Home » Kristine Kathryn Rusch, The Business of Writing » Editorial Encroachment

Editorial Encroachment

24 February 2018

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

Last week, as I was searching for a friend’s book on Amazon, I made a loathsome discovery. My friend’s book, which is up for preorder, lists her name and the name of someone else on the byline.

I had never heard of that someone else. So I clicked on the preorder, and what did I see? A cover, with just my friend’s name on it.

So I glanced up at the title. Beneath it was this byline:

My Friend (Author), Annoying Person (Editor)

I went through the roof. My friend wrote that book. She hired Annoying Person to edit the book.

I looked up Annoying Person and found her terms and conditions. She sounds like a fairly knowledgeable editor. She only handles copy editing and line editing (although it sounds like she would have a pretty heavy hand). She explicitly says she does not do developmental editing.

Which means she has done exactly nothing on this book. She didn’t come up with the concept. She didn’t brainstorm the characters. She didn’t improve the plot. She didn’t imagine the setting.

All she did was tweak the words.

So why the hell is she getting credit for this book?

When I searched her name on Amazon, I found her listed on the byline of dozens of novels by many different writers—too many for this to be simple ignorance on the part of the writers themselves.

Annoying Person asks to be credited as editor on the book as part of her agreement with the writers. If they hire her, they have to list her as editor.

This is a great ploy by Annoying Person. It got me to look up her name. I’m sure it brings her a lot of business.

And it decreases the sales of every single writer whose byline she leaches onto.

Got that? Having her name as editor on that byline hurts sales of the books dramatically.

. . . .

For years, traditional publishing has needed brand names to sell its books. Because traditional publishing has to go from bestselling book to bestselling book to meet its monthly quota, traditional publishing’s beleaguered editorial departments do what they can to manufacture bestsellers.

Some of those are movie tie-ins. Others are books that are “just like” the books by a big name. Mostly, though, the manufactured books piggyback off an established name.

Right now, James Patterson is running a regular fiction factory. By my count, he will have 25 new books with his byline on them in 2018. That doesn’t count the “James Patterson Presents” line where he introduces a book.

The dual byline thing is very generous of Patterson. A couple of friends of mine have worked with him on collaborative projects. He’s hands-on (unlike some writers who’ve done this), and he teaches his collaborators a lot about writing and plotting, even if they’ve been in the business a long time.

The dual byline usually boosts the sales of the secondary writer. I was familiar with almost every writer he worked with. All of his collaborators were established writers before they signed on to work with him. But as I scrolled through the list, I found a couple of names I didn’t recognize. I looked them up as well, and discovered they were established, but they were new to me.

That system works well for the secondary writer. It also works well for the publisher, because they’re minting money. And it works well for Patterson, because as he’s said in more than one interview, he has more ideas than he can get to in his lifetime.

He’s happy with this arrangement. And he’s not the only one who does this. Clive Cussler does the same thing, and has done so for decades.

This is actually a 1990s trick that publishers used to use a lot more than they do now. Now, most writers who want to let someone play in their worlds either do it with Kindle Worlds or something similar.

. . . .

I got to see lots and lots and lots of sales figures from these joint byline books. I know young writers who were brought in to work with the established writers, and I know established writers who mentored young writers.

I also was in the thick of publishing when this Thing was important in traditional publishing. Dean and I, as Pulphouse Publishing, were in a co-publishing deal with Bantam Books, and as such, were privy to a lot of their business decisions back in the day.

To a person, everyone involved in these co-writing ventures acknowledged that books with a joint byline did not sell as well as books with the author’s single byline.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch and thanks to Melinda and others for the tip.

Here’s a link to Kris Rusch’s books. If you like the thoughts Kris shares, you can show your appreciation by checking out her books.

Kristine Kathryn Rusch, The Business of Writing

22 Comments to “Editorial Encroachment”

  1. Maybe Rusch should ask her friend why she agreed to credit the editor as a condition for hiring her when she contracted for their services. She didn’t have to, you know. I’m sure that there are other competent editors available.

  2. This is maddening. Basic business 101: know the vocabulary and norms of the trade you’re engaged in. Okay, it’s clear that, as in the layout discussion, a lot of writers are unable to pattern match what they’re producing with what’s on their bookshelves. They have never seen any book with a byline that says “Edited by / Editor” unless that book was an anthology or textbook or other work assembled (e.g., Christopher Tolkien with JRR’s Beowulf translation).

    It’s easy to test this, just look at the front matter of the books on your shelves. Notice the following people who always appear on the copyright pages: the author yes. The illustrator, yes. The cover artist and designer, yes (look on the back cover if you want to know if they used stock images). With a prestige book they’ll add a colophon page/section where they say who designed the book’s layout and/or what font they used.

    But the editor? Nope, not unless: 1) the editor holds the copyright, or 2) the editor actually wrote something that appears in the book. And those two options apply to anthologies and textbooks. With novels? Nope. Nope. Nope. If an “editor” is insisting you violate this norm, this would be a good time to break out the vuvuzela: Blow it in their ear. They’ve got it coming.

  3. Hmm. If this woman was a very good developmental editor, I could see this – for indies on Amazon. Analogous to a publisher imprint, it would invoke a certain level of confidence in the quality of the books with her editorial byline on it.

    Not in this case, though, certainly.

  4. I’ve seen that now and then on Amazon in the case of some self-published books. Never troubled me. But I can see where it’s best to keep it to the front matter. If an illustrator, cover designer, etc, can be listed, I don’t see why an editor cannot be listed, particularly among authors who are self-publishing.

    I had an author put my name up as “illustrator” in the author byline area of the item page at Amazon. I didn’t ask for it or require it. I did the cover for free as a favor to someone I liked and had fun doing it. It only cost me a bit of time and a buck for the stock license. I only asked that I be given credit in the front matter, where these kinds of acknowledgments are placed, in case someone wanted to buy my cover services should I offer them in future. (I’ve sold a couple, created others for free, just as a light hobby with limited skills.)

    I actually like it when indies give a note of the editor on Amazon, just as they give the name of an illustrator or cover designer in the interior. Indies hire editors in the same way that they hire illustrators and cover designers: fee for services that help produce a readable, attractive literary consumer product. Why not give editors a plug, too?

    If it has an impact on the bottom line to have it in the byline, as KKR writes about, they ought not do it. Never wanna screw with the revenue.

    But, only referring to my own case, were I to browse for a novel and it listed “Jane Doe, Editor” next to the author byline, it wouldn’t even make me blink. No effect on whether I buy or not. I’m looking at the story/author/blurb, not the editor credit, to decide if it’s for me.

    I guess I see it as something growing out of the collaborative new indie publishing reality. Freelancers want plugs. If the author wants to go along with it, that’s up to them. As long as it doesn’t hurt the $ side, so what? If it hurts the $, stop. If it’s required to be bylined, think twice and thrice.

    • Oh, and co-authoring (the Bantam example) and giving an “editor” nod…would those be seen as equivalent? When it has two authors in the byline, versus an author and an editor, I don’t see those as the same thing. Then again, I may not be the “average” reader, either.

      • Honestly, as a reader, I avoid the Mary Higgins Clark books that also mention some other writer (odd name I’m not going to look up just now). I assume that the book is just really the other person’s, and not MHC’s. So that effect seems legit.

        On the other hand, when MHC cowrote books with her daughter, Carol Higgins Clark, I did read them, because I read CHC’s books on their own (she’s funny). I read collaborations with two authors I know write on their own, but knowns with unknowns seem suspect.

        I know of one instance of the “unequally yoked” type of co-authoring, with two known authors. It was Piers Anthony with Mercedes Lackey. In the afterword, Anthony said he had an idea for a book but no time to write it, so he asked Baen to find him someone who could. Lackey was assigned the job (Anthony assumes she was dragged into it). Anthony says he did some edits to the story. They both had bylines, and the book’s tagline hyped up the fact that they were “working” together. IIRC, they never talked to each other. Leaving his name off the byline would seem fair to me, but perhaps there was more money in it for Lackey with his name attached?

    • I hope you were able to talk her out of giving you an illustrator byline, since that’s incorrect if you didn’t do any interior drawings (that’s what the byline signals). Readers will rightfully ding the book in reviews if her book is falsely advertising that that there are interior drawings.

      However, she properly should have credited you on the copyright page, where it would say “Cover art by Mirtika LastName.” If you also designed the cover, then it should read “Cover art and design by Mirtika LastName.” If she had a different designer, then that person gets a line, just as you get a line. If she wanted to mention you again in the acknowledgments page that’s fine, but that should be the second place, not the first.

      The cover artist is never referred to as the illustrator, so they should not get an illustrator’s byline unless they are also doing the interior drawings — example would be Mary GrandPre, who did the cover art and the interior drawings in Harry Potter.

      As I said below, a copy /line / development editor does get acknowledged — on the acknowledgements page. That’s standard. On a byline, nope. Nopitty, nope, nope. That’s not how it works, and it’s a tip off that the editor is unprofessional, and the indie writer is being taken for a ride. Which is why I’m glad KKR wrote this post. An editor who wants to be treated as a co-creator is crooked, and should go on a Do Not Hire list.

      • To me as a reader a second, unknown author credit signals to me that the Big Name Author didn’t actually write the book and I’m not going to buy it. This is based on my experience of Dead Big Name Authors names being used to sell “posthumous collaborations” back in my youth or ailing authors passing their notes onto younger relatives with writerly ambitions. Authors I recall being used in this fashion were Lovecraft, Heinlein, and Asimov. I made and exception for Tolkien and Hitchcock.

        • I can’t comment on Hitchcock, not being a reader in his genre. But, yes, Christopher Tolkien was an excellent successor. I would say that Todd McCaffrey is also worthy of carrying on his parent’s work.

          On RAH – hmmm. I’m only aware of the one that used his name (Variable Star). Which brings up another point – for these to be product as expected by the reader, the “collaborator” must have enough of a similar voice. I found the book to be a train wreck, even though I am a big fan of Heinlein’s work, and only somewhat less so of Spider Robinson’s. It just plain did not work.

          There is also For Us the Living that was published after Heinlein’s death – but that is different. The manuscript there was by Heinlein, with only a reasonable amount of line and copy editing applied, not much more than would have normally been done by a publisher. Somewhat disrespectful to his memory, as he never wanted it published – but certainly of service to “wannabes” like me – proof that the Master did not simply appear full-blown as the progeny of the Muse of Literature!

  5. ive seen it when an oldbook, with author deceased might be brought back into print and editors name/s might be on cover, or as in case of anthology.

    This particular editor sounds like a hungry stomach with a vanity ambition that is NOT in service of the author. Did KKR name her? imo. would be interesting to take a look at said ‘editor’s’ contract and if warranted, warn others away.

    Our editors at trad pub houses in ny were so happy if named in acknowledgements, which is where the thank you belongs.

    If she wants her name o the cover, then also on cover should say “I corrected spelling mistakes if any, added a comma or took some out, and checked a few facts in this book written completely and without my help in anyway.’

  6. I probably would not hire an editor who wanted a byline, but why all the upset? Editing is hard work. If someone wants a byline and their employer is willing to give it to them, what’s the big deal?

    When I was a carpenter, I often was a little miffed at architects who got all the credit for buildings that would have looked a lot different if the guys with the hammers had not done a good job. I imagine an editor might feel the same way. Why hog the joy?

    • Byline = Created the Work.

      Editor who just copy edited did not create the work. Editor who just copy edited (or developmentally edited) did not create the work. Ergo, no byline.

      That’s the difference.

      Editor who came up with a vision, assembled the anthology, selected the authors and likely wrote something that’s in the anthology = created the work.

      One kind of editor is a creator. The other kind is not.

      Is this really complicated? I’m surprised. The difference in which of the two editors gets a byline is very well known to everyone in the publishing industry. It is against standard practice to treat the two kinds of editors as the same, and that’s why a copy editor who wants to be treated like a creator is outing herself as crooked.

      The correct place to honor the copy / development editor is the acknowledgment page, which is also a well-known standard. That’s also the page to give shout outs to beta readers, researchers, and whoever kept you supplied with tea or coffee, etc.

      By the way — I routinely see the names of construction companies whenever a new building or subdivision is going up. It’s rare to see an architect mentioned unless it’s a prestige building (museum, hospital, etc).

      Here’s the thing, though: a copy editor (no byline) is not at all the equivalent of the person who is building the skyscraper. The builder needs to exist for that building to go up, but a story will exist without that editor, because that editor did not create it. Think of the copy editor as more of an interior decorator, helping you to pick decor (words) that line up with the Hollywood Regency look (glitz and glamour) you’re going for rather than British Colonial (rugged jungle adventure).

      • I can see that you folks all have your reasons, but I still don’t get why all the opposition to giving a poor grunt some recognition. Especially in self-publishing where the author is lord of all. It’s not like a publisher or an agent is cramming this down our throats.

        • I still don’t get why all the opposition to giving a poor grunt some recognition.

          Okay, I think you must have missed something. Here it is again:

          The correct place to honor the copy / development editor is the acknowledgment page, which is also a well-known standard.

          Long standing practice, which you can see for yourself the next time you visit your bookshelf / Kindle.

          I suppose this could have been avoided if the two types of editors had two different titles, but there it is.

  7. The parts of a book.

    I was lucky enough to learn this in school, but I gather this is foreign territory for a lot of indies. Just look at the front matter of the books on your bookshelves. This is simple and easy to get right; there’s no reason at all to get it wrong.

    While perusing the copyright page you may even discover [potentially] intriguing information, such as the author’s real name. Perusing the acknowledgments page can reveal that the author is friends with other authors you may have heard of; it’s especially interesting if the other author writes in another genre. Or they’ll list experts they relied on for research, and so on.

    Calling your copy editor your co-creator is like saying the salesman at Stride Rite is your child’s father just because he helped pick out a nice pair of shoes for your kid. I mean, you could … but why?

  8. Richard Hershberger

    “To a person, everyone involved in these co-writing ventures acknowledged that books with a joint byline did not sell as well as books with the author’s single byline.”

    Is this true in the general case? This would be counter-intuitive.

    It makes perfect sense that a joint byline of [famous author] and [unknown author] will sell less than [famous author] alone. I was, in my ill-spent youth, an avid fan of Tom Clancy. I quickly learned to inspect the cover carefully and avoid books actually written by someone else.

    But if we compare the joint byline [famous author] and [unknown author] with books by [unknown author] alone, it seems wildly improbable that the first sells less than the second.

    Also, back in the 1970s science fiction authors Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle often collaborated. My sense is that these sold quite well. Niven was the more prominent writer, but both were established. But Niven & Pournelle was something of a recognized brand as well, with the two authors complementing one another for a result greater than the sum of the parts.

    • Two established writers collaborating does seem to sell well, especially when it’s a regular established teamup. Niven & Pournelle, Asimov & Silverberg, Anderson & Dickson to name a few were all collaborations of equals where either name alone would sell the book and where the reader can plausibly expect some synergy of skills. Niven and Pournelle being a classic case where their skills were complementary and the joint effort clearly superior to either alone.

      The unequal bylines is where the effect shows up.

      The common scenarios there are:

      – the fiction mill model, where the established author farms out a work he is unable or uninterested in working out himself. (Patterson)

      – the posthumous collaboration (Sanderson finishing Jordan’s Wheel of time) where you get the second author trying to finish/mimic the primary author’s unfinished work).

      – the heavy editor, where the editor gets so heavily involved he becomes an actual co-writer.

      – the ghost writer, where the name writer contribution is minimal, ranging from idea and final apprival, to nothing but attaching the name to goose marketing.

      Each of those runs through a spectrum of variation but in general the bigger the discrepancy of reputation the more wary a savvy reader will be. And the bigger the hit to maximum potential sales.

  9. As an indie writer, I give a credit to all folks who helped me produce my book by serving in a professional capacity. That includes my cover illustrator, cover designer, editor and copyeditor. Their names and roles are referenced on my copyright page.

    They do NOT get any part of my copyright, nor do they get royalties. They also do not get added to any Createspace or KDP fields. There is only one Author of the book, and that is ME.

  10. Oh, also, beta readers and writing group members get mentioned in the Aknowlefgments, which I put at the end of the book.

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