How To Destroy Your Writer-Editor Relationship
As an obscure – one might say “unknown in every sense of the word” – writer, I get a lot of requests. Like these: “Want to write a paper for me?” or “Hey, write me a press release;” or, “Stop sending me things to read;” or “Stop writing me these messages, you are freaking me out;” or “This is a cease and desist order.” Sometimes, the requests are directly related to my experiences as a four-time Published Author, and most of those queries are stuff like “Should I abandon all hope of making money off of writing?” The answer to that, of course, is a resounding, fatigued, “Yes.” Sometimes, though, the questions are about how to write, or, similarly, how to go about the writing process.
While I’m not going to give you a thorough answer here – there are an absurd amount of blogs trying to do that already, and most of them give the same advice – I will give you valuable advice about your relationship with your editor, because I’m not cool enough to have an agent – yet. You see, your relationship with your editor (or agent, but for the sake of keeping it close to me, we’re going with editor) is one of the most important ones you’ll have. The editor is the person who sees all those first drafts, all those manuscripts covered in blood and coffee stains. The person who gets frantic e-mails that read something like one I sent recently:
Dear Hypothetical Editor,
I’m worthless. Everything I write is drivel. I’m going to resign myself to the knowledge that being an office cog is the only worthwhile thing I’ll contribute to society. The only thing I can write well is a note on a check that says, “Thanks for your business.” This writer’s block will never end, and I’ll never deserve an advance on a book. Please burn all of my manuscripts.
And then they’ll get frantic e-mails that read like this (generally right after the preceding one):
Dear Hypothetical Editor,
I am the BEST. WRITER. EVER. Check this idea out, if you can handle it: A Jewish secret agent is pitted against an evil anti-Semitic organization bent on destroying EVERY SYNAGOGUE IN AMERICA. He’s on the case and on their trail, but when he meets a beautiful Iranian girl associated with the organization, who will bend in their beliefs first? Also: he owns a talking parakeet that houses the soul of Samson.
I smell a trilogy and MILLIONS OF DOLLARS.
Signed The Best-Sellingest-Author-Ever,
So, all that in mind, I present: How to Ruin Your Writer-Editor Relationship
Method 1: Reacting Badly to Feedback
Let’s pretend like I’m going to write the above trilogy of spy adventure novels. (Because, hey, I might, and this way you won’t be able to steal my brilliant ideas.) Hypothetical Editor comes back with this e-mail expressing his reservations:
I think that has promise. Let’s not jump the gun, though. Does the main character have to be Jewish? You’ll be able to reach a wider audience if you make it vague—you don’t have to make him a Pentecostal or anything, but don’t open the manuscript with “Chaim Jewenstein woke up on a Thursday and said the morning prayer. That’s when everything changed.”
If he must be Jewish, then at least, for God’s sake, tone down the Yiddish. We don’t need to be seen as trying to be Mel Brooks in print form.
Also: Please write a believable woman this time, and not one that says, “Yes, as with all of my sex, I am a two-faced harlot focused on money” (The Growing-Up Times, p. 30). No one would actually say that.
Write up a synopsis and get back to me. Glad to see you’re out of the writer’s block.
Now, the proper way to respond to this would be to thank your editor for the input and consider the suggestions.
The way to screw up the relationship with your editor would be:
Hey, screw you.
How dare you compromise my Vision? Do you even know what it is to create, to be the Master of an entire world? No, you are a parasite. Someone who sits atop an ivory throne and leeches off of the success of Creators.
On top of that, you are an anti-Semite. That is clear from your so-called suggestions that are more than likely nothing more than an attempt to sabotage the brilliance of an author.
Also, I am not a misogynist. The quote is the analysis of every relationship I have ever had.
Gayn cacken ofn yahm.
Method 2: Raging Out When Corrected
As you see, that should be more than enough to burn an otherwise valuable bridge between you and a business contact. However, we may assume that you are not the only writer on this editor’s roster, and thus the editor is used to such absurd statements coming from authors. They are, in other words, immune to the insanity, and, instead of letting it bother them, have chosen to ignore the bridge-burning attempt. The incident has been smoothed over and all of the ripples caused by the potential break have been taken care of. You have started on the synopsis, sent it, and begun work on the manuscript. The editor, doing their job, has received it, read it, and made corrections in red:
The cool November morning woke Chaim I thought we were avoiding calling the protagonist Chaim up before his alarm clock woke him up playing “Rad Halaila.” Aaron, dear God, we’re trying to cut down on the uber-Jewishness – remember our discussion about accessibility? He struggled out of bed, head throbbing from the long night of drinking Manischewitz with all of his friends – the previous night. I don’t think you need the hyphen there – unless you’re tacking a thought on to that sentence, or trying to prove a point or something. Let me know.
So, you’ve read the corrections throughout the manuscript and, like a good writer, have considered them all and have made another draft of your manuscript. This is how to ruin your relationship at the drafting stage:
You degenerate schmuck.
Need we go through the process of me telling you what you’re doing wrong? How you’re destroying my will to create? Chaim, you may not know, as you are a rabid Jew-hater, means “Life,” and calling the protagonist “Life” is a commentary on how life inexorably triumphs over the forces of darkness. You prick. Never. Never tell me to “tone down the uber-Jewishness” again. Friends of friends of my family died in the Holocaust, and you are insulting their memory. And how dare you question my decision to use a hyphen in that instance. I hold two degrees from two prestigious institutions in two prestigious continents, both relating to the English language. May you rot in hell.
Method 3: Demanding More Money Than You’re Worth
After hitting “Send” and immediately regretting doing so, you’ll think that your time spent as an author has come to an end. And, you know what, it might just happen. Of course, if God loves you at all, then you’ll find that the editor has gone through this as well and realizes that all you’re doing is performing a /ragequit, and will soon come back begging for forgiveness.
At this stage, we’ve moved past drafting and have come to the point where we’re drawing up a contract.
As the editor belongs to a publishing house, institutions which have their own well-versed methodologies of dealing with financial agreements with authors, he or she will present you with a contract involving an advance and royalties. The way you should handle this, as a mature individual who’s not in writing for the money, is to maybe haggle, see if you can get a slight increase. Of course, if you have an agent, then you should probably leave this in their hands. Doing otherwise would be a Bad Idea. Of course, you don’t have an agent, do you? So this is how you’ll react, and thus destroy your relationship.
You cheap-ass son of a goat.
Your offer is insulting. Here I am, willing to give your house the exclusive publishing rights both in e-book and print to a potentially multi-million dollar franchise, and you are doing nothing but spitting in my face. Would you act this way if I were that schlock artist, Dan Brown? I don’t think so. You’d start hemorhagging money. You’d buy him half of Beverly Hills. But no. Since I’m a writer whose last book only earned $3,000 in sales, you’re spitting in my face with this offer. Do you want me to go to Random House with this? Do you? I think you do. YOU CAN CONSIDER OUR RELATIONSHIP DEAD AND THIS MANUSCRIPT SOLD TO RANDOM HOUSE OR SOME GODAWFUL, SOULLESS AGENT LIKE THAT ANDREW WILEY PRICK DON’T YOU UNDERSTAND WHAT THIS MEANS FOR YOU AND YOUR PUBLISHING HOUSE YOU DONT EVEN HAVE TO GIVE AN AGENCY THEIR CUT OF THE MONEY I AM WILLING TO TAKE A CUT IN MY ADVANCE BECAUSE OF THIS BUT WHAT YOU GAVE ME IS AN INSULT.
Unless you increase your offer by at least a $10,000 raise in the advance and an increase of 12% in royalties, I will go to your office myself and take your harddrives, thus ensuring that you can never claim that this work reached your publishing house. I’m sorry, did I say publishing house? I meant wretched hive of scum and villainy. You con-men make Mos Eisley look like Disneyland.
May all that you love wither in the Eastern Wind.
I’d consider coming up with a fourth method, but, honestly, after equating a publishing house to Mos Eisley and then cursing everything your editor loves, I sincerely doubt you’ll have a future in the publishing industry.
At this point, after striking out three times (or doing it really, really well the first time), I’d suggest one of three courses.
- Show up at their office with really, really nice flowers and a soliloquy – in iambic pentameter – about how sorry you are.
- Find an agent who can deal with dramatic writers.
- Give up all hope.
It sounds pretty harsh, I know, but you called your editor a son of a goat. Probably shouldn’t have done that, eh?