Monday, April 02, 2007

Give credit where credit is due?

And when is credit due? I've been thinking about this issue a bit more, of whether editors (and others in the publishing company) should be credited on the books they edit/work on, and I think I've decided that for me, the answer is no.

First of all, where would you draw the line on who gets credit? Surely the designer, copyeditor, and production person should get credit, as should the assistant on the book. How about the publicist or marketing professional? The publisher? The sales reps? And what about in the case where the acquiring editor is not the same as the current editor? Or what if the acquiring editor is no longer with the company, or the editor changes mid-project? There are so many people involved in-house and out in publishing a book, but I agree with what some people have said, that it's our job to be quietly behind the scenes, to be, as Jen commented, "invisible in the finished product." The truth is, oftentimes when the finished book comes out, I've forgotten who suggested what, which of my suggestions were taken and which were not.

Another reason editors aren't usually credited is because we don't necessarily want our names out there, because we don't want to increase the number of unsolicited submissions. There's safety in anonymity (although in my case, it doesn't really matter because our house is closed--and my name is already out there because I blog). Then again, knowing which editor worked on which book is helpful to agents as well. I think perhaps it would make sense to put the editor's name in catalogs, which I think some publishers do.

I do think that editors tend to know what books other editors have edited, either from word of mouth, or being at conferences with other editors, or reading industry magazines and newsletters, or the way the general public does: by reading dedications and acknowledgement pages which almost always credit the editor. And as is with many professionals, I don't crave fame and fortune (well, maybe the fortune part), but I would like to have the respect of my peers, and that's possible without being credited on books I edit.

Meghan wanted to know what goes on behind the scenes if a book "tanks." To be honest, at my company, I haven't experienced any ill-effects first-hand. As far as I know, there isn't any name calling or finger pointing going on. Then again, although I've definitely acquired and edited books that performed below expectations, I feel a bit detached from a lot of the post-publication financial discussions. I think the higher up an editor gets at the company, the more he or she is held responsible for the financial profitability of the books they acquire and edit. But as I mentioned in my "Publishing by Committee" post, the fact that I'm not making these decisions alone ensures that I'm not the only person held responsible for a book failing (or given credit for its success). I think my company is trying to move towards having editors see the final P&Ls (profit and loss) of their books a year to 18 months after a book has published so that we have a better idea of what has worked and what hasn't, but we haven't yet actually instituted this practice. I hope we do, though, because it would be eye-opening, and equip me with more knowledge and insight. I'm not sure how this works at other publishers.

Anyway, this issue reminds me of a meeting I had recently with two authors and their agent, plus several of my colleagues. I may be remembering this wrong, but I think it happened like this: The agent kept referring to the authors he represents as "my authors," and one of the authors (or perhaps it was one of my colleagues) jokingly commented on how possessive that sounded, and the agent turned to me in protest and asked, "Don't you refer to the authors you work with as 'your authors,' too?" I paused, and then said, "Yes, but generally not in front of them."

In-house, editors do say "my author" or "my book," but we know it's because they're more our projects/authors in-house than anyone else there. We're the closest to the book--they're our babies, too, but we're just the teacher or babysitter, not the birth parents. We never forget that it is, above all, the author and illustrator's book, and without them and the beautiful books they write and illustrate, none of us would have a job.


Meghan McCarthy said...

Thanks for posting this Alvina! Very interesting indeed.


ps-- nice to briefly see you the other night

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing, Alvina!

Now let me share something with you. In 2006 I attended the ALA Mid-Winter Meeting. While there, I picked up the arcs of Grace's and Justina's books. Although I thought the books were wonderful in many ways, my favorite part of each of them had to do with you.

I even blogged about it back in the day.

Your authors are lucky to have you.

alvinaling said...

Aw, Tammi, that's great!

Disco Mermaids said...

Wow, Alvina. I love your analogy to parents--that the editor is the teacher or the babysitter, not the birth parent.

You completely rock!


saramoohead said...

Great post Alvina. It's interesting in this context to think about eponymous imprints. That's not the editor being invisible -- that's the editor becoming a brand, actually using the editor to promote/sell books by putting their name on teh spine of the book. At what point does it become appropriate for an editor to "out" themselves?

And I have another, different question I've been wanting to ask you (and asking myself for some time now.) How do YOU know when you are a good editor? I mean the actual craft of editing a manuscript. Do you already know that you are a good editor, and what makes you think that? Or are you still becoming a good editor, and what will it take for you to decide that you are? I'm not questioning your talents, because I know you are fabulous! And I don't mean the question to cut off the possibility (probability/sure thing) of you getting lots better as time goes on. But I want to know when/how/what you have decided about that for yourself.

Robert Trujillo/Tres said...

This too is interesting. I didnt realize that LBC is closed. Although i understand why I must say that it is frustrating as hell trying to break into this business. I personally have a dream invested, a love of books, and a mission to accomplish so nothing will keep me from pursuing my goal.

But, I do come across many many artist who I think would be GREAT for childrens bks, but when I think of all the time spent trying to find this or that w/ or w/o pay I get why I dont see more men who look like me in the field. The industry is closed off. not only be policies at publishers, but by race, cultural preference, and class I feel.

I wish there were a place where you could look up who an Art Director for a book i like was; instead it takes a huge amount of time and effort to locate them. and why is that? Too many people trying to contact them?

Anyway, thanks for the insight.