Monday, February 26, 2007

Unsolicited Advice for Editors

Back in October Gawker ran a fairly virulent post about authors. When I first read it I didn’t have the time to properly respond. Well, lately some other things have come up that have brought this post to mind, and now I have something to say.

In the Gawker post the anonymous writer described authors as “a cross to bear somewhere between 'creepy messenger guy' and 'can't even afford a new coat from H&M' on the job-dissatisfaction scale. Because, with a few glowing exceptions, authors are the craziest, meanest, strangest, cluelessest people you've ever met.” Well, let me tell you something, Gawker. I’ve worked with authors for almost 15 years. I’ve been their editor and now their agent, and you know what, I’ve even been a friend to many. And never have I thought of authors, individually or as a whole, as “crazy, mean, or clueless,” although some might be a little strange.

Working with authors is no different from working with any other group of people, you are going to get the good, the great, the bad, and the ugly, but you know what I’ve found: 99% of authors are either good or great, it’s the editors and agents who make them bad and ugly.

So, for those of you kvetching about how terrible authors are and how much you hate working with them, let me give you my own unsolicited advice for what you can do to make your life easier, and actually enjoy working with those people who pay your bills.

1. Communicate. You won’t have to complain about the constant phone calls from your authors if you actually return a few. I find that the more an editor communicates information with an author, and her agent, the less likely the author is to inundate you with phone calls and e-mails. And if that fails, hey, that’s what an agent is for. It shouldn’t take much to drop me a line asking me to rein my client in. It’s not hard, but I can’t do it if I don’t know what’s going on.

2. Pay Up. Why should I have to constantly hound you for payments due? You know the work was delivered and you know it’s acceptable, so put the money through. Remember, I was an editor. It’s not that hard.

3. E-mail. A quick e-mail can save a lot of time, and letting an author know that her work has been accepted or the publisher is excited and has decided to do some big advertising helps. Publishing is a bizarre world and this author has entrusted you with her “baby,” the least you can do is keep her in the loop about how her career is progressing.

4. Read the book. I really shouldn’t have to say this, but guess what, I do. There are a few of you out there who don’t even read the books your authors send in.

So editors (and agents), while I know most of you are fabulous and do all of these things regularly, I also know there are a few out there who don’t. A little effort goes a long way, and honestly, I’m just trying to make my job easier too.



elysabeth said...

I must have missed that posting and am glad I did. I met my publisher this weekend at the SC Book Festival and she was absolutely delightful. I've met Jacky before on a couple of occasions and I've not felt that she would do things to make the authors look bad at all. And from the postings here by Jessica and Kim, I have to say that I don't feel that the either would treat their clients in a disrespectful way. And since all of you at bookends have been editors before, it makes me wonder why some editors treat the authors this way. Honestly, without the authors, the editors wouldn't have a job, nor would the publishing houses actually have any work to make a profit.

My question now is this - if the author has an agent, the agent has shopped his/her story around, found an editor who likes the story and she in turn makes an offer, why would the author be calling the agent in the first place? The author should do everything through the agent, right? All communication should be done through the agent, who should then contact the editor and find out the status of the client's "baby". Or am I misunderstanding the job of the agent?

Anyway - I think you hit the nail on the head by saying that it is the editors and agents (not all) who make the authors out to be the "baddie".

So I think this was great insight into the process. Thank you for posting for us - E :)

2readornot said...

Nice! Thank you :)

Southern Writer said...

• send ten emails with ten different questions in them. Wait until you have ten questions, and then send the email. Or better yet, delete it.

It might be a good idea to apply this advice to blog posts, as well. I've written things I regret, and then I take them down immediately. I hope they're not pointed out someday as things that should never have been made public.

Tori Scott said...

Thanks for this post. Sometimes authors feel like we aren't valued for the time and effort we put into our work. When you spend months on one book between writing and editing and polishing, you'd like to at least be acknowledged.

I had one agent request a partial at a conference after she read the first two pages in a workshop. I sent the partial and didn't hear back. After 4 months I followed up and she said she'd lost it and asked me to send it by email. Never heard anything again, despite a couple of follow-ups. I finally pulled it 18 months later and she never said a word beyond "okay."

An editor requested a partial at a conference and I never heard back from her, either, despite follow-ups.

It's not my writing. I've won contests, finaled in the Golden Heart, sold a short story to Woman's World, write web copy for a living, and I've gotten very positive feedback from both editors and agents. I've come >< this close to selling two of my books and have an editor waiting now for me to finish a novella so she can buy it and possibly buy a full-length work.

But it's frustrating to have work out there that's being totally ignored. Send me a rejection if you don't like it, but don't sit on it for months and years without even responding to follow-up requests.

Christopher M. Park said...

Wow, I hadn't seen that other post before, but that really was kind of harsh. I know that attitude exists in a few souls within the industry, but I'm glad to hear it's not universally held.

In the software industry (my day job), there's a general feeling that the end users are idiots and too needy/unrealistic, and that often gets on my nerves too. I've had occasional problems with the end users, but it was always simply based on the difference in their background and mine, and nothing that couldn't be reasonable and satisfactorily resolved with a minimum of fuss. Most programmers that I know seem to feel the same way, even if we all sometimes fall into the larger trend of slamming those end users.

It sounds like it might be sort of the same in publishing. Everyone grumbles when it comes to the craziness that is the slush pile—not to mention all those first-time authors that have unrealistic expectations for the process and think they are the center of the universe.

Yeah, I think that happens in a lot of industries, actually--when you have a expert provider group, and an unschooled recipient group. I do work software work for some large financial institutions, and the lending/grants staff often seems to think of their applicants in much this same way. I think the main difference with the publishing industry is that the ratio of providers (agents/editors) to recipients (unpublished authors) is so vastly out of whack compared to every other industry. Funny how that works.

But I’m glad that this disparity doesn’t have everyone universally disgusted with the whole process.


BookEnds, LLC said...


I think you're looking at it from a different point of view. Yes, during the submission process the agent should be making all the contact. However, once a book has been sold the editor and author should work to form a relationship of their own and in many ways this means dropping the agent as middleman. While the agent still has many uses, I know I always encourage my clients to start building a strong relationship with their editors.