Lessons from the 2016 AWP conference #1: It's Good To Talk
It was fascinating to hear several panelists at the AWP16 conference describe the writer-editor relationship as “fraught.” There was a widespread feeling among the speakers that writers (especially emerging ones) have a deep suspicion of editors and are overly sensitive about feedback. The most established authors, however, openly recognized the value of and their dependence on collaboration with editors of all varieties.
The issue arises when writers with little or no publishing experience fail to understand that editors want the same thing they do: a manuscript that has the power to grip the reader. But how can we, as editors, build good working relationships with authors?
Many of the professional editors talked about the importance of one-to-one conversations in person, by phone, or by video conference. Editors often find themselves playing the role of therapist, and no therapist worth their fee communicates via email or letter! The editor-as-therapist's role should be to illuminate a problem and, instead of imposing a solution, enable the author to find a fix that fits.
Writers and editors both practice their respective crafts in their own unique ways and, ultimately, it’s only through building personal relationships that they can collaborate with maximum effectiveness. Of course, the challenge we face as copyeditors is that we often work through an intermediary and not with the author directly (as a content or developmental editor might do). But, even at the lightest end of the copyediting spectrum, where we may have many author queries, might it be more productive to get answers in one friendly conversation than in the back and forth of impersonal comment balloons on a manuscript?
Unfortunately, we live in a world where texting and emailing have become the dominant modes of communication, and many of us are somewhat out of practice in the art of good, old-fashioned phone calls. That's certainly true in my case, so my personal goal is to force myself to start doing far more by phone and video conferencing, which, if nothing else, will ease the pressure on my email inbox. With regard to the Agency, I am aware that my goal should be to explore what other mechanisms could be put in place to help ensure editors and writers are always on the same page and able to establish a foundation for fruitful, long-term partnerships.