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Book editing

The comment was made by a coworker today that for all the evidence her title indicates to the contrary, she spends very little time actually editing books. It was a sentiment I’ve heard countless times at conferences and lunches with other editors I know: most of our job is spent on things other than actually editing. I know why that is, but I don’t really know at the same time. It’s a strange little fact that I find many writers don’t quite understand when they talk about their editor or what he or she actually does for them.

My morning today was spent writing a proposal, typing up a memo for an internal department concerning a legal matter, handing off a pile of manuscripts to be declined to the assistant, checking on a conference call I’m supposed to be involved in later in the week, and getting a report about the likelihood of Dr. Dobson shooting the remainer of the video segments needed before we can be finished with the accompanying curriculum. Most Monday mornings are worse with meetings and phone calls as everyone tries to get a handle on the most pressing projects of the week by making countless phone calls to all their usual contacts. Throw in morning devotions, and you’ve got a fairly busy morning.

My point here isn’t to complain or to air my intimates. I’m just trying to show a few of the things that take up the day besides actually editing. “Project management” is a more accurate title for it, but still farily unhelpful in really telling what it is book editors do. And it isn’t easy to quantify even for us. So many days slip by where you wonder, What in the world did I do today? It helps to be able to go down a list, so sometimes I’ll write out everything I can remember just to get an idea of what to tell the boss in our staff meeting, but even that can be a mystery. Everything gets chalked up to “R&D.”

But what’s really interesting about the average work week is how many different books, ours and others, will happen across your desk or computer screen in a given day. I’d estimate it can reach about 200-300, especially if you’re researching catalogs for new projects. “Big deal,” you might say. “I go through that many on amazon all the time.” You probably do. But do you know how much the publishers made on them, the editors personal relationship with them, the life situations of the authors who wrote them? This is an essential part of the job too, where editing and agenting intersect and where I often feel incapacitated and out of my element among all those details. I’m a macro guy, if you couldn’t tell. An author’s birthday is just not going to get a red light in my brain.

Thank God for Christmas cards so I can remember all the people I worked with this year. I think someone should write a Christmas carol about that tradition, of writing the business Christmas cards and trying to recall all the details about that person and your working relationship. It’s definitely a part of the season that goes unmentioned. I just wonder why…

3 Responses to “Book editing”

  1. sally apokedak says:

    What an interesting post, Mick. Thanks for taking the time.
    You’re right that I don’t get to see who edited what and how much the publisher made on a book but I would love to get that info. Is it available anywhere? It would make my proposals so much easier to write.
    About the Christmas card thing…you could just do what I do–don’t send any; don’t receive any. Cheaper, less hassle. And who really cares? I get Christmas cards from my mechanic and my dentist and do they really make me think these people care about me? Not at all.
    Stuff the Christmas cards and spend a day giving sandwiches away to the homeless instead. They’ll never be able to return the favor and that will make you feel great.

  2. Katy Raymond says:

    Mick, Your life sounds crazily similar to what I recall about being a stay-at-home mom. Perpetual motion, but if you don’t write down your accomplishments, the hubby might walk in at night, take one look at the joint and say, like my dad used to, “So…what have you been DOING all day?” My mother used to document her doings, just to show him!
    A CBA fiction author friend of mine recently got the shock of her life. After publishing a dozen or so novels with several houses, she’s sold an idea to a house she’s never worked with before. The editor (who, like the author, shall remain anonymous) is helping her with the book!! Making suggestions and offering input along the way!! This is the kind of relationship she’d always hoped for in an editor, since the two of them have really clicked, so she’s thrilled.
    I understand this doesn’t happen often, but when it does, I imagine it’s great for everyone.

  3. Becky says:

    I found your activities illuminating, Mick , and I’m guessing necessary, beyond just the fact that these are tasks that need to get done.
    I’ve done a little freelance editing on the side, and the startling thing I learned is, it fries your brain. I’m just not very good after more than a couple hours at it. You, being a full-time guy, can undoubtedly do many more hours than I. Heh heh. More power to you!

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