Friends and Lovers: Working with Editors to Ensure your book’s success

November 1, 2002
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Friends and Lovers: Working with editors to ensure your book’s success

by Brad Crawford

 

"If just the thought of your baby being edited makes your sides hurt, take a deep breath. "

 

If writing a book is a labor of love-and what unjaded writer’s isn’t?-then its editor is the Lamaze coach.

If just the thought of your baby being edited makes your sides hurt, take a deep breath. Editors also serve as cheerleaders, counselors, business advisers, friends, and mutual lovers of books and writing. Having a good relationship with yours will make the entire production less painful and give your book the best possible advantages, even if it doesn’t require an editor’s hand in the traditional sense.

Writers are always being told that editors don’t edit anymore and that an agent will whip the book into shape, which implies that the publishing process is nothing more than a nine-month hiatus to build anticipation for the book. Don’t believe it. Editors might be editing less, but they’re doing more: more acquiring, market research and internal administration with less time, staff, and money. But their most important function is advocacy-putting a positive face on your project, which to others at the house is one of many on a conveyer belt stretching to the horizon.

 

"That there’s still more work to do (even beyond revision) after submitting a final manuscript for publication can be a surprise to first-time authors."

 

That there’s still more work to do (even beyond revision) after submitting a final manuscript for publication can be a surprise to first-time authors. Your publicist will want background on your career, contacts, media opportunities in your area, and travel and speaking schedule. Marketing will be debating the title, friends will be asking when you’ll have galleys, and your editor will want to talk about making those last few chapters hang together better.

And so we come to the nitty-gritty. What if you disagree with significant changes your editor suggests, or even question her competence? By now you’ll have been working with the editor for many months and should feel comfortable talking about any aspect of the book. Editors, by and large, are not mean spirited, and mostly they’re interested only in making the book better. Give yourself a few days to contemplate the changes. If you still disagree, simply offer a sound, tactful rationale for your misgivings. You’ll likely be met with understanding.

 

"There are some writers whom the editor banishes and some who preemptively banish themselves."

 

And incompetence? This is a variation of the first problem. The joy of writing is that as both process and product, writing can be improved upon while you retain the earlier version. You’re welcome to take what suggestions you believe will improve the book and politely decline the others, with no harm done to the end product. I cannot think of a situation in which confronting the editor with incompetence or complaining to someone else at the publisher is a good idea.

In the end, however, editors are human and have favorites they prefer to work with. In The Forest for the Trees: An Editor’s Advice to Writers (Riverhead Books), Betsy Lerner writes, “An editor’s stable of writers tends to resemble a family of siblings in which a clear favorite emerges, in which the hardworking, dutiful ones never feel appreciated, while the ones who drive their parents to distraction also win their hearts. There are some writers whom the editor banishes and some who preemptively banish themselves.”themselves.

With that in mind, I’ve listed four tips on becoming one of the heart-winners:

 

"Producing a manuscript is hard enough without dealing with unnecessary professional complications. Forge a strong partnership with your editor early on."

 

1. Make your passion clear. Editors never have trouble keeping themselves busy, and they tend to focus on projects where their energies where will be rewarded. Don’t expect an editor to care about your book more than you do. I suggest talking to your editor as early as possible in the project—over the phone, or if possible in person—about your vision for the book, your expectations, your working style, and your commitment. Make it clear that you’re willing to do whatever it takes to make the book the best it can be, and then follow through.

2. Compromise. Cynics might lump this in with other kindergarten platitudes, but compromise in publishing is a surefire way to avert disaster. During the writing phase, publishing a book feels like a solo feat, but once in house, it becomes a team project. Business managers, art directors, designers, publicists, and salespeople will make decisions that directly affect the book, and, like it or not, the author’s opinion becomes one among many.

Choose your battles, and be prepared to criticize diplomatically. Digging in and adopting an “I brought the book into this world, and I can take it out” attitude will be counterproductive and earn you a reputation. You’d be surprised when looking back through your contract how many issues it covers, and usually resolves in the publisher’s favor.

3. Praise where possible. Editors are accustomed to dispensing praise to authors where appropriate, but it doesn’t always flow the other way. What editors more often receive is shameless flattery. Keep track of your editor’s good deeds, and let her know, sincerely, that you notice. (This also goes for your other in-house liaisons: publicists, assistants, etc.) A mention in the acknowledgments doesn’t hurt either. And avoid flattery at all costs.

4. Hit deadlines. Once a manuscript is in production, editors live and die by deadlines. If you’re due to turn in corrections, add a few paragraphs to a chapter, or submit an author bio, know that time is of the essence. Production schedules are getting shorter all the time, and editors often pay the price.

Producing a manuscript is hard enough without dealing with unnecessary professional complications. Forge a strong partnership with your editor early on. Then take a deep breath, and go for it!

 

About Brad Crawford

Brad Crawford (bradcrawford2@peoplepc.com) is a freelance writer and editor specializing in health, fitness, and outdoor writing and in nonfiction manuscript editing. He is a former acquisitions editor for Writer’s Digest Books’s photography line and a former editor at Writer’s Digest magazine. Copyright 2002, Brad Crawford

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