I seldom post about the Hugo ballot. This year, however, there’s one category that’s very relevant to almost two decades of my writing. I want to say a few words about one of the nominees for Best Professional Editor, Long form.
That nominee is Sheila Gilbert, of DAW books. She’s been my editor at DAW since 1994. 1995 saw the publication of Hunter’s Oath, but of course she purchased the rights to that book prior to the publication. She read it, she made suggestions, and she offered me my first DAW contract.
Hunter’s Death followed in 1996. And then I had the choice of starting something entirely new, or continuing in the same universe. Sheila and I talked about it a number of times, and we decided that I would write the next duology set in the same world as the Hunter books.
Yes, duology. I sold her two books: Broken Crown and Sun Sword. She asked me for a synopsis of this series, and I blanched, because I am so not a synopsis writer. I think, in the end, I wrote three paragraphs, and she accepted these, because she had confidence in my ability to write a compelling book.
My end point for Broken Crown was the final Tor Leonne scene between Diora and her father. Sadly, by the time I was 800 pages into Broken Crown, I realized there was no way that I would reach that end in one volume. I was very, very, very stressed out by this. Weeks worth of stressed.
When I finally found the courage to tell her this, she asked to see the book, and I sent it to her, thinking in terror of how to cut, what to cut, how to make the story smaller, the politics less important. But she read the book, and felt that the story as written wouldn’t benefit from the slash-and-burn it would have required. So the two books became three books.
And, if you’re a West reader, and you’re reading this, you know that the three books became six books. Sheila saw the shape and the structure of the story, and she loved these books; she let me tell the whole of the Southern War.
She told me when I hadn’t been clear enough (I tend towards the more opaque, because my sense of obvious is not the same as a reader who’s approaching the story for the first time, something I can’t actually do). She told me when my attempts to reach the end as Quickly As Humanly Possible Or My Readers Would Be Upset was doomed to failure.
And she did all of this even though I was never, ever one of DAW’s heavy hitters.
I can think of no other publisher who would have supported these books the way Sheila Gilbert has, and that’s not hyperbole. So many series books have died in the middle, and so many have been shortened to publisher demand when the numbers just weren’t high enough. Sheila was committed to the story that did unfold. She trusted my process. She helped to shape these books, but most of all: these books wouldn’t exist without her.
I have so many stories about Sheila. I’ll leave them be. But I want to ask my West readers, if you haven’t voted in this category, to consider voting for Sheila Gilbert. It’s the first time she’s made the ballot – but she’s been working quietly and consistently behind the scenes for me for two decades, and the books you’ve read reflect that.
P.S. Joshua Starr has posted his view of working with Sheila Gilbert, of DAW books. Everything he says is true; he gives a publisher-eye view of an editor.