Wednesday, March 28, 2007

A Few Things I have Learned From (and About) Editors

--Editors are human. They walk on the ground like the rest of us. They have families. They are just as proud of their children as we are ours. They occasionally spill soup on their shirts during a business lunch. They've been known to be fangirls about authors that don't write for their own house. They lust after movie stars. They laugh, live and love.

--Editors are God-like. Their magic wands resemble the common pencil with red lead.

--Editors are busy. They attend meetings; they discuss such things as Profit and Loss statements and Marketing Potential and Which Half Naked Man Do You Like Better For This Cover? They usually read manuscripts on the weekend—which should be their days off, but rarely is.

--Three editors can read the same manuscript, and each will edit it differently than the others.

--Editors like a good laugh written on the page. They like to have tears jerked from their eyes. They don't like it when the hero and heroine are violent toward one another. They do like originality.

--Editors do not know everything. (But you should let her believe you think she does every so often.)

--If I pay attention while reading through the edited manuscript returned to me after my editor has gone through it, I will learn something.

--I know that dialogue tag needs a sibilant; it's been mentioned four times in the margins of my edited manuscript. But what the hell is a sibilant? [Er...I digress. Sorry.]

--Assistant editors rock! They are often stuck doing all the dirty work, taking messages, reading slush and inserting deflag corrections (not to mention rushing to Starbucks for a six-pack of lattes before the meeting that starts in five minutes). They may also become your editor some day. Be nice to the assistant editor.

--If you want your manuscript to capture an editor's attention, you need it to land on his/her desk during the full moon, on a day he/she has just had a fabulous manicure and is walking on air, also on a day she was just given a raise, her stocks climbed, and hell has developed a thin layer of ice.

--If you want your manuscript to capture an editor's attention you merely need to write a great story.

So, Riders, what have you learned from or about editors over the years?



Betina Krahn said...

Michele, you clever thing you! You've hit the nail on the head. Editors are slippery little devils. Just when you think you've got them figured out, along comes one who doesn't operate by your brilliant scheme at all. And --rats-- it's back to square one.

It figures, really. Editors, like writers a simply individuals. People. (Though some writers of my acquaintance declare they really belong to a different sub-species. Something about ice water in veins.) Anyway, they have tastes and pressures and career concerns just like writers. And in general, they're looking for and want to publish really good books that will satisfy readers. . . including themselves. I do know, after SOME years in the biz, that editors' tastes are the prime driver in acquisitions. If they like it, if it strikes a chord or tickles a fancy or elicits a strong reaction they're more likely to make a bid.

And a good editor, even a mediocre editor, actually, can IMPROVE a book. I believe there isn't a book published that couldn't be improved. Improved by whom and to what standard may be the question. But I've seen how a good editor can not only improve books, but also help a writer grow.

And that's a very precious thing.
If you get one of those, hang on to her/him if you can.

Christie Ridgway said...

I think good editors are really smart and way more objective as a reader than I could ever be. They will buy books and predict their potential even though it doesn't suit their own personal tastes. That's gotta be hard!

And yeah, Michele, I always learn something going through an edited manuscript. Still hate when they catch a mistake of mine, though!

Helen Brenna said...

Lots of important insights, Michele.

In this short year, I've learned that publishing is a job for editors. It may be something they feel passionate about, but it still not as personal for them as it is for me. That helps me keep my perspective.

Michele said...

Oh yes, Betina, an editor who can take a mss and make it shine as opposed to simply being polished is a gem. I've had editors mention one simple thing, and it can completely change a scene and make it so much better. I love things like that!

I'm currently working with 4 editors at the moment. (3 at one house, 1 at another). They are all very different, and sometimes I get a little confused, but it's interesting to see how they each handle a manuscript.


Debra Dixon said...

Michele-- Boy, howdy do assistant editors become players on the publishing stage! Sometimes it feels like NY Publishing is stuck in the 70's doing the Shuffle. (That's a dance for those of you not dancing in the 70's!!)

Helen's right it is a business and like any other business...editors move for their career. Leave this career for another. Have babies and become freelancers.

So, I'd add that editors evolve and revolve.

Kathleen Eagle said...

I'll add that editors with comparable titles can have way different responsibilites from house to house. At one house your editor plays a role in--or at least keeps abreast of--marketing plan, promo plans, sell-in and sell-through, in short, the book's journey from start to finish. Not the case at all houses.

Also, editors compete with each other. For authors, for bestsellers, for power and influence, for the next rung on the ladder.

Editors have their strengths and weaknesses, just as authors do. They learn about ours, and it behooves an author to learn theirs.

They can't always tell you what they want, but they know it when they see it, and it's always some combination of personal taste and market savvy.

One writer's ideal editor is another writer's nightmare. When you hear complaints about an editor, file them with salt. Same with the raves. It's all about the fit.

Susan Kay Law said...

1) Editor's first loyalty is to their house, not to you


2) even the most reserved and ladylike of editors can be quite enlightening and funny after a couple of glasses of wine at a Rita banquet