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Category: Author/editor relationships

Thanks to Francesca Zunino Harper for setting up this interview.

After being awarded the Republic of Consciousness Prize last week for Attrib. And Other Stories by Eley Williams, Kit Caless and Sanya Semakula, the team agreed to tell us a little about the life of a small press, and the challenges and advantages that come with it.

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Do we need so many literary prizes? And how do they work? Well, on Wednesday 14th March we’re talking all things literary prizes with The TLS. You can book a ticket here. To whet your whistle ahead of the event, the brilliant Michael Caines from The TLS has answered some burning questions on the literary prize subject.

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Listed by the Observer as one of “Our top 50 players in the world of books”, Clare Conville previously worked as an editor at Random House, before co-founding Conville & Walsh in 2000. Between them Clare’s clients have won or been nominated for nearly every major literary prize in the UK including the Man Booker Prize, the Bollinger Everyman Woodhouse Award, the Whitbread First Novel Award, the Commonwealth Writers’ Best First Novel Award, and the Orwell Prize, the Guardian First Book Award and the Kate Greenaway Medal. Here, she discusses handling criticism well.

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Ariella Feiner started working at PFD in 2006 before moving to United Agents and is now nurturing her own client list which includes many bestselling, critically acclaimed and award winning authors across fiction and non-fiction, including a million-copy selling author and ground-breaking non-fiction. In 2017, The Bookseller named her as a Rising Star. Here, Norah Myers interviews her about being included in that list.

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In Part 1: An industry of opportunitySophie Playle explored who self-publishes, why and how self-publishing has developed over the years, and what this means for editorial freelances. In this post, she’ll be looking at the more practical elements of working with self-publishing authors.

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Lucy-Anne Holmes is a writer and campaigner. Her last novel Just a Girl Standing In Front of a Boy won the Romantic Novelists Association ‘Rom Com of the Year 2015’ and she founded the successful No More Page 3 campaign. She is currently raising funds for her book Don’t Hold My Head Down with Unbound here.

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Working with authors has to be the best part of any commissioning editor’s job. At Open University Press, I have been lucky to work closely with leading executive coaches, psychologists, therapists and literacy experts. My authors are some of the most entrepreneurial and inspiring people I know, many have become friends. When the publisher-author relationship works well, it is a creative, collaborative partnership of equals. And yet every editor will tell you that some of their most trying times professionally have been with their authors. So what do authors and publishers fight about? In my experience the most commonly experienced conflict is around the following three issues:

1) No manuscript and no response

‘I know I haven’t been in touch in the last 6 months, but my marriage broke down, I had to move house and then it burnt down.’

As editors we understand that life can get in the way of writing but doing the ‘disappearance’ act and then coming up with improbable excuses is not the way to deal with it. It leaves the editor unable to plan a new publication date, so colleagues can easily lose confidence in the project and it can be difficult to secure an extension as doubts about the author’s reliability creep in. Make sure your authors understand right from the start how important it is to communicate even when things go awry. Be upfront not only about what the impact of missing their deadline is on publisher but also how much easier it is to mitigate it when having plenty of notice.

2) The endless rewrites

‘You might think you’ve handed over the final manuscript, but you haven’t!’

My author was very persuasive, my assistant understandably shaken up and I had to be very firm in saying ‘no’ despite the crying on the phone. We’ve all had authors who want to keep re-writing even when the manuscript is typeset. Often the ‘not being able to let go’ comes from a place of anxiety about their work finally ‘being out there’. When I was editing my PhD to get it published as an academic monograph, I remember feeling terrified about the thought of anyone actually reading it. I still can’t open the book without wanting to rewrite it. If you have an anxious, perfectionist author, reassure them they have done a good job and you are confident their work will be well-received, while standing your ground that the manuscript in production is the one you are publishing.

3) The cover crisis

‘My son dabbles in graphic design and I’d like him to design the cover.’

This is not what any editor wants to hear – we all know that such attempts can be disastrous. So while we are sympathetic to the fact that for many authors the book is their baby and they can be very sensitive about the way it looks, it is our professional responsibility to ensure the cover is right for the market and maximizes the commercial potential of the book. Be collaborative by asking your author their preferences for colour and images but explain that as their publisher, you understand the current graphic design trends and what style will work best for their audience. If your author is not willing to accept the suggested design, bring them on your side by stressing that your marketing and sales colleagues are sure the design will help sell the book. If you still cannot agree, give your author a choice between two visuals that are equally strong.

Monika Lee is a Senior Commissioning Editor at Open University Press, McGraw-Hill Education. Her book Djuna Barnes, T. S. Eliot and the Gender Dynamics of Modernism (2010) was published by Routledge. You can follow her on Twitter @Lee_Monika

Editors deal with all types of clients. Many of them are pleasant and easy to work with. Some can be very difficult. Freelance copy-editor Sue Littleford discusses different sorts of difficult clients and the problems an editor faces. Soon to follow is Sue’s companion piece on how to resolve these issues, and what authors can do if they feel an editor isn’t adhering to the Code of Practice. 

I’m a freelance copy-editor, so I hang out around freelance editorial online watercoolers. If you do the same, or read blogs with any regularity, you’ll have seen editors’ tales of nightmare authors and, indeed, authors’ tales of nightmare editors.

Some of the most recalcitrant problems arise around conflicting ideas of ‘perfect’. Objective perfection doesn’t exist, but many freelance editors sell themselves as able to deliver it, which does no one any favours. And some authors expect their editors to be quite unfeasibly perfect – and read minds, to boot.

I’m going to state right now that, in my experience, most authors are lovely to work with. But in any barrel, there will always be a few bad apples. Here are several ways to annoy your editor. Some of these happened to me. Some of these happened to people I know.

1) The me-too

I had one of these very early in my freelance career. Not too long after JK Rowling had published the final Harry Potter, the first part of story about a young orphan wizard in a school in a castle, with horrible relatives, an owl and two friends whose names began with H and R landed on my desk. It was dire. Even if it had been half-decently written, there was no getting away from the fact it was a rip-off. When the client asked if I thought she’d get it published, I had to say no. Getting paid for that job took a while…

2) The can’t-stop-fiddling

Ah yes, the author who just keeps adding and changing and expecting you to edit all the new bits for no extra cash and in the original timescale. I’d once returned files to the publisher for typesetting, and days later was still getting new material from the author, who was trying to charm me into doing more work just because he was a ‘head-in-the-clouds academic’ (I’m quoting). Didn’t work. Note to authors: when you submit your manuscript to your publisher, the working assumption is that you’ve actually finished it. Aside from the actual extra work involved, and the cost and time added to the schedule that no one has budgeted for, it’s hard to do a quality edit of a moving target.

3) The precious

The author whose work was perfect to begin with and who rejects every single edit and comment. You wonder why they bothered getting an editor.

4) The precious with attitude

As for no. 3, but rude with it. The editor is clearly too stupid to comprehend the author’s artistic vision.

5) The vague

The author who can’t answer a question unless you send a separate email with each one. And/or they keep changing their minds about things they’d already answered. Or you have to ask the same question five times to get an answer. Note to authors – if we ask, it’s because we need to know.

6) The condescending

Now, not all academic authors are like this – most are absolutely delightful, I’m happy to say – but there are some who make you deal with their secretary, as they can’t be bothered with your queries, or who treat your introductory email setting out the timetable, query handling and initial questions with airy indifference. I remember taking several attempts to get the author to confirm which variety of English they wanted me to edit the book into. The manuscript provided no clues and the clock was ticking. I was finally told ‘I’m sure you can work it out.’ So I went with my preference, which may not have been theirs. You can edit the book of one of these authors without ever having a conversation with them about it. Editing is dispiriting when the author doesn’t seem to care what happens to the book.

7) The didact

The editor sends the academic author a query. The academic author doesn’t answer the query, but writes a paragraph explaining around the point so I can figure out the answer for myself. Good teaching for your students, not so good for letting your copy-editor know how the manuscript should read at that point. I get one of these about once a year and it really slows things down and does nothing for my blood pressure.

8) The headstrong

First cousin to no. 6, the headstrong author will not be interested in following their publisher’s house style and certainly won’t have bothered to read the publisher’s guide for authors, because it’s of no interest to them – they’ll write the way they always have, and expect the house style to disappear in a puff of smoke. Your copy-editor, however, will be distracted from reading the actual words you worked so hard on by toiling away on the mechanics, taking out, or inserting, commas in references, or substituting First World War for World War I, or correcting your capitalisation of acronyms to haul the text back into house style.

9) The uncooperative

They won’t answer queries, they go silent for days on end, they email you from the airport to say they’re going away and will be offline for ten days and make it your problem to deal with the publisher’s schedule (not to mention the knock-on effect on your own bookings).

10) The my-friend-knows-better

It’s enough to make you cry. You’ve slaved over not very promising material and improved it significantly. Then the author shows your edits to a friend or relative, and they find fault with everything you’ve done. They’re wrong, of course. They can’t spell and they don’t understand grammar or how hyphenation changes with context. And they certainly don’t understand that there’s no such thing as perfect. So the author wants you to do it again, this time inserting all their friend’s mistakes.

11) The litigious and/or blackmailer

You’ve done your edit, you’ve sent in the files and your invoice, and the author claims you’ve not done a decent job. There’s a comma missing on page 172! They want a do-over at no charge, or they won’t pay your invoice. Or they’ll take you to court to recover what they paid you before they got bent out of shape over the missing comma on page 172. Or they want a monstrous discount, because you missed out a comma on page 172. And/or they’ll shred your reputation across social media.

12) The utterly deluded

They think an editor will work for a share of their royalties, because their book is such a wonder, movie producers will be lining up for the rights, and publishers will be printing hundreds of thousands of hardbacks for the first print run for an unknown novelist.

13) The parsimonious

‘Freelance means free, doesn’t it?’ ‘Budget? Oh, well, how does £50 sound – I don’t have any more’ (for a 150,000 word copy-edit). Sometimes the author just doesn’t want to pay, because the book is so good really, you should be paying them for the honour (and yes, I’ve had one of those), others just really have no idea of time or cost. And yes, it takes longer to edit a book than to read it. Much longer. And further, editors have mortgages, bills and commitments that require cash, not a swapsie for, well, anything the author wants to offer.

14) The crafty

Editors talk to each other. Facebook groups I belong to have in the past few months caught out two people sending out individual chapters to different copy-editors for a ‘free sample edit’ in an attempt to get the entire book edited free of charge. It’s not big and it’s not clever. Any author who tries that must be prepared to be called out on it, or, should they get away with it, have a manuscript that will not have been well edited. Editing is about consistency much of the time – and no editor will edit a long text in exactly the same way as another.

15) The no-show

After going through the negotiations and agreeing to take on the job, and having fitted it into your schedule, the job doesn’t show up. With some authors I’ve been told about, it doesn’t show up on the rescheduled date, either. When it finally shows up, unheralded, it’s for an immediate turnaround. Sigh. Now, for the freelance editor the no-show means they have a gap in their schedule. No money coming in. Other jobs, perhaps, have turned down because they’ve taken yours on. The editor can try their contacts to see if they can fill the gap, but an offered project may not have the same time requirements as the one you’ve just bailed on. Editors know that sometimes a manuscript isn’t ready when you’d said it would be. Things happen, we get that. But please – communicate with your editor ahead of the date you’re due to deliver your manuscript if you’re at all worried about meeting your commitment.

16) The wannabe book designer

If you know you’re writing for publication, then making your manuscript look just like you hope the book will is, 99 times out of 100, a total waste of effort on your part, and creates work for the copy-editor. And if the author is paying the copy-editor for their time, that’s a waste of the author’s money, too. It is also really dull work for the copy-editor to have to squash all your design into typesetter-friendly format. So don’t use fancy styles – the editor wants to know a chapter title from a side-heading, and what needs to be italic, what’s a quotation and so on, but don’t try to replicate the book designer, who will be following the publisher’s brief (as will the copy-editor). It doesn’t help, either, if the author hits return at the end of each line, or uses strings of spaces or tabs to make a pretend table.

17) The legally naive

Copy-editors and publishers worry about copyright infringement and libellous statements a lot more than some authors seem to. One author told me that they didn’t need permission to quote material and use other people’s photographs ‘because they were on the internet, so they’re free’ (despite the copyright statements in the source websites…). Publication was delayed. Another said a lot of things about Berlusconi that may well have been true, but hadn’t yet been proven, and the publisher was not about to spend its money defending an action for libel. A couple of paragraphs were ripped out.

Sue Littleford has been a freelance copy-editor for ten years, working in scholarly non-fiction, but with forays into fiction. She is an Advanced Professional Member of the Society for Editors and Proofreaders, and author of their Guide Going Solo: Creating your freelance editorial business.

Thanks to Francesca Zunino Harper for setting up this interview.

The Republic of Consciousness Prize is a passionate tribute to small presses’ hard work, original authors’ inventiveness, and high-quality, unconventional books. The ceremony for the second year of the prize was held last Tuesday 20th March in the University of Westminster’s Fyvie Hall.

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It is a truth universally acknowledged that book editors spend their days languidly leafing through the pages of books and occasionally waving a red pen in the vague direction of a stray comma or unruly capital… Or so I’ve been told – on numerous occasions. But never by the lucky ones who get to toil day-in day-out at the coalface of editing, diligently chipping away at a manuscript, carefully polishing it until it shines and looks its best. Funnily enough, they tell a different story. Don’t get me wrong: it’s an honour and a privilege to be involved in the creation of something so precious, but it’s a job that comes with some difficulties and pitfalls. So, take a seat, get comfy and let me tell you some of them…

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membership economy

If you’re an author, or you’re working with an author, then you may beat yourself/them up for being unable to summon up a laser-like focus on the job in hand. Alternatively you may be exasperated by the way your/their creativity and the immediacy of the writing seem to evaporate as the book progresses. (I speak from experience of both perspectives here.) ‘Just focus!’ you might yell – out loud or under your breath. ‘Stop getting distracted!’

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The self-publishing boom has happened and it’s here to stay. Options are increasing for writers choosing to take ownership of the publication of their books, and so are opportunities for editors.

Who self-publishes?

Many self-publishers are writers who have not managed to seduce the necessary gatekeepers stationed along the traditional publishing route – not necessarily because their writing is not of publishable quality, but because the publishers don’t believe in their potential to make money in the market. Fair enough – publishers are businesses, after all.

Now, though, writers can choose to take their own risks.

Many writers decide to self-publish simply for the freedom of it all. Some even decide to leave their publishing houses and go it alone because they see it as the better option. (Hello, 70% royalty …)

Rising quality, rising numbers

No longer seen as a practice in vanity, many self-publishers are now fully aware of the challenges they face, and how best to overcome these challenges. As a result, there is a new breed of independent (indie) authors: they are both literary creatives and publishing entrepreneurs.

Did you know …?

  • Self-published books’ share of the UK market grew by 79 per cent in 2013*
  • 18m self-published books were bought by UK readers last year, worth £59m*
  • The Big Five traditional publishers now account for only 16 per cent of the e-books on Amazon’s bestseller lists**

* The Guardian, ‘Self-publishing boom lifts sales by 79% in a year’, Jun 2014
** Author Earnings report, Jul 2014

According to an article posted on Publishing Perspectives (Oct, 2014), literary agent Andrew Lownie believes that in 5–10 years, 75 per cent of books will be self-published, 20 per cent assisted by agents, and only 5 per cent traditionally published. Whether he’s right or wrong is another matter, but it just goes to show how much of an impact the independent author is having on the publishing world.

A wealth of resources

Technology is the catalyst for these opportunities. The e-book format and print-on-demand (POD) services like Smashwords and Lulu provide affordable production. Companies like Amazon, Apple and Barnes & Noble provide the marketplaces. Every service in between, from editing to cover design, can be found online, and through new marketplace websites, too, such as Reedsy.

And with the Internet, indie authors have a wealth of information at their fingertips. Not sure how to get your book on the shelves at Waterstones? Or perhaps not sure whether you need to buy an ISBN (or that you know what to do with it)? Never fear, Google is here.

A digital revolution

The Internet is a big deal. I mean, it’s a serious game-changer – in so many ways, but especially for the publishing industry. (Truth be told, I don’t think traditional publishing houses have quite caught up yet.)

At the click of a button, people can access the specific information, entertainment or inspiration they’re looking for. This means that businesses no longer have to go hunting for punters in the old, traditional ways (posters, flyers, radio adverts), because those clients are actively seeking them out.

Instead of a scattergun approach to marketing (least effective), businesses can use targeted pull-marketing (most effective).

What does this mean for the independent author? Well, instead of spending all their time writing alone in their studies, they are now able to connect to their readerships online – through social media, blogs and websites.

Remember the publishing house that was concerned there wasn’t a market for that book? Doesn’t matter, because the indie writer can build their readership from the ground up. That’s the power of the Internet.

What does this mean for editors?

In a word: opportunity.

Self-publishers used to have a bad name. Some still do – but it’s no longer a sweeping generalisation. In the end, poor-quality books will sink and good-quality books will rise. Indie authors are cottoning on to that – and they understand they need to invest in their own quality control.

That’s where we come in.

Sophie Playle, of Liminal Pages, is a freelance editor who specialises in fiction and often works directly with writers. For brownie points, connect with her on Twitter and LinkedIn. (Please note: No real brownies or points will be awarded.)

Sophie’s post was originally published on the SfEP blog.

The Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP) is a professional organisation based in the UK for editors and proofreaders – the people who make text accurate and clear. Formed in November 1988, the SfEP has more than 2,000 members who provide editorial services to publishers and a wide range of other organisations and individuals. The SfEP promotes high editorial standards and works to uphold the professional status of editors and proofreaders. Its Directory of Editorial Services provides contact information for experienced SfEP members, including details of the skills, subjects and services they offer.

Editors deal with all types of clients. Many of them are pleasant and easy to work with. Some can be very difficult. In a previous article, freelance copy-editor Sue Littleford discusses different sorts of difficult clients and the problems an editor faces. Here she follows up with some useful tips on how to tackle these issues. 

Here are a bunch of strategies that may help should you have the misfortune to encounter any difficult authors (who, I stress, are the minority!).

1) Trust your instincts

If the client makes you feel uneasy at any point during the negotiation stage, trust your instincts and don’t take on the job. Do NOT cross your fingers and think, oh, it’ll be okay. While you’re dealing with a client you don’t want to have, you’re using up the time and energy you could have spent finding the client you want. A really bad client will be an enormous drain on you.

2) Test the waters

If you’re not sure about a client, offer a paid-for sample edit, the cost to be offset against the final invoice. You’ll get to see not only the writing, but how the author responds to your edits and your invoices. I have declined to work on a handful of jobs as a result, with no regrets.

3) Define your terminology

Have a document you send to prospective clients, or a page on your website, that explains the differences between the services you offer, and check they understand what it is they’ve asked you to do to be sure it’s what they actually want you to do.

4) Define your quality

Don’t promise to deliver ‘perfect’ text. You’re human, so you won’t. Don’t raise your client’s expectations to an unreasonable level. Remember the old adage – underpromise, overdeliver.

5) Pre-empt

This one is so important, as it deals with several of the ways authors can be difficult. Have a contract that says exactly what work you will do, referring to the definitions you’ve supplied, how you will deal with re-edits, and edits of changes or additional material, for what reasons you will walk away or the client can, payments in instalments, what happens to those instalments if either of you fires the other, whether you must be paid the balance of your fee before you release the files – think about every way a job could go wrong and anticipate it in your contract. Whenever you finish a sticky job see whether you need to update your contract. In the UK, the Society for Editors and Proofreaders provides a template contract to use as a starting point.

6) Put yourself in the author’s shoes

If you were on the receiving end of your edits, how would you feel? You may think the author is an unconscionable idiot, but are you rubbing them up the wrong way whilst savaging their literary baby? Are you giving the author what they need and what they are paying you to do? Are those two things the same? Is there a conversation to be had now you’re further into the text and more of its horrors are being revealed?

7) Learn how to query and comment gracefully

It’s hard to be criticised. And that’s what queries about the text are – you’re saying the author didn’t get it right. So be kind, and clear, and pepper your queries with words like ‘please’ and ‘perhaps’ and ‘would that be okay?’ no matter how exasperating the job. It’s doubly hard to be criticised if your editor seems to be scolding you. As editor, you may think you’re being brisk, but it will all too easily be read as brusque.

8) Consider that your author may conceivably know more than you on this subject

Don’t snap out a query each time something looks a bit weird. Look it up. You may find that your author is entirely correct. Odd-sounding turns of phrase may be exactly right in that field. And if you’ve looked it up and it’s still wrong, then your query will be all the better phrased because of your research – you may well have discovered what you think the author was aiming for, and now you just need it confirmed (or not).

9) Patience, patience, patience

You may be concentrating on the text, but the author’s life is proceeding apace. It’s no longer their main focus. You may have to wait your turn to get their attention. They may be dealing with problems you can’t begin to imagine.

10) Learn the art of the snottogram

This is my closely guarded secret, honed in many years in the civil service persuading senior officers to do things my way without offending them. If your author is threatening the publisher’s timetable, or is being uncooperative in some other way, send a carefully worded, polite but steely message that spells out the consequences of their behaviour, and what they need to do about it. Include a checklist of what’s outstanding – it could be they’ve just lost their way.

11) Vary your working practices

Try to work out what your author’s problem is, and see if a change to your usual way of working will help them out.

12) Set out your stall

Most of my work is in scholarly non-fiction, working for publishers and pre-press companies. In my introductory email to the author(s), I tell them the timetable, invite them to say if it’s a problem, tell them how queries will be handled, how often they can expect to hear from me, whether they get the whole amended text back for a last read-through or not, ask any initial questions I have based on the brief I’ve been given, and anything I’ve already noticed in the manuscript, and I encourage the author to tell me of any concerns they have about the edit, and anything they think I should know about the text before I start on it.

13) Alert the publisher early

Put the desk editor on warning that there may be trouble ahead. Could be they can do something about it. Could be they can produce some wiggle room in the timetable. At least they’re forewarned.

14) Communicate, communicate, communicate

I’m not saying this is a panacea, but talk to each other before it goes completely pear-shaped. Most editors I know prefer to keep all exchanges to emails – a sensible precaution for both sides, as there’s a record of what was said and agreed (or not agreed). Thrashing things out by phone or on Skype is sometimes the only way to go. Make notes as you go, write up the conversation immediately afterwards, email it to the author as a record and ask them to agree it or to correct it. The key is to take action early, not hold on in silence and hope things will miraculously improve. Sometimes you need to be proactive – a new author may need a bit of education about the publishing world. Even an experienced author may not realise the impact their action or inaction is having. No author wants to have the edit go badly.

One final point – the Society for Editors and Proofreaders requires its members to adhere to its Code of Practice. If an author feels that a member editor hasn’t done so, then there is a complaints route.

Sue Littleford has been a freelance copy-editor for ten years, working in scholarly non-fiction, but with forays into fiction. She is an Advanced Professional Member of the Society for Editors and Proofreaders, and author of their Guide Going Solo: Creating your freelance editorial business.

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