Interview 14: Kassel Pierre-Jean

Years editing: 15
Job title: Senior managing editor, Digitas Health
Job description: Edits medical and pharmaceutical materials; oversees team of editors
Location: Pennsylvania

EXPERIENCE

How did you get your current job?
I freelanced as an editor and proofreader for seven years, and the recruiting department of my current job contacted me in 2012 to freelance for them. After I had my son, I mentioned to the recruiting department that I’d be interested in any full-time positions they had open. In 2016, a full-time position opened up, and I’ve been there ever since.

I was recently promoted to senior managing editor. I now oversee editors in New York, on the West Coast, and in the European Union. But my daily job hasn’t changed. It’s a lot of editing, status meetings to learn what’s coming my way, and priority juggling. There’s definitely a project management aspect to the job.

What copyediting training have you had, and what positions have you held?
I graduated from Hofstra University with a degree in communications (print journalism) and a minor in English. I worked as chief copyeditor for my college newspaper then interned at Black Enterprise as a copyeditor. I briefly worked as a copyeditor/page designer for a daily paper in Kentucky, then moved to Pennsylvania and worked as an editorial assistant at a medical test development agency. 

That last position exposed me to medical terminology and the American Medical Association (AMA) Manual of Style. After two years, I decided to strike out on my own and freelance as Stylo Rouge (French for “red pen”) Editorial Services. I did that for about seven years before taking on a full-time job as an editor and proofreader for a veterinary health ad agency. 

DOING THE JOB

Are there any complementary skills that are important in your job?
Copyeditors aren’t really required to have design skills, but having a good eye for design, consistency and what helps readability is important — for example, making sure the same design treatment is consistently applied throughout a brochure, making sure paragraphs or text is aligned, and making sure the same kinds of graphics are consistent across related pieces. 

Basic social media skills have helped too, for example, knowing my way around Facebook and Instagram — so that I can view ads in staging environments (the state of viewing an ad on the platform before it’s published live) — and knowing the difference between paid and organic (unpaid) ads. 

A lot of this experience has come through osmosis — just being immersed in it. I’ve also been exposed to different subject matter, such as virology and oncology. When I first started, I knew a little bit about some of the disease states, such as HIV and breast cancer. As I continued to work on those topics, I would look up HIV and cancer terminology to make sure they were spelled correctly or being used in the proper context. Informing myself like this slowed my editing down a bit at first, but now I know enough to identify when something may not be accurate.

Do you use any editing tools to get the job done (e.g., PerfectIt, Adobe stamps)? 
One of the most important tools we use daily at my job is Workfront Proof (formerly ProofHQ). It’s basically an online version of Adobe Acrobat. It allows you to mark up documents on the web in real time, with other collaborators. For example, as I’m making edits to a document, the copywriter is able to go through my comments at the same time, accepting or stetting edits as necessary. Sometimes the whole team (usually editing, writing, art, and project management) can review and make comments in the document at the same time.  

As copyeditors in an ad agency, we mark up layouts a lot, so we don’t use Microsoft Word as frequently anymore. (The copywriters do.) The fast pace of the job now requires us to edit designs or mock-ups, so that’s usually done in Workfront Proof or Adobe Acrobat. 

Another great tool that we’ve used is Infix PDF Editor. It’s helped us to spell-check text-readable PDFs.

COMMUNICATING WITH OTHERS

How do you and your colleagues talk about editing with each other?
I am one of six editors in my department, and we are currently looking for another. Pre-COVID, most of the copyeditors sat near each other in a hallway that we dubbed “Copy Editors Extraordinaire.” This allowed us to easily discuss projects, collaborate, and bounce questions off each other. 

Now, with everyone working remotely, we use Microsoft Teams to message each other to ask questions. We have a central Editorial channel, sort of like a message board, to post announcements or work-related questions to the team. We can post messages in the channel or we can privately message individuals.

While I miss the back-and-forth of in-person discussions, using Microsoft Teams to communicate with my colleagues seems to be working well. We previously used Skype for Business before transitioning to Teams.  

Do you participate in a community (or communities) that supports editors?
I am a member of ACES: The Society for Editing and certified by the Board of Editors in the Life Sciences.

Do you have any thoughts on the need for editors to network and talk about what they do?
I think hard work is important, but networking is also important. Editors are naturally behind-the-scenes people, so we’re not really putting ourselves out there for promotion or recognition. 

But to be successful, we need to have other people recognize how good we are. In freelancing, networking gets you the referrals you need. In your job, it’s how you advance within a company.

How might we get buy-in during the editing process from authors who may not be receptive to changes?
In my industry, a lot of the concepts and wording are set in stone by the time the copy gets to me. Copywriters have the final say over what stays or what goes. I’m pretty flexible with what they want to convey, especially when it comes to consumer materials.

Formal writing and proper grammar can sound stilted, and marketing materials need to have a conversational tone. I try to collaborate with copywriters to help them express their ideas in a way that will better impact the consumer.

BUILDING DIVERSITY

How diverse is your office? 
Within the Copyediting Department, four out of the six editors are women; I am the only Black person. Within the larger department I work in, Science & Medicine, there are maybe 20 of us, with two or three of us being racial minorities.

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’ve experienced microaggressions in corporate America, slight things people don’t realize are offensive. But there’s reluctance to speak up because it’s possible it could cost you your job.

Any suggestions on what offices/employers could do to increase diversity in your field of editing?
Ever since the Black Lives Matter movement began, I’ve encouraged my employer to be more intentional in recruiting efforts, including working with recent college grads from historically black colleges and universities or considering job fairs at schools with a multicultural population. 

THE PERSONAL

Tell us about a project that you’re proud of.
I have worked on materials raising awareness about HIV and steps to take to help prevent its spread. I really enjoy working on those campaigns because I lost my uncle to AIDS and I feel like I’m doing something to make a difference in the lives of others.

Any hobbies you’d like to share with us?
I’m extremely boring. I spend a lot of my time on Twitter, but I also read steampunk novels.

My favorite thing to do is to attempt writing a 50,000-word novel during the month of November as part of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). I do enjoy writing fiction, and I don’t get to do it very much. So doing it once a year in November gives me the extra oomph I need.

RESOURCES

What resources would you share with fellow editors?
I use a lot of different medical editing resources. I’m particularly fond of the AMA Manual of Style website, Dorland’s for looking up medical terminology, and PubMed for styling references per AMA style. 

To lighten things up for myself and others, I use a meme generator to come up with horrible puns, like a picture of an otter to tell a colleague that they’re “otterly” amazing.

Is there anything else you’d like readers to know about you or about diversity in the profession?
The advertising industry needs more faces of color! It’s tough being the token person. I sometimes feel like I have to be perfect and “always on my game” as a representative of my race. Failing as an editor, in a sense, feels like failing other editors of color. By succeeding, I want to make the path in advertising easier for them.

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