Over at Bookends, LLC, Jessica has a post in which she responds to a question about how she matches writers to editors. The questioner asks whether she thinks about the personalities in play and she says, in part:
I debated saying this, but I’m not sure it’s my job to judge who a client can get along with. This is a business, not a dating service. Ideally I would like to find an editor who is perfect, who can please my author in every way and who my client can get along with beautifully, but editors are people too, and frankly, I don’t always know how an editor is going to act or treat a client until we’re in the midst of a relationship.I was surprised that this would be an issue. It never occurred to me that people would be worried about whether they would get along with their editors or not. Of course, like every writer, I anticipate that there can be issues between the editor and writer, where the editor wants changes and the writer doesn't want them, or the writer wants this cover but the editor thinks that on will be more effective. But it didn't occur to me that people would be worried about personality issues.
Perhaps that's because I work in an environment of conflict everyday. I don't mean that in a bad way--my company is a very nice place to work and the people there are pretty easy to get along with. But conflict is inherent in the legal profession; it's just naturally part of what we do, even when everyone involved is perfectly polite. Also, the role of Legal in a corporation is to put the brakes on things that the business people want to do, so I spend a lot of time explaining to business people why their latest and greatest idea really should be done in a different way, or shouldn't be done at all. Conflict!
I guess what I'm saying is that, in a professional context, I'm used to people wanting things from me that they aren't going to get, and I'm used to wanting things from others that I'm not going to get, and I can have those discussions without getting upset about them.* So it didn't occur to me that I should be worried about my relationship with my editor.** And it certainly didn't occur to me that Agent Ted would be choosing who to submit the book to based on personality fit. Why would he?
I think that some people have the idea that a writer and her agent and editor should be friends. I do not think that. I think that, sometimes, agents and writers (or editors and writers) do become friends, but that that's pure happenstance, not a prerequisite. Like, at work, there are some people who are perfectly cool, fun, pleasant people who are not my friends. They are my co-workers. We work together and get along and chat and laugh, but it's just a way to socially lubricate getting the work done.*** Then there are a few people whose interests and opinions line up with mine so well that there's no way we couldn't become friends once we met.
That's how I see my relationship with an agent or editor--we start by being social and friendly, in an effort to obtain the mutually desirable result of World Domination...but we aren't friends. Of course, we'll be working closely together, so personality does matter, to some extent,**** but it's not something I would expect to be a large factor. I'm a professional (or, I really really want to be one...come on 2009!), and I'll behave as one. If I become friends with the people I work with, that's like icing on a really delicious cupcake.
*Most of the time. MOST of the time.
**Assuming I get one.
***I don't mean in a Machiavellian manipulative sense--I'm not orchestrating jokes with my business people to get them to do what I want or whatever--it's just people being social and friendly to make the workday pass.
****We've all heard those horror stories of writers being so difficult that others don't want to work with them. In fact, Mysterious admits here that he passed on a project he otherwise liked because he didn't want to work with the writer involved.