Interview and GIVEAWAY with Editor Sarah Jane Abbott

Hi Math is Everywhere Readers,

I’m so excited for our guest today, and I hope you are, too! Sarah Jane Abbott is an editor extraordinaire and was such an amazing help to me when I was first agenting and she was working at Paula Wiseman Books. Sarah Jane is off on new adventures freelance editing, ghost-writing, and more, and she’s here to share all about it!


Kaitlyn: Hi, Sarah Jane, thanks for joining us today! 

Sarah Jane: Hi, Kaitlyn! Thanks so much for having me.

Kaitlyn: To start off, can you share how you got into editing?

Sarah Jane: I was an English major in college, with a focus on creative writing. When I graduated, I knew I wanted to go into publishing and editing books seemed like a natural choice. I was hoping to work on adult literary fiction, since that was what I liked reading. It was tough breaking into the publishing industry, so I took the first job I was offered, which happened to be a publicity assistant position in the children’s department at Simon & Schuster. That turned out to be lucky, since I discovered I love children’s books, especially picture books. I had never realized so much goes into creating them and each one is a little work of art! After a year of publicity, I got a new job internally as an editorial assistant for Paula Wiseman Books and Beach Lane Books.

Kaitlyn: I love how everything happens for a reason in life even when we don’t see it at first. I’m so glad this happened for you! What do you love about freelance editing?

Sarah Jane: It’s so different from working at a house. I love having the freedom to choose my own projects, be completely flexible with my time, and have a mixture of types of work. I get to edit picture books, which is my first love, but also work on editing middle grade, do copyediting and proofreading assignments, and take on ghostwriting projects, which has been something new and exciting. I’ve always been a writer and being able to do that and get paid for it is a dream.

Kaitlyn: So glad you’re living your dream! What are some notes you give often to writers at all levels?

Sarah Jane: I always tell writers to make sure they are constantly reading the current books on the market for their genre or age group–and by current, I mean what has been published in the past year. It’s so valuable to know the current trends and market standards and to have relevant comps for your work. 

For picture book writers, two pieces of advice I give a lot are: First, “show, don’t tell,” which is an oldie, but a goodie. Don’t tell me how your character feels. Show me with their physical reactions or how they interact with other characters. Another thing that makes a manuscript more polished and keeps word count down is to remember that you don’t need to describe things that will be in the illustrations. The art is part of the storytelling, and telling the reader what a room looks like when they can see it right there on the page is redundant. Let the illustrator do their work too!

Kaitlyn: Yes, these are such important things, reading current stories and showing not telling! This advice is something that can take a while to learn. Can you share why editors are so important to the process?

Sarah Jane: I’m a writer too and I know from my own work that it’s easy to get too close to your manuscript and lose perspective. Sometimes I use the analogy that if you’re a zookeeper and you’ve been in the monkey house all day, you start to forget that it smells like monkey poo. A professional editor can look at a manuscript with fresh eyes and with experience and industry knowledge that a writer just doesn’t have. They provide guidance and advice on craft that has been collected and honed from all of the books they have worked on before. 

A writer can get feedback from other sources in their life, but it will be of a different kind. Friends and family will read a manuscript and likely give kind but vague feedback, like, “I loved it!” or “It was really great!” A critique group of other writers (which I highly recommend every writer have. SCBWI can help pair you with one) can give more constructive feedback, but sometimes members give opinions that conflict with one another or advice that would take a manuscript in a direction that is different from your vision. A professional editor can help you sort through other feedback you’ve gotten and figure out how to write the very best version of the story that you really want to tell.

Kaitlyn: Yes! Fresh and well-honed eyes are such a huge help; it always amazes me what great editors can pull out of writers. Can you share a bit about your services?

Sarah Jane: I have a description of the services I’m currently offering on my website here: https://sarahjaneabbotteditorial.com/editorial-services/. I work with authors on developmental edits of their picture books and middle grade novels, as well as help to prep their queries, synopses, and chapter excerpts for submission. I also take on select copyediting and proofreading projects. If you have an idea for a novel or picture book you’d like a ghostwriter for, I’m all ears!

Kaitlyn: OoOoO, so exciting! What’s your favorite advice to give to authors?

Sarah Jane: I’m full of advice! But here’s some I like to give at conferences: Publishing is a very subjective business. A rejection from an editor or an agent does not mean your manuscript is “bad” or unpublishable. It’s not personal, even though I know it can feel that way. Every editor or agent has their own tastes and interests and they also have a very limited number of slots on their list. To take on a project or client, they have to really, really love the manuscript. When I was acquiring novels, I always kept in mind that as I edited, I was going to have to read this book probably at least ten times. Was this a book I could read ten times and not be tired of? Maybe it wasn’t for me, but that absolutely didn’t mean it wasn’t for someone else. It’s like how a friend may recommend a TV show they loved to you, but you watch a few episodes and get bored. That doesn’t mean it’s a good or bad TV show. You simply have different tastes. Ultimately, you just need to find that one right agent or editor who loves your story.

Kaitlyn: I love analogies, and that’s a perfect one for this business! Now, we have a lot of picture book writers, can you do a super-short mini course? Share one of your favorite picture books and what qualities you think make this such a standout picture book.

Sarah Jane: A favorite picture book of mine (that I didn’t edit, sadly!) is Leave Me Alone! by Vera Brosgul. My partner brought home a signed copy of the book for me as a surprise and said it reminded him of me. The character is a grumpy old woman who just wants to be left alone to knit. While the comparison is apt, I’m not sure if I should be offended.

Vera Brosgul is also a graphic novelist and she is a master of visual narrative. The book makes expert use of page turns to create suspense and humor. It has a spare text that relies on the art to fill in the blanks, like a page that says “But it [her knitting] wasn’t getting done,” and the art shows the poor woman fumbling all of her yarn in the middle of a stampede of grandchildren. There is great subtle visual humor, like saying “The old woman was at the end of her rope” and the art literally shows her standing at the end of a long strand of yarn on the ground. The book has a neatly structured plot, with exposition, four pieces of rising action (she goes to a forest to knit, she goes to a mountain to knit, she goes to the moon to knit, she goes to a black hole to knit), a climax, and falling action/resolution. Even though there is a repeated structure to the rising action, it doesn’t feel repetitive because it escalates so much in absurdity. It really is a master class in writing and illustration. I highly recommend reading it!

Kaitlyn: Such a great book to study! Thank you for that wonderful analysis. We’re all curious, what’s next for you?

Sarah Jane: The great thing about freelancing is that there are always new things on the horizon! For now, I am editing a couple of wonderful middle grade novels, working with authors on a bunch of picture books, ghostwriting the next mystery in a chapter book series I loved as a kid, and ghostwriting an amazing YA memoir. We’ll see what’s in store for me next!

Kaitlyn: Wow, that all sounds amazing! Keep kicking booty, Sarah Jane, and thanks for sharing with us today!

Sarah Jane: Thanks for all of your great questions!

Kaitlyn: Aww, you’re making me blush! Please come back any time!


Bio:

Sarah Jane Abbott is an experienced editor who has spent over eight years making books for children. She got her start at Simon & Schuster’s Paula Wiseman Books and Beach Lane Books, where she had the pleasure of working with many wonderful authors and illustrators including Samantha M. Clark, Samantha Cotterill, Scott Magoon, Anita Lobel, Alice B. McGinty and Alan B. Havis, and Diane Goode. In 2020, she established Sarah Jane Abbott Editorial, and works with authors and publishers on a wide range of projects. When she isn’t reading or editing, you can find her knitting, drinking tea, or trying to master the art of baking a macaron that would meet Mary Berry’s standards.

A few of the many books Sarah Jane has edited

Testimonials:

“Sarah Jane’s comments were insightful and motivating. She really knows her stuff and shares generously with encouragement and a good strong dose of you-really-can-do-this. I’d highly recommend her to anyone starting out as a new writer or trying to kick start a project.” (Jacqui Lipton, author of Law and Authors: A Legal Handbook for Writers)

“Sarah was very professional and helpful in every respect. Her comments were supportive and encouraging, and to the point. She gave good insights into the world of editing and publishing. I very much enjoyed working with her.” (Helen W.)

“Sarah Jane is absolutely wonderful to work with on my first manuscript! She was kind, thoughtful and I can tell really cared about me and my story. She provided excellent feedback in a timely manner. I would highly recommend Sarah Jane to all writers.” (Kelsey G.)

Giveaway 

Do you want to enter for a change to win a picture book query letter review from Sarah Jane Abbott?

To enter into the giveaway: Comment below and  for another entry, follow Sarah Jane on Twitter and RT Kaitlyn’s Tweet about this post and tag three friends who might be interested in her editing and/or ghostwriting services.


I hope you all learned a lot today and that you’re excited to get to Spring Fling Kidlit analysis, too! It’s coming next week, and even more, June 14-18 will be Kidlit Zombie Week this year! IF you’re not following @6and_MANuscript, get on it! There will be lost of learning and FANTASTIC PRIZES! Happy Memorial Day Weekend!

87 thoughts on “Interview and GIVEAWAY with Editor Sarah Jane Abbott

  1. I truly enjoyed reading this interview Kaitlyn, so thanks for making it happen. Of late I have been thinking of looking into either a mentor or an editor to help me make my books more marketable, so it was good to hear about Sarah’s expertise, as well as her advice. I do need to get out of the monkey house (although I have to admit, with my sense of smell, I don’t know if I could ever forget where I was).

    Have a great Memorial Day weekend Kaitlyn and Sarah!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes! It’s so hard, even for those of us who wrote and are agents or editors, we need to be reminded, too. I just had a pep talk with Joyce this month because of it, it’s so wonderful having people to remind you of this, especially because most of us writers are very excited to get out work out there but so insecure as well.

      Like

  2. Thank you Sarah Jane for sharing your thoughts and experience. I can’t wait to read Leave Me Alone … sound like a book written about me when I’m trying to write!!!!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Many thanks to you both for the interview and the advice. I’m brand-new to this industry and am already a textbook example of How Not to Query. I’m grateful to know there’s someone like you out there Sarah Jane that can offer a comprehensive review of my projects before I send another round of Queries. I’m sure the agents I intend to Query will be grateful for you, too. Cheers !!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m glad the interview was helpful! I’d love to work on a query with you whenever you need an extra set of eyes. 🙂

      Like

  4. What a perceptive question and answer session. It’s a great read, full stop! Thank you both for your time and information. I especially liked hearing the advice again of “show don’t tell” and that there is no “need to describe things that will be in the illustrations.” I’ve ordered a copy of “Leave Me Alone” and will retweet this information (@allforplot) and will also follow Sarah Jane on Twitter.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much Helen! I’m glad you found the interview to be helpful. Enjoy “Leave Me Alone!” It’s a great one!

      Like

  5. Such a great interview!! I had the pleasure of taking an intensive with Sarah at a KS/MO SCBWI conference a few years ago. She is amazing!!

    Liked by 3 people

  6. Thank you for the insightful and helpful interview. I have filed Sarah’s website in my notes. It’s always intriguing to hear how people are guided to their life’s work. I went to college in a city surrounded by cattle industry, so I totally relate to the monkey house analogy–hah. Critique partners are the best! Okay, I have followed on twitter and will RT your tweet, Kaitlyn.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I love hearing people talk about their career paths. You never know where life is going to take you! I’m so glad the interview was helpful. (And as a former equestrienne, I hadn’t even thought about the smell of a stable or farm for that analogy. Maybe that is more relatable!)

      Like

  7. Followed, retweeted and tagged! As for my comment- Thank you for the professional insights. In addition to Leave Me Alone I am going to look for a copy of Law and Authors. That sounds invaluable! I’ll be visiting your website next. Thanks for the great interview Kaitlyn. 😃

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’m so glad you enjoyed it! Vera Brosgul is wonderful. I also love her newer picture book, “The Little Guys.” And thanks for the kind words about my books! “The Boy, The Boat, and The Beast” has one of my favorite covers ever. And a gripping story with a surprise twist to match. 🙂

      Like

  8. This was a fantastic interview. Excellent picture book choice for a super mini course Sarah! It is always exciting to see professional freelance editors.

    Kaitlyn, I loved this line: I love how everything happens for a reason in life even when we don’t see it at first. So, so true!

    Liked by 2 people

  9. This is a great interview. I especially liked the analysis of Leave Ne Alone. Repetition with escalating humor — that is picture book gold.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Great interview! I loved the monkey house analogy….it TOTALLY helps to get feedback from people who aren’t as close to the monkey poop. LOL

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s really amazing what others will point out on a first read that you somehow didn’t see after reading the manuscript a zillion times! (Speaking from personal experience with my own work, here.)

      Like

  11. Wow what a jam-packed interview. Thanks so much for the advice and insight, Sarah Jane! Always great to learn of wonderful editorial services. I will look into your book suggestion. Thanks so much, Kaitlyn and looking forward to the upcoming lineup! Rosanna Montanaro

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Thank you, Sarah Jane, for the tips, advice, and your analysis of Leave Me Alone. It’s always refreshing to understand the editorial side of publishing. Your interview answered many of my questions.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Great Interview. Thanks Sarah Jane for the insight into editing and publishing. I just read leave me alone. So fun and clever. Kaitlyn it was great to finally chat with you via a webinar. I see you are with Context Literary. Congrats!
    Happy Memorial Day!

    Liked by 2 people

  14. Another terrific, chock full of wisdom interview! Thank you, Kaitlyn and congratulations, Sarah Jane on your new endeavor! I am now happily following and have retweeted.

    Liked by 2 people

  15. I’m new to this blog and really enjoyed this interview. Thank you, Sarah Jane, for all the great advice. Now I’m off to find a copy of LEAVE ME ALONE!

    Liked by 1 person

  16. A really informative interview! Thank you, Sarah, for sharing some great writing tips! I’ve bookmarked your website for editorial services!

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Take this day as an opportunity to thank all those people who have made a difference in your life. It is never too late to thank a person. You may just make their day and give them a reason to thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

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