Monday, September 24, 2007

What Makes a Dream Author

By request... an editor's definition of The Perfect Author (TPA).

TPA is awesome. She's smart, funny, nice, knowledgeable about her topic, and a good writer. Please, please, let her be a good writer.

TPA thinks I'm awesome. (Even if he thinks I'm geeky...since I am.) He tells everyone how great I am. He leaves me a thank-you in his acknowledgments section.

TPA is honest.
Once she has committed to a deal with my company, she is loyal to me as her editor and my company as her publisher. She treats our relationship as both a professional and a friendly one, and she doesn't do anything to me (her editor) that she wouldn't do to a friend. She doesn't shop her project elsewhere after working editorially with me on a project, and she doesn't allow her agent to sneakily sell her option elsewhere without showing it to me.

TPA is smart. If he has an agent, he lets the agent do his job. But he also does his best to be informed about all the pieces of his contract and to understand his obligations, responsibilities, and rights.

TPA is reliable. She meets her manuscript delivery date and knows it's not my responsibility to chase her down for her manuscript. If she is worried about her deadline, she talks to me about it in advance, because she knows I will be understanding and would rather she took the time to finish her manuscript well than panic create something sub-par.

TPA gives me some leeway.
He knows that he and I are both dedicated to his book, but we have slightly different relationships. The book has been his long-term preoccupation; I have up to 30 other preoccupations that fill my life in stages. He knows that since I have a lot of other things on my desk at any given time there are going to be periods I can't respond to his emails or his calls in the same day. He's also understanding (and forgiving) when, during the period I AM focused on his book, I send him emails at all crazy hours of the night and occasionally make desperate time-sensitive requests. He knows that it is his right to tell me he's unable to turn stuff around in the time I, in my strange alter-universe, would desire, but he also tries to be as helpful as he can (within his schedule).

TPA knows I'm his advocate, not his enemy. After all, I risked my ass and my career to bring his project into my company--I wouldn't have done that if I hadn't believed in him and his book. He knows that my goal is the same as his--to sell as many copies of book while making sure the content has integrity, and to make a product we are proud to put our names on.

When I give her edits or advice she doesn't like, TPA takes a moment to step back and ask herself if I might be right. She knows that she is closer to the material than I am, and because she's worked so hard on this project she might not see certain flaws that I can see. She knows that my job is to take a critical eye to her manuscript and make it the best thing it can be. So before she reacts strongly to my recommendations, she asks herself: am I clinging to language language I should let go of? Is my editor asking for these changes because they will improve the marketability of the book (or because they make the book more palatable to certain people, or because they make me less legally liable)? Or, if after reflection I still really believe she's wrong, could I do a better job of explaining to her (and the reader) why the original content is necessary?

TPA knows that although we are friends, when we communicate about his manuscript it's a business conversation. Whenever he feels frustrated with me, TPA knows that his best bet for getting his opinion heard (and of course I want to hear it!) is to put down his arguments rationally, preferably in an email I can forward to other people (like the publisher, the sales and marketing teams, the cover designer, etc) who would benefit from understanding his logic. If he thinks he's at risk of reacting too emotionally to something I'm asking for, TBA knows he can call in his agent to act as a professional go-between and to perhaps level the playing field.

TPA is available. She knows that there is a fragile window of time when we will be fighting to make her book take hold in the market, and she does her utmost to help us every step of the way. She knows that if she just sits back after the writing part is over, her book will never be all it can be, so she is as open, communicative, and helpful as possible. She is willing to think outside the box and to work with us on creative marketing suggestions. She never flakes out on events, cancels appearances for frivolous reasons, or forgets to call in for radio interviews our publicists have worked hard to arrange.

TPA tells me everything. He realizes that the more I know about his connections, his experience, books he's published, degrees he's received, places he's been, worked, lived, visited, the more I can do on my end to make his book work. He leaves no stone unturned, because he knows that the savvy classy people I work with might have connections in the most unusual channels. He is good about forwarding past book reviews and lets me know whenever he's doing an interview.

TPA understands that it takes all of us to make the book work. She respects all the members of my publishing team and realizes that we all work together. She knows that everyone who's working on her project is a different kind of expert with a different wealth of experiences but that we all have the same goal--to sell her book.

TPA knows that there are certain forces beyond the control of his editor. He knows that sometimes he and his editor will have to give in, even though they don't want to.

TPA is my friend. After the book is over, we still keep in touch. When she's going to be in the city, she drops me a note to see if I'm free for lunch, drinks, or coffee. She knows that we've been through a lot together, and she's proud.

So am I.


angelle said...

i couldn't read this whole post bc i'm a litttttle bit drunk. but i wanted to say, regardless of if you are ever my editor, if i ever (EVER!) make it, I will name you in my acknowledgements section. that's a promise.

Froog said...

Interesting how TPA changes gender so regularly. Is TPA also hermaphrodite??

I suspect that, although many of your authors may display certain aspects of TPA-ness, basically.... TPA does not exist.

Lisa said...

Thanks for taking the time to list out all these attributes. I'm curious about how many debut novelists are hard to deal with -- based on what I read on blogs, most wannabe authors would do all the things you've listed, carry your baby and clean out your refrigerator just to have an editor! Apparently, book deals must change a lot of people :)

The Writers' Group said...

Thanks so much. I'm posting a link right now.


Josephine Damian said...

Thanks. There were a couple of things I never considered like sending reviews or letting an editor know a detailed bio.

Great post.

Bernita said...

Just. Excellent.
And the "tells me everything" is an angle not often mentioned.

writtenwyrdd said...

This is useful perspective for writers! Thanks.

David L. McAfee said...

TPE (The Perfect Editor) doesn't mind that I printed this and stuck it on the wall next to my computer.

moonrat said...

tee hee no, she doesn't...

Sherri said...

I think I can do all that. It boils down to being reasonable. If the editor is reasonable, I'm sure to be.

Agents often spend time listing qualities of a perfect client, but editors rarely do. Or maybe I'm reading the wrong blogs :)

Jill Myles said...

I love this article (and I'm going to crosspost it to my blog when I get a bit more time and Adobe is not eating my computer).

I find it interesting that people get SO PISSY when it comes to edits. Like, not wanting to change stuff? What the heck? To me, editing is like the equivalent of going to get a trim on your hair. You bring in the head of hair, and I'm asking your assistance to make it purty. I'm not sitting in your chair with my Dorothy Hamill haircut (shudder) and asking to look like Jessica Simpson. I just want to look like the best Dorothy Hamill I can look like.

I suppose there's always someone out there that doesn't see it that way, though. :)

Maprilynne said...

Hmmm, check, check, check, check, and check.;)

I think it is interesting to see lists like this, because I think all (or at least most) aspiring novelists think, "If I could just get an editor to buy my book I would be 'Practically Perfect in Every Way.'" But clearly something changes when it's actually your book on the line, because I know a lot of authors, debut or otherwise, DO become problems. I guess it's one of those things where it is more difficult than it sounds.

Still, naive or not, it doesn't seem that hard to me.

Good luck on getting tons of those TPA's!

Mardougrrl said...

I know what you mean about the perfect author...I worked with some doozies. Brilliant people, but so used to getting rejected that when they finally got published, they were more than a little hostile.

I worked as an A.E. and at an agency, and for some reason, the authors were almost always nicer to their agent. I wonder why?

Great list!

Travis Erwin said...

Great insight. Thanks.

Helen said...

I am printing this out and sticking it on my wall. Good advice to always remind myself of.

I find it baffling that authors would not thank their agent and editor in the acknowledgements, especially after all the work done to help them. Hmmm.

NinaP said...

Hello moonrat --

I found your blog via Loretta's pose on Word Wenches, today.

Thank you for explaining what editors want in The Perfect Author. I'm hoping that, if I can manage to be TPA, my editor will match the excellent one you described.

Marilyn Brant said...

Moonrat, I was just steered toward your blog by another author and now must go thank her. I've read 5 of your posts in the past 10 minutes--all were excellent. Thank you!

Amy said...

*feverishly turns this post into a checklist*

Thanks for posting that; it's very helpful.

Binnie said...

Great post. Now that I've got a book contract (finally!!!), it's good to have a checklist. Most useful - thanks for it.

Amanda said...

This was so helpful! Thank you for posting this.

Ruthanne Reid said...

What a great post. This not only helps us authors to know what behavior would be the most helpful, but it also gives us a reminder of all the work YOU do. Thank you for this article.

JT said...

you forgot walks on water and rubs bunions. That would be nice too.

Emerging Writer said...

Very apt post.
Is there an equivalent post for a perfect agent or editor?

kathryn evans said...

Great blog post, thanks for sharing!

Absolute Vanilla (and Atyllah) said...

Ah Moonie, we'd be a match made in heaven - I'm definitely your TPA and I know you'd be my TPE! :-)
Great post!

Dave Cullen said...

Thanks. Very useful checklist/reminders.

I think I hit most of those, except for hitting my deadline. Missed by a couple years. Whoops.

I also drew some blood by making too many changes too late in the game (copy-editing and page proofs). In retrospect, I should have said I needed more time before sending it to copy-editing.

I tried to make up for it on the other things. It's tough to be a TPA all the time. But feeling that we were a team sure helped. We all wanted to make it a better book, and all respected each other (as far as I know--haha). That's key, I think: to work together. If any of us had been antagonistic, I can't even imagine.

I hope I'm better on my next book. I'll keep this stuff in mind.

MT said...

First off, a little disclaimer - thank you so much for these posts. They're a perfect mix of encouragement and realism.

Onto the brass tacks of my point - reading through your TPA guidelines - I'm a journalist who has written on nationals and regional papers (though I'm currently writing on a business to business niche mag) and have a bunch of buddies on national papers/mags.

Is this something that I should definitely highlight in a pitch to an agent, even though I can't think how they'd help me promote a book directly (lots of them are business and celebrity journos)
The reason I ask is because relationship that you say you'd like to have with TPA is basically the relationship I have had with all of my Eds.

I got into journalism as a means to an end (to be able to write every day) and now my first feature length piece is circling the airport of completion I'm feeling quite, quite petrified :)

Denise Friend said...

This is me! I'm the perfect author!!!!!!

It's funny in your description for the perfect author you've also described MY perfect editor!