Job description: Outreach, developmental writing support, writer mentorship, in-house consultations, and ambassadorship of books and their creators
Education: William Allen White School of Journalism and Mass Communication, The University of Kansas; The University of Michigan Law School
Background: Author and faculty member, Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA program
The beginnings of Heartdrum
Over a conference-hotel breakfast, author Ellen Oh, co-founder and CEO of We Need Diverse Books, suggested that I consider launching a Native-focused imprint at a major trade publisher. At first, that sounded like a pie-in-the-sky kind of dream. But after reflecting on the need for some months, I reached out to legendary editor Rosemary Brosnan at HarperChildren’s. She enthusiastically embraced the idea, and we now work together on the Heartdrum children’s and young adult book imprint.
What an author-curator does
I’m a longtime author and faculty member of the MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts. (I also publish with Candlewick Press.) Much of the mindset and skill set that go with all that transfer well to Heartdrum.
Typically, I offer the author a few (two to four) rounds of feedback for revisions prior to, if appropriate, sending a manuscript to Rosemary for consideration. Agents are also welcome to send to her/us directly for immediate consideration, but I’ve found that those submissions that have been the subject of a prior craft exchange with me (even if it’s just my green light!) are much more likely to be acquired.
At that stage, my goal is by no means to ready the manuscript for copyediting but rather to help bring it to a stage where the full potential shines through. It should be noted, though, that if/when a manuscript is ready to go, I’ll prepare a thoughtful note for Rosemary, offering my reasons for supporting it, including any relevant context related to the Native cultural content.
Once we’ve acquired a manuscript — Rosemary handles that entire legal-financial process — I often offer craft feedback alongside hers and consult about potential illustrators as well as all stages of the art, the marketing copy, teacher guides, and so forth. I also help with promotion — both officially, through opportunities facilitated by Harper Marketing, and unofficially, through my own grassroots efforts.
Along the way, I’m available as a mentor of sorts to our authors, especially because many of them are new or up-and-coming voices.
Working with authors
The goal is to bring forth the author’s vision in a way that best serves the intended audience. So I begin from a place of respect, erring toward suggestions and questions, while making it clear that we must be mindful of the young-reader experience and developmental reading level.
Perspectives on lessons learned
I wish that I’d taken a longer view from the start, but maybe that’s impossible until you’re in a position to do so. Part of me longs to go back in time and offer a pep talk to the young writer I once was, to let her know that someday enough hearts and minds in publishing would open up to welcome in more than one prominent Indigenous voice at a time. s
I also spent too long worrying about other people’s misinformed preconceptions about me and my intertribal creative community. It’s better for my productivity and mental health to focus on the work itself and on those who’re genuinely supportive.
I’m wowed by all of our authors’ and illustrators’ work.
The Jo Jo Makoons chapter books are written by Dawn Quigley and illustrated by Tara Audibert. It’s the first contemporary trade chapter book series featuring a Native American protagonist and published by a major publisher. It’s also smart, hilarious, and radiates heart.
Debut author Brian Young’s middle-grade novel, Healer of the Water Monster, is about an everyday Navajo boy who comes to the aid of a holy being while navigating family dynamics.
American Indian Youth Literature Award winner and author Christine Day’s middle-grade novel, The Sea in Winter, is extraordinarily emotionally intelligent. Many educators have pointed to it as an excellent book for young readers needing to process the loss of childhood normality during pandemic times.
As an author-curator, I’m in a new role in the industry, one that’s still being defined. But I have been a working writer in children’s publishing since the late 1990s. Change is slower than it should be, but it’s remarkable how much of a positive difference one person can make in the conversation and community. If it weren’t for genius author-activist Ellen Oh first suggesting the idea to me, Heartdrum wouldn’t exist.
Years editing: 30+ Job title: Freelance copyeditor and academic trainer Job description: Helps scientists and academics write, publish, and present Location: Pune, Maharashtra, India
What copyediting training have you had? I participated in a 14-week intensive course in editing and publication led by Ian Montagnes, the then editor in chief of University of Toronto Press. This was in 1987; subsequently, I learned on the job.
What positions have you held? I’ve been a scientist with the Indian Council of Agricultural Research; a fellow at The Energy and Resources Institute, New Delhi; a senior editor at International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics, Hyderabad; and a senior fellow at World Institute of Sustainable Energy, Pune.
My editing career started with a book, Changing Concepts of Reference Service. It sparked my interest in information science and documentation. However, I had no formal qualifications to work in that field. When I sent my CV to Tata Energy Research Institute (TERI), expressing my interest, Dr. R. K. Pachauri, who headed TERI and interviewed me, suggested that I consider editing as a career. When I managed to acquire some formal qualifications in editing, I took him up on that offer.
DOING THE JOB
Are there any complementary skills that are important in your job? In this field, editors should have familiarity with word processing and page layout software packages, some knowledge of printing and publishing, and an appreciation of research methods and academic publishing.
Do you use any editing tools to get the job done (e.g., PerfectIt, Adobe stamps)? I use PerfectIt.
COMMUNICATING WITH OTHERS
Do you participate in a community (or communities) that supports editors? I am part of the Indian Copyeditors Forum (ICF). The main benefit of ICF is the opportunity to meet fellow copyeditors (valuable, because copyediting is such a solitary occupation). The forum has a dynamic and active coordinator, Vivek Kumar, who organizes many useful webinars on topics related to copyediting, and members get to present some of those. In recent months, we had a webinar on PerfectIt and on Board of Editors in the Life Sciences certification.
Do you have any thoughts on the need for editors to network and talk about what they do? Copyediting is mostly a solitary occupation, which is why copyeditors need to be in touch not only with fellow copyeditors but also with authors. In particular, copyeditors need to convince authors that copyediting can add value to their work.
When authors see a well-edited file (with track changes), they need no other convincing. But to convince them to entrust their manuscript to a copyeditor in the first place, we must point out to authors that a well-edited manuscript is less likely to be “desk rejected” (rejected without peer review) and that with a well-edited manuscript, both journal editors and peer reviewers will focus more on the substance of the manuscript, because they are no longer distracted by errors that a copyeditor would have fixed.
How might we get buy-in during the editing process from authors who may not be receptive to changes? Refer to style manuals and journals’ instructions to authors. Point to good examples published in books or journals the authors are likely to have read. You could also explain the logic behind the changes.
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? Not so far. In fact, the European Association of Science Editors (EASE) has always been of great help and even made me a member of its council. When I switched from being a researcher to being an editor, I wanted to be better at my job. This desire prompted me to become a member of EASE. That was more than 30 years ago, and I have benefited a great deal from the good advice of its members — from the articles inEuropean Science Editing and several EASE conferences.
What lessons would you have liked to learn at the beginning of your career? I wish I had been aware of the importance of keeping accurate records (e.g., number of manuscripts edited, word counts, number of articles and blog posts written). Although the best way to assess copyeditors’ proficiency is to examine documents they have copyedited, that takes too long. As a proxy, these numbers offer some objective evidence of your experience and competency.
Any suggestions on what offices/employers could do to increase diversity in your field of editing? Employers should judge on the basis of the candidate’s or employee’s work.
Tell us about a project that you’re proud of. Dr. R. K. Pachauri: The Visionary Institution Builder, a commemorative volume on my former boss. I’m proud of it first because I was the one who suggested that we publish it. The suggestion was readily accepted, and scores of authors readily contributed to it. Second, although I had volunteered to copyedit and design the volume, the two editors insisted that my name appear before their names as editors of the volume. Third, the volume was appreciated by many, the most important among them being Dr. Pachauri’s wife and son — they called it a beautiful gift. Last, this publication offered me the opportunity to pay tribute to the man who was the most important influence on my editing career. (My contribution to the volume starts on page 64.)
Any hobbies you’d like to share with us? I like to garden and play Scrabble.
Years editing: 17 Job title: Editor and coach Job description: Helps editors earn more money in their businesses Location: Canberra, Australia
How did you get your current job? I was in the right place at the right time when I got my in-house job. In 2013, I decided I wanted the freedom of freelance life because I had a number of caring duties and wanted to be at home.
What training do you have in copyediting and what positions have you held? I received a graduate certificate in editing and publishing from the University of Southern Queensland in 2006–2007. I passed the Institute of Professional Editors’ written accreditation exam in 2009, after some intensive study. I worked in-house for 10 years, and there were a number of in-house training sessions. I have also been to many conferences. In 2019 I did a structural editing module at Queens University. I believe that continuing professional development is critical in any field.
DOING THE JOB
Are there any complementary skills that are important in your job? I used to be a scientist, and while that didn’t teach me any explicit editing skills, it did make me more confident to edit journal articles in health and medicine. My clients also seem to like the fact that I was a scientist. But I do take the time to explain to academics that editing is a specific skill that requires training.
COMMUNICATING WITH OTHERS
How do you and your colleagues talk about editing with each other? When I worked in-house, I loved being able to chat with colleagues and ask questions about tricky issues. Once I went freelance, I joined online editing groups to get the same support.
Do you participate in a community (or communities) that supports editors? I don’t work as an editor much these days, so I’m not in any other groups. I set up a second business a few years ago, working as a mindset coach to help editors earn more money in their businesses. I have a free Facebook group associated with that business, and the aim of that group is to provide a safe space for editors to share their business goals and then reflect on what is stopping them from taking action. Mindset plays a huge part in running a business, but there are not many editing groups that have this focus. So I wanted to create something that would fill the void.
Do you have any thoughts on the need for editors to network and talk about what they do?Ah, I could write a book on this (and am planning to do so — hopefully this year). Yes, editors absolutely need to be “out there” meeting potential clients and talking about what they do.
But the focus needs to be on solving a problem that a client has. There’s no point talking about copyediting if an author is worried that their book isn’t good enough to send to an agent, for example. In that case, the editor should talk about how they can give the author honest feedback and help them get the book into shape, ready for an agent.
In general, editors spend too much time talking about their work as if they’re talking to other editors, rather than looking at their business through the eyes of their potential clients.
How might we get buy-in during the editing process from authors who may not be receptive to changes? I think if we make it clear that we are a partner in the publishing process and we want the best for the author, we can build trust and a strong rapport with our author. If we have that, then we don’t need buy-in.
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? Not that I know of. I haven’t had trouble getting clients. If anything, I find that clients from Asian backgrounds feel comfortable with me because my family was from Asia. (I was born and raised in Australia.)
What lessons would you have liked to learn at the beginning of your career? Probably to not be afraid to ask questions of the author.
Any suggestions on what offices/employers could do to increase diversity in your field of editing? I think to start with, just look around your office and see whether your staff reflect the population in your area.
What resources would you share with fellow editors? My podcast, the Edit Boost Podcast. I started it last year to help editors take action to grow their editing businesses.
Years editing: 7 Job title: Proposal editor/administrator Job description: Offers editorial and administrative support to researchers applying for federal grants Location: Texas
How did you get your current job? I live in a university town, and I was specifically looking for an editorial job. I had previous experience in editing, which gave me the confidence to apply, but I was also nervous, as I had little to no knowledge of proposal development. I’ve been with my organization two years now.
What copyediting training have you had? My academic degrees are in English and related disciplines. While earning my master’s, I was introduced to style guides and other aspects of editing, but I had no formal training. Editing and proofreading for friends, I recognized that I had an eye for detail and started to hone my skills.
Soon, I was invited to join the editorial team of a nonprofit magazine, where I reviewed and edited articles in English and Malayalam. (Malayalam is my mother tongue. English is my second language.) This was a great experience, for I learned the craft of editing by doing it. I remained in academia for a couple more years, and by the time I submitted my PhD dissertation, I knew that if I did not teach, I would edit. In other words, I didn’t know what else to do!
What positions have you held? Soon after earning my PhD, I joined a government agency in India as a content editor. I mostly edited content for the state of Kerala’s official websites and social media pages. I managed content in English and Malayalam. When I moved to the United States, I left that job and started volunteering as list editor for an academic organization (Kerala Scholars eGroup). This was a valuable experience, as I had a mentor there, Ashok. R. Chandran, from whom I learned quite a lot about editing — everything from precision to ethics.
DOING THE JOB
Are there any complementary skills that are important in your job? Communication skills (which all of us editors have). These skills have come in handy when managing external communication and coordinating at work. Also, the ability to quickly distill and interpret information in lengthy documents is especially useful in research, be it for resource development or to understand requests for proposals. (I have this skill thanks to the years I spent in grad school!)
Do you use any editing tools to get the job done (e.g., PerfectIt, Adobe stamps)? We use Grammarly Premium at work. However, I turn it on only after I do the first round of edits, and except for the punctuation and spelling corrections, I don’t always accept the suggestions.
COMMUNICATING WITH OTHERS
How do you and your colleagues talk about editing with each other? Editing is more than half the work my colleagues and I do, though we have different titles. In other words, we speak the same language. We have an open thread where we alert each other of available courses, profiles to be followed on Twitter and LinkedIn, and other resources, such as webinars and conferences.
Do you participate in a community (or communities) that supports editors? I am an ACES: The Society for Editing member, but I am not active in the community. This is partly due to the deadline-driven nature of our industry and partly due to my unfamiliarity with the communities and networks in the United States. However, this is changing, as I am now more active on LinkedIn and other platforms. I attended the ACES 2021 conference.
Do you have any thoughts on the need for editors to network and talk about what they do? Since I was mostly on my own during my early days of editing, I did not know who to turn to if I had a question. Google did not always give me the right answer. Eventually, as I started frequenting groups and forums on the internet, I got answers from experienced editors, and there was a sense of community. In addition, networking gives you visibility. For me, as an editor of color, this visibility, my presence, is a statement.
How might we get buy-in during the editing process from authors who may not be receptive to changes? Editing a scientific proposal for linguistic clarity when you are not a subject matter expert is like walking a tightrope. I edit for grammar, punctuation, and minor edits using Track Changes in the text. Otherwise, I rewrite the sentence in the comment box and explain why I made the suggestion. At times, I give multiple options and let the principal investigators decide. Also, while noting inconsistencies and offering suggestions, I use the pronoun “we” (“Can we move this paragraph?” “Can we rewrite this as follows?” “Are we talking about … ?”) and frame the issue as a query. “Can we rewrite?” definitely sounds better than “Rewrite.”
How diverse is your office? Our organization is part of a university system, and we have a diverse group of people working here. However, I haven’t met many in editing whose first language is not English.
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 haven’t faced any such hurdles, but as a person of color and as someone with a heavy accent, I often feel the need to prove myself. (Yes, self-doubt and marginality.)
What lessons would you have liked to learn at the beginning of your career? This is proposal specific: I wish I had known how to edit proposals with the deadline in mind (sometimes two days and sometimes two hours), rather than aiming for perfection. I also wish I had known that compliance comes first and then the details.
Any suggestions on what offices/employers could do to increase diversity in your field of editing? Hiring diverse staff should be a conscious decision. No structural change happens without conscious thinking and decision making, especially in India, where newsrooms and publishing houses are still not accessible to the Bahujans.
Tell us about a project that you’re proud of. A couple of months back, I edited a multi–principal investigator proposal. The document required language support, and the principal investigator was very receptive to the changes and suggestions I made. It was a confidence booster to go one step ahead, to rewrite the nontechnical part. I thoroughly enjoyed working with that team.
Any hobbies you’d like to share with us? Reading and cooking. These days, books about editing and by editors dominate my reading list. The last book I read by an editor was Greek to Me: Adventures of the Comma Queen, by Mary Norris, and the one on my table right now is Stet: An Editor’s Life, by Diana Athill. Food and culture is another area of interest.
Recent graduate: Louisiana Tech University Major: English, with a concentration in creative writing Location: Louisiana
What interests you about copyediting? I love to fix things. Editing has been a passion of mine since I was in middle school, and I love to help transform work to convey a clear message.
What area of copyediting are you interested in? I’m passionate about books and publishing books.
How are you nurturing/developing your interest in copyediting, especially during COVID? I am doing a lot of research — reading a lot of copyediting, editing, and publishing books — and having informational interviews with people already in the publishing industry to understand the industry and editing.
What, if any, copyediting experience have you had so far, and what did you like about the project, organization, or tasks? I am an editorial intern for a local newspaper. The job has helped me focus on the skills that I need to edit and to make sure that the articles are appropriate for the audience and informative.
In my senior year of college, I worked as a temporary editor for my alumni’s Her Campus chapter. This position also added more insight on making sure the edits match the tone of the publication and making the content enjoyable.
What would most help young editors (and editors of color) enter the editing profession? More “getting into publishing” seminars and seminars for beginners could be helpful. I’ve attended a few virtual ones, and I’ve found them to be useful. These seminars give young editors a peek at what it’s like to run and work in a company — whether its focus is book publishing or journalism. The seminars also help young editors narrow their passions.
Anything else you might want readers to know about diversity in editing/publishing, or about starting out in this profession? I consider myself a beginner editor, since I’ve been editing for fewer than five years. Since quarantine started, I’ve focused on learning about publishing and editing, listening to seminars, and preparing myself to work in the industry. This knowledge will come in handy, especially during interviews — and it’ll show my passion and dedication.
I’ve noticed more companies are mentioning inclusion in their internship and job descriptions, and I think that this is a great start to having a more diverse staff.
Years editing: 13 Job title: Editor, proofreader, and writer Job description: Provides substantive edits, copyedits, and proofreading; writes and ghostwrites Location: Texas
How did you get your current job? I created it. I currently own Nzadi Amistad Editing and Writing Services. While I have freelanced and worked as an independent contractor since 2007, I didn’t start my own company until August 2017.
What copyediting training have you had? My copyediting training has been mostly self-taught. I have read several books about editing and writing over the years. I know that this has helped my editing and writing skills improve greatly, and I have learned so much while doing my job. Although I majored in English in college, when I became an editor, I quickly realized that editing required a completely different skill set than what is required for writers. Editing requires an analytical and inquisitive mind. It requires patience, persistence, great organizational skills, and time management.
I have also edited hundreds of books, and there is no better training than actually doing the work. To be honest, I am constantly learning because our language and the ways we edit and publish are constantly changing. So it is important to me (and my clients and business) that I stay up to date on these things.
What positions have you held? In addition to work for my freelance clients, I’ve been a copyeditor and proofreader for Asta Publications, CreateSpace (now Kindle Direct Publishing), BookFuel (now ProBook Publishing), and 21st Street Urban Editing and Publishing. I was also an editor at Wild Rose Press.
DOING THE JOB
Are there any complementary skills that are important in your job? Yes, I believe having great communication skills, business skills, computer skills, organizational skills, and time management skills are important to excelling at my job. Being a great communicator is paramount, and that is certainly something I’ve had to improve and consistently work on over the years, especially since so much of my work consists of emails and phone calls.
Becoming proficient in more than just Microsoft Word has also come in handy. Learning Excel and PowerPoint, in particular, has helped with organization, and you never know when a client might need help with a spreadsheet or presentation.
Being a great project manager and organizer has proven to be important as well. We should be sure and calm for our clients. Being organized and having a game plan (preferably one that can be shared with them) will assuage their fears and boost their confidence in you and their overall project.
Each project presents an opportunity to either improve upon one’s current set of skills or discover new ones.
How do you and your colleagues talk about editing with each other? Depending on what type of editing I am doing, my opportunities for conversation with colleagues can be little to none. When I do work for companies, I always enjoy and appreciate when I work with a group of individuals who are passionate about their work and are working toward something that we and our clients can be proud of.
Do you participate in a community (or communities) that supports editors? I am a member of a Facebook group called Editor Alliance. Until I joined, I had no idea how important this kind of camaraderie could be.
Do you have any thoughts on the need for editors to network and talk about what they do? I’ve always known that there was a need for editors to talk more about why we are necessary, especially as self-publishing has become more commonplace. Many authors skip the editing process because they are completely unaware of how important this step is or they believe they can’t afford it. I’ve always believed that it is my job to calm an author’s fears about editing and to hold their hand through the rest of the publishing process, if necessary.
How might we get buy-in during the editing process from authors who may not be receptive to changes? I think we get buy-in when we are honest and patient. I try my best to think from the author’s perspective in order to understand them and their way of thinking. Allowing a stranger to make changes to their work can be overwhelming and daunting. Therefore, I think it is important to build trust, answer any and all questions as honestly and succinctly as possible, and allow time to do its work.
I’ve had instances where it has taken a potential client a full year to be in a position to contract my services. Every project, and therefore every client, is different, so it is important to be flexible and meet the author where they are.
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 not faced hurdles in getting into or advancing in the copyediting/proofreading profession. I work primarily with people of color and other marginalized groups, such as members of the LGBTQ+ community, and I am happy to be a part of this diverse group that is finding new and interesting ways to get their work seen and published.
My first project fell in my lap. It was a memoir written by a black woman that was published by an independent black-woman-owned publishing company. I can’t even begin to explain how important and empowering it was to be a part of that dynamic. I can, however, say that it set the tone for my editing career.
After working with that company for two years and enjoying editing books by black people, I moved on to another editing and publishing company that contracted with larger publishing companies to publish predominantly black and urban fiction titles. I’ve always been interested in helping people of color and others who are marginalized find their writing voices and get their work into the world.
I would, however, be remiss if I did not acknowledge that these hurdles exist. I think that is why self-publishing has become so popular for authors. Within the last five years, many of my clients have been very open about their desire to work with an editor who looks like them. I do not take this for granted, because this choice is powerful, and I know that for decades black authors did not get to choose who their editor was, especially if they were published by a traditional publishing house.
What lessons would you have liked to learn at the beginning of your career? I would have liked to have learned better time management skills. But that has certainly come with experience. And I would have liked to have not been so hesitant when it came to discussing my fees. When I first started, I hated talking about money. I was afraid that my prices would scare people off, and I often lowballed myself just to get jobs. Although I was confident in my abilities as an editor, I wasn’t very confident when it came to getting paid what I was worth. It was a fear that I had to overcome. Now, I happily discuss my fees and send invoices, but it took time to develop that mindset.
Also, I’ve realized that not every person who contacts me is meant to be my client. This could be for a number of reasons. That is okay. Part of my job is making sure that I am honest with my clients about whether I am a good fit for their project. If I am not, I definitely will refer them to a fellow editor who might be a better fit.
Any suggestions on what offices/employers could do to increase diversity in your field of editing? I think actively seeking people of color and allies of people of color (folks who are willing to advance and champion diverse causes) is the first and most important thing that offices and employers can do to increase diversity. Secondly, I think it is important to check in with these employees often and find out how they are feeling about their work environment.
Tell us about a project that you’re proud of. Not long after my dear grandpa (I called him “Gramps”) passed away in 2014, I received an email from a 95-year-old gentleman looking for an editor for The Storm Clouds of War:Reflections of a WWII Bomber Pilot, about his service during World War II. During the editing, I learned so much about what soldiers faced during war, and I couldn’t help but think that these were some of the things that my grandpa might have experienced. (My Gramps never liked to talk about his military service.)
This gentleman, Wilmer Plate, and I became very close. Although I still miss my grandpa every day, Mr. Plate helped me heal in so many ways after my grandpa’s death. I met him when he came to Texas to receive his high school diploma at the age of 97 (he’d been unable to graduate because he had joined the military before graduation).
Any hobbies you’d like to share with us? My hobbies include getting as much personal reading in as possible when time permits (my TBR list is a mile long) and taking my dogs, Allie and Rufus, on long walks. Staying active is very important, especially since most of my day is spent in front of the computer.
There is a hashtag on Twitter and Instagram that was started by editors who realized the importance of staying active. It’s called #stetwalk. I enjoy seeing my fellow edibuddies’ pictures from their daily walks (posted with this hashtag) and sharing my own on social media.
What resources would you share with fellow editors? The most important resource I use is The Chicago Manual of Style. The online version is great — I highly recommend the Q&A section — but I tend to use the book most of the time. I also use the Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary. I use the app several times a day. Finally, Google — I can’t even begin to explain how vital Google is to my editing life.
Is there anything else you’d like readers to know about you or about diversity in the profession? I am so happy that I stumbled into this profession, and I am so happy to be an editor right now, when so many of our stories are being told by us. I believe part of my job is to be a cheerleader for new authors. And most days, I can’t believe how lucky I am to be doing something that I love and that I am getting paid for it.
Years editing: 6 Job title: Editor Job description: Edits scholarly articles, books, and non-academic documents Location: Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
How did you get your current job? I graduated with a specialization in economics and management, and I didn’t want to follow the traditional route and become an economist. I saw an ad that said I could use my subject-area knowledge and expertise to help researchers.
What positions have you held? At Crimson (Enago), I started as an editor, and three years later, I was managing editor. Crimson is a scholarly editing company, providing editing and publication services to researchers and academics. Since then, I’ve mostly worked as a freelance editor. Very recently, I have started working as a proofreader in an ad agency based in Montreal, called Tank.
DOING THE JOB
Are there any complementary skills that are important in your job? Microsoft Word is our bread and butter. But general project management and time management skills are crucial. Editors need to judge where to invest time.
Do you use any editing tools to get the job done (e.g., PerfectIt, Adobe stamps)? PerfectIt is my favorite. I run it on all documents, and I have customized styles in it. These customizations help me rectify things like single and double quotation marks, for instance. PerfectIt also helps me edit for generic styles (e.g., US English, UK English) and for documents that have specific (read: quirky) style preferences.
COMMUNICATING WITH OTHERS
How do you and your colleagues talk about editing with each other? We often talk about how language and words produce magic and how usage differs depending on region, context, etc. We also talk about personal processes, tricks, and experiments that we try. For instance, rearranging windows on the screen helps me edit faster.
A most effective trick that has worked for me for years is using the web layout view in MS Word. Using this view with 200 percent zoom on a full screen does two things for me: It zooms the text enough for me to read significantly faster, and it removes details like page numbers and footnotes from my view. This essentially helps me focus purely on editing the text, and I edit footnotes before or after the main editing. Obviously, I modify the zoom levels for documents of different sizes. I also adjust the width of my comment margins in MS Word.
Do you participate in a community (or communities) that supports editors? Yes, CIEP has been an immensely helpful community for me. CIEP groups are extraordinarily welcoming and inclusive. It’s a community of editors from different backgrounds, working in different profiles, genres, and industries. There’s a sense of kinship and camaraderie that I haven’t found anywhere else.
Moreover, CIEP provides structured training opportunities. Its courses are aligned with its membership grade, and getting through more courses allows one not only to learn more skills, but to increase their network.
Do you have any thoughts on the need for editors to network and talk about what they do? This need persists in every profession, and just like in every profession, being engaged with fellow editors helps one not only learn and share best practices but also improve as a person.
How might we get buy-in during the editing process from authors who may not be receptive to changes? Prior to beginning the project, a thorough understanding of the scope and responsibilities is a must. This step lays down the ground rules as to how much the editor can offer and to what extent the author has a say. This process ensures that authors have no choice but to be receptive about issues that they know the editors are right about.
Apart from that, editing is a conversation. Editors can advise and suggest, but they have to be respectful about the author’s originality. Equally, authors must also respect the skill, experience, and knowledge the editor brings.
This understanding needs to be established between both parties to get the most from authors who are difficult, so they know that the editor isn’t winging it but has a sound understanding of the process.
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? Not for myself, but I have noticed that authors and employers tend to have this twisted notion that native proficiency in the English language can be present only if a person is of a certain race and from a certain country. All others, regardless of their skills in English, are non-native speakers and hence do not have good enough skills in English.
What lessons would you have liked to learn at the beginning of your career? That editing can be done without always having the pressure of editing x number of words per day. Some authors, or even employers, tend to enforce this system, and while the system may work for specific projects or clients, it isn’t the only way to edit more or faster. Often, new editors who are thrust into such a system tend to believe that this improves their skill and that a more flexible approach is not valid.
Editing is much more than simply covering a certain number of words every day. Editing is having a candid conversation with your authors, understanding them and their needs, and providing the best product that can benefit them.
Any suggestions on what offices/employers could do to increase diversity in your field of editing? Be open to people’s skills and experiences, rather than being rigid about a certain list of qualifications.
Tell us about a project that you’re proud of. A book on energy economics — my first massive project. I do not remember the name, but it was, at the time, a 450,000-word project that we were supposed to deliver in four weeks. I was a new editor in the company, and because the regular economics editor was unavailable, they trusted me with the task. Within that short period, I had to not only edit the book, but also get to know the project managers and others involved, so that we all could work efficiently together.
We delivered the project in three weeks. It involved long hours, some evenings and late nights, quality checks and revisions, and formatting. But in the end, we all pulled it off. The client was elated, and the book eventually got published. It was a proud moment for all of us.
Any hobbies you’d like to share with us? I play tennis, and I like cycling.
What resources would you share with fellow editors? I’d advise editors to get hold of the usual style guides, in addition to a few of the brilliant titles on copyediting. (The Subversive Copy Editor, by Carol Saller, definitely comes to mind.) They’re like our bibles.
I would also advise editors to read about different Englishes of the world. It’s amazing that there are so many variants of English, and reading about them gives us great insight into those different cultures and subcultures.
Is there anything else you’d like readers to know about you or about diversity in the profession? Editors are language professionals, meaning they are skilled in a language or multiple languages. Knowledge of languages goes beyond mere grammar rules and speaking proficiency.
I’d like clients and employers to be more open about the qualities they look for in editors. Sure, for some projects, grammar skills and general proficiency may be all that’s needed. But life experiences, complementary skills, failures, trials — these maketh an editor. Editors are artists. Some have a way of interpreting circumstances and persevering. These are the editors who make a difference.
Years editing: 11 Job title: Consultant editor Job description: Edits different kinds of content (from infographics to case studies) and develops company style guides Location: Suburban Chennai, India
How did you get your current job? My boss from a previous office approached me with a work-from-home offer.
What copyediting training have you had, and what positions have you held? I have a master’s degree in journalism and communication. I’ve been a freelance journalist, copywriter of greeting cards, associate creative director at a leading advertising agency, and copywriter of marketing collateral at a technology company. I’ve worked in copyediting roles with the National Institute of Information Technology, Aptech, UBS, The World Bank, India Syndicate, Flipkart, and now Gutenberg.
DOING THE JOB
Are there any complementary skills that are important in your job? Yes, it’s important to know about content marketing, graphic design, and social media. One must also have subject matter expertise in various domains and knowledge of marketing communications. Only then can one adapt to changing market requirements.
Do you use any editing tools to get the job done (e.g., PerfectIt, Adobe stamps)? I use Grammarly after two rounds of editing the document myself. Sometimes, Grammarly’s suggestions may introduce errors in the article, so I check whether the suggestion is sound before incorporating it. Editing tools are not helpful when it comes to logic, flow, rephrasing for clarity, and pruning to a word limit.
COMMUNICATING WITH OTHERS
How do you and your colleagues talk about editing with each other? I’m an editor in the content department, and I’m the only one with this designation, although the other team members sometimes edit content. I run a blog called Sentence Bytes for knowledge sharing.
Do you have any thoughts on the need for editors to network and talk about what they do? Editors work behind the scenes due to their personalities and the job itself. Their work often goes unnoticed, since it is the writers who get the credit for the work they do. So editors must network and have an active presence on the internet to promote themselves and keep up with industry trends.
How might we get buy-in during the editing process from authors who may not be receptive to changes? In my case, since I work on a team, I send out one round of edits to the writer, and then the writer looks into the changes. If the writer has any feedback on the changes, it goes to my boss and does not come back to me.
How diverse is your office? We have people from Italy, America, and India, among others, working from different locations. None of them are editors; they have other roles in the organization.
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 am an Indian living in India, so I haven’t faced any hurdles in getting into or advancing in copyediting. However, some work environments have been toxic and extremely corrosive.
What lessons would you have liked to learn at the beginning of your career? The collegiate education we get does not prepare us for the world of work in offices, and many skills have to be picked up on the job. One has to have the ability to adapt. Also, one must be a lifelong learner and “unlearner.”
Any suggestions on what offices/employers could do to increase diversity in your field of editing? Offices and employers must actively reach out to hire more women candidates and persons of color as a part of diversity and inclusion efforts. Organizations must be equal-opportunity employers and pay fair wages.
Tell us about a project that you’re proud of. I was an editorial consultant to the team that contributed to the project that won the gold at the 2019 India Content Leadership Awards and Conference. The team received the award in the “Content as an Enabler” category, under the segment “Best Content in a Business Blog/Website,” for its work in revamping the client’s corporate website.
Any hobbies you’d like to share with us? I’m an avid reader, and I’ve been reviewing books for publishing houses — first on my Ash Talks Books blog and now on my recently launched site, Aishwariya’s Littlog. I also write flash fiction and poetry.
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.
Years editing: 20 years Job title: Copyeditor and freelance developmental editor Job description: Copyeditor at weekly arts and culture magazine; provides developmental edits on nonfiction and scholarly manuscripts Location: New Mexico
How did you get your current job? In 2017, I had recently moved to New Mexico and came across a copyediting role at a local magazine. I thought it would be the perfect place to familiarize myself with the diverse and rich cultural history of the region. After two interviews — involving an editing test, some trial runs with proofreading in production, and an opportunity to meet the staff — the editor offered me the job.
My first copyediting gig came in 2003, but it happened by mistake. Two years prior, I had been learning as much as I could about how editing works and had landed a few temporary jobs as a proofreader at an advertising agency. In 2003, I was assigned to be an entry-level graphic designer, but my copyediting skills came in handy quite often. Needless to say, I made fast friends with the editorial staff.
What copyediting training have you had? I was so inspired to have a career in publishing that I started out learning the basics of editing on my own! I did a few informational interviews with book editors at publishing houses when I figured out what I wanted to do with my life, and I learned how they do what they do. They recommended that I buy a copy of TheChicago Manual of Style (can’t remember which edition that was!) and start thumbing through it.
This prepared me well for internships in the Manuscript Editorial and Acquisitions Departments at the University of Virginia Press (UVAP), which occurred in 2004 — some two years after the informational interviews. I was able to use the editing skills I had learned to proofread UVAP’s titles and help to critique author queries in acquisitions. It was such a rewarding feeling to have authors give me personal shout-outs in their books!
A year later I landed a gig as a proofreader and copyeditor for Rowman & Littlefield. Five years later, I landed a job as a book production specialist for a company that conducted seminars in which participants wrote first drafts of manuscripts. They assigned me more manuscripts than I could handle. So I built a team of editors and designers to help me fulfill the various needs of my client. I also ventured into ghostwriting at that time.
DOING THE JOB
Are there any complementary skills that are important in your job? All of the abovementioned skills are important, especially if you are working with independent authors. The editing process should involve some time spent discerning how a project will be marketed. Also, having conversations with the author throughout can make the editing process easier.
I actually learned how to design books before I learned how to edit them. As I mentioned earlier, I was so enamored with the business of building and publishing books that I wanted to learn as much as I could about the process. Design appeared to be a more marketable skill at the time, but then I branched out into editing, where I found my true home.
The social media component came much later in my education. I wasn’t afraid of social media (introvert editor here), but it seemed daunting. The lessons I have acquired in that arena have taught me about using concise language in social media posts, search engine optimization, and the importance of consistent messaging and having a desire to connect with your audience.
Do you use any editing tools to get the job done (e.g., PerfectIt, Adobe stamps)? I find Grammarly very helpful. The plug-in will review anything you write or read in a word processing program and flag anything that looks suspect. It is a great way to remind yourself of grammar rules and some style elements (though I wish there were some way to plug our style guide rules into Grammarly as well). Microsoft Word’s editing tools are also effective, but I think Grammarly is better.
COMMUNICATING WITH OTHERS
How do you and your colleagues talk about editing with each other? I’m the only copyeditor in my department at the magazine right now. Due to the pandemic, we had to lay off our other copyeditor — which is unfortunate, because she was a valuable asset to our team. So now, it’s just me and the magazine editor. The editor trusts me to handle specific grammar, style, and word-use issues. I knew that she wanted to make some substantive changes to our house style. The editorial style was all over the place — essentially a hybrid of newspaper and book styles. We retained some of the basic elements and aligned everything else with Chicago. I have since codified everything into a live Word doc for the writers’ reference.
Communities are so important. You can learn of opportunities through them; you can hone your editing skills through them. You meet great people, some of whom may need a new team member for a large-scale project. But communities are also helpful sometimes for commiserating with like-minded individuals about job-specific functions.
Do you have any thoughts on the need for editors to network and talk about what they do? I think a high concentration of editors are introverts. For many editors, the job is appealing because you can settle into a comfortable little bubble, not talk to anyone, and still get your job done. It was one of the reasons why I wanted to go into the profession: I could do my job anywhere and not have to make an effort to talk to others. That said, career advancement doesn’t happen in a bubble. Editors who are looking for work need to spend time networking, meeting people, and shaking hands (though not this year).
The work does speak for itself, though. Most of the jobs I’ve landed happened after I successfully completed an editing test, which was more important than a face-to-face interview. So a healthy balance is ideal.
How might we get buy-in during the editing process from authors who may not be receptive to changes? I received feedback from some of my author clients early on that I was being too heavy handed with the editing process. The author-editor relationship can be dicey. I like to prepare the author (especially in developmental editing, where author-editor dialogue, discussion, and brainstorming are often necessary) by telling him or her of my primary responsibility, which is to keep the reader in mind.
Sometimes feelings get hurt; sometimes an author is just not in lockstep with you on an editing decision. And that’s okay. You don’t have to be in complete agreement on every word in every line of every sentence.
If I am working with an author who appears to resist my editorial role, I try to help the author see things from an objective, rather than subjective, standpoint. That usually gets the author thinking outside his or her own head, and oftentimes it leads to quite an aha moment!
How diverse is your office? I am the only Black male in the department. We have a much higher concentration of women (design), and the writing staff is mostly men. So the gender proportion is about evenly split. The racial makeup is overwhelmingly White. Within the company itself, there is a more diverse makeup.
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? One mentor I had at UVAP was really looking out for me. She, citing the fact that there are few Black editors in the university press system, encouraged me to learn all I could during the internship. I’ll never forget the day she told me what she hoped would come of my internship with her (an acquisitions editor): “I want to see you as an editor at a publishing house someday. We need more Black editors!”
Given the current focus on incorporating BIPOC voices in publishing, and the intense scrutiny that publishing houses themselves are facing where the gender and racial makeups of their editorial staffs are concerned, her comments to me were ahead of the times. But working with her set the tone for the rest of my career.
Editing is one of those roles for which you can prove your competency quite easily. If you can go toe to toe with someone about the fact that a particular sentence uses split infinitives and comma splices but shouldn’t, people suddenly forget what you look like. There is a vein of blindness that an editor can employ that is not available in, say, a sales profession, where you are in direct, face-to-face contact with others. That’s something BIPOC editors can use to their advantage.
I can’t say that I’ve faced any hurdles, per se. I’ve certainly applied for positions that I didn’t get, and I don’t really know why. It’s possible that race or gender or some other criteria was a factor. Having confidence in yourself and your abilities goes a long way in combating such things. If you can prove your worth to an organization (not merely with competency in the skill set they need but also with things they didn’t think they needed) and your commitment to excellence (of primary concern for copyeditors), you should be okay.
Any suggestions on what offices/employers could do to increase diversity in your field of editing? Internships are extremely important. It’s one of the best ways to get your foot in the door in any profession, really. Organizations committed to diversity in the workplace need to target minority recruitment. Maybe partnerships between academic departments (English and creative writing departments, for example) and publishers could help to encourage minority participation in publishing.
Tell us about a project that you’re proud of. The project I am most proud of is the one on which I’m currently working. It’s a novel set in the 1600s in what is now Senegal, in West Africa. It’s an adaptation of a sci-fi novel that my co-author, Mamour Dieng (a native of Senegal), commissioned. It involves intrigue and adventure, but it’s also a story about the clash of cultures and what would eventually come to be known as the transatlantic slave trade. The hero, a teenage heir apparent to a vast African kingdom, must use his royal and internal gifts to help save the kingdom. It’s set for release sometime in early 2021 through Lampas Books.
Where editing is concerned, I’d like to mention a project on which I worked with Catherine Carrigan in a developmental capacity about seven years ago. Her book had a low word count, and the content was very choppy. After working with her for a few months, she doubled the size, and it became her top-selling book on Amazon.
Mostly, my pride in my work comes from seeing authors grow into their writing. Seeing them digest the nuggets of information I convey to them and seeing them take off is one of the greatest pleasures of my life!
Any hobbies you’d like to share with us? I have two dogs, and they keep me quite busy when I’m not in front of my computer. We really enjoy going to the mountains nearby, going for long hikes, and exploring. I also like to camp and travel — and read, of course!
What resources would you share with fellow editors? 1. Definitely check out the EFA to learn about best practices and tips on editing. The organization has great online classes that can help sharpen your skills. There’s even a job board for freelance projects.
2. Take a few practice tests for editing or command of the English language. Discover where your strengths and weaknesses are, but focus on reviewing anything that may turn up unsatisfactory.
3. A book I’m reading right now — The Subversive Copy Editor, by Carol Fisher Saller — has been really effective in my current role. It’s published by the University of Chicago Press (UCP), is written by a UCP contributing editor, and has great advice on not only editing but also working with writers.
4. Don’t be afraid to reach out to an online community to ask for help with a specific question on editing. People who love what they do will bend over backward to be of service.
5. There is no such thing as a perfect editor. By that I mean, mistakes happen. I know that it can be quite a blow to work on something and later discover a misspelled word or an oddly constructed sentence that starts an online discussion once it is printed. Learn how to be okay with near perfection, and keep your eyes focused on what is truly important.
Is there anything else you’d like readers to know about you or about diversity in the profession? It’s great to see so much focus on diversity in the workplace in the last few years. When I started out, I didn’t see any Black faces. I didn’t know anyone who was Black who was an editor at a major publishing house. Social media has turned this dynamic on its head; there are entire groups devoted to Black professionals of every stripe. And now we are seeing open calls from publishing entities to increase the racial, ethnic, and gender makeups of their staffs.
Having diverse editors to meet the new challenges in the publishing industry is essential. Consider yourself part of a rising tide that will not abate anytime soon.
Also, feel free to contact me with any question you might have. I would love to be a mentor to the younger generation!