Continuing to sing the praises of some of the unsung heros of publishing, I bring to you today an interview with my friend Stephanie Rische, who is a senior editor at Tyndale House Publishers. Stephanie works mainly with nonfiction–so that includes memoirs, inspirational books, devotionals, Bible studies, etc. I love that fact that she loves her work so much. Below, Stephanie answers some questions I asked her about her own process of editing and how it works at Tyndale.
How long have you been working as an editor?
I’ve been at Tyndale House for almost a dozen years now. Before I started here full time, I edited curriculum on a freelance basis. I started out as a copy editor at Tyndale, and now I’m a senior editor, working with authors at a developmental level and managing one of our nonfiction teams. I wake up every morning marveling that God would allow me to read books for a living!
You generally edit nonfiction, but do you ever cross over into fiction? In your opinion, how familiar does an editor need to be in a genre in order to edit it well?
I love to read just about anything, but I edit nonfiction (memoir, devotional books, Christian living, children’s Bible storybooks, etc.). I think the best training to be a good editor is to read good writing. Part of your job as an editor isn’t solely to work on the manuscript in front of you; it’s also to do background reading in the genre you edit in so you know what readers are expecting, what the competition is doing, and what makes your manuscript stand out.
Give us a sense of your career path. Did you always know you wanted to do this job? Did you prepare for it in college, or did other circumstances lead you where you are today?
I have always loved to read. I remember missing my bus stop in second grade because my nose was in a book. I didn’t know much about editing until later in life, but in a sense I was being prepared for it through my love of books and writing and words in general. I’m not sure if this was a direct part of my career path, but I’ve always been a noticer. I enjoy observing and exploring, whether it’s little grammar details or big ideas.
In terms of my education, I received a strong foundation in English and writing from Taylor University, and then I taught English for several years. There’s nothing that solidifies your understanding of grammar and writing techniques like having to explain it to a roomful of teenagers who would rather be dong something else!
At Tyndale House, what is the process for acquiring manuscripts, and at what point do you receive the manuscript to begin your work?
At Tyndale the manuscript comes to me after the contract has been signed. In some companies, editors acquire and do developmental editing, but here those two roles are separated. There are advantages to each approach–the consistency is helpful when those roles are combined, but I appreciate that the division here allows me to be more of a purist about the editing process–to be devoted to the content and what’s best for the manuscript without having to weigh the financial and contractual side of things.
What is your process for editing? When a new manuscript lands on your desk, what tools do you gather and then what steps do you take to go from A to Z?
First, I do a manuscript review and make a plan for editing. At that point I talk to the team that acquired the manuscript and make sure we’re all in agreement about the vision for the book as we move forward. The next step is to meet the author (usually over the phone) and let him or her know what the editing process will look like. Depending on how much work the manuscript needs, I’ll go through it two more times–once to make the big-picture, structural edits, and once more to fine-tune and make line edits. It’s a funny thing about the way the brain is wired–it’s almost impossible to do the more creative, right-brained edits at the same time as the analytical, left-brained work. When I’m finished, I’ll send it on to a copy editor, who will do the fact checking and take a close look at the grammar and spelling.
Do you generally work back and forth with the author? What are the guidelines or expectations for that process—that is, do you always have to defer to the author or how much can you, as editor, press your point?
The back-and-forth process with authors is one of my favorite parts of editing. When people find out I’m an editor, they sometimes ask, “How do you decide who wins: you or the author?” But I don’t see the author/editor relationship as an adversarial one; it’s more of a collaboration. Both parties have the same goal: to make the book the best it can be. I marvel at how often the collaborative process of editing produces a third way–a solution that’s better than what the author or the editor would have come with individually. As an editor, I have the privilege of shaping and sharpening someone’s story, and it’s a responsibility I don’t take lightly.
For my students who are learning editing and want to eventually work in a publishing house, what would you tell them is the most important skill to acquire in their preparation so they can hit the ground running when the arrive in an editorial department for an internship or a job?
- Read a lot, and read widely.
- Read critically. As you read, be aware of what’s happening under the surface. Are there parts you’re tempted to skim? If so, why? If you’re hooked, what has the author done to make that happen?
- Learn the basics. Even if you want to do higher-level editing, those grammatical building blocks will help you understand language in a deeper way.
Any favorite books about editing? What has been most helpful?
- Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss
- On Writing Well by William Zinsser
- Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
- Chicago Manual of Style
Anything else you want to add?
In his memoir On Writing, Stephen King offers these words of thanks to his editor: “One rule of the road not directly stated elsewhere in this book: ‘The editor is always right.’ The corollary is that no writer will take all of his or her editor’s advice; for all have sinned and fallen short of editorial perfection. Put another way, to write is human, to edit is divine.” His words are a bit tongue in cheek, but there is some truth in the idea that editing is a divine practice. As editors, we have a high calling to take someone else’s words and be part of that mysterious process of iron sharpening iron.