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 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 15: Ruksana Hussain

Years editing: 19
Job title: Freelance journalist, editor, copyeditor, proofreader, writer, and content creator
Location: California

EXPERIENCE

How did you get your current job?
I chose to begin freelancing when the recession hit in 2008 and nobody was hiring. It was doubly difficult for me, as I had just moved to the United States in 2006 and 2008 was the first year I could legally apply for employment. 

During this time, I built my freelance business while working multiple gigs (e.g., in childcare, administration, research, and even a home-based eco-friendly products business), with the goal of eventually freelancing full time. 

That happened in 2011, when all of those gigs ended around the same time. My work opportunities since have all come along as a result of consistent networking and constantly applying for editorial roles, sometimes even creating those roles for myself in avenues where they were not advertised or didn’t exist. 

My major hurdle through it all was not having a social, educational or professional network to fall back on or dip into for connections, recommendations or other resources.

What copyediting training have you had?
My training began on the job. My first position, straight out of college, was in editorial. Then I took on content management and corporate communications, and eventually, I performed more writing and editing-focused roles. 

Over time, I chose to build on those skills to stay relevant to the market. That building included a continuing education certificate in copyediting and ACES: The Society for Editing workshops and the annual conference. 

DOING THE JOB

Are there any complementary skills that are important in your job?
Networking and marketing are crucial, especially if you want to create opportunities for yourself instead of applying for what’s available. Whether that networking is via social media or online-offline connects is up to the individual, but sharing your work and highlighting what you do is important. 

I have added skills along the way that have helped my work with clients. A course in Adobe InDesign a few years ago has come in handy when working with magazine clients, and a grant-writing certification obtained last year has helped with some nonprofit work. 

COMMUNICATING WITH OTHERS

How do you and your colleagues talk about editing with each other?
As a freelance editor, I mostly work alone. In the rare event that I am coordinating with a team, we use email, Slack, Dropbox, or Google Drive to collaborate.

This year has introduced several new terms in everyday usage, including “shelter in place” and “contact tracing.” For one magazine I work with and for which I created a custom style guide, these terms had to be added. Questions to resolve included, “When do we use them with or without hyphens?” We had discussions among the copyeditor, editor, and managing editor on the correct forms based on AP style.

For another outlet’s stories on race-related coverage, we had a Dropbox discussion on updating hyphenated dual-heritage terms, such as African American or Asian American, to current AP style.

Do you participate in a community (or communities) that supports editors?
Yes. ACES, the American Society of Magazine Editors, the American Society of Business Publication Editors, and the Society for Advancing Business Editing and Writing

Do you have any thoughts on the need for editors to network and talk about what they do?
In my experience, I had to do a lot more than just the editing. A couple of factors played into this: having recently moved to the country, not having the educational or professional experience that other candidates vying for the same role did, and not having many projects to share in my portfolio when I was starting out. 

My only option was to get in front of people and be seen and heard to find the roles I wanted, or create them for myself. I still do a lot of networking and try to get myself in front of decision makers. With the work I’ve accomplished, it has become easier to have those conversations.

How might we get buy-in during the editing process from authors who may not be receptive to changes?
I haven’t had many instances of having to get buy-in from authors, but the few times it has happened, I’ve shared the specific style guide with them or examples online from other sources. Sometimes it’s a conversation, and sometimes it’s education.

BUILDING DIVERSITY

How diverse is your office? 
In the teams I’ve worked with over the years, sometimes I’ve been the only person of color, and sometimes I’ve been surrounded by a diverse team. 

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? 
When I was starting out in this line of work in America, it certainly did feel like I had to prove myself more than others. 

On the one hand, I see that as a practical decision by the hiring person: if you don’t see on paper the qualifications and experience you are looking for, then you wouldn’t hire that individual. 

On the other hand, my name and my identity as a woman of color somehow gave people the idea I couldn’t put a sentence together, leave alone edit what they had written. This bias was only further strengthened by the fact that I had no educational or work experience in the US. 

A few years ago, I could sense that I, as the editor of a magazine, was being viewed with surprise — sort of a “How did you get here? Who let you in? Are you in the right place?” attitude, rather than a “You must be good at what you do to be here with us.” I still do sense it on occasion, but generally, I think I’ve been in the business so long I don’t take note.

Any suggestions on what offices/employers could do to increase diversity in your field of editing?
Admit bias exists, recognize it, and address it. Implement recruitment and hiring processes that ensure those biases don’t become the basis for your decision making (which, most times, will be to the detriment of your success). 

Form a diversity and inclusion team that is representative of your community, and have them be your guides in this conversation. 

Stop paying lip service and be transparent in how and why diversity and inclusion is important to you and what you are doing about it.

THE PERSONAL

Tell us about a project that you’re proud of.
I am proud of every single project that has brought me to this space of professional contentment that I find myself in now. At the moment, I am the editor at a diversity-focused publication and am happy to be part of a media company with that mission. 

I recently won three awards at the Los Angeles Press Club’s 2020 SoCal Journalism Awards that felt like a nod to years of hard work honing my writing and editing pursuits — in less than 10 years being a full-time freelancer and 14 living in the US. 

My personal passion project is a digital lifestyle magazine I launched earlier this year, Traveler and Tourist. Diversity and inclusion are the primary factors driving that effort. 

Any hobbies you’d like to share with us?
Traveling, cooking, reading, coloring, listening to music, watching movies, crosswords, trying new restaurants, learning languages, napping — I’m Gemini; the list is endless.

RESOURCES

What resources would you share with fellow editors?
A subscription to the online AP Stylebook is a great investment if that’s your specialization. For those starting out, a certification or two in copyediting might be that little push you need to get work. For those already in the field, learning to work in InDesign for edits is worth exploring. All of the groups I’ve mentioned above in “Communicating with Others” are great resources.

Is there anything else you’d like readers to know about you or about diversity in the profession?
I welcome readers to connect with me on LinkedIn. I’m always happy to answer any questions or help in any way possible. I certainly stumbled around quite a bit trying to find my footing in this space, so if I can help expedite that process for anyone else, I’d be glad to assist. 

As for diversity in the profession, there’s certainly a long way to go, and there is much work being done. There are champions and allies and cheerleaders who are helping in any way they can. And, of course, there are skilled diverse editors and other members of editorial communities doing their part. It’s a journey in that sense. But the more people who participate, the more there is accomplished.