Monday, April 23, 2007

Friendship in work

Sorry if I've seemed a bit out of touch lately, I've been on vacation since last Friday to SF and now Seattle, and haven't had as much internet time as I thought I would. But as my last two BRG posts have been abbreviated, I was determined to write a post of some substance this week. I still have a lot of topics I need to write about, but for now, as I sit in the beautiful home of author Justina Chen Headley (Nothing But the Truth [and a few white lies]), I'm thinking about my friendships with the authors I work with. This may or may not tie into the whole coziness debate, which I'll be honest about and say that I haven't really been able to read carefully and can't comment on.

I don't think it's a surprise to readers of this blog that I'm close friends with many of the authors I work with. But in case it's unclear, except for Grace, I did not know any of the authors I edit before I worked with them on a professional level. Even fellow BRG Libby I met after she submitted her manuscript to me (which I'll make clear when I continue my "How I Know" series).

But it's true, I choose to be friendly with the authors and illustrators I work with. On this vacation to SF and Seattle--yes, vacation--I've chosen to meet socially with illustrator LeUyen Pham (Whose Toes Are Those and Whose Knees Are These by Jabari Asim), author Sean Beaudoin (Going Nowhere Faster), several West Coast agents, and now Justina Chen Headley. I've stayed in the homes of many of the authors I work with. I discuss my personal life with them, and want to hear about theirs. I know this can be dangerous--there was a PW column a while back about an editor who was close with an author who ended up leaving her for another publisher, and that in effect ended their friendship. I'd like to think that my friendships with "my" authors extend beyond business and book contracts, but I also know that you never know. As I've experienced, when it comes to negotiating contracts, dealing with money, marketing and publicity issues, editing, etc, the friendship can be strained. It's hard to not take things personally on both my end and the author's end. But the truth is, I don't know how to work differently, and despite some tough moments throughout my career, I still don't want to. And I haven't lost a friendship yet, for which I'm grateful.

Recently a friend posed the question: work to live or live to work? My first reaction was to say neither, and then I settled on "work to live--duh" because I don't want my work to be the primary focus of my life. But the truth is, it often is, especially since I blur the line between my professional life and personal life so often, and especially since children's books really are my passion. The truth is, if I love your writing, your art, I will most likely also love you. The rational part of me knows that I'm walking a dangerous line, that I may well be burned in the future, but as the saying goes, it's better to have loved and lost...this is how I choose to work and play, and I feel blessed to count many of the authors I work with as my dear friends.

Now, no doubt someone observing from afar might disapprove, might have the impression that I only work with friends, might complain about the coziness factor. But what can or should I do about this? To a certain extent, I don't want to change who I am, how I work. I'm also friends with my assistant, with my boss. Is this frowned upon as well? There are pros and cons. I wonder--what do you authors and illustrators think? And editors? Is there a line that should not be crossed?


Anonymous said...

Hi Alvina,

I wouldn't want to do what I do if I couldn't be friends with the editors I've worked with... for me, it's part of why I enjoy making books (it sure isn't the sales figures that keep me going)!


Anonymous said...

Dear Alvina,

Come, come, tell more of your travels. How was the meeting with agents? (More, more cried the blog reader.)

Perhaps friendship is natural outcome of publishing for children. There seems to be a commitment by both editors and authors/ilustrators that extends beyond work assignments.

Safe travels to you...


Anonymous said...

Hi Alvina,

Good questions. I think the relationship between an editor and a writer has a lot to do with the nature of the writing involved.

When I write for the newspaper, it's very businesslike. I chat with my editor once or twice a year. I send her one or two short pieces. She sends me a contract.
I didn't become friends with my newspaper editor until I had her son in my class.

A novel takes a year or more to work on, involves regular communication and tends to be quite personal. I bet you get a better revision from a writer when you've taken the time to build some trust and learn where the heart of the story lies for your writer. How could you keep from becoming friends?


Anonymous said...

I would say to drop by my work and get a tour while you're out here, but I'm home sick today. If you're still here by the end of the week, though, drop me an email. The building is a sight to see--lots of great fantasy artwork.

I have worked with authors that I'm friends with. I think it's the authors that I have things in common with, who I'd naturally be friends with in real life, that I tend to be better friends with beyond our work relationship. But I always have fun working with all my authors because we both have a passion for what we're working on and want to make it the best it can be.

I haven't had a chance to meet many of the authors I work with yet, just the ones who live locally, but of course that's different with my coworkers, who I'm also friends with. I think it takes compartmentalization, for one--this is work, this is not-work--but I think that sense of camaraderie and shared experience with a group of like-minded people bonds you. It makes work personable.

I do have a coworker who prefers to keep things less personal at work, though, and I respect that, too. It's probably just different temperaments, how someone feels they best work.

Robert Trujillo/Tres said...

This is a revelation. I have been slowly and patiently gathering information, tips, knowledge, mistakes, lessons learned, etc about the childrens book industry for the past 5 years. I have been especially vigilant in seeking out people of color in the business because I am curious about what they do, how they got there, and how they work with their clients. So, thanks for this insight and i love LeUyen Pham's art!