Enchanting an Editor

So today NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) hosted a webinar with editor Barry Cunningham and M. Anjelais. You can view the full webinar here: http://www.spreecast.com/events/enchanting-an-editor—2 

Here’s a little bit of background information:

About Barry Cunningham and M. Anjelais:

  • He joined Penguin Books in 1977. He has worked with Roald Dahl and Spike Milligan. 
  • In 1988, Cunningham moved to Random House. In 1994, he left Random House and worked for Bloomsbury Publishing.
  • J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone had been rejected 12 times. In August 1996, Barry Cunningham, an editor at Bloomsbury Publishing, enjoyed the book and signed up for it. In June 1997, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was published! Yes, this brilliant man helped publish the first book of the Harry Potter series.
  • Finally, Cunningham decided to make his own publishing company (Chicken House). According to http://doublecluck.com (the company website, Chicken House) is “a lively and creative company publishing highly original and enjoyable children’s books, with a special emphasis on new fiction.”
  • Barry helped publish M. Anjelais’s Breaking Butterflies. 



The Pitch Letter: 

  • Know who your readers are. Don’t write only about yourself in the pitch letter, but also to your potential audience.
  • Don’t make your applications long. Make quick comparisons, a little about what you wrote, and how you’re an interesting person.


  • Handling the prospect of sending your novel into the world: Try not to have a fear of rejection. Harry Potter had many rejections: 12 total. Rejection is part of the process. 
  • It’s important to remember that rejection has nothing to do with the quality of the work. It’s just about the particular moment the editor reads it. Rejection is a publishing process. It’s much more opportunistic than that. Your story matters.

The Second Draft Mindset

  • Shifting gears from the first draft mindset to the editing and polishing state:
  • M. Anjelais mostly learned as she went along while writing Breaking Butterflies. 

What does a strong voice look like? How can you find that strong voice?

  • Breaking Butterflies: Had to find the voice of the teenage girl she used to be. Try to visualize yourself at the age you are writing about.

Roald Dahl and Harry Potter: What made them so successful?

  • Combine humor with a meaningful representation of how you can use humor against evil. Laughter is the best method against bullies. You can’t always use it to win, but to make you stronger. -Barry Cunningham

Tips for Teenagers & Young Adults

  • M. Anjelais decided against college completely. She finished high school at age 14. Her friends and family supported her, but they didn’t think she could really publish a book. Anjelais was published at 18.
  • Teenager’s biggest challenge: The discipline of finishing. They think the end is the first draft, but it’s not. Teenagers must learn to be very patient. Working with young authors is a little like homework, but they’ve got to learn the craft after the inspiration.
  • M. Anjelais talked about the editing process: She had a naive thought of editing as just fixing sentences and grammar. However, it involved massively overhauling the book to make the emotional tone more gripping. It was more like editing the concepts than editing the words.

Topics in YA Fiction

  • Animal stories still aren’t those classic animal stories that should come again. Science fiction is about to arrive in a big way.
  • Dystopia and future visions are on their way out, and steam-punk has died out. Maybe a return of classic fantasy in children’s books?’

When the Editing Process Stops

  • Editorial relationship is very tempestuous. You have to trust your editor. Our job is to know when to stop in what you need to tell the writer. 
  • Perfect is not the same as done. You’re never going to get to perfect; try to get to done. No book is never finished, only abandoned.


Viewer Questions:

1. What are editors looking for in debut authors?

  • Authentic voice; everything else you can fix. He wants to be able to believe in your characters and the honesty of that.

2. What are your thoughts on self-publishing versus traditional publishing?

  • M. Anjelais: Traditional publishing.
  • If you want to self-publish, make sure there is a perspective representing the reader. Make sure it does not get lost.

3. What is your advice for pitch letters?

  • It should inspire someone to read the work. People spend so much time obsessing over crafting a query letter and forget that the sample chapter has to be just as good.

4. What is the most rewarding part of your job and what makes it worthwhile?

  • Writing is M.’s passion and she loves being paid for it. She loves showing her girlfriend and sister what she wrote. It’s rewarding because you can get feedback from your friends and family.
  • Barry Cunningham: “I just have the best job. I go around the world and I see how reading makes a difference. In some countries, reading is a revolutionary activity.” 

5. What makes you want to read a manuscript?

  • Barry Cunningham: “I think I know a few pages in what will be a good book. It is simply the quality of the work. It does not have to be literary; it does not have to be the best thing written in the world. It is purely the excitement of the vision. I’m about the readers. If I can see how the readers will react, that’s why I will want to read the manuscript. The person you are pitching to is your primary author.”

6. How do you decide what to write about?

  • Write about what you are passionate about, not what you think will be popular. Write about what you are interested in at the moment and what you want to explore personally.

7. How do you find a genre-specific editor?

  • Look at other books which are successful in that genre. You can find that generally in the publisher’s website and find the editors/agents in that specific field. Make sure you’re reading the books that the publisher enjoys.

8. What draws you to a character?

  • M. Anjelais: Other people’s writing: I think antagonists are more interesting than protagonists. Her own characters: Talks to them in her own head. Whichever one she talks to in her one head talk about themselves and are alive like their other entities will be written about.
  • Follow Up Question: What do you think about anti-heroes?: I like anti-heroes, but not as much as villains. 

9. What do you look for in a manuscript?

  • Barry Cunningham: There has to be some hope in a manuscript. If not, it will put him off.

10. If a book is a standalone series potential, how do you want the books to be?

  • Barry Cunningham: So many people try to construct the second book with all the good stuff in there. Work on all the books separately. Make the first book satisfying in themselves.

11. Is it possible to be published at a young age?

  • The youngest author: We started working with her at 15. We would generally work with your parents as a teen to help you fit the writing in with your school requirements. Writing the book should take as long as it takes; it will generally take a little longer.

12. What was your process working with JK Rowling on the first book?

  • She wanted us to agree from the beginning that Harry would grow up. That was really radical at the time. Each book was a school year, so we knew what the freedoms were and what the restrictions were.

13. How did you decide where and to whom to pitch your book?

  • I was 12 years old, and I saw the name “Chicken House” and I thought it was a pretty cool name. So I picked it. -M
  • Barry Cunningham: It is relatively straightforward. You should just look at the people who publish in your field and how they take submissions. If you make friends with a teacher, librarian, or publicist, they will know somebody who knows somebody who will read your book.

-MAKE CONNECTIONS! A lot of writers are introverted, so it is against our nature to make connections, but it is crucial.

14. What was it about Harry Potter that made you think it was good for publication?

  • Cunningham: I loved how the kids supported themselves and each other. It reminded me of Roald Dahl. “I’m teaching children to be valiant, Barry!”

15. What is the best way to write without sounding cheesy?

  • Barry Cunningham: Something is really going to upset people, and they’ve got to react sensibly. Avoid dairy-based words. 🙂 
  • M. Anjelais: Maybe sounding a little cheesy is just your style, and you make it work in a unique way that only you can.

16. How important is it to have an agent?

  • Sometimes it’s good; we publish people with agents and without agents. The important thing to remember is that they have got to add something. You have to give away the percentages forever. If they don’t add something to the experience, don’t use one.
  • M. doesn’t have an agent. She decided that she wouldn’t. I’m sure it is important in some way, but it was not a part of her process.

17. What is something you want viewers to take home today?

  • Barry Cunningham: “I think we write about important things….I really would encourage us all to carry on delivering those messages to kids (good and evil)…from Harry Potter to Maze Runner to Golden Compass to Hunger Games, we have a huge effect and I think we should be proud of our business and continue  good work.”


About heatherd001

Hello! My name is Heather. I'm sixteen years old and I love to write (poems mostly) but I'm working on some story- and novel-writing. Writing is a creative outlet for me.
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3 Responses to Enchanting an Editor

  1. lyricalself says:

    Very useful information here. Thanks! Shall watch the link too sometime 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. AVoice says:

    Reblogged this on VoicenViews and commented:
    Note to myself: Useful info. for all aspiring writers !


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