Anyone who’s worked with me, whether as an author or colleague, knows that I don’t stand on ceremony much. They also know my position on author/editor relations.
A general consensus is that you have to maintain an air of professionalism at all times, or you won’t be respected. The issue lies in the definition of professionalism. Does it mean simply setting boundaries and staying to a certain set of rules, or does it require a tremendous amount of distance between employer and staff?
So, anyway, here’s what I think.
I’m pretty much an open book. Despite that, I do have a sense of discretion, when it’s required. I’ve never been comfortable with the whole suit-wearing-pedestal-riding boss situation. I prefer open communication and availability. Authors and staff can hail me on social media, call or even text, because sometimes a quick answer is needed. I want them to feel like if there’s a concern, I am both willing and able to address it. I also make sure they’re a part of the production process, such as input into art and multiple galley checks, so they can feel confident in what is coming out.
I know what you’re thinking. You can’t be respected that way, because there’s no Boss Boundary. Well, I see it as if I respect them as both people and professionals, the favor will be returned. And my folks have shown me time and again that this is true.
In my opinion, if authors feel like a valuable part of the company instead of just production sources, you’re going to get their best work. I got into the industry initially because I wanted to nurture talent, and to do that, it’s better to be friends.
So how do you do that? It’s a crazy concept, but it works: treat them like people. With feelings.
1. Invite casual conversation. You’re going to get more honest and helpful input if the author feels like you value their opinions.
2. Take their concerns into consideration, not matter how small it seems. Sometimes you still have to go with the sound business decision, which may not be what they’re happiest with, but their perspective might just give you new insight.
3. Keep them informed and ask for input in different stages of the production process, such as cover art, and make sure they see the final product before release. This helps assuage the standard author fear that their “baby” isn’t being taken care of, and again, their perspective may be valuable.
4. Be available, and no news is NOT good news. I’ve had problems in the past, and thought the way to deal with it was to not worry the authors, and to wait until the issue was corrected to talk about it. What I discovered was that silence and lack of information breeds fear and discussion as to the possibilities, which can create a situation far worse than the actual one. Honesty is the best policy, and being up front will save a lot of stress, even if you have to relay something unpleasant.
5. Understand that stuff happens, and adjust deadlines accordingly. Riding an author into the ground won’t produce their best work. I personally would rather wait six months for the best quality than have an author feel obligated to push something out in a month just to fill a quota. This is a creative process, not an assembly line, and sometimes the muse can be a bit elusive.
6. It sounds a bit hypocritical, but it’s my experience: They don’t want to hear when stuff happens to you. They don’t want to hear that royalties are late because your kid is sick, or you’re sick, or the cat’s sick, even if it’s true. If stuff does happen, don’t go on about how much your life is pure misery, just explain that this happened, this is how you’re correcting it, and do it. They might be sympathetic, don’t get me wrong, and no one is expected to be the Master of Perfection all the time. But in the end, it’s not important to the business, and may cause them to worry about its viability if you’re weeping into your beer all the time.
This is how I handle things in my house. Do I sometimes have to be Mean Boss and say no? Of course. Camaraderie is a wonderful thing, but in the end, this is a business, and sometimes what’s best for business might not be as popular. Again, when this has happened, my decision has been respected, because I show respect to the authors. It’s better to be a team…or even a family.
Stephanie Kelsey, Owner and Editor-in-chief