Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Betina: Publishing's a Small, Small World

Once again as the dust settles, changes have been made in the publishing world and once again, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

I stopped to count the number of editors I've had over the 20+ years of my writing career. . . the total is now officially ten, one of whom was my editor so briefly that she never actually edited a book of mine. So, in actuality it's been nine. And over those years I've worked for four houses: Kensington, Avon, Bantam, and Berkley. This doesn't count the houses I've also done novellas for. Over those same years, I've had near misses (negotiations which went the other way) with four editors/houses with whom I'd really like to have worked if things had turned out differently.

And over those same years I've watched editorial careers launch, rise, bloom, fizzle, and skyrocket. . . "baby editors" get disgusted and leave publishing altogether. . ."baby editors" become Executive Editors and Associate Publishers! Many of the "assistants" I've known and come to respect are now editors and senior editors and literary agents. At the Berkley/NAL party at national, in one room, I counted five "assistants" I have known and liked who were now either agents or editors.

The lesson to be learned from this, for those inclined toward understanding and benefiting from the past, is that publishing is a small, small world and it's best to expect change and to have good associations with people up and down the power grid. You never know when today's "assistant" may some day be your "senior editor." I just had that very experience. . . an assistant from my Avon days became my editor at Berkley! And I was very pleased to have her. . . she was bright and well read and had a good eye for romance. I use past tense because just as I was settling in with her, she moved on. . . to yet another post. . . editor/publisher of a new publishing venture at Bookspan. And my former editor at another house has now been hired in her place!

So. . . if you're planning a career as a writer or hip-deep in the middle of one, it might be good to keep these things in mind. . .

1. Be gracious to ALL of your publishing contacts. . . even if some of them are brief or seemingly inconsequential. (In fact, this would be a good way to live your entire life.)

2. Keep your confidences inside your professional network: complain and kvetch to your agent as appropriate, and keep your circle of confidences small. Don't listen to or spread mean-spirited gossip. . . especially on line. (Don't have that third martini in the bar at conferences.)

3. Make certain that the people who represent you understand your personal standards and that they adhere to them too. I know of careers that have been damaged or sunk (not to mention associations and good will lost) by screaming, cursing agents and agents who spread stories that are not true.

4. Never take success for granted. No one is destined or ordained for stardom, publishing mythology and Dan Brown to the contrary. Success in this or any business takes work and the cooperation and good will of many people. So when people do a good job. . . be they art department, editorial, sales, or support staff. . . let them know you appreciate it.

5. Accept that there will be ups and downs in this business just as there are in the rest of life. And get on with it. Work to control the things you can and let the rest go. In other words, write often and seek to improve every day. Do all you can to produce the best book in you. . . and let the satisfaction of writing be your anchor in the small and sometimes turbulent publishing world.

(Cue the elves singing "It's a Small World")

What about you? Got any bits of publishing wisdom for the long haul? Any lessons to share with the rest of us?


Candace said...

I can only echo and endorse what you've already said, Betina. I've published with three houses and had...geez...at least a dozen editors over the last 25 years.

Publishing is a small (some would say incestuous) world and -- as you said -- the assistant editor or even the assistant to the assistant editor you have at one house will almost certainly end up as a senior editor down the line.

That being the case, my advice is: Play nice.

And (as my gramma was fond of saying), if you can't say anything pleasant about a person, then don't say anything at all. At least, in public.

And, remember, the Internet is very public. Don't post anything, anywhere, that you wouldn't want to have repeated to your editor or agent--because it will be.

Michele said...

Agree with everything. And will add, you're never 'it'. And even if you are 'it', don't believe your own press. It's all so subjective, and can change in the blink of an eye. Keep your eyes on the craft, not the spotlight.


Kathleen Eagle said...

I haven't had that many editors considering the number of years I've been at it, but I second the "be gracious to all" advice. Burn no bridges. If you find yourself at loggerheads with an editor, you can make a make change without making a stink. It's business. But it's also your career. Let your agent run the gauntlet for you--that's what he gets paid for.

Helen Brenna said...

Betina, my first book isn't yet on the shelves, and I've already had an editor change scare. She switched lines at Harlequin, but was able to keep me with her. Boy, did I breathe a long sigh of relief.

So, despite my limited experience, all your suggestions made perfect sense. (Except not having that 3rd martini at conferences!!)

Cheeky Wench said...

It does not surprise me that Betina's first bit of advice is to be gracious. (Betina spoke to our RWA Chapter in September, and she was the most gracious wonderful speaker I've met! And she even willingly signed my slightly ragged copy of my favorite novel of hers...)

I am not published...so I have no advice. :) But obviously the key theme I've seen with many authors who speak on this is: Roll with the punches--and adapt.

Debra Dixon said...

Betina-- you've pretty much covered it.

The only thing I'd add is not to neglect the non-editorial crew when at publisher parties or dinner. When you're the only one that speaks with "baby marketing girl" at her first party, she remembers. :)

A BelleBooks experience-- I was once at a conference and met a writer we'd just bought. I happened to be with her BelleBooks editor when she came bustling up. She didn't bother to "register" my name or notice BelleBooks plainly printed on my badge as she nudged me out of the way in her obsessive need to speak with "her" editor. Much later she realized her error but she'd already made a bad first impression.

As a newbie author myself I was trying to be pleasant with two writers in a torturously long line for drinks at a welcome party. I said something like, "Oh, my gosh. What a line. I'm not sure if I want a Coke this badly!" They literally *sniffed* in distain after checking out my name tag and determining I had no claim to fame. I swear. So, it was quite lovely revenge when Laura Kinsale, who was quite hot and on the NYT at that time saw me and came over to ask a few questions to follow up a discussion from lunch. You could see the rude authors reassessing me but by then that ship had sailed.

Betina Krahn said...

Candace, Michele, Kathleen, and Deb. . . you're quite a line-up of experience and expertise! (I'll refrain from counting up the total years of our combined experience!) So if you say it or second it, it must be so. Golly I love this blog. Where else can you get this kind of insight and interaction on a daily basis? And for free!

And thanks, Cheeky, for your kind remarks. I'm blushing and it takes a bit to get me to do that these days.

One of the best things about being a woman writer these days is meeting and getting to know other strong, talented, savvy women from all across the country-- heck, even the world! Jane Austen's halo must be green with envy!

; Betina

Betina Krahn said...

Oops-- should have read:

One of the best things about being a woman writer these days is meeting and getting to know other writers-- strong, talented, savvy women from all across the country-- heck, even the world!


Not really a narcissist, I promise.

Anonymous said...

couldn't agree with you more, Betina. Great words of wisdom.