Interview 23: Shara Pantry

Years editing: 4
Job title: Part-time freelance medical writer and editor
Job description: Writes patient education material; copyedits grant proposals and scientific manuscripts
Location: Florida

EXPERIENCE

How did you get your current job?
My first copyediting job came from a listing on the job board of the American Medical Writers Association (AMWA). Currently, the majority of my medical writing gigs come through Dragonfly Editorial. I connected with the owner on LinkedIn and have been one of their freelance medical writers for the past year.

I’ve also gotten writing and editing gigs through the professional network that I’ve built over the past six years.

What copyediting training do you have, and what positions have you held?
I’ve taken copyediting and science writing courses. I’ve taken the Writing in the Sciences course on Coursera, copyediting.com’s Copyediting for ESL Authors, and grant-writing courses from the university where I work.

My experience has come from freelance editing jobs: scientific grant proposals and manuscripts, training modules, resumes, and personal statements. For editing large grant proposals or manuscripts, I find it useful to have the specific aims page or abstract printed. This gives me an easy way to refer back to the main conclusions and most important information as I proceed through the document. I also keep a running list of abbreviations and use the Microsoft Word search and replace feature regularly to ensure consistency.

DOING THE JOB

Are there any complementary skills that are important in your job?
As I aim to grow my freelance career, I am beginning to learn more about marketing and maintaining a strong social media presence. Right now, I’m reading The Fearless Freelancer: How to Thrive in a Recession, by Lori De Milto. It offers great information how to find your niche as a freelancer and how to develop a client-focused LinkedIn profile and website.

I’d also like to learn more about using graphic design to make science communication more accessible, which would complement my skills as a medical writer and editor.

Do you use any editing tools to get the job done (e.g., PerfectIt, Adobe stamps)?
I use Grammarly to double-check for simple grammar mistakes, extra spaces, and missing punctuation. But I use my discretion, as Grammarly isn’t always accurate when used on scientific materials.

COMMUNICATING WITH OTHERS

Do you participate in a community (or communities) that supports editors?
I have a network of writers and editors in the AMWA community. I’ve been a member of AMWA for the past four years. It has a helpful forum where members can post editing questions. AMWA is a very welcoming community of people who are generous with their time and knowledge. I’m lucky to live in an area with a very active AMWA community. Our local networking group meets monthly (virtually during the COVID-19 pandemic) and has been invaluable.

Do you have any thoughts on the need for editors to network and talk about what they do?
I think that everyone, regardless of their chosen career, should be open to networking and sharing what they do with others. Building relationships across disciplines helps to highlight careers that are often not completely understood. Many people may not truly understand what a copyeditor does and how copyeditors may benefit a variety of businesses. Keeping an open line of communication will help to solve that problem.

How might we get buy-in during the editing process from authors who may not be receptive to changes?
Authors can be very defensive about their writing, and as a writer, I know the feeling. If the issue is somewhat of a personal preference, I think it’s best to leave it alone. But if something absolutely must be changed, providing a good rationale for the change may help the author to be more receptive.

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’m not aware of any biases that have kept me from progressing in my freelance career. I’m grateful to have always felt welcome in the spaces I’ve been in regardless of my race and gender.

Any suggestions on what offices/employers could do to increase diversity in your field of editing?
In general, I think that the science community needs to educate graduate students on the variety of careers that are available outside of academia and normalize the choice not to pursue a long-term research career. As students are exposed to editing as a career choice, the diversity in the field will continue to grow.

THE PERSONAL

Any hobbies you’d like to share with us?
My longest-lasting hobbies are reading and cooking. I’m also taking Spanish lessons right now. For a while, I was into calligraphy, but I haven’t picked up my pen and nib lately. I’d love to get back into it and maybe pick up floral design.

RESOURCES

What resources would you share with fellow editors?
The must-have resource for a medical editor is the American Medical Association Manual of Style.

Interview 21: Vivek Kumar

Years editing: 22 years
Job title: Freelance medical copyeditor
Job description: Edits medical journal articles
Location: India

EXPERIENCE

How did you get your current job?
My current freelance assignment came about through my LinkedIn group Editorial Heads, India, which I formed with the aim of bringing together the editorial heads of all the companies in India and abroad. There was a discussion about copyediting quality and whether Indian copyeditors can match the best in the world. One of the group members gave me a test, and we (me and my business partner at that time) cleared it with flying colors. I have been working with that client since then. 

What copyediting training do you have, and what positions have you held? 
I have been lucky in the sense that I entered the profession when there was enough time (and not so much work) for our manager, Dr. Venkataraman Anantharaman (Dr. Venkat), to train copyeditors. The icing on the cake was that he was passionate about training. Even now, I take courses offered by Dr. Venkat through his Art of Copyediting training initiative. 

I started as a copyeditor and rose to the position of assistant manager at Aptara. I joined SPi Global as senior manager, editorial services, in 2007, and then I rejoined Aptara as senior manager, copyediting, in 2008. 

DOING THE JOB

Are there any complementary skills that are important in your job?
I would say that it is important to be visible, but that visibility should be backed up, always, by the quality of work a person delivers.

Constructive use of social media helps in connecting with experts, knowledge sharing, and continuous professional development. 

Do you use any editing tools to get the job done (e.g., PerfectIt, Adobe stamps)? 
I have been using PerfectIt for years. I have loaded my journal style sheets in PerfectIt, and this ensures that I do not miss any style point.

COMMUNICATING WITH OTHERS

Do you participate in a community (or communities) that supports editors?
I have been building a community of Indian editors on Facebook through my group Indian Copyeditors Forum: The Forum for Editors (ICF) since June 28, 2015. We are a community of more than 2,000 editorial professionals (copyeditors, developmental editors, indexers, commissioning editors, production editors, translators, project managers, alt-text writers, style editors, authors, writers, and typesetters). We have numerous WhatsApp groups as well. We are also on LinkedIn and Twitter.

Do you have any thoughts on the need for editors to network and talk about what they do?Yes, editors need to keep on spreading awareness about their profession, because a lot of people do not know what we do and why it is important, do not know that editing and proofreading are different tasks and involve different sets of activities, and do not know that editing can be a well-paying profession. 

How might we get buy-in during the editing process from authors who may not be receptive to changes?
Well, we need to show them before-and-after samples and show how a meaning different from what they intend will be passed on to the reader if the proposed editorial changes are not carried out. 

How diverse is your office? 
When I worked in-house, everyone was welcome, although we always had more women than men. 

Have you faced any hurdles in getting into/advancing in the copyediting profession because you are a person of color? Or have you observed such barriers for others? 
I have never faced any barrier, although I have seen the “native editor” requirement or, sometimes, a doctoral-level experience requirement for some freelance jobs. I must say that I have been lucky to have a regular client all these years and have had to refuse jobs from other clients rather than go client hunting from time to time.

Any suggestions on what offices/employers could do to increase diversity in your field of editing?
I would say that employers should invest in training youngsters and building up in-house and freelance resources so that there is an enriching two-way learning process in which people work as a team and grow together.

THE PERSONAL

Tell us about a project that you’re proud of.
It has to be related to our group Indian Copyeditors Forum. On May 10, 2020, when the world was under lockdown, we started a 40-session Sunday Zoom series, and we had our 28th consecutive session this Sunday. On October 4, 2020, a six-speaker panel presented a webinar on Indian English, which was attended by editors all over the world. 

On September 12, 2020, we launched an interview series titled What’s Editing Anyway? These interviews occur every alternate Saturday. 

On the remaining two Saturdays of the month, we give our members a break from editing-related matters by taking them on a virtual world tour as part of our ICF Travel series. 

Any hobbies you’d like to share with us?
Whatever time I get after work goes into building my community of editors. I love to read books related to editing. What Editors Do: The Art, Craft, and Business of Book Editing, edited by Peter Ginna; The Curious Case of the Misplaced Modifier, by Bonnie Trenga; It Was the Best of Sentences, It Was the Worst of Sentences, by June Casagrande; and the second edition of The Subversive Copyeditor, by Carol Fisher Saller are some of the books I have read in the last year.

RESOURCES

What resources would you share with fellow editors?
The ICF webinar series (recordings for most of the sessions are available on our YouTube channel) is a gold mine. The blogs on our website — contributed by editors all over the world — are also masterpieces. 

Is there anything else you’d like readers to know about you or about diversity in the profession?
I love connecting with people and connecting people. I would love to see young people take up the profession and interact with experienced editors. They should never be afraid of asking anything they do not know (even after doing their research). If we ask, we learn; if we don’t, we don’t.

Interview 16: Ayesha Chari

Years editing: 16
Job title: Academic editor
Job description: Specializes in language editing and rewriting, editing (what is curiously labeled) non-native English, and copyediting in a wide range of subjects (including the humanities, social sciences, and STM [science, technology, and medicine]
Location: Norfolk, UK

EXPERIENCE

How did you get your current job?
I moved continents for love, reluctantly leaving full-time employment as an editor with an independent publishing house. I didn’t intend to be self-employed, but full-time editing jobs didn’t materialize and freelance ones did.

I spent three years yo-yoing between job hunting and juggling work that came my way (mostly from word of mouth, membership networks in a professional association, previous contacts, responses to adverts, and opportunities to take editing tests), with no business plan of any sort. By serendipity, the more frustrated I got about not bagging that full-time job, the more freelance projects came my way. I was exhausted and upset. I was afraid to declare defeat but also afraid to declare ownership of an editorial business.

Then, I hit my best year in business, moved cities, and braced myself for parenthood — the good professional year helped me decide to focus solely on being self-employed. I love being my own boss, wouldn’t go back to being employed, and finally am not afraid to admit I am the owner of an editorial business.

What copyediting training do you have, and what positions have you held?
I received strong foundations in on-the-job training with both my previous full-time publishing house employers in India: At Macmillan Publishers (now MPS Ltd.), I had exceptional mentors who taught me all I needed to discover my editor self and helped create the foundation on which I continue to grow. As assistant copyeditor, I learned the fundamentals of STM editing and journal publishing.

Seagull Books gave me wings. Besides honing editing skills, I learned the craft of bookmaking with six exceptionally talented co-workers. I was involved in contracts, printing, and everything in-between.

I have since taken formal courses in core skills as well as business-related ones, and I am always looking for new courses to improve my expertise and stay up to date.

DOING THE JOB

Are there any complementary skills that are important in your job?
Does humor count? It’s useful on the job and outside, especially as a freelance provider of services that may never require human contact. Humor helps build and maintain long-lasting relationships with authors, if used sensibly. It keeps your feet on the ground and your sanity intact when owning up to/taking responsibility for avoidable editorial errors (it’s not the end of the world, and we’ve all been there). It also lets you get away with holding roundtables with four-legged editorial assistant-friends (sadly, I have none).

Do you use any editing tools to get the job done (e.g., PerfectIt, Adobe stamps)?
I work almost exclusively in Microsoft Word, using Track Changes and other tools to work faster and maximize efficiency.

For both purposes, macros and PerfectIt make up an essential kit. The former I find very helpful for analyzing text and making changes globally or instituting preferences I set to suit the project. The latter is a consistency checker that I use as an additional eye, cast over a manuscript at the start and at the end of an edit.

TextExpander is another time-saver for repetitive tasks — author queries in particular, as well as admin stuff, such as emails, quotes, and estimates for jobs, signatures, contracts, etc. I am also about to try the Editor’s Toolkit.

COMMUNICATING WITH OTHERS

How do you and your colleagues talk about editing with each other?
I am the only editor in my business, but I’m part of virtual communities of international editors, the most significant of which are the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP, formerly the Society for Editors and Proofreaders), the Norfolk Proofreaders and Editors Network (NPEN), and the Indian Copyeditors Forum (ICF, an informal Facebook group).

All three provide safe spaces for professional and sometimes personal discussions about the art and science of editing and about running a successful business. Safe spaces, as we are all increasingly acknowledging, are important regardless of whether one is self-employed or employed with an organization. Discussions in these groups (via online forums or, now, virtual meetings) have been vital to my becoming a better professional editor.

Do you participate in a community (or communities) that supports editors?
I’m a member of the CIEP (Advanced Professional), NPEN, and ICF.

Do you have any thoughts on the need for editors to network and talk about what they do?
I partially agree that the work is the work, in so much as my editing speaks for itself with my present client/job. But it ends there. We all still need to do a whole lot more if we want to make uncompromised success (success that is not weakened or sabotaged or diminished because of the lack of professional regulation) of an unregulated, yet essential, profession. We need to set and uphold high standards (not as the grammar police or from a moral high ground, but more as sharers of common sense) and talk about the importance of clear communication in ever-evolving languages. Such clarity is driven by context.

How might we get buy-in during the editing process from authors who may not be receptive to changes?
Make them feel in charge of the process. Constructive querying helps set the tone for collaboration. Offer options for solutions wherever possible (there is almost always more than one way of editing a sentence).

Remember also that style guides are just that — guides, not set in stone. As editors and proofreaders, we can get quite set in our ways. (You need only to work on a couple of STM journals to become aware of the sometimes absurd style rules we are asked to follow exactly. If we’re not careful, these rules can become second nature.)

I try to take care not to transfer personal preferences onto a piece of writing. This can be difficult to do if the language needs a lot of help. The temptation is to rewrite in one’s own words. I always try to include multiple options for rephrasing text, in language-related queries particularly.

I think it’s also wise to know a little about your author, for example, their background, and be receptive to their rigidity if you want them to be open to your suggestions. After all, the writing is theirs!

BUILDING DIVERSITY

How diverse is your office?
In previous in-house workplaces, specifically the larger corporate publishing house, I can’t say there was much diversity. Now, my larger, virtual work environment is as diverse as I can make it. I have colleagues in different time zones and clients and authors across continents. Gender, race, and any other slot-labels are as varied as the planet itself.

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’ve been fortunate not to have faced such hurdles professionally. (I can’t say the same for female manager-mentors or colleagues at my first workplace.) But as an Indian and an editor of the English-language, a language no documentation allows me to identify as my first or native language, I make people do a double take.

Whether their interest is verbalized or not, I can tell when they wonder how/why/from where I acquired my English-language skills. Feeling the constant need to defend said skills can get exhausting, heighten impostor syndrome, and generally leave one feeling angry or upset or isolated. (And I know I’m not alone.) Finding support networks in editing organizations helps: I rely heavily on the virtual communities mentioned before and the colleagues-turned-friends made via the CIEP local groups, which are invaluable.

Any suggestions on what offices/employers could do to increase diversity in your field of editing?
Academic editing is, in part, reflective of academia, which is highly competitive and equally discriminatory. Make these spaces safe for uninhibited engagement across organizational hierarchies. Encourage questions. Respect opinions other than the organization’s own. Don’t employ for the sake of meeting diversity criteria or checking a box. Employ to empower, to give diverse voices a platform, to make the most of collaboration. It can only enrich a space.

THE PERSONAL

Tell us about a project that you’re proud of.
It’s difficult to pick just one. Probably the international development piece I wrapped up last week. (A mentor once said as an editor, you’re as good as the work you’ve just completed.)

The scores of fiction and nonfiction translations of world literature I worked on while at Seagull Books will always hold a very special place in me. They introduced me to some of the best works I’ve ever read and to exquisitely crafted books.

Any hobbies you’d like to share with us?
I’m a serial walker, occasional doodler, and closet crafter.

RESOURCES

What resources would you share with fellow editors?
The Chicago Manual of Style and New Hart’s Rules are fundamental guides. Besides these, I’d signpost blogs, Twitter feeds of professional editorial organizations, the two e-newsletters from the CIEP (The Edit, for members only, and Editorial Excellence, for everyone), Samosapedia (because we all need an aside), and a handful of interesting podcasts (The Editing Podcast, the Deliberate Freelancer, the Edit Boost Podcast, Grammar Girl, Because Language, and Talk the Talk).

Is there anything else you’d like readers to know about you or about diversity in the profession?
I didn’t think about diversity in the same way in India as I do in the UK. (The former has its own systemic issues around gender, caste, class, and other manufactured hierarchies. These issues were likely aggravated in the editing profession by the outsourcing dragon that was unleashed by the West decades ago. Discussion of these problems is growing in public spaces, but not so much behind closed doors.)

Naively, perhaps, I don’t think I realized how much of a problem diversity in the industry is until I moved to the UK. I certainly didn’t think in addition to being a woman, a mixed-heritage Indian with scattered ancestral roots, and a multilingual (non-native) English speaker, I’d also have to become conscious of the color of my skin. So I’m learning as we speak and am encouraged that these issues are being articulated, today, in public — but also at the dinner table in homes and across generations.

Interview 14: Kassel Pierre-Jean

Years editing: 15
Job title: Senior managing editor, Digitas Health
Job description: Edits medical and pharmaceutical materials; oversees team of editors
Location: Pennsylvania

EXPERIENCE

How did you get your current job?
I freelanced as an editor and proofreader for seven years, and the recruiting department of my current job contacted me in 2012 to freelance for them. After I had my son, I mentioned to the recruiting department that I’d be interested in any full-time positions they had open. In 2016, a full-time position opened up, and I’ve been there ever since.

I was recently promoted to senior managing editor. I now oversee editors in New York, on the West Coast, and in the European Union. But my daily job hasn’t changed. It’s a lot of editing, status meetings to learn what’s coming my way, and priority juggling. There’s definitely a project management aspect to the job.

What copyediting training have you had, and what positions have you held?
I graduated from Hofstra University with a degree in communications (print journalism) and a minor in English. I worked as chief copyeditor for my college newspaper then interned at Black Enterprise as a copyeditor. I briefly worked as a copyeditor/page designer for a daily paper in Kentucky, then moved to Pennsylvania and worked as an editorial assistant at a medical test development agency. 

That last position exposed me to medical terminology and the American Medical Association (AMA) Manual of Style. After two years, I decided to strike out on my own and freelance as Stylo Rouge (French for “red pen”) Editorial Services. I did that for about seven years before taking on a full-time job as an editor and proofreader for a veterinary health ad agency. 

DOING THE JOB

Are there any complementary skills that are important in your job?
Copyeditors aren’t really required to have design skills, but having a good eye for design, consistency and what helps readability is important — for example, making sure the same design treatment is consistently applied throughout a brochure, making sure paragraphs or text is aligned, and making sure the same kinds of graphics are consistent across related pieces. 

Basic social media skills have helped too, for example, knowing my way around Facebook and Instagram — so that I can view ads in staging environments (the state of viewing an ad on the platform before it’s published live) — and knowing the difference between paid and organic (unpaid) ads. 

A lot of this experience has come through osmosis — just being immersed in it. I’ve also been exposed to different subject matter, such as virology and oncology. When I first started, I knew a little bit about some of the disease states, such as HIV and breast cancer. As I continued to work on those topics, I would look up HIV and cancer terminology to make sure they were spelled correctly or being used in the proper context. Informing myself like this slowed my editing down a bit at first, but now I know enough to identify when something may not be accurate.

Do you use any editing tools to get the job done (e.g., PerfectIt, Adobe stamps)? 
One of the most important tools we use daily at my job is Workfront Proof (formerly ProofHQ). It’s basically an online version of Adobe Acrobat. It allows you to mark up documents on the web in real time, with other collaborators. For example, as I’m making edits to a document, the copywriter is able to go through my comments at the same time, accepting or stetting edits as necessary. Sometimes the whole team (usually editing, writing, art, and project management) can review and make comments in the document at the same time.  

As copyeditors in an ad agency, we mark up layouts a lot, so we don’t use Microsoft Word as frequently anymore. (The copywriters do.) The fast pace of the job now requires us to edit designs or mock-ups, so that’s usually done in Workfront Proof or Adobe Acrobat. 

Another great tool that we’ve used is Infix PDF Editor. It’s helped us to spell-check text-readable PDFs.

COMMUNICATING WITH OTHERS

How do you and your colleagues talk about editing with each other?
I am one of six editors in my department, and we are currently looking for another. Pre-COVID, most of the copyeditors sat near each other in a hallway that we dubbed “Copy Editors Extraordinaire.” This allowed us to easily discuss projects, collaborate, and bounce questions off each other. 

Now, with everyone working remotely, we use Microsoft Teams to message each other to ask questions. We have a central Editorial channel, sort of like a message board, to post announcements or work-related questions to the team. We can post messages in the channel or we can privately message individuals.

While I miss the back-and-forth of in-person discussions, using Microsoft Teams to communicate with my colleagues seems to be working well. We previously used Skype for Business before transitioning to Teams.  

Do you participate in a community (or communities) that supports editors?
I am a member of ACES: The Society for Editing and certified by the Board of Editors in the Life Sciences.

Do you have any thoughts on the need for editors to network and talk about what they do?
I think hard work is important, but networking is also important. Editors are naturally behind-the-scenes people, so we’re not really putting ourselves out there for promotion or recognition. 

But to be successful, we need to have other people recognize how good we are. In freelancing, networking gets you the referrals you need. In your job, it’s how you advance within a company.

How might we get buy-in during the editing process from authors who may not be receptive to changes?
In my industry, a lot of the concepts and wording are set in stone by the time the copy gets to me. Copywriters have the final say over what stays or what goes. I’m pretty flexible with what they want to convey, especially when it comes to consumer materials.

Formal writing and proper grammar can sound stilted, and marketing materials need to have a conversational tone. I try to collaborate with copywriters to help them express their ideas in a way that will better impact the consumer.

BUILDING DIVERSITY

How diverse is your office? 
Within the Copyediting Department, four out of the six editors are women; I am the only Black person. Within the larger department I work in, Science & Medicine, there are maybe 20 of us, with two or three of us being racial minorities.

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’ve experienced microaggressions in corporate America, slight things people don’t realize are offensive. But there’s reluctance to speak up because it’s possible it could cost you your job.

Any suggestions on what offices/employers could do to increase diversity in your field of editing?
Ever since the Black Lives Matter movement began, I’ve encouraged my employer to be more intentional in recruiting efforts, including working with recent college grads from historically black colleges and universities or considering job fairs at schools with a multicultural population. 

THE PERSONAL

Tell us about a project that you’re proud of.
I have worked on materials raising awareness about HIV and steps to take to help prevent its spread. I really enjoy working on those campaigns because I lost my uncle to AIDS and I feel like I’m doing something to make a difference in the lives of others.

Any hobbies you’d like to share with us?
I’m extremely boring. I spend a lot of my time on Twitter, but I also read steampunk novels.

My favorite thing to do is to attempt writing a 50,000-word novel during the month of November as part of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). I do enjoy writing fiction, and I don’t get to do it very much. So doing it once a year in November gives me the extra oomph I need.

RESOURCES

What resources would you share with fellow editors?
I use a lot of different medical editing resources. I’m particularly fond of the AMA Manual of Style website, Dorland’s for looking up medical terminology, and PubMed for styling references per AMA style. 

To lighten things up for myself and others, I use a meme generator to come up with horrible puns, like a picture of an otter to tell a colleague that they’re “otterly” amazing.

Is there anything else you’d like readers to know about you or about diversity in the profession?
The advertising industry needs more faces of color! It’s tough being the token person. I sometimes feel like I have to be perfect and “always on my game” as a representative of my race. Failing as an editor, in a sense, feels like failing other editors of color. By succeeding, I want to make the path in advertising easier for them.