Hey guys! I'm so glad I was able to get this post up today. Me and AT&T are at it again (any suggestions on an Internet alternative?), but I'm so happy to share Heidi Fielder's story with you today. Publishers and creatives hire Heidi to develop ideas into books that delight and inspire. She has written and edited more than 300 books for clients ranging from Target to Barnes & Noble. Her latest project is Think Like an Editor: An Inside Look at What Makes a Book Work, a new series on Instagram @heidifiedler and #thinklikeaneditor. You can find her at helloheidifiedler.com, but for now let's find out what exactly she does.
As a child, I wanted to be a ¬______ when I grew up. I pretty much wanted to be a spy or an astronaut until I realized I'm not athletic or super adventurous. I still think I would make a good spy (think Agent Brains Not Brawns), but I get way too woozy to ever be an astronaut.
How close (or far) is your current career from that dream? My inner seven year old is happy. Writing and editing are pretty tame compared to intergalactic espionage, but the work I do lets me satisfy my curiosity about the world, researching everything from nanotechnology to mermaids. I love getting to work with so many creative people. And I get to do it all from the safety of my own cozy home!
What is your official job title? I have three titles! Writer. Editor. And Idea Girl.
Ok, now what does that really mean? I write children's books, greeting-card copy, and blog posts for Barnes and Noble. Some of the work is commissioned, meaning someone else came up with the idea, and I'm seeing it through, but I pitch and develop most of it myself. I'm also working on several picture books, and my agent is shopping around a new chapter book series I developed with a friend.
When people hear the word "editor," they often assume I'm a grammarian who's inserting commas and taking out em-dashes. But I'm a developmental editor, not a copy editor. Publishers and creatives hire me to do the deep thinking that's needed to develop an idea into a book. I search for trends, pitch new concepts, do market research, develop new formats, evaluate the profitability, recruit talent, structure the content, work with authors and designers to develop the books creatively, and try to add some oh-wow details.
I'm known for having a zillion ideas, and I love to share them. When my clients are busy with the details of the many projects they already have underway, they hire me to research the market, get creative, and think ahead to the next products they can tackle. I brainstorm new titles, taglines, characters, formats, marketing campaigns, and more. I'm always on the lookout for inspiration. It's one of my favorite parts of the job!
What is a typical day like? On weekdays, I try to spend my first hour of the morning on my own projects, whether that's writing a picture book or strategizing about how to grow my business. Then I do some creative work for clients, and before I take lunch, I answer emails, pop in on social media (IG @heidifiedler and Twitter @heidiuncovered). After lunch, I do a couple more hours of client work, reply to emails once more, and make my to-do list for the next day. If it's going to be a longer day, I try to break up the afternoon with a walk or a little yoga. Then it's time for dinner and one more round of hellos on social media. On weekends, I try to take a real break and soak up some inspiration at a museum, a bookstore, or on one of the beautiful trails near our house.
How did you end up in this career? I was the student that teachers always urged to be a writer, but I never thought seriously about doing it. Then, somehow I found myself doing it all day long! I started as the children's book buyer at my local bookstore. I moved on to being the buyer at Lakeshore Learning Materials and learned how to develop products from scratch there. At Walter Foster Publishing, I started as an editor for their children's imprint and created how-to-draw and crafty titles for kids. Then I moved on to the custom packaging side. There, I got to work with all different publishers. We created books and kits for adults and kids. Our clients ranged from everyone from Target to Michaels. I also got to do custom work for publishers like Chronicle, Watson Guptill, and Barnes & Noble's imprint, Sterling. I moved on to Teacher Created Materials to oversee their specialty products and launch their fiction imprint. When my husband got a job in Massachusetts, we decided it would be a good time for me to go freelance and start my own business.
What kind of education or training did you complete for this career? I was a philosophy major in school, and I think that's helped me structure books so they make as much sense as possible. I've always taken lots of writing classes, and when I became an editor, I took classes through Mediabistro to strengthen my skills. But really, the best way to become an editor is to be an apprentice. I was lucky to work with people who knew way more than I did and were willing to teach me the art of publishing a book.
What advice would you give to someone who wants a similar career? Read like crazy. Take lots of classes. And don't be afraid to take a job that's related to writing or editing, but not quite that. Once you find a home at a publisher, you'll find people are happy to teach you what they know and give you opportunities to show what you can do. Once you have a few clips to your name, it will be easier to find a job that's specifically devoted to writing and editing. Mediabistro, Publisher's Lunch, and The Editorial Freelancer's Association all have great job listings. Don't be afraid to apply! Often you just need to submit a sample of your work. If you can capture the voice someone is looking for, you'll get hired.
Do you have any other career dreams? What do you want to be when you grow up? I want to start leading workshops at corporate events, conferences, and fairs about how to turn an idea into a book that sells. I am so inspired by the makers and creative entrepreneurs I've been meeting online. I would love to collaborate with more of them.
Any last thoughts or encouragement for others trying to decide what they want to do “when they grow up”? I very much believe that, although our career paths may sometimes look aimless or misguided, the last job prepares us for the next one. You may find your math background makes you a great baker. Or a stint as a lifeguard keeps you calm when you're speaking in public. If you look for and take on work that you're excited about, the common denominator--you--will guide you to a happy career. Your path might be windy, and it probably won’t look like mine, but you’ll still get where you want to go.
Previously on Mrs Robbins Sparkles...