In the coming months we are going to interview our Divas. With us today is Janine Savage, CEO of Write Divas—whom the Divas lovingly refer to as the HBIC. (We’ll let you figure out that acronym for yourselves.) Janine is an experienced editor and marketer. She has worked with notable bestselling authors such as E. L. James and A. L. Jackson.
Before co-founding Write Divas, Janine worked as a substantive and developmental editor. Eventually, she became editor in chief for a small press. Janine has agreed to speak about her experiences in both the traditional and indie publishing realms. We hope that your find her insights informative and enlightening.
Tell us a little bit about your experience as an editor in chief.
My job as EIC was a bit out of the norm for most EICs in that I was able to build an editing department from the ground up and modify it to fit the needs of the publishing house and authors. We had the unique distinction of being a company that was 100% virtual. This posed a different set of problems than a company with a brick and mortar location. If I needed to get a hold of someone, I couldn’t just walk down to their office. Meetings were a challenge.
But these differences also meant that I wasn’t locked into tradition or a preconceived notion that we had to do things a certain way. And everything we did came with the caveat that if it didn’t work, we’d find a better way of doing it.
As with most small publishing houses, everyone wore multiple hats. So while I was the editor in chief, I also worked in the trenches as an editor, handled HR for my department, hired, fired, set policy and standards, and facilitated the communications and needs of the other departments with editing.
I worked with a great group of people, without whom I would’ve never been able to pull it off.
Janine, you’ve seen both sides of the publishing industry—indie and traditional. Do you have a preference? If so, explain.
I actually don’t have a preference. Having seen both sides, I know the pros and cons of each and feel the decision to publish indie or traditional is a personal choice. Each case is as unique as the book being published. I feel authors should weigh their options each time they publish. What was right for one book isn’t always the best for another. I am a firm believer in keeping your options open.
As you know, authors come into a publishing house with all kinds of expectations and very few are realistic. What need-to-know tidbits about the reality of traditional publishing would you like to share?
I think the first rule of thumb is that every publisher does things a little differently, so don’t expect Publisher B to do the same things Publisher A did. Second, the days of cash advances for books is all but gone. Publishers are looking for ways to earn a profit in the midst of the e-book revolution, so don’t expect them to pay up front for something that hasn’t sold yet. Third, to cut costs, publishers are looking for books that are well-edited, which pushes a lot of the editing expense back onto the author. So hiring a professional editor is a must. Fourth, expect to do most of the marketing yourself. Publishing houses have a limited number of dollars to spend on marketing campaigns. Most of this money goes to those authors or series that have already proven they sell. A publisher is not going to risk hundreds of thousand of dollars of advertising money on an unknown when the next Nora Roberts, J. K. Rowling, or Stephen King book is ready to go.
What are the benefits and detractions of publishing the traditional way—especially when it involves a small press?
Publishing with a small press has its benefits. You get the added prestige of having someone think enough of your work to invest in your talent. The publishing house pays the cost of producing your book. And if your book is even moderately successful, you are in the unique position of being a big fish in a small pond. That doesn’t mean you have unlimited resources at your disposal, but it does put you on the publishing house map. You might even receive a small advertising budget to promote your book.
Great! So what’s the down side? You’ll most likely be responsible for 90% or more of your own marketing and promotion. You’ll lose creative control. Of course this can vary from one house to the next, but the bottom line remains the same. If the publishing house is paying for it, they get final say in how their money is spent. The publishing house takes a bigger share of your profits than if you self-publish, but most publishers have the necessary distribution channels in place and the necessary relationships established to get your book noticed by the buying public. So while you may get a smaller piece, you may also have a better chance of selling more books.
When someone asks my advice about signing with a publisher, I usually ask them a couple of questions.
What is the publisher doing for you? What do you get out of the relationship that you can’t get by self-publishing or signing with someone else?
When they can answer my questions, they usually have the answer to theirs.
You’ve had the privilege of working with many first-time authors. Editing-shock is a common phenomenon that can cause many problems in the editor-author relationship. What advice do you have for authors who are facing their first professional edit?
Almost everyone reacts the same way when faced with their first professional edit. You mention editing-shock, but it goes deeper than that. Rejection is a more accurate term. Every author immediately feels that sting, because even the most carefully worded constructive criticism comes across as rejection. If an author has put their manuscript through workshops and critiques, they are better prepared. But feedback from friends, family, spouses, neighbors, children, or anyone with a vested interest in a relationship with the author makes a poor critique partner because the relationship will always come first, many times at the expense of the manuscript.
An editor’s first priority is the manuscript. It is the job of the editor to make the story the best it can be, usually with some tough love. And I do mean love. Editors love what they do. There’s nothing more gratifying than helping an author grow and improve. So while most of what we do feels like criticism and tearing down, it’s actually an effort to help the author see the weaknesses in their writing so they can get better.
So prepare yourself for the initial hurt, because it will hurt. There’s no getting around it, but it will get easier. Step back from it and give it a couple of days for your emotions to settle. Then come back to it and read it again with objectivity. Be willing to see the editor’s side. Is the editor always right? No, we’re human. But editors have an ability to see where a story has lost its way and a special knack for helping you fix it. It’s okay to discuss things with your editor. Every suggestion is given with the intent to help.
In the course of your career, you’ve seen manuscripts arrive in all kinds of conditions—good and appalling. Give us some tips on how an author can ready their manuscript so they get the most out of an edit.
You’d be surprised how many manuscripts are submitted with spelling errors that a simple spell check would’ve caught.
If your manuscript is bogged down with tons of copy editing and proofreading errors, it becomes hard for your editor to see the bigger picture. In other words, on a tight schedule, your editor will be forced to fix an avalanche of small stuff rather than helping you develop the story into something great.
This usually happens when an author hands in a first draft and thinks their editor will fix it all. This will discourage your editor and put them in a bad mood. And editors are a lot like moms. If your editor isn’t happy, no one is happy. Haha! But seriously, take the time to revise and polish your work. Your editor will love you for it and in turn will go the extra mile when polishing your book.
Since you have a background in marketing, are there any tips and advice you’d like to give authors about this subject?
Everyone has heard this before, but I can’t stress enough the importance from a marketing standpoint. Know your audience. If you don’t know who you’ve written your book for, you won’t know how to market it. You can’t just say I’m writing for women or everyone who reads. Narrow it down and identify your reader.
Know your genre. This goes hand-in-hand with know your audience. Writing for a specific genre gives you a mini roadmap for how to write your book. If you write for a specific genre, it makes it easier for publishers to envision your book in their catalog because they like to put things into categories.
Get the word out: blog, tweet, post, recommend, network, shout it from the rooftops. People will buy a book they’ve heard mentioned a lot so they can see what all the fuss is about.
What type of questions should an author ask their potential publisher when that all important contract offer comes? Especially, what should they ask about the editing and marketing departments?
I’m not a lawyer and don’t feel comfortable offering advice on contracts. However, I would recommend hiring an agent with contract negotiation expertise.
I feel you should ask specifically what experience the editors and marketers have. You should also ask if the editor has experience in your genre. How much creative control will you have over the content of your book, the cover, and marketing? Ask for a marketing plan or an example of a typical marketing campaign and then ask if something similar will be applied to your book. Will your book be marketed to the media or will the campaign consist of blog tours and online promo? Does the publishing house have solid relationships with the bigger book bloggers and review sites?
Above all else, I would always ask the publisher why you should sign with them.
What types of editing and marketing services should an author expect to receive from their publisher?
While this may vary from house to house, first and foremost, the condition of the manuscript is a big factor. If it’s in poor shape, it may go into developmental, be sent back for revisions, or even rejected. But a copy edit, proofread, and line edit can be expected. Each house may have their own way of doing this and may include different things for each type of edit. But you can expect that the publishing house will edit for grammar, punctuation, syntax, tone, pacing, characterization, plot, typos, etc. You may be asked to expand or to cut back your manuscript. Sometimes changes are a result of things that have nothing to do with the story, but rather the typesetter, printer, desired book length, and budgets.