IVP - Behind the Books - Our Authors, Ourselves

October 10, 2007

Our Authors, Ourselves

I have what is, apparently, an annoying habit of referring to authors I work with as "my authors." Just last week somebody called me on it. The phrase strikes some as pompous and presumptuous: I don't own these people--I just rent them. Tee hee.

Flipped around, the phrase doesn't seem to carry as much baggage. "My editor" comes across as roughly parallel to such professional relationships as "my broker" or "my attorney" or "my bookie." The relationship is clearly defined by the phrase: they write something, I edit it.

Not so with "my authors." There's something mildly condescending about the phrase, in the same way that referring to adult children as "my babies" is mildly condescending. It doesn't help matters when I occasionally slip into talk of "my stable" of authors, as though this diverse group of human beings with important and intriguing things to say are simply workhorses that I will use till they are no longer useful. Their dignity is subtly degraded and, rather than being first and foremost human beings, they become mere commodities.

It's a tricky business, because in the publishing industry, authors actually are commodities. (A colleague just let me know that Nelson has an employee whose title is "director of branding, Lucado.") In the word game, as I like to call the book business, two things above all others create a market for books: content and author. The content comes from the author, so our job as editors and more broadly as a publisher is to package the content and, by extension, the author for presentation to the marketplace. The publishing process is subtly degraded: we don't meet, engage people in spirited, thoughtful conversation, then help them craft their thinking into prose that will inform a broader audience; we "acquire," "develop," "market" and "sell" them and their ideas to whatever "consumers" will take a bite.

My wife has a similar language problem to mine: as the supervisor of a counseling program, she sometimes refers to the team of people working for her as "my therapists." The uninitiated hear that and surely wonder, How many therapists does this poor woman need? Frankly, I'd rather have my problem than hers, because my linguistic dilemma makes me look important, whereas her linguistic dilemma makes her look neurotic.

In defense of "my authors," I note that I refer to the people who birthed me as "my parents" ("the people who bore me" is probably technically more correct, but that phrase can be misconstrued, and my mom reads this blog; there, that should remove any doubt as to which member of my household is the neurotic one) and the other people they birthed as "my brother" and "my sister." I don't claim to own them or even possess them, and yet they are "mine" nonetheless. Taken together we are all part of "our family," which is perhaps a better, less transactional, more humane way of thinking of my authors and me. I'm reminded of a piece of dialogue in the now-classic film Sixteen Candles: "We're in the parking lot of my church." "You own a church?"

Anyway, don't take it personally, all you authors out there, when I talk about you as though you're a piece of meat, or when I reduce my editorial feedback to simple phrases such as "TYPE MONKEY TYPE!" Trust me, I'm not dehumanizing you; I'm just playing the word game.

Posted by Dave Zimmerman at October 10, 2007 8:39 AM Bookmark and Share


That's okay. You give us free laughs. (Technically an unfair statement since I'm technically not your author but your co-worker's author. Gee, does she mind being called "your co-worker"?)

Comment by: L.L. Barkat at October 10, 2007 3:20 PM

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