Dear Track Changes,
I worked with an editor on my novel recently, and the edit was great—lively and informative, and for the most part very clear. But I do have some questions about certain points, so I’m gathering up my courage to take advantage of the followup call. I’m excited about talking about my book, but I’m also totally dreading it. I’m 100% the millennial who gets squirmy over any communication that doesn’t happen over text message or email, but I know I have to suck it up. Do you have any pointers for making sure my call is a successful one?
Dear Phone Averse,
Trust me, I understand what you mean. I will go to great lengths to avoid the phone in my non-work life (and don’t even get me started on listening to voicemails, which might as well be the 9th circle of hell). But happily, the one time I do like to talk on the phone is for followup calls with authors. I mean that genuinely! Sometimes I find myself idly dreading them—well, at least not looking forward to them—but once I actually get into the conversation, I remember why I like them so much. It’s fun to talk to an author about her work, to engage with it as something both of you have spent a ton of time thinking about. After I work on a book, I like to say that I’m the world’s second-leading expert on it, so why wouldn’t I want to talk to the only person in the world who knows more about it than me?
So have faith! Here are some thoughts about ways to ensure your call is as much fun as possible for both you and your editor:
- Try to schedule the call before too much time has passed. If you wait months and months before you have a followup call, it can be tough on your editor’s scattered brain. I always review the editorial letter and glance through the manuscript before a call, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I’ll be able to dredge up exactly why I made each comment in the margins well after the fact. It’s not that I don’t remember the broad strokes of your book—I think I can credibly say that I remember the main parts of every book I’ve ever worked on—but if I’ve worked on several mss since yours, the details can start blurring together.
- The other side of that coin is not to schedule a call right after you’ve looked through the edit materials for the first time. I know it might be tempting to skim the editorial letter and then have a conversation about it immediately, but I strongly encourage you to do a serious pass through the book before you take advantage of follow up. That’ll give you time to really digest the edits, as well as making sure you are able to ask all the questions you will have once you’ve gone through the ms carefully.
- Prepare a list of specific questions. This may seem like a no-brainer, but it always helps to guide a call. Whether that means going through questions you have about the ed letter or having page numbers ready to go to in order to check out things in the ms, it’s immensely helpful to be able to move methodically through whatever advice you need more detail on.
- Don’t be afraid to ask big questions either. If other readers have raised big, sweeping questions about the book, or you have had them yourself, the call is the perfect time to ask about that kind of thing. Sometimes I’m hesitant to put my more subjective opinions about the big ideas of a novel into an editorial letter because I don’t want my take to be considered gospel. Once something is down in writing it just feels so permanent. But on the phone, it’s much easier to bounce ideas off of each other and try to puzzle out solutions to problems that you might be having—whether that means problems that I’ve raised or concerns you’ve had on your own.
- If you have questions beyond editorial matters, make sure to ask them. I have no trouble filling up an hourlong call with editorial discussion about a ms, so if you want me to give you advice on how best to get your book out into the world, we’ll have to carve out time for that. It helps to have a firm idea of what your publication goals are—self-publishing, traditional publishing, a longtime home in your sock drawer—so that I don’t have to spend too much time going over the basics.
- Finally, and luckily I’ve never had much trouble with this one, don’t be defensive. As an editor, I try to be aware of the fact that the writing I work on is something you take very seriously. I, in turn, take my responsibility to help make it better very seriously. That doesn’t mean we will always see eye to eye on every single change, and that’s ok! If you disagree with my edits, then I’m more than happy to talk that out with you, but just know that we are on the same side here. We both want you to write the absolute best book possible, and constructive criticism is part of reaching that goal.
Also, on a more practical note, if you’re talking on a smartphone, I highly recommend headphones with a mic. An hourlong call with one of those things makes the phone really hot, and nobody wants sweaty ears. Most nicer earbuds built for musical fidelity plug up my ears too much and make me feel like I’m talking underwater, but the basic ones that come with an iPhone are really perfect for long calls. You’re welcome for this very professional advice.
Good luck with your call! I’m sure it will go great, and that book is only going to get better.
Ask Track Changes is written by our editor William Boggess. To submit your first page or a question to Track Changes, email firstname.lastname@example.org.