Pro Tips from Your Favorite Editors

CaTyra Polland and Cynthia Williams

Editing is art and science. Two editors can look at the same copy and use very different approaches to get it in the best condition. Though a colleague often can’t tell us the “right” way to do an editing task, sometimes, we can benefit from seeing how other professionals work. Here, Editor Knows Best and Outside the Book have curated some tricks of the trade from your favorite word nerds.



Adrienne Michelle Horn
Editor, I A.M. Editing, Ink LLC
Years editing: 7
Specialty: Line editing, copyediting
Type of material: Articles, blogs, dissertations, manuscripts

Do: Always inform your client of what type of editing is needed and why.

Don’t: Never return a draft to a client without reviewing your changes at least once. We are all human and make mistakes.



Amber Riaz
Editor, A4 Editing
Years editing: 14
Specialty: Copyediting
Type of material: Academic manuscripts, web content

Do: Find an editorial niche that makes you happy, so you wake up every day actually looking forward to your workday.

Don’t: Treat grammar rules as immutable/unchanging. Language evolves constantly, so editors must keep themselves informed of new ways of using words and phrases. A prescriptivist attitude to editing suppresses creativity


Andrae D. Smith
Editor
Specialty: Primarily nonfiction
Type of material: Self-help and personal development books

Do: Know your reading and editing pace and plan accordingly. Check your availability and never be afraid to ask for a sample to see if you can reasonably take on a project.

Don’t: Rush or procrastinate. Take on more than you can handle. Overbook or book outside of your skill level, even if you need the money. The worst thing you can do for your reputation, your business, and your clients is take on so much that you’re rushing to get done and you do a bad job. Each project deserves your full attention.



Chris Obudho
Editor and proofreader, CJO Writing + Editing LLC
Years editing: 25
Specialty: Substantive editing
Type of material: Everything from digital ads to scientific journal articles

Do: Read everything you can. Of course, read books about the business, process, and art of editing and proofreading, to keep your skills sharp — but don’t neglect other forms of prose: cookbooks, catalogs, random websites, dictionaries, “junk” mail/sales letters, old textbooks, etc. These seemingly weird sources of information can give you great insight into how words are used and how sentences are formed. Reading broadly also helps hone your sense of curiosity, which can build knowledge. This knowledge base can then be used to help you better understand what you’re editing. The broader your knowledge about various topics (you don’t have to be an expert!), the more you’ll be able to help (1) your author express an idea and (2) your reader understand that idea.

Don’t: Never forget why you’re editing or proofreading a particular document. It’s not about your ability to redline a document so it looks like a crime scene. It’s not about showing how smart you are. It’s not about making the author’s work “better” by your standards. The editing or proofreading is about the reader.



Crystal Shelley
Editor and proofreader, Rabbit with a Red Pen
Years editing: 4
Specialty: Line editing, copyediting, proofreading, sensitivity reading
Type of material: Novels

Do: Don’t settle for the existing style guide. Style guides are meant to be a reference, to aid us in making decisions for consistency. Sometimes, following the style guide results in choices that don’t suit the circumstance. This is especially true given how quickly language evolves through the work of advocates and social justice movements. Style guides and dictionaries don’t always keep up with how to style terms related to social identities and human rights. If we come across a style guide that’s outdated, we can ask that it be updated to reflect current guidance.

Don’t: Never assume you know everything. The best editors are curious and recognize when they don’t know something or aren’t sure. We are trained to look things up so that the story or the copy is as accurate and clear as possible. If we have any doubt, it’s safer to double-check and be right than to assume and get it wrong.



Debbie Innes
Editor and proofreader, Debbie the Editor
Years editing: 10
Specialty: Copyediting, proofreading
Type of material: Annual reports, website content, corporate reports, nonfiction manuscripts, children’s books, newsletters, brochures, members’ magazines, university student handbooks, media advisories and news releases

Do: If you’re a freelance editor, don’t accept a project with a very low rate, if you can help it. Your skills and experience are worth more than that. Know your worth.

Don’t: Never stop learning. (Most editors know this, but I’m saying it anyway.)



Erica James
Editor, MasterPieces Writing and Editing LLC
Years editing: 6
Specialty: Book coaching (which includes developmental, line, and copyediting)
Type of material: Book manuscripts, academic papers, professional writing, business copy, social media content, website content, digital products

Do: Operate in your gifts both proudly and boldly. Regardless of how many other editors are making their mark on the literary world, no one is making their mark exactly the same. It’s important to know what you do best and to do it well, without fearing the outcome.

Don’t: Don’t take on projects without a clear game plan. To ensure your clients receive high- quality work, it’s best to implement a process that reduces stress and allows you to complete tasks within a reasonable time frame. Editing can be tedious at times; therefore, it’s crucial to know how much of your time and resources will be needed for each project and to plan accordingly. Also, be willing to say no if a project doesn’t align with your process.



Jessica LeeAnn
Editor, Chocolate Readings
Years editing: 14
Specialty: Developmental
Type of material: Fiction and nonfiction manuscripts

Do: Be honest.
Don’t: Discount your rates.



Kassel Pierre-Jean
Editor, Razorfish Health
Years editing: 15
Specialty: Copyediting
Type of material: Print/digital ads, direct mailers, websites, banner ads, conference panels, white papers

Do: Find an editor who is better than you and learn from them. They don’t necessarily need to be a mentor. Just someone you feel has mastered the skill and craft of editing — someone you respect.

Don’t: Don’t be a narcissist. Never act like you know it all. There’s always more to learn, and language and grammar are always changing. Be humble.



Lakeisha Bell Cadogan
Editor, Freelancer
Years editing: 3
Specialty: Substantive
Type of material: Fiction and nonfiction manuscripts

Do: Continuously strive to become a better editor. In the same way that writers should be consistently honing their craft, we, as editors, need to do the same. Taking courses is great, but there are other options too, like reading books and attending seminars (in -person or online). Also, join editing groups on social media. It’s a great way to make friends and learn from other people.

Don’t: A core principle in my business is: Do no harm. As editors, we should never remove the writer’s voice when editing their work. Yes, we can make changes, but that doesn’t mean we should impose our personal views on the writer’s work. The primary goal is to help the writer achieve their best work.



Lourdes Venard
Editor and instructor, University of California, San Diego’s Copyediting Program and Editorial Freelancers Association
Specialty: Copyediting
Type of material: Fiction and nonfiction manuscripts

Do: Read, read, read — especially in the genre or subject area in which you edit or hope to edit. The late Amy Einsohn, who wrote The Copyeditor’s Handbook, said the novice should have a “well-tuned ear.” But this ear can be difficult to develop if you aren’t reading widely. And if you are editing fiction, join a book club. It forces you to read books you might not pick up, and it also is an education to hear how other readers feel about a book and the writing.

Don’t: Don’t be inflexible. Yes, there are grammar and style rules to be followed, but some of these are not set in stone. And even those set in stone can be broken at times. Novice editors often get so hung up on the “rules” that they miss what the writer is trying to achieve. Language can be playful; we, as editors, should allow for that and be open to how language is always changing.



Lyric Dodson
Editor, Editing by Lyric
Years editing: 6
Specialty: Copyediting
Type of material: Blog posts, nonfiction books

Do: If you’re working as a freelancer, get everything in writing! It can seem intimidating to write up a contract that hits all the important points, but it’s absolutely imperative that you do so. You most likely won’t encounter troublesome clients too often as you work, but there is a chance you will — and you want to be prepared if anything happens.

Don’t: Never undersell yourself! Setting your prices is one of the most important things you’ll do, so it’s incredibly important that you charge what you’re worth, no matter how “outrageous” you think your prices are. Remember, you’re charging not only for your time and expertise, but also for the potential return on investment your client can expect to gain in the long run. Don’t price gouge for the sake of making a few extra dollars, but don’t undercut yourself either.



Renee’ D. Campbell
Editor and proofreader, MyPen Syl Writes
Years editing: 15+
Specialty: Substantive editing
Type of material: Résumés, books (fiction, comedy, sci-fi, poetry), white papers, research papers, marketing material, presentations, infographics, websites

Do: Attention to detail is key when editing. Take the role of editor seriously, as the author is entrusting their words to you.
Don’t: Do not promise what you cannot deliver! Deadlines are key!



Taiia Smart Young
Editor, Smart Girl Media
Years editing: 26
Specialty: Developmental editing
Type of material: Self-help, memoir, personal development, spirituality

Do: Edit work that you have some experience with or connection to.
Don’t: Never be afraid to turn down a client.


CaTyra Polland, MA, is the CEO of Love for Words, an editing boutique. She is also a published author and the hostess/creator of Editor Knows Best Podcast. http://www.pollandllc.com.

Cynthia Williams is a department manager at Dragonfly Editorial and interviews editors of color at Outside-the-Book.com.

Rahul D’souza

Years editing: 11
Job title: Senior editor at Packt
Job description: Development editor for IT books
Location: Bangalore and Mumbai, India

EXPERIENCE

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.

BUILDING DIVERSITY

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. 

THE PERSONAL

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.

RESOURCES

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. 

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

Amber Riaz

Years editing: 8
Job title: Owner of A4 Editing
Job description: Editor, subject matter expert on South Asian literature, translator (Urdu to English)
Location: British Columbia, Canada

EXPERIENCE

How did you get your current job?
I worked part-time as a copyeditor and content creator for four years before launching my full-time freelance business. I have worked as an academic and an instructor of academic writing, research skills, study skills, and feminist literary theory. I have been editing academic manuscripts, memoirs, fiction, and children’s fiction since 2017.

A freelance editor relies very heavily on word-of-mouth referrals and industry contacts. Before launching my business, I enrolled in a seminar and learned how to write a business plan. I drafted a networking strategy that includes maintaining a social media presence on sites like LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter; researching and then attending networking events hosted by local chambers of commerce or other groups; volunteering with professional organizations (such as Editors Canada and ACES: The Society for Editing); and identifying opportunities to engage with editors, writers, and the general publishing community.

What copyediting training do you have, and what positions have you held?
I have completed professional development courses through Editors Canada and completed courses on editing, indexing, and copyediting through Simon Fraser University’s Continuing Studies Editing Certificate program. I also have a doctorate in English literature. 

DOING THE JOB

Are there any complementary skills that are important in your job?
One of the most important skills a freelancer needs is an understanding of marketing and social media. Being a subject matter expert can also be important, especially when copyediting academic manuscripts.

Do you use any editing tools to get the job done (e.g., PerfectIt, Adobe stamps)? 
I’m a huge fan of PerfectIt and have begun experimenting with macros. I don’t rely completely on PerfectIt, but it does make it much easier to check for consistency. I run it twice: before beginning the editing process (to get a sense of the errors and issues I will need to address) and again after completing my editing (to check if I’ve missed anything). 

When I’m working on content development or website editing, I use Word’s readability scale and the Hemingway App to address appropriateness of style and tone. The two scales differ, but a comparison of both — and a closer look at sentence length, and verb and adverb usage — can help fine-tune a document’s style so it’s appropriate for the target audience and maintains authorial voice and intention.

COMMUNICATING WITH OTHERS

Do you participate in a community (or communities) that supports editors?
Some of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned have come through volunteering with Editors Canada and engaging in thoughtful conversations with fellow editors in online forums.

I am most active on Facebook, where I follow some private groups. Editors’ Association of Earth is a public group, with multiple affiliated private groups like Ad Space; a group for academic editors; and a group for funny errors, called Stickleback Corner. I also follow the Editors Canada members-only Facebook group and the organization’s LinkedIn group. The public group Binders has multiple affiliated “binders” for editors and writers that are good places to build community.

Do you have any thoughts on the need for editors to network and talk about what they do?
Networking, participating in communities and events, and talking to people about what you do are key to establishing and maintaining a presence in the field. One of the hardest moments for me was when I had to start asking for work on social media. I agonized over the perfect “editorial ask” and still worry about how few people see my posts and attempts to get clients. 

But when I was struggling for clients, new ones were sent to me by editors who had worked with me on volunteer committees. My relationships yielded results.  

I have had to adopt an extroverted persona when I’m engaging with people at networking events. My instinct is to try to remain in the background, but that does not generate any business. So I’ve learned to ask questions and get other people to do the talking. Figuring out how to introduce myself without boring other people is another difficult process. It takes time, patience, and experience to get the script just right and to sound natural in an unnatural setting like a networking event. I’ve learned to be less critical of myself as well.

How might we get buy-in during the editing process from authors who may not be receptive to changes?
First, it is important to recognize that we are only there to make something better. The work still belongs to the author. We may feel strongly about a specific issue, but our author could have a completely different point of view and may feel just as strongly. It is important to explore why we feel so strongly about a specific change and find a way to back up our suggestions with evidence from a dictionary or a style guide. If the author insists on rejecting all or most of the changes we have made, it is best to let the issue slide. 

Freelancers are lucky; we get to choose the clients we work with and we are usually hired by people who recognize us as experts. It’s a good idea to complete samples and to establish clear expectations and guidelines right from the beginning of the working relationship, so there are no nasty surprises later. 

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? 
At networking events, one of the main difficulties for me as a woman of color is that I normally stand out like a sore thumb. I’m usually the only one — or one of two or three BIPOC attendees. This often means that people see me only as someone who edits niche work, and I have been infantilized on more than one occasion by senior editors. It’s often easier to just let the moment slide, but it does create barriers and difficulties when networking.

I have been a token voice and have been doing a lot of niche work because I am a woman of color and of faith. There are moments when I become the main voice for a minority just because I look like one, and I’ve been in situations where people have told me I’m a “diversity hire” (it’s an accusation and a clear microaggression). Moments like these are not big on their own, but over time, they begin to feel overwhelming. 

Systemic barriers have been the most significant for me. For example, I’ve been looking for a mentor — and am even willing to pay for one, because I need the stability of an in-house position (and I think mentorship will give me an advantage in applying for these positions). But I haven’t yet found one who would understand the complexities of being BIPOC and also navigating a system that relies almost exclusively on referrals and networking. One needs to know the right people in the right field at the right time — BIPOC don’t always make it through those hoops.

What lessons would you have liked to learn at the beginning of your career?
I am still relatively close to the beginning of my editing career, but one lesson I wish I had learned earlier is that we need to take our freelancing businesses seriously. We need to focus our energies on establishing a good workspace, investing in technology and in resources that make the job easier, and setting aside money for emergencies. In my first year of filing taxes as a freelancer, I learned, to my chagrin, that I had to pay an income tax. Now that I know, I set aside 15-20% from each freelancing job so that I have the funds to pay my taxes in April. 

I have also invested in a second monitor; a high-quality ergonomic mouse; the best possible laptop, with high RAM and good processing speed; an ergonomic chair; a foot stool; and an orthopedic cushion for lower back pain. 

Any suggestions on what offices/employers could do to increase diversity in your field of editing?
Diversity in editing is a complicated issue. Publishers tend to see their audience in terms of a majority (largely white, cis-gendered) and balance that with a minority that often groups multiple identities into one large mass. When diversity is brought up, there’s often this underlying notion of stereotypes and token voices that can be demotivating for many. 

We know now that getting a seat at the table is also not enough to bring any change in this system of discrimination, because the voices of BIPOC are clearly marginalized and ignored. Recognizing this systemic issue is the first step toward addressing the lack of diversity in publishing. Actively seeking input and then adjusting attitudes based on that input, without stereotyping and tokenizing, are helpful actions. 

Seeking out literary agents with real connections in diverse writing communities, training editors to work with diverse authors, and employing people with expertise in diverse and accessible marketing and sales strategies will also help.   

THE PERSONAL

Tell us about a project that you’re proud of.
I have felt proud of each project I complete, because the editing process is clearly a collaborative one. The authors I’ve worked with have improved their writing styles and found their voices as a result of the editing and publishing processes. I am most proud of the projects in which the editing is so silent that it is almost invisible and the author is greeted with high praise for a well-written manuscript.

Any hobbies you’d like to share with us?
I am an avid reader of fiction and am happiest when I have a good book to turn to at the end of a long day. My favorite genres are speculative and fantasy fiction, historical novels, and sci-fi by BIPOC authors. I just finished reading Binti, a trilogy by Nnedi Okorafor that I’m completely in love with!

I also love to knit stuffed toys, but rarely find time for it these days. TV shows have become an important escape this year, though I’ve always been an avid fan of TV and movies. 

RESOURCES

What resources would you share with fellow editors?
Hard copies of style guides and dictionaries are an absolute must for editors. The Chicago Manual of Style and APA and MLA styles for academic editors are highly recommended. I also recommend a subscription to PerfectIt (it’s a lifesaver!) and a subscription to Adobe’s services (if you’re going to be proofreading more than 50% of the time). 

A workspace with a door that can be closed and an ergonomic desk and chair, if at all possible, will help you separate your work life from your home life. I recently invested in an Ikea Secretaire. It’s a desk that can be closed off once you’re done for the day. It has done wonders for my mental health. Once I close the flap, I’m done for the day, and I can relax without feeling any guilt.

Is there anything else you’d like readers to know about you or diversity in the profession?
Working with diverse voices, with people of color, or with people who are somehow pegged as different should not be about making room, or making space, or welcoming diversity. It should be about mutual respect, about understanding that a new way of looking at something is not necessarily a negation but an additional perspective. All professions, and languages, evolve with time, and embracing that evolution, that change, should be seen as growth and advancement, not just a rejection of the status quo.

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.

Melissa Brown Levine

  • Years editing: 9 years
  • Job title: Owner and senior editor at Brown Levine Productions
  • Location: Georgia

EXPERIENCE

How did you get your current job?
I created my job after working in corporate America for several years. I always had a side hustle when I worked for other people, so the foundation for the move from employee to business owner was in place. The biggest hurdle was making the leap from the perceived security of full-time employment to the often unstable world of freelancing. In essence, my fear presented as the largest obstacle. 

To get over it, I set a date to leave my job. I saved aggressively during the lead-up to the transition, and I confided in a close friend who held me accountable. Every time I doubted my decision or considered pushing my leave date back, she would challenge me to stay the course.

As I prepared to shift into freelancing full time, I created a résumé that featured the freelance editing and writing I had done over the years and developed a letter that I sent to publishers and other potential clients to introduce myself and outline my services.

What copyediting training have you had?
My entry into copyediting was not traditional. I was not employed as a copyeditor before I shifted into freelancing full time. While employed as a technical service librarian, I freelanced as a book reviewer and copywriter. The book review service I wrote for focused on the work of independent authors whose books were often in need of copyediting. So a lot of my efforts beyond reading the books and writing the reviews involved detailing for authors the problems with grammar and punctuation, as well as structure and organization, in their books. This led to requests for copyediting services, which meant that I needed to hone my editing skills.

Regarding training, I have a master’s degree in professional writing, but when I was preparing to freelance full time and afterward, I also took online courses that focused on copywriting and proofreading. However, I would say that the best training I have received as a copyeditor has come from client feedback. That can be a rare thing in freelancing (often, feedback will come in the form of not sending subsequent assignments if the first one wasn’t to the client’s liking), but those clients who take the time to remark on what went well with a project and what they expect for future assignments offer what amounts to valuable on-the-job training.

DOING THE JOB

Are there any complementary skills that are important in your job?
Marketing is an important factor in freelance copyediting. The initial introductory letters that I sent out during my transition to self-employment helped me build my client base. I maintain a website for my business, and I also have a presence on LinkedIn. In fact, the owner of Dragonfly Editorial found me on LinkedIn a few years ago, and I’ve completed work for the company on an ongoing basis since then.

Subject matter expertise is another tool that has helped me. My degrees and experience in psychology and counseling have been important when completing copyediting assignments for academic and nonprofit clients.

Flexibility and the willingness to learn are significant skills for copyeditors to hone. For example, editing government proposals and journal articles based on clients’ specific style guidelines requires copyeditors to be accommodating of their clients’ needs. Copyeditors may also need to learn unfamiliar software, such as SharePoint or a specific project management system.

Do you use any editing tools to get the job done (e.g., PerfectIt, Adobe stamps)? 
I have what I call a “setup process” when I begin a copyedit. I run PerfectIt first. This program does a great job of identifying inconsistencies in spelling, capitalization, and hyphenation. It does a fairly good job of identifying acronyms that have been spelled out in more than one place in a document. For government proposals that are often acronym heavy, running PerfectIt first allows the copyediting to flow smoother because I don’t have to keep stopping to run them down. And if the client requests that a list of acronyms be added to the style sheet, PerfectIt is an extremely valuable tool during a copyedit.

Next, I run spell-check. This helps me to clear out the obvious spelling and grammar errors before I begin reading the doc. If the program brings up hundreds of possible errors, then I know I’m in trouble. Once I complete that review, I do a search for any client-specific requirements. For example, number ranges that are separated by a hyphen instead of an en dash. More specifically, I have one client who does not allow the use of the ellipses symbol (…); instead, the preference is spaced periods (. . .). Some clients have macros that make the specific housekeeping changes to the document, so I will run those before starting the edit.

After the edit is complete, I search for extra spaces after punctuation and run spell-check again. Instead of running PerfectIt a second time, I often use the PerfectIt Consistency Checker, which is an add-in for Office 365. It covers the basics of the PerfectIt program (spelling, capitalization, hyphenation, numbers, etc.) but faster.

Finally, I plop the document into Grammarly. I have found that this program is really helpful when editing the work of writers whose first language is not English. Such writers often leave out definite and indefinite articles, and Grammarly catches the instances of this type of error that I miss because my brain filled them in during the edit. The program is also often better at spell-check than Office 365.

These programs help the editing progress faster, but they also serve as another set of eyes after I have completed the copyedit.

COMMUNICATING WITH OTHERS

How do you and your colleagues talk about editing with each other?
I am the sole employee of Brown Levine Productions, so if I am facing problems or concerns about a project, I go directly to the client, offer my suggestions for how I think issues should be handled, and then ask for further guidance. 

When I work on group editing projects with Dragonfly Editorial, I have the opportunity to discuss editing with the lead editor and others on the project via chat, which helps the editing process move along faster and smoother, because I’m not making all of the decisions about the edit on my own.

Do you participate in a community (or communities) that supports editors?
Outside of my contact with clients and the editors I work with on specific group projects, I have taken classes with editors. This provided insight into how other people approach editing and broadened my understanding of how to respectfully approach a writer’s work when embarking on a copyedit.

Do you have any thoughts on the need for editors to network and talk about what they do?
I do think that a copyeditor’s work can and does speak for itself. In my case, doing good work means that I receive more projects from my clients and even have people seek me out to offer me work. 

I think networking and talking about the profession are important, but engagement should also be based on the individual’s preferences and personality type. I am a solid introvert, so the work I am doing now as a freelancer is pretty much my dream job. I don’t do a lot of networking, but I do happily respond to inquiries from people interested in getting into the field. I also consume quite a bit of information about copyediting from blogs, listservs, and articles.

How might we get buy-in during the editing process from the non-editor colleagues with whom we work?
I think we gain buy-in by positioning ourselves as part of the writer’s/non-editor’s team. This happens when we clarify the writer’s expectations before the edit, and during the editing process, when we ask questions and make suggestions about the material based on our experience and what we are seeing in the text. 

I also think that using the right language in queries helps to put writers at ease about the editing process. I use “we” a lot when asking questions about a document (e.g., “Should we include a quote from all five of the presenters mentioned in the text, instead of only two?”). I think this gives the author a sense of being supported, instead of feeling reprimanded for not being thorough. 

I do a lot of fact-checking and add live links for information that I introduce in a query, so the author can make a decision about information based on more than my suggestions. 

I think it’s important that we communicate to writers that they are still ultimately in control of their work; we’re simply here to make it better.

BUILDING DIVERSITY

How diverse is your office? 
My business is Black and woman owned, but I do work with clients and other editors who represent a diverse body in regard to race and gender.

Any suggestions on what offices/employers could do to increase diversity in your field of editing?
I find that the field of copyediting is not one that a lot of people are aware of outside of traditional book publishing. Perhaps more outreach to students at state universities and historically Black colleges and universities, as well as the creation of editorial internships, will increase awareness of this field for a diverse population.

Have you faced any hurdles in getting into/advancing in the copyediting profession because you are a person of color? (These can be systemic, personal, environmental.) Or have you observed such barriers for others? Tell us about that.
I think (perhaps naively) that this may be a problem that a person of color would encounter more often when applying for or seeking advancement in a traditional, direct-hire position, as opposed to freelancing. I am generally hired based on the successful completion of a copyediting test. 

Now, it is possible that I have submitted my résumé to a managing editor who looked at my website and my LinkedIn page and decided not to hire me because of my race, but frankly, that doesn’t touch me directly. There are numerous opportunities for work in this field as a freelancer, so if I am actively seeking clients, I just keep reaching out to organizations until I add the number of clients I feel able to handle at a given time. 

Ultimately, it’s my skill set that gets me hired and keeps clients coming back to me. If I haven’t been hired because someone took a look at my website and saw my Black face, then they did us both a favor, because that’s not the type of company I want to invest my time and skill in. 

I do think that it would benefit the field to have more people of color copyediting in businesses and as freelancers, because we bring different perspectives to the content that is being produced.

THE PERSONAL

Tell us about a project that you’re proud of.
I recently received an urgent request from a nonprofit client to complete a substantive edit of a personal account of one of the firm’s representatives who participated in the George Floyd protests in Minnesota. The representative, who lives in the neighborhood where Mr. Floyd was killed, reported several occurrences of outside agitators coming into the community with the intention of destroying property. The representative even found a car stocked with gasoline canisters. 

The story was relayed during a conversation over the phone. So I was given an extremely rough draft, with instructions to bring all of my skills to the project and to return the edit as soon as possible. Three hours later, I’d restructured the piece and completed a copyedit. 

I am proud of that assignment because I was able to help an activist in Mr. Floyd’s community express her version of what was happening on the ground, as opposed to the mix of often-distorted stories that were provided by the media.

Any hobbies you’d like to share with us?
I am currently working on a novel. I’ve been writing the book for almost two years and hope to have a readable draft by the end of the summer. Most people probably don’t engage in their “hobbies” between midnight and 3:00 a.m., but that is the time that works best for me: there are no emails, no text messages, and no calls — just me and the characters and their stories.

RESOURCES

What resources would you share with fellow editors?
The current edition of the style guides your clients require you to use, as well as AP vs Chicago, Conscious Style Guide, Copyediting-L, and Power Thesaurus.

Kaitlin Littlechild

  • Years editing: 6
  • Job title: Editor, owner of Kaitlin Littlechild Editing
  • Job description: Edits reports, business and health publications, marketing material, web content, and academic work
  • Location: New Brunswick, Canada

EXPERIENCE

How did you get your current job?
I currently work for two different companies and run my own editing business. Networking played a pivotal role in securing the positions at both companies. In one case, someone who worked there learned of my skills and my areas of expertise. They suggested that my services would be beneficial for the company and arranged for me to have an interview. 

I learned about the second company through a friend. She pointed out that my skill set was a great fit for the company, and she encouraged me to reach out to them. Shortly after I contacted them about potential freelance work, they posted an in-house position and encouraged me to apply for that as well.

What copyediting training have you had?
I completed a certificate in editing from Simon Fraser University.

DOING THE JOB

Are there any complementary skills that are important in your job?
I work quite a bit on communications and marketing material. Understanding the basics of business communication and marketing strategies — as well as social media best practices and trends — has been important. Having education and experience in my areas of specialty (business and health) has opened doors for me to work on some exciting projects as well.

Do you use any editing tools to get the job done (e.g., PerfectIt, Adobe stamps)? 
I use PerfectIt for long documents. When I start work on a document, I run it through PerfectIt to clean up many of the inconsistencies. Often, this initial run allows me to create a list of decisions that I will need to make and things I need to watch for as I edit. When my editing is complete, I will run it through PerfectIt one more time to make sure that nothing was missed.

I also use macros, especially for repetitive tasks like fixing recurring punctuation errors. I recommend editors take the time to learn about the use of macros for editing.

COMMUNICATING WITH OTHERS

How do you and your colleagues talk about editing?
In my freelance work, I am the only editor. In my other role, I am one of two editors. I work remotely, and so we communicate virtually. We message back and forth throughout the day to ask questions, bounce ideas off each other, and communicate scheduling and workload needs. 

We worked together to create a style guide for the company, to make sure we apply the same editing decisions consistently. To create the style guide, we worked collaboratively to review existing written material to identify how things were currently being done. We also reviewed the company’s preferred standard style guide and adapted necessary style points to fit the needs of the type of work being done.

Do you participate in a community (or communities) that supports editors?
Yes, I am a member of Editors Canada and the Indigenous Editors Association.

Do you have any thoughts on the need for editors to network and talk about what they do?
I absolutely believe that networking and marketing are important for advancing the career of an editor. You have to put in the work to let people know that you are out there and what you have to offer. This can be difficult for many. I struggled with it in the beginning, but it pays off. It’s so important to network and tell others about editing and the value of editors.

Any advice for editors on getting buy-in from the non-editor colleagues with whom they work?
Show them the value of not only having a second set of eyes on a document, but a second set of trained eyes. I find that many reports and other documents produced by a company are written by several people. Having an editor do a final pass will not only catch any grammatical and spelling errors but also smooth out any differences in writing style so that the final product is consistent, clean, and professional.

THE PERSONAL

Tell us about a project that you’re proud of.
Fighting for a Hand to Hold: Confronting Medical Colonialism against Indigenous Children in Canada by Samir Shaheen-Hussain. The topic required the careful consideration of every word, not just an edit for grammar and spelling. The author and I worked together to ensure that the word choice was deliberate, accurate, and authentic. 

This is a notable project for me because it was the first with subject matter that required self-care and attention to my own emotions and reactions. Working through my reactions to the stories in this book was both challenging and rewarding.

Any hobbies you’d like to share with us?
When I’m not working, I can be found playing with my kids, tending to my garden, working on my latest crochet project, or reading a book just for fun.