Recently, I had a great exchange on Facebook with author George Pearson. An author of two books and currently working on a third book, his books are written for the Christian market. However, the criteria George and I discussed for finding the right editor for his work is applicable for authors of various genres and topics.
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It may come as a surprise, but it is not always easy for editors to give critical feedback on manuscripts. While I believe the editorial mind is geared toward quickly noticing what's missing, wrong, or out of place, there's also a human on the other side of that mind who knows what it is like to receive criticism on creative work.
In a Chicago Triune article, Nara Schoenberg quotes Ebony Elizabeth Thomas, an assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania: “Fewer than 40 books by African-American authors for adolescents were published in 2015….Every year thousands of books for kids and teens are published, and every year we don’t seem to be able to get that number much over 100.”
As an independent author, you need to fully consider how much money to budget to get an industry-competitive book product to properly represent you and your message. This post will give you an idea of what to expect from the beginning and will help you navigate the best and most financially appropriate direction for publishing your book.
Though a career expert could answer this better and every editor has a different story on how they came upon their current job, I will still share my story. And feel free to leave questions in the comments.
When I launched out into the social media scene, my main purpose was to see what it really takes to build some sort of digital presence, so that I could say to my authors, "You really should have an online and social media presence," without feeling like hypocrite.
The word on the street about editor-agent relationships is muddled at best and negative at worst. But I don’t give that much thought when I am in the trenches with an agent reviewing a proposal and negotiating an author’s contract. I decide how my relationships with agents are going to be—and I like working with agents.
My purpose for blogging is to share and learn ways to be successful in the publishing industry. In maintaining this goal, I like to share encouragement and tools that help me. These prayers came out of a day when I was facing an uphill climb of completing a massive edit in a short period of time and I thought, “I bet there are others out there who may be struggling with projects of their own. Maybe as I pray, I can share my prayers and maybe they will help them too.”
- I am editing another author's book.
- I am editing another author's back cover copy.
- I am doing some online super-sleuthing for new authors.
- I just got off a long conference call with another author or an agent.
- I am responding to a long emailed list of contract revisions from an agent or another author.
- I am writing an edit letter to another author.
- I am preparing proposals for an upcoming acquisitions meeting.
- I am preparing a monthly activity report.
- I am on my way to a meeting.
- I am just getting back from a meeting and I am trying to figure out where I left off in my work.
- I am taking action on the action steps from a meeting I just attended.
- I am honing my telepathy skills when I have no idea what another author is talking about in the book I am editing.
- I am trying to decode a cryptic request from someone who just stopped by my desk and asked me to do something for them.
- I am making a desperate attempt to create a to-do list so I don't forget anything that has to do with the thirty to fifty projects I have in the pipeline.
- I am conceptualizing a best seller (yes, it pays to speak positively).
- I am shutting down my computer and on my way home for the evening.
Today I am working on an extensive edit, where I am having to fill in large portions of text. And I have actually been battling what I call editor's block. Being a developmental editor, it is my job--and really it's a gift--to be able to see how a theme or topic can germinate into a full-fledged trade book. Basically this is called conceptualization. That part came pretty easily to me for this particular project. But somewhere between the conception and the development, I lost my train of thought a bit.
Now I am knee-deep into my edit and the deadline is encroaching upon, creeping into, or threatening to cramp my creative space.
However, what inspiration I thought I lost has returned full force. Want to know how? I began listening to the author speak on a similar topic. Having CDs or DVDs of my authors speaking or doing media interviews is really a point of inspiration for me when I begin to conceptualize or edit their work. I get fired up about their project just by hearing or seeing their passion about whatever it is they are talking about. I get a better sense of their voice, their mannerisms, their coined words or phrases, and other things that connect them so well with their audience. It helps me to be able to take those unique and identifiable traits and add them to the work I am conceptualizing or developing for them. I think adding those elements strengthens the impact of their book as well.
You may be reading this and thinking that writers have to come up with all their own ideas. That is definitely and hugely helpful and most generally preferred. Then there are times when someone who has adoring fans and incredible insights who needs that extra hand putting an actual book together that strings all of their appeal together into one place and on a solid, salable concept. That is where I come in.
So just a little tip: inspire your editor by sending them a CD or DVD of you communicating your heart to a large audience. It doesn't necessarily have to be about the subject at hand, although it really helps if it is.
If you are editing or writing for someone else, what are some tangible things that inspire you?
Just the other day someone asked me what don't I like about my job as a book editor. I must have been going on and on about what I do like and they must have been like, "C'mon, there's got to something you don't like. It can't be all that." I promise you, I tried very hard to think of what I don't like. I was actually at a loss for words. I just kept thinking, "What don't I like about my job? My day-to-day duties? The authors? My coworkers? Freelancers? Agents? Books? Deadlines? Hmm..." I ran and reran the list.
I still don't know. The core of this job is dreamy. I get to utilize every corner, extreme, middle, and far left of my personality traits and natural skills in this job. I can be creative. I can be logical. I can be an introvert. I can be an extrovert. I can be strategic. I can be spontaneous. I can be OCD. I can be willy-nilly--authors can make you willy-nilly. Trust me. If they push hard enough, you'll catch your hard-and-fast wall of preferences come crumbling down, and from some place far away, outside your gut and core intentions, you'll hear your mouth say, "Aw... what the heck?" Ha! After a while, some things really don't matter.
I can be restrained, and I can be flexible. I have to be flexible.
What's not to like about being an editor?
- Bad manuscripts? No. You just fix 'em or reject 'em. Done.
- Difficult authors? No. You read the book How to Win Friends and Influence People and follow the steps in part 3. Done.
- Impossible deadlines? Not here. Speak your mind and say, "That's not going to get done in that kind of time." OR... Adjust your thinking. There's always a way to get it done, yes? Plus, it's good to get the blood flowing every now and then. Done.
- Small cubie? Salary? Really? YOU'RE DOING WHAT YOU LOVE and you are influencing culture. I mean, honestly, you can't fake it. You're either really here or not. Another truth: you are always in a meeting, traveling, on the phone, or glaring so deeply into your computer screen that you can't see anything else anyway. Done.
Before you hit "send" on that query or proposal to that agent, editor, or publisher, you'll want to make sure you've dotted all your Is and crossed all your Ts. Here's a list that could help you get one step closer to your publishing dreams.
I write this assuming you are a writer whose book has sold to a publisher and now you are working with your manuscript—writing, researching, gathering facts, honing your key concepts, and all the other necessary goodies that make for a best-selling book.
This post may not apply to the author who was well-coached and managed by a fantastic agent, where everything on my list below was presented at the time of initial query.
- Table of contents
- List of tables, charts, graphs, or images
- Photographs, graphics, or other images
- Print licenses for song or poetry lyrics; long quotes from books, websites, and news articles; use of charts, graphs, or photographs; or any other copyrighted material
- Full sourcing (or citation) information for all borrowed and quoted material including author, title, publisher's city and state, publisher's name, publishing date, page number, and/or web link
- Signed releases from subjects mentioned by name or likeness in your book (changing a subject's name is not enough)
- Endnotes or footnotes
- Index list
- About the author page
I've heard something about most editors being failed writers. Of course I have no idea how true that superlative is. Did someone take a survey? I don't know. But what seems to be more congruent is that a true editor does not envy a writer or the writing process. A true editor is passionate about editing--providing publishing oversight, literary structure, encouragement, and support to writers as they pour out what has been placed in them.
Occasionally, I have been placed in the category of writer and frequently have been asked to write various types of pieces. I am a pretty honest person, so when asked about writing, I admit that I really don't like the writing process itself. I enjoy the research and the thrill of the chase, but then to sit down and pull all of that together is so hard! I have said this before on this blog: I admire writers. I'm in awe of them, even. Don't want their job. It's haunting. Or did I mean daunting?
Many of those who have asked me to write for them think it's strange that I don't like to do it--unless of course it's stream of consciousness like blogging or journaling. They say (don't know how truthfully), "But you do it so well." Um... Yeah...
At times I have felt misguided or even perhaps lazy because I haven't, won't, or don't further develop this "thing" that I do "well" but am not fond of. Then I stumbled upon a kindred spirit in the words of this interview with legendary editor Robert Gottlieb. You've probably already read it, but it was so well matched with how I feel I thought I would capture it and archive it on my blog. You'll notice I'll do this here from time to time like with the video interview with editor Karen Thomas.
Robert speaks my heart so perfectly when he said, "I don't like writing -- it's so difficult to say what you mean. It's much easier to edit other people's writing and help them say what they mean." He went on to say, "I'm utterly happy when I'm sitting and reading through 12 gigantic volumes of Dickens' correspondence. Making notes, underlining -- it's thrilling! When that's all done, and I've had the satisfaction of taking all this stuff in, then unfortunately comes the moment of horror when I have to digest all of it and figure out a way to start writing." Yes! So very true for me too!
Robert has an enviable resume, yet he still so delicately handles the creative renderings of hard-at-work writers. He advises other editors to do the same: "Your job...is to be in sympathy with what the writer is doing and to try to help her or him make it better of what it is, not to make it into something else." Yes, this is all I want to do.
You should read this whole article and experience the heart of this legendary editor.
What are your thoughts about editors and writing? As a writer, have you experienced Robert's kind of purity displayed in an editor you've worked with?
There is so much that goes into publishing a book, and the first phase involving editing and production carries some of the most challenging circumstances, obstacles, and distractions.
- Pray that your editor is able to focus.
- Pray that your editor will have positive interactions with their team members.
- Pray that your editor will have peaceful and quality interactions with their family and friends.
- Pray that your editor is inspired with the same passion you had as you wrote your piece.
- Pray that your editor will have limited distractions—both technological and mental.
- Pray that your editor’s financial needs are met.
- Pray that your editor will have success in other editorial or acquisition endeavors.
- Pray that your editor will have open doors and ears when they go to bat for you on key issues. They are your in-house advocates.
What are some other ways to circulate positive synergy in the author-editor relationship?
While there are rules for grammar and usage, language is so fluid that many times content editing can be subjective. With subjectivity, comes room for argument or disagreement. In all these years of editing, I have had opportunities to consult with authors about edits I've made that they weren't particularly fond of. Here's how I resolve them.
You finally meet with the editor or agent, and to your surprise, after thinking their favorite word is no, they say they like your concept and would love to see more of it. “Here’s my card,” they say. “Please email me a full proposal.” The words you had practiced to combat any objections are caught in your throat and all you can say is, “Oh! Oh, that’s great. OK! Yes? Really? OK! Thank you!”
Yes, they want you to send them your manuscript (or proposal). But you know what some writers do? OK, wait. This requires a list.
“The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter.”
Are there any questions from the audience?