Interview with My Editor
In case you have ever wondered what an editor does and how they get into the field, here is a great account to give you an idea from my very own (and beloved) editor, Jennifer Cappello.
Jennifer is an editor, writer, and mother of three—five, if you count the dogs—living with her husband and family in Linglestown, PA. She holds an AA in Secondary English Education from Harrisburg Area Community College, a BA in English from Penn State, and an MFA in Creative Writing with a certificate in publishing from Chatham University. Her partial novel, “Fixed,” won runner-up for best thesis in Chatham University’s 2013 fiction category. She established an independent press while at Chatham, publishing a poetry chapbook (Chalk & Fire, Melrose Publishing, 2012) for an up-and-coming poet. Jennifer has served as editor for two college literary journals, has had poems published in HACC’s Wildwood Journal, and serves annually as a Scholastic Writing Contest judge. She loves to read, write, knit, cook, and travel. Jennifer has been editing for Sunbury Press since 2011.
How did you get into editing?
“Getting into editing” can take different forms because there are lots of positions within the publishing world that use the title “editor.” I'm a manuscript editor in the publishing industry in my work as an employee at a small press, and I also work independently as a freelance editor/proofreader (and writer) of just about anything. I figured out that I wanted to be a book editor around the time that I completed my AA in Secondary English Education. I began the second half of my undergrad degree by pursuing my BA in English, as I realized I didn't want to teach children; I wanted to be involved in creating content, specifically books (and specifically “literature”). At that time, I thought I'd have to move to NYC to break into publishing, and I wasn't even really sure what exactly being an “editor” meant. But I was determined to get there eventually, even if I had to start in the mailroom (like in the movies)! After college—not finding any publishing opportunities in Central PA, and unable to afford to move myself and my young daughter to NYC or even Jersey—I began working as a fundraiser for a local United Way. One of the aspects of my job was to research my clients, so I read lots of local newspapers and media features about the goings-on with my accounts. In January of 2011, I came across an article about a small press that was reopening on the West Shore in Harrisburg—ten minutes from where I lived! That weekend, I just showed up on Sunbury's front step and asked the man (who ended up being Lawrence Knorr) about shadowing the editors and learning more about the industry. We sat down and talked for about two hours, and I left my contact information with him. He reached out to me with an editing assessment, and then he offered me a part-time job, saying that our two-hour impromptu chat and my successful assessment were my “interview.” I've been working as an editor for Sunbury Press ever since. In grad school, I had to create my own independent press (a requirement toward my certificate in publishing), which I did by publishing a chapbook of poetry for an up-and-coming poet. I also launched my freelance writing, editing, and proofreading business, Jennifer Rose Freelance, in late 2017.
Was your college degree focused on a prospective career in writing or editing?
I started off my college career thinking that the only way to continue working with literature after school was to teach it to high school students and maybe someday make the leap to college professor. So, I pursued an AA in Secondary English Education. During my time in that program, I realized that teaching children wasn't what I wanted to do. So, I closed the chapter on my education degree and switched to English for the duration of my BA, hoping to pursue a career in some kind of writing and/or publishing/editing. I started working part-time for Sunbury Press in February 2011, and in August 2011 I enrolled in grad school at Chatham University, pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing - Fiction with an additional certificate in publishing.
What is your favorite genre of book to read vs. edit?
Typically, I like to read for pleasure the same types of books I enjoy editing—usually fiction, but not exclusively. What matters most to me is that the book is interesting and memorable in some way. If I can’t stop thinking about it or can’t put it down, I don’t care so much about the book’s genre classification. Usually, I'm drawn (in no particular order) to compelling short story collections and story cycles, satire, magical realism, writing guides, stories about the human condition and social/cultural commentary, historical fiction, literary fiction (“classics,” the canon, and beyond—especially as modern-day classics and contemporary literature include more books by women, people of color, indigenous authors, immigrants, etc.), and somewhat surprising to me, lately, I've become interested in biographies and memoirs. I rarely pick up, for pleasure, “genre fiction” like detective stories or westerns or horror, but I've been pleasantly
surprised to have read some really interesting page-turners in those categories throughout my editing career.
Have you ever authored a book?
I've written a novel-length story cycle, which was my grad school thesis project. It won runner- up for Best Fiction Thesis at Chatham University in 2013, the year I graduated. Unfortunately, due to the other wonderful but busy parts of life—getting married, working, having more children—I haven't revisited the project in years. I have, however, continued to write other short stories throughout the years, but they’re mostly for myself right now; I find short story writing to be the most therapeutic way of digesting the ups and downs of parenthood, marriage, family life, aging, grief, society and the crazy world around us, etc. Maybe I’ll decide to publish some of them someday, but for now they’re just cathartic for me. I've also ghostwritten novels for freelance clients.
Do you edit more than one book simultaneously? If so, how many?
I typically edit more than one book at a time. Currently, I'm actively editing four books, and I have five more books assigned to me in my queue. The way it works at Sunbury, it's ideal to have more than one book to work on at a time, as I can be editing a manuscript while my other authors might be doing revisions or proofing (or whatever, depending on what stage each manuscript is in). It's a lot of plates spinning in the air, but it keeps the work flowing at all times.
How many times do you edit a book before it's published?
The process is different for every project and every editor, but typically, I perform two full edits plus a final proofing round. Occasionally, a manuscript will go through only one round of editing before the proofing stage, but that's usually a manuscript that's been exceptionally professionally edited (at cost to the author) prior to being submitted, or the book has been published before.
Sometimes a book will require more than two initial edits, but usually only if we've had to make a lot of cuts, additions, restructuring, or the book has some other extra facet—for example, a significant amount of academic sources that need to be checked, cited, etc.
Hear the Milford House Mysteries podcast featuring Jennifer Cappello here.