Interview 34: Tatia Gordon-Troy

Years editing: 25+ years
Job title: Founder and CEO of Ramses House Publishing LLC
Job description: Helps lawyers and law firms self-publish to market themselves
Location: Maryland

EXPERIENCE

How did you get your current job?
When I started as a staff editor, I responded to an ad in the newspaper. That should tell you how long ago that was. 

Six years ago, I started Ramses House Publishing LLC out of necessity. Ramses House is an author services company designed to help lawyers and law firms self-publish to market themselves and their practices, leverage their expertise, grow their businesses, and build thought leadership. It also serves as an outsourced editorial department for small associations that publish member magazines and other publications.

After 15 years with my previous employer, I became a victim of downsizing. But I was determined not to stay a victim for long. I brokered a deal with my former employer to have publishing projects outsourced to me, while I reached out to my contacts throughout the industry. Once I landed my first client, I knew I was on to something. Was it a struggle? Yes, and it still is. Starting and maintaining a business requires constant hustle.

What training do you have in copyediting, and what positions have you held?
I have no formal training as an editor, just a passion for the written word. During my second year of law school, I enrolled in a handful of journalism courses at another university, and I published op-eds in the university newspaper. 

Upon graduation, I landed a job with Court TV but was unable to relocate to New York. Instead, I took a legal reporter job with a local law and business newspaper, where I honed my skills in both writing and editing. That job led me to serve as press secretary to a very busy congressman, for whom I wrote everything under the sun, honing my skills even more.

After a short stint with a law firm, I started with my previous employer as a staff editor and rose through the ranks to head the publishing program, with a $4 million annual budget. By the time I’d left my employer, I had edited and published more than 500 books and more than 2,000 articles.

DOING THE JOB

Are there any complementary skills that are important in your job?
I am a regular contributor on LinkedIn — it’s where my ideal clients are. Having a presence on social media helps build your personal brand.  

While in trade publishing, I worked closely with the marketing department to develop campaigns for promoting our books and authors. I incorporate that marketing experience into my business to help clients promote their books. I also use Canva for quick and easy designs and branding. 

Other meeting and project management programs — such as Trello, Animoto, and Slack, along with Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and Google Meet — are becoming a part of everyday life. I am now cultivating relationships on Clubhouse, where having a great speaking voice and being able to make your point clearly and succinctly are most helpful.

Also, I have strengthened my skills as a developmental editor. Having this skill can provide an editor an opportunity to advance their status within a company or to qualify for a higher position elsewhere.

Do you use any editing tools to get the job done (e.g., PerfectIt, Adobe stamps)? 
I occasionally use ProWritingAid and Grammarly, but I rely on my own editorial prowess. I do keep my Dictionary app handy, as well as Unflubbify Your Writing, by Sara Rosinsky, to double-check for homonyms. In addition, I’ve always been a fan of Eat, Shoots & Leaves, by Lynne Truss. It helps me make the case to my clients for using the Oxford comma.

COMMUNICATING WITH OTHERS

How do you and your colleagues talk about editing with each other?
When I worked at a trade association, my staff developed a style guide to ensure consistency throughout the publications and other written communication created within the association. We would meet monthly to discuss it.

Do you participate in a community (or communities) that supports editors?
I have been a member of Association Media & Publishing since 2009, when it was known as SNAP. It supports those who are employed in association publishing and media. I serve as a board member on the Associations Council.

Do you have any thoughts on the need for editors to network and talk about what they do?
Your editing and writing had better be impeccable — that should go without mention. Will that get you to the next step on the ladder? No. The biggest hindrance to an editor’s ability to advance is introversion. I’m an introvert. But if editors are interested in advancement, they must be proactive and find their inner extrovert.

I don’t mean become a social butterfly that talks to anyone who will listen. You must be strategically extroverted. Once you’ve excelled at what you do, and you’re looking to step up your game, you’ll need to increase your proficiency in several skills: public speaking, networking, working on a team, being ambitious, engaging other staff, learning insider knowledge about your organization, advocating for yourself in the face of conflict, and planning a budget.

I also advise editors to make time to promote themselves and their accomplishments outside of what they do for an organization. I publish articles in local and national periodicals.

How might we get buy-in during the editing process from authors who may not be receptive to changes?
This is always a difficult situation. It calls for a proactive approach. Every editorial department should have a set of guidelines to set general expectations that authors’ submissions are subject to certain changes.

If an author’s work requires major editing, it might be better to return the work to the author with a clear explanation regarding how to bring the work up to your organization’s publishing expectations. Another suggestion would be to provide your edits and comments to your direct supervisor and ask that they schedule a conference call with the author to discuss the suggested changes. What you want is approval of your edits from your supervisor so that they can back you up. 

There will always be at least one author who acts like a prima donna. Treat this person with kid gloves so that your life isn’t made increasingly difficult because of one publication.

BUILDING DIVERSITY

How diverse is your office?
At Ramses House, I operate as a solopreneur and outsource tasks when necessary. In my previous position as director of a publications department, and as one of only two African American directors on staff, I felt compelled to ensure diversity under my leadership. Whenever there was an opening for an editor in my department, I would interview several people, including people of color. I probably had the most diverse department in the organization, including team members who were LGBTQ, Indian, Hindu, and various ages and genders. 

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 have been in positions where, unbeknownst to me at the time of hire, I was the one breaking the color barrier. I landed my first job in news at a local TV station. After starting the job, I realized I was the only Black person on the news floor. Several months later, I was told by a colleague that when I interviewed, the station was facing a race discrimination suit and hiring me made the newsroom look more diverse. It never bothered me because I used that opportunity as a stepping stone in my career path. I considered it great timing on my part.

When I was hired as a reporter for a local newspaper, I was one of two Blacks in the newsroom; in fact, we were the only Blacks in the building. Several months later, the staff editor who hired me said he had to advocate for me with the editor in chief (EIC), not because of my lack of experience but because the EIC wanted to hire a young White male. My editor, who was a White male, thought the newsroom had enough people who looked like him, so he went to bat for me. He and I are friends to this day. 

You learn to make the best of any and all opportunities without concerning yourself with how those opportunities presented themselves.

What lessons would you have liked to learn at the beginning of your career?
I wish I had known that upon committing to a career as an editor, I would have little to no opportunity to write. Because of that, my writing skills were quite rusty when I started Ramses House. But after a bit of practice, it all came right back. Writing can only be honed with more writing, and the more diverse your writing pieces, the better your writing becomes. 

Any suggestions on what offices/employers could do to increase diversity in your field of editing?
I believe a commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion calls for conscious and proactive policies. Even more important is individual commitment from those in leadership positions to seek diversity for their own departments. People in leadership must ensure that historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) with communications and journalism schools receive job notices that encourage people of color to apply. If the human resources (HR) department is screening résumés, the leadership should make sure HR knows that they are interested in seeing résumés from HBCU graduates or candidates that appear to have “ethnic” names. 

THE PERSONAL

Tell us about a project that you’re proud of.
A project I am most proud of is a peer-reviewed bimonthly member magazine for which I spearheaded the creation of back in 2003. It was my first substantial project during my early days of being a staff editor. Partly as a result of this effort, I received the Employee of the Year Award.

Any hobbies you’d like to share with us?
My hobby is keeping my 19-year-old son on track to attain his goals, so he can become self-sufficient and allow me to enjoy my golden years without stress and pressure.

RESOURCES

What resources would you share with fellow editors?
On the topic of buy-in, editors might find helpful an article I recently published: Be Courageous, Get Feedback, Secure Allies, Publicize.

To stay abreast of changes in the industry, join groups such as ACES: The Society for Editing. Editors Only lists other editorial associations here.

Is there anything else you’d like readers to know about you or about diversity in the profession?
I am always intrigued and somewhat surprised when I cross paths with another African American in the publishing industry. We still are very scarce in certain fields, such as academic publishing. But my resolve is renewed whenever I do see them. In fact, I am now seeing Black people on staff at some of the larger, international publishers, with many of them having been added as part of a push to create more opportunities for Blacks in publishing, including Black authors.

Are you an editor of color who would like to be featured on Outside-the-Book.com? Email Info@StyleSheetsEditorial.com.

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