I am very pleased to welcome editor Todd Barselow to the blog today! Several years ago, Todd moved to the Philippines for a change of pace, and an opportunity to pursue his dream of being a full-time editor. Since then, he has edited over 50 books, and has worked with a range of successful authors, such as Becket, Greg Wilkey, and M.L. Stephens. You might also recognize Todd as a frequent contributor on Anne Rice’s Facebook page.
Please read on to learn more about Todd’s insights, experiences, and advice.
I served in the US Army for three years—from ‘02 – ’05—as a Bradley Fighting Vehicle mechanic. I left for basic four months after 9/11, during the patriotic call up that many felt in the wake of the events of that day. It was an experience, to be sure. Would I repeat it? Probably not.
The Philippines is a beautiful country, not just scenery-wise, but culturally as well. The people that I’ve met here are among some of the nicest of anywhere I’ve lived. Everyone is quick to lend a hand when needed. I think for me the hardest adjustment to make living here was seeing the poverty and third-world living conditions that are so prevalent here. The country is fairly rich due to tourism and overseas workers sending money to their families in the country each month, but poverty is rampant. There are whole sections that are known as ‘squatter’s areas’ where you see nothing but lean-to shacks piled up next to one another. It’s just so terrible to see people having to live in those conditions. It’s a constant struggle for me not to become inured to seeing that. I don’t want to be the person that walks by the homeless guy on the street and doesn’t even see him, you know? At the same time, there’s not much I can do about the situation, either.
The easiest adjustment for me has to be the cost of living here. It’s so much less expensive to live here than it is in the states. That was one of the main reasons I decided to move here rather than my wife moving to the states. That cost of living also factors heavily into my pricing as an editor. If I were living in the US still, there’s no way I could afford to work at the prices I currently do. It just wouldn’t be possible. I’m also a big fan of the weather here. It’s tropical year round with no real winter to speak of. There’s a rainy season that passes for winter here, but usually it never gets cooler than about 70 degrees.
I edited my first book about five years ago, I guess. I’m now up to I think it’s 54 or 55 edited. I’ve always been a reader and a writer. I love the written word. Correction, I have an ongoing passionate love affair with the written word! That passion was bound to spill over into my work eventually. I don’t think there was ever any doubt of that in my mind. I said once before that I used to dream of a job that would pay me to read. Well, I’ve found it and if I have my way, I’ll never do anything else as long as I live.
When I first moved here to the Philippines, I was teaching English at a Korean academy. I taught a bit of creative writing in a special class, as well, so I was getting a taste of editing short compositions and I really liked it. A friend then asked me to edit a novella he’d written and he wanted to pay me for the work. That really put the seed in my head that I could do this and make a living. I started on oDesk looking for editing work and I did a few short jobs here and there, but it wasn’t until I put up my shingle as it were on Facebook that the manuscripts began to roll in. One author in particular, M.L. Stephens, really liked my work and championed me before the self-publishing masses. She got the word out about me and brought a lot of work my way. I was also picked up as a freelance editor by a small Canadian publishing house, Imajin Books. That’s done wonders for my career. I’ve worked on seven or eight of their releases this year.
Tell me a bit about your editing style, and what differentiates you from other editors.
I guess I would say that my style is less invasive than other editors I’ve heard of. My main goal is to preserve the author’s vision and voice while at the same time providing the reader with the best experience possible. I don’t like to gut an author’s work. As a matter of fact, I steadfastly refuse to edit that way. I only make or suggest changes that I feel are absolutely necessary to make the book a better read, whether that means using a character’s name less or adding more detail about an event or what have you.
Many editors working for publishing houses are instructed to edit books in a certain way to better appeal to target mass audiences. This oftentimes ends up completely changing the author’s intention and or voice and I simply can’t stand that. I understand the logic behind it, sure, but I don’t like it. Authors write books to be read, no matter who it is that’s reading them. To change a book for the sake of marketing isn’t something that I feel should be done. Thankfully we have self-publishing these days so authors are able to publish their books the way THEY want to, not how a publisher tells them to.
I am a strict adherent to the Chicago Manual of Style unless otherwise instructed. I forever have my e-copy of the CMoS open when I’m working. There are other style guides out there, but I’ve found CMoS to be the most universally used in fiction writing. Sometimes an author (or the publishing house) doesn’t wish to strictly follow a guideline as given in CMoS, and that’s okay, too. I can work in whatever way is required by the author or publishing house.
I’ve edited a little bit of everything from self help books, to mysteries, to paranormal romance, to kid’s books, to sci-fi, and even erotica. I’ve really enjoyed all of the books that I’ve worked on, but I’d have to say that my favorite manuscripts are sci-fi. I grew up loving science fiction and I generally jump at the chance to work on any manuscript in that genre. I recently edited a sci-fi novel written by Terry Hill, an honest-to-goodness NASA engineer. That was very exciting for me, to say the least. His knowledge of the mechanics and science of space travel, and proposed methods for space travel, was absolutely fascinating for me. If you’re into sci-fi, you’ll want to check out Terry’s his book, In the Days of Humans: Third Exodus. It’s the first in a planned trilogy.
Honestly though, I’ll work on just about anything that comes my way. The only thing that I’d be most likely to turn down would be extremely fanatical religious works. I’m not a fan of organized religion so I tend to avoid works of that nature. Not that I’m against religious books, mind you. I would just prefer to pass work like that to another editor.
You’ve had the opportunity to work with some interesting authors, including Becket and Greg Wilkey. What was that like?
I actually met Greg Wilkey and Becket both through Anne Rice’s Facebook page. I’d been a participant and contributor to her page for a few years when I began asking her questions regarding writing. I’d post her responses on my page for people to read and take advantage of. I reached out to Greg first to offer him my services and we began a conversation that led to me editing all four of his Mortimer Drake books, which have become extremely popular. Anne has posted about them quite frequently. Greg is a fantastic, visionary author. He has a way of drawing you into the story and taking you along for this wild ride. I was sad to see Mortimer’s series come to an end. Who knows though…perhaps he may continue it at some point. I also love the fact that Greg’s target audience is teenage boys. He’s an educator and knows firsthand that male teens don’t read as much as their female counterparts and he set out to change that, successfully I might add.
The same thing happened with Becket. I reached out to him to offer my services when I saw that he was planning to self-publish a series of books. I knew that after working for Anne Rice for eight years he had to be a phenomenal writer and someone that I would really love to work with, and boy was I right. He, too, has a way with words that draws you in and doesn’t let go. He has a passion for writing the same way that I have a passion for reading. He also has a compassion about him that translates into his work. It’s not something I can easily explain, you kind of have to read him to know what I mean by that. Key The Steampunk Vampire Girl is actually the second manuscript that I’ve edited for him. It’s the first in a series that I have a feeling is going to be extremely popular among kids and adults alike.
There have been so many other amazing authors that I’ve been able to work with including Dana Roquet, Kat Flannery, Alison Bruce, Rosemary McCracken, Jesse Christiansen, Daniel Sherrier, Nick Pirog, Jamie Magee, Peter Clenott, Stacia Deutsch and Rhody Cohon, Catherine Astolfo, Michelle Moklebust, Conor Robinson, Belle Aurora, Melodie Campbell, Shay Ray Stevens, Erin McFadden, Amanda Dawn Gatton, and Jake Hammes. This list goes on and on. You can see everyone I’ve worked with on my Facebook page. I’m thankful to each and every one of them for trusting me with their manuscripts. It does take a lot of trust to hand over something that you’ve spent so much time on and have poured so much of yourself into. I like to think I’ve earned that trust with the quality of work that I’ve provided.
I think someone who isn’t afraid to put the words on the page is a good writer. Sometimes an author may be skittish to really put down what they were thinking, but I think that in order to really write the book that was meant to be, you have to get it all out and put it all down. You can always go back later and pare down what you didn’t like or add bits to enhance this or that. I know a lot of people will say that a writer should be a grammarian and have perfect punctuation and all that, but to me that’s BS. That’s why there are people like me. A writer should concentrate on getting the story down on paper. Everything else can be fixed afterwards. That being said, it doesn’t hurt to do a spell check before sending a manuscript to your editor!
Also, for me, scene and character description are very important. I love depth to a novel. I love for a book to transport me to another place and time. Any writer who can do that is a good writer in my book.
All editors have their pet peeves. What are some of yours?
That’s a difficult question, actually. I like to think that I’m very easy going when it comes to my work. Editing is very relaxing for me which is a big change when compared to my previous working environments. I guess one of my peeves is sort of in line with the answer I gave above. If I can sense that the author was holding back when they were writing a scene it kind of gets to me a bit. I want to see it all out on the page. Unless that bit being held back is being done so for dramatic effect, of course.
This is a part of my job so it doesn’t really bother me so much, but doing a spell check should be a top priority when a manuscript is finished. Many times characters’ names start off spelled one way and end up being spelled differently later on. The same goes with place names and object names. I always say to do a ctrl+f search of the doc and type in the first few letters of your characters’ names and make sure they are spelled consistently. It’s something that I do anyway, but it’s nice if the author has done it ahead of time.
I also cringe when there are tense issues. They make my teeth hurt! Pick a tense and stick with it unless you have a legitimate reason to stray into another tense.
The first thing I do when someone contacts me is request a sample of 1k words so that I can evaluate the writing and formulate a price quote. This also gives the author the opportunity to see how I work beforehand so he or she can determine if we’ll be a good working fit. I also always insist that they reach out to the other authors that I’ve worked with, and sometimes even the publishing house that I work for, Imajin Books. I can always say the things that a person wants to hear to convince them to work with me, but it’s better if they hear what it’s like to work with me from third parties who have had the experience. I answer any and all questions that are put to me before we begin working. I try to make myself as available as possible to the authors that I work with. This is sometimes difficult given the time zone difference between the Philippines and the states, but I manage to make it work somehow.
Generally, after speaking with a few of the authors that I’ve worked with, new clients are ready to get to work right away. I’ve gotten to the point where I have about a six week waiting period now. With the exposure and recommendations that I’ve gotten from Anne Rice on her Facebook page, I’m constantly fielding emails and inquiries. She said earlier this year that I would likely become busier than I could handle before too long and she was right. I’m almost busier than I can handle, but I love it!
When you’re not reading for business, what do you read for pleasure? And do you prefer paperbacks or electronic?
While I love the convenience of e-books, I will always prefer a physical book that I can hold and feel any day. I’m an eclectic reader (I know lots of people say that, but I really am). My bookcase is full of novels by tons of different authors in nearly all genres. My favorite genre to read has to be science fiction. I grew up on Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov, and Ray Bradbury. I think my favorite series of all time is Clarke’s RAMA series. I’ve read all four of those books probably ten or twelve times each, easy.
That being said, I’m also a huge Stephen King fan. I’ve never read a bad book by him, although many will disagree with that. I love Dean Koontz, as well. Of course I have to mention Anne Rice and nearly everything that she’s written, particularly (oddly enough, given my aversion to organized religion) her Christ the Lord books about the life of Jesus, the man.
I love fantasy, too. Robert Jordan, R.A. Salvatore, Raymond Feist, Terry Brooks, etc…
My favorite book of all time—every time I reveal this I get laughed at—is by Jimmy Buffett. It’s called A Salty Piece of Land. Best book I’ve ever read and I can’t even begin to explain why. You just have to read it to get it, I guess.
What is one mistake you made that aspiring editors could learn and benefit from?
I think my most crucial mistake was not being choosy enough when taking on new work, particularly because of the prices at which I do said work. Some manuscripts require vastly more effort than others, and while I don’t mind that, early on I was taking everything that came my way—no matter what. I learned the hard way that I have to be more selective about the manuscripts that I take on unless I want to charge more for the work that needs to be done.
I’m in this business for independently publishing authors. I know that they generally can’t afford tons of money to hire an editor for a book that may not make them back a penny. That’s why I try to keep my price point low enough so that anyone can afford to work with me. It’s true that some authors pay more than others, depending on the level of edit required to get the manuscript publication ready. I try to keep my prices fair for everyone, though. I notice some editors have a set price for a given word count. I like to be a bit more flexible than that and thereby save the author money if possible.
What is one thing you wish all aspiring writers knew?
That no matter what, they can finish the book that they started. I’m forever saying ‘Don’t aspire, BE!’ Even when it’s tough, get the words on the page. You CAN do it. If you have the desire in your heart and mind to be a writer, you can be. I honestly believe that everyone has the ability to write a book if they put their mind to it. It’s hard work and you may need help along the way, but it is entirely possible. There are plenty of resources available out there for writers looking for help. Just don’t give up. You’ll regret it later if you do.
If you could work with any author in the world, who would it be and why?
That’s such a difficult question. I don’t even know how I’m going to answer this. I guess I would have to say Arthur C. Clarke, even though he passed away in 2008. His books probably influenced me the most of any that I’ve read. He explored such complex ideas and thoughts and he did it so vividly, so magnificently, that I can only imagine what his editors experienced on that first read through of his manuscripts. If I had to choose an author that’s still living, it would be either Stephen King or Anne Rice; the former because of his epic, kind of in your face writing style, and the latter because of her continuing support of independent publishing and her kind words about me and the services I provide, not to mention her elaborate and ornate prose. Reading Anne Rice is like listening to Mozart or Tchaikovsky…it makes the brain tingle with pleasure.
I’ve truly been blessed to work with the authors that I have, though. I wouldn’t trade those experiences for anything in the world.
Finally, where can folks connect with you online?
I do have my own website at www.toddedits.com but most people seem to find me through my Facebook page here: https://www.facebook.com/ToddBarselowEditor. I’m happy to answer emails sent to firstname.lastname@example.org or messages to my Facebook page. To all the authors out there, self-publishing or traditionally publishing, if there’s anything that I can do to help you out please don’t hesitate to reach out to me. And thank you, Sarah, for taking the time to do this interview with me!
Todd, the pleasure was all mine! ~Sarah