Thursday, January 24, 2008

An Editor Is Not.....

Just want to try and restore the rest of that lost post. You remember, the brilliant one? So I'm going to do it in pieces.

So, without further ado, here is part 1 of "An Editor Is Not...."

An editor is not your friend.

That means you should expect a polite rejection but not an apology if she chooses not to accept your submission. That also means she isn't going to send you flowers when she acquires your submission. (Your real friends, however, should take you out and give you champagne. :)

That means that even if you had a drink together at some conference, she might not remember you or give you a special reading when you submit.

That means she doesn't have to speak at your chapter meeting or judge your chapter's contest, and if she does, you should be fulsome in your gratitude (editors usually are doing that on their own time).

This means you do not need to-- indeed, you should not-- give her/him a gift for Christmas or send her a card on her birthday.

That means also that you should not expect loyalty from an editor. The editor owes you one thing-- an effective edit of any assigned/acquired manuscript. She is not bound to buy your next submission, or remember your birthday, or put up with your bad moods, or forgive your intemperate phone calls.

That also means you shouldn't risk your career out of some loyalty to her. If your editor leaves the publisher, you can of course go with her (if she offers a good contract :), but whatever you do, it should be because it's good for your career. You should not identify so much with her that you jeopardize your own future sales to this house, or argue with her former superior, or condescend to her replacement. It might be true that she was badly treated by this publisher, or maybe not-- and maybe you want to factor that into your career planning. (When several editors are laid off at once, for example, that's often a sign that a line will be cancelled, and that's a good time to pay attention and make a new plan.) But don't burn your bridges-- no matter how fond you were of this editor, it's not your battle. (Also, don't mix metaphors. :)

After your editor leaves is often a rather hazardous time. You should be assigned to a new editor, and if you make it clear that you prefer the old editor, don't be surprised if you are re-assigned yet again, to someone else, and then to no one. This is really a time to lie low, to make deadlines, to be polite and businesslike, and to do some subtle probing to find out what sort of submissions your new editor prefers. NOT a good idea to sniff, "My old sainted editor always loved my stuff!" You might hear, "Precisely why she was asked to leave," and that is something we never want to hear. :)

That also means that your editor is not likely to go the extra mile for you. The moment her loyalty is for you and against her employer, you really ought to start worrying, because she's not doing you any favors that way. SHE is not the one who is going to pay you or get your book into the stores. She shouldn't be pitting you against your own publisher... and if she does, she is not only not your friend, but not a good editor either.

That's not to say she should try to screw you out of what's due you... but she isn't your agent either. Your agent is the one who should argue for a bigger advance or better cover. (Or you should do that, if you don't have an agent.) You should never expect your editor to risk her job to protect you or help you.

So don't mix the personal with the professional. Friends you do business with so often become enemies. Publishing is a small world, and you don't need any enemies. Be friendly with everyone you work with, but friends with none.



Ian said...

But you can be friends with people you DON'T work with, right?

So I can count every agent who ever rejects me as a buddy?



Anonymous said...

Well, what good can come out of thinking that your editor is a friend?

As for agents, I was quite close to an agent of mine years ago. We bonded over our similar tragedies. A year or so later, it became clear that she was lying to me when she said she'd sent out my proposals. She hadn't. I lost a year there, but even knowing that, I couldn't fire her. We were friends, after all.

I was also friends with a broker once. I kept taking his tips and investing money, even after he lost most of my little nest egg. We were friends, after all, and I sure didn't want him to be fired for losing business! And when I found out that he had deliberately touted losing stocks because his boss had told him too, I felt betrayed. I couldn't believe he'd do that to a friend.

I never had an editor who became a friend. I suspect that's because most editors are more professional than brokers and agents, and draw the line at fraternizing with those whose books they might have to reject.

Miss Manners says that the forcing of personal into professional is an American issue. (Remember all those pundits who kept saying that the best candidate was the guy you wanted to have a beer with? Like that actually would make a good president.) Mushing up loyalties is always dangerous. Does your friend owe you more or less than she owes her employer? You got me... all I know is I don't want to have to make the wrong assumption there-- not with the future at stake.

But maybe others have had good experiences mixing the personal with the professional? Obviously I haven't, and I've never seen it work, and I've seen the bad effects of it (like writers who have damaged their careers by "staying true" to editors who left a publisher in some conflict). But maybe there are good things that have happened, like someone who has benefitted financially from having friends in high places?


Anonymous said...

I think it's possible for it to work, as long as both parties recognize that the professional relationship is about the money, and the friendship relationship can't touch on that. It requires a high degree of ethics on the part of both, and I think that's why it often doesn't work out. Cases in point are your examples, Alicia. However, there are many examples of business partnerships between friends that have worked, so it's not impossible. It seems to me, though, that it works best between peers, not between people where one is providing services to the other.

This is all opinion based on anecdotal evidence, of course, not rigorously researched. (Yeah, my bachelor's is in economics, and I still remember how to hedge. ;) )

Edittorrent said...

I think it probably matters if you were friends first and professional colleagues after that? That seems more workable.


Anonymous said...

Perhaps, although I'm sure we can come up with plenty of anecdotes about professional relationships ruining preexisting friendships, too. Human relationships are such fragile things, aren't they?

Anonymous said...

I remember in college, everyone who with a pre-existing friendship with a roommate ended up hating him/her. It was as if changing the role changed the dynamics too much.

It's amazing some marriages last. :)


Dara Edmondson said...

I had that same college experience! I love my editor and really enjoy working with her. She GETS my humor, so when something confuses her, I always get rid of it. I've learned to trust her instincts implicitly, but I wouldn't say we're friend. She makes my books better, so anything I submit to that publisher I naturally want her to edit - for the sake of my work.
Great advice. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

That sounds like a sensible approach, Dara, and productive for both of you. :)