Unsolicited: Some Gentle Advice for Editors

Last week, when I explained to authors how to keep their editors from hating them, I got some interesting feedback. In case you are dense: in this context, 'interesting feedback' means 'flame-tipped poison arrows of hatred' the same way that, in a rejection letter, 'I read with interest' means 'I basically did not read, and that which I read I did not read with anything remotely resembling interest.' But because I know that many of these authors' complaints are totally valid, and also because I'm a better, fairer person than any of my detractors (especially the commenter who complained about the freshly minted, "probably female" English lit grads who are too stupid to understand his genius - fuck you, asshole!), I decided to use this week's column as a venue for some of these complainy authors to vent their grievances. So read on for some Dos and Don'ts for editors that I'm sure we can all learn from.


"DO remember to pay us. Many third-rate authors are not independently wealthy and, (shock!), depend on the money that you owe us in order to perform everyday life things such as eat and buy a Metrocard."

A tiny rebuttal for this one: since most publishing houses are owned by gigantic parent companies, there's usually an elaborate and slow-moving Accounts Payable department that's far more to blame for any check-delaying screw-up than your editor is. But she should still be requesting your check in a timely manner, and if it's clear that she hasn't, she should hear about it. But not from you, from your agent, okay?

"Yes, I realize that publishing is a business and that you can't afford pay me the equivalent of hourly minimum wage for my book. However, since that is the case, I hope that you know that the amount of time it is going to take me to write my book is going to increase proportionally relative how little you pay me. It's hard to write a book in a month when I am busy whoring myself at Townhouse every night for rent money. So be prepared to lower your crazy expectations."

Hmm. Not much to add here. Except to say that publishers' ability to make galleys, which enable them to secure review coverage for your book, is mostly contingent on your ability to make your deadlines, no matter how crazy they may seem. Also, I hear the tips are better at the Monster.

"DON'T act like you are doing me a huge favor by publishing my book. Yes, I am eternally grateful (even if I have to remind myself of it sometimes), but being a published author is really not as great a reward as everyone seems to think. It doesn't even get me laid."

Sorry to hear it!

"DON'T lie to me. DON'T lie to me. DON'T lie to me."

This author is right — editors shouldn't lie to authors, but sometimes we're forced to. Sometimes we're just trying not to hurt their feelings. And sometimes we're being loyal to our higher-ups, whose decisions we are paid to carry out. We aren't independently wealthy either, okay?

"DON'T think that if you ignore a problem it will go away."

"DO know that an apology for a massive, my-career-ruining mistake on your part will go a long way. There are ways of offering an apology in which you don't necessarily admit your own culpability. (Boilerplate: "I'm really sorry this happened.") Even that would help a tiny bit. DON'T think that "I'm sorry you are upset" counts."

I have to heartily second this one - in fact, it applies to everyone, no matter what you do for a living.

Let's say it all together: I'm really sorry this happened. There, was that so hard?


Unsolicited is written by an editor who prefers to stay anonymous in the (probably misguided) hopes of remaining one.