Ask the Editor

Ask the EditorRecently, Jane at DearAuthor blogged regarding her meetings at RWA that editors often make the best ambassadors for books in terms of communicating why a book will appeal to a reader, and I think she’s on to something there. I also think that part of what makes the editor’s perspective refreshing is that, unless we’re at a writer’s conference, many readers don’t hear from editors all that often. You hear from them more lately via Twitter or Facebook or similar publisher-driven social media efforts, but they aren’t the consistent mouthpiece of a publisher all that often – because that’s not their job.

Yet whenever I meet romance editors at a conference, I’m always very curious about their profession – ok, I will use the more appropriate word: I am damn nosy. For example, at the Connecticut FictionFest, I chatted with a writer before her pitch session, and she was so nervous, to the point that she and I joked about how she could lower her nerves and her nausea level to more manageable levels. She was terrified. I got to wondering what editors think of pitch sessions – and of conferences in general. Then I had all these other questions.

So I went and found me an editor to question at length. I have, tied up in my basement (ok, in the guest room)(maybe), an Anonymous Editor from a Very Large Publisher who has agreed (heh) to answer any and all questions you throw her way. Part of what fascinates me about editors is that, by and large, they do what they do largely because they love books. Very few people are working in publishing for the money. Yet in public venues, most editors stick to party lines, for lack of a better term, and obviously can’t be as candid as they wish they could.

Well, the Anonymous Editor has agreed to answer all your questions except “Who is she?” because, well, as she put it, “I could get fired for this. And you promised me wine, so where is it?”

So, got any questions you’ve always wanted to ask? As a reader, or writer, or aspiring editor? Send ‘em on over, either in the comments or via email to me at sarahATsmartbitchestrashybooksDOTcom, subject, please, ‘Ask the Editor’ and I’ll start the interrogation.


Random Musings

Comments are Closed

  1. 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. 

    I hope Sarah is feeding you in the basement.  I’m sure she has a stack of books for you to read!

  2. Daisy says:

    Sarah, on my screen at least your text is missing the opening part of a sentence or two.  I savor the irony, of course, in a post about editors, but I think you might want to recheck.

    power69:  !!

  3. Bonnie says:

    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?

    Thanks so much for doing this and I think, if you’re tied up in a basement you should get cheese with that wine AND a good slice of apple pie – almost apple season.

  4. Joanne says:

    It would probably be best to move the editor (and the wine) to higher ground with the hurricane that’s coming toward the East Coast. Be safe!

    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.

    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?

  5. Lynnd says:

    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)?

    Thanks for doing this.

  6. rebeccaj says:

    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?

  7. RaeRae says:

    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?

    Thank you for taking the time to answer our questions!

  8. SB Sarah says:

    @Daisy: Alas, that was a coding error, which isn’t subject to anything but Better Eyeballs that catch the stray >. All fixed! *headdesk*

  9. Patricia M. says:

    As an editor, could you explain/give insight on what happened to Lora Leigh’s last two books?  I only read Navarro’s Promise,  but I have read in the blogs that her newest is just as badly done.  Navarro’s Promise 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?

  10. Amanda says:

    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.

    Enjoy your wine.  Don’t forget to have some chocolate with that.

  11. 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?

  12. cecilia says:

    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).

  13. Romy Sommer says:

    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?

  14. Anony Miss says:

    My question: why aren’t there more scratch-n-sniff contemporary novels? I think it’s a whole niche market being totally ignored.

  15. Silver James says:

    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. Thanks, and enjoy Sarah’s excellent wine cellar!

    Ho-kay…spam word is stand69. Can you do that standing up? Outside of Cirque du Soliel, I mean?

  16. Chance says:

    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.

    @Silver James I believe it’s called the Spread Eagle.

  17. DreadPirateRachel says:

    First of all, I love all the phallic imagery in the picture you chose, Sarah. First thing I noticed.

    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?

  18. Las says:

    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.

  19. Faellie says:

    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?

  20. Kim says:

    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?

  21. CopyEditor says:

    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?

  22. J9 says:

    How has the explosion of the e-reader and e-book market changed publishing, especially acquisition, marketing and sales expectations?  And related, has the e-book market caused editors’ job duties to change?

  23. Marian says:

    First off, I do want to say to all the people who keep asking ‘how crappy books get published’ and the like, that one person’s crappy is another person’s awesome, so those questions sort of answer themselves…

    My questions is, say you read a manuscript you like. Do you then make an offer, or are there other people above you who need to read it and okay it first? What is the process generally speaking?

    Thanks so much!

  24. Merry says:

    @Marian—I think when a book comes out with whole pages missing, readers might justifiably consider that ‘crappy’ and want to understand how such a thing might happen.

  25. Rebeccaj says:

    @Amanda, I love your question about established writers getting away with “stinkers”. My question that relates is why are established authors permitted to write the same books over and over?

  26. I don’t have a question, but I wanted to say I love the concept.  Thanks, Sarah!

    Oh, and for heaven’s sake, give that poor woman some wine!  Every editor I know needs a good shot or two at the end of the day.[g]

  27. Mama Nice says:

    Great idea! Thanks for doing this – most of the questions I have are already being asked – so I look forward to reading the answers…and drinking some wine too (well, as long as the answers aren’t posted at 8am…then maybe a mimosa is called for)

  28. Donna says:

    Ho-kay…spam word is stand69. Can you do that standing up? Outside of Cirque du Soliel, I mean?

    @Silver James: as a graduate of the Ball State University/Blackford Drive-In Ladies Nite tradition, I can tell yes, yes you can.

    My question would be: one would assume you got into this field because of a love of books. Does getting paid for it lessen the pleasure? Do you find yourself looking for vacation spots that reading material free?

  29. Silver James says:

    @Donna, the coeds and BMOCs of Ball State are obviously more flexible and strong than I’ll ever be! I may now have to work this position into my current WIP. *big evil grin*

  30. Jamie says:

    I don’t believe traditional publishing houses are doomed because of the various “benefits” of indie publishing, but I do think the traditional houses will have to make some adjustments in their business models to keep authors and readers happy. In your ideal world, what sort of changes would you make to keep up with the times? Realistically speaking, any predictions on what will actually happen?

    Thanks, and I hope you get your wine soon!

  31. Willa says:

    Not a question, just an observation. I’m wondering if it’s only coincidence that this post is filed under “Random” musings.

  32. K. Smith says:

    My question is similar to @CopyEditor’s. I’m a former Borders Romance Expert who’s also done some beta-reading for a published up & coming author. I’d like to freelance for other authors and my dream job would be a slush pile reader. Do you have any advice on how to market myself for such a position? Can I email an executive editor or two that I know, letting them politely know of my availability or are such decisions over their heads? If I start off on a voluntary basis, would I be able to eventually transition to paid?

    Also, do you think we’re almost at the end of this angel trend? At the beginning of the year, I predicted we’d see more of fairy tale-esque romances and I’d really like to be right, especially since I can’t stand most of the angel books.

    Thanks to Sarah for committing the felony and the kidnappee for being gracious in her captivity!

  33. Nichole says:

    My question: What do you really think about self-publishing and are you worried?

  34. SB Sarah says:

    I love these questions. Poor editor will need more wine. And yes, I’m moving said editor to higher ground this weekend. To the attic!

    @Willa: TOTAL coincidence, but I totally giggled when I read that.

  35. T. Crosby says:

    When you lie to people about what you do for a living, and I’m sure you do on occasion to prevent hounding by aspiring writers like myself, what do you say it is that you do? 😉

  36. Kimber says:

    @Marian – I agree that often one person’s stinker is another person’s treasure;  but I really, really want to know how truly established, long-time, long-term series authors are allowed to go from 400 pages of dense, detailed elaborate plots to 150 pages of 16 point fluff and nonsense within the same series (you KNOW which ones I’m talking about!!!) and they continue to be published in hardback? On several boards I have read that these authors surround themselves with ‘yes’ people and may never be told that the quality and caliber of writing has gone down, but surely they know what their long-time readers are saying. Do they even care what the readers think as long as their sales numbers go up and they get their checks?

    WV: once82: Once in ‘82 I read this great book by this fabulous author but she’s only written drivel since then.

  37. Jennifer says:

    Authors are talking about being suspicious of agents with agencies that are starting a publishing arm. Are editors also suspicious of the conflict of interest when they get something from an agent who publishes as well?

  38. RJones says:

    When considering a a brand new debut author’s manuscript, what “requirements” do you look for as to their professionalism and future, completely aside from their writing? Ie., is publishing world experience a +1, lack of a goal to be a full-time writer a -1, etc.?

    How often do you turn down manuscripts you like due to experiences with or rumors you’ve heard about the author?

    Have you ever stopped offering contracts to authors who are performing sales-wise and in writing, but who are making your life too hard (missed deadlines, etc)?  And if you can offer any examples or stories without being trashy, I would love that. 😉

    What steps are the big and/or more traditional publishers taking to make sure their existing author stable don’t turn to digital-first or self-publishing? Or is it just not popping up as a concern?

    Some genres/sub-genres like urban fantasy and romance seem to be very much about the series. As a reader, I’m getting the impression publishing a standalone just isn’t worth it anymore. Is that true? Is it a money issue? Or is that all coincidence/writer preference?


    What tips a book from the maybe pile to the yes pile as far as acquisitions go? How much more scrutiny do you give a first time author than an author you’ve worked with for a while?

  40. Kim says:

    There’s a big name author that signed a 3 book contract in 2004. She published book 1 under the contract in 2005, but the second one has been repeatedly delayed. How much time does a publisher give an author to complete the terms of the contract before they ask for part of the advance back?

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