Thursday, June 28, 2012

An Editor's Perspective: Q & A With Entangled Publishing's Adrien-Luc Sanders, Part I

MuseInks is honored to feature Adrien-Luc Sanders (@smoulderingsea), Entangled Publishing's Managing Senior Editor of the Flirt and Ever After lines. Adrien-Luc dispenses priceless #editortips on Twitter where he somehow manages to highlight the problems that plague many writers' submissions without degenerating into cutting snark. He blogs at Kowloon by Night.

He was so generous with his answers to my questions, that I'm breaking his interview into two parts. Today features his responses to five questions about an editor's lot in life and suggestions for how writers can improve their chances for success in submissions.

Q: What is the most common misconception about your role as an editor? 

A:  That all I do, day in, day out, is read submissions, and there's no reason why I shouldn't have had time to read theirs by now, and clearly I must hate them and enjoy stringing them along.

I don't hate anyone. Well, correction: I don't hate any authors. We won't talk about my mother-in-law. I'd never string subbing authors along. I love reading submissions and acquiring new authors; it's just not the only thing I do.

My day can consist of anything from filling out mountains of acquisitions paperwork to working on my authors' edits, reviewing their in-house submissions, developing long-term and short-term strategy for the two lines I manage, management meetings, line meetings, marketing meetings, finance meetings (meetings happen, can you tell?), fielding questions from associate editors, author and editor phone calls, random agent phone calls with "oh my god I have the most awesome manuscript for you!" (love those so much), promoting and supporting my authors, managing contract requests, coaching associate editors, vetting the submissions they want to acquire, reviewing manuscripts they've edited for quality control, chasing down paperwork, answering author questions, calming author meltdowns, creating and tweaking the lines' logos and graphics, designing covers...

I'm sure I've left something out there. That list would be twice as long if I didn't have Kerri-Leigh Grady, my partner in crime for Entangled Flirts and Ever Afters, to handle release scheduling and keep my head on straight.

The point is, reading cold submissions is only a fraction of my job. I still try to prioritize it for a set amount of time every week.

But I've been there as a subbing author. I know waiting is a grueling process, especially when the editor (or agent) takes a long time to respond and you have no idea what they're doing that isn't reading your sub. I learned to wait patiently, if not to be patient myself.

I know that personally, I never mean to neglect any author, and if you're wondering what I'm doing when I should be reading your sub? All of the above, plus snorkeling a mug of coffee and wishing for one more hour in the day so I could, well, read your sub.

Q: What do you consider the best part of an editor's job?

A:  Release day. I love watching my authors on release day. They just transform from this jittery bundle of nerves into this radiant tangle of excitement and joy, and you can see that moment where all the grueling work becomes worth it, to see their book up for sale at major retailers. All the late nights, the frustration over that one damned sentence, the writer's block, the edits that wouldn't end, the "oh god this is the seventeenth time I've read this thing PLEASE GOD END ME NOW"--all worth it.

Sometimes it can feel like an uphill battle through endless rounds of edits, picking at every tiny thing until it's perfect, but on release day it just crystallizes and they're so happy. It leaves me kind of giddy, seeing that. Knowing that I was able to help make them that happy, through our work together.

Q:  What's the toughest part of an editor's job?

A:  Firing authors. It hurts, honestly. Some people just aren't suited for this business, and we find out after one or two books that:

a.) they don't have the mentality it takes to be professional about editing and about their careers as authors;
b.) they only had one or two good books in them and after that they just can't reproduce the magic no matter how much we coach them;
c.) they don't listen to edits and keep shoehorning the same massive issues into manuscripts over and over again; or,
d.) they're just flat-out crazy, demanding, or have unrealistic expectations, and they hid it until they had a contract.

Sometimes we just have to say it's not working out, and part ways. I try not to do that; I try to work with authors to get past the issues, and there's been more than one Come to Jesus phone call -- but there comes a point where the time investment in one author is hurting your other authors, and that's when you have to let go.

That doesn't change that during the editing process, we've built a relationship. We may not be best friends, but it's a bit different from the normal relationship you have with coworkers. You're in the trenches together, and you're with each other at 3 a.m. when that turn of phrase isn't working out, you just can't go to bed until it does, galleys are due in tomorrow, and one of you is freaking out. (It's not always the author.) It does create a certain kind of bond, and as you discuss in-depth edits you get to know each other quite a bit. Every relationship with every author is unique, and firing an author makes me feel like I've betrayed that relationship. It's a necessary part of my job, but it doesn't bother me any less to have to hurt and disappoint them that way.

Q:  What specific advice do you have for authors to improve their chances for getting their submissions accepted?

A:  Don't send me your first book. Well--don't send the first book you've ever written.

Until you're published, every book you send out on sub is your first. But there's a 1% chance or less that the very first thing you commit to the page will be absolute genius. Those savants are out there, but more often than not your first story is a practice exercise while you figure out what this storytelling thing is all about. The end result is most likely a mess. Once you finish it: figure out the mistakes you made the first time through, toss that first book in a drawer, and start another one. I can promise you it'll be infinitely better than the first. The third? Better still. I don't care if you send me your second book or your fifteenth, as long as you send me your best--and not your first.

Q:  If you could permanently eradicate one submission error you see all the time that most pushes your This Irks Me button, what would it be?

Other than mangling my name and calling me Adrienne, Ms. Sanders, and Mrs. Luc-Sanders? (Seriously, people, know who you're subbing to. I don't need a personal love letter, but it's nice to know you took five seconds to know who I am before you try to sell me your book.)

No--I think the most common error is not actually having a story. I don't mean the author doesn't have a manuscript--they do. But they don't actually tell a story. They thought of one or two cool scenes, or a bunch of cool concepts, and kind of randomly jumbled them together into something that may progress over a set time period to a conclusion, but isn't actually a story.

There's no arc, no character development, no resolution of conflict, sometimes no conflict at all. It's just "things happened to people until I got tired of writing and ran out of ideas." That's not a story, but that's what crops up in my inbox much too often.

I won't say it irks me so much as it makes me sad, as more often than not these are naive new writers who need to spend more time honing their craft and understanding the business, and I only hope as they continue to write, they'll get a wake-up call and improve. I can't really be that wake-up call, unfortunately. While I give personal feedback with rejections, if I coached every new author I rejected I'd end up doing nothing else.

Tune in on Monday for the rest of the interview...


Taryn Elliott said...

So that list is staggering. Holy Crapballs, Batman.

*reminds self of list when emailing editor...

Great interview. Funny and quippy as usual.

The Smiths said...

As both an author and an editor...all I can say is...Oh,yes Adrien!
There should be an extra day in every week!

Xandra James said...

o.O That's a lot of meetings!

Interesting post, can't wait for part two :)

Unknown said...

Ah, so that's why you never sleep and drink lots of coffee. Hm, wonder what my excuse is? Looking forward to part 2.

Ami Hendrickson said...

Taryn, Annie, Xandra & Susie: Thanks for visiting and commenting. Adrien-Luc is awesome for giving us such a candid peek behind the editor's curtain. May his coffee cup never run dry...

Alisha (MyNeedToRead) said...

What an awesome, amazing, enlightening interview. I'm officially an ALS fangirl! ^_^

Anna said...

Great interview so far. Thank you :)

Ami Hendrickson said...

Alisha & Anna,
Thanks for reading and commenting. I totally understand the ALS fan-dom. He is awesome, is he not? Part II runs on Monday...