Amelia Beamer has learned everything the hard way and would do it all again in a heartbeat. She’s a book editor specializing in science fiction, fantasy, and horror, and works with many first time authors who aren’t always sure which questions to ask, but really want to do something with their writing.
Stories and novels she has been involved with have gone on to be published by Big Four publishers and by smaller publishers, win Hugo awards, and sell well after the client self published. Other professional experience includes being in-house at Locus Magazine, working for the Clarion Writers’ Workshop, and some book reviewing, academic writing, and speaking at professional conferences. She’s also an editor and book packager for Shueisha English Edition, working with popular titles translated from Japanese to English.
In addition to editing, she is a critically acclaimed and agented novelist. Her fiction and nonfiction have been translated into several languages and taught in university courses. Her writing has appeared in venues such as Gizmodo, BoingBoing, Locus, Daily Science Fiction, and various fiction anthologies. Having her own writing relentlessly redlined has taught her how to spot an overwritten sentence, and she knows how it feels to take feedback. She has the tact and grace to rewrite and make suggestions in ways that authors say they feel respected and seen.
Over the course of her career she has talked shop with professionals including Brian W. Aldiss (OBE), Peter S. Beagle, Michael Dirda, Ellen Datlow, Karen Joy Fowler, Barry Goldblatt, Nalo Hopkinson, N.K. Jemisin, Robert Jordan, Ursula K. Le Guin, Kelly Link, Marjorie M. Liu, George R.R. Martin, Joe Monti, Howard Morhaim, Maureen F. McHugh, Larry Niven, Nnedi Okorafor, John Scalzi, Robert Silverberg, Neal Stephenson, Catherynne M. Valente, and countless others. She’s had Garth Nix offer to carry her luggage, gotten toasty drunk with Guy Gavriel Kay, toured downtown Los Angeles with Tim Powers, talked barbershop quartet technique with Joe Haldeman, brunched with Neil Gaiman, played “Who Would Play You in the Movie of your Life?” with James Patrick Kelly, and helped host awards ceremonies with Connie Willis. Amelia’s probably forgotten enough insider information to launch many careers, and is happy to share everything she still remembers with her clients and colleagues.
How long have you been an editor? How long have you been with Book Editing Associates?
I’ve been a full time professional editor since 2005. I joined Book Editing associates in 2014.
Why did you decide to be an editor?
I’ve always loved books, and I really wanted to understand the publishing industry. I suppose someone else might go to school to learn to write and publish, but I found I learned most from working in the industry, as a magazine editor and then as a book packager for a major publisher. I keep doing this work because day I get to play with ideas and characters, and every project requires a lot of thought and care, all of which I find satisfying.
Are you also a writer? Please tell us about a couple of things you wrote.
I’ve published a mess of short fiction, literature criticism, and essays in various media, but I’m most proud of my zombie novel. A recent review in The Lineup said, “This book does everything horror is supposed to do—it sends a truth via monster, sex, and gore. Plus, it’s one of my all time favorites, ever.”
What one thing can make most books you write or edit better?
I often say some version of “what’s at stake for this character” in my notes. I think part of human fascination with stories, whether writing or reading, is because we can see ourselves in the characters, and we can learn something about humanity or at least about this character, from reading a story. But in practice the writer sometimes knows so well what the story is about, or what needs to happen for the sake of the plot, that the writer may forget to make it clear what the character has to lose or gain and why the events matter to the character.
What’s your fave/least fave…Most challenging/easiest …aspect of editing?
I like the hard parts, by which I mean I like plots that don’t quite come together, characters that are unevenly developed, and continuity issues. I like stuff like this because I can often suggest ideas that fit well and help explain why characters do what they do. I suppose my least favorite aspect is the tedium of correcting formatting and grammar.
How do you balance between the author’s style and vision, and the taste of commercial publishers or readers?
I’ll usually go into a project with a clear sense of what the author’s goals are, and what target audience the book is meant to appeal to. There are different reader expectations for a humorous fantasy novel than there are for a hard science fiction novel, for example. Sometimes books straddle genres or the author has been following their vision and hasn’t put much thought into things like how long the manuscript should be, so we can talk about that and I can help them think about how to make decisions. Writers often have an intuitive sense of what is not working about their book, but not a clear plan about how to fix it, which is why they show it to an independent editor in the first place. I pay careful attention both to what authors tell me about their vision, and what I can pick up from the story itself, and I’m always seeking to support authors to showcase their sense of humor, their careful worldbuilding, and the ideas and characters they’ve put a lot of time and care into. In cases where the author’s vision is unlikely to grab readers (for example, because the characters have kept too many secrets throughout the course of the book and so the characters’ choices and problems may be hard to relate to), I try to explain my reasoning in a way that makes sense, puts the book in context of the marketplace, and explores options and ideas to honor the author’s vision and feelings while also respecting the intended readers’ time, taste, and intelligence. Sometimes it helps to talk these things through, and we can come up with solutions on the fly. I try to also be humble, as things change with reader taste and market expectations, and old rules of thumb may not be true anymore.
What are some things that make a book appealing to a publisher today?
Publishers are interested in books that can make them money, and what that actually means is always a bit of a judgment call. Probably an ideal book is somewhat similar to books that are doing well already, but different. It’s a hard question to address briefly, but the most competitive books will have tight pacing and clear stakes that amplify throughout the book. The plot will come to a satisfying conclusion, and the characters will have learned things and made hard choices.
The most competitive manuscripts are an appropriate length, with a character of an appropriate age and maturity level for the target audience, e.g. a book for 13-16 year olds with a 16 year old protagonist, which might be a 70,000 word manuscript.
What is your top goals as you approach an edit?
I want to address everything in the book that could get in the way of the author meeting their publishing goals. If I raise a potential issue, I’ll make sure to provide options for solutions. I also really want to tell the author what they’re doing well, since we all need to hear that. I’m lucky enough to see a lot of books that are funny, intelligent, and bursting with imagination, and I want to support the writers to nurture their own talents. I value the commitment and energy it takes to write a book, and I want my clients to feel their work is seen and respected.
What fills your time when not editing?
I am an in-the-game auntie who enjoys spending time with the kids in my life. Our current fascination is the card game Quiddler, where you have to use random letters to form words. The house rule is, if you can define it, you can play it.
I also enjoy baking and cooking. It’s winter as I write this, so it’s soup weather. When I’m home there’s often a pot of something bubbling on the stove. As far as baking I tend to do mostly cookies, brownies, blondies, and the occasional lemon tart.