Carrie Cantor is a highly experienced editor for critique and development of fiction and nonfiction manuscripts. She has worked as both an acquisitions editor at a publishing company and as a literary agent and knows what good writing looks like. Her advice has been invaluable to hundreds of writers.
Currently, in her capacity as editorial director at a successful New York City area literary agency, she has the commercial savvy to advise clients based on her intimate knowledge of current trends and industry standards.
How long have you been an editor? How long have you been with Book Editing Associates?
I’ve been an editor for 30 years. I guess that makes me quite the veteran. I’ve been part of this wonderful network for 11 years.
Why did you decide to be an editor?
A love of books, love of writing, of course, but most important, at some point I realized I had a gift that I could give to the world. I have an ability to analyze writing to see what’s working and what’s NOT working as well as what can be added or changed to make it much more effective. And I have an ability to communicate what I see to writers so that they can put their talent to best use.
Are you also a writer? Please tell us about a couple of things you wrote.
Yes. I have written two history books, one about the Mexican War and the other about the explorer Coronado. Both were published by The Child’s World as part of the series Proud Heritage: The Hispanic Library.
What one thing can you do to help a writer make a book better?
There are many things, but if I have to choose one it would be I try to show the writer how to get outside of herself and view the book from the perspective of the reader and think about entertaining the reader. Entertainment can come from intellectual stimulation or insight or a fascinating journey into someone else’s world. Sometimes writers get wrapped up in their own needs and don’t think enough about the reader and don’t see their writing objectively. This will have ramifications, including wordiness, lack of description or too much description, and many other things.
What do you find to be the most challenging aspect of editing?
Communicating to a writer in a manner that is specific enough and constructive enough to be useful. This requires a combination of tact, cheerleading, empathy, and ability to discern where the writer is coming from.
How do you balance the style and vision of an author with the commercial concerns of publishers?
I can point out if there are aspects of a book that will likely not appeal to publishers, but ultimately it’s up to the writer to make the decision as to which is more important, his or her style/vision or commercial appeal, if the two things are in conflict. But it’s often possible to tone down the style/vision a bit to find the happy medium.
What are some things that make a book appealing to a publisher today?
Non-mainstream perspectives from marginalized groups are especially popular. An intriguing hook is very effective. Every couple of years, there are certain trends, such as zombies or wicca or environmental dystopias. Other than that, good storytelling and good writing always reign supreme.
What are your top goals as you approach an edit?
I focus on the goals of each writer. If the writer is hoping to get published, I’ll put my attention to whether the book meets current expectations and standards. If the work is more personal and the writer mainly wants to work on craft, I’ll focus on that. But in both cases, I always think in terms of entertaining and satisfying the reader.
Is there anything you can uniquely offer to clients who hope to get published?
Yes. The average writer may not realize it yet, but he is going to have a hard time getting agents to read his manuscript. He will send out queries, and if he’s lucky he’ll get some sort of response, but often he’ll get no response at all. If he does get a response, it will likely be a canned rejection that gives him no clue as to the reason for the rejection. When a writer uses me as an editor, he is getting the benefit of having an actual agent reader the book in its entirety. The critique offered is the kind of feedback the other agents don’t have the time to provide, and is extremely valuable to the writer in moving forward—or perhaps deciding not to move forward with a particular project.
What fills your time when not editing?
Kayaking and wildlife photography. And playing music—I sing and play guitar and keyboard. I have a very active life outside of editing!