Welcome to our Spotlight On week here at the Daily Dose. Last month, I had the great good fortune to interview several book reviewers. I learned a lot from those interviews. This month, we're going to talk to book editors, line editors, copy editors and even a publisher. I asked the questions I wanted to know the answers to and I learned a lot from these fabulous people.
Spotlight On is about learning more about books, publishing and process. Today, we shine the spotlight on David Schlosser from Analects Ink. Schlosser is a writer, editor and communications expert.
Tell us more about yourself. As an author, I love learning new and interesting things about an editor.
I’m a recovering political consultant. I spent the first part of my working life running various kinds of candidate and advocacy campaigns, took my dose of real-world cynicism early, then decided to focus on things less psychologically and morally draining. I’ve been fortunate to live and work all over the USA and work and travel around the world, and always enjoy making a personal, professional, or geographic connection with new friends.
If you have 2 hours free time tonight, what would you rather do? Why?
On a typical, night, I might take my lively wife to dinner at a restaurant we haven’t tried before. If I need a creative boost, I might settle in with a really well written film -- Adaptation, Being There, Blade Runner, Brazil, The Incredibles, Local Hero, and the Toy Story films are some good examples -- or with a really visual book -- I’m a big fan of Dave Stephens and recently discovered Darwyn Cooke, who just published a fantastic visualization of Richard Stark’s The Hunter, and I also find inspiration in design and architecture. If I need to recharge, I might take my e-book reader to the gym and spend an hour on the elliptical trainer reading nonfiction or a new craft book, or re-reading something I really like -- perhaps Graham Greene, A. Conan Doyle, Roald Dahl or E.B. White, or John le Carre. If I’m energetic, I might tackle some writing or revision of my own work -- I’m currently deep into a mystery novel I describe as a dark procedural cozy.
Are you an author turned editor?
I’m that and back again. I think I would have a difficult time being the best possible advisor to my editing clients unless I’m actively engaged in writing, as they are. I make my living writing, editing, consulting with writers about publication strategies, and consulting with authors and other clients on various communications (public relations, web presence and social networking, marketing, advertising, etc.) strategies, so the hat I wear on any particular day depends on what my client needs me to do.
When did you edit your first book?
I self-edited a novel I wrote in my sophomore year of high school, so I guess that probably counts as about 25 years ago. I continued writing after that, and self-edited a few manuscripts into the bottom drawer of my desk during the next several years. I really got back into full-time editing and writing in summer of 2000. It wasn’t too long after that when I had the opportunity to edit Through My Eyes by John Mora, which was published in 2003 and won the Latino Literary Hall of Fame’s Mariposa Award for the best first book by a Latino or Latina author.
Why editing? We often ask other authors what made you start writing, as a book editor, what made you start editing?
The human brain is uniquely tuned to story. We’ve developed a particular acceptance of the conventions of story telling as the most influential way to learn something. I’m passionate about helping writers tell the best story they can because I think it’s the most effective way to communicate, and because so many people have such tremendous stories to tell. Often, with just a little direction, authors can dramatically improve the impact of the story they’re telling; I feel genuine delight when I see a person transform her work because of some consultation I’ve provided.
Share a little bit about the process you go through with an author for line edits?
I think the essential, indispensable first step is to develop a thorough understanding of what the author is trying to accomplish. I think editors do a terrible disservice to lots stories by assuming every author wants to be the next breakout runaway bestselling author like J.K. Rowling or Stephen King. There are conventions that writers can follow if that’s what they want to accomplish, but I think there are lots of stories that deserve to be told without trying to conflate, inflate, bend, spindle, forge, or force them to fit that model.
The second point an editor and author should clarify is how much input the author wants at this point in the process. In my experience, by the time most authors get to the point of working with a professional editor, they are tired of looking at their manuscripts and need a break. The time spent editing offers a great opportunity for an author to refresh his perspective on the manuscript by establishing some temporal and emotional distance; an author will frequently prefer to see all the comments and edits after a couple of mind-clearing weeks, when we can have a conversation about what’s going on in the story and the text with the benefit of new eyes and thinking.
Other authors want more immediate feedback. Either way, though, we arrive at the point at which we have to walk through all the edits, cellular to universal, so the author and I share a mutual understanding of what I mean and why I suggest any particular change.
Copy editing is different from line editing, but do you develop the same rapport with a writer?
I think that, to truly honor the manuscript and the author’s goal for it, you have to approach every step of the writing, editing, design, and publishing processes by acknowledging that the editor cannot succeed without a strong intellectual and emotional connection to the writer. Frankly, editing is too hard to undertake without that rapport -- no writer could pay me enough to edit her manuscript with the care it deserves if I didn’t also care about it.
How can you as an editor help a writer achieve their creative vision?
I recently took an introduction to bonsai class with my wife and experienced an interesting revelation. There are two ways to go about creating bonsai. First, the bonsai artist could choose a plant and then work with it -- work with what exists in nature -- to make that plant the best version of the plant it can possibly become. This is the impression of bonsai we get from watching the delicate snips and tucks in movies and television. Second, the bonsai artist could choose a plant and manipulate it using wire and extensive cutting to create an entirely new version of the plant. This might be more akin to the stereotype of transforming a novel into a screenplay. I think editors can do the same thing with a story: an editor can help a writer make a story the best version of the story it can possibly become, or an editor can twist and invert a story to make it something entirely different.
I approach editing from the perspective that it’s my job to make a story the best possible version of itself. If I approach it from the perspective that I need to bend the story to my will, then I should write that story myself. If the writer wants me to approach his story from the perspective of manipulating it until it becomes something so different from the original that it’s basically a new story, then he should either pay me to ghostwrite the story, or tell a different story.
Is it difficult to not interject your own vision on what the author is doing? How do you walk that fine line?
Only if I develop a true relationship with an author can I invest the time, energy, and attention necessary to understand her vision for the story and the text. Her vision then becomes mine, too, and we can actually collaborate. Only after the author trusts that I share her vision will she be able to accept my consultation and suggestions as an effort to help her realize her goals for the story and the text. Likewise, only when I truly share her vision will I be able to understand why she may resist a particular change. Ultimately, only that shared vision will tell me if it’s time for me to say to the author, “I’m no longer effective as your editor and I should help you find an editor who can more productively help you achieve your vision.”
From my own personal experience, I would say my editor labored lovingly to help produce a better work, do you feel a kinship with each piece you edit?
As I mentioned in the question about line editing, I think an editor has to develop that kind of relationship with a story to honor it as the writer does. In my non-fiction editing, I can occasionally feel a greater distance -- a “just business” kind of relationship -- but the best non-fiction tells a story that’s as compelling as fiction.
What is the best part of editing others?
The delight that comes from an author understanding a strategy, or applying a tactic, to achieve his vision for a story.
What is your pet peeve when you're editing?
Assuming that a first draft is ready for professional editing advice. My goal as an advisor to authors is to help them achieve their writing and publishing goals at as low a cost as possible to an individual author. A first draft will cost considerably more to edit than a second, seventh, or eleventh draft, and that cost will not deliver the true value of collaborating with a professional editor. If you, as an author, are paying an editor to fix simple things that you could fix yourself, you are on the losing side of the 80/20 rule -- in this case, 80% of the fixes are going to be so basic that you’re only going to get 20% of the value of a professional, collaborative relationship. As an author, you want to be on the winning side of the 80/20 rule -- you want to get help on the last 20% of the fixes, because those are the really big ones that are going to deliver the greatest value in an author-editor relationship.
Finally, What is the best piece of advice you can offer an author or aspiring author about the author/editor relationship?
Anyone can claim to be able to edit a manuscript, and you can always find someone who will do it for less than the last estimate you got. It’s up to the author to find an editor who will do justice her story by attending to it with the same care as the author. That requires a relationship more extensive and intensive than asking, “What’s your per-word rate?” As an author, you owe it to yourself to invest the time to find an editor who respects you and your work as much as you do.
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David Schlosser is an award-winning fiction and non-fiction writer and an award-winning editor. His fiction has appeared in Salon magazine and university literary journals. His non-fiction and journalism have run in Business Today magazine, academic and scientific journals, multiple print and online news outlets, and a wide range of industry and trade publications. As a political and public relations consultant and candidate for public office, he has delighted and appalled people around the world through such diverse outlets as The Wall Street Journal and New York Times as well as “Hard Copy” and “Inside Edition.”
A native of Kansas, David went to Trinity University in San Antonio and graduate school at the University of Texas. After living or working in nearly a dozen states, he recently landing in Davidson, North Carolina with his lovely wife and their two elderly dogs. He makes his living as a writer, editor, book producer, and strategic communications advisor who emphasizes the power of story to increase the impact of all forms of communication. Learn more or contact David here.