Remember that editor I have tied up in my basement? She’s been fed and I shared my wine supply because I’m not TOTALLY evil, and she’s consented to answer some of your questions from our original entry. I’ve got quite a few answers – she’s really freaking wordy, my GOD – so I’ll break them up in to several posts.
Kim in Hawaii asked
Do you read bloggers’ reviews and readers’ comments? If yes, does their feedback influence how you acquire and edit future books?
I think readers do grow frustrated that they take the time to express their displeasure with a trope, plot, character, or even cover to the point that readers do not want to see “it” again.
Yet “it” appears again in the following year’s crop of books as if readers’ opinions don’t count.
Ask the Editor We do read some of the reviews—those our author forwards to us and those we find online—I’ve read the PW, Booklist, Library Journal, Amazon ones and the B&N, etc. ones on the books I work on too.
However, a few things—#1, there are not enough hours in the day to read all of the reviews. There’s just not. There are also a few authors who couldn’t get a good PW review to save their lives, so I’m more interested the sales results. Also, you’re only seeing the comments from people who care to buy and then post a review. I’m seeing results from everyone who bought the book.
# 2—there’s a time lag. By the time we know you hated books 1 & 2, we’re generally at work or in contract on book 3 and book 4. So changing course can be like changing the course of a cruise ship. Slowly and carefully. Not as slowly as we used to change it, mind you, and digital first and category are much faster.
#3—real life example. In my own job, we had an established author publish a book consumers HATED. Not just a little, either, and they let us know with their purchasing decisions. So we were honest with her, and told her continuing that particular stream of story was in no one’s best interests and we changed course with a new contract. But she still sent us reviews from readers (all 2 1/2 of them) who wanted to see more of that same kind of book. Should we have listened to them? I say no.
#3.5—often there’s a stream of books an author (& editor) loves, and they don’t want to change course. And unless you have an overwhelming piece of sales proof to help dissuade them, insisting they stop writing that miniseries that minute can damage a relationship you want to continue. It can take time to get enough proof either way.
If you hear that an author has another offer for pub – well, first, do you want to hear that? Does it sway you one way or the other? Do you want a chance to “offer” or do you think – good riddance, one more off my plate?
If you make an offer and the author goes with the other offer, how would you like to be told?
Ask the Editor If you have another offer, tell all of the editors to whom the work is on submission. Phone is fastest in this case. Be succinct and polite. Most editors will tell you they’ll get right back to you. What we then do is look at it, if we haven’t already, and make a reasonable internal estimate as to how soon (if ever) we think we’ll be able to make an offer.
Then we get back to you. You can usually tell the first publisher (the offer-maker) that you have it out with other houses, and you want to give them the courtesy of getting back to you.
(NB—If you’re sending out a book on multiple submission MAKE THAT CLEAR IN THE PITCH LETTER.) Sometimes an editor will tell you that she’s not going to leave the offer on the table while you shop it around, and then you’ll have to make the decision there, but we’re generally fairly reasonable. Just don’t make us feel like we’re being used! (And we all know each other, and we do talk, so believe me, you will be found out.)
And if you go with that other offer, just say you’ve gone with the other offer and you appreciate the courtesy of the consideration. Just be polite and professional.
Does the editor have anything, anything at all, to say about purchasing something ‘different’ for their house? The sameness must be as frustrating for them as it is for other readers and I wonder how much they (the editors) influence what tropes are most published each year.
Ask the Editor That depends on what you mean by different. A Soho Crime editor might love Diane Mott Davidson, but the publishing house doesn’t publish mysteries set in the US. That’s the goal of the house. Is Thomas Nelson going to dip into erotica, just because an editor likes it? No. It can’t go against the mission of the house. But there are stories and editors that connect with real synergy and in those cases, it can make the house take a leap it otherwise wouldn’t. But it’s book by book. We’ll buy a book we like, even if we’re not making a huge—ALL HEROES MUST HAVE TENTACLES—imprint change.
Real life example—I was once asked why we refused to publish Indian American (Desi) romance. I told the person point blank it was because I’d never had any submitted to me. It wasn’t the stance of the house, it was that no one had ever sent it in! I would have loved to have bought some.
And yeah. I’ll go there. Do they (all or some editors) rave about stinker books even knowing that the author has written a not-so-great story?
Ask the Editor If we don’t love the story, we rave about the author.
My question(s) are: how does an editor deal with an author who refuses to make suggested changes/corrections to his/her book when the editor knows that the book will be awful if the changes aren’t made? Second part to this is: does the editor ever have the option to say that the book won’t be published if the changes/corrections aren’t made (is there anyone at the publisher who has the clout to do this)?
Ask the Editor We’ve all had that happen, and I feel for the author in this case, I really do, but some people can’t help themselves. We’re not asking you to make changes because we hate you, or because we want to destroy your book. Our goal is to get a publishable version onto the shelves. It is or should be a shared goal. I’ve had authors tell me that they ‘refused to sell [their former] house their next book.’ Or their previous editor ‘just didn’t understand their craaaaahhhhft’ And I rejected them. No one wants an author going into this long and arduous process with a chip on their shoulder.
In the case you mention above, we will negotiate and come to some sort of compromise, hopefully. As long as we both see a change needs to be made, how you get there is up to you for the most part.
And yes, we do have the right not to publish. The d&a payment is released upon delivery of an acceptable manuscript. It’s that adjective that makes this so much fun. There are those clear cut instances—I’ve contracted for a romance novel, and you deliver a cookbook. Or there are the less fun cases where the author sold on a proposal and the manuscript delivered is just…unspeakable. It’s hard to prove ‘unpublishable’ in court—it comes down to “we say this sucks” and the author takes the opposite position. I’ve seen it happen and made it happen myself, mostly with non-fiction. In fiction cases, there’s usually something else going on in the author’s life that’s making delivery hard, so occasionally both parties agree to let the project lie fallow for a bit until the author can regroup.
I’ve always seen these movies where the editor goes to the writer’s house and works with them on their book when they’re having problems. Does that EVER happen?
Ask the Editor HA! SO rarely as to make it basically never. My old roommate went to Barbara Taylor Bradford’s house to pick up her ms. I’ve gone over to an author’s house only once for work, but he was very ill and really enjoyed arguing in person. We do do editorial convos in person during conferences, or if you live nearby, though. We don’t generally love it because we are mole people, some days.
Do you find yourself editing more for style/content, or for grammar anymore? Does a book with an extreme need for one or the other turn you off completely (i.e.: lots of spelling/grammar errors, or lots of continuity/style problems), or are you willing to put more time into a project that you feel has real potential. And do you get to take those chances anymore?
Ask the Editor Yep. We all do it. We don’t love it, and some houses have a zero tolerance for that. (Depends on how much you need the inventory.) But it does happen. A good storyteller and a good prose stylist are not always the same person. I’ve done books that were torn apart, but it’s rare, and in the instances where I’ve had to do it, if it’s not an established person, I’ve declined the option book.
As an editor, could you explain/give insight on what happened to Lora Leigh’s last two books? I only read
, but I have read in the blogs that her newest is just as badly done.
was a big fat mess (and I resent that I spent money on it), and even a casual read would have revealed that there were multiple mistakes that needed fixing and pages dropped. How could a professional editing process miss so much?
Ask the Editor I have reservations about this, because I am not her editor, have never met her, and I only think I might know who her agent is. It sounds like a very terrible situation to be in, as writer, editor or agent, and I want to send her hugs.
Let me give you a few insights from my own background, which might have similarities.
#1—Big 6 house has a big author on the list. A mainstay, this person generally delivers every year, which means the house has a hardcover and a mass market in the same year. $$$$$$$. This year, so and so has trouble at home, which means she’s late. The house NEEDS this book to make their numbers, and they tell the editor to take a few work at home days to bring the ms up to scratch. Book comes in, goes home with editor to Brooklyn, likely, and gets reworked as much as it can before it’s due to production. Fast copyedit, fast proofread, 3 proofreads later, blues, BOOM, book on the shelves.
#2—Author has worked with same editor since she started. Author is an amazing storyteller, but a terrible grammarian. Editor has gone on vacation, and junior editor B has to get the book ready. Junior editor B nearly has a heart attack but does the best she can.
#3—and I’m butchering a Robert Gottlieb quote here—the ms that came in was so much worse than you can ever imagine. It’s those that get the “why wasn’t this edited” comments, when a backbreaking amount went in. And no, not that Robert Gottlieb. The editor & ballet critic.
I recently read a romance novel that was witty, had great elements, and well, needed someone to tell the author that she needed a rewrite because in the end, it fell very flat. My questions is, why do editors let stinkers of novels go to print from established authors? I can understand taking a chance on someone new and letting them develop the craft, but letting an established author get away with witty dialogue and a lack of structure seems like a waste of everyone’s talents.
Ask the Editor I’m going to pull from my previous response and say the books that people think need editing are often the ones that got the most, because they were in such terrible shape.
Rachel Savage asked
Going off Patricia slightly—why aren’t “best selling” names held to the same crazy high standards as someone new trying their hardest to get in?
I’ve seen it stated time and time again that a new author has to be better—above and beyond anything else out there—while someone can sit back, let forth a load of crap disguised as a manuscript and coast on their name because they had a good one or two at some point.
Why are they not held accountable and rousted from their little chair of victory if they can’t keep producing at a similar level of quality that those of us on the outside are supposed to achieve?
Just asking, because if I don’t turn out quality work in a timely manner at my current day job, they could very well show me the door and hire someone who will. That’s been true of every job I’ve ever had—why are authors treated any differently?
Ask the Editor My answer to Patricia M has the answer to this one.
My question is, how much choice does an average editor have over what books he/she edits? (Average in terms of rank/power/influence/experience, not in terms of skill).
Ask the Editor We generally edit that which we buy. If I don’t buy you, I don’t edit you. However, in the delightful land of apprenticeship that is publishing, often a book is bought by a publisher and given to a favored junior or senior staffer to edit. The more junior a person, the more likely they are to have been given the project they’re working on. It’s how you prove yourself. I was in that spot myself, and you should see the names on my resume. Do they know that I was editing them? Not in most cases.
Romy Sommer asked
What is the first thing that catches your eye and makes you excited about a manuscript? Voice, a refreshingly different story, a well-loved theme, or none of the above?
Ask the Editor I hate to give a one word answer, but VOICE. I couldn’t give a shit if your heroine is a paleontologist.
If you’ve got questions for the editor tied up in my basement, feel free to email me at sarahATsmartbitchestrashybooksDOTcom with “Ask the Editor” in the subject line, and I’ll read them to her in my very best Sean Connery impression. Or, you can leave a comment, too – that always works!