Barry Richardson is a Senior Development Editor here at AMACOM. He started in September of 2003 as a development editor to improve manuscripts (“book doctoring”) while keeping the author’s voice and expertise. This could involve heavy-duty editing, reorganization, and rewriting or coaching authors with suggestions on how to revise their manuscripts.
Now his duties have evolved and expanded: handling the in-house responsibilities for an offsite editor’s books, from editing to titling to jacket review to working with his authors, etc; directing an outside stable of freelance editors, who work on our manuscripts, so that Barry can concentrate his time and effort on the most important duties. He is currently doing much more hands-on editing himself and helping Rosemary Carlough with BookBlast, our monthly newsletter.
What were you doing before you joined AMACOM?
I worked for 25 years at Prentice Hall (P-H). I started in the Executive Reports Corporation, researching and writing articles for a variety of high-level newsletters (yes, printed products that cost subscribers big money) on topics such as management, taxes, finances, sales, etc. Next was the Bureau of Business Practice, where I continued to write articles, handled several newsletters myself, created special guides to accompany videos, and actually co-wrote a book, The Sales Manager’s Handbook. (We were not credited as the authors; such is the lot of a “staff writer.”) My time at P-H ended at Business & Professional Books (B&P), which eventually became Prentice Hall Direct (PHD). At PHD, I became a development editor and discovered my natural affinity for this type of work. When PHD folded, I spent a year doing freelance editorial work and substitute teaching at the Long Island School for the Gifted, a wonderful interlude in my publishing career.
What are some of your responsibilities as a Senior Development Editor?
I read and evaluate the manuscripts to see if they are ready for publication. Do they match our expectations? Are they accessible to potential readers? Do the organization of the contents and/or the structure of the book make sense? Is there material missing or material that doesn’t belong? Is there repetition? Does the material flow naturally from one topic to the next or jump all over the place? Once I’ve determined the answers to these (and other) questions, I decide how to proceed. There are (relatively rare) times when I can put a manuscript directly into production with some copyediting suggestions. Sometimes I work with the author to revise the manuscript, providing guidance on how to make the final book better meet our expectations and those of our readers. In many cases, I do the revision myself, which can include everything from simple editing to full-scale rewriting and reorganizing. I also have outside freelance editors who read and evaluate manuscripts for me and provide reader’s reports with suggestions on how to proceed.
What are the big challenges you face in your job?
My biggest challenge is to make each manuscript into the best book possible while paying close attention to the production schedule. While we would never rush an unacceptable book through just to meet a deadline, improving a book is often a question of degrees. Should a manuscript be late going into production in order to make the final product slightly better? Will further revision make a good book really great? Will it make a bad book pretty good? Or will it simply make an already good book a little bit better? There has to be a time when you let go and put the manuscript into production, knowing full well that you could spend another several weeks fine-tuning and tweaking it. At that point, I ask myself how much better will the final book be and how many more copies will we sell as a result of further editing? I have to keep setting priorities, then often reset them as I go along. Which books are the most important to our publishing program? Which ones have the highest upside? Will the author be able to revise the manuscript with guidance or will I have to work on it myself? Then there are the time management questions: Where is my time best spent? Which books are already late getting into production? Should they be worked on first or should I work on manuscripts that are still on time? It is a constant juggling act.
What AMACOM book are you really excited about right now?
Stand by Her is a book on breast cancer written for men. The author, John Anderson, has had several women close to him—including his mother, wife, and sister—contract breast cancer. His story, based on his own experiences and those of others, is a heart-felt guide to providing care and support for women in your life who must battle this insidious disease. The book provides a straightforward look at the various stages of breast cancer, from diagnosis through surgery to chemo to helping your loved one get her life back in order. Anderson discusses in personal and practical terms the ups and downs of fighting this disease. The book is due out in October 2009 to correspond with Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
One in eight women in the United States will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetimes. When you consider the fact that every man has a mother, and then add up how many men have wives, sisters, female friends, neighbors, and co-workers, the number of men who will be affected by breast cancer is staggering. This book will help them help their loved ones.
What book are you reading at the moment?
I just finished reading Lush Life by Richard Price. I knew a bit about Price from his writing for The Wire, but I had never read any of his novels. Lush Life is a stunning piece of work. It begins with a relatively simple street crime, but that’s just the flashpoint Price uses to ignite his twisted and intricate tale of the Lower East Side and the characters who inhabit it and work there. The narrative expands in so many directions and involves so many complications as Price peels back the layers, while always maintaining a firm grasp on the thread of the story. The underlying simplicity of the original act is almost forgotten until you suddenly reach the end of the book and are confronted with it all over again. Price is a master of dialogue, rivaling any current writer, and his attention to detail is frightening.
What book do you want everyone to discover?
Although Philip Roth has written many great, critically acclaimed, prize-winning books, I have always had a special fondness for The Great American Novel (1973). Roth is a giant of American literature, of course, but he can also be flat-out, fall-out-of-your-chair funny when he wants to be. This book concerns a fictional professional baseball league, the Patriot League, the records of which have been expunged from history. Roth concentrates mostly on the Port Ruppert Mundys of New Jersey, who are forced to lease their stadium to the Department of War at the beginning of the 1943 season and play their entire season as a permanent road team. The Mundys exhibition game against a mental institution is worth the price of admission. Let me stress that you don’t have to be a sports fan to enjoy Roth’s hilarious comic masterpiece. This is probably the funniest book I’ve ever read (even funnier a second time around).
Keep on Truckin’…