“It’s about creating the very best version of your story”: An interview with Harrison Demchick
It’s good to see indies and traditional authors brought together on what really unites them: the story, the craft, and offering great content to readers. And editors have a big part in that, one that is often untold. This is why we like to give them a spot on the Reedsy blog.
Today, we interview one of these authors’ unsung heroes: a developmental editor. With 10 years experience both in-house and freelance, Harrison Demchick is one of the great editors we have brought to Reedsy, and one of our very first users. Plus, he has a great story to tell! For the lovers of the written word, I’ve transcribed most of it below. But for those who want to take part in the discussion, you can directly join us on the hangout!
Hi Harrison, good to have you here. You’re “the world’s most thorough content editor”, according to your Reedsy profile. Did you start out as a content editor or more as a copy editor or proofreader?
At the time I started, I didn’t know the distinctions yet. When I was in high school and college I was doing copy-editing for several magazines or newspapers but when I started working in publishing, the publisher just gave me a manuscript and told me to “edit it”, and for me that inherently involved both the copy and the content.
From the very first Summer I began in publishing (2005), I’ve been doing content (developmental) editing. It just took some time before I knew the formal term that was ascribed to it.
Do you accept to work with authors who come to you with an unfinished draft? Or is there a particular at which you prefer authors to contact you (first draft, third draft, etc.)?
Generally I do prefer working with a finished draft, that makes it much easier to provide overall feedback, especially when it comes to story or character arch, climax, etc. But as far as as polished that draft needs to be, I feel I can be very useful anytime from the first draft on. I personally like going through the whole developmental edit process and provide feedback relatively early, if not right after the first draft, so that the author is able to know what they need to do and have a plan of attack for the next draft.
If you start working with an author on the first draft, generally how long does it take for you and the author to reach the final manuscript stage?
Well that depends a lot on the context and how long I’m staying with a project. When in traditional publishing I was with a project from start to finish and that could be a process that could last anywhere from 6 months to two years, to make sure that the books that we put out were as strong as they possibly could be.
On the freelance side it depends a lot on the author and their direction. I love to stick to projects when I can: I start with a developmental edit and do a smaller consultation afterwards. And if I look at when books happen to be published rather than when I’m finished working on them, it still often ends up being more than a year after we start.
Obviously it really comes down in the end to how quickly and effectively the author works, and what they want from me afterwards.
As you have worked both in-house for a publisher and freelance, do you see any big differences in how you work with authors in both cases?
The differences, in my opinion, are not necessarily that vast. Well, the big difference for me as far as what I get to do for a living, is that I now get to focus entirely on the editing, and that’s one of the reasons I chose to go freelance. But as far as the authors, I work with both with authors who plan to self-publish and with authors who plan to start contacting publishers after they’re done working with me.
And in either the case the goal is the same: it’s to identify what’s working, what’s not working, and how we can make it better and create the very best version of the author’s manuscript.
One could make the case that when working with someone pursuing traditional publishing the focus could be more on how to best market it for publishers. And while I’m happy to give feedback on that, for me it doesn’t matter as far as the story itself is as good as it can be. For me it’s all about creating the best possible version, and that’s the same whether it’s for traditional or self-publishing.
I definitely like your point there, it should always be about getting the quality of the writing as high as possible. I also think that some books, according to the genre, are actually more suited for self-publishing (because the target market is smaller, maybe). Do you try to advise authors on which publishing route they should take? Or do you adapt the adapt their writing and their story to the route they’ve chosen?
I definitely advise, but I don’t recommend, necessarily. Every author has their own approach and my job is to help them achieve their goals. Of course if I see an issue with those goals or something that could make it easier I will let them know that.
Self-publishing and traditional publishing both have their pros and cons, and I don’t see genre as one of them, necessarily, one of the distinguishing characteristics. Generally authors who have decided to self-publish or traditionally publish have done so for specific reasons and as long as those are valid I will do my best to advise them and work in that way. Fortunately, my experience is such that I can advise effectively no matter which direction they choose.
Do you think a good editor can work with any author out there, or is there one perfect editor for every author?
I certainly wouldn’t go that far. I think there are certainly cases where a particular editor’s personality or approach would work better for a particular author, that is no doubt true. But there are also a lot of disparities in quality among editors out there. A lot of the time it’s not so much searching for the one that fits, than going through a lot of people who are not really fantastic at it before finding somebody who actually is.
Fundamentally it comes down to being as effective as you can possibly be. I think that’s more important than having a particular chemistry with the author you’re working with.
I definitely agree with your point on the disparity of quality in editors out there, and that is part of the reason why we created Reedsy.
Exactly, and one reason for that is that a lot of people assume that they can edit, because they love to read and they’d love to be helpful to authors. Also, because they don’t know fully what goes into it. And some start with that belief and actually become amazing, which is exciting to see.
All this makes it very hard for the authors to know whether the person they’re talking with is someone genuinely skilled or just someone very enthusiastic who wants to believe they are going to be able to help the author. That’s why I, too, love what Reedsy is going for because it helps authors navigate that.
You are yourself a published author with one book out there: The Listeners, and were also a screenwriter before that. What pushed you to publish? Did editing a lot of books make you want to put your own work out there?
Actually, it’s just the opposite. The Listeners started out as a series of short stories I wrote in my last semester of college, around the same time I started my career in editing in a publishing company.
This particular series developed in a screenplay, and the publisher I worked for expressed an interest in a novel version, which I wrote. But for a while, my experience in publishing actually made me not want to put the book out there, because I knew the marketing challenges. I knew I would be out there, front and center trying to build a readership, doing book signings, interviews, etc. These are all things that I know how to do, and that I recommend to authors, but things I don’t have a particular knack for myself. I’m not a great marketer or self-promoter, it’s not my nature.
Fortunately, I had enough people around me telling me I was an idiot and that I should pursue publishing, so I did, and I’m very grateful for the opportunities I have had since thanks to that.
I’d like to finish with an easy question: if you had one recommendation for indie authors out there, whether they’re traditionally published, self-published, or hybrid, what would it be?
I suppose it would be to hire me, haha! But more broadly and less egocentrically than that, the thing that divides a writer from an author in my mind is the revision process: pushing forward, doing everything that’s in your power to create the very best version of your story. There is nothing more spectacular than taking an idea not only from concept to first draft but from first draft to final draft. So my advice would be: follow that road to the end, do not stop part way through.
I agree, and I certainly second that advice. Thanks a lot for your time, Harrison!
Do you work with a developmental editor? If yes, tell us what he/she brings to your writing in the comments below! And if you have any question for Harrison, do use the same commenting space 🙂