Thursday, February 12, 2015

5 Editor Deborah Halverson on Fresh Spins, the Value of an Agent, and Chocolate

I am thrilled to announce that in addition to bringing you agents of note, we are now including  editors as well! 

You met my editor, Samantha already, now I'd like to introduce, Deborah Halverson.

Deborah Halverson spent a decade editing books for Harcourt Children's Books before becoming the award-winning author of Writing Young Adult Fiction For DummiesWriting New Adult Fiction, the teen novels Honk If You Hate Me and Big Mouth, the picture book Letters to Santa, and three books in the Remix series for struggling readers. She is now a freelance editor, author, writing instructor, and the founder of the popular writers’ advice site Deborah also serves on the advisory board for UC San Diego Extension “Children’s Book Writing and Illustrating” certificate program. She speaks extensively at workshops and conferences for writers and edits adult fiction and nonfiction while specializing in teen fiction, New Adult fiction, and picture books. For more about Deborah,

1. How did you decide to become an editor?

I secretly wanted to be a writer all my life, but having a practical streak even as a child, I figured I should get a “real job” in the publishing industry. Editor sounded good to me. Fortunately Harcourt Brace (now Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) had offices in San Diego at the time. I wouldn’t have to move to New York to pursue an editorial career! I added a copyediting certificate from UCSD to my English degree then applied at Harcourt until the managing editor of the Children’s Books Division took a chance on me. Boy, had I found my people! That was 1995. I learned how to make books in the managing editorial department, then moved over to acquisition, where I worked with veteran and debut authors as they revised and perfected their manuscripts. But that desire to write was still niggling at me. It took seven or eight years, but I finally worked up the courage to see if my dream was worth holding on to. Sure I could write, but could I finish a whole book? And then write another, and another? On the sly, I began what became my debut YA novel, Honk If You Hate Me. In 2005, as my second novel for children was publishing, I had to give up corporate editorial life to be home with my infant triplets. I hung out my freelance editor shingle, and ten years later I couldn’t be happier. I bring my in-house editorial experience to bear as I work with writers to get their manuscripts ready for submission to editors and agents or for independent publishing.

2. What are some of your favorite YA/children’s books?

I’m a sucker for writers who can give the obvious a fresh spin that startles me in the most moving ways. Salina Yoon melts my heart with the unexpected Penguin and Pinecone. A friendship between an animal and a pinecone? Inspired! The Day the Crayons Quit and If You Find a Rock both celebrate items so common in childhood that we barely notice them anymore. Kids notice them though… and so did these authors, who found brilliant ways to make us grown-ups take notice once again.

3. What is the biggest difference between an agent and an editor?

It’s crucial to understand the scope of each one’s involvement in your career. An editor is focused on single projects and your potential body of work with that publishing house. Your agent cares about each project, too, but she also has your full career in her sightline. I am very experienced in this business—I could negotiate my own contracts and I’ve got plenty of editorial contacts. Yet I value expert consultation and support for my career so much that I have an agent for my children’s books and an agent for my adult craft books.

4. What have you seen too much of? Not enough of?

With the current enthusiasm for contemporary realistic stories, I see too many manuscripts that showcase above-average writing but fail to deliver a fresh angle on the contemporary teen experience. What makes your story about a regular kid in high school stand out from all those other well written stories about regular kids in high schools? I want to see more great writers find their distinct angles so that they can find publishers and places on bookstore shelves.

5. What title are you most proud of and how did you find the author?

I love every novel I worked on with Jean Ferris. I remember my very first week as an editorial assistant—Jean’s Love Among the Walnuts was in design stages at Harcourt. Jean’s editor, Diane D’Andrade—my boss—asked me to give the jacket copy a whirl. Eager to impress, I worked on it that night at home, trying to capture the tone and convey the special cleverness of that story. Then I felt it: a click. It was the first time I experienced that soul-deep connection that strikes an editor when she finds a writer she truly “gets.” Jean is so clever with the words and the stories, and her quirkiness jives with my own. I worked on several other books with Jean as an assistant editor before I started acquiring her manuscripts myself, including Much Ado About Grubstake and Eight Seconds.

6. How important are trends when considering work?

Most of the time, books on the market at the height of a trend were written and even acquired before that trend existed. The boring every-day reality of acquisition is editors looking for manuscripts in the genres or styles they enjoy, then singling out those that are exceptionally written and that have noteworthy angles they can play up in cover and promotional copy. They want to love the book and see ways to bring readers’ attention to it.

7. What is more important: character, plot, or world?

I need well developed characters in even the most plot-driven books to feel like I’ve had a satisfying reading experience. As for world, I see that element as more than just the place and time in which we embed our characters. Too many writers stop at those two aspects of world-building and then aim the rest of their story-building efforts at their characters and plot. Having your character act upon and react to the time, culture, environment, and props can greatly enrich his characterization and the story as a whole. I see setting get shortchanged too often in manuscripts—to the detriment of the story—so I dedicate a full chapter in each of my craft books to using setting to enhance all other aspects of your story.

8. Literary or commercial?

Oh boy, can I revel in a rich story with layered themes and complex stylings! But I’ve always been a pop culture girl, so toss me a well crafted commercial book any day.

9. What book do you wish you’d edited?

I’m crushing hard on The Day the Crayons Quit, let me tell you. To have been a part of it’s creation in any way would have been a treat.

10. What’s your favorite part of being an editor?

Learning that a writer I’ve worked with has landed a publishing contract sure rocks my boat, but my greatest pleasure is in the editing itself. I will cheer out loud when I work out that elusive something that can crack open a writer’s revision strategy, and I love it when I’m so excited by a revised manuscript that I fill the margins with happy faces and exclamation points. Helping a writer move her project to the next level is immensely rewarding.

11. Coffee, tea, chocolate — what’s your vice?

I’m sorry, could you repeat that? The word chocolate hijacked my brain….


  1. We love you Deborah! So happy we have you and your incredible insight on our side. Great interview!

  2. I had the privilege of having Deborah help me with two manuscripts. The second one landed me my agent. Deborah has a keen editorial eye. Can't thank her enough for what she taught me.

  3. You're a fabulous writer, Anita. What a pleasure to have played any part in your publishing journey.

  4. Any day I get to talk about chocolate and writers in the same breath is a very good day indeed. Thanks so much for letting me be a part of Advenures in YA Publishing!


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