June 10th, 2010

Working with an Editor

No matter what kind of writing you do, at some point or another you will probably work with an editor. Over the course of a long career, you will probably work with quite a few. There will be editors who make you look good, by catching every mistake you make…and editors that don’t. Most of the time you don’t have much choice in the matter; the editor who picks your book is the one you end up working with.At worst, this can be frustrating. At best, they will be enthusiastic about your writing and a joy to work with.


I’m lucky—I’ve got the best editors in the world.


Unlike fiction books, where the person who buys the book is also the person who is your primary editor for the entire process, in non-fiction (or at least at Llewellyn, where I have all my experience) there are two main editors involved: the Acquisitions Editor and the Production Editor.


The Acquisitions Editor, in my case a fantabulous woman named Elysia Gallo, is the person you submit the book to in the first place. She reads the proposal you send, and your sample chapters, and if she likes it, she’ll ask for the rest of the book. If she REALLY likes it, she’ll then take it to an acquisitions meeting and pitch it to the rest of the team. If everyone REALLY likes it, she then offers a contract. And paperwork ensues.


Elysia was the one who bought my first book, bless her little acquistional heart, and all the ones that followed. She has been everything one could hope for in an editor: supportive, enthusiastic, and a strong advocate for my work. But beyond that, she has become a friend.


Now conventional wisdom will tell you that authors and editors—no matter how much they like each other, and no matter how well they get along—can’t really be friends. This is, after all, primarily a business relationship. And to some extent, conventional wisdom isn’t wrong. I know that when we are in negotiations, she HAS to put Llewellyn’s interests first. That’s her job. Business first, friendship second. And I’m okay with that. But the rest of the time, we really are pals, and I know that she has gone to bat for me more than once. And I hope that our relationship will continue long after my time with Llewellyn is over.


For some Acquisitions Editors, the job is more or less over once the contract is signed. But Elysia tends to be more hands on, and frequently offers in-depth feedback and suggestions for the scope, direction, and content of the books. Some authors don’t like this in an AE—but I love it. I want to turn in the best possible book, in a form that is going to make all those higher up on the food chain at Llewellyn happy. Working closely with Elysia helps me to do this. She makes me look good.


Once Elysia and I deem the book finished (a process that usually takes about three months from the time I start writing to the time I finish—almost always well ahead of my official deadline), it gets sent on to the Production Editor. There are a number of PE’s at Llewellyn, but on all but the first book, I have been lucky enough to be paired with Becky Zins. Becky rocks, too.


The PE helps to polish the book. She goes through it word by word and (hopefully) finds anything I screwed up or left out. Eventually, she contacts me via email with her biggest questions, and we usually have a few days of “is this really what you wanted to say?” and “would you mind if I changed this?” exchanges. When she’s done, she sends me the final proofs—which I just got yesterday for WITCHCRAFT ON A SHOESTRING—and it is my job to make sure that it all turned out right.


Like Elysia, Becky is a joy to work with. Her vision of the books has always matched mine EXACTLY; something which is a minor miracle in publishing and for which I thank the gods daily! And unlike most PE’s, she is (as far as I know) the last remaining PE at Llewellyn who also works on the book design itself. All those adorable cats in the EVERYDAY WITCH A TO Z books…her idea.


I have been really fortunate in my editors so far, and hope that this good fortune will continue as I move into the fiction world. But it isn’t all luck—I also work hard to be as good an author for them to collaborate with as I can be. I want them to be singing my praises as loudly as I sing theirs.


Here’s a few basic ways to be a editor’s dream writer:


Always be polite and cooperative. (Yes, that should go without saying—but it doesn’t.)


Always meet or beat your deadlines. (Much of publishing takes a long time, and then you get two days to do the next step. The more lead time you can give an editor, the easier their job is.)


Submit the cleanest copy you can. (Just because it is an editor’s job to clean up your manuscript doesn’t mean you shouldn’t make an effort to find all the typos and other errors yourself. Becky has said she loves to see one of my books land on her desk, because she knows that there will be very little for her to do. That’s what you want to hear!)


Say “thank you” often and loudly. (Editing is one of the behind-the-scenes jobs, and it can be pretty thankless. It never hurts to tell your editor how much you appreciate all the work they put in to make you, the person everyone associates with your book, look good.)


With two books coming out this year, I have spent more time than usual dealing with editors. Which only makes me even more grateful than usual to have two such wonderful ones to work with. Thank you, Elysia and Becky! If I look good, it is all due to you.


 Here is a pic of me and Elysia at Pantheacon this February. If you look at the table, you can see the color cards she brought me so I could pick out colors we liked better for the WITCHCRAFT ON A SHOESTRING cover. Now THAT'S andeditor!