Yoga and spin teachers love to throw out platitudes like “follow your dreams” or “do what makes you happy.” But when you stop to think about it, what does it actually take to live your life following your passion? It usually requires doing uncomfortable stuff like giving up something boring but secure for the unknown and the hope of a more fulfilling future. It’s scary. It’s hard. It’s easy to dream about, much tougher to do.
If you’ve been to a Con where there’s been a Del Rey booth — New York ComicCon, SDCC, Celebration, or a host of others, you’ve probably seen Tom Hoeler. He’s an unflappable guy, often wearing jeans and a plaid shirt, calmly and pleasantly doing things like shepherding writers through the convention, herding the long line of those eager to see a favorite author, or handing out swag at the booth. On first sight, you might not realize you’re in the presence of someone who’s pursued and living his dream. But that’s precisely what Tom has done – giving up a successful career in accounting and returning to grad school to change his career to editing – specifically science fiction and fantasy because that’s what he grew up reading and loving back in Connecticut.
FANgirlblog interviewed Tom when he was an intern at Del Rey, and all of us have gotten to know him over the years. I met up with Tom on a recent dreary morning in New York City for breakfast at a cafe near the Del Rey office. I was frazzled from trying to get my teenage daughter and her friend on the uptown subway for a college campus tour on time. Tom listened with humor and patience and soon, with a latte in hand, I was chill again. After all, isn’t Tom’s story the best reminder that no matter what direction you start out in, with courage, grit and perseverance, you can always make your way to living your dream (as Tom’s Twitter account says) on Tatooine, Azeroth, Hawkins, Ravnica & beyond?
Q: Your background is in Accounting, something most people wouldn’t associate with someone who is an editor. Did you find your skills in accounting were transferable to editing?
Tom: I always believed that they would translate, part of the trick – of course – was convincing other people that was the case. But, when you break down being an editor, there’s really three core skills: critical problem solving, organization, and attention to detail. And being an accountant requires the exact same skills, just applied in a different manner. But there’s less distance between figuring out a complicated financial transaction and solving issues of plot, pacing, and character in a manuscript than you may think.
One other thing. Editors spend a lot of time looking at numbers, actually almost as much as they read. So having a background in math and being comfortable with finances is also a big help.
Q: What has surprised you the most in your job?
Tom: Probably the same thing that surprises many people before they start working as an editor – how little time you spend reading in a given day. Being an editor is not simply sitting in a big comfy chair with some snacks and a warm drink leafing through page after page of manuscript. The editor is often times the fulcrum of a book, so you become involved in many other facets of the publishing process – from production to marketing. Unless I’m close to a deadline I maybe have, on average, an hour of reading time in a given day.
Q: How many projects do you typically work on at a time? Do you find it hard to switch between different projects and different franchises?
Tom: I would say around a half-dozen or so, that I’m responsible for. That doesn’t include the projects that I’ll be assisting on. Of course when I say six, I don’t mean there are six manuscripts sitting in my inbox simultaneously. I’ll have projects all at different stages, from initial development, to actively being edited and revised, to final production reviews before the book prints. And some of those stages require very little of me. So it’s not as arduous as it might sound. It also goes back to being organized as I mentioned before.
As for bouncing between franchises it isn’t too hard. They’re all distinct enough that I don’t usually have a problem with them running into one another or confusing say Stranger Things with World of Warcraft. While there are moments when I may be jumping from franchise to franchise literally by the hour, I try to organize my days so that I have specific blocks where I’m only focused on one project. Though recently I did have to work on revisions for two books nearly simultaneously, and actually labeled my computer screens so that I wouldn’t accidentally get confused. But that’s a pretty rare occurrence.
Q: You mentioned that being a SW fan as well as an avid sci-fi/fantasy reader helped you decide on your current career. What’s one of your favorite early SW memories?
Tom: I wish I could tell you it was the first time I saw Star Wars, but I can’t remember when that was, sadly. This isn’t particularly early, but when the original trilogy returned to theaters in the 90s, that was the first time I ever saw Star Wars on a massive screen, which was incredible. Plus, it started a tradition that lasted through the prequel films that whenever we went to see a Star Wars movie, afterward we’d go to the store and buy a few plastic lightsabers (my brother or cousins) and then just have fun lightsaber battles. They never lasted more than about 15 minutes, because inevitably all those plastic sabers would just break, but it was always fun.
Q: If you could be any SW character, who would you be?
Tom: Generally, I find it hard to pass up the chance to be a Jedi. Probably not “Jedi Council” sort of Jedi, all of that bureaucracy seems so tedious. More like an adventuring out in the galaxy, doing good where he can type of Jedi.
If we’re talking someone specific, probably Han Solo. A chance to be a cool pilot, with an awesome ship and best friend. Plus, I try not to take things too seriously and if there’s anyone in Star Wars who doesn’t take himself – or much of anything – too seriously, it’s Han.
Q: As an editor, what would your top advice be to writers would like to become published one day?
Tom: Ultimately everything about your journey as a writer is going to be personal and individual. Focus on whatever processes work for you, and don’t worry if you read writing advice “professional” or otherwise that contradicts what is working for you.
Seeking out peer groups for critique or just general support can be immensely helpful, but in the end be sure the decisions your making about your career and approach are what you want, not just what sounds good from others.
Always be honest and upfront about your vision for your career and your stories. Publishing is very much about successful relationships, between writers-agents and writers-editors. You want to find people whose vision matches up or complements your own. That won’t guarantee success by any means, but it’ll put you on a stronger path and give you better resources to reach the kind of success you want.
Thanks to Tom Hoeler for participating in this interview.
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