Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The Road Travels In Both Directions

Yesterday I posted some tips for writers about how to handle revision disputes. I thought I would mention that the same advice applies to editors. When we are annoyed or angry, a cooling off period is also good for us. It's never a good idea for us to insult writers, or to go to battle over things we're uncertain of. A lot of times, it makes sense for us to be open to whatever solutions the writer suggests, because writers are frequently more inventive than we are, and thank God for that. All these tips apply equally to both sides.

I think the biggest point of divergence lies in my advice to writers to remember that your editor is on your side. Editors don't need to remember this. We know it already. What we need to remember, instead, is that especially for new writers, the collaborative nature of publishing may be difficult and even shocking. New writers are used to total control over their manuscripts. They think in terms of "my" book and writing what "I" want.

But signing a publishing contract turns the "my" into an "our" and the "I" into a "we." It's still the author's book, of course, but it's not only the author's book anymore. It is now also the publisher's book, and various people at the publishing house will have some degree of ownership in the project. Yes, ownership, which makes you a co-owner now. Editor, copyeditor, typesetter, cover artist, sales team, copy writers, cover designer -- all of these people, and more, will touch the project at one time or another. Some of this you might love (yay! a cover!) and some of it you might hate (like the author I worked with, many years ago, who demonstrated his hatred of his copyeditor by spelling "stet" s-t-e-t-g-o-d-d-a-m-n-i-t).

If you're a new writer, the thought of all those hands on your precious bundle might make beads of sweat trickle down your neck. What are they doing to your baby? Once you've been around that block a time or two, you'll know exactly what they're doing to your baby: giving it a glamorous makeover before sending it down the red carpet. It's still your baby. It's just shinier now.

When I say new writers, by the way, I'm not necessarily referring to first-book authors. There's a brand-new author, and then there's a new-to-me author, and both are new. I made a mistake some time ago with an author, a multipublished author, who I assumed knew the ropes. She didn't. There were reasons for that which I won't disclose here because I won't betray her confidence, but let's just say that what we were doing didn't compare to what she had done before. She got nervous, and my mistake was in not seeing that her nerves were actually new-author jitters.

She taught me an important lesson. Never assume. Never assume any author will understand the process from start to finish. Never assume that they'll know what a copyeditor does, or what galleys are, or why they don't have total control over their jacket copy. Sometimes I still forget to explain all these things as thoroughly as I probably should. And those kinds of explanations can do a lot of good for a nervous new author. Just knowing what to expect can soothe a lot of the worries. It's easier to trust in a process when you know what the process is.

So that's the difference in advice. Authors, trust your editors. And editors, be generous to your authors. (And Theresa, take your own advice!)

Special tip of the hat to Ian, whose comment yesterday made me think of this topic.

Side note. Alicia is off at an academic conference for pop fiction scholars. Yes, I, too, was surprised to learn of the existence of such a thing. Pleasantly surprised. She may be scarce for the next couple of days, but if we're lucky, she'll have all kinds of great insights to share on her return.



Anonymous said...

Theresa, your mention of working with an author whose experience was different reminded me of something I experienced in a surgery. I was one of those 'lucky' people who had a surgery cancelled (gall-bladder) and then went back a second time to have it done by a different surgeon. The first one had slipped and threw out his back as I was in the prep room. So when the second time came around and the preparations were different, I freaked! Surgery is traumatic enough, but to have different things happen, it's enough to shake your confidence: either the first guy didn't know what he was doing or the second one *doesn't* know -- let me out of here! Turns out, the second guy was actually more conservative in his practice, therefore safer. It took the patient rep to explain that to me when I went back post surgery and asked some very pointed questions.

So, I know book publishing isn't life and death, but encountering change to one's expectations can be traumatic. Your advice is spot on about remembering these are new relationships, even if the people involved have some experience. Sometimes that experience is an unacknowledged potential point of difference, putting it nicely.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this post, Theresa. As a new author I have to admit that I found it a huge shock to discover how collaborative the publishing process can be. I thought it might just be me, but now I feel somewhat reassured.