What Editors Can Learn from Marketing

Portland State’s Book Publishing Graduate Program is a comprehensive apprenticeship program that allows students to learn about all parts of the publishing process, thanks in large part to Ooligan Press. A lot of the students entering the program are looking to be editors (including yours truly); however, because we are going through the entire book publishing process, we spend a fair amount of time in Ooligan doing work that spans departments. Such has been my experience. As a part of the team that worked on Seven Stitches—which was published this last February—I spent roughly half a year marketing. But I’m of the belief that there is no situation you can’t learn from, and the same holds true here. Here are some of the bigger lessons I’ve gleaned.

Know your audience.

Marketing is focused on finding a book’s most interesting points and framing them in a way that appeals to the intended audience. Editing needs to take similar ideas into account: What are the readers going to see from this book? What is the most interesting part of this book to readers? Which characters appeal to readers, and which bore them? Are the themes in this book suitable for the intended audience? While you don’t need to tailor the book to a specific audience, it is important to see where the book shines (not just what you like about it), and how those elements merge to create the final project.

Rejection (or even unresponsiveness) is common, but it’s not personal.

In marketing, you will come in contact with a lot of people who will turn down a request or not respond to emails. Now, this is not to say that an author you’re working with is going to suddenly ignore all of your suggestions or stop replying, but they will likely ignore some points that you’re convinced are correct. The biggest difference, though, is that whether it’s not hearing back from a reviewer or being turned down for an award you’ve applied for, it’s easy to remove yourself from the situation—it’s the book that is being rejected. It can feel more personal when a suggestion you’ve put a lot of thought into is ignored or rejected by the author. However, the same circumstances apply to the person on the other side of the computer. If an author doesn’t agree, it’s not because they don’t like you; it’s because they have a different view for their work. In either case, you need to learn to pick your battles. If you have people that you really want to review your book or host an event, it’s worth putting together a better case to sell to them, rather than a generic request. When editing, if there’s a point your author doesn’t agree with but you strongly believe in, lay out a good case and potentially concede on another point that they care about.

Get creative.

When coming up with marketing events and collateral, it’s probably not surprising that it benefits you to think outside of the box. While you may come up with a lot of ideas that don’t work, they might lead you to a unique idea that will generate a lot of interest for the book. When giving advice to the author during a developmental edit, you want to get just as creative when proposing solutions to some of the issues in a manuscript—though keep in mind you don’t need to do it for every suggestion. While it’s unlikely the author will take exactly what you proposed and use that to revise, it could help spark something that the author will then run with, which is the most you can hope for as an editor.

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