Friday, January 09, 2009

My Favorite Editors

I was recently asked about my favorite editors, not who they are (because you’ll never get that out of me), but what they are. What qualities does an editor have that will put her on my favorite list. Surprisingly it has little to do with negotiating technique (although I do favor an editor who can participate in a respectful negotiation) and everything to do with the way an editor works with her authors (my clients).

So here’s a short list of some of the qualities my favorite editors have:

  1. Good communications skills. Yes, it helps when editors return my emails and phone calls, but it’s even more important to me that they return those of my clients, their authors.
  2. Organized. I don’t care if an editor's office is a disaster area or if she has messy closets. What I do care about is her knowledge of my client. In other words, I hope that when I call to ask a question she either has the answer or knows how to find the answer. I also hope that she knows who I’m talking about.
  3. Strong editing skills. I don’t believe the myth that editors don’t edit anymore, but I do believe that there are (and have always been) editors who really have an eye for good editing. They can jump in and work with an author to create or recreate a book that won’t just shine, but will glow from miles away. I would prefer that my client be forced to rewrite the entire book than deal with bad reviews or poor sales later.
  4. Respect. This should be a given, but I’ve dealt with a lot of editors who don’t have any respect for the writing process and don’t think twice about expecting an author to write an amazing book in just a few month. An editor who can work with an author and respect her process gets put to the top of my list.
  5. Easy. The best editors are the ones that are easy. In other words they are easy to talk to, easy to like and easy for the author to feel comfortable around.

Unfortunately what makes a favorite editor is different for everyone. The editors I love, you might hate. In fact, some of my favorite editors are the least favorite editors of some of my colleagues. What it ultimately boils down to is how it’s working for my client and each client is very different. And in the end my favorite editors are the ones who my clients adore.



Bethany Hamilton said...

Great list, Jessica!

It has always impressed me how you put your clients first in everything, even though your own paycheck is riding on the line as well. Your list of what makes an editor YOUR favorite, is how they treat your client. Not you, but your client. That's awesome :)

Also, I've noticed a lot of blogging agents always refer to editors as the universal "She". I was always under the impression most editors were men. Apparently, I was greatly mistaken.

Anonymous said...

Do you try to match the writer with the editor? If both are lousy at communicating, nothing will get done. If there's a mismatch and one keeps nagging the other (which can work both ways), then someone will be unhappy.

I am working with an editor I love, who does everything you talk about: she communicate promptly, and more important, she "gets" my writing and makes it better. It makes a huge difference in the writing process, and I feel very lucky.

Debra Lynn Shelton said...

Jessica, Great communication skills, honesty, authenticity, knowledge, and vision. These are pretty fabulous traits. Sounds exactly like what I'm looking for in an agent!

Anna Claire said...

I loved this post. You always hear the scary stories about some editors, so it's nice to know the good ones are out there!

Kimber Li said...

Respect. That sums it all up right there for me.

Anonymous said...

I never hear from my editor. I wonder if she even reads my work. If there are changes to be made, they are made at copyedit time--from the copyeditor, not my "editor." It feels like working in a vacuum.

Deborah K. White said...

I also hope that she knows who I’m talking about.

Okay, you're making me nervous. I assume you've included this because, at least once, an editor didn't know who you were taking about. Just how often does an editor forget who one of her own authors is?

I like your list of characteristics, though.

Angie Fox said...

That is so true. I think it's especially important for a newer author to have that kind of a supportive editor. I had a completely different experience as a debut author than many of my friends with first books out - mainly due to my editor.

She was responsive to me, positive, willing to talk and be available. She fought for my book in-house (to get ARCs when there were no plans for ARCs, to get a great cover, to turn interest into store placement.) She worked seamlessly with the publicity department to get my book in front of great reviewers. At the same time, she helped me explore new marketing ideas for my book. I always felt good after I hung up the phone with her.

A supportive editor is worth, well, everything really. It seems to me that too many authors think that the success of a book is due only to them and the words they put on the page. I'm not saying that you don't have to write a great book. You do. But for a book to succeed, it needs the support of the publishing house and that starts with your editor. And your agent because your agent knows what editors are right for you and your book. It really is a team effort.

Anita said...


Please send me the name, #, and home address of your agent.

I'm kidding, I'm kidding.

Angie Fox said...

You already know my agent's name if you're on this blog. But I'll give you a hint anyway. It starts with a "J" and ends with an "essica."

Anonymous said...

Angie, I'm in the same boat as you...the one that is being steered by an amazing, warm and totally into you ( or me! ) editor. I'm still early on in this whole process, but from the moment my eiditor called for a chat we clicked, and it's been wonderful! three cheers to awesome agents and to editors that fight for their authors....

Anonymous said...

I have a problem with a list of good editor traits when "good editing sckills" is #3 on the list. You're kidding, right? I want that at numero uno. After that, good communicator, organized...but #1 needs to be not just "good," but uncommonly stellar editorial panache.

Thanks for the post, though.

BookEnds, A Literary Agency said...

Well I don't think I said that this was a list of most important to least, but I appreciate your feedback.


Matthew said...

It's good to know I fit into some of that description (I still need to work on my organizational skills and remembering people's names). Professional writers like me, but others don't because I enjoy tearing poor writing apart (one of the reasons why I'm also a difficult teacher).

Kimber Li said...

Anon 3:39, not me. If interacting with an editor is so unpleasant it ruins my day, I don't care how good at editing he or she is. Life's too short.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for another very interesting post, Jessica. I love your blog the most, so there.

Now what about this one?: Is fun at parties, mixers, etc. The chick thing, you know? Because it is there, isn't it, or have I watched too many episodes of Sex & the City?

I would think editors and agents bump into each other a lot, and who better than a BFF editor to be an agent's favorite?

Of course there's absolutely nothing wrong with this. I only wish agents would just come out and say what many of us cynical-writerly-types already suspect: that agents like their friend-editors better than the non-friend ones, and visa versa. Come to think of it, what about powerful, scary-editors? Are there any who make you shake in your boots? I'd love to read a column like that.

I should go now. I'm causing trouble. Of course, if I were really to follow my own rule about being upfront, I wouldn't be an Anon, but I have a future to consider and the option was there, so I took it.
As always, thanks for a fascinating place to turn.

BookEnds, A Literary Agency said...

Anon 12:10

I think you've watched too many episodes of Sex and the City. I have plenty of good friends, most outside of the publishing industry. I'm not worried about friendship, I'm worried about being the best agent I can be and building the careers I like. Sure, there are editors I really like personally and can have fun with at parties and mixers, but guess what, they aren't always "my favorite editors."

I hope that you think more highly of your own agent and have more faith in your own agent then you do in the publishing industry in general.


Kate Douglas said...

Something I've learned over the past few years is that what I want and need in an editor has changed--and I still have the same editor. :) Things that once bothered me as far as our interaction no longer do--she hasn't changed, but I have. A lot of it comes with my growing confidence in my own skills and the fact that I'm no longer the needy, clingy newbie who probably drove my editor to distraction. Unfortunately, when I was going through the seriously needy stage, I was probably driving Jessica to distraction! And that is another reason why an author needs a good agent as well as a good editor.

Anonymous said...

Interesting interview!
These are skills we all value in both editors and agents but we often don't know who has them until it's too late, and we're embedded in the process.

Q: Why do so many agents still ask for hard copies via snail mail when most editors prefer e-mailed mss.?
Doesn't it make the editing process easier for all?
In my experience, paper mss. are easier to ignore--it takes forever to get a reply from an agent, and seems like you have to nudge to remind them.
Maybe e-mail helps with some of the organizational skills we all need? Do you think using e-mail makes an agent's/editor's job easier?

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by the author.