Saturday, November 16, 2013

Inside the Industry: Editorial Assistant

Saturday, November 16, 2013
A look at the book business by the people who know it best.

Inside the Industry is back this week with Blair Thornburgh, Editorial Assistant at Quirk Books and author of the upcoming book, Stuff Every College Student Should Know. If Quirk Books sounds familiar, it might be because they published the incredibly popular YA novel, Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs. She gives us insight into what it's like to work for one of the most coolest independent publishers (in my unbiased opinion) and talks writing tips!

Describe a typical day as Editorial Assistant at Quirk Books. What does your job entail?
I do a lot of different things, so the only typical day for me involves a lot of typing! A lot of editorial-assistanting is writing copy: for the backs of books, for the catalog, for the website, and for the Quirk blog (which I love, because where else can you bang out a thousand ridiculous words about Pumpkin Spice Lattes as part of your job? This is a special place, people). I also review manuscripts along with the senior editors to help work on edit letters for authors, and I review new submissions from agents and authors as well—Quirk accepts unsolicited, unagented manuscripts, which is both exciting and a lot of work. I also attend to various sundry office tasks like shipping books, keeping track of contracts and payment requests, and preparing tip sheets for potential acquisitions.

What requirements does one need to meet in order to be an editorial assistant?
Working in editorial draws on a combination of critical thinking and attention to detail, to throw around a couple of resume buzzwords. Your job is to evaluate things, and you need to back up your judgments with specific evidence. This plot point doesn't work; this character does. Then, as you work further on a project, you need to switch gears into renovation mode: what's the core of the story? What's dragging the narrative down? What is the dynamic arc of the story, and how can you work with the author to refine it to its most effective and interesting? 

What advice would you give to an aspiring editor? What would you advise them to study in college?
Everyone will tell you to read, and this is good advice! But: read intelligently. Read critically. Read with an eye to reverse-engineering why some stories engage you and others bore you to tears. Pay attention to language! Prosody and word choice are undervalued as tools of great writing. As for college, well, I majored in Medieval Studies, so I'm either totally the wrong person to ask or exactly the right one. That is to say: study what you love, but don't neglect words and narrative—not that you would, of course.

What’s your favorite thing about being an editorial assistant? Your least favorite?
I love editing! When a book is good enough to make me excited about improving it, I will just throw myself into line-edits or brainstorming or full-manuscript editorial letters, because it's rewarding and a blast. I also love just plain reading submissions. Even when I pass on material, I really, really do enjoy looking it over. My least favorite thing is sending rejections, hands-down. I wish I could make everyone's dreams come true, and I hate knowing that I'm ruining someone's day.

Pride and Prejudice and ZombiesMiss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children (Miss Peregrine, #1)William Shakespeare's Star Wars

Quirk Books definitely has a unique selection with titles such as Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and William Shakespeare's Star Wars. What makes a manuscript a Quirk Book?
This is such a tricky question! Each of our books is so different and singular that it's hard to sum all of them up with a neat little motto. Honestly, I think what makes a manuscript a fit for Quirk is when we see something we can bring to it: beautiful design or a topsy-turvy format or a bunch of science projects or an new approach to a classic topic. The wonderful thing about being a smallish company with a smallish list is that we invest a lot in making every book wonderful. 

Your upcoming book is called Stuff Every College Student Should Know. Can you share with us one piece of advice you wish you had had when starting college?
Get a writing partner. You really, really need a critical-but-friendly eye on your manuscripts, and not all other writers are sniveling lit-fic snobs with a congenital disdain for anything smacking of plot. Also: it takes a long time to finish a manuscript. As in years, plural. Don't rush, but don't give up, either.

Stuff Every College Student Should KnowWhile we're on the subject of advice, what's the best writing tip you've ever given or received?
Advice that hones in on specifics is my favorite, so: don't start a book with dialogue, and don't start a sentence with an -ing verb. Of course, there are exceptions (writing is art, after all), so don't cling to either of those as Gospel truth. I also keep Nora Roberts' advice in my head when I feel stuck: you can't edit what you haven't written.

What tools do you need to write? (A special playlist, a lucky pen, cool writing pants, etc.)
Man, I wish I had cool writing pants! (I have weird, too-small harem pants I bought at a flea market in Paris that I write in a lot, but I wouldn't call them cool.) Not to be all Virginia Woolf, but I really just need space away from people, earbuds, and Scrivener (God bless you, Scrivener). And since I write in the early morning, coffee. I buy the fancy kind as a bribe! 

Want to find out more? Check out Blair's Blog and Twitter!
If you work in the book business and would like to be featured, send an email to with the subject line “Inside the Industry.” I would love to hear from you!


  1. What an awesome and enlightening interview!

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