Tuesday, 11 February 2014

The Girl Who Knew Too Much


First blog post of 2014! (Okay, so my new year’s resolution to update this blog at least once a week really hasn’t worked out so far, but let’s not focus on the negative.)

One of the reasons I haven’t had a chance to update the blog (apart from the usual work madness, attempting to learn how to run 10k, trying to get our new place into shape etc.) is that I’ve been writing. Although not for the blog. Obviously.

Other writing. Creative writing. Fiction. Yes, I am a walking cliché: an editor who really wants to write (and in case anyone work-related has stumbled onto my blog, don’t worry, I also want to keep editing!).

But I do write. I write a lot. So I can’t say that I really want to write, or even that I really want to be a writer because I guess, technically, I already am. So what I really mean is that I want to be a published writer.

It probably sounds straightforward. I work in publishing. I’m an editor. I know a lot of editors, agents, and publishers. Surely I have the inside knowledge to get my own work, if not published, then at least in front of an editor.

And there’s the problem.  I think I have too much inside knowledge. Just like Dorothy in Oz, I’ve looked behind the curtain. Then I wandered behind the curtain. And started working there. I know how editors work and the idea of putting my own work out there is pretty darn scary. I think I would prefer it if I could be a would-be author with no experience of the publishing industry, believing that editors spend their time reading manuscripts and having long, leisurely lunches with their newly-discovered literary talent.

Erm…not exactly. Reading speculative proposals usually falls to the bottom of my to-do list. Yes, I do have a constant nagging fear that I could be missing the Next Big Thing but what’s an editor to do when there are already manuscripts to edit, catalogue copy to write, sales launches to prepare for, and contract queries to deal with? And that’s before you add in the project management dimension that seems to make up a large chunk of editorial roles.

When I finally do have a chance to read through new proposals, I read quickly and, to be completely honest, I reject quickly. Sometimes I’ll read the proposal itself, other times I don’t even make it to the end of the cover letter if it’s obvious that it isn’t right for my list of titles.

I hope that my rejection notes are polite. I know that it takes a fair bit of nerve to send your work to a publisher (more nerve than I’ve shown so far!), to allow someone else to judge your work. But my rejection notes are short. I don’t have time to give feedback. I don’t have time to critique the writing style. I have time to say thanks but no thanks and that’s about it.

How would I feel if that were my work? If my email sat unopened in an editor’s inbox for weeks or months and was then glanced at and rejected in less than five minutes. I guess I would understand that the editor was extremely busy. I would know that the shortness of the email wasn’t meant to be dismissive or rude. But I think it would still sting.

And I have quite a small list of non-fiction titles so I can only imagine how many more proposals land on the desk of an agent or fiction editor!

What’s an editor-writer to do? There is, of course, self-publishing and while I know that has worked well for many people, it’s not something I want to try myself. Again, maybe it’s because I work in publishing and so I’m massively biased (and don’t want to see editors lose their jobs!) but, if I’m going to be published, I want to go down the traditional route. I want my own editor.  I want the validation that, for me, would come with a contract with a publishing company, the knowledge that an editor believed in my work and was willing to push for its publication. 

And, if I’m going to find an editor, the first step has to be actually sending my work out to some agents.

I suppose at this point I should make a big declaration and promise that this will be the year I finally publish something. But that feels a bit unrealistic. Instead I’ll go for: this will be the year when I finally let someone else – an independent, doesn’t-know-me-at-all someone else – take a look at my writing and let me know what they think.

And so, back to re-editing and drafting the perfect cover letter!

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