Today our guest is
Deborah Brodie, one of the best and most successful book doctors in the children's book business. Deborah cofounded the Roaring Brook Press imprint for the Millbrook Press and was an executive editor for Viking's Chilren's Books. She started her own consulting firm in June 2007.
Helen, first let me thank you for providing a forum for discussing this topic. You are right to say that more and more writers are relying on a freelancer to help get their manuscript in shape before they submit to an agent or editor, even if they are established and have already been well-published.
When I first began to freelance, I assumed that most of my work would come directly from publishers. After all, I’d been a working children’s book editor and creative writing teacher for 30 years, and I already knew most editors and publishers. Not so. Most of my referrals come from the 29 literary agents on my client list. The second source is individuals who find me through my teaching and workshops or, very often, through my website: http://deborahbrodie.com
In this economic climate, there are now fewer in-house editors and they are all under pressure to produce more books--and for those books to be more commercial. An agent, who shall go nameless, sent a middle grade novel to a respected editor at a major publishing house, who brought it to an editorial meeting last month. The editor presented the book and its debut author as full of potential, but added that the manuscript needed a lot of revising. She was told that she is “too senior to spend so much time editing” and that she should turn it down.
The agent asked me to work with the author to revise and polish, which we are happily in the process of doing (the author, not the agent pays me). The agent believes that, if they resubmit the novel in a more finished form, not only will we increase the chances of that publisher (or another one) buying the book, but also that the author will get a larger advance.
I can’t promise that a manuscript will be published at all, but I coach both established and new writers, encouraging them to experiment with genre, age group and voice--always moving toward our shared goal of making their work more publishable. No guarantees, of course, but we can have a productive, ongoing conversation about important ways of strengthening the manuscript.
And as Jennie Dunham of Dunham Literary, Inc., said to me—in a different context—about harried editors today,
“When a manuscript takes their breath away on the first read, they open their wallets wide.”
Deborah, how do you work with potential clients?
If the manuscript is at a preliminary stage, I will work with the author from the beginning—offering a consultation to brainstorm and talk generally about characterization, plot, pacing, voice, descriptions, credibility, dialogue, openings and endings, chapter divisions, segues, audience, and marketability. For that, I charge a reading/preparation fee, plus my hourly rate of $200 for the consultation itself.
If the manuscript is ready for an in-depth line-edit, I offer several possible arrangements for one or more rounds of revising. I provide a marked manuscript and editorial letter for in-depth editorial work (as opposed to a consultation, which involves no written comments). Occasionally, the author and I decide on a formal commitment to work until we are both satisfied that the text is ready for submission. In that scenario (a higher-priced one), which one of my clients so elegantly calls the “all-you-can-eat” option, I provide virtually unlimited access by email or phone, and I don’t look at the clock.
In all these instances, we work by email and phone. If the author will come to my neighborhood in New York City, we also meet in person.
In the screenwriting business, a writer works with both an agent and a manager. The manager works exclusively with the screenwriter on creative, editorial kinds of tasks to make the screenplay polished and ready to sell. The agent then does the sales effort. The agent and editor split a 20% commission. Do you ever see the publishing world moving to this model? It seems to work really well in Hollywood!
What an interesting idea! The children’s book field generally follows trends in publishing for adults--we certainly have in terms of an emphasis on front list (the most recently published titles) and the short shelf-life of fiction. Maybe Hollywood is next. If so, like all changes, I’m certain it will have pluses and minuses.
Deborah's web site offers plenty of resources for writing as well as information about the classes she teaches in the New York City area. Thanks, Deborah for talking with us today. Tomorrow, we'll get our agents' points of view with Erin Murphy and Emily van Beek.