I tend to read a number of how-to books on writing. No matter how many of these books that I’ve read (and I’ve read hundreds of them), I always learn something about the craft of writing. I’m constantly looking to improve and I know I still have tons to gain from these books. This week I was reading through a new book called Writers On Writing edited by James N. Watkins. I’ve known Jim Watkins for many years and wanted to see what he pulled together. The subtitle was intriguing, “Top Christian Authors Share Their Secrets for Getting Published.” The cover highlights a number of recognizable names such as Sally Stuart, Jerry B. Jenkins, James Scott Bell and Karen Ball (who have chapters in the book). The book contains excellent content which is almost like going to a writer’s conference and hearing the different authors. I hope to write more about the different contents soon but today one chapter stuck out for me.
Maybe you’ve had this experience where you are reading through a nonfiction book which like this one has a lot of different voices. Suddenly you recognize a different tone—one that is refreshingly honest. It was toward the end of this book and from the pen of Lawrence W. Wilson. If you don’t know Larry is the editorial director at Wesleyan Publishing House, the publisher of Writers On Writing. He tackled the topic of how to talk to an editor. Just to give you a taste of what I’m talking about, here’s some of this chapter:
She looked a little nervous. As she sat down, she cast a glance over her shoulder, as if someone might be watching. She arranged her papers on the table. She folded her hands. She unfolded her hands. She cleared her throat. After a second or two, she looked up cautiously.
“Thanks for meeting with me,” she stammered. “I really appreciate you taking the time; I know you’re busy.”
She hesitated, as if unsure what to say.
“Um ... I don't know if I should even be here ... This is my first writer’s conference. I’ve never actually talked to an editor before.”
“Hmm,” I wondered. “Should I tell her the truth?”
The truth was that I, too, was a little nervous. As a brand new editor, I also was attending my first writers’ conference. Like the aspiring writer across the table, I felt a bit like an imposter. Would anyone find out that I was just an ordinary guy who loved books, enjoyed writing and had finally gotten a break in the publishing business?
“Relax,” I said, trying to sound composed. “I’m new at this myself.”
Editors are the gatekeepers in the publishing industry. To find its way into print, a manuscript must first pass before their wary eyes. And editors are often busy—managing multiple projects and juggling numerous deadlines. No wonder they seem unapproachable, especially to a novice writer. The myth is that editors are irascible curmudgeons who work hard to keep writers at arm’s length.
The reality, however, is quite different. Most editors—like most writers— love both books and talking about book ideas. They are personable and engaging people who resort to the dreaded, impersonal rejection slip only because they are pressed for time.
Here’s another little-known secret: Editors are constantly looking for writers. An editor’s job depends upon finding fresh voices with publishable ideas. That means editors are always searching for new talent. They’re looking for you! (p. 183–184)
Every editor is actively looking for great ideas. Larry continues on in the chapter with some valuable insight about how to enter into this process. I know first hand how it seems like the editors don’t care. You see I also receive those form rejection letters with no explanation as to why my idea wasn’t published. Or I have to send out the rejection letters because of my responsibilities at Howard Publishing as their Fiction Acquisitions Editor. I don’t have the time to tell someone the reasons why their idea is completely wrong or why my publishing house can’t take their idea. Instead I send the form rejection letter. It doesn’t mean that I never want to hear another idea from that author. I’m simply looking for the right idea at the right time. It’s what I have to keep in mind as I send my own material into the marketplace.