By Emily Evans-Miller
Here at Mascot, we think it’s high time to recognize the unsung heroes of the publishing community: illustrators and editors. We have an extensive network of freelance professionals who do fantastic work for our authors. This month, our featured freelance publishing professional is editor Kristin Clark Taylor.
Kristin sat down with us to discuss what she loves about writing and editing, her favorite projects, and her biggest pet peeves. Check out her answers below!
How did you get into editing books? What made you decide to pursue this career?
Not to sound overly dramatic, but I think it’s the truth when I say I’ve been an editor since the age of about six. I remember writing a love note to my mom and reading it later, after she’d taped it to the refrigerator. I’d spelled the word “wonderful” with two “L’s”, so I sent her an entirely new card, this time with the word spelled correctly. Every time I see the word “wonderful,” I think about that moment. So I’ve been self-editing since I was about six. Yes, that’s an accurate statement.
What do you enjoy most about being an editor?
I suppose it’s that feeling I get from being transported into someone else’s world and the ability to rearrange or manipulate the written word in a way that makes a story stronger, a plotline more compelling, a sad scene even sadder. To this very day, the process feels miraculous and breathtaking. Being able to bolster a message and to correct copy in a way that helps advance a plotline—any plotline—brings me sheer joy. Especially if a compelling story exists underneath.
Not a day goes by that I’m not simply bowled over by the fact that even though there are only 26 letters in the alphabet, it is how we manipulate those letters, how we arrange them in a way that is compelling and inspirational, that makes the difference. That I play even a small role in what I like to call this “Miracle of 26” takes my breath away all over again.
Are you a writer as well?
Yep, I’m a writer, too. In my mind, and in my life, writing and editing go hand-in-hand. They belong to each other. When I wrote that love note to my mother all those many decades ago (we’ll leave it at that), it brought me as much joy to write it as it did to edit it. Both processes just bowl me over. And because it’s what I do for a living, I spend most of my days feeling happily breathless. This stuff never, ever gets old.
How many books have you worked on?
I’ve written many books of my own. The first three were published by Random House/Doubleday, the fourth by Penguin/Berkeley. I’m working on a fifth as well, but I haven’t been able to finish it just yet because so much else is on my plate. This doesn’t deter me in any way, though. I love having a full plate, and I know that my manuscript will wait patiently until I can turn to it and embrace it fully. It will wait for me.
I’ve edited countless books—fiction, non-fiction, business, cookbooks, memoirs. When I read Patti LaBelle’s thank you (in her acknowledgements) for my help with her most recent cookbook, it made me want to step into my kitchen and try to bake one of her famous sweet potato pies. (“Kristin Clark Taylor: Deep gratitude for your brilliant eyes and excellent edits. You’ve got a gift.”)
And I’ve received countless notes from the former President of the United States expressing his appreciation for my editing prowess. I use the word “prowess” because he used the word “prowess,” which I thought was really sweet.
I must say that the response I get from the authors with whom I work really makes my heart sing. This, again, is what makes my life meaningful.
What is your favorite Mascot Books project that you’ve worked on recently? Why?
I just finished editing a book about emotional intelligence (EI) called I Dare You to Care, and I tell you what: that book really opened up my soul. EI is a topic I write about fairly frequently myself as a journalist, and the way this author presented her work was already compelling and captivating. So what I had to work with was not only an author who was already a strong writer but a topic that just about knocked me off my feet. Working on that book was sheer joy. It is an important, necessary book, and I pray it does well.
Another favorite was a ghostwriting project—and because I served as ghostwriter, I’m not supposed to give the title of the book—but I will say this: Ghostwriting that book came at a time in my own personal life that really made the message feel like it belonged to me. It belonged to the author, of course, but my heart held a vested interest as well.
The Mascot family is the best. I’ve worked with the huge houses, the medium-size houses, and the teeny-tiny houses, and Mascot, in my mind, stands head and shoulders above the rest, not just in their production quality and editing acumen but in the dedication and expertise of absolutely everyone on the staff. They are a class-act. In fact, let me self-edit here: Delete the word “they” and insert the word “we.” We are a class act. Because Mascot is my literary family.
What’s your favorite kind of book to edit?
Though I’m comfortable with most genres, there’s something about the memoir that pulls at my spirit. The very act of codifying words and messages that capture a person’s past, that paint a picture of their childhood or their history, or that offer a glimpse into the author’s earlier life, is as exhilarating as a roller-coaster ride.
Books of a spiritual nature also pull at my little heart. I often write about spiritual issues, and I believe the very act of deepening our spiritual condition is not only our privilege but our responsibility. Also, books that offer the reader a better way to live life, a more effective way to face (and embrace) adversity, a glimmer of hope or a flame of passion—this is the stuff that excites me. When I edit books like this, it feels like I’m helping to actively and deliberately push these positive messages out into the universe—again, a miraculous process in and of itself.
What is your biggest grammar pet peeve?
Oooh, I’ve got several. Many people see me as a having this sugar-sweet spirit and this super-gentle demeanor, but those are the ones who haven’t seen my “other side.” I know we all make mistakes, but a typo of any form just about kills me, as does the continued use of shopworn cliches. I also don’t like lazy authors. This might sound harsh, but if you don’t bring the energy, the desire, and the ability to write (or at least conceptualize) a good book to the table, you really shouldn’t sit down to the table at all. We all deserve to write—and read—quality work.
What are you currently working on?
In addition to being a writer, an author and an editor, I’m also a journalist. I’m working now on a really intense exposé for a very large newspaper… and I better stop there before I get myself in trouble for spilling the beans. As I mentioned earlier, my next bookis still pulling at my heartstrings as well, but since it’s mine, I’m fairly confident it will remain patient and sit quietly until I can get to it.
As of this writing, I’m also considering working on a book that delves into the life of a cancer patient who remains steadfast and undeterred. The journalist in me really appreciates that this book will be research-based and that other voices in the form of direct quotes will help bolster the message. I guess I probably shouldn’t say too much more about that either, since the deal hasn’t really been sealed at all—not with me serving editor, anyway. But I’m still excited about it, so I feel it’s only right to share that excitement. That’s what the world is all about, isn’t it? The sharing of our excitement and enthusiasm for our work?
What are you looking to do more of? (Books about rabbits, bullying, etc.)
Oh, gosh. I’d like to work on a book that is filled with folly and fantasy. I sometimes get the feeling that all of my work is so darned SERIOUS. Yes, we should take ourselves and our work seriously, but also make room for work that involves ridiculous musings about marshmallows and fluffy white clouds in a cobalt blue sky. THIS is the stuff that makes us smile and that we forget about sometimes in our quest to be so darned serious all the time. I appreciate levity and I need more of it in my writing life.
What types of books do you like to read in your free time?
I like to read memoirs. I like history. I like books that break past their own boundaries and I love authors who are brave enough to write bold, new stuff that makes your head spin. That stuff is really cool. Put simply, I’ll say this: I like reading everything… as long as it’s good. I can spot a lazy author’s work a mile away, and it makes me want to cry. It also kind of makes me mad. I’m too busy to waste my time reading words that haven’t been crafted with love and careful deliberation. It’s an insult.
What’s your favorite book and why?
The Holy Bible. Every word is perfect.
What are some of your other interests? (hobbies, alternate day job, etc.)
I am deep into Tai Chi Chih (a modern derivative of Tai Chi), and I practice it twice a day. I also take three yoga classes every week, and I meditate twice a day. My prayer life keeps me centered—without it, I’m certain I wouldn’t embrace life with as much gusto and confidence as I do. Somebody once asked me how I manage to get so much work done when I spend so much time either in prayer, in yoga, or in meditation and I smiled and told them it’s because I spend so much time with these activities that I get so much work done!
What’s something you wished your authors knew about you?
That even as something of an accomplished writer, I still feel vulnerable. And I still feel that occasional twinge of insecurity when other people read my words. The Washington Post published a piece of mine very recently, and they added an e-mail address at the end of my article.
Well, the article itself resonated so strongly with readers—it was a tribute to my old friend and first boss, President George H.W. Bush—that I ended up receiving THOUSANDS of e-mails from my readers. Literally thousands. Folks appreciated my words, which made me very happy. Most folks wouldn’t know that I sweated bullets before it came out, because the piece was deeply personal and revealing.
The reader response was overwhelming, which actually lifted my spirits and soothed my aching little soul, because I’m still grieving deeply. I miss my friend. And you can bet your bottom dollar that I’m going to respond to each and every one of the thousands of e-mails I’ve received. It is an honor and a privilege that my words touched so many hearts. And I think the President probably appreciated my humble little send-off and final goodbye.
About Kristin Clark Taylor
Kristin Clark Taylor is an author, editor, and freelance journalist. Her first three books were published by Random House/Doubleday and the fourth by Penguin/Berkeley. Kristin writes for publications such as the Washington Post, USA Today, the Miami Herald, and the Washington Times. She is also a former White House communications strategist, where she held the post of White House Director of Media Relations. She has edited and/or ghostwritten books in virtually every genre, many of them bestsellers. Taylor is a founding member of USA Today’s original creation and launch team. She holds an honorary doctorate from Michigan State University, where she was also named Distinguished Alumni for her outstanding professional accomplishments.