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Interview with Shelly Shaprio - Del Rey Editor

TheForce.net talked recently with the editor of Del Rey, Shelly Shaprio. Plenty of interesting information for those with a love of books, and for those that someday will be gunning for her position at the publishing company:

What qualifications do you need to become an Editor? What does the job involve?
The best way to prepare yourself for work as an editor is to read a lot. A working knowledge of grammar and punctuation is essential. A familiarity with copyeditor's marks is helpful, though I learned that on the job, not in school. Courses in publishing/editing can be helpful but are far from necessary. And you certainly don't need a master's or PhD. Previous jobs in an office or a bookstore can be helpful and look good on a resume. You should be conversant with computers--especially word-processing. Experience answering phones, filing, organizing will prepare you for the entry-level position of Editorial Assistant. The job of Editor is a multifaceted one. It involves working with manuscripts, working with authors, interfacing with other departments such as Art, Production, Marketing, Sales, and Publicity. It involves a lot of thinking and planning. You do everything you can to help an author make his or her book the best it can possibly be, and then you do everything you can to help the publishing company do the best job possible at producing, marketing, and selling the book. It also involves the search for new authors and titles, by such means as reading, keeping in touch with agents, and sometimes going to conventions and writer’s conferences. On an everyday basis, the job involves a lot of reading, a lot of e-mail, a fair amount of phone time. I try to keep meetings to a minimum, but they exist, too.

How did you become an Editor?
I worked with student writers in college as an exam assistant, and then attended the Denver Publishing Institute’s summer course. Following up on contacts made through that course, I interviewed in New York and ultimately got a job as Editorial Assistant with the Science Fiction Book Club. When I was ready to move on, I came to Del Rey as Assistant Editor. Been there ever since.

How did you become involved with the Star Wars books?
When Ballantine Books acquired the Star Wars license, they needed an editor to direct the new fiction program. Apparently I was recommended to Lucasfilm, so the then-president of Ballantine gave me the assignment.

Do you have any input into the development of the storyline?
Yes. The development of the New Jedi Order, as well as of all the novels, is a a combined effort involving the Lucasfilm publishing people, the Del Rey editors, and the authors.

What genre do you read for your own enjoyment?
I still enjoy science fiction. Some mainstream fiction, like books by Alice Hoffman and Anne Tyler. Some romantic suspense. And kids’ books.

What is the process for choosing an author to write a Star Wars novel?
Generally, I propose authors I feel would work well, and Lucasfilm reads them and approves or disapproves. The basic rules of thumb are that the author must have a track record in publishing, and must be a Star Wars fan—at least enough that he or she is really going to be excited about working in the Star Wars universe.

On average, how long does it take to edit a novel?
That’s hard to answer, as each book is an individual case. Generally speaking, each Star Wars novel is read several times at different stages: for development, for approval, for line-editing. Any way you slice it, it’s time consuming.

Which book has been the most enjoyable to work on?
I can’t answer that. It’s like asking a parent to choose her favorite child! Each book has had its up sides and some have had some down sides. They’ve all been a challenge and, largely, fun to work on.

What has Del Rey / Lucasfilm got upcoming for fans?
Can’t say much about that. Of course we’ve got the NJO to finish, and the era of the “prequel” movies to explore. There’s lots of fodder for books now and in the future!

What kind of interaction do you have with the authors?
I’m not sure what this question means. I talk to them to see if they’re interested in writing the books, I deal with them by phone and e-mail to help them develop their storylines and revise their manuscripts where necessary, I meet with them in person sometimes at conventions, and sometimes some of the authors join us for a brainstorming session out at Skywalker Ranch.

Who is your favourite author?
I don’t have a favorite.

What is your favourite Star Wars novel?
I wouldn’t say even if I did have a favorite!

What are Del Rey's plans for the Star Wars franchise after the New Jedi Order?
Can’t talk about that.

Will the E-Book format continue?
E-books are here to stay. Exactly how and in what form remains to be seen—it is an ever-evolving new medium.

From your experience, how does reader reaction and feedback affect the storyline? Does it have any impact?
Reader feedback doesn’t affect the storyline much, but it can affect the details along the way. Angry put-downs and demands for change are far less effective than polite requests for things to be done differently. Obvious e-mail campaigns end up in the circular file—I just don’t have time for what ends up being the equivalent of spam e-mail. I’m certainly open to learning things—especially when it comes to continuity—from reader feedback, and I’m not blind to mass reaction. I’m not saying we jump to respond—we can’t, because the feedback varies so wildly that there’s no way we can please everybody—but we certainly keep an open mind and open ears. We’re very much aware that we are not creating books merely for our own pleasure, and we don’t want to make people unhappy if we can help it!

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