During my fifteen years as a book editor for major publishing houses, I made a number of observations about the behavioral patterns of authors. These observations led me to conclude that most of those authors were special little snowflakes at risk of melting if I so much as looked at them funny — let alone failed to include at least three paragraphs of glowing praise in my editorial letter before launching into the actual, you know, edits.
I have seen the error of my ways.
This summer, I wrote my book proposal for The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a Fuck. I received a round of comments from my agent and sent the revision back to her in twenty-four hours. I vividly remember the appraising look she gave me from across her glossy 5th Avenue desk and her comment: “God, I love working with professionals.”
That was the first and last time that I felt snug — and smug — in the knowledge that I, a professional book editor, was totally going to kill it as an author.
Not only was I going to write a hysterically funny, brilliant parody of a bestselling Japanese tidying guide, I was going to sail through the publication process without any of the anxieties, insecurities, last-minute changes, cover art hemming/hawing, or obsessive Amazon-rank-refreshing exhibited by my authors over the years.
Instead, I wrote a hysterically funny, brilliant parody of a bestselling Japanese tidying guide and fell victim to all of the above, and then some. But hey, I’m a grown-ass adult, and I know when to say I’m sorry.
I’M SORRY for suspecting some of you of leaving little typos on random manuscript pages just to see if I was paying attention. I used to think it was impossible to make so many typos in a 300-page document, so you must have been fucking with me — but now I realize you were so gacked out on caffeine and sleep-deprivation by the time you handed it in, that you probably really thought “different” was spelled “fidderent.”
I’M SORRY for being annoyed when you “checked in” just to make sure I “got the file” less than forty-eight hours after you sent it, when twenty-four of those hours comprised “Sunday” and another eight, “sleeping.” If, like me, you told your editor (who would also be me, in this scenario) that you “weren’t too eager for feedback yet” or to “take as long as you need — I just want it off my desk!” what you really meant was “Every minute that passes that I don’t hear a kind word from you, I will assume that you and my agent are on a call deciding who will be the one to break it to me that everything is shit.”
I’M SORRY for wanting to reach through the phone and bonk you on the nose like one might a recalcitrant cat when you kept asking me how many more days — nay, hours (oh let’s be honest, minutes) — you’d still have to make final changes before the book went to print. Don’t you want to be done with this thing??? I would fume incredulously, predicting [correctly] that you’d ask for more time no matter what my answer. Only now do I know that peculiar fear of waking up from a day-after-deadline fever dream with the PERFECT addition to the end of chapter four (or in my case, an improvement to a Nick Nolte joke), and not being able to make it.
I’M SORRY that I ever expected you to be able to approve your cover art and then not second guess yourself — and the motivations of your editor, publisher, and art director in “pushing” this design on you — and then email hours later to rescind said approval and ask for more changes. (I may or may not have submitted an innocent query to my editor about “bumping up” the shade of red in my title font the day after I approved the art.)
I’M SORRY for rolling my eyes every time you emailed me excitedly about your Amazon ranking having gone from 655,782 to 655,001 and also asking me if I knew why it had done so. Here is the actual text of an email I sent to my editor and agent several weeks ago:
Date: October 15, 2015
Subject: It has begun
Last night I looked at my Amazon page to post something funny about my ranking (182 in Humor/Self-Help & Psychology). Then this morning I checked again and it was up to 54. I now see how this can be addictive.
I’M SORRY that I told you to feel free to stet as many of the copyeditor’s comments as you wanted, without also warning you that going through your copyedited manuscript would feel not unlike being slowly debrided of burn wounds over 80% of your body by a spastic toddler wielding an old toothbrush.
AND I’M SORRY that when you emailed me in a panic about missing a deadline because your computer died or your postman dropped the first pass pages in a puddle or your daughter had to go to the E.R. or your house was hit by a tornado, I didn’t believe you for one goddamn second. I am sorry about this because, on the eve of the deadline for turning in my final corrections, my printer literally ate my manuscript. Half the words were missing from the pages; the other half were mysteriously bolded.
Knowing as I do the standard reaction of an editor to this sort of late-game tomfoolery, I actually sent mine a photograph of one of the affected pages, along with a request for a new set printed at Little, Brown and Company and messengered to my apartment the next day. Then I thought about how, if one of my authors had sent me a photo of her house destroyed by a tornado and asked for an extra day with the manuscript, I would have assumed she’d spent three hours learning the ins and outs of Photoshop just to score a reprieve on her due date.
(I would therefore also forgive my editor for assuming that this entire essay was concocted to give further credence to the above scenario.)
Sarah Knight is the author of The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a F*ck (Little, Brown /Dec ‘15), a freelance editor, and writer at www.sarahknightbooks.com.
This article was original posted on Medium.