13 Questions with Emma Jones

Emma is an editor at Penguin Random House and the editor of The Magpie Society Duology written by Zoe Sugg and Amy McCulloch. Ahead of the book's launch Emma is giving us the goss on what it was like to work on Two For Joy!

First off, how has your 2021 been?

It’s been a mixed bag! I was supposed to go to Greece with some pals, and that isn’t going to happen now until 2023. But on the plus side, there have been a bunch of rescheduled weddings which have been joyful – and I’ve been able to see so much more of my family this year than last. It’s looking like we might even get to spend Christmas together, my favourite time of year!

Can you tell us about your background and journey to becoming a book editor?

I’m a bit of a publishing cliché – I’ve always loved reading and I studied English at uni. But after that, I moved to London and worked for a couple of years in an independent children’s bookshop which I really loved, before landing a role as an editorial assistant in the Children’s and YA team at Penguin in 2015.

For those that don’t know, what does a book editor actually do?

It’s a lot more than grammar and spelling, which is what surprised me most when I entered publishing for the first time. I’m a senior commissioning editor now, which means my main job is bringing new books and authors to our Puffin and Penguin lists. I spend a lot of time considering manuscripts and book proposals for publication – I work on fiction and non-fiction, and on all age groups from young illustrated books for 7-year-olds to thrilling young adult novels like The Magpie Society.

After acquiring the book (signing a contract with the author/s), comes a few months of editorial collaboration, before working closely with Marketing, PR, production and sales to ensure the book is launched into the world with a splash. A lot of my job is about my authors and their literary agents – having creative calls and sending editorial notes, sharing publishing updates and campaign plans, providing sales numbers etc.

What is the process like for editing a book?

It completely varies from book to book! For fiction, what usually starts the process is an initial email, meeting or call to discuss some very ‘big picture’ points and following up with an editorial letter addressing what we call the ‘structural edit’. This means plot, structure, characters, motivations, scenes or characters that might need to be cut and places that might need additional scenes for context.

After the structural editing stage comes line editing, which is where we go through the book line by line, checking that the text feels as impactful as possible – funny, pacy, scary or emotional in all the right places. There might be a few rounds of line edits and then, when myself and the author/s are happy with how the manuscript is looking, we pass it to a copy-editor whose job is to check for clarity, inconsistencies and general sense. Proofreading comes after that – that’s the final spelling and grammar and typo check.

What was it like editing Two For Joy with Zoe and Amy?

I really love YA books – particularly thrillers – and Zoe and Amy are both very talented at writing for young adults, so publishing the Magpie Society duology has been a real editorial highlight for me. For both books, the editorial process has been a combination of creative Zoom calls with Zoe and Amy, editorial letters outlining structural changes, and line edits made directly onto the manuscript, with the authors making changes and cuts, writing new scenes and fleshing out characters, and sending them back to me for review.

It’s SO much fun editing these thrillers because reading the first drafts was like reading any great murder mystery for the first time – I was compulsively turning pages, desperate to find out what happened next. Every draft after that was just more atmospheric, more compulsive, with higher stakes, and funnier and more emotional moments. Our edits were a lot about maintaining the mystery throughout, and at the same time making sure the reader has enough easter eggs, clues and red herrings to keep things interesting and make for a satisfying overall conclusion. Zoe writes Ivy’s character and Amy writes Audrey’s, so I loved how they worked together as co-authors and created such a seamless narrative, even while they had to compare notes over WhatsApp during lockdown!

Do you think readers will be happy to see how the Magpie Society ends?

When I read the ending of Two for Joy I genuinely gasped out loud – it’s brilliantly twisty and I think readers are going to absolutely love it. There are layers upon layers of mysteries in this duology and the conclusion is both terrifying and satisfying. I can’t wait for people to get their hands on the book so I can talk to everyone about it without spoilers!

What would your advice be to anyone looking to enter a career in editing?

It’s a really rewarding, creative job that’s a lot about passion – for stories, and for making them the best they can be. If you’re looking to join a particular publisher or imprint, make sure you really know your area of the market, whether it’s crime & thriller, non-fiction memoir, children’s books, popular science – there are so many areas you can go into depending on your personal taste. Publishers will always want to know you’re really invested in the kind of books they publish.

What have some of your favourite book releases been this year?

I’ve read some truly amazing new books this year, including Release the Beast by Bimini Bon Boulash which is so powerful and proud and eye-opening (and funny!). I also loved The Lamplighters by Emma Stonex for a really intriguing mystery, and on the YA side, I inhaled Empress & Aniya by Candice Carty-Williams, a heartfelt novella about two best friends. Also, I have to mention one of my own YA releases this year – The Upper World, an incredible time-travelling thriller soon to be a major movie starring Daniel Kaluuya! This has been a bumper year for amazing books.

What else have you edited that is launching for Christmas?

I edit books for a variety of ages, so alongside Two for Joy I’ve also had a couple of autumn releases for slightly younger readers – I work with non-fiction author Adam Kay and his new book Kay’s Marvellous Medicine is a hilarious history of medicine throughout the ages; I have also just published a beautiful debut novel by middle-grade author Helenka Stachera called The Ice Whisperers, the story of two sisters born forty thousand years apart. I also want to mention a book that was published earlier this year, but is the perfect novel for curling up with on cold winter nights (and a great read for Magpie Society fans): Wicked Little Deeds by Kat Ellis, a real page-turner of a small-town thriller full of urban legends, creepy shadows, a bad-boy romance and a killer on the loose…

What does your perfect weekend look like?

A combination of long walks, movie nights and delicious food. Is any Sunday complete without a roast?

What do you always carry with you?

It’s cheating a bit, but I always have on me my ‘everything bag’. It’s a small glittery bag which has all the essentials in it: plasters, hand sanitiser, eye drops, painkillers, deodorant, a pen, a spare charger . . . It’s saved me on multiple occasions!

What would your last ever meal be?

My partner makes the most amazing tomato and baby aubergine curry, which I always crave when I want something comforting, so I think it would have to be that. Plus I have a gigantic sweet tooth, so it would have to be followed by some kind of chocolate pudding cookie cake.

What is one positive piece of advice you could give to our audience?

Never lose sight of the things that make you passionate – life is so much more than the 9-5. For me, I really have to remind myself to read for pleasure outside of my job, too.