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Publish, don't perish – Instalment 14

What I've learned as an editor

For the past five years, I have published and edited an electronic newsletter Info Career Trends for information professionals; I also recently signed on as a consulting editor for Information Today Books. While I haven't been associated with ITI for long, I have already learned some interesting things – which jibe very nicely with my previous suppositions as a newsletter editor. This month, I'd like to share some of the things I have learned with you.

Working with librarian writers as an editor offers a different perspective on the publishing process, and learning to think like an editor can help you in your quest to get published. The more you know about how editors think and how they proceed, the better your odds of being published. Following, find five things every librarian author (or aspiring librarian author) should know about how editors think.

1) Editors are competing for you!

As I've mentioned in Instalment 11 of this column, I am something of a "how-to write" junkie. Books and articles on writing do stress the fact that editors need you, but it never really sunk in when looking at it from an author's perspective.

Let's just put it this way: When an editor I know at another library press found out I would be working with ITI, her first reaction was: "Oh no, competition!". It may seem basic, but without writers, publishing houses, journals, and magazines would be out of business.

When we market our work, we tend not to think about this. We think about all the other librarians competing with us for space in professional journals, or we wonder why an editor would choose us. So, when writing and marketing your work, just keep in the back of your mind that editors do need you, and that they are always on the lookout for new writers.

2) People tend to underestimate themselves

When I talk to librarians about the possibility of their writing an article – or, even more dramatically, a book – their first reaction tends to be along the lines of: "Well, I can't write!".

I'm talking to most of these people via e-mail, and they manage there to carry on extended, clever, and thoughtful written conversations. Some have blogs, where they will, without a second thought, crank out entries running several hundred words at a stretch. Others will get up at conferences and talk at length about a pet project or favourite topic.

If you can speak, e-mail, and post online about your professional activities, research, and interests, you can publish. Will you need to adapt your existing style of writing to a different environment? Of course! Is it doable? Yes! People get unnecessarily intimidated by the thought of writing for publication, when in fact it is just a different way of participating in the professional conversation.

3) If you build it, they will find you

Not only are editors competing for you, editors will go out of their way to find good authors. (And by good I mean: one who has something to say, meets deadlines, can write a semi-coherent sentence... ) So if you make it easy for them to find you, you can find yourself published when you least expect it!

How do editors find you?
  • From your blog. I've talked before about how your online presence interacts with your publishing career, and how being easy to find online enhances your name recognition. Same goes for editors.
  • From your previous writing. If you begin publishing articles on a topic, you may be tapped to write a book expanding on your previous work. If you begin posting consistently-lucid comments to an e-mail or online discussion group, you may be asked to expand these into an article.
  • From your participation in professional activities. These range from conferences, to online forums, to e-mail discussion lists.

Editors are not dummies, and prefer not to work in a vacuum. If they have a sense of you as a writer, thinker, and person, they have a sense of how you will fit with their publication or press.

4) If you build it, you can market it

This is an extension of point number 3, and applies largely to those looking to write a book – but also, to some extent, to those writing shorter material. One of the things that editors look for from you is marketability: is your work going to sell, and how are you going to help? The better your name recognition, the more likely it is that people are going to want to hear what you have to say. The more places you have to mention your work (on your blog, in your presentations, in your other work), the more opportunities for people to hear about it. Editors welcome writers who have a sense of how writing integrates with their other professional activities.

5) Save the time of the editor

Not to channel Ranganathan here, but editors are darn busy people. They are happy to give their time to authors who give something back to them. They are not happy to give their time when it comes to: answering questions that are already answered in author guidelines, tracking down late manuscripts, fixing multiple spelling and grammar errors or fielding irrelevant queries.

Little things can make an editor very happy. Authors they don't have to babysit make them very happy. Receiving material on time and within guidelines makes them very happy. And finding someone with whom they can establish an ongoing working relationship can make them downright ecstatic. If they have had a good experience with you once, they'll anticipate a good experience again, making subsequent material a much easier sell.

Take a few minutes to put yourself in an editor's shoes, and think about the kind of interactions you would like to have. Overall, if you project the same professionalism in your publishing endeavours as you do with your patrons, you will automatically endear yourself to editors. (This does include me, and I'd love to hear from you!)