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Book Architecture Turns 20

Madison Utley speaks to Book Architecture Founder and Principal, Stuart Horwitz, upon the 20th anniversary of his independent editing business; how did he reach this milestone, what has he learned along the way, and what’s in store for the future? 

(No, he does not get special treatment simply because he’s the boss. My new interview format is my new interview format). 

 

MU: Initially, what appealed to you about a career as an independent editor? 

SH: I was speaking to my colleague, Anita Mumm, about this and she told me that one day she had an aha moment about wanting a writing life. I think that’s what hits all of us independent editors at some point. I wanted a life that has to do with the thing that I love, which is books and writing and words. There are more traditional routes and less traditional routes to getting there; for me, heading towards independent editing had to do with avoiding any more toxic bosses than I had already experienced. It was terrifying to have my life in someone else’s hands, for them to be able to handle my well-being whimsically–especially as I got into my thirties. 

 

MU: How did the vision that you had in your mind for what your business could be 20 years ago match up to how it has actually unfolded? 

SH: I didn’t expect Book Architecture to be my full-time job; originally, it was supposed to be a way to make money while I went to graduate school in East Asian studies. My goal was to become a professor of Buddhism. But over time, I came to find that the academic future I pictured was an image that I had for myself rather than my actual path. 

Concurrent to this realization, there were changes happening in the industry that were radically increasing demand for independent editors. The advent of self-publishing, the profusion of e-books–it was sort of like buying a stock at the right time. I was doing better financially than I would have as a professor, but it wasn’t just that; I was also getting a much broader context of exposure to the world through the projects I was doing. It was all just happening, and some of that is certainly luck. If I sit here and look at the last year, two years, five years, twenty years, it’s clear that nothing is clear. Book Architecture was just meant to happen. I figured it out before it was too late; that’s the only credit I feel like I deserve. 

Stuart’s former office in Providence, which had red walls because he wanted red walls. His current office is in San Diego, because he wanted it to be in San Diego. // Alternate caption, sourced from SH: “I am my own man.”

 

MU: Where did the name Book Architecture come from?

SH: I did an architecture course during my first master’s degree. There was so much more artistry to it than I realized, in the proportion and emphasis and repetition of stylistic icons. It struck me as a symphony in stone, something creative but also solid. That’s what I wanted to bring to my business; something beautiful, but also built to last. That is book architecture. 

Book Architecture also represents hope. The hope that you can structure your octopus of a manuscript in progress, that there’s some kind of clarity and sanity to be found. The hope that your voice is enough, that you as an author are enough. The hope that the critics in your head saying you can’t do it can be silenced and your creativity is inexhaustible. That hope has become my mission of sorts, to help strengthen the roots of confidence within others and myself. 

 

MU: Something we’ve talked a lot about is the intensity of this job, in being brought into clients’ worlds and entrusted with the details of the most meaningful and, often, the most painful parts of their lives. Can you talk about how that’s been? 

SH: These are the things that make for the best books, so if I’m in a situation in which things feel flat or uninspiring, I’ll usually start digging to see what we can liberate. But truly, in these situations of working with a client before they go to prison or a client with a terminal cancer diagnosis who is aware they’ll die before the book comes out, it is a profound privilege to tell their story. Some of the books I’ve worked on with these kinds of stressors have impacted me profoundly and changed the way I view the world. Experiencing that was part of what validated my leaving academia; this work became better than more formal education. The courses I take now are all one-on-one, they’re more varied, and there’s a richness, an immediacy, a real-lifeness to them.

When you’re in the groove and collaborating together with someone, it feels like a multiplication and not an addition. So, being able to be in the creative process with people of quality, and getting paid for it, and setting my own hours? Yeah, sounds good. 

 

MU: How has helming Book Architecture impacted your personal writing endeavors? 

SH: One of the best things about this job is that it has allowed me to work on my own writing concurrently, whether that was my three theoretical books on writing, my memoir (which is in a very exciting phase), or the novel that I’m currently working on, which is incipient but glowing. I think there are some people who feel like they can’t work with words and then also do their own writing, like somehow they’ll be using up their talent or it’s too much in the same headspace. I can empathize with that. For many years, I thought I had to wait tables, because that way I would have my creative energy all to myself. That makes sense in theory, but in reality I was existing in a toxic and draining environment. While my creativity may have been safe and untouched, nearly every other kind of energy was being sapped, which seriously inhibited my ability to sit down and write effectively. 

Committing to my business full-time and being in control of my own destiny has had a huge impact on how quickly I’m able to clear my mind before a good writing session starts. Now, there’s a lot of cross-flow between the work I do for Book Architecture and the work I do for myself. I can do my job for five hours and then I can take a break, exercise, meditate, go to the coffee shop, whatever, and then write at night. I’ve created the context and learned the tools I need to access that headspace.  

 

 

MU: What are you most excited about moving into a new decade of Book Architecture? 

SH: In thinking through my answer to this question, I realize that Book Architecture is able to fit with everything that I want to do with my life moving forward. My wife and I are anticipating opening up a retreat center for writers in the next two years or so, and I fully intend for my work as an independent editor to continue through that. If there are areas of life that I’m more interested in learning about, I can seek out those clients. If I want to work more, I can get more clients. If I want to work less, I can get less clients. If I want to go be a digital nomad, done. I’m there. Over the past 20 years, it seems Book Architecture has become intrinsic to my identity and my lifestyle–and I don’t expect that to change anytime soon.

 

Clients Crushin’ It: Carla Albano

Madison Utley speaks to Carla Albano upon the release of her first book, Soul of A Swimmer, in which she tells the true story of Nicholas Dworet, a champion swimmer from Florida whose life was tragically cut short in a school shooting. While Carla first heard Nick’s name in relation to the devastating news, it became clear there was a much more complex story to tell about the young man’s life and legacy after speaking to his family, friends, coaches, and teammates. In this book, Carla describes the lifelong process of nurturing a child who has extraordinary talent and the drive to put it to its best use. 

 

 

Q: How was it that you ended up involved in getting Nick’s story onto paper?

A: The project is a little unorthodox, I know. When Nick passed away, I had just restarted my swimming career. Swimmers are all connected by a love of water; there’s a real community there. And so faced with the fact that we lost one of our ownmeaning a fish, a swimmerI felt like I needed to do something positive, as part of our community grieving and as part of my own grieving. 

Initially, I decided I wanted to write an application for Nick to be admitted to the International Swimming Hall of Fame, but as I started to compile what I needed for that, I got to know his coaches and all these other people in his life. It wasn’t long before I realized: “Holy cow, this is bigger than an application. This is such a great story.” The more I learned about Nick, the more inspired I felt to write a book. I was exhausted by hearing about all of the bad things about mass shootings and body counts, but never knowing anything about who these people we lost are. And so, I decided I wanted to write a biography of this boy who was a champion swimmer, and one of my kind. 

Q: How did your previous experience prepare you for this endeavor? 

A: During this process, I was able to call upon my own experience growing up as a swimmer while interviewing Nick’s friends, teammates, and coaches. I feel like that gave me instant rapport with the subjects who in turn gave me the material I used in the book. I even went on swims with some of them after the interviews were over, which was really bonding.  

As for the writing itself: good swimmers know that they need to have a good coach, so I started with Stuart from the very, very beginning. Given that it’s my first book, I had no perspective on how to structure my thinking or how to put the material together. Stuart was amazing from the start; he didn’t tell me what to do or how to write, but instead he helped direct my voice through this process and guided me towards where I needed to go next. We had a lot of dots to connect and I’m so grateful to Stuart for helping me with that. I wouldn’t have been able to get the message straight or tell the story the way it needed to be told without him. 

Q: Tell me more about your experience interviewing the people in Nick’s life. 

A: I believe this project was very healing. For many of the young adults that I interviewed, Nick’s friends and teammates, this was the first opportunity they were given to speak about him in a positive way, outside of the circumstances of his death. So it was a hard process, but one they thanked me for. They shared a lot of really intimate stories with mesuch great, happy stories. And that’s what I wanted to focus on, the bright and the good; I felt it was my mission to keep this boy alive.

Throughout the process of writing this book, I started to think our community is scarce on mental health/counseling resources. It seems people might not get the outreach they need to be guided towards help, so it was special to be part of this process. I’m actually still in contact with a lot of the kids that I interviewed. They’ve become part of my life and vice versa. They view me as a safe person to share their grief with.

Q: Who do you view as the primary audience for this book? 

A: Swimmers of all ages, young adult athletes, parents of athletes… The story is about how to cultivate and nourish a talented child, whether they are academically or athletically gifted. This book describes the process of identifying talent and helping encourage young people to get motivated and push towards their dreams. I truly hope that readers are shown what a family and what a community needs to do when they are entrusted with a talented child. 

The Independent Editor Podcast

Independent editing is a mentorship industry. There is little to no targeted training and an absence of concise, reputable-seeming resources available. Enter: the Independent Editor Podcast. With episodes dropping every other Wednesday, starting October 27, it is our aim to serve as a support for aspiring editors who may be experiencing a crisis of confidence, a community for those that toil alone, and a resource containing detailed and practical direction. Below, we present to you a sampling of what’s coming:

 

Why should you care what we say? To kick things off, we talk about how we each found our way to the industry—and to each other; Stuart tells us how he purposefully waded in while Madison explains the fortuitous manner in which she found herself shoved into the deep end. The stark difference in our paths (and experience levels, with Stuart 20+ years into this whole thing and Madison just three) means we’re able to speak to independent editors across the spectrum. Here, we also get into the changes in traditional publishing which allowed for the flourishing of the independent editing industry.

 

In this episode, we explore the breadth of opportunities that exist for the independent editor by talking our way through a project’s life cycle, covering many of the classic services that can be offered, including: coaching, developmental editing, ghostwriting, cowriting, line editing and ongoing assistance, copy editing, marketplace assistance (for both traditional and self-publishing) and publication support. But what you can do doesn’t stop there; we also discuss the endless possibilities for writers to turn whatever they are good at and like doing involving the written word into an income stream, and the importance of that very diversification.

You cannot be an independent editor without having clients. And so today, we talk about how to source them. They’re out there; it’s up to you to connect with them and sell your services with confidence. Believing that, earnestly networking, and accepting both when leads pan into something great and when they go nowhere are all essential parts of the equation. Which, of course, means you need to be comfortable hearing “no.” Are you ready?

 

When people search you out, what do they find? Are you their person? Your editorial platform is what determines this answer. All parts of your online presence work together to establish your credibility, express your personality, and show your engagement, but the crown jewel of it all is your website. In this episode, we cover both the general guiding principles and the specific building blocks you should consider while constructing your digital home. We also talk about social media’s role in your overall platform, as well as how to decide when the time is right to launch and invest in your editing website.

 

Clients Crushin’ It: Windy Lynn Harris

Windy Lynn Harris does it all. She writes, she edits, she gets published regularly and, better yet, she helps others do the same. And that is why it is no surprise that her book, Writing & Selling Short Stories & Personal Essays: The Essential Guide to Getting Your Work Published, is celebrating its fourth publication anniversary with a new printing! It has reached thousands of writers over the years and helped them market their short writing effectively, and now that goodness goes on.

Earlier this month, Madison Utley sat down with Windy to discuss her book’s journey including the origin of the project, how she got it over the finish line, and what it has meant for both its readers and her career.

 

Q: Talk to me about the conception of this project. 

A: The idea actually came from my friendship with Stuart—which, believe it or not, began on LinkedIn. I had read a copy of Blueprint Your Bestseller, his first book, and thought: “Wow, this is really useful.” So when his name popped up as a suggested connection on LinkedIn, I sent him a note that said: “Hey, I just read your book and it was great.” He wrote me back saying, “That’s very nice for you to say. Would you be willing to fill out a survey about it? I’m actually working on book two now and I’d appreciate your insight.” Little did I know that Stuart and I would go on to become critique partners for life. 

But at some point in there, Stuart said to me, “You help people get published all the time. You’ve done so many talks on this. It feels like a big enough idea to be a book.” I wasn’t sure, but he pushed me to write down a table of contents to see if I had enough material. I came up with an outline that was 30 pages long. When I sent it over, he was like, “So yeah, this is a book.” Stuart said he would help me figure it out, and that my next assignment was to actually write some chapters. 

Q: Once you decided to go for it, what did the writing and publishing process look like?

Stuart essentially walked me through the entire process I had read about in Blueprint Your Bestseller to figure out what I was really talking about and what order it should go in. When I was finished with the material, Stuart told me he had a relationship with a certain publisher and asked if I wanted him to make a connection for me. I was like, “Of course!” He did that, and I sold the book. I didn’t have to show it to anyone else. I didn’t have to get an agent. So I think part of success can just be that you’ve got to be in the room. Be a literary citizen. Make connections. When you have a question, ask it. 

As writers, I think we need to be able to recognize when we meet somebody we click with and say, “I understand you’re looking at the world of writing or stories in the same way as me. I think we have something in common. I could use your help and you could use mine.” You have to find your tribe in that way. You need trusted readers to give you the honest feedback that you need to hear. 

Q: Did you think about giving up at any point during this time? 

A: Absolutelyand that came out of fear. It wasn’t because I didn’t have enough material. I worried, “There’s not a lot of value to this. Anybody could figure out how to do it if they took 20 hours of research time. Why would they pay me to consolidate it?” I had to come around and say, “Because they don’t want to take that time. They want to go to one resource and find out exactly how you do this.” It took a while to realize I had a new package to offer that wasn’t somewhere else on the shelf out there, and that it was going to save writers’ time. 

Q: What kinds of responses have you gotten over the past four years? 

A: The response has largely been, “I didn’t realize how easy it was to get my work out there.” It’s really surprising how quickly writers get published once they have the path opened to them. Truly, we can all find the right place for our work. Getting a book published can be like a salmon swimming upstream, yes, but the world of writing short stories and poems and personal essays is completely different. With shorter works, we handle our own projects. And if you market your polished work, you can get it published. It’s just that simple. 

 

Q: What has the publication of this book done for your career?

A: Immediately, it gave me a fantastic platform to meet more people. The credibility of having a published book beside me made it easier to market myself and suddenly doors opened without me even having to ask. It was a complete 180 from me raising my hand above my head to having to turn opportunities down because I was all booked up. 

Q: How do you see your business evolving into the future?

A: My business model is currently changing a bit; I’m doing less traveling and more editing, which is exactly what I eventually wanted to happen. I’m making less time for speaking engagements because my favorite thing to do is the editing work with short story and essay writers, and I have a waitlist of those clients. It seems there are enough of my books out there in the world that people are finding me organically and through word of mouth. 

I’ve also partnered with my author friend Susan Pohlman to host an annual writing retreat. We did our very first last month and it was absolutely wonderful; that’s going to become a focus in the future. We had 14 short story, essay, memoir, and novel writers all together at a lakehouse in Pennsylvania. The retreat provides a getaway for writers to have some relaxation and writing time, but it also facilitates extensive craft discussion and practice, like an MFA course crammed into a long weekend. With our combined experience, Susan and I feel sure we can figure out how to get any project published no matter what it is. And if we don’t know an answer, we’re confident we know somebody who does. And finally, the retreat is a chance to connect with other writers. Like I’ve said from the start of our talk, cultivating community and finding appropriate critique partners is just so important.