Perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised when something peculiar happened in my seventh year as an editor at Orca Book Publishers. After all, seven is a magical number in fairy tales, and Orca is a children’s book publisher. There are seven continents, seven oceans, seven Harry Potter books. So, Why not a series of kids books about seven cousins? When my publisher, Andrew Wooldridge, asked me to edit “the magnificent seven,” my first question was “How many are we going to publish per season?” His answer: “All seven in October 2012.” I wanted to yell, “Are you insane?” but that’s not the kind of thing you say to your boss.
Andrew is a very smart guy, and Eric Walters, who proposed the series, is a successful, prolific writer and an all-around powerhouse. He had already lined up the other six authors. He had even written a draft of the novel that the other authors would use as a template for their own books. The premise: David McLean dies at 92, leaving a very unusual will. Each of his seven grandsons is given a specific task to fulfill. Eric’s character is required to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro and scatter his grandfather’s ashes. The other six authors were free to send their young protagonists wherever they liked. Their adventures could be close to home or far away. The only stipulation was that the books mesh seamlessly. That was my task.
Now, I like a challenge as much as the next editor. I’ve edited as many as 10 books in one season. I have worked on series. I love my job. But this was different. It had the potential to be (1) a huge success, (2) a monumental disaster, or (3) a project that would drive me completely crazy. Obviously, I would shoot for the first option and risk the third. Option #2 was a nonstarter. I had already signed a teen novel for fall 2012—Redwing, a historical fantasy with a supernatural twist—and my own teen novel Three Little Words was also due to be published. I would have to be über-organized.
Up went the trusty index cards onto my bulletin board. Out went the e-mails to the seven authors, only one of whom I had worked with before. Andrew gave them deadlines. They were horrified. Deadlines were adjusted. Word counts were (loosely) established. The authors, who all knew each other, talked among themselves (Danger! Danger!), discussing characters, plots, time lines, and, possibly, their editor. By the deadline of October 31, 2011, I had all but two of the first drafts.
As I worked my way through the seven manuscripts (over and over), I maintained a spreadsheet that tracked plots, characters, relationships, and time lines. My beloved index cards filled up. I cross-referenced until I went cross-eyed. I did revisions on my own novel. I edited Redwing. I started to go crazy. I cut an early promotional poster into puzzle-shaped pieces to remind myself that one day this would all make sense. Eric climbed Kilimanjaro himself. Slacker.
A trailer was made. A Web site was created (seventheseries.com). Our art director came up with an overall look for the series. Maps and family trees were drawn again and again. Teachers’ guides were written. I tried to prepare our copyeditor for the onslaught of manuscripts. I talked to marketing about everything from back-cover copy and catalogue copy to author bios. I argued with some authors and laughed with others. And I started to see the puzzle come together.
All Orca books are collaborations, but Seven was more intense, more high-risk, more exhilarating, more infuriating. Would I do another series like Seven? Probably. If Andrew asked nicely. And gave me danger pay. And a week in Maui afterwards. In the meantime, I’ll be editing Limelights, a new teen series about the performing arts. Two per season, starting in fall 2013. After all, I’m not insane.
Sarah Harvey is an editor at Orca Book Publishers in Victoria, British Columbia. She is also the author of nine books for children and teens. Seven (the series) will be published October 10, 2012.