Whether you’re new to the publishing industry or a veteran editor, this is how you win awards. Let’s learn about an editor who is currently at the top of her game.
Sheila E. Gilbert holds many outstanding accolades, including eight Hugo Award nominations for Best Professional Editor (Long-Form), two of which she won. She has worked in the publishing industry for almost fifty years now. She began her career as a freelancer, then moved into copywriting, and then graduated to an editorial assistant. She now co-owns DAW Books, a small but high-profile independent press that works closely with The Penguin Group, which is an imprint of Penguin Random House.
She may own her own publishing company, but that doesn’t stop her from being a hands-on editor. Sheila still edits between twenty and twenty-two books a year, with a low year putting her at about fifteen books. Unlike most editors, she doesn’t have an editing wishlist—she just chooses books that grab her attention, no matter the category. She looks for stories that can only be written by that author and that have incredibly unique voices. According to the mission statement for DAW Books, the company is “committed to discovering and nurturing new talent, and to keeping a personal ‘family’ spirit at DAW—something they feel is all too rare in today’s world of international conglomerate publishing.”
Sheila is also unique in that she maintains an intimate relationship with her authors. In an interview with podcaster Joshua Pantalleresco, she said that she still gets calls in the middle of the night form her authors whenever they get writer’s block, and she almost always answers. You can tell that she truly enjoys her work, even when it sometimes goes beyond the page. At the end of the interview, Pantalleresco teased Sheila by asking her, “Do you enjoy helping creative people with their problems?” Sheila quickly answered with an “Oh yes!”
Award-winning author Edward Willet even wrote about Sheila on his website. The blog post provided some interesting insight into Sheila’s acquisition process. For example, Sheila and DAW Books still accept unsolicited material, which creates a slush pile with hundreds of submissions every month. Unlike most editors, Sheila welcomes these slush piles, commenting, “We’ve found some of our best authors through manuscripts that are unsolicited. Which isn’t to say that we haven’t also gotten things through agents, but it doesn’t mean that you have to have an agent to sell a book. You just have to be a really good writer.”
Sheila is a strong advocate for the query letter as the best form of communication between a publisher and an author. She relishes the hook and urges authors to “make it very simple. If you can, have a one-line kind of hook to hopefully catch attention, and then a synopsis. We don’t need a testimonial on how your mother and all of your relatives loved it.”
Sheila also emphasizes the importance of the author’s online presence in her marketing tactics. While marketing teams do some of the work, they can’t do it all. She tells us that often the best tool for selling a book is for the author to brand themselves, “It’s the biggest promotional tool that authors have these days. It gives readers a personal stake. They feel like they know the author and they’re friends.”
Sheila E. Gilbert is just one example of how successful editors do things in the world of publishing. It is a treat to get into the mind of an award-winning editor, since most editors like Sheila are very private and it’s difficult to find information on them. But they are the wizards who bring the best books to the market.