Just as with any friendship, authors and editors talk about different things, depending on where they are in their relationship. So this blog starts at the beginning: our first meeting. Is it a God-appointment, or did an author not listen to instructions and sign up for a slot before they were ready? In another blog, I'll write about how an author/editor relationship deepens . . . or comes apart at the seams.
As a caveat, remember that each editor has his or her own personality that comes into play when speaking with authors. Some hold an author at arm's length not wanting to give false hope that the project has any chance on God's green earth of being published by their company.
If you have never heard of the Myers-Briggs personality test, now would be a good time to Google it. The test and the discovery of various personality types can be a useful tool when crafting characters. But it also can help you be more objective when one editor seems to wrap you in a warm embrace and the next editor is abrupt and tells you your work is trash and you need to go back home and work harder. It gives you a little perspective on rejection techniques.
In the Myers-Briggs world, I am an ENFJ: extrovert, intuitive, feeler, judger. On three of those fronts, I'm fairly balanced, but my intuitive side is pegged and resides in my gut. It niggles. What the Sam Hill does that mean? My husband thinks I'm making this up, but I can walk into a meeting and take its temperature. Are people really happy, or are they all afraid of losing their jobs tomorrow. There's an undercurrent of tension. I know whether that handsome guy across the room, laughing at everyone's jokes, is sincere or he's all smoke and mirrors--a charlatan.
Let me put this in author terms. I love meeting with authors at writers' conferences. It's tiring but exhilarating at the same time. I could be on the verge of discovering another Lisa Samson or a Brandilyn Collins or a Terri Blackstock. Editors who are STs (Sensor/Thinkers) and depend more on their five senses and their thought processes to make decisions might immediately ask certain questions such as, "Have you published before? What's your platform? How much time and effort are you willing to put into marketing your book?"
Important questions to be sure. But because of my NF (Intuitive/Feeler) status, I'm more concerned with you as a person. Are you nervous? Is that why you're having trouble telling me your story? Did you have to mortgage the house to get to the conference? Did you have a flat tire on the way in? Are your kids sick with colds and you feel guilty for leaving them with your husband? See what I mean? I have my own methods.
For seven years, I was a sales rep for the McGraw-Hill College Division and sold textbook adoptions to professors. Try walking into a biology professor's office when she doesn't want you there. If the smell of formaldehyde doesn't deter you, the frigid stare will. The first rule of any sales call is to establish rapport, so as an editor, I try first to put you at ease and then slide in the harder questions later. All the while, I'm taking your temperature, listening to my gut. I prefer to think I'm listening for the voice of the Holy Spirit.
I remember quite well the first time I met Cynthia Ruchti, the current president of ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers). She was a stranger to me when she first sat down, but she had a great smile, and within 30 seconds we felt comfortable with one another. She had a one sheet, so rather than ask her a bunch of questions, I asked her to tell me about her novel. Soon I was caught up in her enthusiasm for the story titled They Almost Always Come Home, canoeing with her through the Canadian wilderness, searching for a lost husband who could be injured or dead. Goosebumps rose on my arms. I knew that I knew that I knew this could be a terrific book. The rest is history. We signed this debut author and her book released to rave reviews in May of this year. If you haven't read it, you're in for a treat.
Do I always know that early? No, sometimes I let my feelings run ahead of my intuition, and when later I apply the test of what we're looking for to a list, projects fall by the wayside. It was only "coincidence" that shortly after signing Cynthia, she was asked to become the next ACFW president.
Editors are not cut from the same cloth. One might be enthusiastic about your project, and another might be lukewarm. It doesn't necessarily mean that you won't be published. It just means your novel might be more appropriate for one publishing house than another.
But if you hear the same objection from every agent and author with whom you meet, take a clue and don't be offended. Go back home and spend your time fixing an obvious problem. However, if you're convinced it's perfect just the way it is, hang on to your convictions. Your book may never be published, or it may be breaking new ground, will be rejected more than 200 times, and then become a hit. Just ask Frank Peretti and Bryan Davis.