Friday, September 07, 2007

Interview: Editor Deborah Brodie...

After three decades working for publishers, Editor Deborah Brodie has hung out her shingle as a freelance editor, working for both publishing houses and writers on varying projects in varying capacities. I've caught up with her to ask about what she's doing--and what she can do for a writer--and to see how things are going in her life as a freelancer.

Writers interested in contacting Deborah should email a description of your manuscripts and some sense of what you think your work together might be to:

What is your new "title"--are you a freelance editor? a book doctor? (What do your new business cards say?!)
I thought a lot about what to put on my new business cards, as my job description is now amazingly varied. As a freelancer, I'm editing books for all ages, even fiction for adults-I worked on several adult books years ago at Penguin, including The Eyes of the Dragon by Stephen King.

I'm also leading writers' retreats and staff-development workshops; being a book doctor; speaking at conferences; teaching creative writing and mentoring MFA students. My clients include small and large publishers, as well as literary agents and individuals.

But what I ended up putting on the card is truly who I am: "Editor of Books for Children and Teens."

What services can you offer writers? What types of books for young readers will you work on? And what freelance work are you doing for publishers?
As a book doctor, I try to make it clear that, while I obviously cannot guarantee that our work together will result in their book being published, I can help individual writers take their work to the next level by giving detailed comments and direction.

I can work with the author through several rounds of intensive revising. In some situations, though, it makes more sense to do light editing and provide a phone consultation-really a one-on-one tutorial about the field of children's books and how the writer can find a place there.

For publishers, I'm working on books that will definitely be published, and some want me to step in for one or two early stages. Others want me to take over completely and work directly with the author, provide jacket copy and marketing support materials, and oversee the book through most of the production process.

The range of books is the same as when I worked on-staff at a publishing house: from deceptively simple picture books for toddlers to humorous, family-centered middle grade novels, to sex-and-violence teen fiction, with a touch of nonfiction--all literary and/or commercial.

You worked for Viking for more than 20 years and spent six years or so at Roaring Brook. What's it like for you living the freelance life?
When I first left Roaring Brook, I immediately started to look for fulltime work in another publishing house. Editors, publishers and agents kept sending me freelance projects, unsolicited, and two major publishers said they'd like to turn over projects to me, as a freelance editor, that would include working directly with the authors. As long as I can work directly with authors--the juicy, delicious part of being an editor--I'm happy. I worked from a home office for the last six years, so I'm all set up and have already proven how productive and professional such an arrangement can be. I just didn't expect to enjoy it this much and to be so comfortable with such a fluid structure.

So this is no longer an interim arrangement for me, it's my new work life-and I love every varied and meaningful minute of it!

Over the years have you noticed common mistakes writers make? Are there two or three things you'd advise them not to do?
That's an interesting question, Alice. Much of the strengthening of a manuscript takes place in cutting out didactic passages, encouraging writers to know their characters so well that actions and emotions are credible and the point of view makes sense. It really comes down to trusting your reader enough to not spell out every detail and, of course, to be willing to revise, revise, revise.

Why (or at what point) should a writer consider working with a book doctor or a freelance editor? Can it help a manuscript shine more brightly from the slush pile?
"Shine more brightly" is a great phrase and, yes, it can. The help of an experienced book doctor can make enough difference to inspire a publisher to actually acquire the book. Or for an agent to decide to take on the writer as a client or, if the writer is already a client, decide that the manuscript or dummy is now ready to submit to publishers.

Because I enjoy teaching so much, I'm also happy to talk to writers at a very early stage and give general comments on voice, audience, format, career planning and marketing.

The goal in all these situations is to bring the material to a higher level and also give the writer tools to use for the next book.

Are there important questions a writer should ask a freelance editor going in?
Any question that clarifies the expectations on both sides is a good question. It's crucial to define the parameters of the work. Will I be giving detailed notes throughout the manuscript, plus an editorial letter about strong points and specific suggestions for parts that need strengthening, plus phone and email access as needed, followed by a second round with light copyediting and editorial polishing? Or more general comments and no revising?

All financial arrangements must be clear before the work even begins. I charge a project fee for intensive editorial work and an hourly fee for consultations, with half up front, and usually ask to see the material to determine the extent of the work before quoting a fee. Then, if we decide to work together, we set up a schedule (and I keep the author informed if, for some reason, I need more time).

You've said that you're a better editor because you're not a writer--will you comment on that?
The urge to write is so compelling that an editor who writes usually becomes a writer who edits. I don't want to create something from scratch, I want to help someone else do that and stretch and grow and do even better work.

I give away ideas to people who can write, never holding on to them for myself. I try to work with writers the way they need to work, to fit their personal style (do they need a deadline, for example? OK, I'll make one up. Are they paralyzed by deadlines? OK, let's pretend we have all the time in the world. Do they need to talk out every detail before beginning or do they just generally want to know I'm there?)

Also, over a 30-year period, I've developed different ways of pulling out potential, tricks for overcoming writers block, and writing exercises for moving along. There are almost as many ways of approaching writing as there are writers, and the writers I've worked with have taught me so much.