Three Questions You Must Know
I was recently out with an editor friend, Suzy Editor (which you will be surprised to know is not really her name) who works at one of the Big Six houses. As conversation among agents and editors tends to do, we turned to business, and specifically to that finest of fine lines, the line between assertively getting what you need from the house and becoming Authra, kaiju-author of dread and loathing.
See, publishing is an industry composed largely of arts-inclined people doing business, and at that a business that rises and falls on the creative output of authors, for whom nothing is more dear than said creative output. And everyone has opinions, lots of them, and also dreams and expectations of how it will be, accumulated over the 13 years it took to get to the point that someone finally says to you “here’s your cover art.” Which means stepped-on toes are virtually inevitable, and I would be shocked if there is a book in existence that nobody cried over at least once. So into this stew of already emotional water you add the limited resources of even the most on-it house, email’s inability to capture nuance, and the increasingly 24-7 nature of the business that means you might get emails from your editor at 6 am or your agent at 11. You can see that the opportunities to really, really stick your foot in it with your team are myriad.
Suzy Editor, I said, You are a very smart lady who people love to work with. (Seriously, I am not one for “dream agents” and “dream editors” and all but Suzy really does fit the bill.) Please, share your wisdom. What would you tell authors to do to avoid their emails setting their editors’ inboxes aflame, aside of course from running anything even slightly contentious by their agents first, who will hopefully be of the wise counsel variety and help prevent any unnecessary flamewars?
Suzy Editor replied with the following, which is genius:
I think it’s about picking your battles. Take cover consultation.
The reason an author frustrates the team in-house is not that she wants changes to the cover…it’s when she keeps adding on new changes in each iteration, and she doesn’t seem to care that that wastes time and money. Nor is she seeing the big picture of “the cover/copy/photo insert/whatever is a tool to SELL THE BOOK.”
So suddenly we’re all spending our days harping on the style of a border on one photo, haranguing people in other departments and holding up the cover, but why? We’re wasting our time, and it’s not helping her book.
Obviously, real problems should be addressed. I’d say there are three questions to be asked to avoid finding yourself in this category:
1) Was I honest to my agent/editor about my feelings? i.e., no fair hating your cover silently;
2) Did I speak up in a timely fashion so that changes can still be made? i.e, no retitling when the book is on press;
3) Will this change enable the book to sell enough additional copies to “earn out” the time & money & manpower it took to make the change?
If the answer to all three of those questions is “yes,” you are not being a diva.
Suzy Editor followed up my request to quote her on this with:
“Tell them I told it to you while weeping softly into a martini” and so in the interest of preserving publishing’s glam reputation, I comply.
In all seriousness, honesty, respect for others’ time, and thinking about the good of the book in the marketplace is advice that will pretty much never lead you astray. I’d add an additional caveat that you have to let the people on your team be good at what they are paid to do (otherwise why are you working with them?), and accepting that your process of publication won’t be exactly like what your friend/critique partner/Stephenie Meyer’s was like is also an excellent skill to cultivate as you enter the publishing process.
Filed under: Holly Root | 14 Comments