Wednesday, July 14, 2010

What Do Authors and Editors Talk About?

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.


  1. Thank you, Barbara, for sharing more of yourself with us. I can vouch for you intuition as well as your walk in the Spirit. A year ago when you called and said the first chapters to Beside Two Rivers had some character issues it was the best thing that could have happened to that novel.

    As a result of your honesty, one book turned into a series, Daughters of the Potomac, with characters that are truer to the Revolutionary War period that readers can relate to. And as an added blessing, Abingdon is publishing the series.

    Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

  2. INFP here. I love what that test can reveal. And what a wonderful insider look on how editors can perceive authors.

    Can't wait to read They Almost Always Come Home. I've heard wonderful things.
    ~ Wendy

  3. Great post! I LOVED Cynthia Ruchti's book. Amazing voice. Fell in love right away. Same with Christa Parish's Walking on Broken Glass. Your intuition must be great, because Abingdon published both!

  4. Mary Tyler Moore, Sally Field, Nancy Kerrigan, and I have this in common—we're all ESFJ's. Barbara, I bet you already knew this! LOL

    Sherry Kyle

  5. Barbara, Thanks for this "view from the other side of the desk." I think it helps those of us who sit in fear and trembling to relax a bit as we await our turn to pitch.
    And, whether or not it was due to your intuition, I'm glad things went well at our first encounter at ACFW. Interesting that the timekeeper who sent me into the room to meet with you was Ronie Kendig, another Abingdon author. Funny how these things go.

  6. I love those moments when a complete stranger becomes a connection. I've had that experience many times in the last couple of years; coincidentally, Cynthia was one of them. And so was a certain editor I know. I'm not mentioning any names or anything. I'm just sayin.

  7. I love this post! And I love personality tests. I'm an INFP too, like Wendy. I met Bryan Davis at a conference and if I remember right, he had a really neat call story.
    I also met you, very briefly, the first day of the conference at Sandie Bricker's table. I'm not surprised you're an extrovert! :-) You seemed very comfortable and nice and outgoing!

  8. Remember that Nestea commercial with the person falling blissfully backwards into the refreshing pool? That's how it felt to find a camaraderie with Barbara and a home with Abingdon Press. Interestingly, that same day at the conference, I had an appointment with a highly respected agent. We did not connect on ANY level. Not one. I danced happily out of that appointment though, because I'd felt the Lord telling me I needed to hold out for my dream agent--Wendy Lawton. The disappointing face-to-face with the other agent was confirmation of what the Lord had been telling me. Within a month of that conference, I signed with Wendy, got a contract with Abingdon, and was asked to consider running for president of ACFW. After years of "no, not yet" and "not quite right," the Lord blessed me with His abundance. And intuition from His Spirit played into every layer.

  9. Loved the insight on this post:) I don't remember what I am on the Meyer-Briggs personality test, but I do remember by husband was one of the rare ones, like 1% of the population. It helped me figure him out when we were first married:)

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  11. Thanks everyone! I'm glad this post connected with you. I'm a firm believer that there are no coincidences. As I look back through the years and the people I've met who are significant, I marvel.

    Rita, even though it seemed like forever to sign the second contract with you for the Daughters of the Potomac, I think the trilogy as it's set up now is outstanding...and I love the titles. Thanks for hanging in there until we got it right.

    One thing about this blog, I can let you know that not every editor is the same--not even close. If I put myself on the Pollyanna scale, I'm near the top. I love to encourage people in their dreams. You have two choices, to dream little dreams or dream big dreams. I think the Lord dreams big dreams for us.

    If you don't know your Meyers-Briggs type, it can be really revealing. My reaction was, "Oh, so that's why I act that way." If the Lord gave me something in abundance, it was passion and vision. It's the teensy little details that can drive me a little batty. :)

    July 14, 2010 5:05 PM

  12. I'm going to have to do that Meyers-Briggs test, though I can't tell you already that I'm an introvert. We'll have to see about the rest :) I love this outlook on an editors thought process when they first meet an author. With my first conference coming up and my first agent and editor appointments it helps to come to the realization that everyone is different and the best thing I can do is be honest and open about my work, as well as prepared. Thanks!

  13. Absolutely, Cindy. Just relax and let your unique personality shine through. I wish you all the best in your appointments!

  14. Hi, Barbara,

    Thanks for your great insights and information. If you come to Florida for any editing/writing sessions, I would love to meet you. I am part of Word Weavers and if you came to the Orlando area, I think there would be a lot of attendees. And you could even take in Disney and the new Harry Potter Park at Islands of Adventure. Hope I got you excited about coming here.

  15. Sounds like lots of fun, Lorilyn! And we have a granddaughter who lives in the Fort Lauderdale area, so Florida is definitely on our itinerary...when it's freezing here. :)

  16. LOL...I'm an ENFJ also. The Extrovert part is 75%.
    Thanks for the great insight. It's cool to have our editor teaching us so much!

    Blessings for your hard work.

  17. I took several tests some came out ENFJ and some INFJ. I checked careers and writers are recommended for both. Whew!

    I do this for my characters, but I hadn't thought of relating it to conference appointments. Thanks for the insights!

  18. I'm an ENFP, which is a relief because most days I feel like a C-R-A-Z-Y!

    The first time we were scheduled to meet at ACFW, you were feeling puny and had to cancel your appointments. And because I'm slightly neurotic (thought that's what the "N" was for!), I figured you saw my name and thought it best to take a nap first! Just kidding, of course (well, not so much about my neurosis). But we did meet at the banquet, and I so appreciated that you "got" Leah.

    Walking on Broken Glass was published by Abingdon after so many well-meaning people thought a novel about a woman in and after rehab would not make it in Christian fiction. And that's one of the qualities I admire about you is your willingness to step out in faith.

    And it's great to have an editor who can share my laughter and angst about being "issue" woman!

  19. So many Christas out there. Actually, the wonderful Walking on Broken Glass was written by Christa Allan.

  20. I'm really happy to find your blog. I've signed up for it to feed into my Inbox, and I've become a follower. I really respect your work.

  21. Love the blog and the post, Barbara. I have to say how impressed I am at the books Abingdon is putting out They have been some of the best debut books I've seen in years. Great intuition!

  22. Christa, you were such a delight the first time we met, and I knew we would be great friends. Of course, you're such a tiny bit of a thing I feel like Clifford the Big Red Dog when I'm around you. LOL

    Lena, thanks for such an affirming statement! You too, Ane! Glad to have both of you following the blog and loving the Abingdon books.

  23. Bonnie & Teri...welcome to the NF club. ;-)

  24. This is great information. I love hearing from "the other side". :)

    Thank you,