Saturday, June 10, 2006

On Potter and Publishing

An eighth-grade girl recently e-mailed me through my website to ask a few questions about Harry Potter and being an editor. I thought the answers might interest you, and so:

1. What exactly was your role in publishing the Harry Potter series?

I serve as continuity editor for the Harry Potter series in the United States. In practice this means I am the chief copyeditor for the series: I do my best to make sure that the hundreds of magical names, places, spells, objects, etc. that come up in Ms. Rowling’s universe are spelled or used correctly every single time they appear, and when we’re working on a new book, I oversee the U.S. copyediting process and the other copyeditors and proofreaders who work on the book.

2. Did you get to work directly with the author, J. K. Rowling, on publishing her books?

My boss, Arthur A. Levine, works directly with Ms. Rowling.

3. How long have you been working at Arthur A. Levine Books and have you enjoyed your time spent working there?

I’ve worked there for almost six years now, since September 2000, and I really love it, yes!

4. Have you always dreamed of being an editor in a successful publishing company like the one in which you currently work?

Until I was a junior in high school, I thought I wanted to be a doctor. But then I realized that I really preferred reading to cutting things up, so I looked for a career that would let me read all the time, and I decided I wanted to be an editor. So the answer to your question is “Yes,” if “always” begins with my junior year. :-)

5. What exactly is your role as the editor? What responsibilities do you have?

An editor has three main responsibilities:

  • When authors or agents send us manuscripts, we choose the ones that we think should be published, and we convince the publishing company to buy them.
  • Once they’re bought, we work with the authors to make them the best books they can be . . . sometimes changing the story or characterizations, sometimes cutting unnecessary developments or words, sometimes just correcting spelling and so on . . .
  • And then we work with all the other parts of the company (design, marketing, sales) to make the book as beautiful and saleable as it can be, and then to get the word out and hopefully make it a bestseller.

6. Are there any drawbacks to your job as an editor in a publishing company?

It’s frequently quite stressful. And lots and lots of authors send me manuscripts, so I’m always behind in my reading.

7. How do you decide which books to publish and which to reject?

I look for books with wonderful characters and interesting stories, revealed through atmospheric language and with emotional meaning.

8. What other popular books or authors have you worked with?

I work with Lisa Yee, author of Millicent Min, Girl Genius and Stanford Wong Flunks Big-Time; Kate Constable, author of the lovely Chanters of Tremaris fantasy trilogy; Saxton Freymann, a food sculptor who has created How Are You Peeling?, Fast Food, and Food for Thought, among others; and Senator Ted Kennedy and Caldecott Medalist David Small, on My Senator and Me: A Dog’s-Eye View of Washington, D.C. I also edit many translations from foreign languages.

9. What books have been your favorite to work with and publish? And why?

This is like asking a mother to pick her favorite child! That said, probably Millicent Min, Girl Genius, because it was the first novel I was involved with in any meaningful way and I learned so much working on it. (And it paid off fantastically—it’s a terrific book!)

10. Which Harry Potter book has been your favorite publishing so far?

I’ve only worked on two—Half-Blood Prince and Order of the Phoenix—and I think I’d say Order, because it was the first one I was involved with and there’s so much great, rich, painful stuff in it.

11. What has been the most interesting moment you have had while publishing the Harry Potter books?

I met J. K. Rowling when she was here on a publicity tour in 2000; Arthur introduced me as his new assistant, and she took my copy of Prisoner of Azkaban and signed it, “To Cheryl—no doubt you will soon be sick of my name. J. K. Rowling.” :-)


  1. Thanks for the insight into your work world! And the JK signing is hilarious.

    Millicent Min was such a great book, and so many elements rang true for me. (Having taken my first college course at twelve amongst a classroom full of adults, you guys really nailed it.)


  2. "...wonderful characters and interesting stories, revealed through atmospheric language and with emotional meaning."

    Very well said. I'm going to tape those words beside my computer.

    - Jay

  3. Sounds like you have a future writer there. Perhaps an award-winning journalist. She did a marvelous job.

  4. I read "Millicent Min" last month. I have to confess with some amount of embarrassment that I was prepared to hate it. There are so many misconceptions about gifted children and what "genius" means. I was expecting a girly version of Jimmy Neutron.

    However, I had heard so many good things about it and was curious, so I bought a copy and started reading.
    Clock ticking.
    Clock ticking.
    Clock ticking.
    It didn't suck,
    It was a wonderful world filled with interesting people. Lisa Yee did a clean job of showing what it's like to be gifted. I also loved the way so many mysteries unfolded as the story went on. Interesting bits about people were tucked here and there like Easter eggs. I found that I wanted to know not just more about what happens to Millicent but also about her parents and Emily’s mom as well.

    I passed on to my ten-year-old niece. (Who is way too clever for real life.)

    More please,



    "Books invite all, constrain none."

  5. So? Are you?

    (Sick of JKR's name, that is)

    Tho' I suppose it might not be politic to say so publicly... ;-)