Friday, August 2, 2013

Interview with LibraryJournal editor Wilda Williams

Those who know me well know that I actively review books for several publications one of which is Library Journal. Library Journal holds a very special place for me because I love and support my own library by volunteering there and sitting on their Board of Directors. So it’s with honor and pride that I also review for a great publication like Library Journal.
And if you’re like me when I was a novice reader/reviewer I really didn’t know what an “editor” did/was. So I’m pleased to introduce my personal editor from Library Journal Wilda Williams who’s graciously agreed to answer a few of my “nosy” questions regarding just exactly what she does during working hours, and maybe one or two questions about what she does after hours too.


    A little Library Journal history––Library Journal is a trade publication that was founded in 1876 by Melvil Dewey, who’s the inventor of, that’s right, the Dewey decimal system. It reports news about the library world emphasizing public libraries and offers feature articles and reviews not only books but library related materials and equipment. It holds the highest circulation of any library-esque publication approx. 100,000. In 2010 Library Journal was sold to Media Source, owner of the Junior Library Guild and The Horn Book Magazine.
Wilda, thank you so much for stopping by and chatting and letting me pick your brain for a bit. (please feel free to correct all my mistakes) 

For those of us who don’t know, what exactly does an editor for your publication do?
At Library Journal, we have two sets of editors. The news and features editors handle what we call “the front of the book,” reporting on library news and assigning and editing feature articles. The Book  Review is the “back of the book.” I am one of five book review editors who are responsible for sorting through the galleys, or advanced reading copies (ARCs), that are submitted to us for review consideration.  (We get over 1000 books every week! Who said the book was dead?) Each editor specializes in certain subject areas. When I first started at LJ, I assigned a lot of nonfiction (including science, politics, and health and medicine). I am currently the pop fiction editor, which means I focus on commercial and genre fiction (Mystery, Thrillers, SF/Fantasy, Christian Fiction).  Another editor, Barbara Hoffert, assigns literary fiction.
After we sort through the ARCs and decide which books we are going to review, we then assign the books to reviewers.  Most of our reviewers are public and academic librarians, although we also use freelance writers and book bloggers. We don’t pay our reviewers, though; it’s strictly voluntary but we reward them by sending finished review copies and  holding  a reviewers’ reception at the American Library Association’s summer conference.
When I speak at conferences about what I do, I often compare assigning books for review to running  a dating service.  You have to match the right book with the right reader.  I look at my reviewers’ interests and favorite authors and tried to find the book that coincides with their literary tastes.  Very rarely have I sent  a book to the wrong reviewer. In the case where I felt the reviewer didn’t “get” the book, I’ll query the writer and have him or her expand on her thoughts on about the book.  I don’t think I have ever killed a review and reassigned a book to another reviewer.
Once I have assigned the book, the reviewer has two weeks to read the book and send in the review.  After the review is submitted, I edit the review for style and clarity.  
Besides assigning and editing book reviews, I also assign and edit periodic feature articles on trends in genre fiction such as our August spotlight feature on Sf/fantasy.  I also blog on book and publishing news for our In the Bookroom blog, moderate LJ’s Facebook and Twitter accounts,  and attend various book-related conferences (Thrillerfest, Bouchercon).

What educational path does one take to become an editor?
I serendipitously landed into my dream job. I always knew I wanted to work  with books in some way, so I attended the University of Denver Publishing Institute the summer before I graduated from college.  My savvy grandmother also suggested I go to library school and get my master’s degree  My first jobs—at the American Museum of Natural History, Dow Jones & Co.­—developed my research, writing, and editing skills that I use now. It was only by sheer chance that stumbled onto this job when I applied for another job at the same company that  owned LJ. Luckily I didn’t get that job.

What’s the most important thing you do in your role as an editor?
I like discovering new writers and bringing them to the attention of librarians, who in turn will connect them with readers.
What’s the best thing about working for Library Journal?
My fellow editors and our readers (aka librarians) are the best thing,  My co-editors are smart, fun,  and enthusiastic about books and serving our readers,  who in turn serve the reading public and promote reading and literacy.
How long have you been with them?
Twenty-three years.
What’s the most difficult part of your job?
Not being able to review every book worthy of notice.   The  sheer volume of the books being published today makes it very difficult especially for new authors to get attention.

Are you a reader?
I have always been a big reader but these days I find I have less time to do more of my own personal reading except when I go on vacation.

Do you have a funny editing story you could tell us?
The first review I ever edited at LJ drew a scathing letter from the reviewer. He had used an excessive amount of movie metaphors so I trimmed a few popcorn references. The reviewer complained, “You can correct my commas and periods, but keep your hands of my metaphors and similes.” I always wanted to have a t-shirt printed up with those very words.
Who’s the most famous author you’ve met?
The very first book party I attended as a book review editor was at George Plimpton’s house on Sutton Place. Very Waspy and clubby. My most memorable author moment was Ralph Ellison reading Invisible Man on one of the first ebook readers: the Rocket eBook.
Who are some of the authors on your must meet list?
Margaret Atwood and Joyce Carol Oates, not only because of their distinguished body of work, but also because they are damn good Tweeters on Twitter. Always thoughtful and never dull.

The red pen’s put away. What’s your favorite pastime activity?
Besides reading mysteries (my guilty pleasure), I enjoy traveling and exploring new places.

Wilda thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions. I’m sure I’ll be sending in a review soon.

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  1. What a fabulous interview and I so want, “You can correct my commas and periods, but keep your hands of my metaphors and similes.” on a t-shirt too!

  2. Thanks for the comment Kim. She's wonderful to review for too :)