First Draft Episode #178: Amanda Maciel - Transcript
Date: February 19, 2019
Amanda Maciel, executive editor at Scholastic as well as author of YA novels Tease and Lucky Girl, talks about how writing books made her an author-friendly editor, staying emotionally available during revisions, and the trouble with accepting that you have an impact on other people.
The original post for this episode can be found here.
[Theme music plays]
Sarah Enni Hey friends, before we start the show I wanted to let you know my debut novel Tell Me Everything is going to be in stores on February 26th , and I will be doing a launch event at The Ripped Bodice in Culver City, California on March 3rd. I’ll be in conversation with the incredible Tahereh Mafi, New York Times Bestselling author of The Shatter Me Series, as well as the National Book Award long-listed A Very Large Expanse of Sea. That’s March 3rd, 4 pm at The Ripped Bodice. Don’t miss it. I have a few other events coming up as well. San Francisco on March 8th at Books Inc. with Nina LaCour and Jennifer E. Smith. Seattle on March 9 at the University Book Store in the U District with Kendare Blake and Somaiya Daud. Ashville, North Carolina on March 27 at Malaprop’s Bookstore with Stephanie Perkins, and Boston on April 2nd at Trident’s Books Café with Katie Cotugno and Sara Farizan. Check out the events page at SarahEnni.com, or FirstDraftPod.com to find more details and to see the other festivals I’ll be hitting up this spring as well. I hope I see you there!
Okay, now on with the show.
[Theme music plays]
Sarah Enni Welcome to First Draft with me, Sarah Enni. Today I’m talking to Amanda Maciel, executive editor at Scholastic, as well as an author of YA novels Tease and Lucky Girl. Amanda and I talk about the process of developing and working on my debut novel TELL ME EVERYTHING. We get into the emotional work of thorough revising, and some nuts-and-bolts talk about the publishing process which, at Scholastic, includes fun extra stuff with books and fairs. So please, sit back, relax, and enjoy the conversation.
[End of Introduction]
Sarah Enni Hi Amanda, how are you?
Amanda Maciel Hi! I’m good. Thank you for having me.
Sarah Enni Oh my gosh, thank you so much for chatting with me. As we talked about, this is gonna be a little bit of a different episode because it’s you and me talking about TELL ME EVERYTHING.
Amanda Maciel Yes.
Sarah Enni Hooray! I just want to give the listener the chance to hear what the relationship between one author and editor is like, and what our process was like. I am super curious to hear a little bit behind-the-scenes of what you were thinking throughout the whole process and all that good stuff.
Amanda Maciel Yeah!
Sarah Enni So, let’s start with a little bit of background. I would love to hear you catch listeners up on who you are at Scholastic, and your career as an editor to date.
Amanda Maciel I am an executive editor at Scholastic. I mostly edit middle grade fiction but I also do some YA. And the through line is basically “commercial fiction” which means books that have a big hook. A lot of series fiction, which sort of intertwined with the big hook thing, if it can be extended over a longer story.
I started in children’s publishing in 2001 at Harper Collins and there I mostly worked on YA. So actually, my background is much more YA. I did a lot of, what we called their “beach reads”. They were those little rack size paperbacks, like romance novels.
Sarah Enni Mass market kind?
Amanda Maciel Yes. And we would do a few every summer and they would be fun books you took to the beach and they were the best things to work on. I really loved those. And then when I came to Scholastic I shifted my focus a little bit more to middle grade. It just is a big part of our business and sort of became my focus.
But I love working on a few young adult novels that are really passion projects, and also that work well for our particular business. Cause every house is a little different, and what works best for each house is a little different. And Scholastic does particularly well with issue-driven but maybe what you might called “cleaner” YA. And they particularly like a social media cautionary tale [laughs].
Sarah Enni Really?
Amanda Maciel Which is a funny term but we find that there is a lot of appetite for that. Not only in trade but in the school channels in book clubs and book fairs. Kids are really interested in reading about…
Sarah Enni How people flail.
Amanda Maciel Yes, and interact on-line. And it’s nice, it can be super timely. So, it was actually in a conversation with them, cause we try to work really closely with clubs and fairs and their managers, which is sort of editorial/sales role for them, about what they were looking for. And they mentioned that they wanted something in this social media vein. And I sat down to think about an idea and it came out a little bit lighter and maybe with some opportunities for humor and not quite a cautionary tale, I don’t think. But then I needed to find an author to actually take it on and turn it into a “thing”.
Sarah Enni Yes. Okay, well let’s take one brief side-step and then come right back to that.
Amanda Maciel Yes. Jumping ahead.
Sarah Enni Cause I want to make sure we don’t miss the fact that you are a writer also. Can you give us the update on your books?
Amanda Maciel Sure. I have two YA novels that came out. The first one called Tease in 2014 and the second one was just last year, which feels like a long time ago already [laughs], called Lucky Girl. And those are legit problem novels. They are older YA, that deal with sort of darker issues. And they’re actually in - it’s sort of a coincidence - they’re published by Harper Collins. So part of my life, I guess, will always be owned by Harper.
Sarah Enni I did the swap.
Amanda Maciel Yes, exactly. So, I’d really always wanted to write more and I’d written for newspapers when I was in college and just out of college. And when I finally sat down to try to write fiction it taught me so much about… I always thought I was a very author-focused editor, if that makes sense? But there’s definitely a different level of empathy that you reach when you are on the side of getting the editorial letter that’s like, “I love it! Change everything.”
Sarah Enni Or, “I hate it. Change everything!”
Amanda Maciel Right! And a deadline that is for you to own, is just like the entire inside of your body liquifies. And there’s no way to fully understand that until it’s happened to you.
Sarah Enni Yeah, it’s true. It’s true. Okay, so let’s go back to the genesis for TELL ME EVERYTHING. I’m so interested in this meeting and then you sitting down to generate something based on what they were saying. Is there any more detail you can give? You’re in a room. You’re talking to these marketing folk and they’re like… what exactly did they give you to go on for how to come up with something?
Amanda Maciel It was the woman in charge of the YA section of the book fairs. And book fairs and clubs get to see every houses list. They go and present, and we do too. But with us, they can work with us from the beginning and come up with an idea. And they had been doing really well with some books that were about social media, or about technology intersecting with kid’s lives.
And this woman was saying that, “Post Secret and…” What is it? I think it’s Whisper Net? Those anonymous sites where people share secrets, seemed really compelling and maybe a good jumping off place for a story.
So, I tried to – I think the original working title was something like, “Post Your Secret Below”, which is super clunky [laughs]. But at least it was like, “This is what this is.” You know, which you kind of need in a working title. But yeah, it was about a girl who is on an anonymous secret sharing site and figures out – or thinks she figures out – the identities of some of her friends.
But, it was just a couple of paragraphs.
Sarah Enni It was pretty short.
Amanda Maciel Yeah. And every house, at this point, does in-house ideas. Usually called IP [intellectual property]. And I love the way that we work, or certainly the way that I work, is to come up with a very loose idea that tries to capture the tone at least, and what you really want out of the story. And then immediately find an author who can bring it to life. Because the more ownership an author has of an idea of a story, the better it is - every time. In my mind.
I think any amount of me micro-managing is going to flatten it. And I’m not that clever and I don’t have that much time.
Sarah Enni I was gonna say, it seems like a lot of energy spent for something that could blow up if the writer isn’t…
Amanda Maciel Right. And if I felt that passionate about it then I’d start to feel weird that I wasn’t writing it, I think? And I don’t want to overreach either. I really respect what writers do and bring to the table. But it was a lucky moment where I was talking to our, turns out, mutual friend Michelle Schusterman. And said, “I have this thing and I’m looking for somebody.” And she was like, “Oh my god! Talk to Sarah Enni.”
Sarah Enni Cause I think you described it to her a little bit, right?
Amanda Maciel Yes.
Sarah Enni And I think tone is such an important thing and we’ll probably come back to in talking about developing this idea because that was…
Amanda Maciel I had a specific tone in mind for sure.
Sarah Enni And I think that’s what Michelle responded to because Michelle had been my beta reader for three books. She definitely knew my voice and I think she heard what you were going for and kind of played matchmaker with us.
Amanda Maciel Yes.
Sarah Enni So then we got put in touch. Gosh, now I’m forgetting the exact steps.
Amanda Maciel I think I called your agent and pitched it to her and then sent her the one page of idea and you cooked up a full synopsis and a couple of chapters?
Sarah Enni A couple chapters. I think first I sent you my other book.
Amanda Maciel Right.
Sarah Enni My original book. Just to say like, “This is what I sound like when I write contemporary.” So, it was a book that preexisted and based on that you said, “This looks good. Let’s do some synopsis and chapters.” And it was then that I feel like I really got the sense of how this was gonna work because I said, “I really want to go forward only if I can make some pretty big changes to the structure that’s in these couple of paragraphs.”
Amanda Maciel And I think I was like, “Please do.”
Sarah Enni You were like, “I literally am never gonna try to tell you what to do with this book. I just want to make sure this is gonna work together, and then it’s like you on your own.” Which was great to hear.
I forgot that I did that, the whole synopsis and chapters thing.
Amanda Maciel Yeah, I think you had to do that a couple of times actually, cause we were working out even how this secret sharing app would work… what it was exactly. And then you have to retrofit your POV character to need something, and have a story of her own, and then fill out the cast of characters. It’s deceptively complicated. Or, at least, I’m taken by surprise every time like, “Oh yeah no, now there’s a whole plot and story to come up with.”
Sarah Enni It was a little wild. I’m gonna try to walk through like what they say when giving birth, I’m like, “I don’t remember it.” And now we’re going back into it and I’m like…
Amanda Maciel “I think it was painful? But then it was over.”
Sarah Enni “Oh, it was very intense?” But I remember that we got to talk on the phone, and I was so happy. And it seemed like it was gonna work great for just the chance to write this story. I thought it was so interesting.
I signed the contract, I know, in May 2016. And then, god help me, I don’t remember when I turned in the first draft, but it was really rough. It actually was a little bit more challenging than I had anticipated it was gonna be, to take on an idea and do the work of fleshing it out, and finding a way into it… on a deadline. Which I had never done before.
Amanda Maciel Yes. The only thing worse than not having a book contract, is having a book contract [chuckles]. That’s a terrible thing to say but it’s so true. It really can make those organic processes of letting something… cause even when it’s your idea out of the clear blue, it still has to settle, and sort of… what’s the word I’m looking for? Maybe germinate? If I gardened then I would have the right metaphor here, you know? [Both laughing] You have to add fertilizer and time.
And not only do you not have that, once you’re under contract, you don’t feel like you have it. The anxiety of a deadline sort of deadens a lot of those creative abilities. It takes a lot of energy to even recognized that that’s happening, and then to also overcome it somehow is a lot of work.
Sarah Enni Yeah. It was interesting. You’ve always been incredibly patient with me, which I appreciate.
Amanda Maciel Yeah. And contemporary, I also think, deserves to take some time. And we’ll get to this too, but if you’re writing about something that’s really relevant, things change fast these days. When you’re talking about social media in particular, with my second novel it took me much longer to write than my first novel. Partly because it was already under contract, and partly because – yeah, no mostly because it was already [under contract]. No, because it hadn’t been an idea that was with me for a long time, so it took a long time to come out.
But I was so grateful for every one of the major/complete rewrites that I did because with every month that went by, I was like, “Oh, okay. Now I know better than I did a month ago.” The last five years, I want to say, it’s really been intense. A lot of intense social change that has made everybody’s writing, hopefully, better and more self-aware. That is not to say that where you started with this book needed that kind of improvement, but I think we both saw as we were working on it, that each time we went back to it we saw something new in a way that only time can give you that.
Sarah Enni We did, to be clear, do two complete rewrites [laughing].
Amanda Maciel [Laughing] That’s right!
Sarah Enni So, I remember when…
Amanda Maciel “We” [laughing]
Sarah Enni Well, so this is kind of what I want to talk about because it was such a unique process… I feel like. I think I sent you a draft, and I think probably my lead was like, “Hi Amanda, this is garbage.” I think I turned in my first draft and was like, “I’m not sure where to go with this.” Or, it was something like, “This needs to be a jumping off point for us.” And then I actually got to come to New York and see you. I think both times we sat down were the major drafts.
You were kind enough to take me to breakfast and we just talked for two hours. Mostly what this book wasn’t. Cause I think what was on the page was a lot of what it wasn’t gonna be.
Amanda Maciel Right, right.
Sarah Enni That’s kind of how I tend to remember it.
Amanda Maciel Which is an important thing to figure out too.
Sarah Enni Yeah. I definitely hadn’t figured out Ivy yet. And I remember, especially the first conversation I think, this is where I feel you being a writer yourself was so evident to me. Cause we talked a lot about… and you were gracious enough to share a lot of personal connection to Ivy’s story that you felt. And threw in some anecdotes from your life that you thought related to Ivy’s challenges.
We sort of just talked out her emotional stakes, cause they hadn’t really been firmed up yet. And that was enormously helpful for me. All of those chats. And then I think I went to the Housing Works after and sat there and scribbled for couple more hours and then got back into it.
But was that a process that you’d done before? Is that similar or different from how you’ve helped other writers?
Amanda Maciel You know honestly, I don’t usually have the luxury of doing that. Partly because when you edit a lot of series like I do, you always end up a little behind the ball. And behind schedule. And so it’s just a little like, “just get the next book out” kind of thing. But, it was a complete delight. I’m an editor largely because I’m better if there’s already something on the page. And so your ability to try things and bring a lot of… you brought so many ideas to this. And so much sense of place and story and so many cool characters and details that there was just a tremendous amount to work with. And that made it really fun to get in and talk about like, “Where could this go?” And, “Where does it logically go emotionally?” Cause that is one of my favorite things as an editor is to have the time to sit down and really talk about motivation and ask those psychological questions.
And I don’t know if this was an anecdote that I shared at the time, but I remember growing up, my mom and I were sort of partners-in-crime looking at various family members and dissecting their psychological like, “What are they thinking?” And, “Why are they doing that?” For some reason we clung to each other in a sea of insanity, or whatever [laughs]. Not to throw the entire rest of my family under the bus, but it was like our favorite pastime. For good or bad, you know? To talk about other people and try to figure them out. And I think I’ve really carried that with me as far as like, “Well, maybe it’s this? And maybe it’s that?
To be fair, I think everybody does that to a certain degree with the people around them. Trying to figure out why they’re doing what they’re doing.
Sarah Enni But I like that you were like, “Let’s examine them as a character. What’s their arc? What’s their motivation?” That’s so funny. Yeah, there was a lot of that. We talked a lot about your family and my family because this books really feels like… it took a long time to figure Ivy’s parents out, and Ivy’s home out.
But I think that’s because there was so much there. The third and final draft was like Harold, her best friend, clicked into place. And her parents really clicked into place. And Ivy clicked into place. And those three relationships were sort of the triangle that made everything work in a real way. And it definitely took a lot of bouncing ideas off of you, and hearing your input, and thinking about what someone in that emotional state would go for.
Amanda Maciel I love YA because the characters are largely able to act in the world without their parents constantly being there, but the risk is that you don’t really carefully examine the parents. And especially Ivy who has this really loving couple in her house. And then she’s an only child, and that’s a really specific experience and it creates a specific kind of person.
I love telling people to think about where the parents were when they had the kid, and thinking about naming your characters. It’s always good to think, to go back about sixteen years from when you’re writing, and think what did they want for this person? What were their dreams and aspirations? It helps you to lock into what their launchpad was like. So, what they expect of themselves in high school is probably still pretty closely related to that.
And I think that really, you brought that out. As the story went on it’s really evident, without it being the focus, but it helps direct her story in a way that feels real.
Sarah Enni Yeah, she’s very much comparing herself to their expectations, or what she thinks that they envisioned for her life. And Harold is maybe the kid they would have conjured if they could have [laughs].
Amanda Maciel Yes, I think every set of parents would conjure the kid who is super involved and smart and motivated. He’s great. But yeah, especially in high school as you’re nearing that idea of college, and going out in the world, I think the weight of your parents expectations is actually really heavy. Whether you’re aware of it or not cause that’s when it’s your turn to go and do all the great things that they expected of you.
And maybe that’s true now more than ever.
Sarah Enni I think it is.
Amanda Maciel Now that college isn’t even optional for anyone.
Sarah Enni And that you have to be on a waiting list from the time you’re born for kindergarten, or whatever.
Amanda Maciel Yes!
Sarah Enni But actually one thing that was interesting was when we started working together my previous YA’s were older. I love writing senior year. So, it was interesting, earlier you mentioned “clean YA”, and really it sort of means younger. So we were talking about how Ivy was gonna be about fifteen, she’s fifteen in the book, and that was my first time writing that age group which is so different.
And then Harold is so involved, and I sort of used him as this way to bring the challenges of the future to her, even though she’s still only a sophomore. Her best friend Harold gets really freaked out about college. And so he’s acting like it’s happening tomorrow and all of a sudden that’s being put in her face, and she’s realizing like, “I’m not ready for this. I don’t know who I am. I don’t know where I want to go.”
It’s like a false crisis.
Amanda Maciel Right, yeah, cause you’re still relatively protected sophomore year. Although all of that PSAT stuff starts then and some of the prep stuff. I think you’re supposed to start getting college pitches then… I don’t know. But Ivy also has a nice amount of independence in that you set it in this idyllic, small town by the ocean. And she’s got a bike that she’s able to transport herself with, and then also having friends with cars. That is a good turning point – fifteen, sixteen – when suddenly the world does open up to you. And of course she’s got her art, and her secrets. And she feels individualized in a very real way. But also in a way that challenges her to figure out how to act.
Sarah Enni Kind of what you’re talking about are some of the details, right? You mentioned in the first draft… that makes me happy cause that was my thing. I turned in a draft that was mostly weird, random ideas. I knew the town pretty well cause I based it on a book – I based it on Santa Cruz – and I’ve written about Santa Cruz before in another book. So, I was super excited to jump back into that setting and bring that to life again.
But then the social media app, I think was the first thing that just worked. I think I was able to find something that was gonna function in the story pretty well. And then had a lot of fun coming up with what the posts would be. So there were just a hundred posts in there that were so random. So basically, I just gave you a lot of chaff. Just a bunch of random stuff and it was not necessarily connected with an emotional through-line yet.
Is that typical of a first draft that you see? Or is this a typical editing experience?
Amanda Maciel Um, you know, it depends. I would say it’s more typical of something like this where it’s in-house idea driven. Because that does take a minute to pull out the story. Often the in-house idea is like this one where it’s like, “We want social media. And problems.” And I think the main idea said that Ivy didn’t want anybody to notice her, and so that’s the secret sharing app kind of thing. But other than that, there wasn’t a lot there.
So, it depends on the author. Sometimes people will write a lot of dialogue and not a lot else. I love talking about the emotional stuff and the relationships so much that I really loved working with you bringing all of the setting and details in. Because that’s not something that I’m particularly… and it’s also not something that as an editor I can do for somebody else.
That takes a lot of concentration and a quiet room [laughs] which I don’t have at work. So, I would say that there is not typical way to work on any novel. But it certainly was not [pauses], let me put it on the official record that there was never a moment of being like, “Oh my god! I can’t believe…!”
Sarah Enni Oh! Thank god.
Amanda Maciel It was not unusually anything. It was unusually creative! And you brought a lot, but I was not concerned at any point. And frankly, as soon as Michelle was like, “It’s Sarah Enni.” I was like, “Done! She’s signed up.”
Sarah Enni That makes me happy.
Amanda Maciel I had faith from the jump. But that said, I think revising is its own skill, utterly apart from writing. And it does not always come with somebody who can get a draft down that’s good. But maybe could be better. Not everybody is able to do that. And to watch the revisions come in, and some of them were re-writes, and some of them were revisions. And they were all better and deeper and everything that had been there in the beginning that was good, was still there.
To the point where sometimes I would have to do a check for a character name or something. Cause I’m like, “Well they’ve been there all along.” It didn’t feel like anything was ever missing, it just felt like things came into sharper focus over and over. It was just really, really remarkable.
Sarah Enni Oh, thanks!
Amanda Maciel I have to say, that is a truly distinct quality in certain writers that I’ve worked with and it’s a pleasure to work on books like that. I really love it. It’s like, “Oh my god, look at this! Look at what she can do!”
Sarah Enni Well, thank you so much. It was a really challenging writing process but I only mean that in that it was… being on deadline and it was just a new experience. Once I found it, it was satisfying in a really, really intense way. Cause it was like, “Oh, this was such a mountain to climb, but we did it.” It was like probably two major rewrites, I remember. And we did have to bump a deadline I think.
Amanda Maciel Yeah. We moved seasons but that’s the thing I know from your end, it was like there was always a deadline hanging over your head. Which is just, again, having a book under contract. It’s that Sunday afternoon feeling when your homework isn’t done… but always.
Sarah Enni Yes, it’s so real.
Amanda Maciel Which is hard. But it wasn’t a problem to shift it in-house and give it a minute to come into focus. But it’s also one of those things where on the editor’s side of the desk I’m like, “Oh yeah we just move seasons.” And I know on the author’s side of the desk it’s like, “But that’s so far away. I just want to finish this and put it into the world.”
Sarah Enni I’ve had other friends have to do that, and sometimes it’s really devastating to get moved a season, especially if you had your heart set on one time. Or, if you have a real preference for what season you’re out in. I just know for me, I think it was bearing down on that second re-write and when you were able to give me that time, I was so relived. It was truly a gift. And it really did give me the space to actually find her real story, and to get much more acquainted with these characters. And your support the whole time was incredible.
Amanda Maciel Well you were the one who kept the enthusiasm level at like a nine or ten the entire time. Which was amazing given how much work you put in on it, and it taking that time. Cause that’s the really hard part is staying emotionally available for this story. And I’m so glad that we managed to find something that kept you engaged and happy to be working on it. Cause there’s a lot of just keeping yourself going back to the desk, and interested, and not losing faith in the process. And that it will work out eventually.
Sarah Enni Right, right. Well, and it’s like I don’t want to make you say that you’ve read that before, but I’m sure that when you read [takes in a breath] I feel like sometimes I read friend’s drafts and I’m like, “You didn’t enjoy this round.” [Laughs] You know what I mean? Sometimes the words don’t have that zing of joy. If you’re working on one thing, that’s fine. But yeah, if you’re wearing down on a story you can really feel that, I think, sometimes in the writing.
Amanda Maciel Yeah, I always notice when I get around… what is it? I would say the fifty-thousand-word mark? All of a sudden, the main character is tired all the time.
Sarah Enni She just goes to get ice cream often.
Amanda Maciel No wait! I’m tired all the time. It’s also that moment where you’re like, “Maybe this is all terrible and I have to re-write the whole thing.”
Sarah Enni Yeah, fifty-thousand is a mark. And the middle is never fun.
Amanda Maciel No. Somewhere between forty and fifty. I don’t want to give the impression that YA novels should be longer than seventy if they’re contemporary. But yeah, somewhere around that point you’re like, “Oh, maybe this is all crap. And also, why won’t my main character get out of bed?”
Sarah Enni “I think I’m concerned!” In editing it and fine-tuning it, it’s funny because I felt like you had this really personal connection to this story.
Amanda Maciel Yeah.
Sarah Enni And I don’t know how much that’s true or not, but when we did sit down and talk… it was funny because I felt like writing IP was a challenge for me to think like, “It’s my idea – it’s not my idea. Who cares about it? Who doesn’t care about it?” And that was a lot of me making myself anxious, brain stuff.But then when we would sit down, it felt like you were so personally vested in the story, and you were rooting for Ivy in this personal way which was so useful to me.
Amanda Maciel Good.
Sarah Enni Did you feel like you were growing with it? Or, were you just trying to be there for my process? How did you think about it?
Amanda Maciel I think the more we talked about her and what she was going through, and what would be the natural result of her situation, I think it was really easy to identify with her, honestly. And I don’t think that’s just me, I think that she’s a good character that you put into a lot of interesting situations, and then helping her figure out how to get out.
On the one hand, she’s the star of the show. And on the other hand, she’s got a lot of interesting stuff going on around her. And a lot of people who aren’t afraid to be themselves in the way that she is, so you end up with that Alice in Wonderland problem of everybody else is interesting except for [the main character].
So trying to keep coming back to her and make sure that she’s got a satisfying story arc of her own, even though part of her story is that she’s having trouble being the star. I think it was easy to just get into that, honestly.
Sarah Enni It was an interesting challenge to write a character who doesn’t want something to happen.
Amanda Maciel [Laughing] Right, yes!
Sarah Enni She desperately doesn’t want to be seen or judged at school. She’s actively trying to fade into the background. Though I think she’s probably less successful at that than she thinks she is.
Amanda Maciel Yes. She definitely thinks she’s more incognito than she actually is, which is great.
Sarah Enni So there’s a little bit of the unreliable narrator aspect to it, cause its first person present [pauses], I’m like, “Is it?” I’m messing up my own… oh my god… yes. And just from her point of view. So, it was a really funny thing to have to then have other characters be mirrors for her, and show her that she’s actually more involved in her own life than she even has realized. And more obvious to the people around her than she thinks she’s being.
Amanda Maciel I’ve said this a lot about being an editor, there is a certain amount of… it’s nice to be the invisible one, but you really have to remember how much responsibility you have and how much you are affecting people around you. And that was another thing that I noticed when I was on the author side of things of your relationship with your editor. I think that I’ve gone through a lot of my career being like, “I’m important but not that important” kind of thing. And I’m like, “No. You’ve got to step up and be there.”
And I’m also a parent now. And in romantic relationships, there’s a certain amount of, “If you think you don’t really affect the people around you, it kind of lets you off the hook.” In this way that’s not okay basically. And I think that has been something I definitely self-selected both writing and editing for that invisibility cloak a little bit, in a way that I’ve come to terms with as I’ve gotten older.
I’ve been like, “Oh yeah, yeah, yeah!” You’ve got to also be seen and also have vulnerability stuff. Let people see you. And also accept that you have an impact on other people cause you can feel like, “Oh… I don’t.” But it can go both ways. It can be like, “I don’t matter.” But also, “Nobody can blame me!”
Sarah Enni Yes! It’s very playing it safe. These are feelings I’m having coming towards release day. It’s like standing up in front of people and taking ownership of this book and knowing a lot of people aren’t gonna like it. But that that’s just what it is.
Amanda Maciel This book? Everybody’s gonna like this book!
Sarah Enni Well, thank you so much! That’s so true. I’m actually getting more empathy with Ivy as the year goes along. That’s such an interesting point. And also an interesting point… someone actually brought this up at BEA (Book Expo America) – gosh I wish I could remember who it was – but one of the authors from one of the big panels was talking about how editors should get noticed more in publishing. That it’s really hard to figure out who edited what book.
Amanda Maciel Yes, yeah.
Sarah Enni Why is that?
Amanda Maciel I don’t know exactly. I feel like now that acknowledgement pages have become more of a thing, transparency has also. And social media has brought a lot of transparency to publishing. I’m pretty sure that it’s tradition, though, to stay out of the limelight and make sure that it is the author’s… you know, your name is on the cover.
And also, the editor’s influence and participation is different from book-to-book and house-to-house. So, I think that there is a certain amount of just making sure that the important and appealing people are out in front [laughing] which is the authors.
Sarah Enni [Laughing] The appealing people!
Amanda Maciel I don’t think the people are trying to shirk their responsibilities by hanging back and being in the background. And then you certainly have editors throughout history who have been celebrity editors themselves. Which is kind of its own job in itself.
Amanda Maciel Exactly, exactly. That’s like a whole different career path almost. I think, certainly early in my career, it was a little bit like, “Well, now I’m just gonna get more slush mail if people tell people my name.” [Both laugh] But now with Twitter and everything, I think it’s a little bit more open in a way that is kind of fun.
Sarah Enni I don’t know, to me it was funny to even realize that it wasn’t on – what’s that called – the opening page, with the designer and the ISBN number. It’s like, “Oh, wouldn’t it be lovely to have everyone who worked on it be officially listed somewhere?”
Amanda Maciel And some imprints do that. I feel like the graphic novels that I’ve worked on do that. With the graphics imprint here at Scholastic. And I want to say the Arthur A. Levin books maybe does that too. So, my impression has been that if it’s a fancy imprint…
Sarah Enni Then they’ll go for it.
Amanda Maciel Then they list everybody.
Sarah Enni That is so interesting. Okay, the other thing I want to talk about is writing social media on the page, cause that was kind of wild, to try to make that interesting. And right before we started recording we were talking about Emergency Contact, the book by Mary H.K. Choi, which is so lovely and I thought did a really good job of incorporating… I mean, the cover is the two kids texting. Which is most of the story is falling in love over text message, but it was so engaging and funny. Thankfully, I read that after because I would have been so intimidated writing Veil.
Veil is what we called the social media app. It was really funny to set out and be like, “How am I gonna make this something that… she’s just looking at her phone a lot of the time. But what does it mean to her? What is it making her feel? How is it making her think about the kids around her?
Amanda Maciel It was also very prescient because you picked a scenario that’s basically anonymous, local, Instagram. In the couple of years that we were working on the book Instagram has definitely risen to the top with the youth.
Sarah Enni Yes, it is the preferred thing.
Amanda Maciel And also with myself. I’m off Facebook now and Instagram is so much more relaxing in so many ways. But it being a visual place for kids to go, I thought, was really good. It’s not kids sharing articles about [unintelligible], or events or whatever.
Sarah Enni And it’s not even people responding with emoticons. There’s almost no interaction on it, which maybe was aspirational for me. I was like, “Wouldn’t it be a joy to just put something up and then not have to like everyone else’s posts?” There’s not threaded comments, there’s nothing like that. It’s just putting something out there and not having your name attached.
Amanda Maciel And it’s kind of nice that it’s geographically specific too. I almost wonder if that would be the cure for everything that’s wrong with social media in general. Because there’s a sort of built in “be nice” level because these people are all around you… right now!
Sarah Enni In the book, it’s within five miles. Which is why Ivy is so certain when she loves the images that people are posting. She’s like, “Well, these artists are people who are around me and they probably go to my school.” Hence, the hunt to find out who they are. Which was a fun element to it.
Amanda Maciel Yes because, of course, that would be tempting.
Sarah Enni Of course! And then of course what everyone’s posting is stuff that’s around you. Or they’re interacting with your world. It makes a lot of sense. And then she got to see her high school through other people’s eyes. Which was fun.
But the most fun part was in the final draft where everything clicked. I think, I truly believe this, it really clicked because of Rake Burmkezerg.
Amanda Maciel The creator of Veil. And his missives about it. He’s so spot on Silicon Valley mogul type. There’s so many – I’m hesitating – because there’s so many words. I’m like, “Don’t use that word!”
Sarah Enni I think in our last talk where I was about to engage in the biggest revision. Coming up with the final thing that was really gonna stick, we had talked about how to incorporate Veil more into her every day. So, it had to start having impact on her life, and the parents had to start getting involved, and the school had to start getting involved. How are we gonna make this feel real?
I think we walked away without the solution and then I came back and said, “I came up with a villain.” And he’s not on the page, he’s just this twenty-eight year old tech guy in Silicon Valley who is just a blow-hard [laughing].
Amanda Maciel [Laughing] Yes, exactly. “You created something and why don’t you understand it?”
Sarah Enni And, “How could I have known that anyone would use it for ill? This is on you! Not my utopian vision.” And that, for some reason, just unlocked a lot for me. And was such a joy.
Amanda Maciel Yes, those parts are hilarious. I love that aspect. I think that challenge of writing about somebody looking at their phone all the time, I got that question a lot – particularly when my first book came out – people were asking, “But how did you know how teenagers talk?” And I’m like, “Well, I know how I talk. And we all live in the same world.”
And I think people think that if you’re writing YA you are going to naturally harken back to your own teen years. I don’t know about anybody else, but I blocked those out! Like a healthy adult! [Both laughing] but I still act like a teenager, like a not very healthy adult.
But I’m constantly on my phone and on social media, and I know how it affects me. And I know it would affect me much more, probably negatively, if I were younger and more sensitive. But it’s still pretty intense and I think the level of FOMO that you can incur very quickly is tough. And it makes it a little easier to write about, I think. And to channel those feelings because we’re all living in that world together.
Sarah Enni And it’s all new for all of us at the same time. I think kids are better at adapting to it because they’re younger and they adapt to everything pretty quickly. But we’re all new at the internet. It’s truly not old.
Amanda Maciel Not all of us over thirty are walking around like, “This is different than it was.” You just roll with it and then it becomes your world. And iPhones are what? Ten years old now, so… which is a long time and no time at all. Honestly, I get more irritated with stories where somebody conveniently loses their phone, or throws it away. I mean, sometimes I really enjoy that, but… [laughs]. That can be good.
But sometimes it feels like it’s just done for convenience of the story so that it doesn’t have to be dealt with. And I think, like anything else, having parameters can help shape a story. You gotta use the fences that you have and too much freedom is actually not the best thing for narrative.
Sarah Enni Yeah, you need a fence of some kind to build.
Amanda Maciel Especially in contemporary, I think. It seems like there’s no world building cause it’s not fantasy. But, in fact, there is plenty of world building.
Sarah Enni There’s so much! My book has a lot of world building. And a lot of random silliness about where she lives. The last draft I was like, “Do we need this? Yeah, no… we need it. Just cause it’s fun for me!”
Amanda Maciel Exactly! Also, you do a great job of… I feel like there are a few author’s I know – not necessarily all people that I edit – but people I really enjoy reading because their characters go out and do stuff. And I really like that. It just always feels like, “Oh yeah! You could go to a place, and there’d be things to do there.”
I think maybe I just don’t have any hobbies other than reading and watching TV. I’m always impressed when the characters get out of the house and go do a thing! This is fun!
Sarah Enni Isn’t that funny? Cause I’m insta-carting my yogurt to my door. My LaCroix directly to me while I’m like, “Ivy hops on her bike and goes down to the pier and takes pictures of mariners!” And it’s like, “Well, I’m not doing that!” That’s so true. Aspirational imagination!
Amanda Maciel [Laughing] Exactly!
Sarah Enni As a matter of interest, cause this is a conversation that not a lot of people get to have with editors, or a little bit behind the curtain kind of stuff. Once I turned in that last draft, then we did copy edits. And my copy edits were actually pretty intense. I sort of treated that as another revision, but it was, I felt like, really got it where it needed to be. It sort of crossed the finish line at that stage.
Amanda Maciel Yes, totally. I mean… your copy edit changes weren’t that crazy..
Sarah Enni Okay, good.
Amanda Maciel You took it seriously, which is good because that is the last chance to make extensive changes cause it’s still a word doc with track changes, and it’s easy. But it wasn’t, again, this was not like… I didn’t sit back like, “I’ve never seen the likes of…!”
Sarah Enni And throw your computer. Well, that’s good. That was copy edits, then we had first-pass pages.
Amanda Maciel Right. Which is when it gets put into the typeset font and starts to look like a book. And the design of the interior pages is created, or in the process of being created.
Sarah Enni Yes, and this was around the time when the cover… when at least I was getting to look at the cover. Which was so exciting! You guys did the best job ever
Amanda Maciel It was a marathon.
Sarah Enni And the first-pass pages were stunning too. It was so cool to see how someone else had already put so much thought into how the reader was going to interact with the book.
Amanda Maciel Yeah, the designer Nina Goffi, has brought so much to this project. And so much care, and love, and detail. It’s really incredible.
Sarah Enni It’s amazing. I am beyond psyched to see the final version. We’re not there yet as of this recording, but…
Amanda Maciel Maybe there’s a lesson to be learned of… write about artists if you want your book designer to be really into it [laughs].
Sarah Enni That’s actually not bad, cause Nina did tell me she was like, “I related to her so much!” And it’s like, “Oh, yeah, that makes sense!” Then where does the process go from here? We’re about eight months away, as we’re recording this, from publication day. So, what’s your relationship with this book gonna be for the next few months.
Amanda Maciel So now it’s with at least one proofreader. And while you were looking at typeset pages, a proofreader was also looking at them at the same time. So I got the proofreader’s set back, and I got your changes back, and I wrote them into what we call the master set. So, that’s a good moment for me to respond. Unfortunately, it’s a moment as an editor,, that I just do on my own sometimes and forget to loop the author back in. And the author will be like, “What do you think of this?” And I’ll be like, “I like it.” And I’ll make the change. It’s like a closed loop.
But it is a good moment for me. And then I look over the proofreader changes and if they’ve got queries… I think they actually queried something that I then came back and asked you about. But generally it’s stuff that I can answer. And then it goes to another proofreader while those changes get incorporated. And at that point, I collect any loose ends from you like acknowledgements, or whatever.
We continue to work on the cover. The designer will route mechanical, which is just the flat printout of what the cover – what the jacket – will look like. I actually was just looking at the bound galley mechanical, which looks different than the jacket. Partly because it’s paperback and the copy has to be a little shorter. There’s just minor things that are a little different.
And so I’ll get the full jacket mechanical, at which point I’ll probably be like, “I need to rewrite half of this flap copy.” Because it’s never real until it’s actually printed out like that, which is annoying for everybody else involved because then it has to be re-copy edited.
But yeah, it’s a lot of going over the same materials a bunch of times and making sure that changes that you wanted made, that I want made, actually get made. And don’t introduce any new errors. And we’ll probably get arcs – advanced reading copies, or bound galleys – in a month or so. I want to say hopefully July/August-ish
Sarah Enni Amazing!
Amanda Maciel And we’ll send those out to everybody who wants to read one. Well, not everybody, everybody, but as many people as we can. And then the cover will get closer and closer to going off to the printer and so will the interior.
Sarah Enni And it starts wrapping up.
Amanda Maciel Yeah. And it’s called first-pass cause it’s the first set of typeset pages and then from then on it becomes second-pass, third-pass… you don’t usually go past fifth-pass. And then it goes to proofs, which is the printer has it. And this is what it looks like at the printers, so just make sure everybody’s name is spelled right kind of thing.
Sarah Enni Yeah, ugh, intense!
Amanda Maciel So then it becomes a physical thing!
Sarah Enni Yeah!
Amanda Maciel And that is the most exciting.
Sarah Enni Wild! And you touched on this a little bit, but to whatever extent you feel comfortable talking about it, I’d love hear a little bit about… I know Scholastic has a unique interface with book clubs and fairs. Because all along this process, you’ve been talking about there are set meetings for, every publishing house has sales meetings and stuff like that, but you also have other meetings where you are pitching this book, and they get to decide what they’re want to carry. Can you talk a little bit more about that process.
Amanda Maciel So yeah, every house has their seasonal launch where they talk about every single book, and then some houses have a pre-sales conference where they talk about a few. And then sales conference, I don’t even go to most of the time, it’s like all of the sales reps and usually the editorial directors presenting. And by that time we usually have cover art, so people are thinking about how to sell it to Barnes and Noble and Amazon and that kind of thing. And then on the other side, as an editor, we have small group meetings with clubs and fairs.
So, book fairs were entirely their own company up until maybe not too long before I got here. And they’re based in Florida so we talk to them over the phone. And then they come into town several times a year, so we try to meet with them too. And book clubs are in the building, so we see them a little bit more often. But their businesses are very different.
Clubs is a little bit more like an on-line retailer situation. The covers are really small, they’re in those flyers that you used to get in elementary school and middle school. But the way that they sell books, they have to them based on a tiny image and one line of description.
Whereas book fairs come to schools and set up in a variety of locations and the books are face out. And so they have a different interaction with kids and educators and parents that is really instructive and interesting because on the trade side we kind of only have to care about, or worry about I should say, what the retail stores look like. And increasingly, of course, what Amazon looks like. But, that business model is a shade different.
So it’s cool learning all three of these. It means that each book that I work on is basically three books. But it’s fun and I’m glad that I know this part of the business because in children’s it’s still a very relevant part of the business. And then twice a year there’s a big presentation at fairs in Florida which, again, I don’t usually got to, or I have not been to. Where all the publishers line up and show their list and everything.
But the fact that we get in on the ground floor and really try to work together is really cool. It’s obviously a bit of an advantage. But it’s also, again, because it’s a different kind of business, informs what we do in a way that speaking of putting fences around things, I find it really fun to be like, “What works at this house? And how can I work on things that I really love that will also work for my publisher?”
Sarah Enni I’ve been describing to some people that you have this in-house Barnes and Nobel. That is in the back of your mind sometimes with thinking about how it should look, or what’s the right way to pitch this? Or, you have someone to bounce that against and see what makes people interested. Which is great!
Amanda Maciel And book publishing is in this weird middle space corporate-wise, because we don’t do market research really. We just don’t have the overhead to do anything on the scale that Hollywood is doing. We don’t have “pilot season”, although sometimes you will publish one book and then do a sequel.
But even that, because we’re such a long lead business, we can’t really do that. We have to place our bets and then see how it goes. And, obviously, if we could figure out what exactly works and why… we’d do it all the time!
Sarah Enni Right.
Amanda Maciel But it’s very personal. And I love that about it. I love that it can be very subjective and creative and that I feel like I just said the word overhead. But the overhead is relatively low, so you can try new things.
Sarah Enni Yeah, and books that blow-up are not always what you’d think.
Amanda Maciel No.
Sarah Enni Some of the strangest books are the ones that become huge, mega things.
Amanda Maciel Exactly.
Sarah Enni Which is nice to see that still be. Even Hollywood, for all their data, they can’t always predict when something is gonna just connect.
Amanda Maciel Exactly. And a lot of times it’s something that when you read it, you understand why. But if somebody described it to you… like if you described the Hunger Games to me, I probably would be like, “You know, I don’t really want to read about reality TV.” You know? There’s that element to it that you don’t even think about when you think about those books anymore, because it’s so much bigger than that.
Or even something like Eleanor and Park [by Rainbow Rowell] is technically kind of quiet, but it just is so good. That just took over. The timing and, I don’t know, it’s a weird alchemy that is magical to watch but again, sends me scurrying back to my editor roll like, “I don’t want to have to try to…” [laughs], “I’m just over here reading. I don’t know how that works!”
Sarah Enni Exactly. That’s amazing. This was so useful, I feel like, it’s so interesting just to get your perspective on it. Was there anything else that you wanted to talk about?
Amanda Maciel This was so interesting and I feel like I talked too much maybe? So, but thank you so much and honestly, thank you for the incredible level of energy that you brought to this particular project. It is truly stunning, and I think I was trying to be aware of how much I was asking you to do along the way [laughs], but it’s hard to really know. Especially when you’re working with somebody for the first time, how much is asking too much? And especially when it’s like, “Hey, I had this idea.”
You did exactly… you fulfilled the dream completely in taking it on and really making sure that it was good. And I think that your standard of quality is fantastic! And you met it, which is really amazing.
Sarah Enni Eventually! You never put too much on me, all you did was help me. I was so grateful for your patience the whole time because I do have this perfectionist streak. So you helped me. There was a point where I was like, “If the book has to go out like this I will be so upset.” And you helped me to not have to deal with that. Which was a huge lifting of the weight for me.
Amanda Maciel Yeah, and again, your name is on the cover and you have good taste! And you achieved so much with this story that is so readable and fun.
Sarah Enni Well, thank you for everything Amanda, and thank you for helping my listeners understand this process a little bit better.
Amanda Maciel Thank you.
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