Alison is the editor of Bleak House Books. She joined the company in 2003, and has worked with each title the company has published since then, including three titles named as finalists in three categories of the 2007 Edgar Awards.
Alison graduated from Vassar College, where she studied theater. As a child, Alison read extensively over a wide variety of genres and styles. Some of her favorite authors include William Faulkner, Michel Faber, and Dr. Seuss.
Alison lives and works in Madison, Wisconsin. She travels often with Bleak House publisher Benjamin LeRoy to writing conferences. In her spare time, she enjoys knitting, performing with local theater groups, and playing roller derby.
Let me be your Calliope.
Want to play make-believe for a moment?
You’re a writer. You are sitting in a room, facing a blank screen (or a blank page, depending on your personal work preferences). You have an idea – a spark, a germ, a flash. You take a deep breath and jump in …
… and months – maybe years – later, you have a manuscript. It’s finished. It’s printed out, and the pages are all neatly squared and stacked and there’s a heavy glass paperweight on the title page, holding it against any rogue breezes. That pile of papers is beautiful. It’s … perfect.
No one will ever know just how much of yourself you’ve put into those pages. It’s difficult to understand (without having gone through the experience of writing a book of one’s own) just what you’ve gone through to complete this work. You’re proud (you should be), glad to be finished, and ready to get it out into the world.
Flash forward again (it’s such a handy tool in make-believe, being able to play with time like this) … you’ve found an agent, she’s shopped your ms around, and you’ve landed a deal. You’ve got a publication date (nine months from today) and you’ve got an editor.
And you wake up, check your email, and see that your editor has written you. She loves your ms, can’t wait to get it out to readers, can’t wait to concept covers with you, can’t wait to set you off on an author tour … and wants to talk about a few points where you may want to revisit your prose and tighten your plot. She mentions that passage in chapter twelve where your main character makes a rather uncharacteristic choice – what if he chose differently? Or, better, how can you build up his thought process in chapter eleven to better justify the choice when it comes?
Alright, what’s your first reaction?
You hate her a little bit, right? You’re kinda angry? You think she’s presumptuous and insolent and probably just plain wrong. First off, you’re probably old enough to be her … well, in any case, you’re miffed.
This is a scene that, as the meddling, nitpicky editor, I like to avoid. I’m not meddling for meddling’s sake. I’m not nitpicking because I don’t like you. The adversarial relationship that can develop between editor and author is, in my opinion, a great detriment to publishing. It does everyone a disservice.
I endeavor to be less adversary, and more friend, to my authors. I want to inspire them to do their best work. I want them to own their own ideas, and tell their own stories, but I’m not afraid to ask questions or point out sections that don’t work for me. I hope I can be a modern-day Calliope to their modern-day Homer.
I read a ms many, many times in preparation for its publication. I think about it in the shower, while I’m cooking mac’n’cheese, as I’m falling asleep at night. At any given moment, I’m working on several books at a time, in several different stages of production. Today, for instance, I’m evaluating two mss for possible future Bleak House lines, reviewing the proofreader’s suggested changes to our first Spring 2009 title, ruminating on the revised draft of one of our late Spring 2009 titles, awaiting completed ARCs for two others, and thinking about possible editorial feedback for our first Fall 2009 title. I live with the books we publish from submission through publication, just as the author lived with the ms from idea through execution. I won’t presume to hold a great knowledge of an author’s intentions, and I won’t make light of the time and effort put in to the ms before it got to me. But I do expect an author to work with me, and I’ve been incredibly fortunate in that regard in my time with Bleak House Books.
So do you have any questions? Want more specifics about what I do every day? What part of the editorial process would you like illuminated, clarified, or explained? I’m more than happy to be here (thanks, Lee!) and I’ll make every attempt to answer your questions.