Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Re: What Editors Hate to Hear

When I saw Lyle’s post (below), I laughed sooo hard! I can’t tell you how often I saw each of these things while I was working as an editor. I know this is a ridiculously long post, but I just had to share some of times I saw these things. Sadly, I did not exaggerate on any of these examples, (well, at least not very much) though I did slightly change some situations so as not to be too recognizable.

#1: Writers claim no competition exists.

Competitive or comparable books usually exist. Rarely does a book have no competition.
Author: There is nothing like this on earth. You have to publish it! It will be a great hit because it is one-of-a-kind!
Kammi: Uh huh. What about Blah of Blah, which was released by so-and-so last week?
Author: What?! They stole my idea! Aren’t you going to sue? You should publish mine without delay, before anyone else steals my idea.
Kammi: Actually, I’ve seen a lot of books like that… We reject most of them, because they’re so unoriginal.

#2: Writers claim their books will be the next blockbuster.

Although it’s essential for authors to be enthusiastic about their books, it’s equally important that they be realistic.

Kammi: So…this cover looks a bit like it was copied from the DVD flap of Harry Potter. Care to explain?
Author: That’s because this is the next Harry Potter! I fully expect to make millions within the year. And I have chosen you to be the lucky publisher for my book.
Kammi: Uh…
Author: And how soon can you sell my book to Bloomsbury? I’d like to get it in the international market by Christmas.
Kammi: You know what? I just tripped and fell and accidentally dumped your submission into the incinerator. Sorry. Why don’t you just take your book straight to Bloomsbury instead?

#3: Writers say how much others liked their books.

Agents and editors simply don’t care what others think about a book unless they are (a) book-publishing professionals or (b) celebrities or published authors who are willing to endorse the book. Even then, their opinions don’t carry much weight and will rarely influence the agent’s or editor’s decision.
Author: I have had this book reviewed by 37 people, and they all loved it! I have endorsements from all of them!
Kammi: Who, exactly, reviewed your book?
Author: Oh, my children and grandchildren, my best friends from my quilting group, and my visiting teachers. See this cute little note my 5-year-old grandson wrote about how much he loved my book? I have a whole portfolio of these, if you’d like to see it! And even better, my husband is having his employees write endorsements for my books. Those should be ready next week.
Kammi: *hits head against wall*

#4: Submissions are made for books on subjects that the agent or editor doesn’t handle.

Sending submissions that recipients don’t handle wastes everyone’s time. So don’t send your memoir to an agency when the guidebooks and agency’s Web site clearly state that it doesn’t represent memoirs.
Author: Here’s my second cousin’s uncle’s 70-page memoir about growing up in Dudley, Tennessee, population 200.
Kammi: And what am I supposed to do with it?
Author: Don’t you know that memoirs are BIG on the market right now? If you’re smart, you could make a lot of money off this.
Kammi: Dudley, huh?

#5: Correspondence is not addressed to a particular agent or editor.

Don’t address any correspondence, especially submissions, generally or to “Dear Agent or Editor.” It’s impersonal and it makes your communiqué look like a form letter that you simply dashed off to a slew of agents or editors.
Cover letter 1: Dear Sirs,
Kammi: Woops. Better luck with the next company!
Cover letter 2: Dear. Mr. Kammir,
Kammi: *engaged in a fit of giggles*

#6: Writers call constantly, are demanding and don’t let up.

It makes no sense to put undue pressure on agents and editors. Be reasonable, patient, and understanding. Agents and editors know how important your book is to you, but their hands may be tied.

Phone: ring ring ring
Kammi: (yelling to the receptionist) Is that Ms. Payne again?
Phone: ring ring ring
Receptionist: Yes. I tried to head her off but she said she’s already tried to call six times this morning and she’s going to keep trying until she gets through to you.
Phone: ring ring ring
Kammi: But…it’s only 8:30! And I’ve told her at least ten times that we don’t publish autobiographies!
Phone: ring ring ring
Receptionist: I’m sorry about that. I hope this isn’t going to be a repeat of yesterday. Why don’t you just tell her that you made a mistake in rejecting her book, and that you’d love to publish it after all? Then maybe you can get some work done instead of spending hours on the phone listening to her enumerate the qualities of her book.
Phone: ring ring ring
Kammi: I don’t think that would be very fair to editorial. Or anyone else, including her.
Phone: ring ring ring

#7: Writers try to be cute, instead of being direct and straightforward.

In children, cuteness can be adorable. In adults, it seldom works; in fact, it usually becomes irritating. Agents and editors don’t have time for cuteness. They want to know, in a few words, what your book is about, and why you’re the perfect person to write it.
Kammi: Well, that’s…cute. But what is it?
Author: Obviously it’s a book for children ages 2-4. It’s about a cute little princess who goes to live on a precious little castle on an adorable strawberry that floats in the clouds above lovely fields of green.
Kammi: Oh, is that what this drawing depicts?
Author: No, that’s the evil witch who has come to eat the strawberry and destroy the kingdom. The castle in all its glory is pictured over here.
Kammi: Um, well, I’m not an artist myself, but…
Author: Don’t worry about not having any talent, dear. I know that children will understand it perfectly, and that’s what matters. See, here are some endorsements from my 3-year-old.

#8: Writers send submissions in strange formats and colors.

Attract interest in your writing by providing top-quality work. Great ideas expressed in clear, well-crafted sentences that are built with the most vivid words will speak more convincingly than outlandish colors and designs.

Kammi: Can anyone read this?
Editors: Uh, no.
Editor 1: Is the whole thing in all caps?
Editor 2: And italics?
Editor 3: And is that bolding I see in there?
Editor 2: Actually, I think it’s purple bolding.
Editor 4: Woah, is the entire text set in 16-point Blackadder?
Kammi: So nobody can read this?
Editors: Nope.
Kammi: Well, that was an easy rejection.

#9: Writers have a bad attitude or act superior.

Acting as if you’re entitled to an editor’s attention will instantly turn him or her off.
Author: So, when can I set up an appointment to sign a contract?
Kammi: Well, we’d like to see your book before we make any offer…
Author: Oh, I’m sure you’ll want it, but I’m such a superior writer and this is such a wonderful topic that you’ll be begging me to sign a contract. So, does tomorrow at 9:00 work for you?
Kammi: You see, the thing is that I have three very important books I need to read by tomorrow afternoon, and I have a stack of five more books that I’ve got to read by Monday, so I really can’t meet with you anytime soon. How about you send in that book and we’ll chat after I read it. Or better yet, we’ll send you a letter.
Author: Really, those other books can’t be that important. How about we meet tomorrow at 9:00, and let’s set up follow-up appointments every week after that for the next six months so that I can keep track of the publication process. I want to make sure you people do it right.
Kammi: You know what? I actually will be very, very sick tomorrow, with a super contagious, extra deadly bird flu, so we’d better not meet. But you can mail that book to us, if you like. I’m sorry for any inconvenience.
Author: (miffed) Well! If you can’t even get out of bed for an hour or so to meet with me, I’m not sure I want you to publish my book!
Kammi: Well, shoot. You’re right, we’re inconsiderate. Sorry about that. You really should look for a publisher who deserves you more than we do.

#10: Writers reject professional advice.

Some writers won’t listen to constructive criticism from their agents and/or editors. Trust the people who are publishing your book and don’t think that you know more than they do about the publishing process.

Kammi: So, I and eight other people read your book, and although we admire your writing style, we thought your book, overall, was rather rude.
Author: Rude? What do you mean? I’ve had this reviewed by 100 University A students, and none of them thought it was rude.
Kammi: Well, throughout your book you continually make distasteful remarks about University B students.
Author: You’re only saying that because you graduated from University B. I’ve had plenty of people—including stake presidents—review this and they all thought it was funny.
Kammi: Actually, most of my reviewers graduated from the University A. But that’s aside from the point. The point is that your target audience is University B students, and yet your advice to said students is full of crass humor, scorn, and ridicule directed at those students. I doubt that will go over well.
Author: You are a narrow-minded little witch who wouldn’t know humor if it slapped you in the face. Just wait; I’m going to contact your superiors and tell them what an awful editor you are, and then they’ll publish my book and you'll be fired.
Kammi: You know, that's a very smart thing to do.Will you be so kind as to give me a ten-second head start to pack up my things before I get kicked out?

Disclaimer: These examples do not depict interactions I’ve had with anyone on this blog.


Rebecca Talley said...

I was frantically searching my mind to see if I fit in anywhere here. Whew--glad to hear it wasn't any of us.

I've heard editors and publishers share stories like this and every time I am shocked. I can't believe people argue like that, as if arguing will convince a publisher to publish a book. Who'd want to work with someone like that?

You've had to put up with a lot!

Kammi Rencher said...

It could be stressful sometimes, but working with the awesome authors (like all of you on the blog) more than made up for the hard times. :) If I could go back, I'd do it all over again.

Janet Burningham said...

Thanks Kammi, that was fun to read. I really am shocked that those were based on real examples. Your job (past tense, sniff sniff) sounds fun though. Who wouldn't want to get paid to read book after book? How is the cake decorating business going?

Marcia Mickelson said...

Those are very funny and crazy to think they're true.

Kammi Rencher said...

I'm not doing much cake decorating right now. I turned down a couple of offers to do wedding cakes after the last wedding cake fiasco. It's just a bit too much work on top of a full time job and 40+ law school applications.
I got a kick out of writing this post. It is fun to share some of these things. It's too bad I can't give exact examples of all the crazy things that happened--that job was never dull!

Terri Ferran said...

sounds like the plot to a book...