Friday, December 5, 2008

Guest blogger Lou Anders on The Author/Editor Relationship

"Where's my check?" was probably not the most tactful response to my effusive welcoming email, an email praising a new author's magnificent manuscript and their powerful storytelling skills, and enumerating all the many reasons I was thrilled to add them to the Pyr roster. Checks are notoriously late in this business, but in this case, the signed contracts back from the author hadn't even reached me in the post; I'm not even sure they were signed as we'd just made a verbal agreement with the agent that morning.

Uh oh
, I thought, this doesn't bode well for the author/editor relationship.

And it is a relationship.

My wife is always ribbing me that I just work with my friends, and that's true to a large extent, but - BUT - as I remind her, they were all business colleagues first and friends second. I'd asked illustrator John Picacio to do the cover of my first anthology within about five minutes of meeting him, and it was only later that he revolved into one of my best friends. Chris Roberson says we hit it off at the 2001 World Fantasy Convention in Montreal, but he doesn't track bright on my radar until he delivered the astoundingly-brilliant "O One" for my anthology, Live Without a Net. (The story is online at that link in its title - check it out.)

Publishing, like the film industry I worked in previously, is a business of friends. Sure, there's jealousies, back-biting, rivalries, hurt feelings, egos, crazy folk, etc... but for the most part, you work with people you really enjoy working with, because if you are going to spend a year or more enmeshed in someone else's imagination, it's a whole lot nicer for both of you if you can get along with them as people too.

It's nice for the authors as well. While some of them grouse about their editors (sometimes you get the impression that's almost a stock response with some writers - though none of mine of course), editors are the middlemen (or middlewomen) between authors and publishers. They aren't just there to hack and slash the heart out of your manuscript. An editor is also said manuscript's chief advocate inside the publishing house.

My parent company, Prometheus Books, produces about 100 books a year, roughly 29 of which are Pyr titles. There is no way that publicity, sales & marketing, the art department, and all the scores of individuals from the various departments that will work on creating, editing, shaping, packaging, producing, and promoting the novel can read every book. So it's the editor who advises publicity on how best to pitch a work, or what campaigns to include it in. It's the editor who coaches sales on how best to pitch the novel to buyers. It's the editor who briefs the art department on what the novel is about.

It's easy for an individual book to get lost amid the whole list - your editor is the book's primary champion in-house, keeping the rest of the (often quite large) team excited about it, and making sure it doesn't drop of the radar.

There's a reason why authors follow editors when the latter change jobs, and why conversations with your editor about sporting events, comic books, TV shows, and the price of tea in China are all classified as "working conversations". The editor is your editor because he/she loves your book and picked it out of the hundreds (thousands!) of other manuscript, pitches and proposals that crossed his or her desk(top) in any given year. Building a relationship with an editor starts with realizing this.

Publishing houses can be large, intimidating entities; they switch your book in the schedule for nebulous reasons, market - or fail to market it - in weird ways, stick a cover on your masterpiece that utterly betrays its content. But your editor is your friend in this, the insider with one foot out the door, who's there because he/she thinks you are a genius. How can you not get along with someone that thinks that of you?

[Now, don't worry, I totally get what you are going for here, but can you trim this by 20 percent, add a sex scene, and make the hero a heroine? Thanks, friend. Do that and we're gold.]


Rene Sears said...

Really interesting article. Since the production of a book is such an investment of time, effort, and love on both ends, I'd think you would definitely hope for the person on the other end to be a friend, and to be as invested in the book as you are.

The first paragraph made me laugh and wince simultaneously. I hope things looked up after that.

Lou Anders said...

They did.

On a related note, any author worth his/her salt has to be good at making someone feel, which means has to have a pretty good grasp of human emotions, which means, has to be good at soul searching, which means, probably thinks about character a lot, which means, is probably a decent person.

I was always surprised when I met someone who could write movingly about the human heart who turned out to be as asshole, but that's rare and certainly doesn't apply to anyone I work with.