Where, Oh, Where Has My Editor Gone?

by Erin Brown

Illustration by Jennifer Paros - Copyright 2009

Illustration by Jennifer Paros - Copyright 2009

There’s never a scarier feeling than when your editor calls to tell you that he or she will no longer be working with you, that he or she is moving on to greener pastures. Well, unless your editor doesn’t call to tell you at all. That scenario usually involves an editor who was suddenly fired and escorted out of the building for doing something extremely evil, such as stealing copy toner or not doing a legal review of James Frey’s latest “memoir.” 

If faced with the dilemma of The Case of the Disappearing Editor, you might think, “But how can this happen to meeeeeeeee? I finally find someone who adores my book, talks me down from ledges, edits my sentences with care and deftness, stands up for me against the big, mean powers-that-be, and she’s leaving? What in the hell, man? This is insanity. I might as well kiss those dreams goodbye along with that damn ‘World’s Best Editor’ coffee mug I sent her last month.” 

First rule: don’t panic. Drink some tea, listen to some chill music, and relax. The fluidity of the publishing world is notorious. This vanishing act is a common occurrence. As much as you’d like to think that your editor would turn down that incredible job offer from another company because he is so personally invested in your novel, it probably is not going to happen. Editors move on. As do publicists, presidents, agents, marketing peeps, and even authors. Move to different houses; move for better opportunities, titles, pay. They sometimes even move to the country to write their own novel, and raise chickens and children. I once worked with an editor who decided to give two weeks notice so he could sell his co-op apartment, move to Nicaragua, and join the Peace Corps. This is life, and you’ve got to roll with the punches.

So what happens when you’re faced with this less-than-ideal scenario? Well, it all depends on where you are in your career. Those authors who have been in the business for years, with several books under their belts, know how the game is played and have usually experienced this situation several times before. Conversely, it can be quite unsettling if this is your first time out and you feel as if you’re suddenly in the Super Bowl without a coach...on the Titanic without a life raft...Laurel without your Hardy...The Righteous with your Brothers. But take a deep breath and realize that this is a common event and that the house is just as invested in your book as they always have been. Your “old” editor (if they’re worth their salt) will work hard to fit you with a “new” editor who will appreciate your style, have an interest in the book, and will get the new editor very excited about the project. The key is to be flexible as the house assigns you a new editor. It might take a bit of time for your new best friend to catch up, make contact, and get into the groove of things. However, it’s always advisable to make your voice heard promptly—have an initial conversation with your new editor as soon as possible. After he or she is settled in, make sure he or she is completely caught up in regards to where your book is in the publishing process, what page you and your previous editor were on together (metaphorically), what your involvement will be, and where you want to go from here. Don’t be afraid to jump right in and ask questions, begin to form a new relationship, and move forward. But don’t overwhelm your new editor all at once or he or she will want to find you a “new” new editor in week one. There’s no need for twenty emails and phone calls a day. Be professional and not a crazed stalker.  

The transition period might be difficult, but know that most editors in the publishing world are used to colleagues who leave for whatever reason and are old pros at taking on new projects and jumping right into things. And hey, a lot of times, your old editor wasn’t so great in the first place, and you could find yourself with someone better, more enthusiastic, and more skilled—someone whom you completely mesh with! Often, you’re paired with a young editor who is chomping at the bit for an opportunity to make a splash with your book. Or you could be handed off to one of the best in the biz! Your old pal leaving could be the best thing to happen to you and your book.  

And what about the other scenario? You have an editor who is interested in buying your book (you’re not signed yet), and they announce to you (or your agent) that they’re moving on. Well, usually if he or she is enthusiastic enough, they will still pitch the book before they leave and hand it off to another editor, or if they’re over-the-moon about it, your cheerleader might just poach you and bring you along as their first acquisition at their new company. On the other, more depressing hand, you might just be left out in the cold, needing to start over with the submission process. It happens. It’s not fun, but it is reality.

So when faced with the constant shifting of editors (whether that greedy jerk leaves for more money or a better opportunity or even a chance to provide medical care to third world orphans), remember wisely that the road to success is always under construction.


Erin Brown worked as an editor in New York City for over eight years. She recently left Manhattan to start her own freelance editorial business. To learn more about Erin, visit her website at www.erinedits.com

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