Wednesday, 20 January 2010

I Hate To Tell You But Your Editor Is Cheating On You

A former editor once said to me that the relationship between an author and an editor is like that between lovers, except that the author believes he or she is involved in a monogamous relationship whereas the editor is secretly carrying on affairs with all the other authors.

It’s true. For the author there is only one book that matters. His or her own book. And when he or she speaks to the editor that’s essentially all they talk about. So the author exists in a permanent state of delusion imagining the editor going away from their meeting and thinking all the time about that special book.

In reality, of course, editors are thinking about umpteen things: all the other books they are handling in all their different stages, not to mention the myriad other things that might be going on in the company. Is their job safe? Will their workload increase dramatically when a colleague goes on maternity leave? Are they ever going to get a pay rise?

And then, of course, there is life outside work. Authors generally forget that editors have lives of their own, and that these private lives might sometimes leak into the professional sphere. So while you are busy outlining your plans for a sequel or even a whole series, they might secretly be wishing they were back on holiday in Italy, or worrying about the funny noise their car was making that morning, or trying to decide which character from a tv soap you remind them of.

Another way of looking it is in terms of cosmology. The author lives in a pre-Copernican word with his or her book at the centre and the editor (along with everything else) revolving around it. The editor lives in a post-Copernican world in which lots of little books orbit round individual editors in a galaxy of publishing houses that itself exists in a endlessly expanding media universe. Let’s face it, seen from that perspective we authors are nothing more than space dust.

It can be tough to negotiate a relationship which is founded on such misapprehensions. It gets worse when one of the parties introduces an element of comparison. You wouldn’t like it if a girlfriend or boyfriend compared you unfavourably with a former partner, would you? Yet that’s what it can feel like sometimes.

I parted company with my first publishing house when I asked for a higher royalty rate on a foreign rights deal and was told, ‘But Brian even (insert Big Name in Children’s Writing here) doesn’t get that much.’ That was it. I’d heard far too much about that particular Big Name In Children’s Writing already. (No, it wasn’t J K Rowling. This was years and years ago.) This particular comment was the last straw.

Maybe it was a good move, maybe it wasn’t. As with old love affairs, there is always a temptation to look back and think about what might have happened if you hadn’t gone your separate ways. But an author does like to feel wanted. That’s it really. Even if we are only deluding ourselves, we like to imagine that our editors really mean it when they stand up once a year at the Christmas party and propose a toast to the people without whom there would be no books at all, the authors.


Keren David said...

He's cheating on me? No!
Great post as ever...

Derek said...

I could live with the cheating - it's the teasing that does my noodle in. That, and requests for money.

Brian Keaney said...

Thanks, Keren. Derek, I presume you mean reading agencies, not publishers when you talk about requests for money i.e. a fee for a critique. I think that's fair enough. But no publisher that wants money to publish your work is worth bothering with.