Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Lessons from the Editor's Desk - Editors Are People Too

by Dina Sleiman

Okay, so the title is a little silly, yet oddly easy to forget. As I’ve mentioned in the last two posts in this series, I am a part-time, often volunteer editor for WhiteFire Publishing. So I assume you knew I was just a regular person, but the same holds true for all editors. Here are some things to keep in mind in that vein, and I would venture to say that most of this is true of agents as well

Editors Want to Have a Good Conference Experience. While editors come in a variety of personality types, they want to have a pleasant conference experience just like you. They might be shy and new to the conference and just as nervous about who to sit with at lunch as you are. Or they might be a fun-loving individual looking for someone to bounce their jokes off of. If you treat them like a person, ask them about their families and pets, their interests, you might just gain an actual friend who happens to be influential in the publishing industry. And just like any other people, you will probably connect easily with some of them, and not so easily with others. That’s okay. Chances are, the ones who like you will also like your writing style.
Editors Want to Have Good Meetings with Conferees. Generally, editors don’t like being pressured, being given sob stories, or being told that God has mandated them to publish your book. They don’t like being chased or handed manuscripts under bathroom stalls. Beyond that, it’s a good idea to do some research on the editor and learn what they do and don’t like. Personally, I have a pet peeve about conferees who don’t answer my questions but instead push on with their sales pitch. For example, I want to know how long a writer has been writing, what professional associations they have, and if they know the industry lingo, and I hate it when writers ignore my questions. On the other hand, I find nervous conferees kind of endearing. I think most editors like it when conferees are a nice balance of prepared yet casual. They enjoy a relaxed meeting. They like to have a conversation and not just listen to a speech. They like to see that you are excited about your project and that you’ve done your work to be ready for publication.
Editors Talk to Other Editors. Going to writers conferences and meeting with editors is an awesome idea…unless you have a pushy, annoying, or otherwise abrasive personality. In which case, you might want to think twice. Editors talk to other editors, and you don’t want to get a bad reputation in the industry. If you discover that you’ve committed a serious faux pas (I‘m not talking about passing manuscripts under stalls or using the wrong font here, we’re used to that stuff), it might be wise to make a sincere and heartfelt apology.
Editors Have Preferences about Submissions. For starters, most of them only want submissions from agents these days. If they do take submissions, shockingly (sarcasm) they put their guidelines right on their website, and they expect you to follow them. What if they just say something general like “a query letter” or “a proposal”? That should indicate two things to you, 1) They aren’t terribly particular, but 2) they do expect you to do your own homework and to provide these documents to a general industry standard. Don’t know what that is? I repeat—do your homework.

Editors Represent Companies. Editors might seem like all-powerful gods to authors, but they have to answer to their employers just like anyone else, and they also have to win the approval of their publication committee. If they choose your book and it does poorly, it could negatively impact them as well. They have an obligation to represent their company’s lines and needs, and part of your (or your agent’s) homework is to make sure you are sending your work to the right companies. Most companies have certain “slots” to fill in their publication lines. For example, two American set historical romances, one historical romance set in England, three suspense novels, and five contemporary women’s novels. And to continue the example, eight of those slots for the year might already be filled by their current authors. You might have an awesome book that the editor loves, but whether or not you get a contract will still be largely based on the company’s specific needs of that moment, which is one of the many reasons you must keep trying and not be easily discouraged. Editors want to please their employers and keep their jobs just like anyone else, which is why being stubborn or pushy about a book that doesn’t fit their line will only cause you to be on their bad list.

Editors Have Personal Taste. In addition to representing their companies, editors also have their own taste. You might find that within a given publishing house one editor prefers plot driven fiction, another deep characters, and a third is a sucker for a great voice. That’s part of why you can’t take rejection too personally, and you must keep trying and trying. It’s entirely possible that you might send an editor an awesome novel, but they have read two similar bad ones recently that negatively color their perception. Or worse yet, they might have just read an off the charts awesome book in your genre, and therefore yours seems lackluster in comparison. It happens, and there’s nothing you can do about it but keep trying.

Editors Care about People They Know. And so I pretty much bring us back to the first point. Let me be clear. I’m not talking about nepotism. But…I think it is simple human nature that editors will give more time and attention to submissions by people that they know and like. They’ll feel more confident about publishing a book by someone they trust. It’s easy for me to send a simple, “no thank you” to people I haven’t met, whereas someone I know in person is more likely to get suggestions for improvement with an invitation to resubmit. At the end of the day, publishers are only going to publish books they love and feel confident about. But…given two books of equal merit, do you think an editor will push for the one by a friend or a stranger???

Yep, editors are people too. Don’t tick them off. Don’t annoy them. But if you can invest time into getting to know them and becoming their friends, it just might bode well for your future.
Have you ever met with an editor? Can you share any funny stories, cautionary tales, or suggestions?

Dina Sleiman writes lyrical stories that dance with light. Most of the time you will find this Virginia Beach resident reading, biking, dancing, or hanging out with her husband and three children, preferably at the oceanfront. Check out her novels Dance from Deep Within, Dance of the Dandelion, and Love in Three-Quarter time. And please join her as she discovers the unforced rhythms of grace. For more info visit her at


  1. Excellent post, Dina.

    Yes, I've met about a dozen editors/agents at conferences through appointments, and 3 during those seated meals they used to have where one industry person sits at each table of 8 and you get to pitch above the noise and clatter of 600 people eating and talking.

    My best appointments have been the ones where I've known the editor from previous appointments and they remember me and my writing.

    My best interviews with editors/agents I'd never met before came out well because when they asked me a question, I either answered them or truthfully said I'd was drawing a blank, in which case they'd smile, lean forward, and say it's okay because it's just nerves. And then they'd ask something else.

    I've only started an interview once by mentioning an editor's family and it was because I was a facebook friend and had been following along with a family crisis. Even though we'd never met, my question brought a smile and softening to her face which totally relaxed us both.

    My worst interview was when my nervousness made a new editor/agent nervous which made me freeze up and her likewise and we were both wrecks by the end of it. Ugh.

    So you see, your advice, Dina, is right on the mark. Good job! :)

  2. Isn't it nice when it's relaxed, but as you mentioned, most of the time editors have compassion for nerves. That's funny though about the new editor. I could imagine that. Although I can be shy in some settings, as an editor, I am relaxed and go out of my way to make conferees feel comfortable.

  3. Excellent information, as usual, Dina! Thank you for the reminder.

  4. Wise words as always, Dina. Thank you!

  5. Sorry I'm late reading this, Dina. I was busy finishing my final edits so my lovely editor wouldn't be upset with me. ;)

    I really enjoyed this. One thing I've learned about myself is I am not a "speech maker". I simply can't perfect a pitch on an index card, or even on the "elevator pitch" idea. That's when I get nervous and then things don't work very well. I have to relax and tell myself I'm simply going in to have a conversation with someone. And since I'm terribly shy, the group pitches DO NOT work for me. Not at all. I'm glad those don't seem to be as popular as they once were. This is a very great article, Dina. Thank you for sharing your heart with us.

    1. A conversation is awesome! But also be prepared to explain your book in just a few minutes. I've had fifteen minute appointments where I've asked people about their book and they've launched into a speech. Twelve or thirteen minutes later, I cut them off and ask them how far into the book they are, and they say, "About 25%." LOL. Sorry, lady, you're out of time. A good idea if you don't excel at pitches is to have a well prepared one sheet. That way you can just hand it to the editor and they can get a quick overview of your book at a glance.

  6. Also, for everyone, one other helpful tip that I didn't think of earlier. Put your picture on everything! One sheets, proposals, attached to your emails. Like many people, I forget names, but I never forget faces. It doesn't help much to meet me if I can't remember you.

  7. I've met Dina, and I just want to say she is "people" like superheroes are people.


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