Welcome all dreamers, fantasists, bibliophiles, and romantics. Join me Mondays and Fridays for speculation about other worlds, exploration of the human heart and soul in fiction and fact, sojourns in history and science, advice and tidbits in the realms of story, and thoughts on everything in between...

Friday, November 1, 2013

Worldcon Treasures: The Relationship Between Writers and Editors

Before we begins, first let me apologize for the delayed post last Friday and Monday. I had a medical situation come up and briefly ended up in the ER. I’m much better now, but it naturally caused some delays. But we’re back to business today with the next segment in Worldcon Treasures where I share the notes and insights I gathered during this year’s Worldcon, Lone Star Con 3.

The panel where I took these notes had a spread of experience from the magazine industry to book publishing, from editors to authors. They included: Janet Harriett, Gardner Dozois, Sheila Williams, James Patrick Kelly, and Lou Anders. If you get a chance to see these guys in real life, they’ve got some great author horror stories that had us laughing through a big chunk of the panel. Honestly, they could have had a successful panel just on sharing such stories for audience entertainment.

But this post is about the relationship between editors and authors, so let’s dig in.

  • For short fiction, read the magazine you’re interested in submitting to.
  • For longer work, read the books of the publisher you want to submit to.
  • Before deciding where to submit, consider what would be the best showcase for your story. What publisher would expose you to the most readers?
  • Look at Hugo and Nebula ballots to get an idea of where popular stuff comes from. (If you see a lot of entries from Asimov, for example, you know they’re a top magazine.)
  • Bear in mind that there are now two markets: print and electronic.
  • You don’t pick your editor, your editor picks you.
  • Asimov has a slower turnaround because the editor goes through the slush pile rather than just an aide. (A lot of places rely on aides as slush pile first readers and only send the “good stuff” to the editor.)
  • If it takes longer before you hear back from an editor on a submission, it means that they’re considering your story. They didn’t just immediately dismiss it from the slush pile.
  • The personalities between writer and editor must mesh.
  • A book editor does two things:
    • buys your book
    • is your book’s first big fan and cheerleader within the publishing house
  • An editor’s job is also to convince the sales department to give your book their best. That’s where that cheerleader element comes in handy.
  • They gut your work so it little resembles the story you submitted.
  • Sometimes, you just can’t sell to this one editor. It doesn’t mean that editor is bad, but maybe it means you and that editor are not a good match.
  • If you’re having trouble selling your novel, sometimes you can break it into smaller sections and sell those as shorts.
  • Sometimes, a short story inspires a later novel and the author sells the whole novel as shorts.
  • Linked short stories are an established tradition in science fiction and fantasy.
  • Sometimes, it’s easier to sell a story as a novella rather than a full novel.
  • Be careful of workshopping. It can ruin a story. One of the editors even said that he once had a story he made an offer on that he liked. Then the author workshopped the story and made all sorts of changes. Those changes resulted in the editor ultimately rejecting the story because the workshopped version was not nearly as good as the original, essentially no longer up to snuff.

As I have an editor, Piper Denna, with Lyrical Press Inc., I have my own observations to share. None of these are taken from the panelists, but they have value on their own.
  • Be professional. The author/editor relationship is a business relationship, so you’ll see much better results if you treat it like one.
  • Be polite and open. Editors have horror stories of nightmare authors. Make sure you’re not one of them. Make sure you’re an author who your editor enjoys working with.
  • It’s still your story. Editors can make all sorts of requests for revision, and of course, it’s their job to do so. However, at the end of the day, it’s still your book and your story. Stand up for what you believe is right for your story, but make sure you’re polite and reasonable about it.
  • Your editor has a lot of experience and knows what she’s talking about. This is the counterbalance to my last point. Yes, stand up for your story, but be open to your editor’s suggestions and requests. Give something honest consideration before you refuse it. Try out what your editor suggests, even if it’s just to see how it might work. The results may surprise you.
  • Communicate. Be honest with your editor. She can’t read your mind or know if something is really important to you or bothers you unless you tell her. A truly professional editor will listen to you and try to work with you as much as she can. Also, if things come up or you have questions, tell your editor. It’s better to ask than to create problems because you don’t mention something.
  • Don’t be a diva. Yes, you may have written a fantastic book. Yes, you may have had great sales in the past. Yes, you may be famous or exceptionally talented, but that doesn’t give you a right to be self-centered, arrogant, or demanding. Be humble and courteous, and remember that your editor is also a human being with her own life and feelings. She will try to be as professional as she can, but she expects the same courtesy from you. Don’t give her a reason to tell horror stories about you over Thanksgiving dinner.
  • Try your utmost to meet deadlines. This is a business, and you’ve signed a contract. You are obligated to do your best. Besides, if you have a reputation for meeting deadlines, your editor will be more understanding if something comes up that truly means you need to rework a deadline.
  • Be gracious. You don’t have to always agree with your editor, but gratitude, a compliment, honest listening, and being polite in your response can go a long way toward building a strong relationship with your editor.
  • If something offends you, walk away for at least a day to let yourself cool off. Your editor probably did not mean to offend or sound harsh, and popping off a snarky, hateful, or insulting message to your editor is a quick way to guarantee she won’t be interested in your next story. And, big as the publishing community may appear, it’s tightly knit. You can easily get a reputation as an author who is difficult to work with. How eagerly do you think you’ll get offered contracts if that happens?
Thank you for joining me today for these tips. We’ll finish up Across the Nightingale Floor by Lian Hearn on Monday, and I’ll announce the next book we’ll read. It will be a bit of a change from usual. Then, next Friday, we’ll go over the role of the agent in the next segment of Worldcon Treasures. Until then, have a great weekend.

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