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