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.

Eilis Flynn

Years editing: 43
Job title: Principal and sole proprietor of Flynn Books, Words & Ideas
Job description: Freelance editor
Location: Washington State

EXPERIENCE

How did you get your current job?
I had picked up freelance gigs throughout my career, so when I was laid off from the financial magazine I had worked at for more than 20 years, I just went full-time freelance on my own. I had made sure I had editorial experience in everything I could over the years, picking up freelance gigs in projects ranging from finance to tech to comic books, which helped me get subsequent gigs in the same field and helped me network.

What copyediting training have you had?
I was trained on the job, in college in a university press. I started as a production assistant, doing pasteup (using real paper!), before the editor decided she could train me as a copyeditor. (She wandered in, dropped The Chicago Manual of Style on my desk, and said, “Learn this.”) So that’s how I got started. 

Since then, I’ve been a copyeditor, managing editor, editor, developmental editor, and structural editor. My first job after graduate school was as an editorial assistant at a financial magazine. I had no experience in finance at all, but I learned. From there, I went to Wall Street and learned more on the topic. And because I really didn’t have any affinity for finance, I freelanced in other places: a financial magazine with a different emphasis, a romance publisher, a general science magazine, a tech company. The only commonality among all of those gigs was copyediting — and my willingness to learn.

DOING THE JOB

Are there any complementary skills that are important in your job?
Marketing, social media, subject matter — I’m not a natural at any of them, but my husband is a marketing professional, so he reminds me that I have to network. I have to remind myself to tell people what I do for a living. And I can tell you, those topics have been much more challenging to learn than finance, science, romance, or even tech! If editors get the chance, they should learn something new whenever possible.

Do you use any editing tools to get the job done (e.g., PerfectIt, Adobe stamps)? 
I’ve used Adobe stamps when I proofread.

COMMUNICATING WITH OTHERS

Do you participate in a community (or communities) that supports editors?
I belong to the Editorial Freelancers Association, the Northwest Editors Guild, and ACES: The Society for Editing. Facebook has a number of editing communities, so I belong to a handful there.

Do you have any thoughts on the need for editors to network and talk about what they do?
Editors need to network more and talk to others about their work. We’re generally way too shy.

How might we get buy-in during the editing process from authors who may not be receptive to changes?
Keep communicating. It won’t hurt, and it will help relax authors. So they understand that what we’re doing is to help them, not hinder them.

BUILDING DIVERSITY

How diverse is your office? 
I’m diverse enough (biracial, Japanese American, female). But in past jobs, I’ve usually been the only person of color (and sometimes the only woman). 

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? 
Because my mentor was so open minded, it wasn’t until I got into my first real job that I realized that yes, there was discrimination galore, both because of my gender and my ethnic group — and it was everywhere

This one particular man, unfortunately, a racist of monumental proportions, popped up as a hiring consultant in way too many places. Once I’d see him, it would be clear that I wouldn’t have much of a chance, even though I kept trying to win him over. Never did. Fortunately, I would get jobs when he wasn’t involved.

Any suggestions on what offices/employers could do to increase diversity in your field of editing?
Keep an open mind. Talk to the applicants.

THE PERSONAL

Tell us about a project that you’re proud of.
Working with an author to establish a new series of historical mysteries. Kate Parker, who had a series with a traditional publisher, decided to go indie. I got the rare opportunity to do some research to make sure the details were right (in one instance, the weight of gold coins and the currency used in late Victorian Egypt). (That book was Detecting Duchess, a charmer. But then, all of her books are.) It’s great to learn stuff!

Any hobbies you’d like to share with us?
Not really a hobby, but I walk whenever I can. It clears the mind and helps me breathe.

RESOURCES

What advice would you share with fellow editors?
Read widely in subjects you’re not particularly interested in. It helps your work.

Is there anything else you’d like readers to know about you or about diversity in the profession?
Don’t hide it, because your diversity is you. It only helps in your work.

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!

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.

April Lim

Years editing: 5 years
Job title: Technical editor
Job description: Edits technical engineering reports and proposal responses
Location: Texas

EXPERIENCE

How did you get your current job?
I was fortunate enough to land my current job immediately after graduating with my B.A. I found the position on LinkedIn.

What copyediting training have you had?
I got started in editing as an undergraduate writing consultant at the University of Houston’s Writing Center. From there, I freelanced as a copywriter for a little over a year before I decided freelancing was not my forte. I also interned with a public relations firm, researching and editing for clients.

DOING THE JOB

Are there any complementary skills that are important in your job?
Working as a technical editor means having to focus on solely editing. Being a subject-matter expert would actually hinder my ability to edit a document, because I am supposed to be reading from the viewpoint of the common person. I act as a translator for the company’s nontechnical clients. 

I also have to edit fast. Documents that are required to start a project will have a quick turnaround time of 24-48 hours. A document that is submitted after a project is complete will have a turnaround time of 72 hours.

Do you use any editing tools to get the job done (e.g., PerfectIt, Adobe stamps)? 
Nothing fancy. I use Word and Adobe Acrobat for my daily tasks.

COMMUNICATING WITH OTHERS

How do you and your colleagues talk about editing with each other?
I currently work with five other editors to split the workload received daily. Using Webex Teams, we communicate multiple times a day, sometimes for fun and sometimes to discuss editing. We’re all in agreement about using the Oxford comma. 

Do you participate in a community (or communities) that supports editors?
The most useful resource I have found for editors has been ACES: The Society for Editing.

Do you have any thoughts on the need for editors to network and talk about what they do?
I believe that networking can never hurt me when trying to advance my career. People want to hire people they know, so that there’s a sense of trust. I won’t push my work onto people, but I won’t stray away from speaking about it if asked.

BUILDING DIVERSITY

How diverse is your office? 
My company is mainly male dominated, as it is an IT company; however, I am very fortunate to work with a strong team of women. My team was not diverse in race when I joined, but as our company has expanded and our office locations grew, we have been becoming more racially diverse. 

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?
My father told me that he specifically gave me an “American” name so that I would never be discriminated against in a job search because of my name. I wish I could say that he was being overprotective, but I have seen other writers’ and editors’ resumes be pushed aside if their first names were “difficult” to pronounce for certain tongues. It is no surprise that often these names belong to POC individuals and act as another hurdle in the editing industry.

Any suggestions on what offices/employers could do to increase diversity in your field of editing?
Most technical editing positions require a certain amount of experience in technical work to even apply, but rarely are entry-level positions available. Employers should recognize that an editor does not need a niche area of editing to edit certain materials. There’s a learning curve in editing that gets easier the more experience one has in general in the editing industry. If employers could recognize this, then their hiring pool would expand immensely.

THE PERSONAL

Tell us about a project that you’re proud of.
Unfortunately, my work isn’t necessarily the type to boast about. I do very mundane tasks in an efficient manner until 5 p.m. (and sometimes later). I do enjoy helping others with personal statements for graduate school applications, but I haven’t had much time lately due to an influx of work tasks.

Any hobbies you’d like to share with us?
I enjoy reading and writing poetry. Occasionally, I’ll buy five or so more books to add to my stack of books that I’ve been “meaning to read.”

RESOURCES

What resources would you share with fellow editors?
LinkedIn’s Lynda.com has great Word video tutorials for editing and then some. Microsoft Word has so many tips and tricks that are waiting to be unlocked. I’ve learned to customize my Word layout to my editing style to make work easier.

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!

Adaobi Obi Tulton

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Years editing: 6 copyediting, 20 developmental editing
Job title: Owner of Serendipity23 Editorial Services
Job description: Provide developmental editing, copyediting, and proofreading services
Location: New York City

EXPERIENCE

How did you get your current job?
I was laid off from my job as a developmental editor in 2013, when the publishing company I worked for went through a restructuring. I had been thinking about becoming a freelancer for a while before then, but that spurred me to finally take the plunge. I decided that instead of risking going to work for another company and having my job outsourced again, I wanted to be the one the work was being outsourced to. I was lucky enough that I could still work with my former company as a freelancer, and I was able to network to get additional editing work. From there, I was able to branch out beyond books to projects like white papers for a medical device software developer and K-12 STEM education materials.

What copyediting training have you had?
I took copyediting courses through New York University’s publishing program and the Editorial Freelancers Association (EFA). During my early years as a freelancer, I worked with a client that required all edits be justified by a reference to The Chicago Manual of Style, so I became well acquainted with that guide. I also spend time researching other online sources while I’m editing, including sources on AMA Manual of Style.

DOING THE JOB

Are there any complementary skills that are important in your job?
It helps to be familiar with tech and programming. Being familiar with the field and the jargon makes it easy to understand what I’m reading. For instance, when I encounter the word “method” I know it’s referring to a block of code and not its typical definition of “a course of action.” I learned most of the things I know over time rather than through classes or other training.

Do you use any editing tools to get the job done (e.g., PerfectIt, Adobe stamps)?
I typically use the tools available in Microsoft Word, including Editor and Track Changes. Once I’ve completed my edits, I run Editor to check for anything I might have missed. Sometimes I have to check for any accessibility issues as well, so that feature in Word definitely helps. I use stamps a lot for my proofreading work. I mark up PDFs with proofreading marks. It would take forever—and look really messy—if I had to draw those by hand with my mouse. So it’s really helpful to already have the stamps available.

COMMUNICATING WITH OTHERS

How do you and your colleagues talk about editing among each other?
For some clients, I’m the only editor they’ve ever brought on, so I don’t have someone to compare notes with. For other clients, I’m one of a few editors, but I’m the only one of color. Because all my colleagues are also freelancers, we don’t interact a lot.

If we need to, we’ll communicate over email or meet up over Zoom. For example, one project involved peer review, and we saw over time that the process for obtaining the reviewers and getting the reviewers to return their comments on time needed to be revamped. So all the editors contributed ideas over email on what would work best to make the process and the quality of the reviews better.

Do you participate in a community (or communities) that supports editors?
I’m a member of EFA and ACES, and I’m listed in the Editors of Color database. I also recently started connecting with a few Black women in publishing, and I’m hoping (crosses fingers) that this will turn into a professional organization supporting Black people in all aspects of publishing.

Some editors think the editing speaks for itself, that the hard work alone will advance their careers. Do you have any thoughts on whether editors need to do more (e.g., networking and talking about what they do)?
I’ve been really lucky that word of mouth through my networking contacts has worked for me. I haven’t had to really hustle hard to find work because whenever my contacts come across someone in need of an editor, they give that person my name. The person already trusts my contact, so I have an instant primary reference. So build those networks! You never know where your next job will come from.

When I first started, I couldn’t guarantee that I was going to have work to keep me going through the year, so I made sure my resume was updated, built my website, registered with job sites like Indeed for work, and listed myself on sites like Reedsy. Now that I have clients who provide steady work, I don’t worry much that I’ll see a lull in projects, but I’m not fooling myself into thinking that everything will keep running smoothly. Things happen.

Editors should also make it a point to talk about themselves when the opportunity comes along. A lot of us are introverts and don’t always enjoy being the center of attention, but don’t be afraid to toot your own horn. Talk about everything: the type of editing you do, the type of projects you work on, who you’ve worked with. You never know who’s listening.

Any advice for editors on getting buy-in from the non-editor colleagues with whom they work?
Editing is mostly solitary work for me, both now and when I worked in-house, so getting buy-in wasn’t necessarily something I needed to worry about. I guess I would say that you should work from the very beginning to establish trust and reliability with your group so you can leverage those qualities as you need to get your colleagues to listen to you.

BUILDING DIVERSITY

How diverse is your office? Any suggestions on what offices/employers could do to increase diversity in your field of editing?
When I worked in-house, the editorial staff was not diverse at all. There were no more than two, maybe three, people of color at a time in my group—including me—in the 13 years I was with the company. Employers need to make a greater effort to think outside the box to find potential employees. Going to the usual sources will only get them the same type of employee. Thank goodness for databases like Editors of Color. It makes it easier for employers to find us. I would even go as far to say that employers should start with diversifying their Human Resources departments. More diversity in the group in charge of hiring means more ideas about where and how to hire and a likelihood that they’ll see more diversity in the candidates.

THE PERSONAL

Tell us about a project that you’re proud of.
I recently worked on a book called Women of Color in Tech: A Blueprint for Inspiring and Mentoring the Next Generation of Technology Innovators. I was so excited to be part of this project, and the experience was everything I wanted it to be. I worked with an awesome author and felt good about working on something that would bring attention to the dearth of women of color, and specifically Black women, in tech.

Any hobbies you’d like to share with us?
During the COVID-19 outbreak, I discovered that I’m not a plant killer, so I now spend time tending to my quarantine garden. I also started and restarted (and restarted) teaching myself how to knit. You’d think I’d include reading as a main hobby, but reading has gotten hard! I keep trying to edit everything! I still pick up a book when I can, though.

RESOURCES

What resources would you share with fellow editors?
Grammar Girl is one of my favorite resources for general grammar and usage questions. I also use Purdue OWL pretty often, especially when it comes to how to style citations for the curricula and white papers.