Interview 8: Crystal Shelley

  • Years editing: 3 years
  • Job title: Freelance editor
  • Job description: Edit tech blog posts written by developers and engineers / provide line editing, copyediting, proofreading, and sensitivity reading for fiction authors
  • Location: Utah

EXPERIENCE

How did you get your current job?
I’ve been editing full time since 2019. Before that, I worked as a licensed clinical social worker and edited on the side. Now I edit full time and practice social work on the side.

I’m the owner of Rabbit with a Red Pen. I primarily do line editing, copyediting, proofreading, and sensitivity reading for fiction authors. I specialize in conscious language use and in representation and diversity in media. I also work with several companies as a contractor. One of these jobs involves editing tech-related blog posts written by developers and engineers.

I applied for the tech blog editing position through the Editorial Freelancers Association (EFA) job list because I wanted to diversify my experience. I’d only ever worked with independent authors, and this opportunity would allow me to edit a different type of material and to work for a company with other editors and a house style. The onboarding process was smooth, and it’s been a pleasant experience.

What copyediting training have you had?
I started out as a beta reader who worked closely with a copyeditor. Since developing my editing career, I’ve done trainings through the EFA, Poynter, and the Publishing Training Centre (UK). I also absorb as much information as I can through watching webinars and reading articles.

DOING THE JOB

Are there any complementary skills that are important in your job?
As a freelance business owner, I’ve found that producing content marketing and working on social media have been the key skills I’ve had to develop to attract new clients and network with other editors.

With tech blog editing, an inquisitive mind is particularly important. Since I’m not a developer or an engineer, a lot of the terms and concepts I come across while editing are unfamiliar to me. Therefore, I’m always consulting the style guide and search engines. If I can’t find an answer, I work directly with the writer on what would work best.

Do you use any editing tools to get the job done (e.g., PerfectIt, Adobe stamps)? 
I use PerfectIt to check consistency in Word documents. For the tech posts, which are hosted online, I use the free Grammarly plug-in as an extra set of eyes, and I’m able to ignore it when it’s wrong.

COMMUNICATING WITH OTHERS

How do you and your colleagues talk about editing with each other?
I’m the only editor for my freelance business. There are about 10 other editors for the tech blog, and we communicate through Slack. The conversations in Slack usually relate to the treatment of tech terms, such as capitalization, hyphens, and plurals. The tech world has so many terms that aren’t covered in the style guide (though they do update the guide frequently with best practices) that we have to use our judgment, but it’s nice to be able to talk to other editors to see how they would handle the issue. The results of these conversations are often incorporated in the style guide.

Do you participate in a community (or communities) that supports editors?
I’m a member of the EFA and its Diversity Initiative, ACES: The Society for Editing, and Utah Freelance Editors. I’m also part of the various Facebook groups for editors (e.g., Editors Association of Earth and its affiliates, as well as Louise Harnby’s group), the Editors Lair, and the #Edibuddies and #StetWalk communities on social media.

Do you have any thoughts on the need for editors to network and talk about what they do?
Networking and content marketing have been invaluable for me to grow my business. I joined Twitter as part of my marketing strategy, and it has led to my most significant professional opportunities. I think talking in public spaces about what editors do is important, because there are many misconceptions out there (that we’re sticklers who strip away a writer’s creativity and voice, for one). 

Because I specialize in conscious language use and representation, I write about it on social media and in my blog. There have been ongoing discussions about how editors can play a role in working with writers, publishers, and businesses to push for language change, especially around inclusive and representative language. I believe editors can and should be at the forefront of these conversations.

How might we get buy-in during the editing process from the non-editor colleagues with whom we work?
I’m fortunate that I haven’t had to deal with much pushback from non-editors. I mostly work directly with writers or other editors, and the writers have all valued how I and other editors help them improve their content.

If I was working with a non-editor and needed to get buy-in, I’d frame how editing benefits readers, which then benefits them in whatever measure is important (profits, reviews, increased site traffic, etc.).

BUILDING DIVERSITY

Have you faced any hurdles in getting into/advancing in the copyediting profession because you are a person of color? (These can be systemic, personal, environmental.) Or have you observed such barriers for others? Tell us about that.
I haven’t faced any hurdles because I’m a person of color, but I’ve seen conversations from editors about whether to anglicize their names for business purposes because clients may question their English proficiency otherwise. It’s an unfortunate reality that I haven’t experienced because my married name is of English origin. 

I have, however, experienced microaggressions in person, where I’ve been asked if I understood a phrase or idiom just used, which usually then leads to questions about my ethnicity and comments about how well I speak English. 

THE PERSONAL

Tell us about a project that you’re proud of.
Because I work directly with writers, I’m proud anytime they’re able to get their writing out into the world. Most of the developers and engineers I work with aren’t writers, but they’re experts in their fields. Many of them are also English language learners. I’m glad to be able to help them share their knowledge with readers in a clear and concise manner.

Any hobbies you’d like to share with us?I enjoy playing video games, reading, watching TV shows and movies, and spending time with my dog. I’ve also started writing a novel, which is a bit scary but also fun. I’m not sure what will come of it, but it’s a story I’m excited to tell.

RESOURCES

What resources would you share with fellow editors?
I know previous interviewees have mentioned Conscious Style Guide, but I want to reiterate its importance, especially when thinking about how we can help writing be more inclusive and empowering. The Editing Podcast with Louise Harnby and Denise Cowle is a great resource for editors of all types. Great to listen to if you’re going for a #StetWalk!

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