Meet Kathleen Becker Blease, Developmental Editor

This entry is part 8 of 5 in the series Book Industry Experts

Kathleen and I connected on LinkedIn last year. She’s one of many editors I’ve been able to connect with and add to my growing list of recommended editors for nonfiction authors.

  • Tell us a little bit about your business.Kathleen Becker Blease

I’m a fulltime freelance developmental book editor specializing in memoir, how-to/memoir hybrids, and how-to/leadership titles. “Developmental editing” means I work closer to the author’s creative process than, say, copyeditors and proofreaders, and I also ghost re-write manuscripts. I work on completed drafts of manuscripts and book proposals and provide deep edits and evaluations.

I’ve been blessed to have gained experience and coached among some of the best in commercial trade publishing on staff at Random House, Inc. An RH editor is trained to tune into and honor the author’s voice, so that’s my key skill. I’m also trained in writing direct response sales copy. I understand how to capture and engage the reader and, if the author would like, gently bake the marketing right into the manuscript, targeting the unique selling points of the book’s message, particularly for how-to/memoir and how-to/leadership titles. My ultimate goal as an editor, however, is to identify and remove the word obstacles between the author and the reader, so his or her message, story, and intention are clear and effective.

I’m a one-woman band and this is my only gig, so my work schedule is solely about my clients.

  • How would you describe your ideal client?

I love working with authors who take time to think things through and are open-minded about making changes to strengthen their message. They come from a variety of backgrounds, and their writing ability really doesn’t matter. That’s why I’m here. But their willingness to consider the editorial suggestions I provide is what I look for before signing my clients. I have an introductory process that helps facilitate that.

  • How did things change for you in 2020 and how did you manage to weather through the year during the pandemic?

This global pandemic has been rough on everyone, and I’m no exception. I lost my husband several years ago at the age of 48, so I’m somewhat sensitive about the possibility of losing another family member or putting my children through another loss. To put it mildly, COVID brought to the fore my sense of grief and uncertainty. I knew that if I didn’t get a handle on my mindset, I was going to have a tough time keeping my freelance business going and providing for my family. I know it sounds silly, but I decided to do something that I always wanted to do—watercolor painting. I’m sure you’re looking for a more business-oriented answer to this question, but I felt that God was moving me in that direction for a reason and decided to go with the flow. As I stepped out and pursued it, I could see His wisdom.

Sometimes silly things spark measurable benefits. I’ve never pursued art before, but watercolor fascinated me, and I wanted to come out of this pandemic with something positive . . . anything positive. Additionally, I needed to focus on creative, productive thoughts to keep me sharp as an editor, which was my first and most important step in keeping the home fire burning, so to speak.

My followers on LinkedIn, Instagram, and Facebook regularly got a taste of my painting learning curve. And as I began posting, I captured and capitalized on yet another benefit: I could directly empathize with my ideal author clients about their creative process and putting themselves out there. It’s scary to be vulnerable, but it’s also relatable and builds trust. Authors get it. Now I get it. So, we get each other.

Watercoloring—and posting my progress on social media–turned out to be a unique and tangible marketing tool. It’s also very visual, as in, “Oh, yeah, you’re that book editor who likes to paint.” And there’s no doubt that I’ve found a new hobby that I don’t plan on giving up any time soon. It took a while after the March shut down, but by the end of July I did manage to sign a few clients—great clients, actually—to keep things going through 2020. I could focus, advance my editing and creative skills, and my confidence grew. God is good.

  • What is your favorite tip for using social media?

I firmly believe in finding one social media platform that fits your style and interests and putting your energies there, targeting and refining your list of followers and connections according to your skillset, work ethics, and belief system. Mine is LinkedIn. I also post on Facebook and Instagram. But my main focus is LI, and I’m specific about with whom I connect and who I follow. I don’t think it’s useful to cast a wide net and spend time on unfocused engagement; your engagement needs to somehow lead to building a network of like-minded professionals, a community.

  • What are your goals for 2021?

I think I’m just like everyone else . . . I want to get back to normal in 2021 . . . and I’d like to watch my son graduate from college. But my specific business goals are two-fold: 1) continue to find great clients with intriguing stories, particularly among memoirists and creative nonfiction authors, and 2) identify appropriate podcasters and bloggers and schedule interviews for spring and through the summer months. Guesting on a podcast, in particular, would be new . . . a little scary . . . and exciting for me.

  • Where can authors find you? Share your website and social media links.

The best place to find me is on LinkedIn!

www.linkedin.com/in/kathleenbeckerblease

  • Is there anything else you’d like to share?

I’d like every author, especially first-time authors, to know that I understand how scary it can be to put yourself out there. Totally get that. So, bear in mind that your message–your own story from your perspective–is unique, and you’re the only one who can tell it. If you don’t, no one else will, and there’s no need to let your writing level hold you back. That’s what editors are for, especially developmental editors.

Bio

Kathleen Becker Blease is an ex-Random House editor, now a full-time freelance developmental book editor. She has edited a variety of nonfiction and creative nonfiction topics—from Mr. Rogers’ educational techniques to healing multiple personalities disorder to the gift of black fatherhood. Kathleen is also a watercolor enthusiast and a retired homeschooling mom. She is the author of I Can’t Wait to Meet My Daddy and several gift books published by the Ballantine Books group at Random House, Inc., including Love in Verse, a Boston Book Review bestseller. She lives in eastern Pennsylvania in the foothills of the Pocono Mountains with her college-age son (who is awaiting campus to reopen) and their black cat Maybelline.

Meet Cristen Iris, Developmental Editor

This entry is part 9 of 5 in the series Book Industry Experts

This is the first in my 2021 series of book industry experts that will include editors, ghostwriters, book coaches, and other experts in the book industry. Cristen and I first connected a few years back when we both worked with the Nonfiction Authors Association.

Tell us a little bit about your business.Cristen Iris headshot 2

I’m a developmental and substantive editor and book proposal consult who loves developing long-term professional relationships with my clients and other publishing industry pros. I predominately work on nonfiction projects written by experts but am keen to work on well-crafted fiction with a literary bend.

Memoir with its nonfiction base and fiction-like narrative style is one of my favorite things to work on, but I jump at the opportunity to work on anything even remotely related to medical anthropology, sociology, sports, entertainment, or business.

My clients include a New York Times bestselling debut novelist, a GRAMMY Award ® winner, attorneys, researchers and medical doctors, competitive athletes, advocates and activists, and an international entertainment entrepreneur. I’m delighted to have worked with Linda K. Olson (triple-amputee, retired MD, and Parkinson’s advocate) on her recently released memoir, Gone: A Memoir of Love, Body, and Taking Back My Life, listed by Parade Magazine as one of the 24 best memoirs to read in 2020.

I love helping clients develop their writing craft and market acumen, so they can share important information and tell meaningful stories that attract the attention of literary agents, publishers, and readers. What I love most about what I do is the ability to partner with others to do work that has the potential to change lives and shape culture.

How would you describe your ideal client?

My favorite clients are Type As with a sense of humor, the type that are serious about the work but don’t take themselves too seriously. I also prefer working with clients who are multi-book authors and aspire to be traditionally published or published by a publisher that exercises editorial discretion. I also like working with authors who choose to indie-publish for strategic reasons.

Authors who are looking for a one-time, do-this-and-I’ll-pay-you-and-leave aren’t a good fit. The most fulfilling relationships for me are dynamic, collaborative, and strategic because they’re the most fun and get the best results.

How did things change for you in 2020 and how did you manage to weather through the year during the pandemic?

My pandemic year started the first week of January with the sudden death of my 42-year-old friend and brother-in-law. Another relative died suddenly in February, and in March, another one of my young relatives was hospitalized with COVID-19 and according to his doctor, “could have gone either way.”

By April, clients who’d booked large, multi-month projects had put their projects on hold or were moving at a snail’s pace due to interruptions in their lives and concerns about cash flow. The dip was brief. Within a few weeks, emails started flowing in. Lockdowns and layoffs allowed many aspiring authors to focus on their books. I haven’t done the math, but I’m sure I’ve done more projects this year than any other. Having said that, my income compared to last year is down because pricing and timelines got all out of whack early on, and I’ve done more lower-fee projects than high-dollar ones.

On the business side, I have to say that it’s been a great year. The pandemic exacerbated a project management and cash flow frustration I’ve had for several years and was the push I needed to eliminate the service related to it and start offering an hourly consulting rate service that’s been a surprising hit.

If I had to boil the change and the benefits that followed down into two words they would be “focus” and “efficiency.”

On the personal side, I’ve become more aware of how important my husband, sister, and children are to me. That’s given me perspective and a sense of belonging that I haven’t experienced in a while.

What is your favorite tip for using social media?

Well, first I want to encourage you to consider any tips I offer with a degree of skepticism because unless you’re an editor who works with clients like mine and share my goals, this is likely bad advice. But if you see yourself in anything I’ve said about myself, my tip regarding social media is to get off it as soon as possible.

Perhaps a better tip is to consider whether your ideal clients are hanging out on your favorite social media platform and if they go to that platform when looking to hire someone like you. Social media is a time suck. Each of us only have 24 hours in the day. If we want to succeed, we must keep customer conversion expenses low. Time and energy, like money, is limited.

I’m also an introvert (not shy, an introvert). Social media wears me out. My energy is best applied elsewhere. But when I started my business, I spent a lot of time on social media because that’s where authors who were willing to take a chance on a new editor hung out.

So, my tip is to remember that marketing isn’t a one-size-fits all deal. Marketing fiction requires a different approach than nonfiction and both require strategies that keep the ideal reader’s needs and habits top of mind. If you can afford to, hire an experienced consultant who knows your genre and understands your personality and goals and can help you develop a customized social media strategy that gets results. Sue has been doing this a long time and as an author herself can speak directly to what works and doesn’t. I’d start by talking to her.

What are your goals for 2021?

My goals for 2021 are the same as they are every year and are more strategic than specific, which allows me to take advantages of changes in the market and opportunities that always surprise me. In general, they are:

  • develop more high-value industry relationships;
  • stay connected to clients by celebrating their wins and promoting them whenever possible;
  • submit more of my own writing to literary magazines;
  • become even more effective and efficient, so I can serve more clients;
  • and get more outdoor time by taking walking breaks each weekday and hiking, biking, paddle boarding, and snowshoeing with family and friends on weekends.

Where can authors find you?

The best place to find me is at cristeniris.com.

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

I’d just like to encourage anyone who feels beaten down, inept, and bone tired. I feel that way most days, especially when I feel forced to choose between answering emails that keep piling up and doing the actual work.

Running a sustainable and growing business is hard. We must keep all the plates spinning at least fast enough to keep them balanced on the pointy sticks they sit on.

It’s o’dark thirty, and I’m sitting in my bathrobe looking like a two-year-old that nobody’s bothered to hose down lately. It’s easy to feel like we’re doing something wrong, like we have little in common with those real professionals we admire.

But never mind Instagram, photoshopped headshots, and holiday everything-is-wonderful newsletters. That’s all fluff. The meaningful work is ugly work, but it’s the only work worth doing and the stuff that produces results that prove to ourselves and others that we’re competent and resilient.

May your 2020 failures and triumphs propel you into 2021 and may it be your best year yet!

Bio

Cristen Iris is a craft-focused, results-oriented developmental and substantive editor and book proposal consultant. Her clients include a New York Times bestselling debut novelist, a GRAMMY Award ® winner, attorneys, researchers and medical doctors, competitive athletes, advocates and activists, and an international entertainment entrepreneur. Recently, Parade Magazine listed client and triple-amputee Linda K. Olson’s book as one of the 24 best memoirs to read in 2020. Cristen’s personal essays and business columns have been published by, among others, IDAHO magazine, Idaho Business Review, Unbound Northwest, and on the Nonfiction Authors Association blog. When her nose isn’t stuck in a book or her fingers glued to a keyboard, Cristen and her feet can be found anywhere there’s dirt, trees, or water.