There are many voices across the publishing industry and the wider culture telling writers to prepare themselves to be rejected. It is more important and more useful to tell writers to prepare themselves to be accepted. Understandably, there is a great deal of focus on just getting through the eye of the needle, but it is true that on the other side there awaits the real work of publishing the book. Two essential components of that work that can sometimes take writers by surprise are, first, how a publisher talks about and presents the book, and second, how an editor goes about editing it. These two aspects of working with a publisher are, or should be, related: the literary work itself is ideally understood in the editor’s imagination and felt in the editor’s heart before that editor takes pen to paper or cursor to screen.
One thing writers can do before or as they or their agent are sending out their work is to write their own draft of the book’s catalog page or the book’s jacket copy. No one can present the book better than the author, and yet, it is very difficult to distill the layers, subjects, complexities, throughlines, and styles of a literary work while simultaneously making the book appeal to a wide set of audiences and readers, and all within four to five sentences. That paragraph carries a great deal of weight, as it attaches itself in versions to the publisher’s online and print catalogs, to the sales kits that go out to book reps and booksellers, to the publicist’s press release and the bound galleys that reach reviewers and media, to the book page on online retailers, and of course, to the book itself. The editor and writer will work together on this copy, but writers should come into the conversation with directions and thoughts for how their book will be talked about and presented.
Another thing writers can do is to anticipate the editing of their work. Sometimes the editorial process may be the most anxiety-producing thing to imagine, as it so directly engages with the writing itself, what the writer has already and often for so long toiled over, revised, and refined across many drafts. Editing is a conversation. Writers should ideally come to it with questions and queries of their own, which the editor can focus on and respond to, all toward the common goal of bringing readers into the book. And writers should know they can, and are expected to, push back. The editor’s job is, in part, to have the writer confidently define the line beyond which the writer would not recognize the writing as uniquely their own. There are moments of compromise and decision-making together, but the writer should be the final arbiter of what they sound like. That is a crucial role for the writer as the maker of art and an important distinction for the editor in service to it. The teachers of editors are writers.
—Jeff Shotts, executive editor, Graywolf Press