In scanning tweets this morning, I came across a link to this, from editor extraordinaire Cheryl Klein at Arthur A. Levine Books. I was curious, when I saw her tweet, what her modest proposal might be. Instead of summarizing her points, I’ll ask that you read it, as I don’t want to be seen as putting words in her mouth. Finished?
And, as much as I’d like to help Cheryl and her fellow editors out here, this comes down to just one question for me: what do I tell the editor who manages to read the manuscript and get the in-house support to make a good offer on a book in 48 hours? Clearly, in that situation, the editor and the house are enthusiastic enough to get their ducks in a row very quickly. They want the book, and they want it badly enough to beat other people to the punch. Editors, would you be willing to let a preempt sit for weeks while I tested the waters with slower editors? I think not.
For me, finding the best fit means finding an editor with the energy and enthusiasm to make a book happen. Doing all of the work necessary to make an offer in a short period of time is one (though certainly not the only) measure of that. While I understand that sometimes outside factors (vacations, illnesses, sales conferences and other meetings) may negatively impact an interested editor, it’s just an unfortunate reality that we all miss out on things because of timing. In an industry as challenging as ours, a bird in the hand is always worth more than vague interest.
Not that any agent worth their 15% would go around selling books to the highest bidder even when the highest bidder isn’t a good match for the project. We carefully select the editors we approach for each project; I know there are times that I agonize over which editor at a house full of amazing talent I’ll submit a particular project to. If you’re in an auction for one of my books, you are someone I want to buy it. You wouldn’t be reading it otherwise.
Now, this isn’t to say that I entirely disagree. I know that editors are rightfully frustrated when agents call auctions for projects too early — before they have the offers to truly justify it. I know that moving quickly can lead to a lemming mentality that then leads to unjustifiably high advances offered in the heat of the moment, and that helps no one. But I don’t think putting artificial time lines on projects helps, either. In fact, for most editors, I think that will mean putting something to the bottom of the pile.
In the end, my interests are those of the client, not of the editor, and I don’t think timelines benefit authors. So, I’ll continue to operate without them.