Okay, this one’s just between us. Don’t go telling anyone, but it came up in staff meeting again today, this question of how far we as editors should go in working things out between our authors as advocates while also acting as publisher representatives. No doubt it’s why so many editors become agents eventually as they’re thrust into the dual roles, forced one too many times to make a difficult decision for the good of all involved with so little tangible reward for the effort. God knows it’s so much easier to just weasel out of facing the pressure if you aren’t being paid 15%.
But much of the success of any given publishing situation involves mediating and shelving your personal desires and even sometimes your valid concerns, to see the book come to fruition. You never want to be the one telling either side that the other is unwilling or unable to come to the table and work things out. I’ve been in some difficult situations, sure, but it’s not very frequent, thankfully.
And most every time I’m grateful I’m not the author. At least the publisher usually knows its head from its rump. But the poor author is always judging just how hard he or she can push in this particular situation, and if there’s a better way to go about it, or if they should just drop it, or if someone else in house might be more helpful, more understanding, or more in charge. Those nice people at the bottom are great, but they’re almost as frustrated and ineffectual as the authors. The middle management is way too busy even to eat and sleep regularly, and those on the top rung are completely unmovable unless you’ve got serious stats on your record that prove you’re not only willing to exploit yourself to the fullest, you’ve got quantifiable numbers of folks ready and waiting to watch.
So, long story short, I may be getting my old snarky self back afterall. I know: please, try to contain yourself. Honeymoons are fun, but really, what good are they if they don’t come to an end? The way I see it is, knowledge of anything makes you responsible. People were not responsible for tsunamis in Timbuktu before they knew about them. Now there’s no end to the level of responsibility we have to the rest of the world. In the same way, before I knew about these largely unchangeable influencers in the industry of bookselling, I wasn’t responsible for deciding whether or not to tell authors about it, or bring it to bear on a given discussion. Advisors would never tell me that if I’m to serve my employer, I may have to compromise my ethics or adjust them to fit my new knowledge. And yet, that’s what it feels like at times.
How do I fit each new understanding of publishing’s inner workings into my code of ethics? Is it possible to remain blameless in both the authors’ and the publisher’s ledgers? Can I serve my employer faithfully and still be sincere and honest with authors asking why this or that is happening on her book? Am I betraying that trust not to mention all that I know? When is withholding lying, and when is full disclosure not a compromise of the company’s position?
When did the line between diplomacy and duplicity get so fuzzy? If you’ve ever felt this way, you know there’s no better advise than to follow the dictates of your conscience and leave the rest up to God. But facts is facts, and I’m feeling like a bug under the rug about to get squashed.
And now I’ve gone and mentioned it. And the logical question on both sides will be what unchangeable influencers in this industry am I talking about specifically? And wouldn’t I care to elaborate?
Hmm. An intriguing idea, but…Holy smokes! What’s that elephant doing with your wallet over there?!