Interview 22: Otito Frances Iwuchukwu

Years editing: 8 years
Job title: Pharmacist-educator (day job), consultant
Job description: Teaches and conducts research in the life sciences; edits technical writing in the life and social sciences, business writing, narrative nonfiction, and children’s books
Location: New Jersey

EXPERIENCE

How did you get your current job?
I got my current job through a job board posting. I get freelance editing projects through marketing on social media and through client referrals, for the most part.

What training do you have in copyediting and what positions have you held? 
I have the Poynter ACES Certificate in Editing and have taken a plethora of self-directed courses from the Editorial Freelancers Association (EFA) and ACES: The Society for Editing. I get on-the-job learning with every project.

DOING THE JOB

Are there any complementary skills that are important in your job?
Subject matter expertise is the basis of what I do. Because we’re in a digitally driven economy, though, social media and technology skills are more important now than they have ever been, no matter your area of work. 

Also, a skill that has helped me a lot is reflective listening, hearing what the client is not saying directly in the consultation and being able to reframe their focus and move them along the path to their desired outcomes. 

Do you use any editing tools to get the job done (e.g., PerfectIt, Adobe stamps)? 
I use Paul Beverley’s suite of macros (and have gone through his training as well), in addition to PerfectIt. I do the majority of my work in Microsoft Word, so I find PerfectIt and a set of shortcut keys with the macros to be most useful right now. 

I do a general document analysis with Paul’s macros, to look for things such as treatment of numerals and the serial comma, curly and straight quotes, line and page breaks, UK versus US spelling, and em and en dashes. I follow that with a general cleanup before I start working on the finer details of structure, syntax, and context. I use PerfectIt at the end for a final consistency check and a final check for US or UK spelling. 

COMMUNICATING WITH OTHERS

How do you and your colleagues talk about editing with each other?
I am the sole consultant editor for my clients at the moment, but there is future likelihood of a partnership to serve more clients in the humanities and law.

Do you participate in a community (or communities) that supports editors?
Oh, yes. I am a member of ACES and the Council of Science Editors. For support groups, I am in the smaller spin-off groups within the Editors’ Association of Earth (EAE) Facebook group: the EAE Backroom and the Business and Professional Development groups. I also recently found the Black Editors Network through an Outside-the-Book.com profile on the founder, Tia Ross.

Do you have any thoughts on the need for editors to network and talk about what they do?
Hard work is critical. Editing is hard work and requires a level of attention to detail that may not be required of some jobs. However, if you are a freelancer or a consultant, then you have to work to get chargeable work. Networking, getting to know people, and having them get to know you and what you do are crucial elements to moving the field forward. I am so glad that there are now more virtual opportunities to meet up and network that do not necessarily involve showing up for face-to-face meetings. 

It seems like introversion comes with many editor territories, but if people don’t know you, how can they work with you? (This coming from a person who would rather curl up with a good book at home any day than spend that time at a meet and greet.) 

How might we get buy-in during the editing process from authors who may not be receptive to changes?
I always tell my clients to imagine life from their readers’ perspectives: They should want to make the reading of their written work as smooth as possible for the audience. And since we all get so attached to our work, it pays (even though it may be uncomfortable) to sit back and consider the editor’s suggestions. Because in the long run, if you didn’t think there was any value to having a second or third pair of eyes on your work, then we would not be collaborating on your project.

BUILDING DIVERSITY

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? 
I think the issue of structural racism has no bounds — cutting across all professions, really — and copyediting would be no exception. However, a peculiar issue for me is that akin to the sour cherry on the cake: people questioning your perceived command or mastery of the English language due to your name. They assume you cannot speak or write English, and so you can’t possibly edit their work. 

I always laugh those comments off, because I frankly feel my time could be better spent defending other issues. I would not want to work closely (by choice) with anyone who doubts my competence. Although I am multilingual, speaking and writing in four languages, I think in English. That was the first language I spoke, and British English is the official language of the country I was born in. Needless to say, I am always puzzled when people talk about native and non-native English speakers, as though being native in and of itself gives one a pass on English mastery, talk less of editing skills.

Any suggestions on what offices/employers could do to increase diversity in your field of editing?
Increasing diversity is not a “nice to have” component of an organization. It’s necessary, especially in the “reproductive” work that is publishing (“reproductive” in that writing and publishing are huge ways that writers get to put parts of themselves out in the world for posterity). “Hire, support, retain” should be an aspiration. And support looks different for different people. We need to see people who look like us all through the publishing chain, from acquisition to the final published work. As an editor, I am happy to be contributing to getting diverse books out there. 

THE PERSONAL

Tell us about a project that you’re proud of.
I work with a lot of authors who are physicians and educators and choose to be independently published. One of my favorite projects in the children’s book genre is a series on Mia, a little girl who has big dreams and a village of people supporting her and helping her find her voice. This project resonated so much with my background growing up in a more collectivist society, where everyone had a hand in helping raise a child and ensuring they were successful at what they wanted to do or be. And the author is an educator, like me.

In the adult genre, one of my favorites was a self-help book for physicians (Physician Heal Yourself) written by a physician, author, and coach. The writer wanted to continue the work of helping physicians defeat burnout on the job with strategies that had worked for her and her clients over her many years in the personal and professional development field.

Any hobbies you’d like to share with us?
I am a self-confessed bibliophile. Curiosity and a love of learning are two of my top strengths on the VIA character strengths survey. I love books, reading them and collecting them. I think reading widely and avidly is a gift we give ourselves, as we get to expand our world so much more and help contribute to increased diversity. 

A huge part of my collection includes cookbooks, because I consider myself a professional home cook, if such a thing exists. Mixing, matching, and creating new recipes in the kitchen bring me so much joy. And because way back in graduate school I worked in an organic chemistry lab synthesizing new molecules from various reactants, I like to use the analogy that my kitchen is my home lab, where I synthesize new ready-to-eat products using naturally sourced ingredients. 

RESOURCES

What resources would you share with fellow editors?
Oh, my — too many to mention. The relevant style guides that apply to one’s field are indispensable. For books, I would recommend The Subversive Copyeditor, by Carol Saller, and What Editors Do, edited by Peter Ginna. The Copyeditor’s Handbook, by Amy Einsohn and Marilyn Schwartz, is almost like a style guide. For associations, I have found ACES and the EFA to be really good resources. 

On an individual level, I recommend editors whose labor of love in doing their own work has contributed to my growth in this field: Katharine O’Moore-Klopf (KOK Edit), Erin Brenner (Right Touch Editing), Louise Harnby (The Editing Blog), and Jake Poinier (Dr. Freelance). 

Is there anything else you’d like readers to know about you or about diversity in the profession?
I am so happy to be doing this work and contributing to elevating the voices of writers of color. I believe everyone has a voice, and for many, writing is the best form of expression. While some are born into the English language, others are raised and rise into it. Either way, we all get to use this amazing language to impact our world.  

I can be reached at editor@getfabediting.com.

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