Interview #2: Adaobi Obi Tulton

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Years editing: 6 copyediting, 20 developmental editing
Job title: Owner of Serendipity23 Editorial Services
Job description: Provide developmental editing, copyediting, and proofreading services
Location: New York City

EXPERIENCE

How did you get your current job?
I was laid off from my job as a developmental editor in 2013, when the publishing company I worked for went through a restructuring. I had been thinking about becoming a freelancer for a while before then, but that spurred me to finally take the plunge. I decided that instead of risking going to work for another company and having my job outsourced again, I wanted to be the one the work was being outsourced to. I was lucky enough that I could still work with my former company as a freelancer, and I was able to network to get additional editing work. From there, I was able to branch out beyond books to projects like white papers for a medical device software developer and K-12 STEM education materials.

What copyediting training have you had?
I took copyediting courses through New York University’s publishing program and the Editorial Freelancers Association (EFA). During my early years as a freelancer, I worked with a client that required all edits be justified by a reference to The Chicago Manual of Style, so I became well acquainted with that guide. I also spend time researching other online sources while I’m editing, including sources on AMA Manual of Style.

DOING THE JOB

Are there any complementary skills that are important in your job?
It helps to be familiar with tech and programming. Being familiar with the field and the jargon makes it easy to understand what I’m reading. For instance, when I encounter the word “method” I know it’s referring to a block of code and not its typical definition of “a course of action.” I learned most of the things I know over time rather than through classes or other training.

Do you use any editing tools to get the job done (e.g., PerfectIt, Adobe stamps)?
I typically use the tools available in Microsoft Word, including Editor and Track Changes. Once I’ve completed my edits, I run Editor to check for anything I might have missed. Sometimes I have to check for any accessibility issues as well, so that feature in Word definitely helps. I use stamps a lot for my proofreading work. I mark up PDFs with proofreading marks. It would take forever—and look really messy—if I had to draw those by hand with my mouse. So it’s really helpful to already have the stamps available.

COMMUNICATING WITH OTHERS

How do you and your colleagues talk about editing among each other?
For some clients, I’m the only editor they’ve ever brought on, so I don’t have someone to compare notes with. For other clients, I’m one of a few editors, but I’m the only one of color. Because all my colleagues are also freelancers, we don’t interact a lot.

If we need to, we’ll communicate over email or meet up over Zoom. For example, one project involved peer review, and we saw over time that the process for obtaining the reviewers and getting the reviewers to return their comments on time needed to be revamped. So all the editors contributed ideas over email on what would work best to make the process and the quality of the reviews better.

Do you participate in a community (or communities) that supports editors?
I’m a member of EFA and ACES, and I’m listed in the Editors of Color database. I also recently started connecting with a few Black women in publishing, and I’m hoping (crosses fingers) that this will turn into a professional organization supporting Black people in all aspects of publishing.

Some editors think the editing speaks for itself, that the hard work alone will advance their careers. Do you have any thoughts on whether editors need to do more (e.g., networking and talking about what they do)?
I’ve been really lucky that word of mouth through my networking contacts has worked for me. I haven’t had to really hustle hard to find work because whenever my contacts come across someone in need of an editor, they give that person my name. The person already trusts my contact, so I have an instant primary reference. So build those networks! You never know where your next job will come from.

When I first started, I couldn’t guarantee that I was going to have work to keep me going through the year, so I made sure my resume was updated, built my website, registered with job sites like Indeed for work, and listed myself on sites like Reedsy. Now that I have clients who provide steady work, I don’t worry much that I’ll see a lull in projects, but I’m not fooling myself into thinking that everything will keep running smoothly. Things happen.

Editors should also make it a point to talk about themselves when the opportunity comes along. A lot of us are introverts and don’t always enjoy being the center of attention, but don’t be afraid to toot your own horn. Talk about everything: the type of editing you do, the type of projects you work on, who you’ve worked with. You never know who’s listening.

Any advice for editors on getting buy-in from the non-editor colleagues with whom they work?
Editing is mostly solitary work for me, both now and when I worked in-house, so getting buy-in wasn’t necessarily something I needed to worry about. I guess I would say that you should work from the very beginning to establish trust and reliability with your group so you can leverage those qualities as you need to get your colleagues to listen to you.

BUILDING DIVERSITY

How diverse is your office? Any suggestions on what offices/employers could do to increase diversity in your field of editing?
When I worked in-house, the editorial staff was not diverse at all. There were no more than two, maybe three, people of color at a time in my group—including me—in the 13 years I was with the company. Employers need to make a greater effort to think outside the box to find potential employees. Going to the usual sources will only get them the same type of employee. Thank goodness for databases like Editors of Color. It makes it easier for employers to find us. I would even go as far to say that employers should start with diversifying their Human Resources departments. More diversity in the group in charge of hiring means more ideas about where and how to hire and a likelihood that they’ll see more diversity in the candidates.

THE PERSONAL

Tell us about a project that you’re proud of.
I recently worked on a book called Women of Color in Tech: A Blueprint for Inspiring and Mentoring the Next Generation of Technology Innovators. I was so excited to be part of this project, and the experience was everything I wanted it to be. I worked with an awesome author and felt good about working on something that would bring attention to the dearth of women of color, and specifically Black women, in tech.

Any hobbies you’d like to share with us?
During the COVID-19 outbreak, I discovered that I’m not a plant killer, so I now spend time tending to my quarantine garden. I also started and restarted (and restarted) teaching myself how to knit. You’d think I’d include reading as a main hobby, but reading has gotten hard! I keep trying to edit everything! I still pick up a book when I can, though.

RESOURCES

What resources would you share with fellow editors?
Grammar Girl is one of my favorite resources for general grammar and usage questions. I also use Purdue OWL pretty often, especially when it comes to how to style citations for the curricula and white papers.

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