How to scare an author, by Deb Katie

Bad Girls Don't Die cover imageThis week, we’re blogging about “scary moments.” I’m going to do “scary moments, publishing style.”

One day, a few months after the sale of my book, I was talking to my agent. As we prepared to hang up, he sighed and glumly said, “Now I have to call one of my authors and tell him his editor is leaving the publishing house.”

“Yikes!” I said. “Geez. Don’t ever call me with that kind of news.”

So… yeah.

So one fine morning, just as Bad Girls Don’t Die was all set to go into copyedits, my phone rang. It was my editor.

She said, and I’ll paraphrase: “I’m leaving the publishing house.”

There are not a lot of words to describe the feeling these words can give a first-time author (or any other author, I imagine). Some combination of the bottom dropping out and the sky falling down.

In most cases, your editor is the person who first read your book as a submission. She’s the person who liked it enough to champion it through dozens of meetings and to argue its case with people whose job it is to make sure the publishing house doesn’t lose money on bad investments. It’s kind of like having a den mother, grandfather, mentor, friend, and bodyguard all rolled into one.

So to lose that person… it’s pretty scary. You feel a little like a lost baby mountain goat, standing all alone on a peak in the middle of nowhere. (In fairness, I have to say that my agent was reassuring me the whole time. But you know how stubborn baby goats can be.)

I was set up with a new editor, and assured that things would proceed normally. My new editor was away from the office for a week or so, but she’d be in touch when she got back and had a chance to go through the latest draft.

I waited as patiently as I could, knowing she was busy (all editors are busy — always). As time progressed, the wait became agonizing, as I imagined her sitting down to read the manuscript with a giant red marker, slashing out entire chapters and muttering to herself about what a pain it was that she had to take on another author.

Finally, I couldn’t take it. I sent a hesitant email to see if she had a couple of minutes to talk. She called immediately.

I took a deep breath. In the manner of a mature, confident fifth-grader, I asked, “So… Do you hate my book?”

“No,” she said. “Not at all.”

“Is it a pain in the neck for you?”

“I didn’t have to take it on,” she said. “I chose to.”

“Oh,” I said. “Okay, cool.”

And that was that.

Since then, my new editor has proven to be all the champion, den mother, grandfather, bodyguard, mentor, and friend an author could wish for. She’s dedicated hours and days of her time, invested her thoughts and creative vision and energy. She’s fun and funny and brilliant, and she even takes time out of her busy schedule to gush over my dog.

And that’s enough to wipe all the scary moments out of existence.

So, Delightful Editor, if you’re reading this… thank you!

~ Deb Katie Alender

12 thoughts on “How to scare an author, by Deb Katie

  1. Good morning, Katie. Gee, I hadn’t even conceived of that kind of scary moment until you mentioned it! OMG that WOULD be frightening! I’m glad it worked out well for you. And may it never happen to me!

  2. Okay, THAT is a scary story for Halloween. I’m so glad you hit it off with your new editor, and long may she remain so!

  3. I haven’t had a scary moment yet. . . until I read your article. Now I’m going to quit writing ’cause that would just freak me right out man. :O

  4. Eve, may it never! Although my experience turned out positively, I wouldn’t wish that kind of scare on anybody.

    Judy, what’s amazing is how many people have gone through it… we’re like a secret club!

    Tiffany, thanks–I hope so, too.

    Kristina, no–although it has taught me patience and a bit of zen-like “enjoy the process” philosophy. And perhaps made me a little less faint of heart after all.

    Meredith, thank you. She has really been amazing.

    Jason, don’t you dare! In fact, stop surfing the internet and get back to revising. Hop to it!

  5. That is the lovely thing about scary moments; the relief that’s felt once the scare is over. But yours was a pretty big scare and a prolonged moment. I’d be terrified!

    Your editor sounds fabulous.

  6. That just gives me the heebi-jeebies! If I’m ever lucky enough to get my novel published I’ll, no doubt, jump every time the phone rings, just knowing it’s bad news.

  7. fine… scare the crap outta poor, innocent readers/writers! 😉 lol

    may your apple bobbing be in WARM water! :mwuahahahahahahahaha

  8. Mary, she is totally fabulous. And yes, the relief from fear is one of those “cool drinks of water on a hot day” feelings. Weirdly, I have no memory of the fact that I used to be terrified of earthquakes, after we first moved to California. All of my friends remember it, but I seriously blacked it out. Because yeah, earthquakes are scary, but after I went through my first one, I must have really calmed down about them. So weird.

    Marsha, sometimes it’s good news! So those two things balance each other out and eventually you’ll be able to answer the phone normally. 😉

    Laughingwolf, I didn’t think about it that way… oops! Mea culpa!

  9. Losing one’s editor can be terrifying! I’m so happy it worked out for you. i adore my editor and I know she’s really gone to bat for me. I would have had a bird if she’d left mid-way through the process.

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