Interview 15: Ruksana Hussain

Years editing: 19
Job title: Freelance journalist, editor, copyeditor, proofreader, writer, and content creator
Location: California

EXPERIENCE

How did you get your current job?
I chose to begin freelancing when the recession hit in 2008 and nobody was hiring. It was doubly difficult for me, as I had just moved to the United States in 2006 and 2008 was the first year I could legally apply for employment. 

During this time, I built my freelance business while working multiple gigs (e.g., in childcare, administration, research, and even a home-based eco-friendly products business), with the goal of eventually freelancing full time. 

That happened in 2011, when all of those gigs ended around the same time. My work opportunities since have all come along as a result of consistent networking and constantly applying for editorial roles, sometimes even creating those roles for myself in avenues where they were not advertised or didn’t exist. 

My major hurdle through it all was not having a social, educational or professional network to fall back on or dip into for connections, recommendations or other resources.

What copyediting training have you had?
My training began on the job. My first position, straight out of college, was in editorial. Then I took on content management and corporate communications, and eventually, I performed more writing and editing-focused roles. 

Over time, I chose to build on those skills to stay relevant to the market. That building included a continuing education certificate in copyediting and ACES: The Society for Editing workshops and the annual conference. 

DOING THE JOB

Are there any complementary skills that are important in your job?
Networking and marketing are crucial, especially if you want to create opportunities for yourself instead of applying for what’s available. Whether that networking is via social media or online-offline connects is up to the individual, but sharing your work and highlighting what you do is important. 

I have added skills along the way that have helped my work with clients. A course in Adobe InDesign a few years ago has come in handy when working with magazine clients, and a grant-writing certification obtained last year has helped with some nonprofit work. 

COMMUNICATING WITH OTHERS

How do you and your colleagues talk about editing with each other?
As a freelance editor, I mostly work alone. In the rare event that I am coordinating with a team, we use email, Slack, Dropbox, or Google Drive to collaborate.

This year has introduced several new terms in everyday usage, including “shelter in place” and “contact tracing.” For one magazine I work with and for which I created a custom style guide, these terms had to be added. Questions to resolve included, “When do we use them with or without hyphens?” We had discussions among the copyeditor, editor, and managing editor on the correct forms based on AP style.

For another outlet’s stories on race-related coverage, we had a Dropbox discussion on updating hyphenated dual-heritage terms, such as African American or Asian American, to current AP style.

Do you participate in a community (or communities) that supports editors?
Yes. ACES, the American Society of Magazine Editors, the American Society of Business Publication Editors, and the Society for Advancing Business Editing and Writing

Do you have any thoughts on the need for editors to network and talk about what they do?
In my experience, I had to do a lot more than just the editing. A couple of factors played into this: having recently moved to the country, not having the educational or professional experience that other candidates vying for the same role did, and not having many projects to share in my portfolio when I was starting out. 

My only option was to get in front of people and be seen and heard to find the roles I wanted, or create them for myself. I still do a lot of networking and try to get myself in front of decision makers. With the work I’ve accomplished, it has become easier to have those conversations.

How might we get buy-in during the editing process from authors who may not be receptive to changes?
I haven’t had many instances of having to get buy-in from authors, but the few times it has happened, I’ve shared the specific style guide with them or examples online from other sources. Sometimes it’s a conversation, and sometimes it’s education.

BUILDING DIVERSITY

How diverse is your office? 
In the teams I’ve worked with over the years, sometimes I’ve been the only person of color, and sometimes I’ve been surrounded by a diverse team. 

Have you faced any hurdles in getting into/advancing in the copyediting profession because you are a person of color? Or have you observed such barriers for others? 
When I was starting out in this line of work in America, it certainly did feel like I had to prove myself more than others. 

On the one hand, I see that as a practical decision by the hiring person: if you don’t see on paper the qualifications and experience you are looking for, then you wouldn’t hire that individual. 

On the other hand, my name and my identity as a woman of color somehow gave people the idea I couldn’t put a sentence together, leave alone edit what they had written. This bias was only further strengthened by the fact that I had no educational or work experience in the US. 

A few years ago, I could sense that I, as the editor of a magazine, was being viewed with surprise — sort of a “How did you get here? Who let you in? Are you in the right place?” attitude, rather than a “You must be good at what you do to be here with us.” I still do sense it on occasion, but generally, I think I’ve been in the business so long I don’t take note.

Any suggestions on what offices/employers could do to increase diversity in your field of editing?
Admit bias exists, recognize it, and address it. Implement recruitment and hiring processes that ensure those biases don’t become the basis for your decision making (which, most times, will be to the detriment of your success). 

Form a diversity and inclusion team that is representative of your community, and have them be your guides in this conversation. 

Stop paying lip service and be transparent in how and why diversity and inclusion is important to you and what you are doing about it.

THE PERSONAL

Tell us about a project that you’re proud of.
I am proud of every single project that has brought me to this space of professional contentment that I find myself in now. At the moment, I am the editor at a diversity-focused publication and am happy to be part of a media company with that mission. 

I recently won three awards at the Los Angeles Press Club’s 2020 SoCal Journalism Awards that felt like a nod to years of hard work honing my writing and editing pursuits — in less than 10 years being a full-time freelancer and 14 living in the US. 

My personal passion project is a digital lifestyle magazine I launched earlier this year, Traveler and Tourist. Diversity and inclusion are the primary factors driving that effort. 

Any hobbies you’d like to share with us?
Traveling, cooking, reading, coloring, listening to music, watching movies, crosswords, trying new restaurants, learning languages, napping — I’m Gemini; the list is endless.

RESOURCES

What resources would you share with fellow editors?
A subscription to the online AP Stylebook is a great investment if that’s your specialization. For those starting out, a certification or two in copyediting might be that little push you need to get work. For those already in the field, learning to work in InDesign for edits is worth exploring. All of the groups I’ve mentioned above in “Communicating with Others” are great resources.

Is there anything else you’d like readers to know about you or about diversity in the profession?
I welcome readers to connect with me on LinkedIn. I’m always happy to answer any questions or help in any way possible. I certainly stumbled around quite a bit trying to find my footing in this space, so if I can help expedite that process for anyone else, I’d be glad to assist. 

As for diversity in the profession, there’s certainly a long way to go, and there is much work being done. There are champions and allies and cheerleaders who are helping in any way they can. And, of course, there are skilled diverse editors and other members of editorial communities doing their part. It’s a journey in that sense. But the more people who participate, the more there is accomplished. 

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