Sunday, November 12, 2006

Things I hate

I'm generally very positive about my job and what I do, even when I'm crazy busy and unmotivated, but since it's rainy and gloomy and I'm feeling in a bit of a funk, I thought I'd focus on the negatives for a change. People always ask me what I like about my job, but rarely ask me what I hate. Well, here is what I hate about my job.

1) I hate rejecting manuscripts. This is probably the hardest part about my job. At the SCBWI Oregon retreat, the other editor there talked about an altered decline letter they have hanging up in the office where instead of "your manuscript" it says "you" so instead of "your manuscript is not satisfying enough" or "After careful consideration, we must pass on your manuscript" it says "YOU are not satisfying enough" or "After careful consideration, we must pass on YOU." It's a reminder to them that there is a person on the other end of the letter, and to that person, to that author, we aren't just rejecting their work, but are rejecting them.

I am aware of this each and every time I say no--I know that I'm stomping on someone's dream. And although years of being in the industry has made me a little more desensitized to this, it's still the number one part of my job that I hate doing. And that leads me to number 2:

2) I hate not being able to sign up everything that I want to work on. Oh, I know that in reality, this is a good thing. If I don't have the support of my publisher, it wouldn't be fair to the author or illustrator or book to publish it. But there have been times where I've been so sure of something, or so passionate about a book, and not being able to work on it kills me. I'm envious of the days where editors had the power to just sign something up on their own. I think in many ways, today's system makes more business sense, but still.

3) I hate being the bearer of bad news. This is related to #1. I don't like letting people down. "We aren't going to do any special marketing for your book" "Your book is out of stock in the warehouse right now" "B&N and Borders aren't taking your book" "Your book got a terrible review" "Your book isn't selling" "There was a mistake printed in your book" "I know you aren't happy with the cover, but we're going to publish it anyway" "The deal for this foreign edition of your book fell through" "We can't give you a higher advance" "Your book is out of print" "The acquisition committee wasn't excited about the project." I get to give people good news, too, but sometimes it feels like it's always bad news I have break to the authors, illustrators, and agents.

4) This is a more minor thing, but I hate writing jacket copy and catalog copy and other kinds of marketing copy. It just doesn't come naturally to me, and I feel like I'm constantly pulling teeth doing it. I'd like to think I'm getting better at it with practice, but I still dread it and always put it off as much as possible.

And now I feel all gross for using the "H" word so much. Kinda dirty. Funny how that is--I was so trained not to say "hate" as a kid. But the good news is that I was trying to make this a list of 10, or even 5, and you know what? I can't think of anything else that I hate about my job right now. Sure, I can think of little annoyances or pet peeves, but overall, this post has put me in a better mood already, because I know the loves outweigh the hates.


Anonymous said...

This post is charming because its not really about hating your job, but not wanting to dissappoint or insult people who submit their work to you. Its a good reality check for us authors to remember that there is a real person on the other end of the letters we get too.

On a side note, this got me thinking:

"I think in many ways, today's system makes more business sense, but still."

Do you really think that is true? I wonder if back in the day when it was all about an editor's instincts, with the publisher following and supporting them, if there weren't just as many, if not more, great, classic books published. Its just that the industry was smaller, so not as much money was made. I tend to think its not the acquitions meetings that make better business sense, but just that the business has grown from where it used to be...


Anonymous said...

Wow I really mangled the spelling of "acquisition"! And there are a lot of commas up there. Sheesh I should really read my posts before posting them!!

Libby Koponen said...

I agree with Anna. I don't think committees ever make good artistic decisions....and I don't think letting accountants and the bottom line dictate what happens in an unpredictable field like book publishing makes good business sense.

Maybe my facts are wrong, but a friend (NOT ALVINA) in publishing explained the bottom line part to me and it certainly didn't sound like anyone was making good decisions, just decisions that showed growth on the spead sheet every year.

No one can predict what's going to sell and what isn't, and I believe an editor's intuition is as good (if not better) than a committee's for the bottom line piece, that would make a fascinating post from you, Alvina: I'm sure you know more about it than I do. But if it doesn't interest you I will ask my friend to explain the logic to me again -- it made NO sense at all. I thought I didn't understand it, but maybe I did understand it and it really doesn't make sense!

That could explain why a company that published Harry Potter is in financial trouble.

Libby Koponen said...

And yes, this is a fascinating post -- and a good reminder to us authors that BOTH sides of this business are hard! Thanks.

alvinaling said...

Thanks guys. In terms of the "publishing by committee" issue--to be honest, that's all I've known, so it's hard to really know, but I do believe that Sales and Marketing will do a better job at selling and promoting a book if they're invested in it from the start. I mean, put yourself in their shoes--how excited would you be if you were forced to sell something that you didn't like? And sure, regardless, it's their job to do so, but it's easier to do a better job if you believe in your product. Although I certainly learn to love every book that I work on, I'm not going to lie and say that I'm not more invested in the books that I've personally acquired, versus the books that I've edited that were handed to me from another editor. I've seen the whole company get excited about a book, and it makes a huge difference in how it does. And you have to remember that everyone in the committee loves books--they're all readers, too, like us. Just because they aren't in editorial, or an artist, or an author--they're in the publishing industry because they love to read and they love books (for the most part). Even the "number crunchers"! Because otherwise they'd be working in another industry making more money.

Anyway, I think there are pros and cons to both sides, which maybe deserves a post all of it's own, but I don't think that committees are as bad as everyone says/thinks. Although I still hate not having control!

Meghan McCarthy said...

Very interesting! I'm glad editors hate things too because now I don't feel so bad for hating things myself.

Anonymous said...


You said "I've seen the whole company get excited about a book, and it makes a huge difference in how it does." I was just speaking to LeUyen Pham today and she said the exact same thing about her book, Big Sister, Little Sister. The entire publishing house got excited about the book. It helped immensely. She suggested that by showing an early dummy around to the staff, excitement and anticipation built.

How can we, as authors and illustrators, help you, the editors, to create the excitement needed to push a book forward? Early character studies? Book dummies? Do you ever wish for something special to show around?


Anonymous said...

You mean everyone gets excited about promoting those celebrity picture books?

alvinaling said...

Ha--just saw that last comment. I think that there are certain books that people pretend to be excited about, and it's really hard to tell sometimes if their excitement is genuine or not.

Unknown said...

This was great to read as a writer sending out their first query letters. It shows the other side to the writer who may mistakenly take it very personally. I read your worked for B&N and was wondering what section-I worked there for 12 years in the kids section prior to getting sick and I actually LOVED it and miss it terribly! Also, your talk at the SCBWI in the Hudson Valley was also really helpful. Do you accept queries from conferences and do you like them by snail mail or email? Thanks, Michelle Mead (