Thursday, December 02, 2010

No. No. No.

I met one of my favorite editor for drinks the other day and we were doing our usual kvetching about being overwhelmed with reading.

The editor then tells me this story:

An author queries me directly - it's not my stuff but it sounds interesting so I pass it on to a new bright eyed and bushy tailed assistant editor who's looking to build a list. He likes it and requests it. It arrives and goes in the pile of not-terribly-urgent.

Time passes, as it does.

Author who sent full signs with an agent.

Agent then sends out a new and different project. Neither the author nor the agent let our bright eyed and bushy tailed assistant editor know about this - nor is he the editor to whom the new work is submitted.

The editor who gets the second submission reads and likes it, then gets it read by the powers that be, gets an offer approved, and makes the offer. Only THEN does the agent tells editor #2 that "oh, gosh, Editor Bushy Tailed" happens to be looking at something else by the same author.

And of course it turns out that Editor Bushy Tailed has read the first submission, likes it, and has it with two other colleagues to get supporting reads before going to editorial board.

Editor Bushy Tailed has now wasted his time and the other editor's time because there can be only one editor for an author; the editor-in-chief is now involved much to her chagrin and dismay; and Editor Bushy Tailed has to turn over the book he's been looking at to editor #2.

Long story short - both author and agent knew two editors were looking at different projects in-house and didn't tell either editor.

Here's what we can learn from this: when you sign with an agent, tell all the editors looking at your work  that you have an agent now AND tell agent what editors are looking (and have looked) at your work.

You do this even if you think every single submission has long since been forgotten. You do this even if you think it's useless. You do this so if someone doesn't know it's not because you didn't tell them.

You might be tempted to say "Bright Eyed and Bushy Tailed Editor should have let author know he liked the book." Maybe so. But face it, "should" doesn't get us very far here. This is your career. Make sure you keep your ducks in a row.


Laura Maylene said...

How sad to have such insanely good fortune by having two editors at the same house interested in buying two of your projects...and then go on to sour it with a mistake like this.

Amy Tripp said...

Daffy's mean face made me LOL.

Great points - oh, if only I get to the point where I have to worry about such details!

ryan field said...

"Long story short - both author and agent knew two editors were looking at different projects in-house and didn't tell either editor."


jn said...

While I understand your point, let's look at it from the authors perspective.

With the current policy so many publishers and many agents (excluding you of course) have adopted--If you don't hear from us, you can assume we are not interested--we suck up the silence and move on.

Infinity is a rather long time to wait in hopes of a response.

That's why even a quick form rejection is a small mercy.

Kristin Laughtin said...

The author should definitely tell the agent if they have any works being read in any case, but is my understanding correct that this issue wouldn't be so complicated if the editors were in different houses? That is, Bushy-Tailed wouldn't have to hand over the first book to the second editor if they worked in separate companies. (And since no offer had been made yet, there would have been no right of first refusal for the second book or anything like that.)

Rebecca Woodhead said...

Uncomfortable situation. Thanks for pointing this out to people.

Word Nerd

stephen matlock said...

Thanks for the reminder about business courtesy.

And thanks for the reminder to us to track our submissions carefully.

Kate said...

I don't know - it seemed like worked out OK for the author. If for some reason I thought the extra confusion could endanger my latest submission, I think I'd risk a little "editor chagrine" too. It's too bad publishing houses are such rare and sacred resources that they can't be held responsible for keeping track of their own work.

laughingwolf said...

good stuff, janet... BUT... some blame rests with the house for not telling ALL its editors, junior or otherwise, what's going on :(

easiest way: internal memos....

IanBontems said...

Sufferin' succotash,

that's desthpicable!

Sorry the pic set me off, but yeah, wow.

middle grade ninja said...

Too bad for the editors, but it sounds like good news for the writer:) If two editors liked the writer's work, perhaps a third editor at another house will like as well. Good thing. Sounds like the writer burned bridges all over the place.

Anonymous said...

My side of the story?

Bright Eyed and Bushy Tailed Editor requests my full. Eagerly I send it to her.

A year later I write to ask what she thought, but get no answer.

Two years later I write again to ask what she thought. Still no answer.

Three years later I write to tell her someone else has offered for the novel. No answer.

Eight years and three books later, I still kinda wonder if she's gotten to it yet.

Gisele said...

An awkward situation indeed.

Perhaps it could have been avoided if all parties involved extended some professionalism toward each other.

Sure, the author (or agent) should have let the editors know. However, it really goes both ways. Let's not be so quick to absolve editor #1, who also should have let the author know that the novel had gone to the dreaded "not-terribly-urgent" pile (Or, from an author's perspective, the "limbo pile"). I mean, who knows how long it would have taken editor #1 to:

a) Read it and,
b) get back to the author?

How long is it reasonable to expect that the author should wait, without any form of communication whatsoever from the editor (as it is commonly done) before moving on?

Considering that there is internet nowadays, it is easy for editor #1 to shoot a quick email to let the author know that the work is being reviewed. Why isn't the simplest kindness (if not professionalism) being taken into account?

After all, authors and editors have careers that are intrinsically connected and need each other. Their relationship is not one-sided.

Unknown said...

This is one crazy business. The mean Daffy Duck face says it all!

Anonymous said...

The thing I find oddest about this story is - when I queried an agent the other day (having already approached a publisher direct), I made damned sure I mentioned the request for the full manuscript early in the query.

I thought it was an important selling point, as I knew the agent has already worked with the publisher in question - sure enough, I got a request for partial in no time flat!

In any case, you should always tell your agent which publishers (if any) you have approached directly. I would have thought it was common sense, but evidently not...

JD Horn said...

I'm with Gisele. Professionalism and courtesy is a two way street.

JD Horn said...

The one thing I find myself wondering is HOW MUCH time passed?

Did the author just happen to have two books ready to go, or did the author

* send the first book off,

*never get a bite from an agent or word from an editor on that book,

*assume it was going nowhere

* and then take a year or more to write another book?

Anonymous said...

Oh wow two books in the same house being looked at by two different agents. But . . . did the author write and send the second work while the first book was still in the not so urgent pile? Or were they sent weeks apart?

Jaycee Adams said...

You're absolutely right, Janet, this is a perfect example of why editors need to do the simple courtesy of keeping their prospective authors in the loop about what's going on and when they can expect to have a definitive answer.

Would ANY of us tolerate going to get major repairs on our car, and not being given an idea when to pick it up? Should I come back in a couple hours? A couple days? Weeks? Months? Years? How long is reasonable?

I'm a busy guy. If you guys don't have the courtesy to let me know within a reasonable amount of time when you're going to take care of our business, don't be surprised if I assume you've declined the honor I've offered you and I find someone with a little more common courtesy to work with. In an era where silence equals rejection, don't be surprised when your silence is interpreted as such.

Us beginning authors have virtually NO IDEA what it's like to be in your shoes. We assume people in the same company talk to each other or have some big tote-board that details all the projects everyone is working on, we assume you only need a few days to let us know what's going on with our project, and there are a lot of other things we assume, based on our vast experiences OUTSIDE your world.

The only reason I have even the slightest clue what your world is like is because I come here now and then to collect some of your good advice and useful tips, which I share with the other writers in my groups and readers of my website. ( Every writer's meeting I go to, I meet someone who hasn't got a clue what you guys do or how busy you are. And I also meet people who think publishamerica is a good idea too, and have to convince them otherwise.

Everyone expects the OTHER GUY to be professional, but it takes professionalism on both ends. There isn't enough detail in your story to know precisely who dropped the ball here, but I'm inclined to believe the author was at less fault than the editor.

A particle physicist doesn't expect the rest of us to understand his joy at discovering a Tau Meson without first explaining at least a little bit of the particle zoo first. You guys who have rare knowledge outside the common human experience need to remember in what way you're different so that the rest of us have some idea what it is you're unhappy about. We can't fix a refrigerator solenoid if we've never heard of one.

Caroline said...

Thanks for the post, but I think you left out a key detail by not specifying how much time passed, while the "Editor Bushy Tailed" was working on other things. If we're talking about six months or more, I'm less inclined to feel bad for him. If it was a few weeks, then yes, the author and agent should have waited.

So, don't leave us in suspense. How long was it?

Janet Reid said...

Fewer than six weeks.

Jaycee Adams said...

We again need something to put that into perspective. I immediately thought, "Holy crap, this guy waited a month and a half for a response? He's got a lot more time to kill than I do."

But, of course, perhaps I'm mistaken.

Maybe 6 weeks of silence is the norm. Maybe 6 months of silence is. As I said before, we regular schmucks don't have enough information.

We also don't know if indeed the editor sent the guy a receipt stating that it could take over a month and a half for him to get around to reading what he asked for and getting the ducks all lined up to make an offer.

This piece really only succeeds at stirring up a pot, it doesn't settle anything. It ends up being little more than a knee-jerk rant. You're better than that, Janet!

Julie O'Connell said...


I politely disagree. I don't think this post is anything like a rant. It was a clear and honest example of something that could have turned into a big problem. Janet didn't stir any pot, she simply informed us to be careful, pay attention, and inform agents of everything that might be pending. If we want to be treated as professionals, it behooves us to act in a professional manner.

Thanks for the heads-up, Janet.

Kate said...

Hmm. So in the span of six weeks, unagented writer gets an editor's request for one manuscript, lands an agent, and then gets a second manuscript placed with a second editor? Even aside from lottery-level odds involved here (at least, if this is an unknown novelist we're talking about), this is getting more and more eenteresting. Why wouldn't the agent and author want to leverage the first book when they pitched the second? I suppose the omission could have just been a mistake/bad timing/etc., but could it have been a deliberate tactic on the agent's part to get the more senior editor for both books? Curiouser and curiouser, at least to me as an ignorant outsider.

JD Horn said...

OK-Now I am totally jealous of the writer.

Unknown said...

Sounds like a bit of lack of communication on both ends...