Writer, Undercover: Three Publishing Secrets

istock_000001992238xsmallI’m a writer, working undercover as an editorial intern at Henery Press. Here’s what I’ve learned in almost three months on the job:

1. Editors are NOT CYBORGS. I know this is a shocker, but it turns out that editors are human like the rest of us. They laugh, smile, sleep, eat, and enjoy emails that begin with their real name instead of “Dear Editor.” They are regular people, who just happen to work in publishing.

However, today’s market requires editors to have cyborg-like qualities. In addition to ridiculous amounts of reading and editing, editors must also function as publicists, social media experts, business managers, market analysts, and negotiators. Writers who respect the editor’s time and humanity (in an industry that doesn’t) will stand out.

2. Publishers will probably GOOGLE YOUR NAME (if they like your writing). Privacy is dead. The sooner we as writers accept this, the more quickly we can move on to building a smart and effective online presence.

In her blog post A Writer’s Audience: How to Market with Social Media, one of my fellow interns Alicia Tonne says it this way: “You know what I do after I’ve read about three to five chapters of a new submission? I Google the author. I look for anything I can find– and can I even find them?” Publishers want writers who will engage readers online, who will deliberately use social media to find readers. We have no qualms with cyber-stalking a good writer, to see if they are also good online.

3. SOLID WRITING EXCITES US. Here’s the situation. According to Jeff Gerke in his book The First 50 Pages, “The person looking at your first fifty pages is stressed, unsure about her own job security, overworked, burdened with the need to read proposals but allocated no time to do so, and trying to find novels that are both wonderfully written and financially viable… But she still loves a great story and still values the work of a skilled wordsmith.”

It’s a tough industry, but at heart, editors and publishers really do enjoy the written word. When we find something that grabs us, our pulse goes up and we feel a bit giddy. We start tweeting about it (without identifying anyone, of course). We send each other chat messages about that particular submission. We tell each other to plan extra time for that one. Sometimes we even stay up late, because we can’t stop reading. I’m not sure if that’s how it works in the old-school New York publishing houses, but I’m fortunate to work with a fresh new publisher that still gets excited when a writer exhibits sharp prose and an engaging plot. Even better if the Google search shows they are active online.

At the end of the day, editors just want to be swept away by a great story.

(This is the second post in a six-part series. Stay tuned…)

12 thoughts on “Writer, Undercover: Three Publishing Secrets

    1. I’ll talk more about that in a later post, but mainly it boils down to this: be professionally personal. You would be surprised how many writers fail to research a publisher’s preferences (for submissions, genre, format, etc.), and how many people actually do write a generic “dear editor.” Also, don’t demand fast response, or pepper the agent/editor/publisher with follow-up correspondence. Publishing moves at glacial pace, it’s not just that one editor — it’s the whole system. Patience is important (trust me, I’m learning this as both a writer, and an editor!)


      1. I have submitted articles to some magazines that accept open submissions. They don’t seem to get back to me. I want to remind them – gently – by sending a second email. I think 3-4 months is a sufficien time to wait. Agreed? Also, if they don’t respond to the second email, I take that as they are not interested and to move on.


        1. I think that one concise and respectful follow-up, 3-4 months after the initial query, is reasonable. I actually had a situation where I met an agent in person, they encouraged me to query, but then I didn’t receive a response. After one month, I re-queried (and made sure to note that is was indeed a re-query). She got back to me right away, had never received the first email and was wondering what happened to me. So it never hurts to send *one* follow-up, when enough time has gone by.


  1. So Mark Twain was far off the mark when he wrote: “How often we recall, with regret, that Napoleon once shot at a magazine editor and missed him and killed a publisher. But we remember with charity, that his intentions were good.” (In a letter to Henry Mills Alden)

    These articles are great. I appreciate them and also understand that Twain was a rascal when it came to criticism.


  2. You know Larry, I think writers and editors are historically at odds with each other (though thankfully, not to the degree that Twain suggests). I know that within my own brain, the writer and editor often fight with each other, leading to intense conversations with myself in public when I read out loud what I’ve just written. Just kidding… I try not to read out loud to myself in public.


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