In a career spanning almost forty years, Transworld Publishing Director Sally Gaminara has worked with authors including Stephen Hawking, Richard Dawkins and Nick Robinson. Exclusively for Think Smarter, Sally reflects on the editing process.
Writers vary enormously in the way in which they like to work. I try to establish with them as soon as possible a modus operandi comfortable for them and in which they feel supported. Sometimes, as is often the case with one-off non-fiction, it is the first book an author has written and he or she is nervous about the daunting task of completing it. They appreciate reassurance and practical advice. More experienced writers know exactly how they like to work. Some, but not many, will have a discussion with me at the beginning of the project and then disappear for several months to write and produce a near-perfect book bang on the agreed delivery date. Others may do the same, though prefer to wait until they have completed a first draft and request my editorial comments at the very end. Several more drafts may appear in this way – the final version sometimes almost unrecognisable from the first. And there are also those perfectionists who find it painful, almost impossible, to say a final goodbye to their text. Certain writers like to discuss their book throughout the writing process, sending me chapters (paragraphs even) of work in progress, weekly or monthly, for my comment and review. That’s fine too as far as I’m concerned if that’s what works for them.
What if an author and I disagree on the way a book is developing? One hears of famous fallings out between author and editor but I have rarely found this to be the case. I argue my case, sometimes strenuously if an author disagrees, but we usually arrive at a solution. My experience has been far more one of conciliation than conflict. This is where my role as editor has been particularly rewarding: it is hugely satisfying to feel one has helped a frustrated writer resolve a particularly stubborn editorial problem. I try too to be mindful of the fact that authors often refer to their book as ‘my baby’. Writing a book is an intensely personal experience. It is essential to show editorial sensitivity in the process because once the book is ‘out there’, the author is exposed as never before – their ‘baby’, not mine, will be fair game for unforgiving critics.
Throughout the editorial process the most fulfilling thing of all for me is the personal relationship that often develops with an author – always professional and friendly, occasionally really close. Even if it’s only one book that I share with them, we work together over several months in a period of intense editorial activity. It is time enough to get to know each other well. When the time-frame is longer and we work together across several books, the years, sometimes decades, tick by and that is when the relationship can deepen. As editor you live with your author through the agony (and occasional ecstasy!) of everything that goes into each publication, willing each one to be commercially and critically successful. Whatever the outcome, throughout my career, I’ve relished the opportunity to enjoy the company of exceptionally creative and brilliant people whom I would never have had the pleasure of meeting had it not been for my role as editor.