Robert Lee Brewer: The New Definition of Editor

(I interviewed Robert Lee Brewer for an assignment in the Professional & Academic Editing course I’m taking this semester. I’m grateful for his generosity in taking the time to respond to my questions and for his permission to post my write-up of the interview here.)

If you think of an editor as someone bent over copy with red pen in hand, searching for misplaced commas and inappropriate homophones, then a glimpse into the working life of Robert Lee Brewer will permanently alter your mental picture. Brewer is Senior Content Editor for the Writer’s Digest Writing Community. He is responsible for the book that has come to be known as the freelancer’s Bible—Writer’s Market—and, as if that wasn’t enough, he also edits the companion website, WritersMarket.com, and the genre-focused Poet’s Market.

There is no typical working day for Robert Lee Brewer. His regular tasks are many and varied, and include everything from reading pitches and assigning articles to creating blog posts and combing through fields of data. “Some tasks make me feel like a programmer, others make me feel like a copywriter,” says Brewer. “There’s a lot more that goes into being an editor (at least in my role) than just editing.”

While an English literature major at the University of Cincinnati, Brewer landed an internship at F&W Publications (now F+W Media), which owns the Writer’s Digest products. He subsequently worked his way up the totem pole to permanent part-time employee, production editor, and assistant editor, until he ultimately reached the position he holds today. “I guess I did it the old-fashioned way,” says Brewer.

In total, Writer’s Digest Books publishes nine Market Books each year. The team responsible for preparing the new editions currently consists of four editors, two assistant editors, a rotating staff of interns, and freelance proofreaders. Each book contains hundreds of pages listing agents, magazines, websites, publishers, contests, and conferences where creative people can potentially find a home for their work. A database holding all of these contacts is updated continuously throughout the year.

The Market Books also feature articles written by professionals on the writing craft and the publishing business. Each summer, Brewer solicits pitches for these articles. He assigns articles to writers in autumn, reviews completed articles during winter, and sends the updated editions off to the printer the following summer.

Whereas the Writer’s Market book has a finish line for its new edition every year, editing WritersMarket.com is like chasing “a carrot tied to a string that is constantly just out of reach.” The website requires even more content than the book, and that content must be updated regularly to keep it relevant. Authors use WritersMarket.com to search for publishing opportunities in real time, and they can also use the site to track where they’ve submitted their work.

Robert Lee Brewer’s duties for Writer’s Digest don’t end at editing or maintaining databases. He writes articles for Writer’s Digest Magazine. He leads webinars and tutorials for Writer’s Digest University, an online education program for writers. And, he runs the Writer’s Digest poetry blog, Poetic Asides.

In fact, Brewer is also a poet. He has self-published two chapbooks of poetry, ENTER and ESCAPE, and he regularly participates in poetry readings. He also maintains a personal blog, My Name Is Not Bob, and frequently tweets for his own benefit and that of his employer. This is one well-rounded publishing professional. According to Brewer, “Sometimes, I’m an editor, but I can also be a poet, husband, father, den leader, concerned citizen, etc.”

Brewer is married to poet Tammy Foster Brewer, with whom he has five children. Luckily, his editing gig allows him the freedom to work from his home in Duluth, Georgia: “I work at home more than 90% of the time. When I’m up in Ohio, I usually stop in for a day or two in the Cincinnati office.” He is happy to be able to spend ample time with his family and to cut the phrase “daily commute” from his vocabulary though he misses seeing co-workers and has had to teach himself when it’s time to quit working.

A creative person at heart (Brewer earned two writing certificates from the University of Cincinnati, in Technical and Business Writing, and Creative Writing – Fiction) he views editing as a creative endeavor, particularly when combining “a writer’s intent with a sensibility that will appeal to the editor’s audience.” Having known a number of other editors, he feels each typically excels in one area above all others. “Some are good at speaking and networking, some are better at research. The best I’ve been around though are very good problem solvers and eternal optimists.”

In the ever-evolving world of publishing, an editor, whether of print or online media, must be open to developing new skills and adopting new roles. Robert Lee Brewer is a fine example of exactly this type of flexible editor. He has embraced new media while incorporating values learned via his work in traditional media. To aspiring editors, he offers this advice: “Keep up with what’s happening in publishing and media. Always work to develop new skills and take on new challenges. Don’t get set in your ways if you expect to survive in this business.” Words to live by for those who want a thriving career like Robert Lee Brewer’s.

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