Ellen on What It Takes to Be an Author from an Editor’s Perspective, Part 1

Photo, Ellen KadinThe following is a guest post from Executive Editor Ellen Kadin about her journey from editor to author, and a new found appreciation for what it takes to be an author.

Conventional wisdom suggests that inside every editor is a wanna-be author.  Maybe so.  But now that I’ve taken the authorship plunge, I have to wonder whether the odd pleasure of seeing my own name and face on a book (along with at least one decent royalties check) is sufficient compensation for shaving several years off my life.  (Then again, if I start coauthoring other books, at least I’ll have no perceptible life from which to detract.)

Before I describe the strange experience of coauthoring one of the books that I acquired and published, I must first issue a sincere apology to all of the authors over the years whose timetable or draft manuscript failed to meet my specs.   Had I known what you poor authors with demanding day jobs were going through to supply me with publishable content, I’m sure I would have been a more sensitive soul.   It’s not that I’m a meanie (far from it, I’d say ), but there’s no getting around the results of a personality test I took years ago—which recommended “field marshal” as an appropriate occupation.  (My big brother has never forgotten it; still cracks him up.)  When I was young and the editor of a 24-page monthly newsletter on engineering data management (seriously), Al G., the Boeing engineer who was writing an article for me in Seattle, laughingly dubbed me “The Beast from the East.”

Well, let’s just say Al had never written for publication and was apparently not accustomed to having someone with fairly high standards commenting on an earnest engineer’s prose.  (And Al and I are still friends.)

Fast-forward through more years than I care to count of acquiring business and other nonfiction books, in which I get to sit behind a desk and serve as literary judge and jury—a  job I can do in my sleep (and occasionally have—at least when we get close to our semiannual sales conference). That is, until my friend Susan Wilson Solovic, a successful author and small-business expert whom I’d published several times before, asked me not only to publish her next book, but coauthor it.  Susan saw this as a win-win; she loved my writing, and I’d get my first authorship credit—and on a book in whose success we both had confidence.   I was flattered and grateful for the opportunity—though not convinced.  In fact, I wouldn’t agree to be a coauthor in her contract because I wasn’t at all sure I’d have time to work on the book.  But some months later, by the time Susan had prepared a first draft, my work seemed more manageable, and thought: “I can do this.”

It seemed like a rational idea at the time.  

So my enthusiasm was high:  in the same way you feel immediately after accepting a promising new position–and during all the time before you actually have to START the job.  Only now I’d be sitting on BOTH sides of the editor’s desk:  with the acquiring editor in me beating the author in me over the head that we have marketing plans requiring strict deadlines that we absolutely cannot blow.

“Okay, rewriting a draft shouldn’t be hard,” I think to myself.  But with that rewriting freedom of course I also feel the responsibility to preserve Susan’s voice in the writing.  And for a fusspot like me, the imminent deadlines facing me are doing bad things to my blood pressure.  Can I even do a job worthy of coauthorship in such a short amount of time?

It is then, summoned by the ghost of published books past, that I mentally revisit the countless times I’ve explained to other authors—authors with high standards—that at some point you just have to let the manuscript GO.  Ah, yes.  How easy for an editor to say—and how painfully hard for an author to do.
I do the best job I can—considering I have a day job that requires ensuring that all of the books of which I am the custodian–but for which I am NOT the coauthor–are as well cared for as any one that would have my name on it.   So, via long distance (since Susan’s primary residence is in St. Louis), both at night and on weekends—including late nights working together in Susan’s Manhattan apartment—we hash out every sentence . . . every word . . . every nuance in question.  And with our demanding and often stressful day jobs, this new mountain of work, made more imposing by the unforgiving deadlines, is simply exhausting.

“How do people with demanding day jobs have the time and energy to write books?” I wonder, with both a strong curiosity and an awe that has never been more acute.  (Never even mind all the books I’ve published whose coauthors live in different cities.   Even with the benefit of email:  Who on earth has time for this?)

Jacket image, It's Your Biz: The Complete Guide to Becoming Your BossAfter countless rushed hours we have cobbled together what seems like a serviceable manuscript—and it’s time to let go.  I transmit it to production, and with this handing off of manuscript responsibility I exhale– dreaming of reclaiming my nights and weekends for at least a few weeks so I can catch up on my other projects.  (What—did you think there would be time then for a personal life?)

Come back tomorrow to read Part 2!

Ellen Kadin is Executive Editor at AMACOM and coauthor of It’s Your Biz: The Complete Guide to Becoming Your Own Boss, which, thanks to the platform and marketing efforts of Susan Wilson Solovic and AMACOM, became a New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today bestseller last year.  


3 responses to “Ellen on What It Takes to Be an Author from an Editor’s Perspective, Part 1

  1. Susan Solovic

    I love this post Ellen. You are and always will be a star in my book.

  2. I’ve sworn off co-authors for many reasons, Ellen. But hashing out sentences with you in a Manhattan apartment sounds dreamy!

  3. Martha Finney

    And I can say with first hand experience — I’m thinking one particular under-pressure crying jag of mine that you endured — you’re a fabulous AE. Kind, thoughtful, great sense of humor, and you know where all the great restaurants are! Hoping to enjoy all of the above before too long. With you, of course.

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