Monday, August 20, 2007

Editors Are Evil

There's an undercurrent out there among frustrated writers and authors that magazine and book editors are pure evil. There was even a writing contest based on the theme, and the winning entries are, well, amusing. One editor has decided to capitalize on the notion that editors take pleasure in rejecting people. He's got a blog and a book called Evil Editor Explains: Why You Don't Get Published.

Really, though, I think we're just misunderstood. We are under tremendous pressure to find material that fits ALL of the following criteria:
  • Will sell enough copies to pay for itself and generate a healthy profit.
  • Fits with the company's mission.
  • Is well written (so that it won't cost too much to edit it).
  • Is written by someone who will be a pleasure to work with (this often takes a backseat to the "healthy profit" notion above)
  • Will be attractive to the media and get lots of play.
  • Hasn't been done before (or if it has, the first book on the topic has sold like gangbusters and we can ride on its coattails).
  • Provides a new spin or angle on a perennially popular topic.

So rejecting a manuscript is rarely personal. I've seen plenty of great books that I had to pass on because I knew they wouldn't sell, or WE couldn't sell them (but maybe someone else could). And I never do it without a pang of regret. I always think maybe I could be rejecting the next Chicken Soup phenomenon.

And I am sensitive to the feelings of those whose work I reject. Think of someone putting their heart and soul and years of work into this book, only to have a little twerp like me dash their dreams. It's not fair. But it's my job. It would be much less fair of me to publish your book and then not sell any.

And even after we agree to publish a book, there are authors who have a violent reaction to having their work edited. I have been threatened with bodily harm for having to cut 50 pages from someone's book. But the majority of authors are grateful for the polish that we apply to their writing, making it into a "real book" that will hopefully sell well. In the words of the immortal Caroline Dow, my late journalism professor: "Everybody needs an editor."

No comments: