Producing a book, from the first glimmer of an idea to the solid object of paper and ink, is not as simple as you might imagine. Some people think that an author just taps away at the keyboard for a few days and sends the pages to the publisher. Then the publisher sends your words to the printer and it all magically comes together in a neat package. The author’s name is on the front cover, so the author gets all the credit. Hurray for the author!
But much as we authors like to think it’s all our work, the writing is only the first part of the process. We like to think it’s the most important (of course) but truth is that without the work of everyone else down the line, our marvellous words won’t get read.
Here’s the editor of Dragons over London, Ruxandra Campeanu, who works for the publisher, Booklet Fiction. She explains the editing process.
When I joined Booklet in 2015, I had been editing fiction for three years, but had little experience with children’s literature per se. I had translated Rudyard Kipling’s Kim, which had been an extraordinary opportunity for me, but that wasn’t enough to familiarize me with the nuts and bolts of this particular segment of the book market. So getting to work on the then-recently launched collection Booklet Fiction was an exciting challenge for me. One might think that editing children’s literature is easier than dealing with adult literature, but actually, it comes with its own set of difficulties. Of course, generally speaking, a copy editor reviews translations, making sure that they are accurate and contain no errors or inconsistencies. But with children’s literature, he/ she also has to make sure, for instance, that the language is suitable for the age span of the target readers, and that what’s funny in the original manuscript stays funny in the translation as well. Young readers tend to get bored very easily, I think, and humour is particularly difficult to translate, all the more so when it involves elaborate wordplay, as it sometimes does in children’s books. So that’s a tough one. And let’s not forget the illustrations – they play a crucial part in children’s books, so the editor and the illustrator have to work closely together to determine what kind of pictures would best fit the atmosphere of a given book.
When it comes to bilingual editions for children, things get a little bit more complicated, because bilingual books are meant to help kids learn a foreign language in a more pleasant and engaging way than at school, while also offering them an appealing story. Therefore, the editor has to strike a fine balance between accuracy (a faithful rendition of the original text into Romanian) and style (the natural flow of the text in the Romanian language). More often than not, that involves two-way negotiations with the author and the translator. In fact, to my mind, negotiation is probably the keyword in editing, because working on a book is always a team effort. For instance, the fact that Arabella was so patient with all my questions and always open to suggestions – stoically keeping up with a seemingly never-ending stream of ‘final comments’ – was extremely important and made the whole process run all the more smoothly. The fact that Dragoș Dinulescu, the highly talented translator of the book, gave early feedback on the text was also very helpful. And I couldn’t conclude the paragraph without mentioning the skilful work carried out by Sarah Grant and Adina Lateș (proofreading), Anca Vrănescu (layout), Theodora Nicolescu (cover illustration) and Andreea Chele (interior illustrations).
My favourite moment while editing Dragons over London was seeing the layout with the illustrations in place. Up to that point, I had mostly been concerned with the text, and that was the very first time when I got an idea of how the book would look like as a physical object. I particularly liked the scene where the mice, upon having learnt that Xiaolong had been deceiving them, decide to withdraw their support from him. I loved the way the text and the illustration on page 122 come together to capture the emotional intensity of the moment.
My second favourite moment when editing any book whatsoever is getting feedback from readers, be it likes and comments on Facebook or the excitement with which they visit our stand at book fairs. My goal while working on Dragons over London was for kids to like Xiaolong and his mice companions and to enjoy their adventures well enough to grow into avid readers. Reading for pleasure is probably the most efficient way to accumulate knowledge, so I also hope the book helps kids improve their level of English and that the interesting facts which Arabella has woven into the story will stimulate their curiosity and make them look up even more exciting information themselves.