Friday, October 22, 2010

Writer's Forum: Mark Burstein (an editor's point of view)

At last night's Writer's Forum we heard from Mark Burstein, whose credits as a copyeditor and project editor include books from The Complete Quincy Jones to The Reggae Scrapbook. Burstein, who took classes on editing from editcetera and UC Berkeley, got his first big break with the book All Things Alice. All of the pre-1927 images in the book are from his private collection: a tower holding 1900 editions of Alice in Wonderland in 60 languages, plus 1400 books by or about Lewis Carroll.

In 1994, Burstein was the editor of Knight Letter: Lewis Carroll Society of North America. What began as a four-page newsletter has turned into a 56-page scholarly journal. Soon after his first book, he got a faxed request ("We hear you're an editor") which led to larger projects such as Jerry Garcia: The Collected Artwork and Dressing a Galaxy: The Costumes of Star Wars. Initially, he thought, "I'm a kid who's edited an obscure literary magazine." But persistence prevailed, and he found his calling.

Sharing some 'war stories' from the field, Burstein says editing isn't just working with words. It can mean dealing diplomatically with difficult people (he often works with celebrities and sometimes their widows). He described the multifaceted role of editor as coach, hand holder, babysitter, teacher, midwife, therapist, partner and all-around Mensch. "An editor's relationship with a writer is more like raising a child and seeing them off to college," he says.

While the job has its downside, it's clear Burstein loves the work. He especially enjoys the research, such as watching 100 Greatest Looney Tunes cartoons with his kid. He admits it's a thrill to behold the first printing and know he had a hand in it, often from that first idea or Word document.

Read more about Burstein's Lewis Carroll collection in this Americana Exchange article.

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