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Publish, don't perish – Instalment 33

The editor connection

Just as our work as librarians places us in the centre of a web of relationships, so too does our work as writers. Similarly, as the popular image of librarians who sit in dusty nooks reading and researching their days away differs somewhat from the reality, so too does the popular image of writers in splendid isolation, typing away in a corner.

One of the most important relationships you will develop as a librarian author over your writing careers is with the editors you work with. Developing good working relationships can make a huge difference in your publishing success; editors are people too, and tend to look out for writers they work well with and who make their jobs easier. We tend to view publishers as faceless entities, when in fact it all comes down to people.

Researching reputation

It goes both ways: you will also work better with an editor with whom you can develop a productive working relationship. If you are taking on a lengthy project like a book manuscript, see what you can find out about the editor you'll most likely be working with before sending in a proposal or agreeing to write for a publisher. Take a good look at other projects they have worked on; see how you feel about the end result.

Talk to others who have written for a given publisher and see if they have worked with your editor. They will often be pleased to share their experiences privately. Questions to ask include:

  • Do they respond to questions in a timely fashion?
  • Do they edit your work fairly and well?
  • How are they to work with?
  • Are their requests reasonable?

Think of this as a job interview: while you want to get yourself published, you also want to make sure that you enter into a healthy work environment. You'll have similar questions, because in the end the health of any working relationship boils down to people and their interactions.

In the library field, remember also that many editors, especially at peer-reviewed journals, are working information professionals who carry out their editorial duties in their off-time – and often on a volunteer basis. Understanding your shared library background and cultivating an empathy for editors juggling multiple responsibilities will go a long way towards building a healthy relationship.

Building relationships

You have some responsibility as well. Once you have determined that this is a person you can work with, make a concerted effort to do so. Since writers are so close to their work, you can sometimes perceive an adversarial relationship where none exists. Remember: if an editor suggests changes, they are not personally attacking you. If you see your article in print and it's been edited, shortened, or otherwise altered from the original, there is most likely a reason. If they give you feedback, it means they care about your work.

Remember also that an editor, just like you, is looking to make a connection. Once editors find writers they can work well with, they tend to rely on these writers – asking them to fill in if someone drops out, letting them know about article opportunities that fit their skills and interests, and asking them to work on more interesting and larger projects. Think about this from the editor's point of view: a known quantity who can be trusted to produce decent work and is pleasant to work with has an automatic edge. Writers with a reputation of being difficult to work with, rude or otherwise unpleasant don't often get asked back.

You and your editor have a common responsibility to work together to make your published work the best it can possibly be. This requires a mutual respect for one another and a mutual commitment to working together constructively, listening to each other's point of view and taking feedback seriously. You don't have to become best friends with every editor, but you do need to develop a healthy working relationship.

Getting off on the right footing

Your relationship with your editor starts as early as your first contact, in your query or your manuscript cover letter. Again, this is analogous to the job hunt: you want to sell yourself and your work, but also want to hit the right tone. This means avoiding arrogance, and it means paying attention to the details (like getting that editor's name right in the letter!). As in the job hunt, remain professional from the beginning.

If you (or your editor!) gets off on the wrong foot, take the time to try to repair the relationship. Avoid assuming the worst: problems can most often be chalked up to a misunderstanding rather than to maliciousness. Start with that assumption, and work to rebuild the relationship from there.

Pursuing polygamy

Your editor will be involved in multiple simultaneous relationships with you and with other authors. Remember, you're not meant to be their one and only. But again, this works both ways, your healthy writing career depends on multiple relationships with multiple editors.

This also helps you take rejection less personally. If an editor with whom you've built a relationship turns down a given manuscript, they should try to do it gently. Most likely, this will boil down to some version of "it's not right for this publishing outlet at this particular time". It's perfectly OK then to take your work to someone else, either building a new relationship or working with another one of your existing editor/author relationships.