Friday, November 20, 2015

#4 - Assistants: The Devil Wears a Headset

Assistants have TONS of power. Be nice!
Here's something I didn't think about much before I got a book deal: assistants.

You probably don't either. But over the course of the eighteen months it takes to get your book on the shelves, assistants are going to become very important in your life. So just a few tips on dealing with them.

Many big editors have two different kinds of assistants: an administrative assistant and an editorial assistant.

The first type obviously focuses on administrative stuff, like  scheduling phone calls, handling paperwork and asking you for things that probably aren't ready yet.

Like jacket copy, author photos, the New Author Questionnaire and getting the revised drafts back and forth between you and your editor.

The editorial assistant, on the other hand, is responsible for helping with the creative nitty-gritty of editing. That person can be really hands-on or they might just give a few notes and stay out of your way during the editing process.

Be prepared for both types of personalities, because they're both out there.

At smaller houses, the two jobs might be fused into one, but either way, be warned: assistants in the literary world are very intelligent, creative and well educated people (my last editor's assistant had just graduated from Harvard).

Even if they do sound very young on the phone.

Also, because they have the word 'assistant' in their titles, you might want to throw your weight around. That's not a good idea because literary professionals search far and wide for assistants they can count on and trust.

They don't have time to vet every single proposal that comes into them so if someone passed on your book at a particular house or agency, it was probably the assistant.

Likewise, it was probably the assistant who brought your proposal to his or her boss's attention. So when you do get that book deal, don't play hoity-toity with whoever answers the phone. Assistants have massive amounts of responsibility in an editor's or agent's office, so treat them accordingly.

Because they have the power to make your life easy - or not. 

On the other hand, don't get too friendly with them either. I made that mistake on my first book deal.

My editor actually went on maternity leave shortly after I signed my contract, so I was left to work very closely with her assistant during the long revision process. We got along very well and she was a very intelligent, creative person.

But because I had all these preconceived notions (i.e. unrealistic fantasies) about the perfect editorial relationship, I made the mistake of getting too friendly with the assistant herself. It made dealing with the more mundane administrative problems awkward sometimes: like why a manuscript didn't show up on a particular day - or whatever.

So keep it friendly, but not cloying. 

Also keep in mind that assistants move around a lot - and then they move up. Some day, that editorial assistant that you're flipping off might actually be an editor at a big house. In fact, she probably will be. And because you were such a jerk to her, she probably won't want to work with you again. Meaning you'll hear that dreaded word ... pass.

And in publishing, 'pass' is NOT a good thing! 

More on professional relationships next time: in this case, how to handle your relationship with your editor a lot better than I handled mine.

Subscribe to the blog and follow along. There were about 50 things I wasn't prepared for in the publishing process and knowing what to expect will help you make your first book a success!

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