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Arthur Plotnik talks about the changing role of editors

This entry is part 1 of 4 in the series Interview with Arthur Plotnik

Arthur Plotnik was kind enough to answer a few questions directly for Down the Writer’s Path. This segment continues an interview that runs the rest of the week. Plotnik is the author of the newly released, Spunk & Bite: A Writer’s Guide to Punchier, More Engaging Language & Style. Copyright Vikk Simmons, 2006.

As a writer, author, and editor, do you think the editor’s role has changed? What realistic expectations and appropriate attitudes should writers hold when they begin their interactions with editors?

Forget any myth about hand-holding editors, outside an occasional small press. Editors are mainly pivot points in cross-media enterprises. They look for “product” that can be sold in multiple formats and/or for authors that can be branded. They juggle scores of projects developing over two-or-three-year cycles. They spend half their time working with quantitative projections and going to meetings.

That said, there are times when an editor (book editor) is pleasantly focused on you and your submitted work. “Acquiring,” or “developmental” editors read your proposal (usually sent by an agent) with its samples of the writing. They offer the contract, and they answer a reasonable number of questions as you work toward the deadline. They read the final draft, suggest general revisions, and check them quickly. Then, usually, the work is handed off to a freelance copyeditor–whom you will rarely be allowed to deal with directly. Acquiring editors intercede if you have problems with the copyediting. During the months of production and upon publication, they and marketing staffers will exchange promotional ideas with you. They’ll expect you to do the legwork on specialized publicity lists—pertinent media, associations, and other contacts.

Believe it or not, through all of this you sometimes form a friendly relationship with your well-intentioned but overloaded editor editor—who comes to respect your opinions and gets behind the work even after publication. That is, if you’ve first obeyed these seven rules of highly successful interaction with editors:

—Be courteous, patient, businesslike, and brief.
—Never get chummy or personal, unless explicitly encouraged. (It’s okay to use first names after the contract is signed and to mail holiday greetings.) If the editors have assistants, get to know them by name; they can be helpful. But don’t try using them to end-run the editor.
—Never miss a deadline. Ask for drop-dead (more realistic) deadlines if necessary.
—Keep track of length. Ask for a maximum word count, not page count. Never write longer than your assigned wordage except with permission.
—Understand the provinces of editors: For example, editors make the final call on titles, design, cover, and cover copy. Offer genial input, not insistent argument.
—Even if it kills you, be positive and constructive at all times. Talk about “challenges,” not problems. Don’t expect special attention. Unless asked to phone, avoid phoning editors when e-mails will do. And never vent anger or badmouth other staff. Once you are tagged a “problem author,” you’ll be handled at arm’s length or even dropped.
—Put yourself in the editor’s place: Dealing with dozens of agents, authors, deadlines; piled high with manuscripts, pressured and hectored by a hierarchy of publishers and managers; and, of course, put there to generate the most profit possible with the fewest resources. Any way you can make their lives easier earns you golden halos and, often, invitations to do another book.

With many thanks to Art and his kind generosity, today ends my interview. If you’ve come to the party late, read the previous posts this week and all those that comprise the interview by Brigit Ganske posted last week. Check out Spunk & Bite and see for yourself why so many are praising Plotnik’s latest work. You might also want to visit Art’s website, Spunky’s Blogrr, and read his official bio. If you haven’t already, take a look at my review of The Elements of Authorship.

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Series NavigationArthur Plotnik on the future of language and style