Jaime Levine has been an editor with Grand Central Publishing for 15 years, current author highlights: #1 NY Times bestselling duo Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child and the estate of Robert Ludlum. With three concurrent Ludlum series, she works with many talented writers, including Jamie Freveletti, Kyle Mills, Justin Scott, and Eric Van Lustbader. Her most recent launch: Pure—a post-apocalyptic, dystopian novel by Julianna Baggott.
Alex C. Telander: When did you know you wanted to become an editor?
Jaime Levine: It wasn’t something that I knew, though I was curious about publishing at the end of college. I feel like I decided to be an editor after I got to NYC and got my first editorial assistant job and loved it. But, here’s an odd addendum to that story: when I went to my ten year high school reunion, my ceramics teacher pulled out this notebook a bunch of us had written in when we were seniors. They were predictions of where we’d be at the age of 28. I’d apparently written, “if I haven’t made a million on my first novel, I’ll be a book editor.” I was a wise-ass, as you can see, but weirdly prescient. I have zero memory of writing that too. I wasn’t aware that I knew at 17 years old that book editors existed.
Alex: How did you get started in publishing?
Jaime: Oh, a common story. I was an English major, worked on a literary magazine that a friend started. She went off to get an MFA and left a job at a small press in Chicago. I debated between teaching high school English and publishing. I decided getting a job in publishing didn’t require more education, so I opted to take over her position at the small press. After almost a year, I knew that I needed to actually come to NYC and experience working in editorial before I could conclude one way or the other. I got a job at what was then Warner Books and have been here ever since. Within the first year I knew I was hooked by editorial.
Alex: What does an ordinary day look like for you?
Jaime: I spend a lot of time on the phone and on email. Either someone owes me information or materials, or I owe the same to them. So, I’m usually chasing people or being chased by them. When I’m not communicating with people about our various needs, I’m probably drafting the information or materials that are outstanding. I do all my editing and reading on nights and weekends. On the other hand, on those occasions when I’ve worked from home to zip through a manuscript, that means I literally have planted on the couch for 9 hours with my face buried in hundreds of pages of text. I’ve cramped muscles in my back from not moving around enough doing that.
Alex: How many projects are you usually working on at one time?
Jaime: It has varied radically over the years of my career. In the last few years, I’ve been working with a number of extremely high profile authors including the joint novels of Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child and the estate of Robert Ludlum. These programs feature multiple title releases a year. I believe there’s a lot to a project beyond just the acquisition, so I prefer to acquire at an amount that still gives me time to nurture all aspects of the publishing of each book.
Alex: How long does it take you to edit the average book?
Jaime: There are some authors who are so very clean about the way they write, and their manuscripts I can get through a first read in two full days and then spend another two or three days doing a review and plotting out my notes. Occasionally I get a manuscript that requires a greater hand, either for plot or for line-editing, which can slow me up. Line-editing is the slowest process for me. Suddenly a week’s worth of work can turn into two or three. I also mainly work on novels that are typically rather long. (Anywhere from 100,000 words to 140,000 words.)
Alex: How does the editing process work: do you edit the manuscript and send it back to the author, or do it in parts, or meet and work with the author, or something else?
Jaime: In this case, it depends on the author. I rarely actually meet with authors to discuss their works since they don’t live in NYC. And, when I do meet with them, I prefer to relax with them, let them get to know me and vice versa. I want to give them a chance to see who I am and what I’m about.
As for the actual process. Typically I edit on a hardcopy and deliver that back with marginalia and a letter querying larger scale issues. Beyond that, I work with the author in the way that they need. I’ve had authors who prefer to deliver in chunks, and receive edits as they go. I’ve had authors who work best not hearing from me while they are off doing their thing, so I leave them alone til the manuscript arrives. I’ve also had authors who like to stay in touch and bounce ideas and questions off of me regularly, so, again, I try to be there for them. I’m not the creator, so it isn’t about how I like to work—it’s got to be about the author.
Alex: With the Internet and ebooks, what are some of the changes you’ve seen in publishing as an editor in the last five years?
Jaime: The opportunities for promotion and publicity via the internet, social media, and just communications technology in general has radically shifted how we can get word out about an author. It’s a bit of the wild wild west out there because it’s not obvious what delivery system readers will respond to—it’s the wild west for them as well since they are constantly changing what their interests are – but it is also an exciting challenge and an opportunity to try new things all the time. I guess what I’m saying is: it can be puzzling as a publisher when you don’t really know exactly what will work. The formula has altered. But it is also incredibly exciting because it feels like there are so many new choices. We have to be willing to try things out – try new media, try new websites, try new communication methods–and see what will work. I suspect it will continue to evolve and campaigns will look even more different from book to book.
Alex: What are your thoughts on self-publishing?
Jaime: It’s right for some, not for others. I’m not trying to be coy or diplomatic—I believe this is the truth in the simplest terms. And, frankly, it’s always been that way. There have always been authors who self-published. For some it was beneficial, for many not. Now, probably more writers can benefit from self-publishing than ever before because their costs have gone down, but it doesn’t mean that it’s the right way for every author.
Alex: What publishing method do you recommend aspiring writers follow?
Jaime: Well, that depends on the author and their project. This isn’t one size fits all, so the answer would be different in different contexts.
Alex: Have you or are you interested in publishing your own work?
Jaime: Nah. I love editing. I love working with authors and analyzing their work. I love seeing what their intention was and helping to clarify it for them in the text. There’s a magic to writing. When I sit down and read an amazing, awesome new novel, I feel transported by something bigger than me. I think if I were to take a stab at writing, it would ruin the magic for me. I don’t want to know what lurks behind the curtain.
Alex: What do you like to do in your spare time?
Jaime: Read. Lately, I particularly like teen and YA fiction for my spare time reading. Also, I often have some sort of creative crafty activity that I do. Sometimes it’s experimenting with cooking. Sometimes it’s making jewelry (beading and wire-work necklaces, earrings, bracelets etc). Right now, I’m thinking of channeling my energy into planning an awesome vacation across the US and Canada.
Alex: Where do you see publishing ten years from now?
Jaime: I believe the more things change, the more things stay the same. Even though technology has transformed how we can produce and market books, it hasn’t changed the fact that we are still producing and marketing books. Our goal has always been to bring new stories, ideas, characters, and creative voices to readers to surprise and excite them and make them think. I think in ten years, we will all still be producing and marketing books and I can’t wait to see what new reads leave me just as breathless.