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!
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.
“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.)
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!