When passion strikes
Jeffrey Woolverton discusses the process of going from writer to editor, including the slip-ups and victories he had along the way.
by JAMIE HUDALLA | Web Editor
Jeffrey Woolverton stumbled into the realm of writing. Halfheartedly dragging his feet through college, he had doubts up until senior year, but now he’s planted firmly in the publishing business. In 2007, Woolverton launched Black Umbrella Books, but his timeline up until that point wasn’t so polished. From writing music reviews to nonfiction books, he bounced around until he finally found success. Woolverton published his first book, “Apples of Arcadia,” in 2008 and spent two years attempting to bring it to other publishers with little luck. His struggle led to his desire to help others in the finicky world of publishing. Now, Black Umbrella Books serves as a supportive and creative alternative to major publishing houses.
Can you tell me about your journey to your job at Black Umbrella Books?
“The journey into publishing for me was quite accidental. At a young and naive age, I had plans to become a writer. Not knowing the full details of how to execute my plan, I wound up in the publishing business after following various snake-like twists and turns.”
What happens during a typical day on the job?
“There is nothing typical about publishing, especially in the current technological age. That said, I refuse to wax nostalgic. Suffice it to say, there is always life above everything, and in publishing this is not different. Life’s experiences stoke passion, and this passion stokes publishing. There are also many emails to authors with revisions, businesses hoping to peddle the wares, etc.”
“I like watching the process of creation, from the germinating idea to its full realization.”
What is your favorite part of your job? Least favorite?
“I like watching the process of creation, from the germinating idea to its full realization. I dislike communicating with people who have never experienced this process in its entirety, ever.”
What kind of hours do you work?
“Whenever the passion strikes, or the bills need paying. Infrequent do these hours coincide. I prefer surfing the time zones.”
Do you have a mentor or someone who has inspired your career? How did this person influence you?
“No. And this was my biggest mistake. Any advice I can give to a young upstart is to find a mentor in your chosen field. And find one yesterday, if possible.”
What is one editing horror story?
“Anytime a deadline is missed is a true horror story. To name one is near impossible, since to miss one deadline is to miss a thousand subsequent deadlines. My second bit of advice: Never miss a deadline. And good luck with that.”
What is one editing success story?
“One author I worked for spent 27 years in federal prison, and he hoped to tell his story. For one and a half years I worked with this author, revising his story’s grammar while remaining true to his chosen message. Today, this author now travels the country orating his story in conferences and selling his book to the audience members. Through him, I witnessed true strength in spirit and resolve.”
If you weren’t working at Black Umbrella Books, where would you want to work?
“Something to do with education, perhaps teaching English in a developing country. And I’d retire in a library.”
How do you find balance between your social and professional life?
“Frankly, I don’t take either of them too seriously. And I enjoy saunas, immensely.”
What advice would you give to journalism/English students looking for internships and experience?
“Find a mentor in your chosen field. Don’t miss a deadline. And drink lots of water because it’s healthy for you.”
Whether it’s writing, editing or publishing, there is no cookie-cutter outline of what your career should look like. Woolverton stressed that networking, or having a mentor in the field, is a key component to starting that career. After that, the process becomes hazy. I’ve never been a 9-to-5, step-by-step, color-in-the-lines person. Having an ambiguous career that takes me in various directions excites rather than terrifies me.
However, that doesn’t mean an editing job lacks rules. According to Woolverton, deadlines are a biggie. Any writer groans at the word deadline — a necessary yet frustrating device that cuts off the creative process. I’ve never missed one, but the work I’ve produced during crunch-time isn’t the kind I hang on the fridge. A deadline can paralyze, but hopefully in the future I’ll learn to let it motivate me instead.
Woolverton, as well as many others, decided that the stress is worth it. Why? Because an editor has the privilege of watching an idea scrawled onto a napkin turn into a finished product. Woolverton’s perspective on creation combined with his sense of humor carried him a long way. His overall message: take your job seriously, but don’t take yourself too seriously.
This interview has been edited and condensed.