Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Editorial Department - An Interview with Andy Meisenheimer and Renni Browne

The publishing industry is not for the faint of heart. It's an industry on the move, always shifting, morphing. It's one of the reasons why we love it so much. And why it's good to find resources that have the author's interests at heart. Today, we'd like you to meet TED. The Editorial Department is publishing's oldest full-service freelance editorial firm with a longstanding reputation for candor, integrity, and overall excellence. What sets us apart from others in our field is our 30 years in the business, our high rate of success with conventionally published first fiction, our literary agent matchmaking program, and our commitment to candid, respectful, practical feedback from experienced editors with a proven track record of success. Our old friend, Andy Meisenheimer is back to tell us about it, and he's brought a friend!

Thanks for having me back, Bonnie and crew. Things have definitely changed for me since I was last here. I’m a free agent now, editing for publishers, other companies and individuals, and dabbling in a few new things as well.

How is freelance editing different than your previous position as an in-house acquisitions editor?

First off, there’s no gray cubicle. My corner office has a wide oak desk my grandpa used to own, a loveseat my dogs like to curl up on, my best friend’s drumset (I take ten minute breaks and play along with Mates of State), bright blue paint, soft carpet, and a big fat wall of whiteboard material I picked up at Home Depot for cheap. Granted, I get plenty of stomping from the four-year-old in the family room above me, and a dog who sits outside my window attempting to kill a squirrel solely through the power of his voice, but it’s totally groovy.

I think you meant, how is the editing work different, right?

It’s probably not all that different. Circumstances have changed, but the situation’s still the same: there’s a manuscript, and it needs to be better. It’s my job to help the author make it better. I still see manuscripts at all different stages—even though I’m not in-house, I’m still working on some that go straight to copyediting before getting published traditionally. One thing is definitely different: variety. I’m working on a much wider variety of genres, and I’m working on books that are going to get published in a much wider variety of places.

Is your approach to editing the same?

Because I’m working on a lot of different types of manuscripts at different stages of the process, I’ve had to learn to adapt my editing style significantly. This can be hard at times, but it’s great in the end—I’m learning more skills and tools that I can apply in different situations as the manuscript or client calls for it. Which means, I hope, that I’m becoming a better editor as a result.

My approach to publishing is also different. Being a freelancer also has its advantage in this time of change in the industry. I don’t have to worry about organizational restructuring. I don’t have to worry about the decline of print. In fact most news of change in publishing is good for me, because it means more opportunities for the independent editor, the independent writer, and the independent publisher. As a free agent, I can adapt to changes much quicker. The possibilities are only increasing.

How do your individual clients find you?

I am terribly proud to do most of my individual client work through The Editorial Department or TED, a freelance editorial firm founded in 1980 by Renni Browne. I also get referrals from publishers and agents who know me from my in-house days and have prospective authors and clients who need help, and I get some people stumbling across, but on my website I’m directing people to approach me through TED. There’s a lot of advantages for both editor and writer in working with TED.

What’s your availability like?

Right now I’m surprised at how booked I am. I think I’m solid for the next eight weeks or so. But I don’t think I’ll always be that busy. Current clients get precedent over new clients, though, so waiting in the queue has its advantages in the long run.

TED is about being “highly personalized”. What does that mean to a potential client? What can they expect?

The worst thing you can do to your manuscript is give it to someone who is going to slap some generic rules on it and declare it critiqued. The advantage to TED is that we treat each manuscript on its own terms, evaluating it against the conventions and latest trends of its genre and applying guidelines of the craft as they serve to make the manuscript better. We also have the freedom to create customized services for you at TED, so if there’s something your manuscript needs that isn’t covered by our current service offerings, that’s not going to stop us from helping you. We’ll just create something that fits your needs exactly.

The other advantage to TED is that we’re all different in our editorial styles and strengths, and there’s no

effort to make us impersonal or detached. The editor-author relationship is vital to a manuscript’s success. If one of my authors from my days as an in-house editor came to me through TED, they wouldn’t find the experience much different than before. Except maybe I’d be happier. And smarter. And they’d have to pay me.

At what stage in a manuscript do you prefer to start talking with a client?

It’s always nice to have a full manuscript to deal with. But I’m happy being a part of any stage of a manuscript where I can help. I have at least two clients with partial manuscripts.

Does TED take on everyone?

We try to help everyone we can. But there are times when a client isn’t ready for editorial feedback.

I asked Renni Browne, founder of TED, to stop by too, let you ask her a few questions about TED. Renni has been editing for over forty-eight years. She is co-author of Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, the bestselling title on editing, now in its fifth printing and second edition from HarperCollins.

Renni, you started TED in 1980. What prompted you to launch this company?

I'd been an editor in mainstream publishing since the mid-sixties and knew publishers were doing less and less editing on the books they brought out—or were rejecting good books just because they needed editing. The vacuum was widening and I knew the time-consuming process of working closely with writers didn't fit the new publishing landscape. A company of experienced editors could help fill the vacuum.

Who should hire a TED editor?

Writers who take their work seriously and want candid, professional help.

We often hear about the art of crafting excellent fiction, but there is art in editing, yes?

Absolutely. A good editor is highly creative in responding to the challenges of a manuscript. Two examples: the editor looks for opportunities to increase its impact on the reader and makes suggestions to the author. And at the line editing stage, any change the editor suggests is in the voice of the author, not the editor.

You mention the decline of in-house editing. There seems to be a shift in publishing where more of the effort of both writing and marketing are falling on the shoulders of the writer. You seem to be saying that the editing of their work falls on them as well.

This is the reality of the publishing landscape today. Huge numbers of published writers, including ones that hit the bestseller list every year, hire their own editors. Many writers who are fortunate enough to have editors at their publishers who give them feedback still hire their own editors. Agents and publishers say they want "pre-edited" manuscripts. And as I've often said, really good writers still need editing. Your book is your child, and who among us can be 100% objective about our own offspring?

Would you advise an author to work with an in-house publisher and an editorial service like TED?

Certainly. Right now I'm working with a writer to help her meet her publisher's deadline. It's her second novel, and once her editor there sees it she's undoubtedly have some suggestions. (This author is one of the lucky ones.) But what she's seeing will be the very best manuscript the author can produce. Which, of course, is very much to her advantage in all sorts of ways.

I’ve heard literary agents report that in 2009 they have seen increases in queries up to 300%. Have you seen an increase in the number of writers trying to enter the marketplace in the last number of years? If yes, to what do you attribute the influx?

Yes, more are taking the leap. The expansion of self-publishing--and the fact that self-published books look better, cost less to produce, and are taken more seriously--has encouraged more writers, to judge by how many approach The Editorial Department.

TED offers more than editing services. One program that caught my eye was the Agent Matchmaking Program.

Agent Matchmaking is something we offer an author whose manuscript after editing is clearly publishable, something we think at least one of the many, many agents we deal with might like to represent. Agents trust our submissions because we only send them strong, marketable manuscripts. We have one full-time staff member whose only job is to make these matches, and several of us (including me) also get involved in getting an author's manuscript into the hands of a top literary agent.

TED has a blog and an E-zine as well as a website. It seems you’re generous with the information and help you offer for free. Isn’t it risky to give away so much content?

I like this question, because I've written some of the freebies! It's a big web site, and we try to make it as writer-friendly as possible. A lot of our writers hang out at the site for a while and then eventually decide to hire us--maybe just for the $35 critique of their opening. If they do that, they nearly always send the full manuscript in for Evaluation or Annotation. And sure we want to make money, but we also really want to help writers, most definitely including first-timers. And think about this: the more they know, the better for us once they submit.

Thank you Renni and Andy for stopping in today. You've pointed out some of the challenges of the industry today, but you've brought us energy and hope as well. We appreciate the advice and wisdom you've shared.

How about you, faithful reader? What take-away did you get from the interview? Are you feeling overwhelmed as a writer, or revved for the challenge? Do any of you have experiences with editing you'd like to share? We'd love to hear them! As always, this is a community - and we want to hear from everyone!


Wendy Paine Miller said...

Fantastic, detailed interview. I read every word carefully.

I agree, the last thing I want is someone to slap some generic rules on my ms. I can tell Andy and Renni take their jobs as editors seriously and devote great energy and wisdom into each ms.

~ Wendy

Nicole said...


Nancy Williams, LPC said...

Very helpful information. Thanks for posting this.

Bonnie Grove said...

I think one of the benefits of an editorial service like this is they can talk to you about marketability. Not that every novel should be an easy fit into the market, but often, writing in isolation with only ourselves to guide us, it helps to gain a perspective of what's going on out there and how we can help our writing by understanding marketable aspects of our stories.

Patti Hill said...

You've brought up a great point, Bonnie. There's always that tenuous balance in the mind of an artist between art and marketability. You couldn't ask for a more learned eye than the folks at TED. I wish I'd known about them sooner. Thanks for introducing us!