Ask the Editor: Questions and Answers, Part III

Ask the EditorDon’t worry – I do let the editor locked in my basement come outside for fresh air and a nap and some wine and whatnot. She’s a freerange editor when she’s not answering reader questions here!

J9 asked:
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?

Ask the Editor In a nice way, it’s given us other avenues in which to find readers. And in another it makes it insanely easier for us to bring books home to read. Every editor I know has a manuscript bag. (In the case of my old roommate, Kate Spade, paid for by a nice author) Now, fewer of them! It hasn’t really changed our job duties except that the negotiation for digital rights can take longer as part of a contract negotiation, and of course social media exploration/use is part of what we do too. And as I said, it’s now another area to review for potential authors.

And a last positive point—some types of books which would have languished in brick & mortar stores have taken off digitally, so that’s given us a new way to define success.

Marian   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?

Ask the Editor  Hee. Amen to that. As to the second part:

It takes different forms at different houses. Certain levels are given a certain $ limit. (For example ,as an exec vp, you can buy a book for X, but if it is X+1, you need to go up.) But that’s generally the category model. In some houses, you read a book, like it, and get other people to read. Then, when editorial meeting comes around, you all defend/support a book to the publisher. If you’re in an auction situation, compress the steps!

In general, and unless you’re selling to someone with their own imprint/line (and budget center), everyone needs approval.

Glossary—editorial or acquisition meeting can be comprised of the following: some houses: all editors, who have talked to their colleagues in publicity and marketing about the book’s potential .Other houses: reps from marketing, sales, subrights, publicity and editors.



Rebeccajb asked:  I loved the 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?

Ask the Editor  Forgive me for saying: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, but that’s kind of it. Also, let’s say an author hit it big (whatever your definition of that is) at 40. That was the 80s.

Do you want an author getting close to retirement reworking everything they’ve done, particularly if they’re happy with it? If I have someone I’m working with who is HAPPY (that’s the first thing) and who is selling, why would I change that?

It goes without saying, that if you want to stretch and explore a different path, we’re open to talking about it. And the only reason I sound a little mean here, because I do like to see writers stretch, is because it’s usually a critique group who says something like “Why don’t you take that family you’ve been writing about and turn them into steampunk vampires!” And that makes an editor want to kick a puppy.


Donna asked: 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?

Ask the Editor  My goodness—does a prostitute have sex for fun anymore?  Anyway, at least for me, I find that while I still read and love to discover new romance, I do read non-fiction as a palate cleanser.


Jamie asked: 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?

Ask the Editor  It does give us another venue in which to find new writers, and in a great development—a new way to launch new writers and to build support for existing ones. 
The first change I would make would be to go forward into the future and give myself some sort of psychic or precognitive ability, because that sounds like what’s called for here.

However, I’d urge people to put aside the us vs. them mentality both when it comes to looking at the publisher/author relationship and at the print/digital relationship. The success of digital is fantastic, and if it brings stronger and more polished writing to the fore, I’m all for it. 

Also, if it means we stop paying you advances and let everything ride on splitting royalties, I’d be kind of amused. Take a look at the accounting of the Lord of the Rings movie if you think that’s a great idea.


K. Smith asked 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?

Ask the Editor  Only a few houses have them, honestly—usually editors can be a good first step. I once knew an editor who expensed the freelance readers by falsifying the expense report. They had been nixed at the house.

K. Smith asked: 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.

Ask the Editor  I kind of think we are, but that’s only because I am done as a reader!



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

Ask the Editor Wait. Am I worried that books published by individuals sans marketing/publicity/editing are going to destroy my job in some way? No. And it actually does not keep me up at night—I mean that. The editors in the NY Metro have not built some sort of bunker to guard against the day when people simply put their words right out in the marketplace. People have always been able to do that by some means or other. (But if we did, that would be awesome, and I bet well stocked with Jameson.)

I do like the development, because it means (to me) that more people are pushing a book towards publication and are getting experience from that. But if it means that people are deciding they don’t need any kind of editorial/pr/marketing guidance (see my child’s I CAN DO IT MYSELF manifesto) then I’d have to say that’s dumb.

Also, I hate to say it, but I’m so tired of this “publishers are dinosaurs” concept—because we publish in print? Holy F! You’re so much more advanced than we are, laptop owner! The idea that publishing’s a bunch of old white men who don’t own computers is outdated. 



T. Crosby asked: 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? 😉

Ask the Editor  Romance novel editor is usually a game winner, so I almost never lie. On the occasions where I worry that the conversations will devolve into: ’so what’s it like to edit a sex scene,’ I usually tell them I edit mystery.

Kimber asked: 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?

Ask the Editor  Are there some authors who simply stop taking editorial advice? Yes. Is it always the authors whose sales go downhill? Not always.

Also, as I said above, it can turn into a treadmill of sorts—the publisher comes to expect that book every year, or 18 months, and I’m sure the author feels pressure to turn whatever they’ve got in. And there are a few writers who have family or other demands on their money and are actually writing for the paycheck. (I only know of 2, so please don’t flame me!) It’s a horrible way to have to write, and it makes me sad.

I worked with a long-time, established niche author whose large print publisher actually contacted us because they were worried that there was no difference in the font size. And, to
be fair, they were at like 16 point, and we were at 14-point with bulked up paper. But that person was quite old. And as I’ve said above, if it’s working, it’s working.

But yes, I’ve seen a few people who got to publish hardcover via a family name and then failed to deliver, and I think it’s only a parent’s involvement that has kept the format from being changed.

Also, while I’m at it—hardcover is not the be all and end all. What you mean is first appearance in print, whatever format it takes. Also, have you tried to fit one in a purse? Impossible.


Jennifer asked: 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?

Ask the Editor  At this stage, no. But I do think something will happen soon enough to make us rethink that.


RJones asked: 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?

Ask the Editor  Oh, for the love of God, don’t be a full time writer. Please have a hobby, a job, family, SOMETHING. I only know how obsessive I get when I’m single. For all of our sake, don’t! Anyway, we have no way of knowing you’re full time or not when we see the ppsl or ms.

I’ve had the—he can’t finish his book because they shut off his power. So can you give him an advance on his advance—phone call. And part of me wanted to say “we’re not a bank”, but the other part of me was also 21 and very nervous about my job, so we released the $.

And I had an author call and scream at me for revisions. And she later had the desire to send a new project to a different imprint at my house. Her agent (who was amazing) did acknowledge how awkward sending me the project would be, so I recommended them to a colleague. If she’s going to make my company money, it’s fine by me. I just don’t want to work with her!

The authors who are harder to work with, or crazy, are generally known. We are a small industry and we do talk. If a project is amazing, I’ll still try to buy it, even if the author’s harder to work with. But I’ve had a publisher come into my office and tell me we were not bidding on a certain project because no one liked the author.  Just because a person makes another person’s life hard doesn’t always mean the career ends, as much as I wish the karma were instantaneous. (And I’m sure some authors feel that way about certain editors!)

Do I worry that my existing author base will turn to self-publishing? That’s a good question—I think for some of them it’s been great for backlist. And I’ve seen some ex-authors of mine send notes about “going out on their own because it’s better” which in these individual cases certainly means—‘I’ve made every single publisher hate me.’ And for some—it’s a good way to publish books that might not fit with the publisher’s current plan. But if you send every single thing you’ve got out onto the market, it makes it hard for a publisher to work with you to shape a presence.

Got questions for my captive editor? Feel free to email me at sarahATsmartbitchestrashybooksDOTcom, or leave a comment. We’ll be back with further editions – just as soon as I make sure the gate is closed so she can’t escape.


Comments are Closed

  1. Jesepenny says:

    Hi Sarah,

    I hadn’t read anything about this until your post. I have since been to the sites of those who have made the accusations.

    To be fair, all of this may not have come about if you had mentioned your association before now. However, I really don’t think the level of vitriol levelled at you is particularly fair – especially from Mrs Giggles whose site I will never visit again (she has done herself no favours with this).

    I am a relatively new vistor to your site (about 6 weeks) and this won’t stop me from checking in every day. It’s because of you I discovered Maya Banks!!

    If I can give a little advice, be more open and more thick-skinned from now on. Being hurt personnally by this doesn’t help anyone but the haters.

  2. Jesepenny says:

    And I obviously haven’t mastered the art of commenting yet….! Sorry – wrong post!

  3. Copa says:

    I’m really enjoying these ask the editor posts, but of course my favorite question somehow got missed 😛
    “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? “
    I hate series, I will rarely start reading in a series if I know before hand it is a series, I have only made a few exceptions for authors like Julia Quinn, and I read a series going through the time stream by Amanda Quick/Jayne Ann Krentz/ Jayne Castle last year but that’s it. Please please please answer this dire question about series and standalones.

  4. darlynne says:

    I have really enjoyed “Ask the Editor,” which surprised me because I’m all about the finished product and getting it into my hands. What? There’s sausage to be made? Please keep the editor well-stocked with wine, her insights are fascinating.

    I would love to know whether the Tell the Publisher! link on Amazon’s pages accomplishes anything. Supposedly Amazon passes the requests to the publishers, but the black hole is whether the publishers take that information seriously. I’ve been a one-woman clicking machine for Pat Wallace’s long out-of-print House of Scorpio: you’ll find me at any open PC, clicking away. I’ve already written to the publisher and the author (who may still be alive for all I know), but so far, nada. Am I wasting my time and wearing out my mouse for nothing?

  5. Donna says:

    Thanks for taking my question! And not commenting to the grammatical error!

  6. Janet W says:

    @darlynne, I don’t know you but … that’s an ominous opening, isn’t it? But I Concur with a capital C: why aren’t they republishing House of Scorpio by Pat Wallace? It’s seriously awesome, it has it all—particularly the food/clothes/environment for all the signs—oh, and jewelry too.  I have it and it’s in 3 big chunks with an elastic band holding it all together: I’ve literally read it to death. It was one of the first books I wrote about on goodreads. So editor in the basement, track down this book and republish it—please 🙂 @janetnorcal

  7. cecilia says:

    I’ve really enjoyed these posts – thanks to both of you (and all the people with the great questions)!

  8. SB Sarah says:

    I’m glad you like them! I have 1-2 more, depending on how long they are after editing.

  9. Ros says:

    I would like to ask the editor whether publishers are ever going to get the issue of geographical restrictions on ebooks sorted out.  I can understand that it’s problematic for existing contracts, but for new contracts what possible reason is there for a publisher NOT to want global electronic distribution rights?  Especially given that hard copy books are sold on Amazon across the world.

  10. darlynne says:

    Janet W, I don’t feel quite so alone now. That book haunts me, in a good way: the clothes, the professions, all chosen by Zodiac sign. I think what captured my attention the most is that I’m a Scorpio and my husband is an Aries. Oh, the drama, the forbidden love, six girls! Yeah, none of that happened to me, but still, what a story.

    Even your rubber band copy would sell for quite a bit on-line, where used copies were last going for +$70.

    Can I bribe you to scan yours and send it to me electronically?

    HAHAHAHAHA! Just kidding. Nothing to look at here, folks. Move along.

    Someone I know and love—but can’t remember who—has my last copy and no one is coughing it up. That’s why I was such a fan of the orphan books project, my last hope. Seriously, Ms. Editor? I would pay full-price for a digital edition from a Big 6 publisher. If you knew me, you’d know what a big deal that is.

    Janet W, thanks for the shout-out and let’s keep clicking.

  11. Janet W says:

    Darlynne, to say I feel your pain would be to so minimize how I know you must be feeling. I don’t know if you’re on twitter—if you are, I’m @janetnorcal—ping me and let’s figure out what I should do if I ever see a copy of House of Scorpio—to whom and where should I send. Email, (scrunch it up): campbell 4 6 9 0 AT yahoo DOT com.

    Is it really that expensive? My top price paid for used is $25ish for Joanne Bourne’s pre-the-books-I-adore Regency. Could you gather together a consortium of friends and each of you could throw in a few bucks? Lastly, is there an orphan books project? Sounds like a swell idea. Scorpio/Aries eh? Hmmm, dh Pisces, me Cancer and all the kids are a water sign (1 Scorpio, 2 Cancers).

  12. rebeccaj says:

    Thanks again for doing this interview, Sarah. I have to say though the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” response was a cop out. I see these writer guidelines and they tell you to not follow any sort of “formula”, to be original, and yet they let established writers—coughDianaPalmercough—put out the same book over and over. It’s ridiculous.

  13. eggs says:

    I’m with Ros!  The main thing I want to know is how long it’s going to be until we get ‘world English rights’ as the standard in publishing, and why we can’t have that right now!  It drives me insane that I can get books 1, 2 & 3 in a series on my kindle, but books 4, 5 & 6 are only available to US readers.  It’s clear where the author became a big enough seller to have her agent hold back on the WW rights on her second contract. 

    I understand the author’s desire to make more money by slicing up the pie and selling it by the piece, but guess what?  The Australian romance market sucks arse.  No one here’s got the money to buy the rights to make your kindle file available to us.  So, instead of selling 10,000 ebooks to Australians via WW rights, you sell none while you keep the Australian rights clutched tight to your authorial chest because they are WORTH SOMETHING and you won’t give them away to your US publisher.  When I look at some of these books, it’s been 6 years since they came out in the US, and they are still not available here – surely after that length of time, an author could work out that no one’s going to pony up for the Australian rights?  Why not make WW rights available to your US publisher, so we can buy your books?

    I guess that’s a lot of rambling!  So, my question to the editor would be: Do you ever revisit your contracts with authors where they have only sold you the US rights, and try to renegotiate a contract to get WW rights?

  14. Kim says:

    I’ve enjoyed the Ask the Editor postings. I’m glad to see there will be a few more.

    There’s several instances where an author has seemed to disappear after writing several books. Is it usually a case where a publisher drops the author and she isn’t signed anywhere else? Or are there cases where an author has had some success and just decides she doesn’t enjoy writing anymore?

  15. For Ros, on territorial e-distribution: the legal blawg at Scrivener’s Error noted what may be a significant development on this front earlier this month. 

    I definitely recommend S.E. to any writing/publishing pro with any interest at all in the legal side of the business—and nowadays, that should be most of us.  The analysis can get a bit technical at times, but it’s always fascinating, and there are very, very few folk—if any—writing online today with C.E. Petit’s combination of legal expertise and genre-publishing savvy.

  16. eggs says:

    Thank you for that link, John.  Interesting reading.

  17. dee says:

    Love the series, Sarah…

    I don’t know if this is something the Editor can answer but here goes – why are older books new to ebooks being published at full price?  An example is Johanna Lindsey – she has some VERY old books now on Kindle but they’re $7.99 each.  There’s just no way that I’m going to pay that kind of money for a 30 year old book.

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