The Author/Editor Relationship

Posted by March 1st, 2011

“Your editor is the book’s primary champion in-house.”

 louanders“Where’s my check?” was probably not the most tactful response to my effusive welcoming email, an email praising a new author’s magnificent manuscript and their powerful storytelling skills, and enumerating all the many reasons I was thrilled to add them to the Pyrroster. Checks are notoriously late in this business, but in this case, the signed contracts back from the author hadn’t even reached me in the post; I’m not even sure they were signed as we’d just made a verbal agreement with the agent that morning.

Uh oh, I thought, this doesn’t bode well for the author/editor relationship.

And it is a relationship.

My wife is always ribbing me that I just work with my friends, and that’s true to a large extent, but – BUT – as I remind her, they were all business colleagues first and friends second. I’d asked illustrator John Picacio to do the cover of my first anthology within about five minutes of meeting him, and it was only later that he revolved into one of my best friends. Chris Roberson says we hit it off at the 2001 World Fantasy Convention in Montreal, but he doesn’t track bright on my radar until he delivered the astoundingly-brilliant “O One” for my anthology, Live Without a Net. (The story is online at that link in its title – check it out.)

Publishing, like the film industry I worked in previously, is a business of friends. Sure, there’s jealousies, back-biting, rivalries, hurt feelings, egos, crazy folk, etc… but for the most part, you work with people you really enjoy working with, because if you are going to spend a year or more enmeshed in someone else’s imagination, it’s a whole lot nicer for both of you if you can get along with them as people too.

It’s nice for the authors as well. While some of them grouse about their editors (sometimes you get the impression that’s almost a stock response with some writers – though none of mine of course), editors are the middlemen (or middlewomen) between authors and publishers. They aren’t just there to hack and slash the heart out of your manuscript. An editor is also said manuscript’s chief advocate inside the publishing house.

My parent company, Prometheus Books, produces about 100 books a year, roughly 29 of which are Pyr titles. There is no way that publicity, sales & marketing, the art department, and all the scores of individuals from the various departments that will work on creating, editing, shaping, packaging, producing, and promoting the novel can read every book. So it’s the editor who advises publicity on how best to pitch a work, or what campaigns to include it in. It’s the editor who coaches sales on how best to pitch the novel to buyers. It’s the editor who briefs the art department on what the novel is about.

It’s easy for an individual book to get lost amid the whole list – your editor is the book’s primary champion in-house, keeping the rest of the (often quite large) team excited about it, and making sure it doesn’t drop of the radar.

There’s a reason why authors follow editors when the latter change jobs, and why conversations with your editor about sporting events, comic books, TV shows, and the price of tea in China are all classified as “working conversations”. The editor is your editor because he/she loves your book and picked it out of the hundreds (thousands!) of other manuscript, pitches and proposals that crossed his or her desk(top) in any given year.


Building a relationship with an editor starts with realizing this.

Publishing houses can be large, intimidating entities; they switch your book in the schedule for nebulous reasons, market – or fail to market it – in weird ways, stick a cover on your masterpiece that utterly betrays its content. But your editor is your friend in this, the insider with one foot out the door, who’s there because he/she thinks you are a genius. How can you not get along with someone that thinks that of you?

Now, don’t worry, I totally get what you are going for here, but can you trim this by 20 percent, add a sex scene, and make the hero a heroine? Thanks, friend. Do that and we’re gold.

[The above originally appeared at The Swivet and is reprinted here with kind permission of the author. Image courtesy Lou Anders.]

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Lou Anders

About Lou Anders

Industry Blog > Craft of Writing > Developing Your Story From characters and plotlines to setting and worldbuilding, every story needs to grow and develop in many ways. Entertain tips from industry insiders. Follow this topic Recommend More search options Don't Be Good; Be Brilliant! Previous article| Next article Tags editors, submission Other topics in Craft of Writing Basics of Writing Revising & Critiquing Writing Challenges Lou Anders | Editorial Director, Pyr Books | 3/1/2011 12:00:00 AM 4 comments To stand out from the sea of submissions, you need to sparkle! There's a book on my shelf, taking up valuable space, that I just can't wait to throw away. I'm a collector, serious style. Brodart jacket protectors on all my hardcovers, don't touch anything without washing your hands, reading editions and archiving additions for special titles -- that's how serious. So what's this about wanting to throw a book away? Well, I'm also a very occasional writer, and like a lot of you, I've got that one title that once made me go, "If this can get published, anything can. Heck, I can write better than this crap." So it's there, on the shelf, waiting for me to actually finish a novel, at which point I get to reward myself by tossing it in the trashcan where it so clearly belongs (and no, I won't tell you it's title). But until then, an author with a finished novel, even a terrible one, is still one novel ahead of me, and so there it sits. Now, obviously there are bad books out in the world. Lots of them. But taking off the wannabe author hat, and putting on the editor one, the truth is that the way to get published is not to aim for being slightly better than crap. As the editorial director of Pyr Books, I get pitched books anywhere from three times a week to three times a day. I read hundreds of manuscripts, partials, outlines, proposals. I probably sift through a hundred possibilities for every one good book. And while you might think that the vast bulk of what gets rejected is unreadable drivel that's easy to dismiss, that really isn't the case. The truth is that most of what comes in is perfectly competent. Stories with an interesting protagonist with a clear motivation, on a journey with a definite beginning, middle and end. The problem isn't that it's full of problems. The problem is that it's competent, okay, decent, moderately well-executed, perfectly servicable... You get the idea. To stand out from this sea of submissions, you need to sparkle. You need to be un-put-downable. As jaded as editors are, you need the manuscript that makes you want to grab the phone immediately to call your spouse, boy/girlfriend, best friend because you can't wait to talk about it, the manuscript that has you leaping out of your chair because you've got to do something to disperse the energy that's rushing off the pages and into your heart. You need to be brilliant. That might sound discouraging. It shouldn't be. Yes, it's a lot harder to be brilliant than to be merely competent. But you know what - when you are brilliant, it's a lot harder to resist as well. I truly believe that everything brilliant finds its way eventually. Because as jaded as we editors can be, we like getting excited by a book as much (or more) than anyone else. So instead of keeping that book on the shelf until you've earned the right to throw it away, maybe we should all throw away our "I can do better than this" books. Maybe the shelf should only contain things to aspire to, not works to excel but works to equal. What a library that would be. Sounds brilliant. About Lou Anders Lou Anders is the Editorial Director of Pyr Books, the SF/F imprint of Prometheus Books. He has an impressive background in genre publishing. He is a 2008/2007 Hugo Award nominee, a 2007 Chesley Award nominee and a 2006 World Fantasy Award nominee. In addition to running Pyr Books, he is the editor of the anthologies Fast Forward 2, Sideways in Crime, Fast Forward 1, FutureShocks, Projections: Science Fiction in Literature & Film , Live Without a Net, and Outside the Box. In 2000, he served as the Executive Editor of, and before that he worked as the Los Angeles Liaison for Titan Publishing Group. He is the author of The Making of Star Trek: First Contact, and has published over 500 articles in such magazines as The Believer, Publishers Weekly, Dreamwatch, Star Trek Monthly, Star Wars Monthly, Babylon 5 Magazine, Sci Fi Universe, Doctor Who Magazine, and Manga Max. His articles and stories have been translated into Danish, Greek, German, Italian and French, and have appeared online at, and Lou keeps a website and popular blog of his own, Bowing to the Future, as well as contributing the Pyr Books blog. (He's a busy guy!)

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