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Catch Me A Catch

The last time I was on an agents’ panel,  a man asked how we knew which editors to send our projects to. No one had ever asked that simple question. The answer is lunch. A decade of having lunch with editors to get to know them, their taste, what they’re looking for. We’re talking a lot of sushi.

For me, the worst lunch is when an editor lists all of the books he is working on and describes them at length. The best  is when  we just get to know one another. Some broad strokes are always good, i.e. my list is 90% non-fiction, you say tomato.

Today I had a breakfast and lunch meeting with young (30ish?) editors. (My stamina is boundless.) The anecdotal things you learn about an editor are often decisive in submitting a book to him. Such as: where they are from, how oldish, how many siblings, single, engaged, married, divorced, does yoga, loved Avatar, has rug rats, reads Pride and Predge once a year, vegetarian, in therapy, the glass is half full, loves Ikea, wishes NYC weren’t so dirty, is dead inside, etc.

If you have an editor, is it a good match? If you don’t, how would you describe your perfect editor, besides writing big checks?

33 Responses

  1. my perfect editor would be kinda like my therapist only instead of holding back to let me do most of the talking, she would tell me to shut up and say things like, “no, you’re wrong. do more of that here. less of this here. and stop using the word usually so fucking much.”

    she sounds mean, doesn’t she? weird.

  2. You know, it’s funny. I just had this same conversation, except about Twitter. My perfect Twitter friend is someone I can relate to and laugh with. I would expect the perfect editor (or really anyone else) to be the same.

    Lisa 🙂

  3. agree with amy and lp3000. someone tough, straightforward, smart and funny (or at least capable of appreciating the funny).

    thanks for the question. now, if you’ll excuse me, i’m going to read glamour magazine–the british version, of course–to my husband in bed.

  4. I don’t know from perfect, but a good editor is honest and intelligent, perceptive and well-read.

  5. I’m very happy with my editor. Most importantly, he believes in me and applauds my artistry. He’s incredibly well read, smarter in many ways, and imposes the kinds of boundaries that I need. I trust him implicitly.

  6. Any agent would work for me–since I don’t have one. By the way, why are 99% of the agents women? Treat this question as an observation, not as a criticism.

  7. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Brenda Kezar. Brenda Kezar said: RT via @jessicastrawser: How agents REALLY know which editors to sub your books to, in the words of Betsy Lerner: http://bit.ly/fccErt […]

  8. i’m thinking a sense of humour is pretty much a necessity for the imaginary editor in my life. cursing like a sailor would be a plus.

  9. My perfect editor would realize I carry a built-in amplifier for criticism. She would speak softly and try to keep me away from sharp objects during the editing process.

  10. My perfect editor would be blind to trends, yet prescient to the current needs of humanity.

    A visionary. A gambler. Someone so smart you have a hard time talking in her presence. But funny. Always funny.

  11. For me, the worst lunch is when someone arrives spewing the same old oh-so-obvious canned garbage and thinks it’s clever. Yeah, we all read that textbook. Yawn. I suppose that attitude spills into writing as well. I want the (quietly) cocky bitch who makes me believe she can deliver.

  12. As a lurking editor, this post is quite amusing, especially the responses from the writers about their “perfect editor.” We’re all smart, funny, pretty and love long walks on the beach. Oh, and about those trends and humanity’s needs — try catering to a publisher’s bottom line.

    • But do you like Pina Coladas?

    • Does the bottom line really have to be mutually exclusive, Anon? A few days ago Betsy asked whether her commenters would prefer sales or literary esteem. A great many went for the sales. Financial communication is like an immunization; there’s always a prick and it hurts but much less than withering away and dying.

    • Every profession has its balancing act. For some, it may be like walking down a sidewalk in 4 inch heels. For others it’s a tightrope 100 feet in the air.

  13. the perfect editor gets your work and believes in you and is dogmatic about the fact you can get it right if you keep at it. he/she also has insightful, powerful suggestions that aren’t forced on you but nonetheless give great focus, clarity and direction to your work like never before. Am I describing the perfect agent ?

  14. Ha. An answer I don’t have. Never worked with one and am not certain what I’d want in one until I work with one. I think. Or not. I don’t know. I suppose my truest answer would be my dream editor would be the one who loved my book and bought it. After the love fest and the hard work starts, editing, etc., that’s when the rubber hits the road and who knows what happens then? Okay. My dream editor is one who makes my book better than I could have done myself. One who takes my breath away with their insight and brilliance in molding my book. Not a best friend, maybe not even someone I would want to share a drink with and bullshit with. Just someone who possesses magic and knows how to wield it.

  15. Dear Perfect Editor: Believe in my book. Don’t sugar me up. Give me a deadline. Buy me a dirty martini and a steak when it’s over.

  16. I had perfect editors for my kids book series–they were smarter than me, incredibly, amazingly diplomatic about telling me something sucked, and they would back down if I chose my battles carefully. They were let go due to downsizing and the last few books were outsourced to a freelance editorial company. There the editor made minimal changes–those books were inferior to the ones that were put through the ringer by skillful editors.

  17. It sounds like a date. How does it feel when an editor you like like rejects your submission?

  18. Perfect editor = perfect lover. Wants you even in your oldest pajamas and bloated post-drunk face.

  19. Deb Futter.

  20. Perfect editor? One who asks me to stretch, stretch, reach just a little further, just like my yoga instructor. Shit am I going to regret admitting this? I’m not lazy in yoga, nor in my writing work, but my instructor often times pushes me further than I thought I could go. That’s what I hope for in an editor. Am I too idealistic?

  21. The one who buys my book.

  22. My editor loves to read, for pleasure, many of the same books I do — if only I was able to write books like these!

  23. […] the comments on Betsy Lerner’s The Forest for the Trees post “Catch me a Catch” about the ideal editor in response to the prompt: […]

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