While Vern Associates seldom hires a writer, we frequently are called upon to recommend one (or more) to a client. Briefly, this process calls for us to review our author database in search of writers with appropriate background and experience for the job at hand. We may also launch into further research to find additional candidates to fit the bill. We compile dossiers of text samples and CVs, prepare a précis of our selection to spell out strengths—perhaps weaknesses—of the exemplars, then pass all this information along to our client. Once they have reviewed the material, we confer with them to help choose just the right writer for the publication.
Pretty straightforward, isn't it? Actually, no. Each step entails its own peculiar balancing act. If only it were as simple as matching writer with subject. Instead, at each juncture we must negotiate the twists and turns that typically intervene. Up to a point, you could compare what we do to the work of a matchmaker of yore. Dolly Levi had to sense the presence of a "chemistry" that would propel a couple into matrimony. Our kind of matchmaking may not be geared toward such a long-lasting pairing, but at least one of the partners (our client) had better be completely at ease with their new, albeit temporary, mate. So let's look at the considerations we face.
First, selecting candidates from our writer database can be a tricky game of maybe-yes/maybe-no. Even though this resource is searchable by subject area, that's only one of the parameters we need to match. Every publication (and/or client) dictates its own peculiar set of writing qualities. For example, Art Book A may be pitched to readers who demand a refined prose style, while Corporate History B may be better suited to writing that features a just-the-facts concision. I recall a project that called for both a fair amount of polish and wide-based research. We had just the person for the former, but her portfolio held nothing that demonstrated what she could do in terms of in-depth research. On top of that, subject-wise all her samples were diametrically opposed to that of the manuscript-to-be. What to do? Present this writer's clips, explain why we consider her a good fit, and hope our client will see our point (rather than wonder if we really "got" the project)? Or pass her over for another writer with subject expertise and research abilities whose lack of literary flair was likely to entail significant editorial intervention?
The Internet has made finding potential writers infinitely easier than it was a few years ago. But the "embarrassment of riches" it offers is exceedingly complex and time consuming to navigate. Locating candidates with suitable credentials is the easy part; then the vetting begins. Have they ever written—can they handle—book-length manuscripts? Someone with dozens of magazine and journal articles to his or her credit may not possess the organizational skill needed to structure a long-form manuscript or the staying power to complete it on schedule. The reverse could be true of the author of books asked to prepare an essay. I recall (anything but fondly) receiving a 42,000-word manuscript for what were to have been two essays totaling 17,500 words. The author delivered it one week past deadline on his way to board the plane that would whisk him off to China, where he would be incommunicado for three weeks. Upon his return, he was anything but pleased with the "trim" I had no choice but to perform.
Finally, it may be next to impossible to determine up front what sort of personality and work habits a hitherto unknown writer brings to her work, but it must be carefully considered in order for the blend of client, author, and book producer to gel. It is a bonus for an editor to work with a relatively low-maintenance author, of course, and even editorial relationships with "difficult" writers can be comfortably managed. But it is crucial is that the client feels fully comfortable with the match, even though they may not have much direct interaction with the writer. This is, after all, their book, and it is our client—much more than the writer—who must live and work with the results over the long haul. Recently, for example, I heard about a project in which a corporate client insisted on switching writers in midstream because it didn't hold with what it discovered about the writer's political affiliations. Free speech and similar considerations aside, it would have been best for all concerned to have known about such issues up front, before the courtship began.