Saturday, January 26, 2008

And a Managing Editor Is Not...

Theresa says:

It would be very easy for me to go on a long rant here about all the ways people think my job is the equivalent of --

:: insert rant here ::

Whew. I feel better. Thanks for letting me get that off my chest. ;)

Actually, I love my job. I love the woman I work for and the editors on my team. I love our writers and get a wicked thrill out of reading everything we publish well in advance of street date. When we get good reviews (which we usually do, thank goodness), I get to ride the vicarious high. Plus I get to go to conferences and teach good writers new tricks and influence cover art and do all sorts of really cool bookgeek stuff. My job rocks.

But most people don't really understand what exactly a managing editor does. I still do acquisitions which is good and bad for my writers -- good because I have approving authority, so my authors have one less hurdle to clear on the path to publication; bad because my attention is frequently pulled toward management issues*** and away from their manuscripts. My turnaround could use some improvement, but at 2-3 months on a requested full, I'm still several clicks faster than most in my profession.

So what does a managing editor do? My job, in a nutshell, is to carry out the publisher's vision. That may sound overly simplistic, but the bottom line ties into a point Alicia was trying to make in her last post: my loyalty is, should be, and will remain with the publisher for as long as I hold this job. Alicia and I may have been friends since god wore diapers, but we each understand our professional roles and know that it's not personal if something comes up that smells like a problem. We just fix it and move on, and that's the way it should be.

And as to my authors, I like my authors. Some of them are people that I would be proud to call friends even if we didn't have this professional relationship. But as much as I like them and their books, my first task in every interaction with them must be carrying out the publisher's vision. And this is exactly as it should be.

Do I think it's possible for editors and authors to be friends? Yes, given the right circumstances. Do I think it's wise? Now, that's an altogether different question. If everyone if flourishing -- if the author's titles are selling well, and there aren't any conflicts of interest percolating -- then you're probably on safer ground. But when the author's goals and the publisher's goals diverge, even if only slightly, then the friendship might actually be a liability.

A real easy example of this is copyedits. The goal of copyedits is twofold: to eliminate errors, but also to bring a manuscript into conformity with house standards. The publisher's goal is to distribute a product of consistently high quality that fits its brand image. This can sometimes mean a lot of "airbrushing" -- cosmetic changes during line edits and copy edits that don't alter the book's bigger picture but might feel invasive if you're the author.

And the editor, the poor half-blind editor who works for love more than for money, ends up caught in the crossfire between the author's original text and the house standards. The author says, how could you do this to me! And the publisher says, you know the rules.

I read Alicia's post on editor/author friendliness as a cautionary tale. Be friendly, by all means, but always be clear on where everyone's loyalties lie. You'll have a longer, happier career if you do, and your publisher, editor -- and yes, your managing editor, too! -- will thank you for it.

*** Management issues, a random sampling: approving cover art, editing and in some cases writing PR material, managing the hiring process, conducting training, setting production schedules, setting editorial calendars, harassing people about deadlines, chasing down things that have gone astray, tracking every manuscript's progress so that I can give instant answers on a moment's notice to "what's happening with--" questions, answering author questions on every topic their fertile imaginations might devise, setting and disseminating submissions guidelines, mediating disputes between authors/authors and authors/editors and authors/production staff, reviewing ads and ad campaign strategies -- the list goes on, but maybe you begin to get the point. It's a whole lot of stuff that has little to do with the words on the pages.

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