One of my issues is that I like to be friends with everyone. That includes my agent, my editor, my publicist at the house, my editor's assistant, etc. It also includes the UPS guy, the clerk at the grocery store (I always try to go through Diana's line at Winco), and the 700 people in my office building.
Some people will tell you that you need to keep your relationships with people in the publishing world on a professional level.
I think that's true, to a certain extent. And I've been burned once or twice over the years, especially when I was new. When she first acquired my book, my first editor had a long conversation with me over the phone, tossing out ideas about how the house might promote the book. She was very enthusiastic. (Full disclosure: I don't think "might" was mentioned, but I should have heard it) But by the time the book actually came out, 18 months later, very few of those ideas materialized.
I had another friend whose book worked its way up the food chain back when there were still Oprah picks, before Jonathan Franzen ruined it for everyone by bad-mouthing Oprah. Her editor became her new best friend. They were on the phone every day, sharing secrets and laughing. They sent each other gifts. Then Oprah passed. And the phone calls stopped.
So here's what I really think about being friends with people in publishing:
- Your editor. I think the best way to be their friend is to do all the work they want in the time frame they want. To appreciate them and tell them so (in person and in the acknowledgements) if they help make your book a better book. If you get to be friends, great. Just always have an asterisk in the back of your mind that they are editing many other authors. If you start to seem like an author who is not working out – your book isn't selling the way they had hoped, for example – the friendship may end.
- The editor's assistant and anyone else lower down on the food chain. Be nice and friendly to these folks. You should be nice because a) it's the right thing to do and b) it's the right thing to do from a Machiavellian standpoint. They can make your life easier, give you tips, help you out – all because you listened to them, asked where they went to school and were truly interested in the answer. A telephone sales rep was the first one to tell me about a second printing for one of my books. An editor's assistant has now gone on to be an editor and has told my agent she want s to work with me again. If anyone lower down on the food chain does a good job for you, send a note to their boss (but don't make it sound like they were in your sway – play up how it helped the house make more sales).
- Your agent. I think you should eventually be friends with your agent. Ideally, this is a relationship that will last for years. And over that time, your relationship should move from strictly business to a mix of business and pleasure. Your agent is in your corner in a way that everyone else is not.
At least that's how I think about thing. Your thoughts?