Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Editorial Adjustments

There's an interesting post over at the Ruby blog today about the editorial process. In this business, it's only natural for editors to move from publishing house to publishing house, get promoted, or decide to retire/change careers/etc. When that happens, the Great Author Shuffle occurs and many, if not all, of their authors are reassigned to new editors.

There is a lot of trust and cooperation required in the editor-author relationship. You are both working together to make the book as good as it can possibly be, and that can be a challenge if you have different visions for what the book should be. I've been very lucky in my first few years in this publishing biz. I've worked with four editors who have all been fabulous and delightful to work with - though they all have their own distinct working styles. They've helped me make my books better and occassionally even laughed at the corny jokes I tend to sneak into the margins during the editorial process.

I got to thinking recently, though, about the psychological imprinting aspect of an editorial relationship. (Cuz I'm a total nerd.) When an editor is the one who buys your book, the one who says "Yes, you are awesome!" you automatically have a wealth of warm fuzzies to start off that relationship. However, when the editor is handed you and your manuscript and assigned the task of editing you, even if they say "Hey, wow, this is awesome!" there is still an element of would they have bought this if it was their call? (Which, I realize, is kind of ridiculous because editors are not, to my knowledge, forced to work on books they don't like and there are other editors at these houses who can take over in case of major artistic differences, but still the thought lingers. Ridiculous though it may be.)

Gratitude is a powerful thing. I feel a particular attachment to my first editor (who has since left the company). Is that because she discovered me? Or because we just had such similar styles and tastes that we clicked wonderfully? Does "clicking" with your editor make the book better? I don't know, but if there is a difference, I'm betting it's slight. Can readers even tell when I've changed editors? I doubt it. (But if you want to guess in the comments section, just for fun, I'll confirm any correct answers.)

It's possible that too agreeable a relationship could even make a book worse - like the rockstar authors who seem to be edited less and less as they achieve greater and greater success, to the detriment of the final product. We need editors to be rigorous, but we also have to trust them enough to accept their input. It's a balancing act of ruthlessness and appreciation. I certainly don't envy editors having to walk that tightrope with headcases like us authors all the time. (Though I flatter myself that I'm a very well-adjusted headcase.)

I think it's important not to discount the touchy-feely side of the editor-agent relationship. It builds a sense of loyalty that extends to the publishing house. You know that saying they always throw around on The Apprentice (I think it's The Apprentice, I haven't watched that show since I lived in Chicago with a roommate who was obsessed with The Donald) where they say It isn't personal, it's just business. The thing is, with most businesses, it is personal. There is a personal element that can't be discounted. Not to say money and contract terms aren't important, but the peace of mind of a good working relationship can be a powerful draw when an author is considering where to target that next manuscript.

They're fascinating things, the editor-author relationships. No two alike. Intriguing in their diversity and nuance. And I do love me some nuance. Your thoughts?


Moonsanity said...

I've only had one experience with an editor-- she was wonderful, and encouraged me step by step on a nonfiction book proposal. Then her boss, or those above her, decided they couldn't take a chance on the subject manner. She apologized and encouraged me, saying she loved my style of writing, and not to give up. Still, it was a huge set back for me. It did give me an idea of what editors do for a writer though. Experience is good:)

Vivi Andrews said...

Having an editor working as an advocate for you with publishing higher ups is key. I know The Ghost Exterminator would not have gotten nearly as much in house attention if not for the fact that my editor believed in it so much.

It's a shame your editor wasn't able to hurdle the Big Wigs, Moonsanity. Sadly, I've heard of lots of almost-deals not quite making it past the dreaded marketing committee. But the experience working with editors is invaluable, even if it didn't get you the desired end result.

Moonsanity said...

Actually, that helps me a lot to hear others have had it happen. At the time I was a freelancer and knew no authors at all, so I was flying blind I guess you could say. I didn't know if this was something that happened to other writers, and really didn't have anyone to ask. Getting to know other writers has really helped me a lot:)

Vivi Andrews said...

It's great hanging around the writing water cooler, isn't it? I feel like I've learned so much since I started going to conferences and interacting with other writers on a regular basis.