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Heddle (front, left) with Lucasfilm publishing colleagues.

Employee Spotlight: Jennifer Heddle

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The Executive Editor Combines Her Passions for Books and Star Wars

First, can you tell us your current title and summarize your day-to-day responsibilities?

I’m Executive Editor for Lucasfilm publishing, reporting up into Disney Publishing but located at the Lucasfilm offices in San Francisco. I’m the in-house editor for Disney’s young adult and middle grade Star Wars titles, and the editorial advisor and Lucasfilm liaison for Del Rey’s adult Star Wars novels. I also work with various other publishers in the US and around the world to help develop and facilitate their Star Wars publishing projects, liaising between them and Lucasfilm as needed.

How does your role fit within your larger team?

I’m one of four editors working under creative director Mike Siglain, and the five of us essentially oversee editorial development for all Star Wars publishing around the world. We all have our different areas of expertise—mine is novels, while others’ are comic books, for example, or non-fiction—but we also work very much as a team to help execute franchise priorities and assure the quality of the brand across publishing.

When did you start at the company, and in what role?

I was hired in 2011 as a senior editor, working on the Star Wars novels from Del Rey and the comic books that were published by Dark Horse at the time. So essentially the “adult fiction” arm of Star Wars publishing. I continued to work on the comics for about a year after Marvel took over the license, but then Disney started publishing Star Wars novels for teens and kids, which seemed like a better fit for me, so I transitioned to working on novels full-time. But I loved working on comics and would be open to it in the future. I do currently work with the LINE corporation in Japan on some of their manga titles, and I enjoy that immensely.

What were your first impressions of Lucasfilm?

To be honest? Mostly how quiet it is! Going from a large office building full of loud New Yorkers in midtown Manhattan, to a smaller complex set in the middle of a park, was definitely an adjustment! The buildings and grounds are so beautiful—I miss being there right now. My other impression was how dedicated everyone here is to doing their best and taking care of the Lucasfilm brand.

Did you have a familiarity with the company or its productions before you started? Were you a fan?

Oh, absolutely. I’ve been a Star Wars fan my whole life. And a fan of Indiana Jones, too. (I’ve also had a crush on Harrison Ford my whole life, thanks to Lucasfilm.) So I was very much aware of the company as an entity, and of George Lucas, and of Industrial Light & Magic and the incredible work they do. The opportunity to be part of such a renowned company was a big factor in my taking this position. I wouldn’t leave my beloved New York for just anybody!

Could you summarize your background before joining the company? Where did you go to school? What early jobs did you have?

I majored in Journalism at New York University, but about halfway through school I realized I do not have the kind of personality it takes to be a good reporter. But I’ve always been a voracious reader, so I kind of had a light bulb moment that instead of working on the news, I could work on made-up stories instead.

I was fortunate enough to get a couple of part-time jobs in publishing while still in school (an advantage of being in NYC), and when I graduated, the publisher I was working for part-time offered me a full-time position. It was library reference marketing–not what I wanted to do forever–but it was a full-time job right out of school.

A couple of years later I applied for an assistant position at a literary agency because their office was literally across the street from my apartment. I found out when I got there that they specialized in science fiction and fantasy, which was my dream. After a year there I was able to secure an editorial assistant position at Penguin. I was there for about six years and then worked at Simon & Schuster for about another six. Throughout my career most of my experience was in science fiction/fantasy and licensed publishing, which made me a good candidate for Lucasfilm.

What inspired you to get involved in this industry?

If “this industry” means film, I never set out to work in the film industry, and I still don’t work in film, really—I work in the publishing industry, and that was inspired by my love of books and reading! But in addition to being a reader I’m also a pop culture junkie, so working adjacently to the film industry is fun for me.

What is your favorite part of your job?

Working with authors to help make their books even better. That’s always been my favorite part of being an editor. The distinctly Lucasfilm part I really enjoy is when I get to brainstorm and just nerd out with the Story Group folks, as talking characterization and motivation is one of my favorite things to do.

Is there anything about your job or your team that you think people outside would find surprising or different in the way you/it works?

Probably a lot of things, actually, as I think there are a lot of misconceptions about publishing! It’s not nearly as exciting or glamorous as some would like to think, or as TV and movies make it out to be. It’s a lot of hard work and can be really stressful. Most of my job is taken up by writing emails, not editing. Folks would probably be surprised to know how much of our time is taken with reviewing materials from outside the US. And fans sometimes seem to think we have involvement with the movie or streaming side—we have none.

Are there any types of skills or attributes (beyond the normal qualifications) that you think are important for someone in your role or one like it?

Being flexible and able to pivot is a big one—so much of working on Star Wars publishing, or on licensed publishing in general, is dependent on what the other arms of the company are doing, so in other words, a lot of your job is dependent on things that you have no control over. And book publishing and film, and animation, and games, all work on very different timetables. You have to be able to adapt and react to whatever comes along in whatever time frame you are able to do it.

Do you have a favorite memory (or memories) of your time on the job? Any stand-out accomplishments or cool opportunities?

The first issue of Marvel’s Star Wars run selling one million copies was an early standout accomplishment for me. The success of our High Republic publishing initiative is a more recent one—two titles of ours hit the New York Times bestseller list in the same week! That’s incredible. Both events involved a lot of people working really hard for a great payoff. And I’ve certainly had experiences I couldn’t have imagined, from spending time at Skywalker Ranch to attending the opening night of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge at Disneyland. But in the end the moment that tickles me the most is the time I was looking at t-shirts in the employee gift shop and realized George Lucas was the person browsing the rack along with me.

Can you tell us more about The High Republic and your involvement in the initiative?

The High Republic is a cross-publisher initiative that hasn’t been done to such a wide extent before. We have novels for adults, teens, and kids as well as comic books for adults and kids, and manga, and more formats to come. I was thrilled to be involved from the ground up, participating in the brainstorming sessions with the authors, the rest of the publishing team, and the Story Group and watching the overall story take shape. Specifically I’m the editor for the teen and middle grade novels, as well providing input on the Del Rey novels, but try to keep abreast of everything we’re doing.

Do you have a favorite Lucasfilm movie or production (show, game, etc.), and why?

The Empire Strikes Back is my favorite movie, period. I’ve been obsessed with it since I was eight years old. I wore out my paperback copy of the novelization and my VHS copy of the film. It’s the sharpness of the dialogue, the romance between Han and Leia, and the epic Hoth battle that are the highlights for me, but I love the entire film to pieces. I’ll also confess that I’ve been playing the Galaxy of Heroes mobile game for years now—so that’s become another obsession!

Do you have a favorite character from a Lucasfilm movie or production, and why?

Everyone who knows me knows the answer to this question is Princess Leia. I’m pretty upfront about her being the most important part of Star Wars to me. She’s always been an inspiration (the fictional character, and Carrie Fisher, both) and I’m grateful that the greatness of the character seems to have become more appreciated in recent years. She’s so complicated under the surface and her heroism isn’t always as “flashy” as the guys’, but what she contributes is just as, if not more, important. Perseverance, courage, selflessness, resilience, empathy—those are all qualities to aspire to.

What advice would you give to those aspiring to join Lucasfilm?

Giving advice on breaking into publishing is hard for me as the landscape was so different when I started out. My main piece of advice for wannabe editors is to not hold out for an editorial assistant position if something else is available—I went from marketing, to the agenting side, to editorial. And the experience I had in those other areas was invaluable to me when I transitioned to editorial. If you really want to work with books, take that entrance however you can.

Working at Lucasfilm, specifically, is an even tougher question—because my honest answer is to try to be the best you can be at whatever it is you want to do. But it has to be something that you love. Don’t take on a career path that isn’t what you love just because you want to work at one specific company. It rarely works out for the best in the end. Do what you love, and the rest will follow.

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