Quiet on the Set: A Book Crew

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Editing in Film and Fiction
We've decided to shake things up a bit with the Guest Author series and make a Guest Editorial Assistant entry! Welcome Sarah Jae-Jones (@sjaejones), Editorial Assistant at St. Martin's press, who shares her thoughts on the publication process.

Director_chair
When it comes to getting a book published, I find it helpful to think of the book as a movie. Growing up in Los Angeles, you can’t put help get a sense of the inner workings of movie production. My high school was a location for no less than 25 films (the most famous being Jurassic Park and Legally Blonde), so the language and medium of film is something with which I’m pretty familiar.

They say it takes a village to raise a kid. If it takes a crew to bring a film from script to screen, then it also takes a team to bring a manuscript from the writer’s head onto bookshelves across America and it’s more like Hollywood than you might think.

The publisher is the producer: the one who funds the film, who distributes the reels to theaters across the country, and who provides resources for marketing and publicity. A publishing house is like a studio, and they work on getting the public to consume the book, both as a product and an art.

But what about the writer, the novelist? The obvious analogous role seems to be the screenwriter, but in fact, the writer is actually the director. The director is responsible for the creative direction of the movie, the story it tells, what themes it explores, and how it executes them. The director’s tools are images and sound while the writer’s tools are words, but their concerns are the same: how do you best tell the story? How do you get your characters to act in real, convincing, and moving ways? How do you effectively convey the narrative with all the resources you have?

Where does the editor fall into this process? Film editing is an art into itself, but a book editor doesn’t receive the same recognition, even though the role is the same. A film editor takes raw footage and shapes a movie from it, finding the right gesture, the right take to draw the maximum effect from a scene. Then he or she cuts the film together, trimming the excess, excising the parts that drag, tightening the movie into a finished product that is paced just right.

A book editor does much the same, working in tandem with the writer/director to shape raw material into a work that lingers or zips when it needs to. Your editor should help you draw the right emotions from your characters and the scene, as well as help shape the overall arc (plot, character, etc.). Should you always listen to your editor? In the end, that’s the director’s call—it is your book after all. But there are reasons film directors employ film editors, just as there are reasons book editors exist in publishing: to work the final product into something that makes the audience/readership feel something.

After all, it takes a village to publish a book.


Sarah Jae-Jones Sarah Jae-Jones (who prefers to be called JJ) was born and raised in sunny southern California but has since transplanted herself to New York City. She cannot possibly tell you why she gave up gorgeous weather, serene beaches, and the smell of night-blooming jasmine for soul-sucking winters, unforgiving concrete, and all-night Ukranian diners, but she blames it all on Sesame Street. When she’s not ruthlessly editing books at St. Martin's Press, she can be found jumping out of perfectly good airplanes.


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4 comments

  1. I also think of how the book would sound as a movie sometimes. :)

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  2. I agree. I belong to a writer's critique group and everytime I heard "more details" or "show don't tell", I close my eyes and picture what my characters are doing. They are a movie playing over and over in my mind and in my soul. I even went as far as making a soundtrack with my iTunes and play it while I work on my current draft. :-)

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  3. I sometimes wondered if it was just me. Every time I write a book, I am seeing each scene in my mind.
    Maybe that is why a screen writer recently told me it would be so easy to turn my books into films.
    A production company in LA had "coverage" done on one of my books and they all came back recommended for commercial box office success. And then I never heard back from them. Weird, huh?

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  4. I'm inclined to disagree.
    I would say the publishing/distribution of books and film, respectively are very similar, but the creation is wholly different.
    I'm drawn to writing because it is a totally pure creative act: I am wholly responsible for words on the page and I am only limited by my imagination and writing ability. If I want help (probably) I can ask a friend or my editor or whoever to proofread it. At the end of the day, the manuscript is "ready" to publish with the input of maybe one or two others and a lot of my time.
    Filmmaking, on the other hand, requires expensive equipment, locations/stages, crew (who must be paid or convinced to work free), facilities (editing, sound mixing, etc). It is the most collaborative and expensive artform I can think of off the top of my head.
    In my mind, directing a film and writing a novel are on opposite ends of the storytelling spectrum. I love them both, but they are wholly different forms that require very different approaches.
    Once you've got the manuscript in hand and the film in the can, your metaphor seems reasonable. I simply enjoy writing because I can leave the village to do it.

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