Friday, November 27, 2015

#5 - Your Editor Is Not Your BFF

I'm hard at work editing HUNTER'S MOON for my first indie release in 2016.

In the meantime, I want to keep cataloging everything I learned on my traditional book deals. Things that surprised the hell out of me, things nobody will warn you about, and things that can really set your career back if you're not prepared for them. Number five on the list:

Your editor is not your BFF. 

If you haven't figured it out already, I'm kind of a naive person. I didn't really know how naive until I got published. I made so many stupid mistakes on my book deals that it's taken me years to recover.

I want to share this experience with you because you only get one chance at making your first book a success. If you're prepared for what really happens with a book deal, you'll have a better shot at it. Plus they say 'write what you know' right? ;)

I want to preface all this editor information by saying that I absolutely adored my first editor at Atria/Simon & Schuster - and I still do. And I'm also 'in serious like' with my second editor at MacMillan/St. Martin's Press, though I didn't get as emotionally attached that time around.

These women are both incredibly successful New York editors, responsible for everything from mega-hits like THE NANNY DIARIES to modern cult classics like THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER. They're also warm, intelligent, creative chicks.

I feel so lucky to have worked with them. 

However, I'm pretty sure neither of them will ever ink a deal with me again.

Here's the main reason: I was an idiot. In case you have a smidgen of idiot in you, let me save you lots of heartache and give you an idea of what the publishing world is really like.

You know that dream you have about your relationship with your editor? Whether it's a fancy literary genius in some cramped office in the bowels of a pre-war building in downtown Manhattan or a popular hitmaker in some sleek corner office in a post-war building in Midtown, you know what I'm talking about.

Your editor gets you. Your editor respects you. Your editor loves you. And makes your work better.

It's literary happily ever after.

That's certainly what I dreamed of when it came to working with an editor. I thought if I ever had writer's block - or even just a bad day - I'd be able to call my editor up ... at home ... in the middle of the night ... drunk out of my mind ... on a long weekend ... and have them patiently talk me through the whole thing and make everything better.

One word about that dream: WRONG!

New York editors are among the busiest people in the world. Once that happy first phone call is over (and it will be happy) and they tell you they loved your manuscript (and they did love your manuscript - in fact, they loved it so much they've already had to pitch it to their publisher to make the offer in the first place), the honeymoon is over.

Until your book starts getting great 'buzz.' 

'Buzz' is when your galleys or ARCs (Advance Review Copies) start getting good blurbs and 'early praise,' and when the big buyers at Barnes & Noble love it enough that they want to stock thousands and thousands of copies on their shelves. When this happened to me, my relationship with my editor went from warm and professional to warm & fuzzy, complete with emails signed off with x's and o's.

Everyone thought the book would be a bestseller. Including me. 

Unfortunately, it wasn't. And when that happened, I went into a (probably clinical) depression. I couldn't decide on my second novel. I kept changing my mind about the idea. I even submitted one proposal, then pulled it back from my editor to submit a totally different one. I was a total basket case.

Months went by - and then a year. This is not a good thing because publishers are partial to writers who can get a book out every year. This isn't a hard and fast rule, but it's a nice guideline to keep in mind.

Having a nervous breakdown, depression, doldrums, tantrums, complaints, indecision, writer's block - nobody in the business has time to deal with that crap. When I finally did submit a proposal for my next book, my editor passed.

"It's just not my thing," she said about the idea. "I'm not into Floridian seriocomic novels." Yes, there is such a thing as a Floridian seriocomic novel (think Carl Hiassen), but I had no idea until she brought up the term about something I'd written.  It was her prerogative to pass - regardless of the reason.

This doesn't mean she's a bad editor.

In retrospect, I don't blame her. She had a job to do and part of her job is finding authors who don't have a nervous breakdown when they don't hit the NYT bestseller list the first time out.

But back then, it was heartbreaking. I already felt like a failure. Now I felt abandoned by my literary soulmate too.

But nobody in the business has time to be your shrink, your mother or your BFF. This is a professional relationship and you have to be professional yourself.

It's not always easy because once your agent has inked your deal, your world will mostly revolve around your editor. This automatically gives that person an incredible amount of influence in your life.

Especially if you've got all these preconceived writer fantasies. 

On the other hand, your editor has a huge professional circle. They deal with hundreds (if not thousands) of writers and agents every year. They simply don't have time to massage your hurt ego or talk you down from the ledge. So when you get into a relationship with your editor:

Be warm. Be friendly. Be yourself. But don't get too emotional.

In fact, this is one of the biggest pieces of advice I can give to any new writer about the whole process: don't get emotional about anything! It's a rollercoaster ride and nobody knows if you're getting off in one piece.

So keep your head down, stay cool, work hard - and save your writerly fantasies for where they belong: in your books.

As for my relationship with my second editor ... that's a whole other story!

Subscribe by email to follow my journey and get more insider tips. 

Because if you can be prepared for what a book deal is really like - you'll have a much better chance of actually making that nice writer fantasy in your head come true!


  1. All newbie writers should read this!

    I've had a few NY publishing contracts (under pseudonyms). Each time, I went in with eyes wide open. I tried to maintain a professional distance, but then I fell under the spell of super-friendly editors who made promises, only to break them, leaving me hurt and bewildered. Silly as it sounds, I felt like Charlie Brown believing Lucy would be there for me with that football. Each time an editor yanked the ball away, I would slink off in depression for months (or years), only to come back & be duped again by BFF editors.

    Much older and a little wiser, I know most editors are over-worked, underpaid and doing whatever is necessary to hold onto their jobs. They may promise the moon, believing they will deliver, only to be told "No" by their executive editor or marketing.

    Now that I've taken the Indie route, I am relieved to be out of the stressful dynamics with editors in traditional publishing. While I am not ruling out the possibility of going back, I am too cynical now to fall into the Charlie Brown Syndrome again. :-)

    Thanks for the great blog post!

    1. Hi Gillian!

      Thanks for your kind words! Charlie Brown?! That's hilarious!! And heartbreaking. :( It's such a rollercoaster ride, isn't it?

      I'm so sorry you had to go through all of that. As writers, I think the 'dream' of finding the right editor/publisher/agent/whatever helps fuel us. It can be so devastating when things don't turn out.

      You're right, though - editors are overworked and just one part of a big team that's involved in publishing a book. It can't be an easy job.

      I'm so glad you're finding the indie world a little less stressful! Me too! Lots to learn, but at least there's a little more control. Over emotions and everything!! ;)

      Thanks so much for writing! I really appreciate it!! Good luck with your books!! Looking forward to keeping in touch!

      Sheri :)

  2. Oh, honey, I swear, my experience with my editors has taken a similar path. I also had a huge lapse before handing in my second book (on a two-book contract) and it wasn't what they were expecting and at this point lord only knows if they'll accept it. There is no fairy tale, no happy ever after when it comes to writing and publishing. Yet my editor was wonderful (wonderful!) during my first book (and yes, they all thought it was going to be a big hit and no, it wasn't) and I owe her so, so much.
    At the same time, I've worked as a newspaper editor for six years and understand the challenges and limitations of the position,and you'd think that would have helped but nope, I still had my expectations, I still had my worries and insecurities, I still brought too much emotion and drama into the whole situation.
    Anyway, really enjoyed this post, thanks so much for writing. Cheers and have a great weekend.

    1. Hi Cinthia,

      Thanks for writing! I'm so glad you shared your story! A two book deal? That's amazing!

      But it's hard, isn't it? You work and write and fight through so many obstacles - and then the 'dream come true' turns into a 'living nightmare' in a hurry. So rough!

      Interesting that - even as an editor yourself - you could still get drawn in by the fantasy. It's kind of hard to avoid. Like you said, so much emotion, so much drama - sometimes I think your relationship with an editor becomes almost like a romantic one!! lol!

      But I'm so glad you feel grateful for your experience. I do too. It's not an editor's fault when things don't work out. I'm sure they're just as devastated when one of 'their' books fails as we are. (Well, almost anyway!!)

      But if the statistics are right, the vast (vast!) majority of us are in the same boat, so it's great to be able to talk about and hear other writers' experiences too! :)

      Thanks again for sharing your story. You have a great weekend too!! And good luck with your writing!!

      Sheri :)