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22 November 2006

Editor's Epiphany

An unpublished writer wants me to read, critique and edit the MSS he thinks should be published. To his mind, it would be ideal that I do this gratis. Yet we have never met, certainly do not share membership in a writers' group and have only been in contact by email.

He knows -- he says it up front in his long, first and sales-man-like message -- that professional editors like to be paid for evaluating a manuscript and writing up an appraisal of publishing potential. What he doesn't seem to realise could fill a book: 1) that we are not literary agents; 2) we don't like to "participate as volunteers" in long-winded sessions as anybody practices a pitch to a publisher-editor; 3) it is distasteful to us to listen to a rant out of the blue against a colleague editor who follows the same code of ethics we subscribe to; 4) when we wear our editor hat we do not diss contemporary published authors, publishers or the entire professional army it takes to put out literary and popular fiction books. (We diss them outside work: as 'private' citizens, like other civilians and on our own time and even on our own blogs, thank you!) Gossip and bad-mouthing are not calling cards we hand out to strangers.

So I am very hesitant to continue any dialogue with any author who understands yet cannot respect the parameters listed above. It seems ever more clear to me that the writer who scrounges down in their first communiqués like I'm his buddy-buddy and share his prejudice against publishers practises is also a writer who is, to all intents and purposes trying to "low-ball me". He probably thinks I'm on my high horse. So knock down the profession and then I will be game to gladly join in his or her 'fun' of 'finally getting into print'. I'll do Mister Unrecognized author yeoman service for little or no monetary compensation.

It is not what's described above that has been an epiphany for me. My eyes have long been open on all these scores after being burned by wannabe authors.

Here is my epiphany: every author worth his salt must be willing to jump through one hoop to get the attention they think they deserve viz -- submit a short sample of his or her prose or poetry.

Wake up. All down the line, every person you are approaching as a writer is someone who will have to 'work' on the text. Maybe his is "only" at the first level of copy flow. Still, it is best to co-operate and help grease the wheels simply because every step aims toward publication and distribution. Repeat: have a sample ready for evaluation for all your initial introductions.

What I realised is that I have nothing against manuscripts over the transom (no one is OBLIGED to read them by deadlines set up by the author -- who becomes a third party to all negotiations by submitting unsolicited). Even here in/at my humble station as line editor, translator structural editor (whatever - sometimes I'm even a literary agent), in other words, from my post at the author's first or second stab at reaching a readership, even moi MUST and am OBLIGED to demand respect for my time by invoking the requirement that said author provide a short sample of writing sans PITCH and without enclosing some winning package of verbose self promotion.

People who approach me with a short pitch get my attention not just because we are playing the old game. They are setting me to work on the next step wherein I describe my services and fees, supply my list of clients as references, and include a resumé. Then the ball is back again in the writer's court. Do you want to set up a meeting? Are you willing to pay me an advance? (You find out who I am, I find out who you are.)

I am far from rigid, yet I detest listening face-to-face or on the phone (or just plowing through an email) where the subject is only about how great a person my interlocator is who is, after all, someone I just met for the first time. Get my attention more agreeably, and I might look over a short sample of your writing. Then we can talk turkey -- what I can do for you.

(Odd though it is. By starting out on the wrong foot, displays of insecurity through needless self-promotion put the editor even more firmly in the drivers seat. That is a shame in a relationship requiring collaboration and mutual respect.)

I honestly dislike asking people to jump through hoops! Nor do I view life as a mere matter of earning a living by hopping and skipping like that. Maybe, I have faced a bad alternative -- the spinning of my tires and an author's in slick mud. My question to writers seeking editorial or agent services (albeit paid services): What are a series of self-congratulatory ads worth as introductions, what sort of communication line are you setting up staying in constant-pitch mode?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Sounds as if you have a prospective client, nonetheless. Did I guess right?