In the seventh and final installment of the Real Life in Publishing Series, “Kate,” a smart young editor at a small but major publisher—let’s just say that many of you would sell your house and auction off your children to be published by this place—talks honestly about one of the toughest parts of her job (and, happily for her, now the job of her editorial assistants): Tempering and maintaining author expectations, especially when those authors are academics.
“One of the hardest things an editor or an editorial assistant will have to do is figure out a way to tell an author that the only people who will buy his book are himself and his mother. And his mother will buy it on Amazon.com for half-price, which means fewer royalties for the author because we probably only gave him net royalties in the contract.
“The general public is just not reading about commercial arbitration in Sweden; the importance of implied queer narratives during the Boer War will not get you on ‘The Daily Show.’
“But the tome the author sent you is his life’s work, and he thinks it deserves a full-page, 4-color New York Times ad (those things cost more than assistants make in a year, by the way). He also expects an 8-city book tour, accommodation, and a front-page review by Michiko Kakutani.
“The book has more footnotes than text, it’s denser than your great aunt’s fruitcake and even after reading the whole thing, you haven’t a clue what he’s talking about. You try your damnedest to keep all communication contained in email, where at least there is a backspace key and you can choose your sentences carefully before hitting the send button, but at some point he will call you.
“He knows you know his number and that you purposely let it go to voicemail every time, so he tricks you and calls from a blocked number. You unwisely pick up and are sucked into a phone conversation where the last thing you want to do is say out loud that no one will buy the book (at this point you doubt even mom will buy it), but it’s on the tip of your tongue and you have to bite it to keep the sentence from coming out.
“He wants to know why his book isn’t on the shelf in Barnes and Noble on 5th Avenue (because even though he’s from Tulsa, he has traveled to NYC to check this out).
“You have to explain that during the marketing meeting the sales and marketing teams decided that the scholarly nature of the book means we will give it a certain discount and that helps decide which vendors buy it. The book is available on our Web site and from our online vendors, and we have pitched it to college professors for their courses.
“But this isn’t good enough at all. He wants to be a household name. He wants glawr. He. Wants. Oprah.
“At this point you realize you are dealing with a certifiably crazy person, and the best thing you can do is get off the phone as quickly as possible with the promise to check on all of these things with the publicist. You’re an editor or an editorial assistant, not a miracle worker, after all, but the good thing is you know you will have the best ‘crazy author’ story at happy hour, earning you a free drink from your colleagues. And that’s why you chose this profession. Just remember that.”