It’s Thursday! And I’m doing soup again because I was snarky about sick people last week and now I have sick people at my house. So being ugly doesn’t pay, just like Mama always told me. This soup is Roasted Butternut Squash. It’s pretty and yummy, but it does take a little time. Next week I’m probably going to feature pancakes or something… it’s time for something easy!
My friend Cleo Coyle who writes the Coffeehouse Mystery series for Berkley Prime Crime sent me a link to an interesting article. It’s Redactor Agonistes by Daniel Menaker, who is former Executive Editor-in-Chief of Random House and fiction editor of The New Yorker.
Usually I don’t quote a lot of text from articles (and, clearly, you can all read it yourselves), but his article struck a real chord in me—I think because it sounded honest. And, frequently, I think writers are told what we want to hear by our publishers and agents.
Mr. Menaker paints an interesting behind the scenes look at the publishing industry. He makes eleven negative statements about the editing job. Included among them are:
- The editorial department is frequently out of touch with the sales department.
- The acquisitions departments include competitive editors who are going to basically stab you or your favorite project in the back.
Check out #9:
Many of the most important decisions made in publishing are made outside the author's and agent's specific knowledge. Well, meetings are held to determine which of those books your company is going to emphasize -- talk about most, spend the most money on, and so forth. These are the so-called lead titles for those seasons. Most of the time, the books for which the company has paid the highest advances will be the lead titles, regardless of their quality.
I have this completely unfounded theory that there are a million very good -- engaged, smart, enthusiastic -- generalist readers in America. There are five hundred thousand extremely good such readers. There are two hundred and fifty thousand excellent readers. There are a hundred and twenty-five thousand alert, active, demanding, well-educated (sometimes self-well-educated), and thoughtful -- that is, literarily superb -- readers in America. More than half of those people will happen not to have the time or taste for the book you are publishing. So, if these numbers are anything remotely like plausible, refined taste, no matter how interesting it may be, will limit your success as an acquiring editor.
And this statement (should our feelings be hurt?):
Usually, writers, like anyone else who performs in public and desires wide recognition, no matter how successful they become, have an unslakeable thirst for attention and approval -- in my opinion (and, I'm embarrassed to say, in my own case) usually left over from some early-childhood deficit or perception of deficit in the attention-and-approval department. You will frequently find yourself serving as an emotional valet to the people you work with. It can be extremely onerous and debilitating, especially given the ever-decreasing number of your colleagues and the consequent expansion of your workload.
And more about writers (and other problem areas of the biz), but this is funnier:
“--to say nothing of the welter of non-editorial tasks that most editors have to perform, including holding the hands of intensely self-absorbed and insecure writers, fielding frequently irate calls from agents, attending endless and vapid and ritualistic meetings, having one largely empty ceremonial lunch after another, supplementing publicity efforts, writing or revising flap copy, ditto catalog copy, refereeing jacket-design disputes, and so on--“
At the end of #11, I was feeling fairly horrified, but fortunately he ended with a good note. #12 included a list of fun parts of the job, including:
- Despite their often intense neediness, writers are often fascinating and stimulating company.
- And most important, within its plentiful samenesses, every day brings with it some highly variegated tasks and challenges. Every single book is its own unique enterprise, every agent his or her own kettle of fish, every writer an education (sometimes in dysfunction), every book jacket a distinct and different illustrational project.
I’ve been chewing over this article like cud for days. Thoughts?