Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Submissions Go To . . .

I have received a number of great questions lately, either posted to the blog or e-mailed directly, and I’m busy trying to get through them all. One of my favorites though asked how I choose editors to submit my clients' work to. The reader asked if I have favorites I submit everything to or if I submit to editors knowing that the client and editor might not get along, but it would sell a book.

First things first, yes, I do have favorite editors. It’s something I’m going to discuss in a later blog post, but there are definitely editors out there if, given my druthers, I would have every client published with. That being said, though, I do not necessarily send those editors everything I have for submission. Because sadly, they are not the right editors for everything my authors write.

Okay, on to the question that intrigued me the most because it’s not something I’ve ever thought of: “Do you send to editors that you know in your gut the client may not get along with (editor is rigid, client is laid-back; editor is evasive, writer really needs consistency) in order to sell a manuscript?”

When choosing editors to submit to my first goal is to find editors I think will want to buy the book. And unless I’m wrong I would assume my clients would want me to do just that, but please tell me if I’m wrong. I assume your goal is to find a publisher and sell a book. The truth is that while there are a lot of editors out there, there are not necessarily a lot of editors who buy the exact book you are writing. I debated saying this, but I’m not sure it’s my job to judge who a client can get along with. This is a business, not a dating service. Ideally I would like to find an editor who is perfect, who can please my author in every way and who my client can get along with beautifully, but editors are people too, and frankly, I don’t always know how an editor is going to act or treat a client until we’re in the midst of a relationship. An editor can be one thing for one author and someone completely different for another. Some of that is based on the personality of the author and some of it is based on outside forces that I can’t control. For example, I have known editors to be nothing but charming and receptive, beautiful people to spend time with. When I talk to authors, though, their impressions might be completely different, some might think the editor is difficult, abrasive, and hard to get along with, while others have the same feelings and reactions I do. In other words, until you’re married to a person it’s hard to know what they’re really like.

In the same way, I don’t know that I can always judge an author’s personality either. I’ve had authors who are seemingly the most laid-back, calm authors I’ve ever met.They never seem fazed by anything and always just go with the flow. Until they get a book contract and then, wham! It’s someone I’ve never met before. I had no idea this person needed any hand-holding, that she was a nervous Nelly or that she would be difficult in any way. So while there are definitely editors I’m not thrilled to submit to, my goal is to submit to the editor I think will be the best advocate for the book.



Anonymous said...

If you look at writing as a business, (which I do) this doesn't strike me as odd. I worked for a lady boss and a man boss several years back. The man was relaxed, quite laid back. He demanded the job be done accurately and on time but so long as I did what was required of me, how I got the job done never really concerned him. In contrast the lady boss would hover and make my life miserable. She was perfectly nice to me, I believe because I did my job and I did it well, however to get on the wrong side of her was a nightmare. In the end I liked working with one more than the other but regardless of how I felt I did my best job for both and churned out very good work. *shrug*

That's the nature of work, you're not always gonna like the person next to you, it'd be great if that was a guarentee, finding an editor that you loved, but it's hardly a job requirement. In the end it's about putting out the best product you can.

Anonymous said...

I had to laugh reading this post because I suspect I'm one of those Jekyll and Hyde clients. My poor agent. Before that contract came through, I never asked for help, never indicated what I was really feeling, just kept producing mss I hoped would eventually sell. When one did, out came the real me: nervous, anxious, prone to overthink and overreact to every ebb and flow. I just sent her a huge box of chocolates in hopes we can ride this tide out together until I can climb back into my little boat and get a grip.

Anonymous said...

As a follow up to this very informative post, how many editors do you send out to at a time, and what's the rationale behind your number?

Kimber Li said...

Sounds terribly complicated. Sounds like something only experience can make you good at dealing with.

Anonymous said...

People are like a box of chocolates, you never know what your gonna get until you bite into it. I am a very laid back person until you finally tick me off (It takes a lot!)If you do I'm not vicious but I will make you think very, seriously about cause and effect. I'm also very bad or very good for that matter at judging people immediately. There are occasions when someone surprises me (Not many). Judging how two people will react to each other is not for the unobservant. Jessica is definitely right on though; sell my book first, if you have any choice then put me with whoever will make me happier. The key is knowing what makes me happy: money or tranquility.

Anonymous said...

Makes perfect sense to me

Spy Scribbler said...

I agree with your policy, even though I'm learning what behavioral scientists say is true: people/employees aren't all that motivated by money. Although I'm paid the same amount up front, I have one little pub who somehow makes well over 600% more in royalties than the other. Still, the lesser profit pub writes me and asks me if I have a novella for her soon. So even not meaning to, I write more for her. I'm pretty sure the more profit pub--a new owner--doesn't really like my stuff, but keeps me on because readers like it. Or maybe she does, who knows?

But it doesn't matter. It sure is nice, though. Oddly enough, I'm as reassured by corrections as I am by enthusiasm, unless they're particularly abrasive.

In the end, I gotta vote for paying the bills, though.

Anonymous said...

This is another example on why it's important to have an agent who knows the business well. When mine was subbing my ms....she subbed to, I think, 6 houses. She told me which ones and why, which editors and why. And we were successful. My agent knows her stuff as does Jessica. My new editor is a dream and we clicked right away. For that I'm thankful. Regardless of how we get along, I would have still tried my very best to make it work...because bottom line, I want to be published and I want to be well liked and successful.

Anonymous said...

Way helpful post, Jessica. I work in television as a promo writer/producer. I received some great advice on navigating this type of creative work relationship a few years back.

When I was stressed about some revisions I had to make on my very first promo, my wonderful boss told me, "Look Sarah, we're all creative and we want to make something cool and beautiful. But my job is to remind you about the business of the spot. Your job is to make the business look fantastic."

I don't know why, but this made a ton of sense to me. My job is to be creative, funny, weird, artsy, whatever. But I have to remember to put "the business of the spot" on my to-do list. At the same time, my managers hire artsy people like me to make the "business" seem as exciting and cool as possible. The great campaigns happen when everyone meets in the middle. Getting to that sweet spot can be a little messy at times ... just part of the process.

So if this same dynamic applies in the book industry, I suppose the agent's job is finding all of those perfect "middles"; great book, shrewd editor, flexible author, etc.

Woah, longest comment in history!;-) Anyway, thanks again for the food for thought. I'm going to keep all of this in mind as I navigate the world of publishing.


Anonymous said...

Imagine my surprise to click on to the blog this morning and see my question I asked long ago!

Thanks Jessica, for your answer.

I've had one book published, and I don't consider myself in need of hand holding in the least, but the lack of communication with the editor was insane. My Ed. Letter questions were never answered, and she left me out of the loop on so much that was going on with my book I felt lost 95 percent of the time. I'm organized. I'm precise. I follow up when I say I'm going to. Which makes it good for the editor -- I'll get those deadlines in or kill myself trying. But the editor was none of these things. She'd say she'd get back to me -- she didn't. She'd say I'd have three weeks for a particular set of edits -- she got them to me late, and I had 4 DAYS. That kind of stuff.

Maybe the sale is all that matters? But I hear others talk about their previous editors with such awe... and now I halfway wonder if they're lying to try and get another ms sold or if they really mean it.

Richard L. Mabry, MD said...

Glad you addressed this, and even happier that I haven't had that problem (at least, to this point in the publishing process). I'm putting a link to this post on my own blog today. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

"...my first goal is to find editors I think will want to buy the book. And unless I’m wrong I would assume my clients would want me to do just that..."

You are not wrong. You've never been more right.

Sometimes you get an editor where everything just clicks and there are no problems. Then there are times when it's not that simple. But I have always found that with the right amount of passive aggressive manipulation, you can get almost any editor to eat right out of your hand.

Anita said...

I think I can work with just about anybody. I would put complete trust in my agent to find the editor who would best support my work.

P.S. I finally added info to my profile, if anybody is interested. Note to all crazies: I have a pitbull, shotgun, blackbelt, alarm system and expert marksman husband with a Top Secret clearance.

Anonymous said...

Hi Anita,

All you really need are shoes.
Until I saw the tape of Bush, I didn't know shoes could cause so much chaos.
Signed, I would have taken a shoe for my president...seriously.

Vacuum Queen said...

Good answer. Seems to me that you do your job just how you should.

Anonymous said...

Another aspect of the business I never really gave much thought about :P

It sure is an ordeal to get a book published! I can see one more reason why the industry is so tight--it's a lot of time and effort and who wants to spend all that work on a book that won't sell?

I know this sounds stupid, but I'm still relatively naive when it comes to the publishing world.

Casey Something said...

Awesome questions and post. Thanks for the insight!

PatriciaW said...

This is a business, not a dating service.

That pretty much summed it up for me. Yet business is as much about relationships as anything else, maybe more so you find a way to make it work. I have had all types of bosses, some I really loved, most I just liked, and a few I detested.

It's certainly an argument against multi-book deals, as an initial contract with a given publisher/editor, so as not to be caught in a bad relationship.

Anonymous said...

While it's true it's a business not a dating service, it seems that the publishers have too much power. In the normal world business is all about your relationship with your clients. I think it's time for some more competition anyone want to go into the publishing business with me. We can centralize in the midwest and base our business on books we love and we know the readers will love. Not be about money or fame. What do you think?

Deborah K. White said...

If it was a matter of being published or not published, then I'd go for being published. If it was a matter of a lot of money in advance or only a little, but two major publishers wanted my work, then I'd prefer the editor I thought I'd get along with best.

I don't expect the agent decide who I'd get along with best and this is probably a bit difficult to figure out in reality, but that's what I'd like.

There's two main reasons for this. First, I don't believe money is worth being miserable over. Second, an editor who understands my work and enjoys working with me will 1) help me produce my best work (which will then sell better) and 2) wholeheartedly back me at the publishers because they like me as well as my work.

Anita said...

Anonymous 11:53:

I have several pair of very pointy boots.

Jessica Nelson said...

"this is not a dating service"
I love it. Hehee.
You're right, I think. I would care more about my book being sold than how well I get along with the editor.

Robena Grant said...

Jessica said: my goal is to submit to the editor I think will be the best advocate for the book.

That is what I would want and expect from my agent because it is really about the work not the personalities. If the editor can help improve my creation it's up to me to listen, put aside my ego, and do the best work I can to make it better. I have great respect for editors and agents, it's a tough business to be in and one you'd have to be really passionate about.

Anonymous said...

Jessica says, "My goal is to submit to the editor that will be the best advocate for the book..."

See, that's all fine and good, but I belive the OP's question was IS an editor that has a conflicting way of working with a client, REALLY the best advocate for a book? Isn't half of working with an editor being able to communicate with them in an effective manner?

Sure, selling is certainly better than not selling. I think we're all agreed on that. But this isn't accounting, with facts and figures, and one right answer. Books are creating something out of nothing. Taking a thought from a previous commentor... in order to create, don't you need to feel like an editor will email you back if you have a question, or not screw you over on a deadline?

Anonymous said...

I could work with Attila the Hun if the publisher wanted to print my book. Quasimodo could ring his bell next to my head and I'd work with him if he was my editor. I'd listen to the silence of the lambs if Hannibal Lechter was my editor and insisted on serving me liver with fahva beans...slurp...slurp. Yep, I could work with any editor.

Anonymous said...

You're dead right with this. I once had an author ask me about my editor at a small press. My experience with her was very pleasant and positive. The author was someone I knew slightly, but respected so when my EDITOR asked me if I knew her......
You see the dilemma.
I only stated what I knew about both of them, that I liked them, they were people I respected.
I don't think either of them had a positive experience with each other however. And I don't think it was because one or the other of them was "unreasonable" or "unprofessional". It was what it was. Not everyone can get along.
I usually don't have issues with editors. I grumble about revisions........to my friends and under my breath. LOL.
My experiences have been very good. Hopefully, a NY contract won't turn me into a puddle of need. LOL. I always figured that what my crit partners were for, to help me through those crises.

Judy Croome | @judy_croome said...

Sell my book. Within reason, it's my job as a professional to make the relationship with the editor work in a way that's best for the novel.

Creative A said...

Huh. Interesting post. I never really thought of this, either; but now that you've posed the question I realize that I sort of assumed my agent would find me a good editor - and when I think about that, I realize I had always assumed "good" meant someone who would bring out my best potential, someone I could get along with.

First priority is selling the book. Period. But if you get me an editor I hate, who I don't think will bring out the full quality of my book, I may vaguely feel like you haven't done your job correctly. (If I'm being honest with myself.) I guess it's about choosing the lesser of two evils?

Again, interesting.