Poets & Writers

A DAY IN THE LIFE OF A BOOK EDITOR

BEFORE he got the call from Flatiron Books editor Caroline Bleeke, Neel Patel had spent thirteen years struggling to find success as a writer. Like many aspiring writers, Patel, an Indian American doctor’s son from Champaign, Illinois, had bounced around the job market, working first at Nordstrom, then in an accounting office, while filling his hard drive with unpublished novels and stories.

Finally, in early 2017, Patel finished a collection of stories, If You See Me, Don’t Say Hi, and landed a New York literary agent, Jenni Ferrari-Adler at Union Literary. Not long after he signed with Ferrari-Adler, Patel’s collection, along with fifty pages of a novel-in-progress, landed on Bleeke’s desk. A second, more established editor at another house was also interested in Patel’s work, but when he spoke to Bleeke on the telephone, Patel felt an instant connection. “She’s young,” he says. “She just gets it. We had a great conversation. We have similar tastes. It felt like talking to a friend.”

All aspiring writers dream of one day picking up the phone and finding themselves talking to an editor at a New York publishing house who shares their vision and wants to publish their work. What many writers may not know, however, are the myriad decisions an editor has to make before placing that call and all the tasks, large and small, the editor has to accomplish to shepherd a writer’s work toward publication.

So that we might shed light on the work editors do—much of it invisible to writers and the reading public—Bleeke agreed to let me follow her around for a day this spring, sitting in on staff meetings, listening to her handle queries from colleagues, and looking over her shoulder as she scrolled through an Excel spreadsheet of submitted manuscripts.

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