Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Changing Editors

I've had a couple more indicators that for me 2011 will be the Year of Change. Earlier today I was at the doctor's getting a follow-up check, and while his nurse was taking my blood pressure she kept frowning.

"Can't find a pulse again?" I asked her (my BP regularly runs very low, and I have a heart murmur, so I routinely scare the daylights out of people using stethoscopes.)

"Actually it's a little on the high side. For you, anyway." She pumped up the sleeve again. "Any reason you might be feeling some stress?"

I thought for a moment. "My new novel is being released today, and everyone is already saying great things about it, something that in Publishing never goes unpunished. Last night one of my editors asked me to synopsize two hundred years of a character's backstory from a book I'm not actually writing until 2012. I have to electronically correct a set of proofs for another book before my mother visits next week, but I don't think that editor is going to send them until Friday afternoon. And right before I came here, my agent e-mailed to tell me the editor I've worked with longer than any other in my career is quitting the business, possibly before she finishes editing my current novel, and I have to decide on a new editor. So now I have to pick who I want to work with on the bestselling books of my career until 2013 in the next twenty minutes before I call the agent back."

"Uh-huh." The nurse stopped taking my blood pressure. "When does Mama arrive, and how much house cleaning have you done?"

"Next Wednesday. We just renovated one of the bathrooms." I hung my head. "The rest of the house looks like the North Pole after an Elf Kegger."

"Poor thing." She patted my shoulder. "I'll have the doc write a scrip for some more chocolate-covered Valium."

So as I've already admitted to the cosmos, change is good. For 2011 I fully intend to be a good sport and willingly embrace it. However, it would be helpful -- and a little less stressful -- if all the changes the universe is going to throw at me didn't have to happen in the first week.

If you stay in the business long enough, you will probably have to change editors. Just like any other biz pro, editors are routinely promoted, laid off, or shuffled to another imprint or division. Older editors eventually retire; younger editors often get pink-slipped or jump ship to take a better job at another house. Occasionally some leave Publishing behind entirely; one of my editors quit the biz to go to law school.

Losing an editor can be extremely stressful for a writer, especially if you've worked together for a long time. After a few years you both know each other well and have settled into a workable routine. Even if you didn't particularly like your old editor, s/he is the devil you know; the replacement is the one you don't.

If you're given the opportunity to choose your next editor, and you haven't been collecting info about other editors at your publisher (most of us veterans do that in anticipation of editor changes), you should (discreetly) check out the candidates first versus blindly choosing one or relying on an agent or senior editor's recommendation (remember, they don't have to work with the new editor, you do.) You can go info-gathering on the internet (editors talk a bit about their professional experience in interviews, and they also sometimes list other publishers they've worked for in bios), contact other authors who have worked with them, and ask your agent what s/he knows about them.

Everyone has different expectations and desires, so you have to tailor your investigation to suit your needs. I always look at experience first (as in, where have they worked, how long have they been in the biz, and how many houses have they worked for. Also if possible I like to know how often they've changed jobs; I prefer to work with editors who don't jump ship a lot.), I also consider what's on the editor's plate: which authors are they editing, which genres are they handling and how many titles they're putting out a year. The more info I gather, the better guess I can make as to whether or not we'll be a good match.

When you have to change editors, your new editor is generally aware of how stressful the situation is for you, and will try to fill the huge gaping hole space left behind. In my experience most do a terrific job of this, so it's worth giving them the benefit of the doubt (and some time to prove themselves.) It's always a roll of the dice, but you shouldn't expect the worst upfront.

Some writers say you should always meet an editor in person before you agree to work with them, but I don't agree. At times it can even be counterproductive. The last editor I met in person back in 2003 was so young she had barely gotten through puberty -- she sounded a lot older on the phone -- and was so "on" for the conference we were at that I couldn't get a genuine handle on who she was as a person (something that later resulted in a major clash during production that I might have avoided if I hadn't met her and assumed she was -- as she behaved at the conference -- all sunshine and happiness.)

One more thing about asking around the writing community: a writer who doesn't know you is probably only going to say good things about their editor. 99% of the time this is because the writer doesn't know you well enough to depend on your discretion to keep the truth confidential. 1% of the time it's because the writer thinks their editor sent you to find out what they're saying about them. It really depends on how neurotic and paranoid the writer is.

Tomorrow I should hear whether or not if I can be moved to the editor I want to work with; tonight I'm going to think about a few alternatives if I can't. While I put together a 2012 novel notebook for the notes from the 200 year character backstory synopsis. And clean the guest bedroom -- twice. And see how chocolate-covered valium taste crushed and sprinkled on top of a big honking banana split . . .


  1. Enjoy your banana split. You deserve it and bananas have potassium which supposedly helps you find calm.

    At least the rest of the year should be a little lower key, right? So if you get through this much, you'll find things easier than expected even when/if they desolve into a chaos of deadlines.

  2. Margaret S4:54 AM

    Hi Lynn
    I have found that if I lean back close my eyes and relax and let this song just flow over me I can almost feel the knots in my head relax(Track lasts about 4 mins)

    Hope it works for you

    Although the chocalate covered valium do sound tempting

    Why is it when you have a lot to do more seems to pour down from the sky.

    My New Year has stared with a sore throat runny nose and a head that feels like someone stirred it with a spoon. I hope that isn't a sign of things to come.

    I hope you get through all your tasks and are able to enjoy your mother's visit. Then maybe you can take a breather.

    All the best to you and yours

  3. There are those of us in the trenches who assume that once you're a regularly-published pro, all your agent/editor/submission troubles disappear. It's good to have this kind of reality check. Thank you. I learned a lot.

    But I'm sorry that it had to happen to you.

    And LOL on the nurse who of course cut to the very most important question.

  4. nothing like a mommy visit to make you pull your hair to have everything right for her. good luck on the editor selection


  5. I still miss Angela James. She left to run Carina. I love my new editor, she's just as good, but Angie was a marvel. And she believed in my stuff, even though it wasn't a "normal" kind of romance book.

  6. I'd throw myself on that banana split if I were you. Right after calling Merry Maids and begging for emergency aid. Seriously, they are good and FAST. Fingers crossed your new editor is a good match.

  7. Congratulations on your new book release!!

    And have a nice banana split here:


    Cherry Mischievous

  8. Oh my goodness! You're a trouper. Here's hoping everything goes well for you.

  9. Wait-you found a doc to give you chcolate covered Valium? Damn it, where is this doctor at?

    Okay, back to the matter at hand. Gulp. That's gotta suck.

    I can say I know you'll make it work. You always do-which is why you are the wise writer guru and I sit humbly at your feet. Waiting for you to drop chocolate covered valium on accident.

  10. *hugs* You've got quite a load! Enjoy that banana split!

  11. Best of luck, hope you get to work with the editor you want. :) Let us know how it goes!

    I can't imagine having to switch editors...especially if my previous editor had been working with me for a long time! Big changes, indeed.

    Hmm, I kind of disagree about whether or not a writer should meet with their new editor. I think that it's important to first meet at least once so you get a feel for how your relationship will go and if you two seem able to work together well.