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.
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!
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.