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How To Be A Professional Writer, Pt. II: Pick An Editor With A Sense Of Humor

December 3, 2009

In my last post I wrote about what it was like to sit down and write a book that was not only supposed to make people laugh but also was supposed to deftly and professionally hide the fact that I had absolutely no book-writing experience whatsoever.  I apologize if I scared any of you away from a writing career completely, what with my references to clinical depression, confusing outline notes that even I don’t understand, and faking my own death to avoid litigation, but tough toodles, as we used to say in the hip street parlance of the Bronx.  This kind of thing isn’t for the faint of heart.

If you’re still with me, I’d like to move on to the editing process and why I’m now convinced that a Supreme Dictatorship is the only form of government that really works.  In a past life I spent a lot of time in the conference rooms of many of the major advertising agencies in New York City, and the only thing I walked away with — other than a really cool stapler, some paper clips, the occasional pen and a lot of free coffee — was that nothing good ever comes from decisions that are made by committee.   Decisions that should have been no-brainers and taken no time to decide were stretched into endless battles of ego and spectacular demonstrations of insecurity.  The only time anyone knew when a meeting was actually over was not when the issue had been resolved, but when the coffee urn was empty.

That’s a tough way to produce anything, much less a book that people will find funny.  Writing, especially humor writing, is  a lot like the game Jenga.  You spend a lot of time building up and crafting just the right amount of words, put together in just the right way, all aimed at just the right pay-off, and all it takes is for some yahoo to come along and pull out one block in the wrong way and the whole damn thing comes tumbling down.  So I was a bit worried about whether the editor I would be working with on my book would want to have a lot of input on what I was writing, or whether he or she would take a “hands-off” approach.  Or at least understand my Jenga analogy.

As luck would have it, I was assigned to Joelle.  Joelle is a Senior Editor at Sterling and she is worth every penny that they pay her and then some.  Our initial conversation about the direction the book should take went something like this:

Joelle: You can get started writing the book now.

Me: Is there anything else I should know?

Joelle: Yes.  Call me when it’s finished.

That’s when I knew things were going to go just swimmingly.

I put Joelle, or rather a fictional version of Joelle, through quite a lot in this book and it’s to her credit that she took it with such a good sense of humor.  The fictional Editor starts out by questioning whether I have my facts straight and, in a series of increasingly contentious footnotes, we argue our way down the path to Hell together.  By the end of the book, neither of us winds up looking very good and my hat is off to her for being such a good sport.

Next time, we’ll talk about how I got started blogging and why unshakeable integrity and a strong moral center is essential to any successful writing career.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Deb permalink*
    December 3, 2009 5:16 PM

    Joe, you’re my favorite yahoo in the world. Don’t change a thing.

  2. JBO permalink
    December 3, 2009 4:40 PM

    You just figured out who I am. I am the yahoo who pulls out the wrong Jenga block.
    I now have a lot of soul searching to do. Thanks Deb!

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