19 November 2008

Editors’ Biggest Peeves

Here's another fruit from last weekend's SCBWI New England ENCORE! session in Rhode Island. This spring editor Sarah Shumway, now with Katherine Tegen Books/HarperCollins, had polled her Dutton Children's Books colleagues about what sort of authors irritated them most.

In this purely non-scientific survey, Shumway reported, those editors' biggest peeves were:

  • Authors who leave typos in their query letters.
  • Authors who leave typos in their manuscripts.
  • Authors who pester editors unreasonably about manuscripts.
The first two items confirm what I wrote back in May: for editors, punctuation becomes a moral issue.

As for those pestering authors, part of the editors' resentment is, they'd probably admit, a little guilt. Editors know they're behind on their tasks. Editors want to be nice to authors. But editors also know they usually can't afford to put off many tasks in order to consider or respond to projects that have little chance of earning money for their firms.

Editors have too much to do already on books that look like they'll make money. When their publishing firms conduct performance reviews, they don't consider how well an editor responds to unwanted, unagented manuscripts. That activity almost never has an impact on the bottom line.

So putting editors on the spot about a manuscript brings up a mix of feelings: guilt ("Oh, gee, I'm so far behind on the slush!"), overwork ("But I've got sixty things to do this week!"), confusion ("Which manuscript was that? Which Debbie is this?"). No wonder editors dislike that experience.

And if the author is a pest--asking for a quick answer over the phone, contacting over and over in a short time, seeking detailed feedback, not taking a polite no, sending an extra 2¢ stamp because postage rates have gone up and you know your manuscript is easily found at the top of the pile--then all those bad feelings get focused on her.

All that said, authors still have an obligation to themselves to follow up on solicited submissions, late payments, and other business obligations. One just has to be careful to understand the editor's workload, and the number of other manuscripts she sees. And in a world of voicemail and email, there are ways to send a gentle nudge instead of a shove.

This is one part of Tor's slush pile in 2006, recorded by SF Revu.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Moreover, no wannabe author ever comprehends that most editors don't have any time to READ during the day because so busy going to meetings and trying to respond to phone calls and emails (I remember also being scolded that I didn't lunch frequently enough with agents although our office was out of the way so that meant losing about 3 hours from the middle of the day - I did get to eat at some very nice NYC restaurants, however, so it wasn't unpleasant, just meant very very long days at the office).