Monday, July 12, 2010

The Top 10 List of Things Editors Talk About

Yesterday, I promised you a look into the minds of acquisitions editors by sharing what we talk about when we see each other at conferences or trade shows. It should come as no surprise that we talk about:

1. Books. I've gotten some great recommendations for my next novel from another editor. Sue Brower of Zondervan fame once told me I just had to read Diane Setterfield's Thirteenth Tale. It's a phenomenal book of secrets, and I never could have guessed the ending. A real page turner.

2. Authors. Yes, we talk about writers and whose doing what in the industry. Here's the secret to a long and happy career. We avoid divas like the plague. Life is too short to put up with high maintenance authors who can't be bothered to meet deadlines (even close), demand the impossible, and rankle at every suggestion for change. I live on Prilosec as it is.

3. The Publishing Industry. It's popular with some trade journals to wail about the demise of publishing. Books are disappearing and being replaced with digital content. Oh, please. A book is a book is a book, no matter how it's delivered. Content is still king, and every editor will tell you that. Without authors, there is no publishing industry. But authors should beware the rush to self-publish. I haven't met a manuscript yet that an editor couldn't improve. Self-publishing can be a career killer, especially for fiction authors. Do you want to be known as a mediocre writer, or a brilliant author? Guess who helps you get there?

4. Food. Chocolate specifically. Or Diets. We're one of the few professions that spends our days never using our legs so some of us are pleasantly pudgy and have a little middle-age spread. Except there is a new crop of editors who seems to watch their diets and exercise. I'm sure they'll live longer. I don't know how they squeeze in the Iron Man or running a marathon.

5. Grammar. This topic isn't as popular as it once was since the English language is changing so rapidly. Too many can't spell, let alone identify a run-on sentence. I remember a long conversation with another editor while cooling off in her swimming pool, debating the need for a serial comma. Exciting, huh?

6. Ideas. We live to brainstorm! Most of us have brains that run like freight trains that never stop. You can hear the wheels clacking, "What if? What if? What if?" On one magical trip to Brandilyn Collins home in Idaho, another editor and I chatted in the boat while Brandilyn and her husband rescued a distressed dead-in-the-water craft. Our "what ifs" just wouldn't quit. The set-up was perfect for a thriller. What if these people were really kidnappers and only used the distressed boat signal as a ruse. The plot was quite complicated. By the time we dropped off the hapless mariners at the dock, they looked as though they'd escaped a Stephen King novel.

7. Money or the lack thereof and how much more work we've taken on in these lean Egyptian years. Editors used to have more editorial assistants and access to lots of development editors. Now we use a lot of freelancers or rely on "self service." Research on competition? Self service. Writing up pub board proposals? Self service. Chasing down sales numbers? Self service.

8. E-mail and its insidious draconian rule over our lives. I've known some editors to have more than 700 e-mails in their queue. Every morning, I have at least 80 to 100 waiting for me, and at least that many more come in through the day. Have you ever tried to edit a manuscript with an e-mail bell dinging in your ear? I've spent many an hour in Starbucks or Panera's editing a manuscript on a laptop just to escape e-mail. And if you take a week's vacation, it punishes you by either shutting down and bouncing back important messages, or it just fills up your in-box with 500 or more that have to be dealt with when you get back.

9. Reading tea leaves. We spend a lot of time trying to make sense of company restructures and why management makes the decisions they do. I'll stay on the creative side, thank you. I have no desire to build a fiefdom.

10. We catch up on each other's lives--kids, husbands, grandkids--and we laugh and pray for one another. It saves our sanity.

20 comments:

  1. Thanks for sharing a glimpse into the secret lives of editors. Enlightening and strangely comforting. It seems food and diets are constant topics no matter what part of the book business you're in!

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  2. Your exciting conversation about the serial comma made me giggle. Thanks for this inside glimpse into the glamorous world of editors. :)

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  3. I can hear it now.
    "How was your day, dear?"
    "Well, we had a staff meeting about serial commas that got pretty heated, but I think we have consensus now."

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  4. LOL about the Prilosec! I could "see" those poor souls as they disembarked )if they overheard all the plotting) too funny. Thanks for sharing.

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  5. Glad I could bring some humor into your day! Editors are normal people...except for that serial comma thing. LOL

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  6. LOVED that Brandilyn's boat people felt they'd escaped from a Stephen King novel!! I feel like that every morning when I awaken from a long night of crazy dreams. Maybe serial commas would at least slow down the action a bit?

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  7. I so wish someone would resurrect the semi-colon. Could you put that as an agenda item soon?

    Appreciate the peek behind closed doors.

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  8. Semi-colons have been so neglected, Christa. What's next? Exclamation points! Oh yeah, the exclamation point police have already driven them from our vocabulary. ;-)

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  9. I love the "What if?" game. It's interesting to hear editors love it as much as writers.

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  10. Barbara, your conversations with editors doesn't sound much different than with authors! Except for the genealogy. I think you and I are due for another genealogy discussion.

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  11. Interesting. I'm hoping you catch up before you talk about the devil known as "email".

    What do editors do with those "what-if" scenarios? Do you drop them on favorite authors?

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  12. That's about what I would expect you to be talking about! It must be fun to brainstorm with others who like to do that...sounds like you came up with a good one. I'll watch for that in Brandilyn's next. Thanks for sharing.

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  13. Barb, my local reputation in Idaho has yet to recover. :]

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  14. Awesome post. And to think you are adding roving into the mix. You'll have to write a post Top Ten List of Things Editors and Authors Talk About Together.

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  15. Too funny! I wonder if the changes in publishing will bring back some editorial support? It'll be interesting.
    It's also funny Sue recommended that book because at last year's ACFW conference I talked about it with her and another lady. I LOVED, LOVED, LOVED Thirteenth Tale. The prose itself was incredible, but it was also a page turner. I finished it in two days!! Excellent book. :-)

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  16. Absolutely, Jennifer. I've even found an agent that shares our passion for geneaology.

    Hmm. Interesting question, Patricia. My "what ifs" come up in the conversation every time I brainstorm with an author. They'll throw out an idea, and I'm off and running. :)

    I'm so sorry, Brandilyn. I thought we were only enhancing your reputation as a thriller author. LOL Bet those people won't be asking you for a boat ride anytime soon.

    Rita, thank you! I was casting about for the topic of my next blog and voila. You just gave it to me. You could have had the Top 5 Fantasies of a Fiction Editor.

    Not unless big money returns, Jessica, and I'm not ruling that out. We call the books like Purpose Driven Life or This Present Darkness or The Shack "lightning in a bottle." You can't catch it or predict it. It just happens. And we're due for another blockbuster book. It could happen to any editor if he/she just follows the leading of the Holy Spirit and listens. Glad you loved the Thirteenth Tale!

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  17. Oh drat! I knew I'd make a mistake in a post (many more to come I'm sure). That sentence above should read: "I've even found an agent WHO shares our passion for geneaology." It's that grammar obsession raising its ugly head.

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  18. Chocolate? Did someone say, "chocolate." :)

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  19. Chocolate is to women as the call of the wild is to wolves. LOL

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  20. "Have you ever tried to edit a manuscript with an e-mail bell dinging in your ear?"

    Yes, as a matter of fact. I've learned to turn off those distractions while I'm writing or revising a manuscript. It's amazing how much more productive one can be when not pretending to multitask.

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