Faces of Publishing: Kevin Smith, Editor (August, 2012)

Kevin Smith

Kevin Smith

Kevin Smith is a freelance editor, specializing in commercial fiction and nonfiction.  Some of the authorshe’s worked with on a freelance basis are: Alan Jacobson, Stephen J. Cannell, Nevada Barr, Kyle Mills, and C.J. Lyons.
He’s been associated with the publishing industry, in various capacities, for more than twenty years.  Most recently, he was a Senior Editor at Pocket Books, a division of Simon & Schuster, where he worked with, among others,
New York Times bestselling author Matthew Reilly.

Alex C. Telander: When did you know you wanted to become an editor?

Kevin Smith: I started out in publishing in an administrative capacity–assistant to the managing editor of Dell Publishing.  Whereas most managing editors don’t get involved in the editing process, I was fortunate that my boss acquired and edited movie and tv tie-ins, which allowed me to get some editing experience. I was eventually promoted to Managing Editor; my duties, however, were strictly administrative.  A couple of years later I was offered and accepted an editor’s position at Dell, working primarily with health, reference, and crosswords books.

Alex: How did you get started in publishing?

Kevin: Shortly after graduating college, I became friends with the managing editor of Dell Publishing.  This was in the early ’80s.  He offered me a job as his assistant.  At the time, I was working full-time at a bookstore in the World Trade Center, toying with the idea of law school.  Reading Scott Turow’s first book, One L, where he detailed his first year at Harvard Law School, put a damper on that ambition.  Great book.  Scary ordeal, though! So, I accepted the job at Dell.  Adios, legal field!

Alex: What does an ordinary day look like for you?

Kevin: I try to get started by 9am.  I first check email.  I’ll then start with an editing project.  I find that I do my best analytical thinking early in the day.  I try to limit myself to six to eight hours of editing per day.  If I have a project that requires a first read, I’ll do that in the late afternoon or early evening. I’ll work till 8 or 9pm, with breaks for lunch and dinner.

Alex: How many projects are you usually working on at one time?

Kevin: It varies.  The projects are usually in different stages.  I don’t feel overwhelmed as long as I’m not doing a first edit on more than two books simultaneously, though I prefer one at a time.  I suppose, on average, I’ll have three or four things going at any one time.

For instance, right now I’ve just finished the third and final draft of a thriller; I’m in the middle of a second edit on a nonfiction work; I’m a day or two away from beginning a first edit on a men’s adventure thriller; and about a week away from starting what I hope is the final edit of a political thriller.

So, it’s likely that I’ll be juggling three projects next week, with another novel scheduled to head my way two weeks from now.

Alex: How long does it take you to edit the average book?

Kevin: If the author is accessible and not bogged down with other projects or issues, I can usually get to a final draft in six to eight weeks.  It can take longer, though, if considerable developmental editing is required.  That’s rare, though.

Alex: How does the editing process work: do you edit the manuscript and send it back to the author, or do it in parts, or meet and work with the author, or something else?

Kevin: Generally, I’ll read a manuscript a couple of times, then send my edits and comments electronically (in “track changes”) to the author.  Along with my edits, I’ll send a separate file with any larger or global issues I have with the manuscript. The author and I may have conversations about the changes, where we can “spitball” some further ideas.  I’ll subsequently read the author’s revised manuscript and most likely suggest some further enhancements.  A third iteration is then performed with the author and, if all is good, I’ll line edit the manuscript (again, electronically) and send it to the author for approval.  Once I get it back from the author, I give it a final read-through and send it to the publisher, where they’ll start the copyediting process.  For all intents and purposes, my involvement in the process is now finished.

However, if a manuscript is a crash project, meaning the publisher wants to accelerate the process in order to get it in the stores within six months or less, and the author has yet to complete the book, he and I may decide to work on the manuscript in stages–halves or thirds. The author will send me the first half, which I’ll edit while he completes the manuscript.  I’ll send him the edits on the first part when he sends me the second half. This method can be effective when dealing with nonfiction material, but I find it to be problematic with fiction.

Alex: With the Internet and ebooks, what are some of the changes you’ve seen in publishing as an editor in the last five years?

Kevin: Advances in technology have allowed publishers to work with tighter deadlines.  Crash projects seem to be more prevalent.  The editor and author can communicate with each other much more immediately, which compresses the time needed to go from first draft to final manuscript.

The internet has done a lot to help create “instant celebrities” which has increased the public’s demand for celebrity bios.  These books have much shorter shelf lives than the more traditional nonfiction genres. So, I guess you can say that there are a great many more books that come and go very quickly, with little or no backlist activity.

Alex: What are your thoughts on self-publishing?

Kevin: Self-publishing is a viable option for authors with some marketing savvy.  Know this, though:  Going it on your own really means on your own.    You need to be able to target the right media and websites with your ads and blasts, which you will be financing yourself.

However, I still believe if a writer has talent, the more traditional route is the way to go.  Despite the negatives associated with traditional publishing, the truth is they know how to sell their products.  They just concentrate on promoting a rather narrow list of their authors.

Alex: What publishing method do you recommend aspiring writers follow?

Kevin: I’m still a believer in the old-school method:  Take a class or do a workshop.  You can make valuable connections that way. Once you’re comfortable with your manuscript, get yourself an agent. Let him or her do the heavy lifting when dealing with publishers, while you concentrate on making your manuscript the best it can be.  If you need help and you can afford it, hire yourself a freelance editor to further refine your work.

Alex: Have you or are you interested in publishing your own work?

Kevin: I came to realize a long time ago that, while I may be a decent editor, I could never cut it as a writer.  (Those who can, do.  Those who can’t, teach.)

Alex: What do you like to do in your spare time?

Kevin: I read different genres to stay in touch with market trends.  I also work out a lot.  Believe it or not, some of my best ideas have occurred to me while in the middle of a run.

Alex: Where do you see publishing ten years from now?

Kevin: As time goes by, traditional outlets will be less important. With an increase in eBooks, there will be even less brick and mortar stores ten years from now. Even less in twenty-five years, when younger generations that have grown up with the eBook revolution have become the vast majority of the market. Old geezers like me may read eBooks right now, but we still prefer holding a physical book in our hands.

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