Six Things Authors Wish Every Editor Knew

We authors know that editors talk about us, and we also know we sometimes have it coming. Writers can be needy, difficult, neurotic -- in part because the business is by its very nature crazy-making.

Yet some editors consistently form long-standing, positive relationships with remarkably sane authors. They inspire devotion and win awards and great reps -- few of which have anything to do with the size of the advances they can offer. How do these editors successfully manage? Here are a few tips I've gleaned from dealing with seven different editors at three different publishing houses and countless conversations with authors who have worked with scores.

Editors can help to grow a loyal author by...

1. Keeping the lines of communication open. We're as busy as you are; we don't need or want to hear from you all the time, but we're especially vulnerable to capital-D Doubt after we've turned in a proposal or manuscript. And when you leave us hanging for weeks or even months, our powerful imaginations can't help constructing scenarios of disaster (which way too often lead to the neurotic behavior you love to hate). If we've just turned in something major and you're leaving the country for a month, going out on maternity leave, or just plain swamped, it takes only a few moments to pop out an e-mail saying so. And we will understand, then go on about our business.

2. Remembering the positives. It's so easy when you're busy to forget we need to hear what we've done right. Instead of sending an impersonal, single-spaced seven-page revision letter that's nothing but a laundry list of How We Screwed Up, take a few moments to lead with what you appreciated/enjoyed about the project. (There had to be a reason you bought our work in the first place.) We're not asking you to make something up, just remember, we'll be far, far more receptive to editing should we know we're capable of pleasing you. The editor with whom I've worked the longest is wonderful about calling and telling me exactly what she loved about a project or proposal -- something that eases my anxiety and helps me listen closely to all of her suggestions to make it even better.

3. Treating us as part of the team. Remember that you and the author share the same goal: to sell as many copies of the best book possible to the most readers possible. Let us know how we can help with this, and don't automatically discount out ideas (though you have our permission to gently rebuff those that aren't feasible). Treating authors like cogs, panhandlers, or annoyances is the fastest way to get them looking elsewhere.

4. Tossing off the occasional Attagirl-a-Gram. We'll try not to trumpet the news of every glowing Amazon review or kind word from our relations if you'll congratulate us for those things that mean something: making a list, scoring a positive review from some famously-hard-to-please major publication, making the shortlist for a big award. (And remember, "big" and "major" are subjective; to a new or newish author, everything is so exciting that we hope you'll share our enthusiasm... even if you have to fake it just a little.)

5. Remembering to put in the paperwork. Again, we know you're busy, but even authors have to eat, and we get super-pesky (often through our agents, who are way better at it) when we have trouble getting a contract, an advance or delivery and acceptance payment in a timely manner. Do you count on your paycheck? So do we, even when writing isn't our sole means of support.

6. Taking into consideration that we also have lives. There's nothing like a surprise home delivery of edits due back in a few days on Christmas Eve (been there, done that) or as you're about to leave (or just after you've left for) a vacation or to have surgery that you've warned your editor about in advance. Production schedules may be production schedules, but sometimes, an author's called upon to do ridiculously short turnarounds because the editor got stupendously behind. If you have any inkling this is going to happen, please see Point #1 on this list and call us.

So what about the rest of you? Can you think of things an editor has done or can do to build your loyalty and keep you happy and productive and pretty much out of her hair?


Linda Warren said…
I love this list because it's so true. That's why I love my editor. She always writes a paragraph or more about what she likes about the manuscript before the screw-up list. That eases my anxiety that I haven't written a total bomb.

She always remembers the holidays and the time crunch. She tries to get rewrites back as soon as possible. I have a rewrite due right before the national conference. She told me the other day she was going to try and get it to me sooner. Like I said, I love working with my editor.

CONGRATULATIONS on the Rita nod!
Kylie said…
You've hit the high points, Colleen! I'm not one to need hand holding but it is nerve wracking to turn in a contracted book and not hear a word on it for five months. Five. Whole. Months. In this 'new' publishing slow down it seems like there are ever ingenious ways to slow the cash flowing to the authors. Even knowing this is one of them, editors have to be aware such slowdowns make us crazy and wreak havoc with our wip as we wrestle with self-doubt.

I love my editor's enthusiasm when she does finally call and verbally lists everything she loves about the book. And I especially love that her suggestions for improvement are short, easily implemented and specific.

Good luck with the Ritas!
Thanks for the congratulations, Kylie, and I can commiserate on the five months. That's pretty excruciating.

Thanks, Linda, and congratulations on your Rita nod as well. I'll be cheering you on in Washington.
Nancy J. Parra said…
Great post- it made me smile because it is so true!

Congrats on the RITA nod.

Best, Nance
That's so much, Nancy! Glad you enjoyed the post and the comic, too.
Christie Craig said…

If I was in church this morning, I'll be be yelling out, amen! Amen!

Anonymous said…
I headed over her to add one to the list and you, of course, already had it. #1--communication.

Thanks for putting this together. Now will you please send it out to all editors?

Jane (Myers Perrine)
Wouldn't it be awesome if we had that power?

I suspect most editors *know* this stuff. It's just that they get so inundated at work (and we're at a remove from them) that they forget.

What they don't realize is that a little consideration on the front end avoids so many problems at the back.
Tambra said…

What a wonderful list! Thank you for sharing it.

I agree with everything you posted. Life does happen no matter how much you plan.

Congratulations on your RITA nomination, you really deserve it.

Thanks so much, Tambra! And I'm glad so many are out there reading and nodding their heads. :)
Anna Lucia said…
My shining editor moment was for my first book. I write in UK English, for a US publisher. When I tentatively asked if there was a way we would protect my English writing voice, she replied that she'd already done a crib sheet of English idioms and spellings for copy editors and proof readers, and invited me to add any she'd missed.

I'd walk over broken glass for an editor who takes action to protect my voice.... I floated for weeks!
DebStover said…
Wonderful, Colleen! I'm sure editors have a similar list for us. :)

Wow, Anna! That is wonderful. I've often joked that it's an editor's job to find unique authorial voices... and a copy editor's job to stamp them out. Or so it sometimes seems. ;)

And Deb, I'm absolutely sure both editors and agents would have a similar list for authors. So I'm issuing an open invitation to either to guest-blog about your "Six Things" right here. We'd welcome the contribution.
mamele said…
great list! a pal who is both a writer and an editor (at a women's mag), and knows both sides of the great divide pointed out that if editors just started every conversation with "this is great!" they'd win infinite goodwill pointsl from writers. she was talking about magazine stories, but i think this is applicable to books too: if an editor says "i LOVE this! all it needs is a few tweaks!" the writer will happily do a major revise. if the editor launches into a Litany of Suck, w/no cuddly preamble, the exact same amt of work will suddenly feel like a humungous burden.

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