As authors-turned-editors, we’ve learned a number of truths we wish we’d known when we were authors. Though this article is based on our own experiences as small press editors, many of our colleagues—Big 6 included—wholeheartedly agree with the following points.
However, not many of them are willing to share such information. They vehemently shake their heads and exclaim, “No! Don’t tell an author THAT!” When we ask why, they usually stare at us as if we’re daft. “Just don’t!” (AJ & Arial lean in… “Pssst! We’re going to reveal some of those secrets. Don’t tell anyone or we’ll be in big trouble! Shhh!”)
Secret #1—Editors Are NOT Rich
As authors, we thought all editors were paid via salary. At a minimum, we assumed they were paid a large chunk of money per book when the manuscript was contracted. Then we became editors—GASP!
Most editors with publishing houses either get paid royalties—meaning they ONLY get paid IF the book sells—or a small flat fee based on word count. Example: a 30,000-word manuscript x 1¢ per word = $300…but the editor usually spends anywhere from 40-50 hours to put out a quality product. You do the math. We’re talking less than minimum wage. And though we editors may have anywhere from 5-50 authors under our belt, we’re usually only working on 2-5 manuscripts at a time due to our many other duties (See AJ’s article “Waiting For Edits… Tick… Tock…”).
So what’s the big secret that affects you? This is a KEY factor in getting your manuscript contracted and why it’s #1 on the list. The less time an editor spends on a manuscript, the more bang she gets for her buck. Editors are looking for stories that are clean, easy to edit, and worth spending time on. Remember…your job as an author is to learn your craft. Which brings us to the next secret…
Secret #2—They Don’t Call It the Slush Pile for Nothing
MOST of the manuscripts that come across our desks are CRAP! We are not kidding and this was a surprise to us, too. And we’re not just talking about the book. We’re talking query letter to synopsis to finished manuscript.
So how do you seriously stick out amongst the kah-kah and craft something sparkly clean? KNOW YOUR CRAFT! We cannot stress this enough. Never stop studying the craft of writing and find a good critique partner who will be brutally honest with you. And we’ll share two bonus secrets—the two biggest trouble spots in 99% of manuscripts submitted to us are show versus tell and unrealistic characters.
Herein lies the rub: If authors are getting form-letter rejections, how do they know what (or how) to fix their manuscripts? That’s where we come in. We have three classes that will help you overcome the above issues AND you will have one-on-one interaction with an editor to learn what you’re doing wrong—not just in these but in other areas, as well: Show versus Tell (SVT) Class Series, Crafting Believable Characters (CBC) Class Series (coming this fall/winter), and How to Write a WINNING Synopsis Power Class. If you’ve never been published, then this valuable interaction with an editor will shave DECADES off your learning curve. No joke.
Secret #3—We Are NOT Looking for an Excuse to Stop Reading
Several agents seem to give this same advice to authors. “Editors are looking for any excuse to stop reading. Your job is to not give them ANY excuses.” Though we clung to those words as if our life depended on it as authors, we were really offended to hear this as editors. We imagined an editor reading a query letter, getting to the part that didn’t appeal to her and collapsing back in her chair. “Oh thank GOD I can stop reading!” WRONG!
Editors are NOT looking for any excuse to stop reading. We are BEGGING to find a good story! (Refer to Secret #2) We’re on your side! We WANT to find characters to fall in love with and worlds we can escape to and storylines that will keep us up all night, wildly flipping pages, dying to know what happens next! We don’t do this job because of the money (refer to Secret #1). We’re editors because we love to read and we love stories.
Now…for the next secret you should sit down. This is going to be quite a shock.
Secret #4—Editors are NOT Gods
We’ll give you a moment to recover. (AJ and Arial pat your hand empathetically.) You okay now? Good. Editors are human beings just like authors so do not put them on a pedestal.
There are indeed some editors who enjoy the “Deity” status and therefore abuse the power. Yes, we are the gate keepers of your manuscript, but in all honestly there are editors out there who don’t know their tushies from a hole in the ground. We were surprised to find out how many editors—Big
6 5 or otherwise—really don’t know their job well enough to do it properly and consequently we cringe at some of the stuff we read. And make no mistake—we’re learning more every day, so we’re not perfect either. This is why it’s important to know your craft…so you know what to defend in your manuscript and can have an educated discussion with your editor when she suggests a change you feel is wrong.
Authors are not dogs at the table, scrambling for scraps any publisher is willing to throw to the ground…even though that’s what publishing houses might want you to think. Why? Because if you think you are one of the very few select authors granted a rare audience through the pearly gates of publishing, you will value the tiny royalties you are paid.
Secret #5—You Can Afford to be Picky
Do NOT settle for any publisher. Thanks to the digital explosion, the publishing industry is now in the hands of authors and readers. We’re about to reveal a dark secret that will probably get us black listed—but we are authors first, editors last.
Because of self-publishing, publishers are losing talent left and right. True dat! Publishers’ release schedules are growing thin. Some editors are being hassled by their bosses for content, content, content! And they’re publishing almost anything. Contracts are getting tougher to get out of because publishers don’t want authors self-publishing their novels.
You’re not off the hook, though. Editors are still trying to find the best talent. They still want a good and easy-to-edit story and they’re asking for short projects. Why? Because publishers get paid faster on short edits. Easier to produce and cheaper to sell. This means two things for us authors:
- Choose publishers who appeal to you the most—beautiful covers, good quality products, and books that are high on the ranking lists with distributors. Do your research! Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble will let you download samples of any book to your eReader.
- Shorter projects will not only increase your chances of getting published, you’ll be publishing more, thereby getting more stories under your belt.
Mystical Press Services' primary goal is to help authors bridge the gap between the form-letter rejection and publication. Through our services and classes, we will coach you—one-on-one—through the problem spots in your manuscript. ALL customers receive a FREE consultation on their work and we’ll help you pinpoint what needs improvement. UPDATE: This is an old statement. The focus is more on helping authors make an income from their books through traditional OR self-publishing. AND instructional efforts will be geared toward video courses, so we are no longer doing one-on-one editing…for now. I plan on adding it back to the curriculum in the future, so be sure to sign up to be notified.
This article was originally posted at Cia Stories on October 9, 2012. I'm reblogging it here because I think a lot of this information is still valuable. I wrote this in partnership with my best friend, AJ Nuest, who is also an author and both of us were editors at the time at the same company. NOTE: As of right now, the classes we mention in this article are no longer available. If you have an interest in them, leave a note in the comments so I can prioritize what I'll be converting to video courses. Most of the writing classes (as opposed to marketing classes) will be free.