She’s still in my basement (which is dry, thank heaven) and I’ve still got a lot of wine for bribery purposes, so Editor X is happy to answer more questions. Here we go with installment two of “Ask the Editor.”
Anony Miss asked:
My question: why aren’t there more scratch-n-sniff contemporary novels? I think it’s a whole niche market being totally ignored.
Ask the Editor Speaking as a person who had to research the embedding of a music box thingie in a book cover, I can say that it’s too expensive. We’d print in China/Singapore, which means it’ll take me a year to make that book, and scratch & sniff won’t store well on a shelf with all the anklebiters in Walmart scratching away at books they don’t buy. Lord, I’m grumpy today. I need more wine!
Silver James asked
I’m curious as to the pitching process. Do you (and any editors that might stand around the Keurig machine discussing the topic) ask for a submission from everyone or do you only request certain projects? I ask because I’ve never had an editor or agent NOT ask for a submission at a pitch. I’m both published and agented now, but unpubbed writers in my RWA group ask this question every time a conference comes up and I’m wondering if my experience is somewhat unique or if editors feel that if a writer is brave enough to pitch, they’ll ask.
Ask the Editor To be honest, we’ll generally ask, because it comes down to the writing. I’ve worked with a number of writers who were awkward one on one, so we need to see what you can do before we can decide. We’re selling a book, not a pitch.
What, if any, influence do editors have over writers that have become so formulaic that if you have read one of their books you have read them all? I’m not talking about a series but multiple standalone books by the same author.
Ask the Editor Some writers write what they write and that’s it. And if it ain’t broke (by which I mean the sales are chugging along) why fix it? There’s a certain comfort for a set of readers in coming back to a story you know goes along the same way. It doesn’t mean these readers read only this person, but this person fulfills a particular need for them.
As for my question, Kim in Hawaii said
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.
and my question is somewhat related. How resistant are publishing houses to change? The longevity of some of the more problematic tropes (e.g., rape is love; absence of heroines over 30; majorly skewed power dynamics; insistence upon the heroine’s virginity, etc.) leads me to believe that any attempt to make a major change would be speedily quashed.
In the Bitch Magazine article that Sarah posted, I found this quote:
This aspect of the romance novel is changing, but romance fans seem reluctant to give up the relationship between a woman’s sexual awakening and perfect, singular, monogamous, heterosexual love.
I don’t think that’s true; I think that romance fans would love to see more progressive heroines, so I’m left to imagine that the dearth of them must be due to editorial restrictions. Am I completely off-base?
Ask the Editor This might be a good point to say—publishing houses are not PREVENTING progressive things from being published. Write it, for f’s sake, and send it in. If it’s not dreadful (and believe me, much of it is) we’ll consider it seriously. Part of the problem with paradigm shifters in romance writing is that the book becomes a mission rather than a good story. It’s dull for everyone—it becomes preachy.
Is there any kind of quality assurance happening? You put out a book, people read it and shit hits the fan because of how poorly written and edited it is…does anything happen? Is anyone pissed? Do heads roll? Are you even aware that there’s a problem? I have nothing at all to do with publishing, but in my field we have monthly QA meetings where we discuss anything that’s gone wrong and how it happened, and make any changes if necessary. Is it even a concern if it’s an author who’s consistently a best seller?
I’m not being snarky with that last question, I’m genuinely curious. I’m not sure I’d make much of an effort to put out a quality product when the consumers have proven time and again that they don’t care about quality.
Ask the Editor I worked in a house where the president would pull out the sales numbers every month and have a post-mortem—the editor had to stand up and be hazed as to why the cover was the way it was, why we didn’t sell to Italy, etc. It was awesome. But short lived. Anyway, there are houses where people are fired, and there are houses where people work away as if they are at some sort of editorial version of the DMV. It is not hard to see which are which. As a reader, I actually learned what a colophon was when I stopped buying books at the store from 2 particular houses. Vote with your pocketbook.
Also, HR-wise, it’s cheaper to retrain than fire & rehire.
How do you deal with the latest in a long series of books, when you need to check for consistency with the earlier ones? Do you keep cheat sheets on established facts?
Do you prefer to edit books in a long-running series, or would you rather work on an entirely new premise?
Ask the Editor We try to keep the same copyeditor, and there’s generally a running character sheet, and maybe a timeline, or other kind of map if need be.
As to the second question, I tend to think editors enjoy both! Variety is the spice of life.
Thanks for taking the time to answer our questions.
(1) An author recently blogged that if a writer releases more than 2 books in a year, she probably is paying a ghostwriter to help her. A few authors release up to 4 books a year, such as Nora Roberts, Maya Banks and Janet Evanovich. Any truth to this rumor about ghostwriters?
(2) Why are there so many typos and grammatical errors in books lately? A recent Harlequin said that the hero needed to remodel his home because the house was inhabitable instead of uninhabitable.
(3) When many readers write an editor saying they dislike the direction of a series, do you discuss it with the author and track sales or is the storyline totally up to the author?
Ask the Editor HA! Awesome, and no. James Patterson needs one, but that’s not always the case. There are some writers who are talented, dedicated and focused, and can produce that frequently. There are other authors who are talented, dedicated and focused, and who do not. Do you run a mile at the same speed I do? It’s a very individual skill. Thomas Harris took 11 years between books.
(2) This same question has been asked every year since books have been published. I am not actually kidding. Look back at some of the gossip sheets from the 1800s. But in answer to your question, margins get tighter and publishers pay copyeditors/proofreaders/freelancers less. And then they might get a slightly lower quality.
(3) I’ve answered this one above. But we do track sales, and do look at reviews (with a grain of salt!)
I’ve done some freelance copy editing for a smaller nonfiction publisher, but the books were on a topic that made my eyes cross. I know that larger publishing companies also use freelance copy editors, but I don’t know how to break into that market. Any tips or suggestions?
Ask the Editor I’m on the editorial side, so this advice might be crackpot. But the person who does the hiring in any pub house for copyeditors is the managing editor. If you were to google the publisher’s name with the term, you might have more success in finding where to direct it.