Saturday, October 18, 2008

Owners and editors . . . as writers?

I've pondered this subject on and off and still haven't lit on an attitude I'm comfortable with. (Yeah, okay, so I dangled a preposition.) I've been an editor at two different houses: first, the august Llewellyn Publications, known for serious nonfiction works on every aspect of occult studies, e.g., astrology, witchcraft, high magick, divination, the afterlife, psychic powers, etc.; second, a micropublisher that specializes in regional, local, and family histories. Whenever I wrote anything during my tenure at either company, it had to do with my my job.

Since I started publishing my own fiction several years ago, I've noticed that many e-pub owners and editors are also writers. I can't speak about larger print houses, because I have no experience with them, but a lot of peeps in e-publishing seem to like working both sides of the desk.

Is this good or bad? Is it neither good nor bad? Can it be both?

This situation does have distinct pros and cons. There've been some notorious instances in e-publishing of owners allegedly writing under multiple pseudonyms and giving themselves preferential treatment. Teddypig, a reader and reviewer, recently posted on this topic at his blog. Other companies have been accused of the same shenanigans. I suspect it's damned tempting to further one's own writing career in this manner ("Hey, I'm the owner of this sandbox!"), but it certainly isn't ethical.

On the other hand, many owner-writers like Tina Engler (aka Jaid Black) at Ellora's Cave, Margaret Riley (aka Shelby Morgen) at Changeling Press, and Treva Harte at Loose Id have done little or no spotlight-grabbing beyond what's necessary for promotion -- and I mean the promotion of any title. In their stadiums, or sandboxes, the playing field is level. Margaret Riley has said that her experiences as an author have helped her be a more responsible, and responsive, e-pub owner, and I don't doubt her one bit. She's a marvelous lady.

The issue of editors who are also published or aspiring authors is a bit thornier. On the plus side, a writer understands other writers . . . or should. We all have similar aspirations, fears, concerns. There is, I believe, such a thing as a creative mindset. So far, so good. We're cut from the same cloth. We're simpatico.


What happens if a writer-editor starts imposing, however inadvertently, her authorial voice and/or viewpoint on the work of her "editees"? It's always a possibility.

Then there's the matter of prioritizing. I know how rabid I am about writing. When I'm on a roll, I often won't bother answering the phone; I resent cleaning and cooking; I don't venture outdoors or even watch television. Coffee, potty, and letting the dogs in and out are about all that can drag me away from the computer. This isn't a good place to be for editors, however. To excel at what they've been hired to do, they can't put their own projects first. Emails need promptly to be answered; paperwork, shuffled; manuscripts, evaluated or edited; batches of material transferred to scores of different people. Any delays or mistakes resulting from an editor devoting too much time to her latest and greatest brainchild are . . . well . . . inexcusable.

I've often considered getting back into editing. I have the credentials, and I sure as hell need the money. For the reasons mentioned above, I've invariably scrapped the idea. The impulse to fashion my own stories is too strong. I'd be guilt-ridden as hell if I started neglecting my obligations on either side of the desk . . . but one side, at least, would certainly suffer.


Clare London said...

Hi! I haven't got a lot to add except my agreement on all you've said - the topic caught my eye and highlights something I've often thought about myself. I've been edited by authors and - yes - they have an understanding of how authors write, but their style and/or discipline isn't necessarily mine. I've had an excellent time with one who let my style take its own road while pointing out the hiccups, then I've had one who basically tried to rewrite my story with their favourite conventions.

My best experience has been with an editor who doesn't write (as far as I know...?! LOL), has dealt with several of my books so we have consistency, and is encouraging to me at all times (*am fragile flaky author*).
Seriously, I feel they then have a consistent approach to *all* the authors they edit and to the house style, rather than a 'friend helping out' feeling.

To me, it's the difference between a proper, professional edit and a beta-reader, like in fanfiction.

And god knows how they make the time!!!! LOL
Like you say, when the Muse calls, we're consumed by the writing. I would never be able to swap time and/or head space for someone else's work. I'd never offer to edit or review, for that selfish reason alone even if I thought I was up to the job skills-wise.

So the worry is that the editing will be cursory or even - god forbid - nodded through. Now, I think my grammar and tale-telling comes from a sound base to start with *coughcough* but my god, I've had some fierce and very constructive editing recently i.e. I definitely NEED it! LOL

Great, sensible, thought-provoking post, your posts are usually great!
Have a good week,
Clare :)

K. Z. Snow said...

Hi there, Clare! It's always good to hear from you. And, by the by, you're far from the only "fragile and flaky" writer! I can get some good attitude going, too, although I do try to mute it.

Your strictly editorial editor sounds like a dream come true. That's the perfect situation, really: someone who has no investment in projects of her own; has worked with you for a while and developed a feel for your strengths, weaknesses, and voice; someone who's encouraging.

That last trait is important, regardless of how much or how little diva we have in us. Feeling that your editor is indifferent does not inspire confidence in her or yourself. Tough to be enthusiastic under those conditions.

Treva said...

If you're a writer and publisher you really have to put your writing last (warning for those who somehow thought that would help their writing) because there are too many other priorities ahead of that. I try to edit other people as little as possible because I can't devote the necessary time to it. It didn't occur until just now that it might make authors nervous to have me edit. Then again, it doesn't seem to make the authors I edit nervous a bit.

K. Z. Snow said...

If you're a writer and publisher you really have to put your writing last (warning for those who somehow thought that would help their writing) because there are too many other priorities ahead of that.

No doubt one of the many reasons LI is so highly regarded. It's damned unfortunate when people driven by ego, ambition, and/or greed ignore that reasoning.

It must make you crazy, though, Treva! I really admire your discipline. All of your authors surely appreciate it.

Thanks so much for your insights.

Mary Winter said...

Definately echo what Treva said. I'm very fortunate in that I have a lot of work "stockpiled" so do not need to do any fresh writing, but I have resigned myself to the fact that I'll no longer be the 4K a day prolific author I was before Jupiter Gardens/Pink Petal Books. And you know what...that's just fine with me.

For me, opening Pink Petal Books was a long thought-out decision and one I made for several reasons.

Excellent post. Might have to talk to you about Llwellyn sometime.

K. Z. Snow said...

An ambitious undertaking, too, Mary . . . but you seem to be doing a bang-up job with both halves of it!

Long thought is indeed required before starting up any kind of business, but especially one that involves contractors, subcontractors, and/or employees.

Mary Winter said...

Thanks, KZ. I love my publishers, well most of them, anyway. *evil grin* But I always thought, if I could have a publisher that does this and that, basically taking the best of everyone, that was my ideal publisher. A conversation with my boss when he said "well surely there are things about writing that you don't like?" got my mind rolling.

Thank you for your wonderfully kind words. I am certainly trying. :)

K. Z. Snow said...

You're welcome, Mary. And *evil grin* back at ya!

K. Z. Snow said...

The following comment, from LENA AUSTIN, was added to the wrong post, so I've copied it and pasted it here.

* * * * *

I have seen glorious examples of both sides of the extremes. I have a much beloved editor who is also a published author. When she can, she writes. It is clear she has found that balance.

However, I too have seen some unfortunate examples of owners and editors who are also authors who put their own work first.

I firmly believe that if you are going to commit to owning a business, either as an owner of a publishing house or as an editor taking commissions, that business must come first. Some people can find the balance. Some people cannot.

Adele Dubois said...

I think its natural to be drawn to more than one area of publishing when you love books. How that works out, though, is not my call.

Romance Writers of America has separated authors from editors, agents, and publishers with membership categories that prohibit those in publishing management from acting as RWA chapter officers. It is my understanding that the separation was designed to avoid possible conflicts of interest between authors and their publishing houses.

Good topic, KZ!

Best--Adele Dubois

K. Z. Snow said...

Welcome, Adele! Good to know RWA has some safeguards in place. Alas, that doesn't prevent e-pub owners from conducting business as they see fit. That's not a problem if the companies are stand-up operations, but some seem to take rather unacceptable liberties.

Thanks for stopping by!

Jessica Freely said...

Hi KZ!

Just as a point of information, and because you had speculated as to whether editors at print houses also work as writers, I'd like to chime in to say that this is very common in mainstream publishing.

There's a well known story about a meeting of the Science Fiction Writers of America in which it was suggested that the editors leave the room because the authors needed to discuss writing-related issues. About half the room got up and it became obvious that there was so much crossover that no meaningful discussion could take place unless everyone was included.

K. Z. Snow said...

Hi, Jessica! I'm a little surprised this situation also exists in larger New York houses. Guess I've been clinging to the outdated notion that professional editors are just -- and only -- that.

Jessica Freely said...

Heh. I have noticed a tendency from time to time for epub professionals to idealize the print industry. It's easy enough to do -- the grass is always greener and so on. But believe me, we have editors who are also agents, editors who are also authors, agents who are authors -- it's a crazy mixed up world. And by the way, there's nothing new about any of this. It's been going on since the sixties, at least.

The nice thing about epub is that everyone is so accessible. And, given that we are a small, online community, there's a lot of pressure that can be brought to bear on people who are treating authors unfairly. I'm not sure folks who've only worked in epub realize how much power authors have here. I've waited six months or more for payment from a print publisher, and it wasn't at all an isolated incident. You might think its an agent's job to prevent that from happening, but if you're a midlist author and your agent has big name clients, you can whistle dixie.

As you know, I write for Torquere, and I've been following this discussion about pen names with interest. My experience with TQ has been positive: their contract is fair, they honor said contract and they pay on time. I haven't written anything for them that would be long enough for a print release and I'm not yet convinced that if I did, I'd be shut out by Shawn and Lorna's pseudonyms. Because they've been fair to me so far, I'm giving them the benefit of the doubt that the print releases are based on sales of the electronic editions. And I can do that secure in the knowledge that if I find I'm mistaken, their contracts are limited enough that I can take my work elsewhere without a lot of hassle -- another big difference between print and epub. I have print books that have been out of print for five years or more and we still have to give the publisher six months before we take the rights back.

Wow, this is a long comment. I guess I've been sitting on this for a while. :) The last thing I ever wanted to do coming into epublishing was run around with a fur coat and a rhinestone studded cigarette holder going, "I'm a print published author." Yeah, big deal. But I did want to offer some perspective from the other side of the fence. Cheers.

K. Z. Snow said...

"The nice thing about epub is that everyone is so accessible."

Not always.

"And, given that we are a small, online community, there's a lot of pressure that can be brought to bear on people who are treating authors unfairly."

True . . . if authors feel comfortable about speaking out, which they often don't. Anonymous posts don't seem to carry a lot of weight, except with authors from the same company. But, in that case, it's like preaching to the choir.

"Their contracts are limited enough that I can take my work elsewhere without a lot of hassle -- another big difference between print and epub."

Uh . . . again, not always the case. Some e-pubs have gotten increasingly "grabby" and dictatorial.

I don't necessarily think the grass is greener over yonder, but the money could very well be better. After earning peanuts for X number of months or years, an author could understandably be tempted by *GASP* an advance!

Jessica Freely said...

Well you're right, K.Z., the money is better. In my experience, however, it doesn't come as often. I'm still gathering data points and doing the math, trying to figure out if the frequency with which I can get contracts in epub makes up for the smaller checks.

Ashley Ladd said...

That has to be tough, working both sides of the desk, yet I know a lot of people do it. Like a lot of things, there are pros and cons, and like lots of things, the people involved have to weigh the debits against the credits to see what works best for them and those they serve.