Book Business

Ancient Wisdom from an Ancient Editor

A few years ago I came across a remarkable section in a book written around 124 B.C. The editor of the book wrote the following preface to help the reader understand his methodology and purpose. It shows the concern a good editor has for the ultimate reader. His job was to abridge a massive five-volume work into an abbreviated 16,000-word document. Can anyone tell me where this text comes from and the name of the editor? (Without Googling the text!) Make your best guess in the comments below. The date above suggests the answer is not Stephen King. I’ll reveal the answer in the comments later in the day. (Those of you who read a version of this post about ten years ago cannot, and I repeat cannot, reveal the answer for all our new readers.)

The number of details and the bulk of the material can be overwhelming for anyone who wants to read an account of the events. But I have attempted to simplify it for all readers; those who read for sheer pleasure will find enjoyment and those who want to memorize the facts will not find it difficult.

Writing such a summary is a difficult task, demanding hard work and sleepless nights. It is as difficult as preparing a banquet that people of different tastes will enjoy. But I am happy to undergo this hardship in order to please my readers. I will leave the matter of details to the original author and attempt to give only a summary of the events.

I am not the builder of a new house who is concerned with every detail of the structure, but simply a painter whose only concern is to make the house look attractive. The historian must master his subject, examine every detail, and then explain it carefully, but whoever is merely writing a summary should be permitted to give a brief account without going into a detailed discussion. So then, without any further comment, I will begin my story. It would be foolish to write such a long introduction that the story itself would have to be cut short.

Note a few pearls of eternal wisdom from this ancient editor:

Editing is hard work (“sleepless nights”). If you walk by an editor’s desk, it looks like they are just staring at a page and making an occasional mark–having fun reading a book. Actually, that editor is mentally juggling content, clarity, grammar rules, house style, author’s intent, and more, all at the same time. (What you don’t say to the editor at that moment is, “Oh I see you aren’t doing anything. Can I ask you a question?”)

Editing has its own satisfaction. In my office is a bookcase containing a copy of every one of the 150+ books I edited while working as an editor for Bethany House Publishers. It was a sincere and humbling privilege to participate in their creation. I can tell a story about every one of them. They became a part of me even though my name rarely appears, other than on the occasional acknowledgment page. Editors take pride in their work. It is important to respect that. (If you want to see a list, it can be found at the bottom of this linked page.)

The Editor knows their role. The metaphor of the housebuilder versus the house painter is perfect. We know the author does the heavy lifting and creates the ideas. Yet every editor knows they are part of the process and their job is to make the author look good.  It was wonderful to watch Max Lucado receive ECPA’s Pinnacle Award last week, an award given to only four people in history. During his acceptance speech, he named a lot of well-deserving people, including his effusive appreciation of the editors he has worked with for so many years.

The behind-the-scenes role of an editor is similar to that of the literary agent. That is why our agency’s slogan is “to help change the world word by word.” We are not the author, but our job is to help the author navigate the publishing-industry labyrinth.

As you think of this ancient editor who was wrestling with the challenges of his profession over two thousand years ago, take a moment to write a thank-you note to your editor. They earned it. Hey, they had to work with you, didn’t they?

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When Your Proposal Doesn’t Sell

by Steve Laube

It happens. Despite all efforts and good intentions not every proposal we shop will end up being contracted by a major publisher. Of course our agency tries our best to keep that from happening. We carefully choose which projects and authors we represent. And our success rate is extremely high.

But that success rate is not 100%.

Here are a few examples of projects that I represented in past years that did not sell to a major publisher.

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Bookstore Economics 101

by Steve Laube

Understanding the economics of your local brick-and-mortar bookstore should help you understand the upheaval that is happening in our industry. So put on your math cap and let’s take a ride.

This article focuses on the bookstore not the publisher or the writer. I spent over a decade in the Christian bookstore business, and while that was a long time ago the economic principles are the same.

Let’s start with a $10 book (retail price). I’m using $10 because it will make the math a little easier to follow.

The bookstore buys the book for $6 (or 40% discount off the retail price) from the publisher (who calls that $6 the net price). Note that this discount varies between 40% and 50%.

When the books sells to a customer the store then makes a $4 profit ($10 – $6 = $4).

If the store discounts the book during a 20% off promotion they have to sell two copies to make that same $4 profit. But often a 20% off sale is not enough to double the sales volume. Why? Because a high-volume operation like Amazon.com is happy to sell that $10 book for $6.50 (35% off). They can do this because they plan on selling 10 copies at the discounted price and clear $5 in profit. This pricing strategy has a chilling effect on the ability of the local store to compete.

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When the Outlook Is Bleak

by Steve Laube

In the constant ebb and flow of this industry we have authors celebrating and authors in tears. Ask any agent and you will hear the same. For every author excited about their new contract there is another experiencing bitter disappointment.

And I wish I could fix it.

To hear the anguish is difficult, but to be the one who delivers the bad news is heart-wrenching. Why is it that they seem to come in bunches? So what do you do when you run into the inevitable disappointments the writing experience throws at you?

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Age Is Just a Number

by Steve Laube

Last Friday in the comments Dr. Richard Mabry wrote, “Tired after doing a few household chores that never used to leave me dragging. Now I’m ready to be up and dancing. Age is just a number, isn’t it?”

Then on Saturday I spoke at the Christian Writes of the West mini-conference where one of the writers asked “Do older writers have a chance? Especially if agents and publishers are looking for a long career investment?”

It is a great question. Does it matter how old you are? No it doesn’t. When your proposal lands on our desk or on an editor’s desk it is the words on the page that speak to us. I rarely even think about the writer’s age, ethnicity, economic status, or any other non-writing ability classification while I’m reading the sample chapters. Of course there are exceptions. A few times I could tell the author was very young by the way they were writing a romance scene…they simply had not yet “fallen in love” and couldn’t quite express it in a full way.

We have a number of clients who are in their 20s we also have a number who are in their 70s. What matters is whether they’ve written a great book and have a platform (for non-fiction) to sell it from.

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Am I on a Deadline?

Many authors submit book proposals to agents and editors with the thought, If this doesn’t work, I’ll self-publish. That plan is reasonable. However, when strategizing your career, consider the timeline. As an agency, we set a time frame to respond to author queries. Often, we miss our stated deadline. In …

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Welcome Back, Dan Balow!

by Steve Laube

I am very excited to announce that Dan Balow has joined our agency as the Director of Publishing Development and Literary Agent. This gives us four members of our team, me, Tamela Hancock Murray, Karen Ball, and Dan.

I’ve been looking for ways to increase the services our agency provides to current and potential clients. I have known Dan for 15 years and by adding him to our agency we can expand our role in helping to maximize our client’s sales, work with ministries and organizations to develop their publishing efforts, and expand our reach internationally. Dan’s strengths are his understanding of book marketing, what it takes to be successful in the current publishing environment and how all the pieces of the publishing “puzzle” fit together. Our team has expertise in all facets of the industry, writer, bookseller, editor, marketer, agent, executive management, and publisher.

Dan is a 30 year veteran of the Christian publishing industry. He was the director of marketing for Tyndale House Publishers working with authors Francine Rivers, James Dobson, Josh McDowell, Charles Colson and many others.

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Are You High Maintenance?

by Steve Laube

Last week I was asked to define what is meant when an author is deemed “high maintenance” by an agent or a publisher. The more I thought about this the more I realized how difficult it is to quantify. Any attempt to do so is fraught with potential misunderstanding because most people are looking for specific rules to follow.

Normally “high maintenance” is a description of someone who is difficult to work with or is constantly in need of attention. It can be anyone from a “diva” to a “rookie.” The best way to express the issue is in the following word picture:

When you contract with an agent or a publisher you are granted a large measure of “Good Will” in the form of a bag of gold coins. You are free to spend these coins however you wish during the course of the business relationship. The cover design is completely wrong? Spend some coins. The marketing plan appears weak. Spend some coins. And as time goes by and positive things happen you receive more gold coins for your bag.

However, many authors make the mistake of spending their entire bag of coins the first time something goes wrong. And then the next time they need a favor or a special dispensation there isn’t any “Good Will” left.

I think there are three areas where these relationships can break down.

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Ten Commandments for Working with Your Agent

By request, here are my Ten Commandments for working with your agent. Break them at your own peril.

Thou shalt vent only to thine agent and never directly to thy publisher or editor. Thou shalt not get whipped into a frenzy by the rumor mill fomented by internet loops, groups, Facebook, or blogs. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s success. Be content with thine own contract. Thou shalt not get whipped into a frenzy by the rumor mill fomented by internet loops, groups, Facebook, or blogs.
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