Interview with Nancy C. Hanger

The Internet Writing Journal, August 1997
Nancy Hanger is an editor, copyeditor and consulting editor with over thirteen years' experience. She specializes in science fiction and fantasy, and has a background in children's literature. She is the founder of Windhaven Press, a premier editorial service offering consulting and developmental editing for publishing houses, businesses, and authors. She has served as copyeditor for numerous major books, including Buzz Aldrin's bestselling novel, Encounter With Tiber. Her editorial clients include: HarperCollins, Wizards of the Coast, St. Martin's Press (Tor Books), Penguin USA, Time-Warner Inc. and Prentice-Hall, among others. Nancy is also the Acting Community Manager for Excite Talk.

We chatted with Nancy in our chat room in Excite Talk's Virtual Places, a real-time virtual chat environment where participants are represented by graphic images called "avatars". Nancy found time to chat with us about editing, publishing, privacy on the internet, and about Virtual Places as a tool for aspiring writers.

How did you get your start as an editor?

When I was a junior in undergrad school I decided that editing was something I wanted to pursue ...and so I contacted a large publishing house in Boston, Houghton Mifflin, and "sold myself" to them as an intern. I was the first intern they ever had in the school division (did textbooks) -- I convinced them that using someone for free was to their advantage. :) I went on to become an assistant editor, then an editor there.

What is a copyeditor and why are they so crucial in publishing?

Well, copyeditors are, in a way, the "janitors" of the publishing industry -- and just as necessary. :)

They work on the copy, sometimes performing line-editing (substantive editing), but always working with the copy for sense, consistency, and even fact-checking. They have to know grammar, spelling, style, and have a compendium of knowledge that would put a research librarian to shame. There are some houses which have tried to eliminate the copyeditor stage of production, but have found that with editors doing more and more marketing, development, and simply NOT touching the manuscript copy for lack of time, that the copyeditor is often the first (and last) person to actually work on the prose -- other than the author!



Are copyeditors the "least appreciated" of the editors?

Most certainly. There is a system, a necessary one really, of "pass the buck" for blame of anything that ever goes wrong in the production process. Often the copyeditor is working anonymously on a freelance basis, and so is used as the "blame" for anything that can go wrong. The author is told "Oh, the copyeditor did that," when something is changed that the author objects to. And the proofreader, the typesetter, or even the acquiring editor could be the culprit. But the copyeditor is often the scapegoat. The copyeditor has such a poor reputation in publishing, that there is a famous (and true) story of a Southern author who walked into the St. Martin's offices in NY with a .22 pistol in her pocketbook, and said she was going to use it on "her copyeditor" if she ever found out "who the varmit was."

!!!!

Florence King. She wrote about it in a later book. :)

Hmmm...maybe anonymity is a good thing!

Indeed. When I assign copyediting for my business, the copyeditors remain anonymous to the authors.

Tell us about Windhaven Press.

It began as simply me doing copyediting and proofreading when I went freelance about 10 years ago now. Now Windhaven handles the production for Simon & Schuster's imprint, Baen Books -- about 3 books/month completely produced by myself and my staff.
"[T]here is a famous (and true) story of a Southern author who walked into the St. Martin's offices in NY with a .22 pistol in her pocketbook, and said she was going to use it on "her copyeditor" if she ever found out "who the varmit was."
We handle copyediting, proofreading, line-editing and manuscript development for about 7 other of the large New York publishing houses.

What are some of the books being released that you have edited?

Hmmmmm. Already out? Perhaps the largest book I handled recently was Buzz Aldrin's novel, Encounter With Tiber.

That sounds fascinating.

Because of his background as an astronaut, it was a New York Times bestseller. One of Whitley Streiber's new books was just handled by me for production.

I understand that The Essential Phantom of the Opera is being released in 1997?

Yes, that is out -- The Phantom, that is. NAL/Penguin books. There is also an Annotated H.P. Lovecraft book that I did the copyediting and typesetting production for that was just released by Doubleday. I received my copy a few days ago.

What is the title of the Lovecraft book?

The Annotated H.P. Lovecraft, edited by Joshi. He did the annotations (footnotes).

Let's talk a little about the Internet. Has the "electronic revolution" reached the big publishing houses?

Unfortunately it hasn't, with perhaps the exception of HarperCollins... which isn't surprising when you know that Harper is owned by Fox.

All of their editing and production is done electronically .. and most communication is via the Net.

Yes, that makes a difference! Do they take queries by email yet?

I have taught one of Time Warner's division about the joys of electronic editing to speed production, but they haven't instituted it company-wide ... yet. :) The editors still prefer queries to be on paper, simply because the flood is, believe it or not, a little less by the old method. If they took them by email, they would be innundated.

That is encouraging to hear that they are at least listening to information about it. Is it true that some of the big houses simply are not equipped to handle email submissions from a technological standpoint?

Absolutely. Some of them simply don't have email in house.

That is really amazing in today's environment.

Well, one has to remember that publishing, even though it is more and more truly part of the Entertainment Industry...(and all that entails), it is still one of the oldest behemouths. And some of the inbred attitudes about technology are still inherent.

Do you see that changing in the near future?

It is becoming necessary as communication changes. Most all houses have internal email capabilities now. It's only a matter of time before communication opens up to the Net for them. The question will be how to put into practice the same sort of procedures for sorting "unagented" queries, etc. as they do by paper now. And getting copyeditors and manuscript readers to work on screen rather than on paper.

I see. How has the Internet affected the aspiring writer?

"On the Net, there are no such things -- information is raw. It can come from anywhere, and be either true or false, and no one can tell often which is which."
I think there are two large issues, one good and one bad. The good part is the parting of the Red Sea, in a way -- the barriers to information about who is accepting manuscripts, which editor is where (since they move around so much) and writers' groups themselves. All this information is now widely available when before it was a closely guarded secret to "older" writers. The bad part follows on that. The Net is a sea of misinformation. If you pull down a book from a shelf in a library, by looking at the spine, the copyright info, the typography, just those things alone can tell you hoardes of information about the provenance of a book and where its information came from. On the Net, there are no such things -- information is raw. It can come from anywhere, and be either true or false, and no one can tell often which is which. For a new writer, using the Net for information support in both writing and marketing a book, this can be detrimental.

What advice can you give the new writer to avoid this problem?

For research, follow standard research practices: find only primary sources, and stick to those as much as possible. Rather than going to someone's "page about science fiction books editors are looking for", they should go to the publisher's pages and see what books are coming out. What is being bought and produced. And for writers' groups .. well, without the nuances of behavior in a "real group" (both good and bad), it's a gamble. But then, any communication on the Net is a gamble.

True! (laugh)

Taking things with a large mountain of salt until you really =know= the people (and that takes months, not days!), is the best way to proceed.

I understand you are a proponent of privacy on the Net. Could you elaborate?

Well, I am a proponent of several aspects of privacy on the Net, as I am in real life. I seal my letters before I commit them to the Post Office. If I want to write a postcard, I do. :) Same with email -- if I have a letter I really don't want read by anyone else, I seal it in email with encryption ---which is fast becoming an endangered topic again.

Yes. Encryption is a hot topic. Are we writing "postcards" on the net when we send email then?

Yes, we are. It's very unlikely that anyone is reading the mail, but just like a postcard, if someone is bored ... or, if you are sending secured information that has the danger of someone =wanting= to intercept it - then, yes, your mail is "unsealed" usually. The same goes for information gathering. If you really want a shock, go to one of the large sites that have address listings, like 411 or Playboy's Ultimate Directory and look up your name. Most likely, if you are in a phone book anywhere in the country, you are listed there. Name, address, phone, and a link to a map that pinpoints your house. It is both thrilling to know the information is so easy to find, and scary.

Really? What kind of a shock?

If someone wants to find you because, say, you once insulted them in a UseNet posting ... it is extremely easy for them to find your house and even print out a map to it. The good side is that almost all of those sites have a link to ask to have your information removed.

Let's move on to another subject, if we may. You are the Acting Community Manager for Excite Talk. Tell us about Talk. What is it and how is it useful for writers?

Live chat can be very useful for writers' groups -- it offers a real-time interaction for them to meet, discuss their writing, trade information about which editors are looking for material, and basically "do lunch" without having to be in the same geographic area. Excite Talk Logo


How do you get into Excite Talk? For those that do not know...

Excite Chat is available by going to the home page of excite -- www.excite.com and following the link to the People & Chat Channel. It should be easy from there! We will be starting to put up what we're calling 60-Second Chat links -- which is a link to the java client, on selected Channel pages of Excite starting this week. So it will be easier than ever to get into Chat. :)

That sounds great. Nancy, thank you so much for coming.

Thank you. bye!


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