Although Sarah and Sylvia sadly weren’t able to make it up to Seattle for AWP this year, our intern, Melanie Figueroa, did. Here’s a short recap of the three days she spent at the writer’s conference:
AWP is an overwhelming conference, in the best possible sense of the word, but with over 10,000 people in attendance, that’s to be expected. You can spend a whole day walking up and down the aisles at the book fair, meeting editors, designers, agents, and other publishing professionals or digging through the plethora of discounted books available—and I did.
In addition to exploring the book fair, I went to several panels: one on unsympathetic characters, a few on writing for young adults, another on humor in memoir, and, lastly, a panel focusing on the author-editor relationship, which will be the main focus of this post.
The author-editor panel was led by Grove Atlantic’s publisher, Morgan Entrekin. Grove Atlantic editor, Elisabeth Schmitz, and several of their authors, including Sherman Alexie, Margaret Wrinkle, and Jamie Quatro, were also on the panel.
Grove Atlantic has a particularly hands-on approach to the author-editor relationship, forging lasting friendships with their authors whenever possible. Elisabeth has worked as an editor for all three authors and occasionally goes jogging with Jamie. Sherman Alexie has published the majority of his work, except for his Young Adult books, with Grove Atlantic since the 90s. Morgan, reflecting on a conversation he had with an editor at a larger house at a previous book fair, said, “I stepped away from the author, and he came up to me. ‘You shouldn’t be such close friends with your writers. They’ll only break your heart.’ I looked at him and said, ‘Does that mean you shouldn’t fall in love?’”
Today, many publishing houses—especially big New York houses—often aren’t able to maintain this sort of relationship with their authors. While it’s custom for an author to offer the house that published his or her previous book first look at a manuscript, publishing houses don’t always acquire these manuscripts, and authors often jump from house to house.
For a while, the same applied to editors. “Traditionally, editors stayed with one publisher,” Morgan told the audience. “Then that changed, but I do think it’s starting to slow down.” Elisabeth, for instance, has been with Grove Atlantic for almost twenty years.
I took a lot away from this panel, even if much of it was a lot of great quotes of Sherman, saying things like, “We were at the Chateau…These are the things you get to say when you’re published. So f**k you all. Sorry. That was the Valium.” Proving that he is just as awkward, gleefully inappropriate, and funny as one would think. (In case you were wondering, the Valium was for his back, which he hurt the night before playing basketball.)
Mainly, I learned how important the role of trust is between author and editor. Sherman, candid as always, recalled a time where he vehemently fought with Elisabeth to keep a chapter in his novel Flight that involved the time-traveling protagonist fighting a saber-tooth tiger. Elisabeth won the fight. It’s been seven years since Flight was published, and after rereading that chapter, Sherman, who now calls the chapter “horrible,” is grateful that Elisabeth fought so hard to cut it. “That kind of relationship,” Sherman said. “Can only occur over the long-term and through trust.”
Sherman went on to say, “In the midst of all the sorrow, pain, rejection, the review you didn’t get, the sales you didn’t meet, the awards that slipped by, the shitty person who said the shitty thing, your sharing it all with your editor.”
Melanie, Sarah, and Sylvia