Emma Sherk

Emma Sherk is a production and editorial assistant on the Ballast team who has the pleasure of working on everything from heavy-hitting memoirs to board books for young children. Emma joined us from Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee, where she studied book publishing and French. While Emma is often buried deep in one of our manuscripts with her red pen, she took some time to answer a handful of questions so authors can get to know the editor who makes their books shine!

  1. You studied publishing and French! We know how you’re putting your publishing degree to good use in your career, but do you have plans to exercise your French degree as well?

French began as a special interest because my mom minored in French in college. We would do French workbooks together when I was a kid, and then I took French classes in high school. I decided to double major in French and publishing in college. I got to study abroad in France in a French immersion program. I lived with a host family who didn’t speak English and all my classes were in French. It was amazing! I also got to travel all around France and Europe. I would love to move back someday.

I am definitely a bit out of practice, and I don’t plan on having a career in French, but it’s a skill I will always carry with me. I still talk with my mom and my friends from abroad in French and love anything France-related: the food, French film, the culture. I’m always planning my next trip there! I would recommend learning a second language to anyone considering it. You will be able to experience another country’s culture in a completely different way! And for all the editors out there, learning a second language will teach you more about English grammar than any English class!

  1. When did you know you wanted to work in the world of book publishing?

I’ve loved to read for as long as I can remember. As a kid, I was really quiet and preferred books to people—actually, I still do. I would write stories on our family computer and even won a writing contest in fifth grade. English was always my favorite subject, and I made a lot of friends because of our common interest in books. I bounced around a bit on what career I wanted to pursue: journalism (I’m too shy), nursing (I faint at the sight of blood), library science (I’d need a master’s degree). In high school, I went to lots of book signings and attended the Kenyon Review Young Writers Workshop, where I was taught by poet Hanif Abdurraqib. Being surrounded by so many people who loved reading and writing reminded me that things like science and journalism were not my passions. Ultimately, I decided on publishing, specifically editing, because it’s a good mix of reading and writing, my two favorite things. Plus, Belmont University, which was close to home, had one of the only undergraduate publishing degrees in the country. I was so lucky to have an amazing advisor and incredible publishing opportunities as a student there. I do still hope to publish my own work someday.

  1. How has working in publishing been different than you imagined? Has anything about your role at Ballast surprised you?

Like every job, publishing involves a lot more emailing and communication than you would think. A lot of the job is spent messaging other team members for files, authors for editorial corrections, cover designers for final changes, and typesetters because the drop cap is slightly too close to the text. There are a lot of moving pieces that the average reader would never know about! Fortunately, I work with an amazing team that is always on top of everything and has taught me so much about the publishing world! And this wasn’t exactly a surprise since I used it in college too, but The Chicago Manual of Style is like the Bible for editors. Luckily, it’s always right at my fingertips, and the more I reference it, the less I need it! Plus, it’s nice knowing that even the best editors (shoutout to Lauren) use it every day!

  1. Authors often come to us thinking their manuscripts are ready for the press without the need for a final round of editing or proofreading. After everything you’ve seen in this role, what do you have to say to authors about the value of having an extra set of eyes on their books before print?

The truth is that nobody’s perfect. We all make mistakes. Even experienced, bestselling authors cannot write a first draft with zero grammatical or developmental issues. Editors want your manuscript to be the best it can possibly be, so when we suggest a final round of editing or proofreading, we’re on your side. We want your manuscript to be perfect just like you do, but we know the reality of human error. When you’ve worked on something for so long, your brain starts to automatically fix errors as you read. With an extra set of eyes and a new perspective, you can rest easy knowing we did everything possible to get your book ready for readers.

  1. In your role, you work on books from a wide array of genres. Do you have a preference for any genre in particular when you’re editing? Are there challenges to editing certain genres over others?

I do particularly enjoy editing fiction just because that’s what I read in my free time. At Ballast, I’ve gotten to work on fantasy novels, a thriller, a dystopian apocalypse drama, and more. Those interest me because of the work I get to do on the story and characters.

Working at Ballast has also given me an interest in memoirs. I enjoyed Reality Check by Mike Sorrentino and Beyond the Sea by Navy Bob. These gave me a new appreciation for experiences outside my wheelhouse. That’s what I love about reading—it gives you a window into the lives of other people, real and fictional.

Nonfiction books do present a specific challenge: citations. Citations are the bane of my existence as an editor. You have to know the exact edition, translator, correct formatting, and more. These often take just as long to edit as the actual manuscript, but they’re a necessary evil to ensure every quote and fact is credited!

  1. We never choose favorites around here (of course not), but have there been any projects that have been particularly rewarding or enjoyable to work on?

I recently edited A Day Like Any Other, a manuscript that was over five hundred pages. It was fiction, so I loved immersing myself in the story, and it’s particularly rewarding to finish such a long project, especially since I did the full edit myself! I also did a lot of work on another fiction manuscript, Mors Obliviscens, which involves fallen angels (this was my favorite “genre” to read in high school). I had a lot of fun getting to know those characters and helping Kayleigh, our production editor, with the cover design.

  1. When you’re not reading or editing for work, who are your favorite authors?

My absolute favorite author is Emily Henry. Her books really made me fall back in love with reading in college after I found myself with little free time to read. I’m a sucker for romance, so Jane Austen is a classic favorite as well. My other favorite genres are fantasy, literary fiction, and historical fiction, and some authors I particularly love are Laini Taylor, Sally Rooney, V.E. Schwab, and Kristin Hannah. My next read is going to be Before I Let Go by Kennedy Ryan!

  1. When a favorite author announces a new title, do you automatically preorder the book or do you wait until its pub date to purchase it?

I typically wait until its pub date and go to my favorite bookstore to purchase the book! Nothing can beat that experience, especially since a lot of stores these days have special editions. I did recently preorder Funny Story by Emily Henry and picked it up in store at The Bookshop in Nashville since they had a release party! Or, if I’m lucky, the author will make a stop at Parnassus Books (Nashville’s indie favorite, owned by the amazing Ann Patchett) and I’ll get a signed copy! I’ve met many famous authors there!

  1. You specifically mentioned in your employee bio that you enjoy visiting coffee shops. What is your go-to order?

My go-to order is usually an iced vanilla latte with oat milk, but I especially love when a coffee shop has specialty drinks with different flavor combinations. Something with vanilla, honey, and cinnamon is my favorite. If you’re ever in the Hermitage, Tennessee, area (a suburb of Nashville), try Elevate Coffee and get the Honeymoon Mocha or the Kilimanjaro! It’s a drive-thru coffee shop owned by a couple from Seattle. It’s a local favorite!

  1. You’ve spent most of your life in the Nashville area, right? Is there anywhere else you could see yourself living down the road?

I do love Nashville, but I would eventually like to live somewhere else. My grandpa had a beach house built in Oak Island, North Carolina, back in the seventies, and my family has gone there every summer since. It’s about forty minutes from Wilmington, a historic, artsy city that’s only a short drive from the beach. I would love to move to Wilmington and be able to read at the beach whenever I want! I’ve also always wanted to live in NYC, although I don’t think I could handle the hustle culture forever. And of course it would be a dream to move back to France!

If you have an engaging idea for a children’s book, we want to hear from you.

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