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June 30, 2024 12:00
Jeramie Orton from Pamela Dorman Books at Penguin Random House discusses the author–editor relationship
editing your novel
getting published

Penguin Random House Editor Jeramie Orton on the Author–Editor Relationship

March 24, 2024
The Novelry
March 24, 2024

The author–editor relationship is an important dynamic in publishing, and certainly one of the most significant partnerships you’ll make during your writing career. You might have a good understanding of what that looks like from the writer’s point of view, but how does it work on the editor’s side? What do editors look for when deciding which novels to take on? How does their role differ from a literary agent’s role? When do they get involved with their writers’ next novel ideas? And how does a senior editor at one of New York’s premier publishing imprints work with writers to edit their manuscripts before they’re published?

In this article, Jeramie Orton tells us everything. Jeramie joined Pamela Dorman Books in 2015 after working at Oxford University Press. Pamela Dorman Books is an imprint of Penguin Random House in New York and is the home of multimillion-copy, #1 New York Times bestsellers by Kim Edwards, Helen Fielding, Gail Honeyman, Sue Monk Kidd, Jacquelyn Mitchard, and Jojo Moyes. Jeramie specializes in atmospheric domestic thrillers, dark psychological suspense, mystery, and some crime fiction, and also has an interest in fresh dystopian narratives and general upmarket commercial fiction. Recent and forthcoming authors she edits include Sarah Pearse, Bea Setton, Shari Lapena, Martha Beck, Richard Osman, J. Ryan Stradal, Claire Daverley, and June Gervais, among many others.

From choosing who to work with to preparing for publication, we ask Jeramie Orton a few questions about how the author–editor relationship really works.

Jeramie, what are the top things you look for when reading a submission from an agent? How do you know when you’ve found ‘the one’ for your list?

Such a great question! The first thing that captures my attention is the pitch email. Is the premise straightforward and quickly understandable, or is it convoluted? Does the project have a clear audience, and where would it fit in the market?

Once I’ve dipped into the manuscript itself, I’m taking inventory: is this voice compelling? Are the set-up and world-building (whatever the genre) intriguing, or do they feel overdone? Is this character or cast one I am eager to learn more about? Is there a fresh spin? If a manuscript can keep me reading past page 50, then I’ll start to get hopeful. I know I’ve found ‘the one’ when I’m turning the last page, and that hopeful feeling has turned into excitement.

What does the process of acquiring an author look like?

Aside from working with US agents, I buy a lot of fiction from the UK—whether from literary agents or rights directors. It starts with a pitch and then a read of the project, usually at night or over the weekend. If I’m keen, I’ll share the project with Pamela Dorman, SVP & Publisher of our imprint, as well as our editor-in-chief (who we share with Viking Penguin). If they’re on board with the project and support my vision, I’ll pull together a list of comps, create P&Ls (profit and loss statements), and then we’ll discuss format, level, and positioning, among other factors.

If possible, I like to speak to the author before taking part in an auction or pre-empting to make sure we see eye-to-eye editorially. I want to ensure we would make a good partnership for the years we’d be working together. After we’ve made a deal, I get to make the best type of phone call: to celebrate with the author. Then, it’s getting down to business and figuring out the edit.

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How do you approach a structural edit versus a line edit? Does your editorial feedback tend to change or evolve between drafts? What are you most hoping to see when you receive a revised draft from your authors?

It’s rare to acquire a manuscript in pristine shape, no matter how many years the author has worked on it and revised it with beta readers. Each project demands an individual approach, but I always start with the structural edit before moving on to the line edit. I’ll send an editorial memo outlining the areas in which the manuscript could use strengthening, and then we’ll hop on a call to discuss. I want to make sure the character arc makes sense, the emotional landscape is balanced, significant plot points are landing at the right time, the pacing is working, the momentum is strong throughout, and more.

I work on many thrillers, mysteries, and suspense novels. In those genres, a satisfying twist or ending is crucial. Sometimes we need to rework an ending entirely, and doing so often has a domino effect on various elements throughout the manuscript. Sometimes only one structural edit is required, and with other projects, it can take two or more passes before it’s sorted; it just depends on how much work is needed and how responsive an author is to the edits.

Once all the ‘big pieces,’ as I like to think of them, are in place, then we can move on to the line edit. I make sure the timeline is clear, remove repetition, add depth to a scene or character as needed, etc. In a revised draft, I am most hoping to see that an author has considered the editorial suggestions and addressed them and, even if they disagree with something, that they have taken the time to explain why and perhaps have come up with another way of resolving the concern.

How does your role align with or complement that of a literary agent?

Ideally, we are both championing and supporting the author and working in tandem to do so. Ultimately, we all want the same thing: a successful publication and a long-lasting relationship between the author, agent, and publisher. I find clear communication and transparency to be two of the best tools we can use to manage expectations and make sure we’re all on the same page throughout the process.

What advice would you give to an author on working with an editor at a publishing house and on working with the wider publishing team?

Be patient. I know it can be stressful, but so much of the process is ‘hurry up and wait.’ Take any downtime to brainstorm your next book or find ways to expand your network of author friends. Read books in your category and see what’s working. Do your own research and always, always ask your agent and editor questions when you don’t understand something.

Be patient. I know it can be stressful, but so much of the process is ‘hurry up and wait.’

If you’ve signed an author on a multi-book deal, how collaborative is the planning process for an author’s next idea? When should an author start working on the first draft of the second book in the contract?

I think once the structural edit of Book 1 is sorted, an author has more brain space to attack Book 2. How much an editor is involved in the planning for Book 2 varies, but in my opinion, getting feedback early is always to an author’s benefit. If a concept has issues, an editor, and ideally the agent as well, can flag that to the author so they can consider it further before spending significant time fleshing out the idea. Some authors like to brainstorm and take in suggestions early on, and some prefer getting that feedback only once they’ve had a chance to put it on the page.

What happens if an author decides to change genre? What impact, if any, does this have on their experience with the publishing team?

It really depends on the publishing team. It’s possible an imprint can be easily adaptable and can publish multiple genres and take a pivot like that in stride; another, more targeted imprint that focuses on horror, say, may be unlikely to publish a romance successfully. If an author is succeeding in a certain genre, it may be in their best interest to continue in that space, and they could consider publishing under a pseudonym if they are determined to try their hand at something new.

What advice can you offer to authors who are preparing for publication—whether it’s their debut novel or their tenth book in a series?

Stay curious and ask questions. Be creative, and take initiative in expanding your circles and looking for opportunities to grow your brand. Publishing is a small world, and people genuinely want folks to succeed, so stay positive and ask for help when you need it.

Members of The Novelry can enjoy a Live Q&A with Jeramie Orton in their Catch Up TV library. For more tips on writing and editing your novel, join us on a creative writing course at The Novelry today. Sign up for courses, coaching and a community from the world’s top-rated writing school.

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