I’ve always been fascinated with the witches. Elizaveta, the witch on retainer to the pack, goes with Adam when he looks for Mercy, and it was a lot of fun for me to find out more about her.
UW: What would you most like readers to know about the book?
AS: It is exciting and intense, and mixes laugh-out-loud moments with scenes of strong emotion. There are terrific new characters introduced (including the werewolves of Prague and Larry the Goblin King) that readers will have a great time meeting.
But the heart of the book is Mercy—and the team she and Adam are together. I loved seeing how Mercy handled being on her own this time, and how Adam dealt with diplomacy and the world of the vampires, as they worked independently toward bringing Mercy home (without starting a war in the process).
I can’t wait for you to read Silence Fallen, and I hope you love it as much as I do.