As solitary a vocation as editing can be, collaboration is nonetheless crucial. Exchanging ideas and perspectives can enrich all parties. I’ve learned a great deal over the years, from older and younger colleagues, and I’ve tried to share that institutional knowledge, along with my own understanding of linguistics, as my career has rolled out.
I’ve worked in newspapers and in online communications, the latter covering the corporate sector. They are strikingly different entities.
In both cases, though, linguistic structure must be sound. Imagine you’re constructing a building; regardless of its purpose or aesthetics, the foundation must be solid, or it will collapse. That’s every bit as true for a piece of writing. Editors, to further the analogy, are building inspectors.
Diversity and inclusion
This movement must be much, much more than meeting quotas for an annual report. Beyond the moral and ethical reasons for hiring a diverse workforce, there is a pragmatic element that many companies might overlook: It’s smart to do so.
A more inclusive workforce — at all levels of an organization — is a stronger workforce. In the communications field, it’s essential.
It’s a grave mistake to shun or dismiss alternative takes on any given subject, and certainly perspectives on text that represents the company in the public sphere. An opposing or diagonal perspective can save you. What’s perfectly fine within one group or culture can prove offensive, even damaging, in another. I mentioned the importance of institutional knowledge earlier; that’s something to cultivate.
An organization would do well to set up a subject index on its intranet (or other internal hub) in which employees can offer their fields of relative expertise. It could be cultural (hip-hop to classical, 1960s sitcoms to Spike Lee movies), linguistic (Esperanto to Cantonese to Chaucer’s English), life-experience related (Iraq war vets to knitters to weekend stand-up comics), and so on.
Ultimately, it’s about getting it right for your audience, business partners, or customer base — and, above all, not getting it wrong.
What makes a good copyeditor
Command of the language, of course, is essential, as is a solid knowledge of punctuation.
I stress six Cs. Good writing should be:
Beyond that, an editor should serve the reader’s interest first and foremost. When that happens, it serves the writer well, too. An important part of that is respecting the reader’s time. Streamline text whenever possible.
Double-check everything. Consult with others, as I mentioned above, divining connotation as well as denotation. To root out ambiguity, try to misread every passage.
Job description: Outreach, developmental writing support, writer mentorship, in-house consultations, and ambassadorship of books and their creators
Education: William Allen White School of Journalism and Mass Communication, The University of Kansas; The University of Michigan Law School
Background: Author and faculty member, Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA program
The beginnings of Heartdrum
Over a conference-hotel breakfast, author Ellen Oh, co-founder and CEO of We Need Diverse Books, suggested that I consider launching a Native-focused imprint at a major trade publisher. At first, that sounded like a pie-in-the-sky kind of dream. But after reflecting on the need for some months, I reached out to legendary editor Rosemary Brosnan at HarperChildren’s. She enthusiastically embraced the idea, and we now work together on the Heartdrum children’s and young adult book imprint.
What an author-curator does
I’m a longtime author and faculty member of the MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts. (I also publish with Candlewick Press.) Much of the mindset and skill set that go with all that transfer well to Heartdrum.
Typically, I offer the author a few (two to four) rounds of feedback for revisions prior to, if appropriate, sending a manuscript to Rosemary for consideration. Agents are also welcome to send to her/us directly for immediate consideration, but I’ve found that those submissions that have been the subject of a prior craft exchange with me (even if it’s just my green light!) are much more likely to be acquired.
At that stage, my goal is by no means to ready the manuscript for copyediting but rather to help bring it to a stage where the full potential shines through. It should be noted, though, that if/when a manuscript is ready to go, I’ll prepare a thoughtful note for Rosemary, offering my reasons for supporting it, including any relevant context related to the Native cultural content.
Once we’ve acquired a manuscript — Rosemary handles that entire legal-financial process — I often offer craft feedback alongside hers and consult about potential illustrators as well as all stages of the art, the marketing copy, teacher guides, and so forth. I also help with promotion — both officially, through opportunities facilitated by Harper Marketing, and unofficially, through my own grassroots efforts.
Along the way, I’m available as a mentor of sorts to our authors, especially because many of them are new or up-and-coming voices.
Working with authors
The goal is to bring forth the author’s vision in a way that best serves the intended audience. So I begin from a place of respect, erring toward suggestions and questions, while making it clear that we must be mindful of the young-reader experience and developmental reading level.
Perspectives on lessons learned
I wish that I’d taken a longer view from the start, but maybe that’s impossible until you’re in a position to do so. Part of me longs to go back in time and offer a pep talk to the young writer I once was, to let her know that someday enough hearts and minds in publishing would open up to welcome in more than one prominent Indigenous voice at a time. s
I also spent too long worrying about other people’s misinformed preconceptions about me and my intertribal creative community. It’s better for my productivity and mental health to focus on the work itself and on those who’re genuinely supportive.
I’m wowed by all of our authors’ and illustrators’ work.
The Jo Jo Makoons chapter books are written by Dawn Quigley and illustrated by Tara Audibert. It’s the first contemporary trade chapter book series featuring a Native American protagonist and published by a major publisher. It’s also smart, hilarious, and radiates heart.
Debut author Brian Young’s middle-grade novel, Healer of the Water Monster, is about an everyday Navajo boy who comes to the aid of a holy being while navigating family dynamics.
American Indian Youth Literature Award winner and author Christine Day’s middle-grade novel, The Sea in Winter, is extraordinarily emotionally intelligent. Many educators have pointed to it as an excellent book for young readers needing to process the loss of childhood normality during pandemic times.
As an author-curator, I’m in a new role in the industry, one that’s still being defined. But I have been a working writer in children’s publishing since the late 1990s. Change is slower than it should be, but it’s remarkable how much of a positive difference one person can make in the conversation and community. If it weren’t for genius author-activist Ellen Oh first suggesting the idea to me, Heartdrum wouldn’t exist.
Years editing: 30+ Job title: Freelance copyeditor and academic trainer Job description: Helps scientists and academics write, publish, and present Location: Pune, Maharashtra, India
What copyediting training have you had? I participated in a 14-week intensive course in editing and publication led by Ian Montagnes, the then editor in chief of University of Toronto Press. This was in 1987; subsequently, I learned on the job.
What positions have you held? I’ve been a scientist with the Indian Council of Agricultural Research; a fellow at The Energy and Resources Institute, New Delhi; a senior editor at International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics, Hyderabad; and a senior fellow at World Institute of Sustainable Energy, Pune.
My editing career started with a book, Changing Concepts of Reference Service. It sparked my interest in information science and documentation. However, I had no formal qualifications to work in that field. When I sent my CV to Tata Energy Research Institute (TERI), expressing my interest, Dr. R. K. Pachauri, who headed TERI and interviewed me, suggested that I consider editing as a career. When I managed to acquire some formal qualifications in editing, I took him up on that offer.
DOING THE JOB
Are there any complementary skills that are important in your job? In this field, editors should have familiarity with word processing and page layout software packages, some knowledge of printing and publishing, and an appreciation of research methods and academic publishing.
Do you use any editing tools to get the job done (e.g., PerfectIt, Adobe stamps)? I use PerfectIt.
COMMUNICATING WITH OTHERS
Do you participate in a community (or communities) that supports editors? I am part of the Indian Copyeditors Forum (ICF). The main benefit of ICF is the opportunity to meet fellow copyeditors (valuable, because copyediting is such a solitary occupation). The forum has a dynamic and active coordinator, Vivek Kumar, who organizes many useful webinars on topics related to copyediting, and members get to present some of those. In recent months, we had a webinar on PerfectIt and on Board of Editors in the Life Sciences certification.
Do you have any thoughts on the need for editors to network and talk about what they do? Copyediting is mostly a solitary occupation, which is why copyeditors need to be in touch not only with fellow copyeditors but also with authors. In particular, copyeditors need to convince authors that copyediting can add value to their work.
When authors see a well-edited file (with track changes), they need no other convincing. But to convince them to entrust their manuscript to a copyeditor in the first place, we must point out to authors that a well-edited manuscript is less likely to be “desk rejected” (rejected without peer review) and that with a well-edited manuscript, both journal editors and peer reviewers will focus more on the substance of the manuscript, because they are no longer distracted by errors that a copyeditor would have fixed.
How might we get buy-in during the editing process from authors who may not be receptive to changes? Refer to style manuals and journals’ instructions to authors. Point to good examples published in books or journals the authors are likely to have read. You could also explain the logic behind the changes.
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? Not so far. In fact, the European Association of Science Editors (EASE) has always been of great help and even made me a member of its council. When I switched from being a researcher to being an editor, I wanted to be better at my job. This desire prompted me to become a member of EASE. That was more than 30 years ago, and I have benefited a great deal from the good advice of its members — from the articles inEuropean Science Editing and several EASE conferences.
What lessons would you have liked to learn at the beginning of your career? I wish I had been aware of the importance of keeping accurate records (e.g., number of manuscripts edited, word counts, number of articles and blog posts written). Although the best way to assess copyeditors’ proficiency is to examine documents they have copyedited, that takes too long. As a proxy, these numbers offer some objective evidence of your experience and competency.
Any suggestions on what offices/employers could do to increase diversity in your field of editing? Employers should judge on the basis of the candidate’s or employee’s work.
Tell us about a project that you’re proud of. Dr. R. K. Pachauri: The Visionary Institution Builder, a commemorative volume on my former boss. I’m proud of it first because I was the one who suggested that we publish it. The suggestion was readily accepted, and scores of authors readily contributed to it. Second, although I had volunteered to copyedit and design the volume, the two editors insisted that my name appear before their names as editors of the volume. Third, the volume was appreciated by many, the most important among them being Dr. Pachauri’s wife and son — they called it a beautiful gift. Last, this publication offered me the opportunity to pay tribute to the man who was the most important influence on my editing career. (My contribution to the volume starts on page 64.)
Any hobbies you’d like to share with us? I like to garden and play Scrabble.
Years editing: 11 Job title: Senior editor at Packt Job description: Development editor for IT books Location: Bangalore and Mumbai, India
How did you get your current job? I had stayed in touch with the manager of a previous company I worked for. When I began looking for a change from editing scholarly papers, I got in touch with him. He had a book publishing role that was exactly what I was looking for, so I took it.
What copyediting training have you had? When I was just out of graduate school, I was lucky to find a job at a publishing house that specialized in art history, archaeology, and other subjects (my degree was in the history of art and archaeology). The average work experience in the editing room was 25 years, so I benefited from working there. I learned copyediting from a group of very experienced mentors. The publishing house was still transitioning away from editing on paper, so I learned to do things the old way for the first three and a half years, and while computers have made my job more convenient, that experience helped me develop instincts about how editing and proofreading changes affect the final product.
What positions have you held? I was an editorial intern at my first publishing job, and after six months, I transitioned to a full-time role in the editing room. After that, I tried freelancing for about a year and a half but missed editing as part of a team. So I took a job as a copyeditor at an e-learning firm. This was a change of pace from the academic editing I was used to, and I learned the ins and outs of what we called “instructional writing” (which was a fancy name for writing instructional material in a conversational tone).
I felt the pull of academic publishing again and joined a copyediting company that specialized in editing articles meant to be published in scholarly journals. I was a part of the Quality and Training Team, evaluating editor work quality and providing feedback and training based on my evaluations. After this, I transitioned back to my publishing roots by joining Packt, where I now work as a senior editor, looking after the editorial quality of books and training junior editors.
DOING THE JOB
Are there any complementary skills that are important in your job? At Packt, I work with authors on much longer time scales than I did at my previous job; this makes communication very important. You can edit a book perfectly and be left with an angry author if you forget that there’s a human being behind all the words. Communication is necessary for all forms of editing but is especially important when working with authors on long-term projects.
Also, given how the content world is quickly moving away from mono-specialization to multi-specialization, I find it important to develop basic photo-editing and page-layout skills. The dynamic nature of our field values the ability to perform more than one role.
Do you use any editing tools to get the job done (e.g., PerfectIt, Adobe stamps)? In the past, I’ve used PerfectIt and MEROPS. These days, I use Grammarly. What I’d really like is something that combines PerfectIt’s ability to customize how it runs based on wildcards with Grammarly’s interface and grammar tips.
Ultimately, these tools take away a lot of mechanical work from our workflow, but you need to be vigilant. They can often come up with incorrect suggestions, because English is quite a weird, abstract language.
COMMUNICATING WITH OTHERS
How do you and your colleagues talk about editing with each other? Talking to other editors on my team is one of the most important aspects of the job. There’s an endless number of hurdles that come up when you publish books, and being able to draw on the experience of a big team gives all of us a better chance of solving these issues quickly. When I first began working, all the editors sat in the same room and spoke face-to-face everyday. These days, we rarely see each other (especially because of the pandemic), but tools like Microsoft Teams and Slack make collaboration and discussion quite easy.
Do you participate in a community (or communities) that supports editors? I’m a part of a few editor groups on Facebook, such as Indian Copyeditors Forum and Editors’ Association of Earth. I learn a lot of important culturally specific information that becomes useful when editing books by authors who are from different parts of the world and who write in different types of English.
Do you have any thoughts on the need for editors to network and talk about what they do? Networking is quite important for editors. Being able to build relationships in different companies and across different countries allows editors to find new opportunities and learn important lessons that are essential for staying up to date and keeping our editing relevant. Content work has become so dynamic that being able to connect to new people, new ways of working, and new applications for our skill sets makes networking one of the most important parts about being an editor.
How might we get buy-in during the editing process from authors who may not be receptive to changes? It’s important to understand where your author’s reluctance is coming from. You have to approach with boundaries in mind. The author will always be protective about their writing, even when they accept our changes.
Once you have that mindset, you need to begin thinking about what compromises you can make to ease the author into the more important changes. Very often, when you demonstrate to the author that you are willing to meet them where they are, they become more inclined to listen to your reasoning for proposing changes.
For example, if you are editing a book that’s supposed to be in a conversational style, but your author likes their writing to be very formal, you can compromise on aspects like contractions. Instead, focus on getting the author to tone down the word choice, to use less jargon, and to use active voice.
How diverse is your office? Our company has offices in Birmingham (UK) and Mumbai, so we have a substantial Indian workforce. Even our Birmingham office has people from different parts of the world, as Birmingham is quite a diverse city. In my time here, I’ve found that besides having a diverse workforce, the management is open minded and always ready to make changes to fix any issues that crop up.
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? Whenever I have tried to work as a freelance editor, I’ve faced reluctance from clients and scholarly editing companies to give high-paying editorial work to editors who don’t come from “native” English–speaking countries. While I’ve always been an L1 speaker of English, as a freelance editor from India, I feel like there’s a higher standard applied to my language skills than to editors who come from the Anglophone world.
What lessons would you have liked to learn at the beginning of your career? Because I began working at a publishing house that edited and proofread on paper, I learned to use macros and wildcards much later in my career than I should have.
Any suggestions on what offices/employers could do to increase diversity in your field of editing? I’m a big supporter of companies getting involved in the communities based around them. Editorial companies and publishers have the ability to mentor young people who wouldn’t otherwise think about working in our field. These companies can also provide paid internships (unpaid internships tend to exclude people who do not come from privileged backgrounds) and ultimately help young people transition into full-time jobs.
Tell us about a project that you’re proud of. I worked on a project to bring on board a very important economics journal as a client. We needed to carefully select the editors who worked on the project. Besides delivering high-quality edits, we were also expected to provide quick turnarounds. As the quality manager for the project, I was expected to monitor the quality of all the edited articles and to make sure that the editors working on them had all of the editorial support they needed.
Ultimately, we managed not only to get the project but also to keep the quality and speed of our edits to the standards we set for the client. It felt good to know that some important academic work out there had been my responsibility.
Any hobbies you’d like to share with us? I like reading, karaoke, and cooking for friends.
What resources would you share with fellow editors? Right at the start of my journey as an editor, I read The Mother Tongue, by Bill Bryson. It is a quick, fun history of the English language and one that helped me get rid of a lot of biases that I carried about “proper” English. I like to keep a copy of the New Oxford Dictionary for Writers and Editors. I also like to follow a few linguists on Twitter, especially Nicole Holliday. I like to think of linguists as people who are continuously questioning my perception of language and pushing me to reinvent the way I look at editing.
Is there anything else you’d like readers to know about you or about diversity in the profession? There are a few personal beliefs that I always try to live by. Firstly, we need to build healthy diversity. This means not just ticking numbers but making sure that everyone is empowered and that nobody’s privilege gives them an unfair advantage over others. We can only do this as a collective, so it’s important to establish solidarity across all organizations and build from that foundation.
Secondly, it’s important for each individual to understand their privilege to ensure that they aren’t standing in the way of someone else and to ensure that they don’t deny people a platform.
Finally — and this goes beyond the physical community around us — as editors, we must fight to normalize inclusive, humanizing language. Whether that’s something as simple as inclusive pronouns or something as complex as getting rid of oppressive words, phrases, literary characters, and so on.
Years editing: 17 Job title: Editor and coach Job description: Helps editors earn more money in their businesses Location: Canberra, Australia
How did you get your current job? I was in the right place at the right time when I got my in-house job. In 2013, I decided I wanted the freedom of freelance life because I had a number of caring duties and wanted to be at home.
What training do you have in copyediting and what positions have you held? I received a graduate certificate in editing and publishing from the University of Southern Queensland in 2006–2007. I passed the Institute of Professional Editors’ written accreditation exam in 2009, after some intensive study. I worked in-house for 10 years, and there were a number of in-house training sessions. I have also been to many conferences. In 2019 I did a structural editing module at Queens University. I believe that continuing professional development is critical in any field.
DOING THE JOB
Are there any complementary skills that are important in your job? I used to be a scientist, and while that didn’t teach me any explicit editing skills, it did make me more confident to edit journal articles in health and medicine. My clients also seem to like the fact that I was a scientist. But I do take the time to explain to academics that editing is a specific skill that requires training.
COMMUNICATING WITH OTHERS
How do you and your colleagues talk about editing with each other? When I worked in-house, I loved being able to chat with colleagues and ask questions about tricky issues. Once I went freelance, I joined online editing groups to get the same support.
Do you participate in a community (or communities) that supports editors? I don’t work as an editor much these days, so I’m not in any other groups. I set up a second business a few years ago, working as a mindset coach to help editors earn more money in their businesses. I have a free Facebook group associated with that business, and the aim of that group is to provide a safe space for editors to share their business goals and then reflect on what is stopping them from taking action. Mindset plays a huge part in running a business, but there are not many editing groups that have this focus. So I wanted to create something that would fill the void.
Do you have any thoughts on the need for editors to network and talk about what they do?Ah, I could write a book on this (and am planning to do so — hopefully this year). Yes, editors absolutely need to be “out there” meeting potential clients and talking about what they do.
But the focus needs to be on solving a problem that a client has. There’s no point talking about copyediting if an author is worried that their book isn’t good enough to send to an agent, for example. In that case, the editor should talk about how they can give the author honest feedback and help them get the book into shape, ready for an agent.
In general, editors spend too much time talking about their work as if they’re talking to other editors, rather than looking at their business through the eyes of their potential clients.
How might we get buy-in during the editing process from authors who may not be receptive to changes? I think if we make it clear that we are a partner in the publishing process and we want the best for the author, we can build trust and a strong rapport with our author. If we have that, then we don’t need buy-in.
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? Not that I know of. I haven’t had trouble getting clients. If anything, I find that clients from Asian backgrounds feel comfortable with me because my family was from Asia. (I was born and raised in Australia.)
What lessons would you have liked to learn at the beginning of your career? Probably to not be afraid to ask questions of the author.
Any suggestions on what offices/employers could do to increase diversity in your field of editing? I think to start with, just look around your office and see whether your staff reflect the population in your area.
What resources would you share with fellow editors? My podcast, the Edit Boost Podcast. I started it last year to help editors take action to grow their editing businesses.
Years editing: 7 Job title: Proposal editor/administrator Job description: Offers editorial and administrative support to researchers applying for federal grants Location: Texas
How did you get your current job? I live in a university town, and I was specifically looking for an editorial job. I had previous experience in editing, which gave me the confidence to apply, but I was also nervous, as I had little to no knowledge of proposal development. I’ve been with my organization two years now.
What copyediting training have you had? My academic degrees are in English and related disciplines. While earning my master’s, I was introduced to style guides and other aspects of editing, but I had no formal training. Editing and proofreading for friends, I recognized that I had an eye for detail and started to hone my skills.
Soon, I was invited to join the editorial team of a nonprofit magazine, where I reviewed and edited articles in English and Malayalam. (Malayalam is my mother tongue. English is my second language.) This was a great experience, for I learned the craft of editing by doing it. I remained in academia for a couple more years, and by the time I submitted my PhD dissertation, I knew that if I did not teach, I would edit. In other words, I didn’t know what else to do!
What positions have you held? Soon after earning my PhD, I joined a government agency in India as a content editor. I mostly edited content for the state of Kerala’s official websites and social media pages. I managed content in English and Malayalam. When I moved to the United States, I left that job and started volunteering as list editor for an academic organization (Kerala Scholars eGroup). This was a valuable experience, as I had a mentor there, Ashok. R. Chandran, from whom I learned quite a lot about editing — everything from precision to ethics.
DOING THE JOB
Are there any complementary skills that are important in your job? Communication skills (which all of us editors have). These skills have come in handy when managing external communication and coordinating at work. Also, the ability to quickly distill and interpret information in lengthy documents is especially useful in research, be it for resource development or to understand requests for proposals. (I have this skill thanks to the years I spent in grad school!)
Do you use any editing tools to get the job done (e.g., PerfectIt, Adobe stamps)? We use Grammarly Premium at work. However, I turn it on only after I do the first round of edits, and except for the punctuation and spelling corrections, I don’t always accept the suggestions.
COMMUNICATING WITH OTHERS
How do you and your colleagues talk about editing with each other? Editing is more than half the work my colleagues and I do, though we have different titles. In other words, we speak the same language. We have an open thread where we alert each other of available courses, profiles to be followed on Twitter and LinkedIn, and other resources, such as webinars and conferences.
Do you participate in a community (or communities) that supports editors? I am an ACES: The Society for Editing member, but I am not active in the community. This is partly due to the deadline-driven nature of our industry and partly due to my unfamiliarity with the communities and networks in the United States. However, this is changing, as I am now more active on LinkedIn and other platforms. I attended the ACES 2021 conference.
Do you have any thoughts on the need for editors to network and talk about what they do? Since I was mostly on my own during my early days of editing, I did not know who to turn to if I had a question. Google did not always give me the right answer. Eventually, as I started frequenting groups and forums on the internet, I got answers from experienced editors, and there was a sense of community. In addition, networking gives you visibility. For me, as an editor of color, this visibility, my presence, is a statement.
How might we get buy-in during the editing process from authors who may not be receptive to changes? Editing a scientific proposal for linguistic clarity when you are not a subject matter expert is like walking a tightrope. I edit for grammar, punctuation, and minor edits using Track Changes in the text. Otherwise, I rewrite the sentence in the comment box and explain why I made the suggestion. At times, I give multiple options and let the principal investigators decide. Also, while noting inconsistencies and offering suggestions, I use the pronoun “we” (“Can we move this paragraph?” “Can we rewrite this as follows?” “Are we talking about … ?”) and frame the issue as a query. “Can we rewrite?” definitely sounds better than “Rewrite.”
How diverse is your office? Our organization is part of a university system, and we have a diverse group of people working here. However, I haven’t met many in editing whose first language is not English.
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 haven’t faced any such hurdles, but as a person of color and as someone with a heavy accent, I often feel the need to prove myself. (Yes, self-doubt and marginality.)
What lessons would you have liked to learn at the beginning of your career? This is proposal specific: I wish I had known how to edit proposals with the deadline in mind (sometimes two days and sometimes two hours), rather than aiming for perfection. I also wish I had known that compliance comes first and then the details.
Any suggestions on what offices/employers could do to increase diversity in your field of editing? Hiring diverse staff should be a conscious decision. No structural change happens without conscious thinking and decision making, especially in India, where newsrooms and publishing houses are still not accessible to the Bahujans.
Tell us about a project that you’re proud of. A couple of months back, I edited a multi–principal investigator proposal. The document required language support, and the principal investigator was very receptive to the changes and suggestions I made. It was a confidence booster to go one step ahead, to rewrite the nontechnical part. I thoroughly enjoyed working with that team.
Any hobbies you’d like to share with us? Reading and cooking. These days, books about editing and by editors dominate my reading list. The last book I read by an editor was Greek to Me: Adventures of the Comma Queen, by Mary Norris, and the one on my table right now is Stet: An Editor’s Life, by Diana Athill. Food and culture is another area of interest.
Recent graduate: Louisiana Tech University Major: English, with a concentration in creative writing Location: Louisiana
What interests you about copyediting? I love to fix things. Editing has been a passion of mine since I was in middle school, and I love to help transform work to convey a clear message.
What area of copyediting are you interested in? I’m passionate about books and publishing books.
How are you nurturing/developing your interest in copyediting, especially during COVID? I am doing a lot of research — reading a lot of copyediting, editing, and publishing books — and having informational interviews with people already in the publishing industry to understand the industry and editing.
What, if any, copyediting experience have you had so far, and what did you like about the project, organization, or tasks? I am an editorial intern for a local newspaper. The job has helped me focus on the skills that I need to edit and to make sure that the articles are appropriate for the audience and informative.
In my senior year of college, I worked as a temporary editor for my alumni’s Her Campus chapter. This position also added more insight on making sure the edits match the tone of the publication and making the content enjoyable.
What would most help young editors (and editors of color) enter the editing profession? More “getting into publishing” seminars and seminars for beginners could be helpful. I’ve attended a few virtual ones, and I’ve found them to be useful. These seminars give young editors a peek at what it’s like to run and work in a company — whether its focus is book publishing or journalism. The seminars also help young editors narrow their passions.
Anything else you might want readers to know about diversity in editing/publishing, or about starting out in this profession? I consider myself a beginner editor, since I’ve been editing for fewer than five years. Since quarantine started, I’ve focused on learning about publishing and editing, listening to seminars, and preparing myself to work in the industry. This knowledge will come in handy, especially during interviews — and it’ll show my passion and dedication.
I’ve noticed more companies are mentioning inclusion in their internship and job descriptions, and I think that this is a great start to having a more diverse staff.
Years editing: 13 Job title: Editor, proofreader, and writer Job description: Provides substantive edits, copyedits, and proofreading; writes and ghostwrites Location: Texas
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.
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.
Years editing: 6 Job title: Editor Job description: Edits scholarly articles, books, and non-academic documents Location: Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
How did you get your current job? I graduated with a specialization in economics and management, and I didn’t want to follow the traditional route and become an economist. I saw an ad that said I could use my subject-area knowledge and expertise to help researchers.
What positions have you held? At Crimson (Enago), I started as an editor, and three years later, I was managing editor. Crimson is a scholarly editing company, providing editing and publication services to researchers and academics. Since then, I’ve mostly worked as a freelance editor. Very recently, I have started working as a proofreader in an ad agency based in Montreal, called Tank.
DOING THE JOB
Are there any complementary skills that are important in your job? Microsoft Word is our bread and butter. But general project management and time management skills are crucial. Editors need to judge where to invest time.
Do you use any editing tools to get the job done (e.g., PerfectIt, Adobe stamps)? PerfectIt is my favorite. I run it on all documents, and I have customized styles in it. These customizations help me rectify things like single and double quotation marks, for instance. PerfectIt also helps me edit for generic styles (e.g., US English, UK English) and for documents that have specific (read: quirky) style preferences.
COMMUNICATING WITH OTHERS
How do you and your colleagues talk about editing with each other? We often talk about how language and words produce magic and how usage differs depending on region, context, etc. We also talk about personal processes, tricks, and experiments that we try. For instance, rearranging windows on the screen helps me edit faster.
A most effective trick that has worked for me for years is using the web layout view in MS Word. Using this view with 200 percent zoom on a full screen does two things for me: It zooms the text enough for me to read significantly faster, and it removes details like page numbers and footnotes from my view. This essentially helps me focus purely on editing the text, and I edit footnotes before or after the main editing. Obviously, I modify the zoom levels for documents of different sizes. I also adjust the width of my comment margins in MS Word.
Do you participate in a community (or communities) that supports editors? Yes, CIEP has been an immensely helpful community for me. CIEP groups are extraordinarily welcoming and inclusive. It’s a community of editors from different backgrounds, working in different profiles, genres, and industries. There’s a sense of kinship and camaraderie that I haven’t found anywhere else.
Moreover, CIEP provides structured training opportunities. Its courses are aligned with its membership grade, and getting through more courses allows one not only to learn more skills, but to increase their network.
Do you have any thoughts on the need for editors to network and talk about what they do? This need persists in every profession, and just like in every profession, being engaged with fellow editors helps one not only learn and share best practices but also improve as a person.
How might we get buy-in during the editing process from authors who may not be receptive to changes? Prior to beginning the project, a thorough understanding of the scope and responsibilities is a must. This step lays down the ground rules as to how much the editor can offer and to what extent the author has a say. This process ensures that authors have no choice but to be receptive about issues that they know the editors are right about.
Apart from that, editing is a conversation. Editors can advise and suggest, but they have to be respectful about the author’s originality. Equally, authors must also respect the skill, experience, and knowledge the editor brings.
This understanding needs to be established between both parties to get the most from authors who are difficult, so they know that the editor isn’t winging it but has a sound understanding of the process.
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? Not for myself, but I have noticed that authors and employers tend to have this twisted notion that native proficiency in the English language can be present only if a person is of a certain race and from a certain country. All others, regardless of their skills in English, are non-native speakers and hence do not have good enough skills in English.
What lessons would you have liked to learn at the beginning of your career? That editing can be done without always having the pressure of editing x number of words per day. Some authors, or even employers, tend to enforce this system, and while the system may work for specific projects or clients, it isn’t the only way to edit more or faster. Often, new editors who are thrust into such a system tend to believe that this improves their skill and that a more flexible approach is not valid.
Editing is much more than simply covering a certain number of words every day. Editing is having a candid conversation with your authors, understanding them and their needs, and providing the best product that can benefit them.
Any suggestions on what offices/employers could do to increase diversity in your field of editing? Be open to people’s skills and experiences, rather than being rigid about a certain list of qualifications.
Tell us about a project that you’re proud of. A book on energy economics — my first massive project. I do not remember the name, but it was, at the time, a 450,000-word project that we were supposed to deliver in four weeks. I was a new editor in the company, and because the regular economics editor was unavailable, they trusted me with the task. Within that short period, I had to not only edit the book, but also get to know the project managers and others involved, so that we all could work efficiently together.
We delivered the project in three weeks. It involved long hours, some evenings and late nights, quality checks and revisions, and formatting. But in the end, we all pulled it off. The client was elated, and the book eventually got published. It was a proud moment for all of us.
Any hobbies you’d like to share with us? I play tennis, and I like cycling.
What resources would you share with fellow editors? I’d advise editors to get hold of the usual style guides, in addition to a few of the brilliant titles on copyediting. (The Subversive Copy Editor, by Carol Saller, definitely comes to mind.) They’re like our bibles.
I would also advise editors to read about different Englishes of the world. It’s amazing that there are so many variants of English, and reading about them gives us great insight into those different cultures and subcultures.
Is there anything else you’d like readers to know about you or about diversity in the profession? Editors are language professionals, meaning they are skilled in a language or multiple languages. Knowledge of languages goes beyond mere grammar rules and speaking proficiency.
I’d like clients and employers to be more open about the qualities they look for in editors. Sure, for some projects, grammar skills and general proficiency may be all that’s needed. But life experiences, complementary skills, failures, trials — these maketh an editor. Editors are artists. Some have a way of interpreting circumstances and persevering. These are the editors who make a difference.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.