“The Care and Feeding of Your Editor” was the panel I moderated at the 2013 California Crime Writers Conference held last June in Pasadena, California. It also describes my conundrum over how to care for my longtime editor and Manhattanite, Dana Isaacson, during his brief L.A. visit. First, the panel.
The editors were: Colleen Dunn Bates, founder and publisher of Prospect Park Books based in Pasadena, California; Annette Rogers, executive editor of Poisoned Pen Press based in Scottsdale, Arizona; Dana Isaacson, senior editor with the Random House Publishing Group who’s now overseeing Alibi, RH’s new eBook mystery/thriller line; and Kendel Flaum, founder and managing editor of Henery Press based in Dallas, Texas.
With three independent publishers and one huge New York publisher represented, the discussion naturally went to the advantages of “small vs. big.” The independents spoke of their benefits: the personal touch, no bureaucratic decision-making process, the ability to take a chance on regional and less mainstream works, and the freedom to handcraft their lines according to personal preference without the compulsion of always chasing the next bestseller. This is not to say that they aren’t concerned with the bottom line. Without the financial cushion of a big publishing house, missteps in publishing and promotion can be devastating to their business.
Dana said that there has been a shift in big publishing to focus on bestselling authors. Consolidation of major publishers and the eBook revolution have decimated the mid-list–authors who aren’t consistent bestsellers. The mass market paperback format is disappearing as brick-and-mortar bookstores melt away. Readers are now avidly purchasing these mostly genre titles as eBooks. This is the market that Alibi is focusing on. Dana says that the Alibi line returns to a simpler era in publishing in that acquisition decisions aren’t argued in big editorial meetings but are made by him and his boss, allowing him wide flexibility to publish books that he loves. These include my stand-alone paranormal mystery, Kiss Her for Me, which Alibi will publish in the fall of 2014, and a new book in my Nan Vining mystery series.
The panel discussion was lively and wide-ranging. Here’s an overview.
“What do writers most misunderstand about the editorial process?” The editors agreed that writers don’t understand that the process never ends. It doesn’t end when you finish that first book, or when you finish revising your manuscript per your editor’s notes, or even when your book is published because by then, you’re well into your next book, or should be. Writers write and writers edit. Period.
“There was a golden age of book editors, perhaps epitomized by Maxwell Perkins who nurtured the careers of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, and others, taking chaos and building a scaffold on which the writer could build a house. It’s said that editors today want a manuscript to be as perfect as possible before they’ll consider it. True?” The editors said the short answer is, “Yes.” Smaller publishers are not flush with editorial staff. Big publishers have consolidated and cut back. Everyone is working harder than ever. No one has time to sort out a messy manuscript even if it has flashes of brilliance.
“A corollary question: will an editor dump a problematic author?” Everyone’s heard stories about diva-antics on the part of certain famous authors, mostly tolerated as long as the authors’ books are selling gazillions of copies. However, for the rest of us, editors don’t have time for nonsense. It’s a sound career strategy for an author to meet deadlines and act professionally. You don’t want a reputation of needing to be “managed.”
“Should crime writers worry about fitting a marketing niche when writing a book?” The editors said that writers should know what subgenre they’re writing. It helps the publisher market the book and also helps your agent direct the book to the right editor.
“What about rejection? What greater purpose can it serve the writer?” It’s an old saw, but the editors emphasize learning from rejection and not letting it stop you. Also, just because your book isn’t right for one editor, it might be perfect for a different one. They read many fine books but there’s a light that goes on when they find “the one.” It’s like falling in love.
Which leads me to things I love, the San Gabriel Valley (the “626” in local speak) and Los Angeles. I took Dana off the beaten path to some of my favorite places, including locations that I used in my Detective Nan Vining series. Ironically, I met Dana in 1992 at the Bouchercon conference in Pasadena. We’d just inked a contract for the first two books in my Iris Thorne series. Dana’s edited six of my nine published books and we’re penning a contract for two more with Alibi.
First, lunch in the “new” Chinatown at my favorite hole-in-the-wall, J & J in the city of Alhambra. J & J’s juicy pork dumplings are terrific. Then a tour of Pasadena, including the Police Department, City Hall, and a couple of (fictional) murder locations in my books.
Later, we headed to the Boyle Heights neighborhood of East L.A. to see the dueling mariachi bands at the El Mercado de Los Angeles. We returned to the conference hotel after our only-in-L.A. experience stuffed, satiated, and slightly deaf.