I was talking to one of my authors last week and she said she couldn’t believe that book editors also worry about things – we likely all know that authors do worry about the publishing process, understandably so, as they are giving over their work to a publishing house and essentially relinquishing a lot of control over their book – but the bottom line is that editors definitely worry as well! So I thought I’d write a post about it to help show the human side of us all…
As an editor, I care A LOT about my authors and their books. And I am pretty sure the same goes for most editors out there. We don’t just buy books for the sake of it; usually, we buy them because we feel passionately that those stories deserve to be out in the world, reaching readers, and we’re privileged to be the ones to start that process. (Well, agents start the process really, but editors take it to the next, more concrete stage). I feel personally connected to the books I am publishing, I want them to succeed, and I want the authors to feel happy that they chose me as their editor and my publishing house as their home. Of course, that probably does not always happen 100% of the time, even though I wish it did! So without further ado, here are a list of the things that I (and other editors who I spoke to for this piece) worry about…
- That authors won’t agree with or like the edits I suggest. After I write my structural edits on a novel, I type them all up into one big editorial letter and then I read through it about three times before I send it to the author. At that stage, I cross my fingers that the author can at least see where I am coming from, even if they don’t necessarily agree with all my suggestions. With smaller line edits, too, I sometimes pick up on little points and find myself wondering, am I just being really stupid not understanding this? (Often for me, this is TV/Film references; I didn’t have a TV growing up and I believe it has stunted my cultural knowledge somewhat. Though it did mean I read a lot, which I guess worked out well!) But I worry about revealing an embarrassing gap in my knowledge in the line edits sometimes.
- That I won’t get to publish the books I want – so for example if a book proves very popular with a lot of publishers, we all go into a bit of mad scramble to pull offers together pretty quickly, and then we might have pitch meetings with the authors and agents to tell them about how we would publish the book. In those situations you don’t get to know exactly what other publishers are offering, financially or otherwise (by that I mean you don’t know what their plans might be – when they want to publish, what format, their vision for the book etc) and so after you send the offer email or finish the pitch meeting you usually spend a few hours or days worrying about whether the agent will accept your offer or not. I hate that feeling of refreshing your email over and over again, and it really does work both ways!
- That the books I buy won’t do well – although editors do have control over some parts of the publishing process, we don’t control everything (YET! ONE DAY!) and so we all feel that vulnerability when we launch our authors’ books out into the market. I am fairly obsessive when it comes to checking sales figures and Amazon rankings along with my authors (I spent most of last weekend screenshotting Girl A and sending the amazon position to both the author and my colleagues) and I genuinely LOVE giving authors good news. The same goes the other way – it is awful having to tell an author that something hasn’t sold as well as we might have hoped, or that they haven’t been selected for a particular promotion for example. The thing is, we are still beholden to external forces – the whims of readers, the staff that place the books out on the shelves in supermarkets or bookshops, the other books out in the market at the same time – oh and the small matter of a global pandemic and the closure of everything. We do everything we can for the books we take on, but at the end of the day reading is subjective and so whilst we may all think a book is marvellous, there could be a reviewer who thinks otherwise and there is nothing we can do to change that person’s opinion.
- That an author will be poached by another publisher – this does happen and everyone does it, but it’s always hard if it happens to one of yours! I want the best for my authors, as many of them have become friends, but if you’ve put a lot of work and time into their publishing and they then end up moving of course it is sad.
- That there will be mistakes in the book! This does happen – each book goes through a rigorous process of checks, starting with the editor, then moving onto the copy-editor and then the proofreader, but by the time it goes to print I have usually seen it about ten times and become a bit blind to errors. Covers and jackets are checked by a LOT of people internally, so it is rare for mistakes to be made, but we have all heard the horror stories and when new books arrive I have to slightly look at them through half-closed eyes for fear that we have somehow spelled the author’s name wrong on the front of the book. (For authors – I have never actually done this… but it remains a slightly irrational fear that I know lots of editors have!).
- That an author will feel unhappy with another part of the process – I always try to communicate a lot with my authors but I do sometimes think that especially debut writers are scared to ask their editor questions, and so I feel bad if any authors are sitting at home in the dark (not literally) about what’s happening with their books. A good publisher should always keep you up to speed as to what is happening at each stage – there will be quiet times, when we are just beavering away behind the scenes, but you should be told your sales figures post-publication, your marketing and PR plans (these will vary, some will be more extensive than others), and your timings e.g. when certain things like seeing your cover or your book starting to preorder will happen. And you should feel free to ask your editor questions if you don’t understand anything or are new to the process!
So, those are just a few things! Hopefully, this shows authors that editors do go through a lot of the same things you do, and that we truly are on the same side as you when it comes to wanting your novel to fly! Thank you to the editors who told me a little bit about what they worry about, as well, and I hope this provides a little bit of insight into the people on the other end of your emails…most of them are refreshing their inboxes just like you!