Monday, August 19, 2013

Harold Underdown, Editor


Last year, I met Harold Underdown at the NE-SCBWI Conference. We're also Facebook friends (which means we're TIGHT). Since he's been a part of so many facets of publishing, I thought he'd be a great person to interview on my blog. 


Harold, thanks for agreeing to be interviewed.

Theresa, thanks for the interview request!


On your website The Purple Crayon http://www.underdown.org/ it states:

I'm a children's book editor, working as a consulting or independent editor and writing teacher. Previously, I was Vice President and Editorial Director at ipicturebooks. Before that, I was editorial director of the Charlesbridge trade program, and have also worked at Orchard Books and Macmillan.

I am the author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Publishing Children's Books, now in its third edition. I give workshops through Kid's Book Revisions. I speak at conferences, provide editorial services to publishers and authors, and maintain this web site.

I see you switched from working in some high-level editorial positions for some traditional publishing companies to becoming an independent editor. How did the change come about?

Like many editors who go into independent work, it wasn’t something I chose to do. Most folks go independent after being laid off or because a spouse has to move out of NYC. In my case, the company I was working for, ipicturebooks, ran out of funding—we were a children’s ebook company in 2000, years before there was a viable market.

Also like many editors who go independent, I found that there many aspects to working independently that I liked, which I’ll comment on later in response to one of your other questions. I’ve been able to make a go of it long-term by having a “day job” as an editor at McGraw-Hill Education.


Do you miss anything about working for a publishing house? If so, what?

I do miss the process of finding and acquiring books, and connected to that I also miss working on books from start to finish, since many of my projects involve one pass of editing or a critique only.

Having said that, I do stay in touch with clients after a project and it’s satisfying to hear about manuscripts I worked on being signed up and published.


What exactly does an independent editor do for a writer?

I do a number of different things, depending on the project and the needs of the author. Some people have a first draft that needs a critique. Some people have a more finished draft but want a developmental edit.  In both cases, I’m helping people get their manuscript closer to publishable, and/or improve their writing skills.

I also work as a consulting editor, helping someone self-publishing with their book, or with publishers, standing in for an in-house editor and helping to complete an acquired manuscript.

You can find some more information about services here: http://www.underdown.org/pced.htm

I also give workshops on writing and revision, both on my own and with my colleague Eileen Robinson. At those I also give writers feedback on individual manuscripts, but in the context of learning writing and revision techniques that they can apply to other manuscripts.


What is the best part of being an independent editor?

Hearing that my comments or edits have helped someone move forward! I work hard to support writers in moving to the next stage and so I strive to do more than say what’s wrong with a manuscript. I try to get inside the manuscript and understand where the author wants to go with it, and then tell them what they need to do to get there. It’s always satisfying to hear that I succeeded.


Your website is a wonderful resource for writers and illustrators. How did you develop the site? Did you see a need that needed to be filled?

My website, http://www.underdown.org/, goes back to 1996, when the Web was just getting started. At the time, I used it to post copies of articles and talks so that they could reach a wider audience. I soon realized that there WAS a need for the kind of information I provided, and I added material over the years.

Now, of course, there are many websites with information about children’s publishing, but 15 years ago that wasn’t true.


How did you get involved with The Complete Idiot’s Guide series?

They contacted me, after finding me through The Purple Crayon. They do a lot of their books by deciding there is a market for a particular topic, and then going out and finding an expert to write the book. They have quite a system! The author gets a detailed guide, creates a detailed outline, and then produces the chapters, working entirely electronically. We went from contract to completed manuscript in less than 9 months. I joke that the “complete idiot” of the title is me, for not saying “no” when I learned what was involved in writing the book. Fortunately, the revised editions have not been as stressful as the first.

If anyone wants to learn more about my book and see some sample chapters, they should go here: http://www.underdown.org/cig.htm





44 comments:

  1. This is a fascinating inside look at a job I know too little about. Thank you, Teresa, for hosting, and thank you, Harold, for sharing.

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  2. Thanks Theresa, for the intro to Harold! Enjoyed the interview!

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  3. I bet it's satisfying working directly with an author and seeing them go on to success.

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  4. I've decided independent editors RULE. Reading all that material, doing it FAST, and having to make it a bang up job on every read through? What can I say. Editors deserve a round a cheese.

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    1. Ahem, and I'm back to deliver a blog award. ;)

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  5. So interesting! Thanks for the inside look! :)

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  6. Its great to met Harold! I'm off to check out his link.

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  7. I've always been impressed with The Purple Crayon site. SO helpful! It cool to get to know more about Harold Underdown. I'm all kinds of impressed you know him, Theresa! :)

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  8. Wonderful interview! Being an independent editor sounds like challenging but rewarding work. It's so neat that the position involves so many aspects of the book process - writing/editing the manuscript, consulting, acquisition, etc.

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  9. He sounds like a considerate and most wonderful editor!! I feel the manuscripts that pass through his hands have an even better chance of making it! Yay! Thank you Theresa for this interview! Lovely to meet you, Harold! Take care
    x

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  10. How exciting to have Mr. Underdown on your blog, Theresa! I really liked reading what he had to say about his job as an editor. Very interesting.

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  11. Terrific interview. It's fascinating how things come about. I'll be checking out his site later today. Thanks for hosting.
    ~Summer

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  12. Neat interview! I've visited his website several times in the past few years, so it's nice to see a familiar "face", so to speak. Very interesting!

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  13. So awesome you got to meet Harold. I loved learning more about what his editorial services entail. He certainly is a well-known person in the writing community and I bet he'd be a great editor to hire.

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  14. Hi Theresa,
    Thanks for sharing the experiences of a prolific editor.
    Well done!
    Keep inform
    Best Regards
    Phil

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  15. Thank you, Harold and Theresa! I certainly have visited The Purple Crayon for info, and I own Harold's book! :)

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  16. Thanks for the interview, Theresa and Harold!

    Editing sounds like an ever-changing field, and I know that freelance editors are used even in the big houses. My most recent book was copy-edited by one in-house editor and one freelance editor. It's always great to have more eyes on a manuscript!

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  17. I've seen the Complete Idiots Guides and wondered how those work. They tend to be full of useful information.

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  18. Interesting interview! I don't know a lot about independent editors, but it's interesting to read about the different aspects of the publishing business; that's one reason I value blogging.

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  19. Wow, thanks for the interview! I'm bookmarking the links. I believe it takes an extraordinary person to do what Mr. Underdown does. How fortunate that writers have people like him to help them through the process!

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  20. Fascinating interview. It's nice to hear from someone in editing/publishing who wasn't dragged kicking and screaming into the internet age. And clearly the benefit of having an editor who is working for you, the writer, rather than for a publisher, is a huge advantage.

    VR Barkowski

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  21. Interesting interview. I remember seeing Harold at a SCBWI conference. He has s a wealth of information.

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  22. Hi Theresa and Harold. What a great, informative interview. Anyone who knows me knows how nuts I am about editing - DOWN WITH UNEDITED BOOKS! is my mantra, so I was thrilled to hear what Harold has to say. Editing services cost money, but unless we cough up the dosh, our books will usually look amateurish unless we are simply oozing with sparkly talent.

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  23. What great work he does! I'm bookmarking his website.Thanks, Theresa and Harold!

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  24. Fabulous interview! I believe editors are often the unsung heroes.

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  25. I hope the independent editing market treats you well. Lay offs and shut downs are never easy.

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  26. Great interview. Interesting to hear from an independent editor ;)

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  27. Great interview. Editing sounds like a fascinating job to me, although I'm not sure if I'd ever be able to do it. :-)

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  28. I love hearing of people who rebound after a company closes or loses funding. Very inspirational.

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  29. Hey Theresa! It's been a while. Hope you're doing well. Thanks for sharing information about Harold Underdown. What an icon.

    -Vicki

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  30. hey harold!!! so awesome to meet people that help to inspire us!

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  31. Thanks, everyone! I appreciate the kind words. And I appreciate Theresa's questions--I don't often get asked about what I do.

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  32. Great interview, Theresa. I enjoyed learning more about Harold Underdown. I have visited The Purple Crayon from time to time, but now it's one of my bookmarks.

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  33. Hi Theresa .. how fabulous that you and Harold were able to meet up and connect so well. This is a great read with many snippets of useful and interesting information ...

    Cheers to you both .. Hilary

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  34. Thanks so much Theresa, I checked all the links. Some fabulous information.

    Thanks Harold for a great interview and all the wonderful information.

    Nas

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  35. Great interview, Theresa! Hmm, might have to pick up that Idiot's guide for myself! Helps to get to "know" the author :-)

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  36. Wonderful interview, Theresa! I didn't realize Harold worked at Charlesbridge...I wonder if he knew Randi Rivers. (So cool that you met him!)

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    1. Yes, he used to live right near me. I don't know Randi Rivers.

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  37. Great interview. I'm glad to get to know Harold and his work a little better.

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  38. It sounds like such a fascinating and rewarding job.

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  39. Theresa thanks for having Harold as your guest. I really enjoyed reading about his work.
    Hope you have a great weekend
    Maggie

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  40. Thanks for the interview, it was great to read :)

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  41. Nice to meet you, Harold. I really enjoyed this interview, especially your breakdown of how and what you edit depending on the needs of the writer.

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