book I just hung up the phone with a new author who has a book project that I’m very excited about. I can’t tell you much about her project just yet—I’m trying to keep it on the down low for as long as possible—but I’ll say this: it kicks some serious bottom, and I can’t wait to work with her on it in the next handful of months.

I was telling her exactly this when she asked me The Question. “So,” she asked, “are you my editor?”

I don’t like this question. It makes me feel stuck somewhere between Kierkegaard’s Who am I?! and that PD Eastman book where the bird falls out of the tree and thinks the bulldozer is his mother.

I also don’t like the question because I tend not to handle the answering of it very well. I usually say something like, “Well, yes and no … ” Sometimes I say, “Well, no and yes …” Because that can be true, too.

Being a writer and all, I know my author can handle irony. But she didn’t seem too happy with me. So I did what I often do when I get asked The Question: I launched into an excessively detailed exegesis of the variations on Editor, and I’ll share it with you now so you never have to suffer the way my poor author did today.

As an author, you will likely have many editors. Some of them will edit your manuscript—that is, they will actually read what you have written and make suggestions for improvements to the language, pace, tone, and scope of your writing. Other editors will not edit your manuscript, but they will still be your editors.

The first editor an author meets is almost always the acquisitions editor. This is the person who is responsible for making a contractual offer for your project and negotiating the terms of the contract until it’s agreed upon by the publisher and the author. Some acquisitions editors only acquire, while others do other kinds of editing as well. Therefore, your acquisitions editor may or may not also be your …

Developmental editor. The developmental editor is the person who works with you to shape your project into a final and complete manuscript. A DE might make comments such as, “Have you ever thought about adding directions for a knitting project to the end of each chapter? Knitting is very in” or, “Chapter 12: more sex.” This is the most intensive/creative edit your book will get, though not all books even require a developmental edit. If yours does, your DE may or may not also be your …

Project editor. The project editor—also called your “in house” editor, or your shepherding editor, or your championing editor, or more often than anything else, generically “your editor”—may or may not actually do any editing of your book. She will, however, be the publisher’s point person for your project and, hopefully, an advocate for you and your book. She’ll discuss with you such things as cover design, deadlines, and your pub date, and she’ll convey any feedback the other staffers may have about your book (i.e., “Marketing says that Eat, Pray, Schlep isn’t really working for them as a title.”) Your project editor will likely oversee the descriptive copy that’s written about your book for publicity and catalog purposes to ensure it’s in line with what your manuscript will be delivering. Your project editor is most likely not also your …

Copyeditor. The copyeditor reads your manuscript and makes edits in accordance with such wonkiness as house style, grammar, and consistency. She may also ask you questions such as, “Re Charlotte Sometimes reference on page 233: Is this a reference to the time-travel YA novel by Penelope Farmer or the B side of The Cure’s Splintered in Her Head? Please clarify.” The copyeditors are actually the most underappreciated of the bunch—they are the unsung heroes of the editorial team, often a freelancer who polishes your manuscript until it shines and then disappears into the night. A tip: Ask your project editor if you can write a brief memo to the copyeditor before she begins her pass. That way you can flag any special words (“please stet spelling of golldangit”) or styles (“I prefer to refer to characters by a single capitalized letter and a long dash, as in ‘M—’, even though critics will likely find me affected for doing so. Please stet.”)

One more editor who will get her hands dirty on your book is the proofreader, who will review your book for accuracy after it’s been laid out. (Another tip: Ask your editor—you’ll know which one to ask when the time comes—if you can see the pages after the proofreader has taken her pass. Your editor may hate you for it, but it’s the only way you’ll see the absolutely final pages before they’re printed. She may say no—there often isn’t time for this extra step—but if you ask very, very nicely and promise to return with edits within, say, 24 hours, you might just get a yes.)

And now you know why The Question is so stressful. Why yes and no is accurate, as is no and yes. My recommendation: offer each so-called editor at your publisher a checklist and ask them to check all that apply.

Man, Twitter has taking some serious hits in the media this week. First Barbara Walters tries to explain Twitter to her cohosts and provokes an explosion of eye rolling and insults, then Jon Stewart mocks not just the Twitter posts themselves but shakes his fist at those who dare to tweet.

Go ahead, joke it up, I’ll just say this: We mock that which we do not understand, friends. And also this: I think Twitter is brilliant—especially for anyone who wants to be published.

One of the biggest worries I hear from aspiring authors is that they don’t have contacts in the publishing industry. Sure, I understand that, it definitely helps to be at least on a name-recognition basis with someone before asking her to take you and your blood, sweat, and tears seriously.

That’s the part where Twitter comes in: In less than 10 minutes, you can connect directly with agents and editors, authors and publicists, all in a socially egalitarian and non-hierarchical kind of way. You can read their comments on the industry and their jobs, and you can comment right back, no sweat, no formality. (My mom recently exchanged tweets with Rachel Maddow, how cool is that?) It won’t be long before you’re on each other’s radar, your name on their computer screens and theirs on yours. It’s not intimacy, or friendship even, but there’s no denying it — you’re in contact.

Twitter is more immediate than Facebook, but with less of a need to encounter irrelevance and overshare, especially if you’re using it as a professional conversation starter. Not only are you in contact with others who have like-minded interests, but you can learn about your contacts’ lives in a way that will personalize them to you to your advantage. Consider: You’ve just finished your book proposal and are ready to query literary agents when you see that Lucy Agent, whom you’ve been following on Twitter, has posted a comment about a client of hers who just won a prestigious book award. Now, instead of querying her with a standard query form letter, you can write something far more personal, and more likely to get her attention: “Dear Lucy Agent, Congratulations on your client winning the Prestigious Book Award! Entirely deserved—I found the book both beautifully written and insightful. I have a book on a similar topic I’d love for you to consider representing … ” You’ll show that you’ve done your due diligence in learning what’s important to her as a professional, which is bound to earn you some take-me-seriously credit in return.

You can also read tweets (posts, to the uninitiated) from a range of agents about what they love and hate about queries from other writers, so you’ll know what mistakes not to make yourself. Here’s a snippet from agent Colleen Lindsay (@Colleen_Lindsay), who’s worth joining Twitter for alone:

Query #1: 1st paragraph talks only about the multiple themes in the book. There is no second paragraph. Reject.

Query #2: Great query, but book is too similar to something I already represent. Personalized rejection, ask to see other work.

Query #3: YA fantasy, 175,000 words. Reject with educational note about word counts.

Query #4: Loves me. Loves my blog. Has MFA. Won contest I’ve never heard of. Three paragraphs in and it’s still not a query letter. Reject.

You can follow book publishers (@ChronicleBooks has the best book giveaways), book editors (follow me! I’m @lauramazer) and anyone else who tweets about subjects that interest you, from indie crafts to your local elected officials. (On my faves list: @threadless, @iphonenovice, @freakonomics). There’s a long list of pub industry Twitterers, and you can follow as many as them as you like.

And if you’re worried that using Twitter is confusing, well, yeah, OK, it actually really is — for about five minutes, and then it all becomes clear. I’ll remind you that my mother Twitters (@thelmasan, follow her, she’s a rock star! And I bet @maddow thinks so too). Here, I’ll shame you into it: If you can write a book, surely you can figure out a social network that 50 million Elvis fans have already mastered.

I’ll be looking for your tweets, peeps.

8:25 am. Drive to the office after dropping off preschooler and third grader at respective schools. Discover abandoned baggie of stale cereal on passenger seat under pile of manuscripts. Resist urge to eat. Feel bad that manuscripts are riding shotgun instead of getting read.

8:46 am. Arrive at office. Turn on computer. Read email from accountant, who needs to reschedule appointment (again) but meanwhile wants to know if I have any contacts in children’s publishing who might want to see a book she’s written … Delete. Read email from agent wanting to know if I’d like to look at a proposal for a book about Zen golfing. Close. Read an email from a friend of a friend who met me at a party who has a book that’s just like Eat, Pray, Love only different, would I like to publish it …

9:11 am. Read my google alerts: six about the company, seven about authors or books that are pubbing, one about me. Click on the one about me. Discover there’s another Laura Mazer who took first place in her high school district’s 100-yard dash. Delete all.

9:25 am. Get coffee. Eat Luna bar. Scan RSS feeds. Read Romanesco. Twitter a link to an article that pronounces indie publishers to be the future of literature. Feel smug.

10:00 am. Editorial meeting. Title brainstorming—once again, can’t help but wonder if we’d have better ideas if there were alcohol involved. Listen to debate over whether or not a novel needs to say “A novel” on the cover. Keep a tally in the margins of my agenda of how many times the editorial director mentions books I haven’t read but should. Realize how poorly read I am. Feel crappy about it. Try to redeem myself by offering to ask a past author for a blurb for a new author. Present new cover for lead fiction title. Consensus is it’s perfect but could use some changes.

11:55 am. Meeting over. Three tally marks. Not bad!

12:04 pm. Back in office. Open mail: four brochures from stock agencies, two from photographers, one from an indexer, three invoices from freelancers, and five submissions, including a hand-drawn children’s book with an SASE and a typewritten letter that begins “Dear Mr. Mazer.”

12:18 pm. Read pitch letter from agent for a sports anthology with recipes.

12:25 pm. Go to kitchen to microwave frozen Lean Cuisine for lunch and reheat coffee. Add a little sugar so I can think of it as dessert.

1:18 pm. More email: Manuscript arrives from supercool new author. Read revised intro. Love it. Write effusive email saying so. Delete some adjectives so I don’t sound fawning. Make notes for copyeditor (“Please retain all instances of the word vomitudinal.”) Glance at last page to see if I am included in the acknowledgments. (I am!) (Not that it matters or anything.)

1:35 pm. Phone rings. It’s the cover designer working on the lead fiction title. Tell her we love her design and we want very little changed, in fact she should pretty much keep it exactly the same, maybe just play with the type and the color scheme, and possibly experiment with the cover image, and could she change the title treatment hierarchy? But really, that’s all, it’s gorgeous just as it is …

1:50 pm. Launch Excel so I can start charting out editorial schedules for the fall titles. Set deadlines for each stage of each book, taking into account authors’ schedules, copyeditors’ schedules, proofreaders’ schedules, cover designers’ schedules, interior designers’ schedules, sales reps’ schedules, printer schedules, shipping schedules, national holidays, religious holidays, three-day weekends, and Mercury’s chances of going retrograde. Get halfway through before computer crashes. Resist urge to cry.

2:55 pm. Take Alleve. Eat another Luna bar. Tell myself it’s OK because they’re healthy.

3:08 pm. Read email from agent shopping a self-help memoir with recipes.

3:45 pm. Get intern to recreate my excel doc. Spend more time explaining how to recreate it than it would take to actually do it. Give her a submission from slush pile to review for the rest of the afternoon as reward for babysitting me.

4:10 pm. Work on catalog copy for new acquisition. Won’t have a manuscript until after catalog goes to press, so will have to crib from proposal but sexy-up the language. Wonder if “breathtaking narrative” is too generic. Wonder if it will have a breathtaking narrative.

4:18 pm. Take call from copyeditor wondering if she should apply standard or secondary rules pertaining to endnotes in reference to works in the public domain, and by the way do I prefer to hyphenate standard vernacular compound phraseology? Make up an answer to the first, tell her to use her judgment for the second, and offer her another project since she clearly knows CMS better than I do.

4:27 pm. Read query letter from author shopping a book of essays about her “musings, meanderings, and observations on life—with recipes.” She is sure it’s perfect for Oprah.

4:48 pm. Remember page proofs needed to go to author overnight, also realize FedEx pickup was an hour ago. Crap! Email author, asking if he could print the pages from an emailed PDF. Make vague reference to “working green” so he’ll think it’s for the environment.

5:22 pm. Run out the door for school pickups, late as usual. Drive a block, remember manuscript for tomorrow’s author call is still on desk. Curse at steering wheel. Risk illegal U-turn, run inside office, grab MS, get back in car. Add MS to pile on passenger seat. See cereal baggie. Eat cereal on way to preschool, wondering if there are any recipes in the passenger seat that might be good for dinner.

* Several months ago, Publishers Weekly printed a very funny piece called “A Day in the Life of a Book Publicist.” Thanks go out to the author of that piece for inspiring this post.

Hi and a happy January to all! I, for one, am having a very good month so far. My authors are all getting good reviews, my Fall 09 catalog copy is almost finished, and I’m close to acquiring a project I’m especially jazzed about. I’m a happy editor.

Still, I keep hearing that I should probably be more nervous about my job stability than I am. Maybe so. But then again I’m a not as distressed as many others are about the state of affairs in my beloved, yet admittedly whiplashed, industry, either. I figure, hey, sometimes it takes a good crisis to shake things up so they can settle back down in a better place. And if, in the middle of the hurricane, you end up making lifelong friends with your neighbors because you have a flashlight and they have bottled water and together you can find your way to the Dixie cups, then all the better for everyone in the end.

When things do settle, I’m hopeful that this is pretty close to what will shake out:

    — The recognition that books are intellectual property and not just merchandise. Now, Borders Inc. doesn’t seem to buy into this theory—the new CEO just hired to orchestrate a turnaround comes from Pathmark grocery stores, the ultimate in big-box shopping models—but the rest of the publishing world seems to be gleaning the notion that a book isn’t just black letters on a white page—a story can be digitized, contextualized, reproduced, reconfigured, and repackaged to best serve the audience and the author. Anyone out there in love with a Kindle, or an iPhone, or even a fake twitter character’s storyline? That means more products, more ideas, more opportunities for authors.

    — Fewer middle(wo)men. As the social networking capabilities become and better equipped to lead us to the content that most interests us, the less we’ll need to rely on Barnes & Noble product placement and big-budget publicity promotions to connect reader to author. As Richard Nash, the editorial director of Soft Skull Press, said this week in the Harvard Business Publishing online magazine: “For most of human existence, the output of art could never keep up with the demand. I believe that is now changing, and that’s why we’re seeing the great intermediaries in this process—record labels, movies studios, book publishing companies, Borders, etc.—start to shrink, or even fail. They relied on demand being so pent-up they didn’t really need to work very hard to match tastes, to connect artist and audience. But now that demand can in fact be sated, their lack of connection to either artist or audience may doom them.” As they say, ad posse, ad esse.

    — More books, and better books. Independent publishers have long been able to produce quality books on thrifty budgets, and big houses are quickly going to have to pick up these think-small skills as well. With all this low-cost, efficient publishing, there should be more room, not less, for great ideas to reach their audiences. In other words: It’s OK if your book isn’t going to sell 60,000 copies, because your publisher won’t need it to to recoup the cost of its creation. You’ve got a 5,000-sales niche-driven book idea? Let’s hear it.

See you in February,


Sad times over here in the publishing world. The news reports come one after another: layoffs at Simon & Schuster, jobs cut at Random House, a freeze on acquisitions at Houghton Mifflin and layoffs as well, and plenty more to come, I’m sure, as the fiscal year comes to an end.

With the economy flailing, it’s no surprise that readers aren’t buying as many books. But is that really what’s causing all this distress?

Depression or no, it seems to me that publishing has been going in this direction for a long time. With the money that the big publishers have been spending on books in the post-Internet Age, in which content is otherwise cheap and plentiful, it seemed that it was just a matter of time before the old budgets couldn’t sustain themselves.

To make my point, here’s a generic case study from pre-economy-crash days: Let’s say Big House Publisher A offers a book deal to Author B for six-some-odd-figures. And then, to show its support for the book, Publisher A spends another 20,000 on publicity, marketing, and the like, making the overall expense on Author B’s book somewhere in the range of, let’s just say, $150,000. Throw in plant costs and overhead and manufacturing and shipping and that number gets even higher.

Now, Author B’s book is pretty commercial—not celebrity commercial, but an interesting topic that’s relevant to a good-size audience—and it gets some terrific reviews, and winds up selling, let’s say, 25,000 copies. Terrific! Well, come to think of it, the book is actually a little more nuanced and sophisticated and attracts a slightly more targeted niche audience and sells more like, say, 15,000 copies, but that’s 15,000 people who just read this book, and that’s fantastic too. An accomplishment any author can be proud of, no question.

Except. If you’re like me, this is where you stop and check your mental back-of-the-envelope P&L. Where, exactly, is the sustainable profit after spending six figures on a book that, like many wonderful books in your local bookstore, sells 15,000 copies? Or less? A scenario like the one above, for a book that costs $20, would mean losses for the publisher that would easily exceed $100,000.

The publishing industry, and the big houses in particular, have been headed for a housing-bubble-like crash for some time now, and we’re only starting to think about what a new mortgage might look like. A peek at a new writer-publisher model could be found, I’m betting, by looking at the independent presses, which tend toward savvier spending and more realistic expectations of what a book can do in the marketplace. The economy isn’t doing these indies any favors these days, either, but I’m betting these tight-and-lean operations are taking the hits with a little more stability.

If you’re a writer with publishing aspirations, I hope you don’t think I’m being a Cassandra. In fact, I’d say this isn’t necessarily bad news. I have to confess that I’m a little bit excited to see what’s next for literary America. If the rubric of yesterday was Big House = Big Advance = At the Mercy of the Big Three (Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Borders) Only to Almost Earn Out Your Advance but Not Quite, then maybe the new rubric will allow for More Houses offering More Realistic Advances which could lead to More Generous Profits which will create a More Open Marketplace that advances A Wider Range of Authors and Ideas.

A girl can hope.

It’s a long way from here to there. But sometimes we need to take something apart in order to put it back together again in a better and smarter way, and if you’re an aspiring author, I’m rooting you on to take advantage of the time we’re living in by pitching your book to editors and publishers who understand the new economy and the value of your intellectual offering: indie houses, small and medium publishers, and boutique agents who are committed to your message and mission, not (only) to your bottom line.

More on the bottom line — and what this means for YOUR bottom line — next month.

Meanwhile, a few nights ago I got a chance to hear literary great Gary Snyder read letters Allen Ginsberg wrote to him about getting high and getting naked and sitting zazen and circumambulating mountains, and it reminded me why I’m in this book publishing business: I’m in it to be in it, to be a part of the public exchange of ideas and the intellectual development of our era.

What about you?

Laura Mazer