Encounters in Publishing #25: The Four Faces of Book Editing that Have Nothing to do with Editing, by Maria Gagliano
October 23, 2013
I’ve written about the surprising expectations that come with being a book editor. In that vein, I’ve found the job also comes with some ‘unofficial roles’ that have no relation to the actual editing of books. These roles make for a sometimes rewarding, sometimes taxing, never boring work day. So, in addition to being an editor, I’m also sometimes a….
Psychologist: My colleagues and I often joke that we should have a resident psychologist on staff, because we often find ourselves playing this role despite our lack of training in the field. It’s the stressed author on the phone who realizes her book requires more research than expected; the day she worries her finished manuscript is not good enough (even when it’s great); the 11:00pm voicemail explaining why the cover she’d said she loved is actually all wrong. On these days, I find myself talking people off the proverbial ledge, listening to their worries and reassuring them it’s going to be okay, wondering at what point I’d crossed the line from editor to counselor. I’m not saying I mind—it just often hits when you don’t expect it, just when you think everything is going well and your author is right where she needs to be. (See also: The Village Idiot Syndrome)
Messenger: At first I wanted to call this ‘Bearer of Bad News,’ but the news is not always bad. Sometimes it’s excellent: The first printing sold out before the book even went on sale. Everyone loves the sample chapter we’d shared. Our sales department sees this as their biggest book of the season. On those days, I love being the messenger, but it’s typically not that easy. Often, the message is something like: A major account buyer said the title/subtitle we spent months perfecting will not work—back to square one. Your manuscript needs more revision than you’d hoped. Publicity thinks the cover we love will not resonate with your core audience. These are the days when being the messenger is a slog—when I have to share news that I don’t love, or even necessarily agree with, but it needs to be tackled regardless.
Cheerleader: This role kicks in the second you receive a proposal for a book you want to sign up. You enter the editorial meeting even-keeled, armed with smart, thoughtful market research that illustrates why you think the book will do well. You’ve jotted your bullet points about the author’s star qualities, why she’s the ideal author to write this book, why she’s someone we want on our list. Through all of this, you’re bursting with excitement over the idea of working on this book. You let the excitement shine through, of course, but only enough to show that you’re confident you—and the company—can easily get behind the project. From there, you continue your smart, thoughtful cheer to the agent as you make the offer, explaining why you think you’d be the best editor/imprint for the book. If you sign it up, you’re cheering all the way to the board room when you launch the book to your sales team, and eventually, even to your social network once it goes on sale. You are a book’s #1 advocate, and it’s a job that extends far beyond any editorial work you’ll ever do.
Friend: This is my favorite unofficial role. Every now and then, you and an author get along so well that you don’t want the dialogue to end after the book is done. It’s been a business relationship to this point, but in the process you’d peppered in conversations about your spouses, favorite books, pet peeves, and TV shows. You don’t want to stop talking about that stuff, so you don’t. Fast forward a few months, and you find yourselves at a book party for a mutual author friend. You meet their friends, they meet yours. Suddenly you’re exchanging phone numbers so you can all meet up for dinner later. Without realizing it, long after the manuscript is done and the books are printed, you’ve become friends. It’s a rare occurrence, but always a welcomed one.
Maria Gagliano is a writer, editor, baker, and co-publisher of Slice. Her writing has appeared in BUST magazine, the Huffington Post, Salon, and BrooklynBased.net, among other publications. When she’s not playing with words, she’s teaching herself to sew, garden, pickle, preserve, and cook like her Sicilian parents. She shares her (mis)adventures at pomatorevival.com.