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.

Interview 32: 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.

Interview 30: Renee Clark

Recent graduate
Major: Business Administration
Location: Florida

What interests you about copyediting?
One of the things that interests me about copyediting is the challenge of learning something new. About a year ago, I was itching to change careers and find something that was more fulfilling. While I was skimming possible courses to take — and different job boards — the website for the Editorial Freelance Association (EFA) popped up. After searching the site, I thought this would be a great place to start. And, luckily, it was! 

What area(s) of copyediting are you interested in?
I am most interested in blogs and articles centered around the current retail space and retail technology. But as I gain more experience, I hope to copyedit short stories and young adult novels. 

How are you nurturing/developing your interest in copyediting (or similar interests), especially during COVID?
Taking courses through the EFA has been extremely helpful. I have taken copyediting courses and listened to webinars on how to build a freelance business. I am now practicing using The Chicago Manual of Style. Also, I have joined ACES: The Society for Editing to continue my course training. I plan to attend the ACES annual conference in April. It will be my first conference, so I am a little sad that it won’t be in person — but I’m really excited to connect with other editors and enjoy the experience.

What, if any, copyediting experience have you had so far, and what did you like about the project, organization, or tasks?
My copyediting experience comes from projects given to me by friends and family. One proofreading project from a friend focused on how to give the best customer experience. It was a small project, but I felt good about helping her enhance her thoughts and create a cohesive project she could feel proud to share with her team. Currently, I am seeking work with local businesses and nonprofit organizations to build my portfolio. 

What would most help young editors (and editors of color) enter the editing profession?Staying consistent and staying positive. Looking for copyediting work can be daunting at first. One of the courses I took through the EFA was called Getting Editorial Work from Publishers and Book Packagers. That course helped me change the way I search and ask for work. I found out what a letter of introduction was and the importance of setting up a to-do list for marketing yourself and strategizing about your goals. The course also covered using social media. Joining groups and following other editors, authors, and publishing companies can be a great way to find clients who may be interested in your skill set.

Anything else you might want readers to know about diversity in editing/publishing, or about starting out in this profession?
If you are just starting out in editing, I would suggest finding a niche, something that you are an expert at that can really show off your knowledge. Connecting with other professionals in that area could, potentially, get you your first job. I found my niche with my retail background and have connected with some great people. I’m crossing my fingers in hopes of finding my first gig soon.

Interview 28: Breanna Henry

Student: Loyola University New Orleans
Double major: Mass communication and English writing
Location: Louisiana

What interests you about copyediting?
I really enjoy reading other people’s work and editing it to make it better than it was before. I also like the idea of working with a fiction author on their masterpiece and helping it to be the best book it can be.

What area of copyediting are you interested in?
I’m interested in book editing, mainly because I want to write a few books of my own.

How are you nurturing your interest in copyediting, especially during COVID?
I am writing a lot: poems, stories, songs. I am also reading more. I feel like the more I read and write, the more I am exposed to what good and bad writing and syntax look like — and how bad writing can be improved.

What copyediting experience have you had so far, and what did you like about the project, organization, or tasks?
I was a copyeditor for my high school yearbook, and I am currently editor of the Meraki Literary Journal at Loyola University New Orleans. My experience with both involves proofreading, getting rid of unnecessary sentences and words, and suggesting a new way to say the same thing.

My favorite part is reading the author’s work and seeing how they got to the piece they’ve written. I definitely prefer fiction writing, because it’s fun to read, but I’m fine with fiction and journalistic writing.

What would most help young editors (and editors of color) enter the editing profession?
I think experience would help young editors (of color) entering the profession. Students should do lots of internships at different places, not just those at publishing companies. Working at magazines, newspapers, and literary journals helps with your own writing, and when you can strengthen your own writing, you’ll be able to strengthen others’ writing.

Anything else you might want readers to know about diversity in editing and publishing, or about starting out in this profession?
I definitely think there should be more people of color in editing and publishing, especially so they can support authors of color. Collaboration is that much easier when you have someone alongside you who can relate to your experiences. 

Also, I believe starting out in the profession, you have to be assertive. Be confident in your skills and get as much experience as you can. Ask lots of questions and do everything — not just books, but maybe academic essays, technical material, etc., just to be a well-rounded editor. In editing, similar to mass communication, it is best to be a jack of all trades rather than good at only one section of the field.

Interview 25: Jyotirmoy Chaudhuri

Years editing: 20 years
Job title: Self-employed book editor (indie fiction and narrative nonfiction, such as travel and memoir)
Job description:
Location: Camp (COVID-era): Durgapur, West Bengal, India; residence: New Delhi, India

EXPERIENCE

How did you get your current job?
I have been working solo on books as an editor for five years now. Almost all the work has come from one agency, AuthorsUpFront (AU), besides a couple of individual clients. I first came in contact with AU when a book that I co-authored — Gas Wars: Crony Capitalism and the Ambaniswas published by them in April 2014. This was a self-published project; the senior writer, Paranjoy Guha-Thakurta, a well-known independent journalist, financed it. The other writer was Subir Ghosh, also a journalist and copyeditor.

Paranjoy (with an eponymous imprint) and AU together would go on to publish a number of other books, and I was involved on the editorial side with almost all those books. At that point, I was on the staff of Mr. Guha-Thakurta, as an executive assistant, editorial assistant, office administrator, library custodian, researcher, writer, and copyeditor all rolled into one. In November 2016, this private office was dissolved, so the association with AU proved fortuitous. I was offered book editing projects by AU, and I segued into what today is termed the “new normal” — a work-from-home, primarily online mode of work.

What copyediting training have you had?
I trained on the job at my first job with the books team at the Centre for Science and Environment, New Delhi, and later with their fortnightly science and environment publication and website “Down To Earth.” I had an excellent mentor in a senior on the copy team. I was introduced to the world of style guides and copy discipline. We had the house style, but I was also introduced to the Oxford Style Guide, The Chicago Manual of Style, and the New Oxford Dictionary for Writers and Editors. I have collected and used other style guides as necessary. Beyond this, I had, and have always, taught myself.

I studied in an English-language-dominated school system, gained an English literature degree in college, and had a penchant for research and an obsession for reference lists and spacing errors in printed volumes.

Quixotically, it is only this year — because of the COVID situation and my (heavy) online engagement with a copyeditors’ cohort, Indian Copyeditors Forum — that I was exposed to some incredible resources through webinars and information on training programs. And I do intend to pick up a fiction editing training course soon.

While I believe in the mentor-mentee training model of the shop floor, which translates into experience over the years, a formal training program in copyediting or specialization (such as fiction) can certainly fine-tune one’s discipline of work and refine one’s craftwork. In the early days, when I began my work life, I would have joined a formal training program if I had had the opportunity.

DOING THE JOB

Are there any complementary skills that are important in your job?
Since I am offering a skill-based independent service, all of the above training is important. Marketing and social media are musts, for marketing oneself as well as for guiding writers in choosing the right book marketers and an efficient outreach strategy. A sense of design and typography is useful when working on layouts of a book, aiding visualization. Especially when editing nonfiction, a familiarity with the subject being edited is a bonus for the editor.

Do you use any editing tools to get the job done (e.g., PerfectIt, Adobe stamps)? 
I do not. I tried using macros after attending a webinar. They were quite effective, but I still depend on a combination of a deep read, intuition, and “Find and Replace” in Word. I always check a dictionary, especially the New Oxford Dictionary for Writers and Editors, when I need. I find it much easier to reach out to my bookshelf on the left of my desk and flip the pages, or go to the index in the style manual and read up.

Sometimes I use a website like Grammarly. And I do use online dictionaries — Webster’s, Lexico, and Collins — as well as Britannica.

I feel tools like macros and PerfectIt (which I downloaded and tested out) could be useful for nonfiction. I keep myself open to ideas and would board the tools ship if I need to.

COMMUNICATING WITH OTHERS

How do you and your colleagues talk about editing with each other?
I work solo, so no department. However, I have networks of friends and colleagues (through the agencies who give me work) whom I may contact on a point of interest or to discuss a grammatical issue or the pricing of a service. I have formed a mastermind group this COVID season, but it is young and has yet to find its feet.

Editing, essentially is a lonely tread, and at the end of the day, it is one’s communion with the text on the desk that brings out the best in the product. Speaking to colleagues while on a project (about some query regarding the job) can sometimes bring in more confusion.

Do you participate in a community (or communities) that supports editors?
Yes. In fact, I’ve done more of that in the past year. Previously, I had mostly lived in my own silo, communing with books, work, and myself. And the engagement has been hugely beneficial, the weird year of 2020 turning into a period of conversations and learning.

Do you have any thoughts on the need for editors to network and talk about what they do?
Networking, yes, to stay updated, and get leads. But a solo worker like myself needs to strike a balance between the networking and the work. Actually, it is a tough call. The networking takes the “peace” out of the work. It can get a little crazy — especially within the social media buzz — if one does not strike a balance.

On the other hand, I believe, a publisher — or someone likely to farm out work, who is more of a businessperson than a craftsperson — could afford or need to network.

Regarding talking about what one does, yes, absolutely. It is good to let potential clients know about our processes and why hiring us will add value to their product. Editors are backroom people, but if we do not talk about our work, we will be a forgotten profession.

How might we get buy-in during the editing process from authors who may not be receptive to changes?
Have empathy for the writer. An editor can never forget that a manuscript, however awkward in their professional estimation, is sacred to the writer. So calmly take the author through your argument, and stand your ground. If an author understands that you are there for the project, they mostly see reason.

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? 
In India, the question of color probably needs to be explained in a different way than, say, in the US. There is a tilt toward someone who is “fair” rather than “dark,” but that is to do with beauty. As far as I know, that is not carried over into employment and merit. But I am always circumspect on issues like this, because it is also true that Africans have sometimes faced harassment in India — for example, in 2017.

The real barriers here often come down to issues of caste. (Let me just go by the Britannica note on this dark marker of social differentiation.) I have personally never faced or seen the effects of this stratification in the publishing sector, but that is because English-language publishing in India is extremely privileged and the staffers doubly so. There are indie publishing houses that focus on Dalit, Bahujan, and Adivasi literature, though trade publishing is dominated by an English-language educated elite.

These two paragraphs are at best a pixellated snapshot, let us just say barriers remain at different levels.

Any suggestions on what offices/employers could do to increase diversity in your field of editing? 
Editors— especially commissioning editors from Dalit, Bahujan, Adivasi, and Muslim communities — need to be given opportunities in trade publishing. There is also room for a lot more translation activity within the Indian languages, an area that is already quite powerful.

THE PERSONAL

Tell us about a project that you’re proud of.
Gas Wars: Crony Capitalism and the Ambanis — without a doubt. This book brought my research, writing, and editing skills into play. This was quite a large project, and I was also deeply involved in the copy coordination at the publishing stage.

Also Grit, Gravel and Gear, a travel narrative I edited in 2018-19. It is about the solo cycling trip of Dhruv Bogra, the author, from the Canadian Arctic to the Andes. I do not think I have ever been as deeply connected to a book as I was to this one. The pleasure of traveling along with the author’s sublime narrative was unparalleled and inspiring.

Any hobbies you’d like to share with us?
My hobbies have never been clearly defined and sustained, except for books and reading. I was excited about yoga for a few years but could not keep up with the rigor. In 2020, I began to pay attention to plants, as I have had a garden around me for a few months in the town where I am shacking up with my parents to stay away from the big city in the COVID season. I was introduced to composting by a friend recently, and I intend to generate compost.

RESOURCES

What resources would you share with fellow editors?
The volumes I regularly use: Oxford Style Guide/New Hart’s Rules, New Oxford Dictionary for Writers and Editors, Concise Oxford English Dictionary, Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, The Chicago Manual of Style, and The Chicago Guide to Grammar, Usage, and Punctuation

Is there anything else you’d like readers to know about you or about diversity in the profession?
I have begun blogging on LinkedIn and also at (the currently rudimentary) JC Edits. I invite visitors to these spaces and hope to continue the conversations that became the hallmark of my life in COVID 2020. Conversations, collaborations, and learnings will keep us going.

Interview 17: Tia Ross

Years editing: 35
Job title: Freelancer, business owner
Job description: Consultant, project manager, copyeditor (content, legal, technical), proofreader, writer, writing coach, and editor mentor
Location: Texas

EXPERIENCE

What copyediting training have you had, and what positions have you held?
I was an insatiable reader as a child and teenager, and I remember studying the structure of books I read, character by character. I paid attention to minor things, like the spelling of grunts — the “uh-huhs” and “mm-hmms.” I analyzed dialogue punctuation, tags, and beats. I noticed shifts in point of view, the key differences between first-person and third-person narrative, and the intricacies of internal dialogue.

I studied proofreading in grade school, but I didn’t get serious about it until the early ’90s. That was when I took my first college-level proofreading and editing courses.

I began freelance editing professionally in 1986 for United States military recruiters and classmates in high school, then for lawyers in 1989, but I didn’t start my first official editing business until 1995.

I moonlighted as an editor while working full time at law firms, advertising agencies, and telecommunications companies as a legal editor and proofreader, advertising editor, and technical writer and editor, respectively. I’m also skilled with software development and programming, and have worked as an intranet developer and content editor. 

DOING THE JOB

Are there any complementary skills that are important in your job?
As an entrepreneur, I wear all the hats, doing tasks myself or delegating them. My roles require skill in analytics, contract creation, email management/communications, graphic design, image editing, invoices/fiscal management, marketing, newsletter development, project management, search engine optimization, social media, and web design, to name a few. 

Then there are the critical soft skills one must have to be successful: active listening, flexibility, honesty, integrity, leadership, negotiation, optimism, reliability, responsiveness, time management, and transparency.

Do you use any editing tools to get the job done (e.g., PerfectIt, Adobe stamps)? 
I’ve tried PerfectIt, ProWritingAid, Grammarly, and Ginger. PerfectIt is my tool of choice right now, although it’s painfully slow. Grammarly is second. While recently editing the 140,000-word U.S. Civil Rights Trail guide for Moon Travel/Hachette Book Group, for example, I used PerfectIt to ensure consistency in acronyms and abbreviations. 

When proofreading galleys, charts, magazine pages, and other PDFs, I use iAnnotate. I’ve also used ProofHQ (now Workfront) and Ziflow for online corporate proofing that requires a team review.

COMMUNICATING WITH OTHERS

How do you and your colleagues talk about editing with each other?
I currently have two editors working with me at WordWiser Ink, Brandy Patton and Sherian Brown. We have a great private group on Telegram. We also enjoy discussions with other Black editors in an online community, Black Editors Network, where we talk about business, projects, other opportunities, work-life balance, health and fitness, etc.

Do you participate in a community (or communities) that supports editors?
Only Black Editors Network at this time. It’s the only real community of editors I’ve ever been part of. It was originally created for members of the Black Editors & Proofreaders Directory but has recently been opened to all Black editors.

I was a member of the Editorial Freelancers Association (EFA). I served on the board of directors and as conference planner for its national conferences. I was a member of the email discussion list and forums, but I always felt like an outsider. I was also a member of ACES: The Society for Editing for one year, but I don’t know if they had a community where editors could discuss issues. 

Do you have any thoughts on the need for editors to network and talk about what they do?
For freelance editors, yes, networking and referring clients to other editors of your ilk can be worthwhile, particularly when other freelancers refer clients to you in return.

How might we get buy-in during the editing process from authors who may not be receptive to changes?
When I first started editing, it mattered more to me if authors were receptive, but not anymore. As a freelancer, I tell them what the rules of style are according to The Chicago Manual of Style, AP style, or whatever style manual I’m using. Whether they decide to reject that is not within my control, so I don’t concern myself with it.

BUILDING DIVERSITY

How diverse is your office? 
My firm is 100% Black-owned and woman-owned, with two Black female editors.

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? 
No. I forged my own path as an editor, and I find that authors and other editors seek me out because I’m Black, experienced, and skilled at what I do. Companies (Black-owned and otherwise) want to work with me for the expertise I lend to their projects, and Black individuals want me on their teams because “we” like working with “us” when we find someone who’s capable, reliable, responsive, honest, and professional, and who operates with integrity. 

I am all of those things, and I discovered long ago that hurdles tend to move aside when I operate in my gift.

THE PERSONAL

Tell us about a project that you’re proud of.
I should preface this by saying that I absolutely adore sci-fi, mythology, and fantasy — movies, TV, and books. I am editing a speculative fiction series written by Carolyn Holland called Brothers of the Dark Veil. Its storylines infuse mythology, history, and science fiction in a way that is so engrossing that I have to remind myself while reading her work that I’m supposed to be editing it — despite doing pre-reads! She writes the kind of stories that make readers lose track of time and have ’em sitting up in the bed turning pages in the wee hours of the night. 

Her standards for the production of these books are top-notch. I’m so proud of her and this project that I seriously consider it an honor to be part of her team and to edit her work. I can’t wait to have the entire series grace my bookshelf. 

Any hobbies you’d like to share with us?
I enjoy cycling, yoga, Pilates, hi-fi audio, traveling, superhero films and shows, and sourcing venues for retreats and conferences for writers and editors. My next event will be a retreat for editors in conjunction with the next Writeful Places Writers Retreat at the Grand Hyatt Playa del Carmen Resort, June 5–8, 2021 — if COVID-19 will let us be great — followed by the next EFA conference.

RESOURCES

What resources would you share with fellow editors?
Other than Blackeditors.net, another online community worth checking out or referring to is Blackwriters.org, an online community for Black creative and freelance writers. It offers job leads from employers seeking diverse applicants, calls for submissions, fellowship and grant leads, critique groups, and an accountability/writing tribe, to name a few of the benefits.

Is there anything else you’d like readers to know about you or about diversity in the profession?
In the current environment, I see a strong, ongoing demand for skilled developmental editors and substantive editors of color. To aspiring freelance editors: Don’t be deterred by how many other editors are offering these services, and don’t believe that all of them are competition. What’s important is the distinction between quantity and quality. All editors are not equal. Strive to be the standout.

Also, be careful about with whom you affiliate as an editor. In this business, reputation is everything. Find your tribe. If you’re an independent, whether self-employed or the only Black editor in your office, you don’t have to be solo. We’re out here!

Interview 8: Crystal Shelley

  • Years editing: 3 years
  • Job title: Freelance editor
  • Job description: Edit tech blog posts written by developers and engineers / provide line editing, copyediting, proofreading, and sensitivity reading for fiction authors
  • Location: Utah

EXPERIENCE

How did you get your current job?
I’ve been editing full time since 2019. Before that, I worked as a licensed clinical social worker and edited on the side. Now I edit full time and practice social work on the side.

I’m the owner of Rabbit with a Red Pen. I primarily do line editing, copyediting, proofreading, and sensitivity reading for fiction authors. I specialize in conscious language use and in representation and diversity in media. I also work with several companies as a contractor. One of these jobs involves editing tech-related blog posts written by developers and engineers.

I applied for the tech blog editing position through the Editorial Freelancers Association (EFA) job list because I wanted to diversify my experience. I’d only ever worked with independent authors, and this opportunity would allow me to edit a different type of material and to work for a company with other editors and a house style. The onboarding process was smooth, and it’s been a pleasant experience.

What copyediting training have you had?
I started out as a beta reader who worked closely with a copyeditor. Since developing my editing career, I’ve done trainings through the EFA, Poynter, and the Publishing Training Centre (UK). I also absorb as much information as I can through watching webinars and reading articles.

DOING THE JOB

Are there any complementary skills that are important in your job?
As a freelance business owner, I’ve found that producing content marketing and working on social media have been the key skills I’ve had to develop to attract new clients and network with other editors.

With tech blog editing, an inquisitive mind is particularly important. Since I’m not a developer or an engineer, a lot of the terms and concepts I come across while editing are unfamiliar to me. Therefore, I’m always consulting the style guide and search engines. If I can’t find an answer, I work directly with the writer on what would work best.

Do you use any editing tools to get the job done (e.g., PerfectIt, Adobe stamps)? 
I use PerfectIt to check consistency in Word documents. For the tech posts, which are hosted online, I use the free Grammarly plug-in as an extra set of eyes, and I’m able to ignore it when it’s wrong.

COMMUNICATING WITH OTHERS

How do you and your colleagues talk about editing with each other?
I’m the only editor for my freelance business. There are about 10 other editors for the tech blog, and we communicate through Slack. The conversations in Slack usually relate to the treatment of tech terms, such as capitalization, hyphens, and plurals. The tech world has so many terms that aren’t covered in the style guide (though they do update the guide frequently with best practices) that we have to use our judgment, but it’s nice to be able to talk to other editors to see how they would handle the issue. The results of these conversations are often incorporated in the style guide.

Do you participate in a community (or communities) that supports editors?
I’m a member of the EFA and its Diversity Initiative, ACES: The Society for Editing, and Utah Freelance Editors. I’m also part of the various Facebook groups for editors (e.g., Editors Association of Earth and its affiliates, as well as Louise Harnby’s group), the Editors Lair, and the #Edibuddies and #StetWalk communities on social media.

Do you have any thoughts on the need for editors to network and talk about what they do?
Networking and content marketing have been invaluable for me to grow my business. I joined Twitter as part of my marketing strategy, and it has led to my most significant professional opportunities. I think talking in public spaces about what editors do is important, because there are many misconceptions out there (that we’re sticklers who strip away a writer’s creativity and voice, for one). 

Because I specialize in conscious language use and representation, I write about it on social media and in my blog. There have been ongoing discussions about how editors can play a role in working with writers, publishers, and businesses to push for language change, especially around inclusive and representative language. I believe editors can and should be at the forefront of these conversations.

How might we get buy-in during the editing process from the non-editor colleagues with whom we work?
I’m fortunate that I haven’t had to deal with much pushback from non-editors. I mostly work directly with writers or other editors, and the writers have all valued how I and other editors help them improve their content.

If I was working with a non-editor and needed to get buy-in, I’d frame how editing benefits readers, which then benefits them in whatever measure is important (profits, reviews, increased site traffic, etc.).

BUILDING DIVERSITY

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 haven’t faced any hurdles because I’m a person of color, but I’ve seen conversations from editors about whether to anglicize their names for business purposes because clients may question their English proficiency otherwise. It’s an unfortunate reality that I haven’t experienced because my married name is of English origin. 

I have, however, experienced microaggressions in person, where I’ve been asked if I understood a phrase or idiom just used, which usually then leads to questions about my ethnicity and comments about how well I speak English. 

THE PERSONAL

Tell us about a project that you’re proud of.
Because I work directly with writers, I’m proud anytime they’re able to get their writing out into the world. Most of the developers and engineers I work with aren’t writers, but they’re experts in their fields. Many of them are also English language learners. I’m glad to be able to help them share their knowledge with readers in a clear and concise manner.

Any hobbies you’d like to share with us?I enjoy playing video games, reading, watching TV shows and movies, and spending time with my dog. I’ve also started writing a novel, which is a bit scary but also fun. I’m not sure what will come of it, but it’s a story I’m excited to tell.

RESOURCES

What resources would you share with fellow editors?
I know previous interviewees have mentioned Conscious Style Guide, but I want to reiterate its importance, especially when thinking about how we can help writing be more inclusive and empowering. The Editing Podcast with Louise Harnby and Denise Cowle is a great resource for editors of all types. Great to listen to if you’re going for a #StetWalk!