I was rummaging through some old files the other day and came across an interview I conducted with Marysue Rucci, now editor-in-chief of Simon & Schuster. Marysue was kind enough to answer my questions back in 2002, when she was my editor at S&S, in aid of a keynote speech I was giving at a writers’ conference. Bear in mind that her answers represent her thinking at that time, which may have changed in the interim. Nevertheless I think it’s an extraordinarily useful piece in showing an editor’s insights and priorities, as well as what writers can do to help themselves and their books. I hope you’ll find it as helpful as I did.
Q: What can writers do to help their editors publish their books successfully?
A: Join writers’ groups, make friends with their local booksellers, create a website (and develop mailing lists), and publish “off the page” pieces, ideally just before or when their book is publishing – in magazines, newspapers, etc.
Q: How important is the personal relationship between editor and writer?
A: Respect is extremely important, in both directions. The book will always have the author’s name on it, and is the author’s baby, and I acknowledge that. It’s a waste of time, though, if the author doesn’t respect the editor’s ideas (or they simply don’t see eye to eye), for both author and editor.
Q: Describe the ideal writer, from the editor’s POV.
A: Timely, original, open to guidance but with a firm knowledge of the five W’s of his/her book (W’s being, who, what, where, when, why). And always generating ancillary article ideas/publishing stories to keep his/her name in the public eye.
Q: Describe the writer from hell, from the editor’s POV.
A: Personally affronted by edits; argumentative, evasive and lazy when it comes to deadlines. The author who drags his/her feet makes an editor’s life hell, because the editor is the conduit to all other areas of the publishing house. The production, marketing, publicity, teams are hammering on your editor’s door.
Q: What are the questions you most dislike getting from writers?
A: How many cities will I be touring? Will you run ads?
Q: How does an editor balance the sometimes conflicting interests of writer and publisher?
A: Delicately. Your editor is your advocate in-house, which is another reason a good working relationship is important. The editor is supposed to gracefully navigate the publishing process and agitate for the author and the author’s interest while still understanding financial and/or other publishing limitations.
Q: What fallacies do writers harbor about editors?
A: That editors want to receive your manuscript before the editor goes on vacation; or before holidays; or at home. Also, that we speed-read. A normal manuscript should take at least a week to read; far longer to edit (well).
Q: To what extent are your decisions based on publishing trends and to what extent on personal taste?
A: Personal taste rules the day. It’s pointless to buy a book you don’t love.
Q: What do you see as the editor’s primary mission (apart from making money, which goes without saying.)?
A: Understanding an author’s vision and helping the author best realize that vision. Delivering a great manuscript to the in-house people so they can sell it well. Attempting to get quotes, and buzz.
Q: Are there agents you won’t work with? Why? What are their names? (Just kidding about that one.)
A: There are agents I’ve vowed not to work with, but I’ve gone back on my vow. Either because the agent is impossible to converse with in a realistic manner or because he/she did something underhanded (like shop an offer that shouldn’t have been shopped). When you’ve been burned by an agent, it takes an extraordinarily special project to make you come back to her/him.
A: Love of reading, of course. The thrill of discovery, or potential thereof.
Thanks once again, Marysue!
News update: Lots of excitement as A DANGEROUS FICTION heads into the final stretch before pub date, July 25. Publishers Weekly gave the book a terrific review, and on May 20 they featured an interview with me. (Here’s the link, but unfortunately you have to be a subscriber to read the whole piece.) Viking’s wonderful PR department has set up several talks and signings in New York and Long Island venues. If you’re in the area, please put it on your calendars and stop by. If by chance you plan to buy a copy, you can save 35% on the hardcovers by preordering on Amazon, B&N or your online bookstore of choice. Viking recently gave away 100 galley copies in a sweepstakes. If you’re one of the winners, congratulations, and I hope you enjoy the book! If you weren’t, keep on eye on this blog. There will be other opportunities.