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?