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Ask the Agony Editor: on interfering spouses

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Too many cooks spoil the broth. Too many spicey spouses enrage the editor

Brian-Francis-FinalDear Agony Editor,
Another editor I quite admire once said, “Beware of spice” (“spice” being the spouses of authors). I currently have too much spice in the broth of my books, and their feedback has more sway over their authors than mine does. How do I gently tell my authors that their spouses don’t know a thing about publishing and need to butt out?

Sincerely,
Scary Spice

 

Dear Scary Spice,

I’ve always thought of the editing process as not unlike the TV show Dancing with the Stars. There you are, two people who don’t know one another all that well, tasked with creating some fancy footwork in the hope of walking away with the mirror-ball trophy at the end of the season. The trouble begins when another person shows up to join the dance. Ever try doing the rhumba with three people? It gets awkward. I’m speaking from experience. Dealing­ with an interfering spouse will only chip away at the trust that plays such a pivotal role in the writer/editor relationship.

The good news is that you’re an editor. And edit-ors are folks I like to call “navigational experts.” Every day, you have to deal with stubborn writers. And that means you have to be pretty crafty in order to get them to do what you want. If I were you, I’d start inserting subtle doubts in your writer’s mind about the spouse’s decision-making abilities. Don’t let a brown/black belt-and-shoe combo slip by unnoticed. Make offhand comments like, “Margaret Laurence’s husband thought The Stone Angel should’ve been called Hey! Where’d Hagar Go?” Ask a designer on staff to create a book jacket called Thwarted: How My Spouse Ruined My Novel and leave it on your desk.

If all else fails, remind your writer that unless you’re joining them in the bedroom at night (and don’t let me stop the party if you are), a spouse has no role in the editing process, especially if an invitation hasn’t been extended by the only person entitled to extend it: the editor.

Brian Francis is the author of Natural Order and Fruit. He teaches creative writing­ as part of the International Festival of Authors.

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