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Book Jobs Not by the Book: Andy Meisenheimer, Freelance Writer and Editor

Andy MeisenheimerAndy Meisenheimer is a freelance writer and editor. He edits manuscripts for writers and for publishers, coaches published and unpublished writers in the art and craft of writing, and writes for fun and for profit. He is a fiction editor for The Red Fez, an online literary magazine. He lives with his family in New York City.

Give us a little bit of your history in publishing, and how you got started freelancing.

I started in college working at an indie bookstore, managing frontlist and backlist, among other things. From there, I began working at a publisher in sales, the kind of sales that has you traveling a three-state region visiting other mom-and-pop bookstores and small chains. I know Minnesota-Wisconsin-Illinois really really well. I moved from sales to acquisitions at the same publisher, and had a blast. Signed a bunch of good authors to write good books that all of nobody bought or read. Signed one New York Times Bestseller. Seemed as good of a time as any to retire (not really how it happened)—and so I became a freelancer. At first, I split my time between a long-term contract editing a series of mysteries, and working smaller gigs directly with authors themselves, and that’s sort of how I got started. Since then, I’ve co-written a book, I’ve written a lot of back ad copy, and I’ve done some acquisitions consulting and other odd jobs.

What kind of projects do you normally work on, and how do you get those projects?

My expertise, as it were, is in development and line editing. So most of my work is with authors and publishers early in the process, as opposed to the later copyediting and proofreading. I love to work with novelists, and I also have lots of experience with non-fiction as well, so I have been moderately successful at keeping a balance between the two.

The work I do with publishers comes from relationships I’ve built with editors and marketers in the business. But I also do work directly with authors, and that comes mostly from word-of-mouth. I really enjoy working with authors, and I think for the most part the feeling’s mutual, and that gets me a decent amount of referrals.

What value has freelancing brought to the way you think about book business as a whole and your own relationship to books?

I’d like to see more of us out here—I mean, not really, I don’t want more competition—but when I was acquiring in-house, I really felt the tension between marketing meetings, cover meetings, title meetings, sales meetings, and good old-fashioned editing. It seemed like there wasn’t enough time for both. And while I really enjoyed bickering over cover design and all of that (I really did), my real love was working with words (and bickering with authors over words). Nothing is as fun as working with authors, and freelancing gives me the opportunity to work with authors divorced from all the other pressures and concerns of the publisher.

What do you wish you had known about the industry before starting as a freelancer?

There’s a lot of things I still wish I knew about the industry. It feels like I’m just scratching the surface of the possibilities out there. I’m weird in that I like to know everything about everything, and so if someone asks if I have worked on, say, political books before, I want to say, “No, but I’ll go read twenty of them and totally be fine!” That doesn’t always work. I also have lots of experience editing books in genres I don’t usually read, and lots of experiences reading genres I don’t usually work on. It’s surprisingly hard to adjust that ratio.

What skills do you think are required for being a successful freelancer in publishing and how do your previous jobs help you fulfill those needs?

I often feel tension between understanding writing and understanding the business of publishing. It’s probably even stronger for me, because I spent years in retail and sales focusing on the numbers, the bottom line. Put crudely, it didn’t matter in the end if the book was all that great, it mattered if we made the sale. And then, moving into acquisitions, I got tempted, being a book lover at heart, with the idea of publishing books because they were good books. When you do developmental editing, working closely with writers, you get even more sucked into that idea. The craft is what’s important. And it’s true that this is what I love most about working in publishing.

But being experienced on both ends of that spectrum serves me well as a freelancer. I can look at the business as a business, crunch numbers, and consult with publishers with that bottom line in mind. But then when I’m working with writers, I can focus on the writing, as a fellow book lover and student of the craft. I find both valuable in my work as a freelancer. And who knows, someday maybe this will make me a great indie publisher.

2 Comments

  1. Andy,
    I am looking for someone to edit a science fiction story I’ve written titled ‘Enter the Parallel Chamber’ (under 80,000 words) of which I’m looking for an editor to put the final touch on. This is not a Star Wars type story, but alien greys are monitoring us by way of an alternate dimension. If you like, I can send you a few chapters or the entire manuscript for you to give me a quote. I don’t really think it needs a lot of work, but I’d feel more confident if it had an editor’s touch.

    David J. Smith

  2. Andy says:

    Sure thing, David, you can reach me at andy at Andymeisenheimer dot com and we will chat.

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