Society thinks I sit at a desk all day, armed with bottomless coffee and spellcheck software. Authors think I hold a scalpel disguised as a red pen—editors and their nefarious ways!—poised to make their manuscript bleed. For some reason, my friends have this notion that a book editor lives the liquid lunch, in a Don Draper-meets-Hemingway sort of way—complete with a typewriter. And this is what I think I do.
I have about 11 years experience as an editor, but I’ve been working as an editorial manager for SparkPress and She Writes Press for about a year now. But I often get the question: what do I actually do?
The key word is manage. Managing 25+ authors and their manuscripts on any given day (all in various stages of production), vetting submissions, triple-checking for editing errors, uploading vast Excel spreadsheets (called metadata) into Ingram’s database so your book actually exists . . . But I also get to spend my days helping authors make their books the best they can possibly be. I get transported to absorbing, fascinating, and sometimes imaginary worlds, deliberating over word usage, style, and character development. Sometimes I even get a killer new lip stain when chewing on a red pen over a particularly troublesome piece of work.
So in honor of my one-year anniversary and SparkPoint Studio’s 7-year anniversary, I decided to share some “confessions,” if you will—misconceptions, tips galore, and of course, things us editors wish you would listen to and understand a bit better.
TRUTH: There will be edits.
Let’s start with an easy one, shall we? I have never seen a book that didn’t go through at least one round of editing—in fact, many books go through two, three, even four drafts, and errors are still uncovered. Oh, did I mention this is even before being sent to the professional editor or proofreader?
And it’s totally normal. Several pairs of fresh eyes should be on a manuscript before it’s published. Stay calm—edit on—and be prepared for feedback and changes. Just remember that all these changes are in the name of making your book the best it can be. Feel free to express your feelings and listen to what the editors are trying to communicate; they are the professionals. However, every editor has a different style, and sometimes the one working on your manuscript might not be the best fit for you. For example, if your fiction novel is set on a cattle ranch or in a high-powered attorney’s office, and uses lots of terminology and slang from that culture or profession, then you should ask for an editor familiar with those areas.
TRUTH: Your submission and query letter should be as good as you can possibly make them.
While I love a good riddle as much as the next person, your query should be clean, concise, and relevant. Please don’t send a summary with no word count and end it with “you’ll love the ending; it’s a doozy!”—tell me why. In order to vet your manuscript, we need to know how it ends . . . unless that isn’t important, and in that case, we’ve got bigger problems. In conjunction with a query, when manuscript submission guidelines are crystal clear, not following them is probably not going to make you stand out in a great way. We don’t expect your manuscript to be perfect, but it should be your most recent polished draft, spell-checked, and organized.
FALSE: We love hearing about the “next 50 Shades of Grey” you’re writing after just meeting you at a totally non-work related event.
I love my job—love it. Even when I’m at non-work related events, I enjoy discussing editing and publishing with authors who are honestly interested in engaging conversation about the future of the industry—cough cough, like the amazing things SparkPress and She Writes Press are doing in hybrid publishing Or the books I’m looking forward to next season. But when I admit to working in publishing in public, it’s like aspiring authors can smell the blood in the water. There are the inevitable questions about the state of the publishing industry. Usually followed by “So I have this book I’ve been working http://quotecorner.com/proscar.html on…” and sometimes even snowballs into complete disbelief that I, an editor, wouldn’t want to graciously read this next best seller. For free. And tell them on the spot all the secrets to being successful when I’m trying to relax.
Next time, make a note to look up the editor’s company online, and professionally submit your manuscript with a query. Then replenish her drink.
FALSE/TRUE: Your editor will veto your creative control and your manuscript will lose its voice.
An editor’s job is to help the author connect to readers, polish up the manuscript, and make recommendations on characters, plot development, and tone. But I am a big believer that a manuscript should never lose the author’s voice or style—a good editor will enhance that. So this statement can be true or false, depending on your editor. Do your research on publishing houses and the services they offer. One of the things I love about SparkPress is the caliber of professionals who work with their authors. Award-winning cover designers and formatters, and editors who excel in a variety of styles and subjects. Ask questions. Proofread. Repeat.
TRUTH: We create Author Handbooks and Guidelines for a reason.
I know, I know—they can be hefty or easily forgotten. But when just about every question, from editing timelines and layout to distribution and sales, is addressed in these materials, it can be frustrating to answer the same questions over and over. Read the guides, highlight important sections, and try to make a note to refer to it before emailing at 2 a.m. We would rather be focused on teaching you other topics, like the difference between shifts in person, or compound modifiers. Just kidding. But really, we created them for a reason. We swear.
TRUTH: Publicity is key.
It’s become more apparent that having a marketing and publicity strategy in place for your book is key to selling copies and building a brand for yourself. Many publishers offer publicity resources, and it’s important to realize that it is going to be an investment on your end—but it’s one that’s well worth it. Once your book is in the marketplace, marketing and publicity are the two forces that will actually drive what we call “sell-through.” Sell-through is different than preorders, in that selling through means that your book is actually being sold through the register, whereas preorders can always be returned, especially through the major accounts. This model is only relevant if your publisher has a relationship with Ingram for traditional distribution (which is what you should aim for).
At SparkPress, our relationship with Ingram makes marketing and publicity even more important. Because Ingram has the capacity to get your book into lots of accounts, and in good numbers, you will want to have the publicity to back those efforts. A publicist will help you build a marketing plan and goals for your book, and help book speaking engagements, media appearances, and get you into magazine and newspaper features.
TRUTH: We want you to succeed!
The publishing process is exhausting, difficult, and intimidating; it almost might be more exhausting then writing your book . . . nah. So in that regard, you can totally handle it. Writing a novel, going through the editing process, publishing, and getting on board with a publicity plan is a huge commitment of time and money. But don’t get discouraged. We’re here to help you succeed! One of my favorite things is getting a book I helped edit or manage into my hands and seeing the beautiful finished product. It makes me proud of the author. And the fact that the publishing industry is still full of unique, influential books that are making a difference. Yeah—we may get cranky from time-to-time (Does Stephen King really need that many slots in the New York Times bestseller list? And seriously? Kim Kardashian selfies?!)
But we still love the world of books and the authors in it.
It’s time for March Madness and while most of the country is filling out brackets and placing bets, we’re taking a look at the MADNESS of publishing. We’re giving you a play-by-play of all the industry highlights you need to know to stay competitive. Swish!