Years editing: 13
Job title: Editor, proofreader, and writer
Job description: Provides substantive edits, copyedits, and proofreading; writes and ghostwrites
How did you get your current job?
I created it. I currently own Nzadi Amistad Editing and Writing Services. While I have freelanced and worked as an independent contractor since 2007, I didn’t start my own company until August 2017.
What copyediting training have you had?
My copyediting training has been mostly self-taught. I have read several books about editing and writing over the years. I know that this has helped my editing and writing skills improve greatly, and I have learned so much while doing my job. Although I majored in English in college, when I became an editor, I quickly realized that editing required a completely different skill set than what is required for writers. Editing requires an analytical and inquisitive mind. It requires patience, persistence, great organizational skills, and time management.
I have also edited hundreds of books, and there is no better training than actually doing the work. To be honest, I am constantly learning because our language and the ways we edit and publish are constantly changing. So it is important to me (and my clients and business) that I stay up to date on these things.
What positions have you held?
In addition to work for my freelance clients, I’ve been a copyeditor and proofreader for Asta Publications, CreateSpace (now Kindle Direct Publishing), BookFuel (now ProBook Publishing), and 21st Street Urban Editing and Publishing. I was also an editor at Wild Rose Press.
DOING THE JOB
Are there any complementary skills that are important in your job?
Yes, I believe having great communication skills, business skills, computer skills, organizational skills, and time management skills are important to excelling at my job. Being a great communicator is paramount, and that is certainly something I’ve had to improve and consistently work on over the years, especially since so much of my work consists of emails and phone calls.
Becoming proficient in more than just Microsoft Word has also come in handy. Learning Excel and PowerPoint, in particular, has helped with organization, and you never know when a client might need help with a spreadsheet or presentation.
Being a great project manager and organizer has proven to be important as well. We should be sure and calm for our clients. Being organized and having a game plan (preferably one that can be shared with them) will assuage their fears and boost their confidence in you and their overall project.
Each project presents an opportunity to either improve upon one’s current set of skills or discover new ones.
Do you use any editing tools to get the job done (e.g., PerfectIt, Adobe stamps)?
Currently, I use The Chicago Manual of Style and other references, such as Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary, daily. I also rely pretty heavily on Google. I have used Grammarly, but only occasionally.
COMMUNICATING WITH OTHERS
How do you and your colleagues talk about editing with each other?
Depending on what type of editing I am doing, my opportunities for conversation with colleagues can be little to none. When I do work for companies, I always enjoy and appreciate when I work with a group of individuals who are passionate about their work and are working toward something that we and our clients can be proud of.
Do you participate in a community (or communities) that supports editors?
I am a member of a Facebook group called Editor Alliance. Until I joined, I had no idea how important this kind of camaraderie could be.
Do you have any thoughts on the need for editors to network and talk about what they do?
I’ve always known that there was a need for editors to talk more about why we are necessary, especially as self-publishing has become more commonplace. Many authors skip the editing process because they are completely unaware of how important this step is or they believe they can’t afford it. I’ve always believed that it is my job to calm an author’s fears about editing and to hold their hand through the rest of the publishing process, if necessary.
How might we get buy-in during the editing process from authors who may not be receptive to changes?
I think we get buy-in when we are honest and patient. I try my best to think from the author’s perspective in order to understand them and their way of thinking. Allowing a stranger to make changes to their work can be overwhelming and daunting. Therefore, I think it is important to build trust, answer any and all questions as honestly and succinctly as possible, and allow time to do its work.
I’ve had instances where it has taken a potential client a full year to be in a position to contract my services. Every project, and therefore every client, is different, so it is important to be flexible and meet the author where they are.
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 not faced hurdles in getting into or advancing in the copyediting/proofreading profession. I work primarily with people of color and other marginalized groups, such as members of the LGBTQ+ community, and I am happy to be a part of this diverse group that is finding new and interesting ways to get their work seen and published.
My first project fell in my lap. It was a memoir written by a black woman that was published by an independent black-woman-owned publishing company. I can’t even begin to explain how important and empowering it was to be a part of that dynamic. I can, however, say that it set the tone for my editing career.
After working with that company for two years and enjoying editing books by black people, I moved on to another editing and publishing company that contracted with larger publishing companies to publish predominantly black and urban fiction titles. I’ve always been interested in helping people of color and others who are marginalized find their writing voices and get their work into the world.
I would, however, be remiss if I did not acknowledge that these hurdles exist. I think that is why self-publishing has become so popular for authors. Within the last five years, many of my clients have been very open about their desire to work with an editor who looks like them. I do not take this for granted, because this choice is powerful, and I know that for decades black authors did not get to choose who their editor was, especially if they were published by a traditional publishing house.
What lessons would you have liked to learn at the beginning of your career?
I would have liked to have learned better time management skills. But that has certainly come with experience. And I would have liked to have not been so hesitant when it came to discussing my fees. When I first started, I hated talking about money. I was afraid that my prices would scare people off, and I often lowballed myself just to get jobs. Although I was confident in my abilities as an editor, I wasn’t very confident when it came to getting paid what I was worth. It was a fear that I had to overcome. Now, I happily discuss my fees and send invoices, but it took time to develop that mindset.
Also, I’ve realized that not every person who contacts me is meant to be my client. This could be for a number of reasons. That is okay. Part of my job is making sure that I am honest with my clients about whether I am a good fit for their project. If I am not, I definitely will refer them to a fellow editor who might be a better fit.
Any suggestions on what offices/employers could do to increase diversity in your field of editing?
I think actively seeking people of color and allies of people of color (folks who are willing to advance and champion diverse causes) is the first and most important thing that offices and employers can do to increase diversity. Secondly, I think it is important to check in with these employees often and find out how they are feeling about their work environment.
Tell us about a project that you’re proud of.
Not long after my dear grandpa (I called him “Gramps”) passed away in 2014, I received an email from a 95-year-old gentleman looking for an editor for The Storm Clouds of War: Reflections of a WWII Bomber Pilot, about his service during World War II. During the editing, I learned so much about what soldiers faced during war, and I couldn’t help but think that these were some of the things that my grandpa might have experienced. (My Gramps never liked to talk about his military service.)
This gentleman, Wilmer Plate, and I became very close. Although I still miss my grandpa every day, Mr. Plate helped me heal in so many ways after my grandpa’s death. I met him when he came to Texas to receive his high school diploma at the age of 97 (he’d been unable to graduate because he had joined the military before graduation).
Any hobbies you’d like to share with us?
My hobbies include getting as much personal reading in as possible when time permits (my TBR list is a mile long) and taking my dogs, Allie and Rufus, on long walks. Staying active is very important, especially since most of my day is spent in front of the computer.
There is a hashtag on Twitter and Instagram that was started by editors who realized the importance of staying active. It’s called #stetwalk. I enjoy seeing my fellow edibuddies’ pictures from their daily walks (posted with this hashtag) and sharing my own on social media.
What resources would you share with fellow editors?
The most important resource I use is The Chicago Manual of Style. The online version is great — I highly recommend the Q&A section — but I tend to use the book most of the time. I also use the Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary. I use the app several times a day. Finally, Google — I can’t even begin to explain how vital Google is to my editing life.
Is there anything else you’d like readers to know about you or about diversity in the profession?
I am so happy that I stumbled into this profession, and I am so happy to be an editor right now, when so many of our stories are being told by us. I believe part of my job is to be a cheerleader for new authors. And most days, I can’t believe how lucky I am to be doing something that I love and that I am getting paid for it.