In this blog post, Nikki San Pedro tells us how she went from a volunteer copy editor to a professional managing editor in less than two years.
I. Venturing into Volunteering
When I moved to Los Angeles from Toronto at the end of 2009, the goal was to bridge my career in entertainment to a nonprofit path. Having previously worked at Epitome Pictures (the production company that birthed the Degrassi television series), I saw how much power storytelling has to inspire philanthropy. I found out about the literacy organization 826LA when my roommate came home from a record release benefit for "Chickens In Love," a project that gave students the opportunity to workshop songs for rock artists to perform and record. This project gave me the desire to make Los Angeles my new home—a city abundant with the pop-culture resources that can activate social change. In April 2010, I signed up for my volunteer orientation at 826LA and soon began tutoring on a variety of projects including choose-your-own-adventure book field trips and journalism workshops.
In 2015, I participated in 826LA’s annual Young Authors' Book Project for the first time, mentoring high school students throughout their writing process as they became published authors. This project was my first exposure to copyediting as I worked with the student editorial board. Having grown up in the digital age, I did the majority of my copyediting directly on word processors. But understanding the time-honored proofreading symbols to mark up a hardcopy felt like learning a new language to communicate corrections. Further, with my TV production background, I understood how color stories and visual vocabularies unify a series, and likened the process of developing our style guide to that practice. What phrases from the book project can we use for titles? How do we treat foreign words? Do we italicize them, provide a translation, place them in parenthesis? The student editorial board used our guidance to make style choices they felt represented their stories, and demonstrated their storytelling mastery as they offered feedback to their peers. Just a few months later in May, these students of Mendez High in Boyle Heights became published authors upon the release of We Are Alive When We Speak For Justice, an ethnography in response to the Mendez v. Westminster school segregation case.
In June 2015, I started the low-residency Creative Writing for Social Justice MFA program at Antioch University. A graduating component of the program is a field study that serves to advance the education of literary artists, promote community engagement and social justice. I reached out to 826LA to get involved more intensively on the 2017 Young Authors' Book Project. Some of my extended responsibilities for my field study included writing a timeline to unite and contextualize the collection of stories, and reviewing the galleys and ensuring the proper edits were made with each design update for their book When the Moon Is Up.
II. The Big Career Break
Within a few weeks of the galley reviews, I saw a post on a Facebook page seeking a copyeditor. The task: to manually insert copyedits into a galley proof right before the book goes to print. The author wasn’t listed and I had to sign a nondisclosure agreement before I could even find out who he or she was. But since I really enjoyed the copyediting process on the 826LA project, I reached out to the poster. I learned I’d be working with a best-selling author on a celebrity memoir to be released June 2017, and the next day I met his small editing team to work on the penultimate pass. By the end of the week, I was back there with the final edits before print. On my way out, the author asked if I would be interested in being his managing editor so he could have time to work on his own books. As of May 1, I’m diving into my responsibilities for the full publishing lifecycle of a book, with a few others in the pipeline.
As a managing editor for an author with multiple book projects, a fundamental part of my job is quality control across every draft. With the guidance of book outlines, proposals, and interview transcripts, I read each page to see how well the subject comes to life. My feedback process is less prescriptive, more suggestive; I love reading into what a writer is trying to do and asking them questions about how they could accomplish their goal with more finesse, more flair. More often than not, this process gives the writer fun, creative challenges as a jumping off point to authentically enrich the previous version. Outside the editing portion, the management part revolves around keeping deadlines on track and making sure team members have whatever they need to contribute to the strongest final draft possible.
My work with 826LA on the Young Authors’ Book Project prepared me for the managerial aspect of the role as well. Coordinating across three high school English classes to produce a unified collection of stories in response to the 25th anniversary of the LA riots helped me understand different writers’ styles and different ways to effectively support them. From seemingly miniscule details, such as italics for non-English words or choosing memorable titles that instantly set the scene for the readers, it’s important for me to help growing writers understand the value of each word, and how copyediting can load each word with so much more power. I hope to work with similar groups of young students on other kinds of writing, for different platforms. Although the copyediting aspect is less prominent across other media, I want the students to always stay aware of those writing craft choices.
III. Time in the Trenches is Essential
Before these recent publishing projects, I underestimated the value of my attention to detail. Rather than seeing it as a specialized skill, I assumed that everyone had the same affinity and ability I did for spotting spelling mistakes and grammatical errors. After all, finding typos felt more fun—and at times, even funny—to me than work. But after seeing the very first drafts of a book project morph into the printed edition, I realized that all the time I had spent deep-reading helped hone my eagle eye to catch errors that several previous readers had missed.
For people like me who love reading and strengthening the power of words, copyediting is an exciting career. And there isn’t just one path to this job: interning with a publisher throughout the editing stages is a great way to get intimate, specialized knowledge of the meticulous processes involved, and see how detail oriented you need to be to produce the publishable draft. And, down the road, when I envision myself working within tourism and hospitality instead of publishing, I know copyediting will be essential as I share my travel stories with the world.
In this month's blog post, Embarker Kathleen S. provides an overview of the online course offered by UC San Diego Extension that's designed to help new copyeditors launch their freelance careers. Leave your questions or comments below!
WHEN I COMPLETED MY SPECIALIZED CERTIFICATE IN COPYEDITING through the online program at UC San Diego Extension, I felt ready to dive in and get my new career underway. I envisioned lots of assignments to keep me busy and happily engaged in my new occupation. However, the cold truth for any freelancer, and colder still for editorial types who may not love marketing and greasing the gears of industry, is that you can't engage in your chosen profession without figuring out the basics of business.
No marketing means no new work. No understanding of the back-office aspects of running a business means no sustainability.
Fortunately, UC San Diego Extension provides a course associated with their copyediting program that goes beyond the fundamentals of copyediting. The four-week course, Editing as a Business: How to Succeed on Your Own, gives a comprehensive overview of the necessary steps to establish any freelance copyediting business and a framework for thinking about your own business goals.
To anyone who is ready to get a new freelance business underway, especially a first-timer such as myself, I say a four-week breather to develop some understanding of business essentials is time well spent indeed.
The online course had four learning objectives:
• Know how to launch and maintain an editing business
• Know where to obtain valuable resources related to running an editing business
• Develop a plan to find and approach potential clients
• Develop an online professional business presence
The online program uses Blackboard, an interactive learning site. Each week, new web-based lectures are provided by the instructor, along with reading materials and thought-provoking assignments about which detailed feedback is given. I found participation in the student/instructor discussion forum especially helpful as it introduced a wide array of views and resource referrals.
Also, since not many friends or new people I meet seem to find the idea of copyediting exciting (no doubt thinking of their red-pen-wielding high school English teachers), I also enjoyed engaging with eager, like-minded people seeking to get their editorial feet wet. The instructor encouraged active, thoughtful, and respectful engagement in this process, and it worked well for me as a learning experience.
LESSON 1: Setting up Shop
Is it possible to make a living as a freelance copyeditor? The instructor says it is, with proper rates and management. Whether to jump in full-time or ease in part-time is a question for each person to answer depending on circumstances. Six months of savings are recommended, if possible, but you should not let this become a barrier that keeps you from ever making your move to freelancing. The first lesson also focused on two key topics.
i. Clients / Niches
Know thyself. Choosing your preferred types of clients and niches is an important early step. Unless you know who your ideal clients are, you spread yourself thin and don’t achieve a good return on your marketing investment. Finding your niches may be the best way to ensure an enjoyable work life as well. Would you rather work for a publisher, a corporation or nonprofit organization, or perhaps directly with authors? Each provides a different client experience. Each has benefits and pitfalls. Working with publishers, for example, provides steady work and respect for one’s skills but the downsides include competition and non-negotiable rates. Working with individual authors may offer the ability to have more impact in shaping a book, but it also involves the need to explain more editing decisions with authors. There’s a lot to think about when honing your target client audience.
ii. Business Structure
You need to think about whether to work as a sole proprietor or set up a corporate entity. There are pros and cons—often specific to your state or city—that you need to weigh carefully.
Separate your personal accounts from business accounts? Yes, a good idea that will make your business life easier. And keep good records! There are a number of affordable online accounting software brands available that will save you a lot of work come tax time.
LESSON 2: Finding Work
How do we drum up business? The course helps you brainstorm your approach to marketing, looking at word of mouth, college campuses, cold calling, networking, blogs, job listings, and development of a website (your online business card and shop front).
LESSON 3: Back Office
No amount of professional expertise in your subject area will keep your business afloat without mastering the essentials of the back office. The bottom line of this lesson is to treat your business as a business, focusing on these key areas:
• Work Practices
• Time Management
• Setting Rates
• Paperwork and Files
A reliable computer, high-speed internet, supplies, and reference materials, as well as a quiet place to work are pretty much what a freelance copyeditor needs to get started. Not bad, compared to many other businesses.
LESSON 4: Growing Your Business
You need more than one or two clients to build a healthy business. This lesson explores the keys to a sustainable business:
• Cultivating regular clients
• Professional presence (business cards, fliers, etc.)
The Way Forward: Business Plan
The most effective and challenging aspect of the course was the ongoing assignment to develop a business plan. This is not accomplished in one sitting. I built a plan in layers as I honed my thinking around answering some critical questions. The instructor gave me feedback at each phase so that, in the end, I went away with a two-page document that spelled out the following:
• My business goals
• Types of services I planned to provide
• Niche and specialty areas I would pursue
• Types of clients I should target
• A list of potential clients to contact
• Business tools to use
• My approach to charging for my services
I took this course as soon as I completed my certificate program, but before I was quite ready to start my business. Since then, I retired from my career in the insurance industry, and I am now getting my freelance business underway. I’m glad I took this course; it provided a wealth of information and resources to keep me on track and ready to tackle the challenges of working on my own—a very different mindset after years as someone else’s employee!
If this approach to getting ready for business appeals to you, here is a link to the course website for further information.
About the Author
Kathleen Shewman is a newly minted freelance copyeditor and indexer working from her home in Western Massachusetts (shewmancopyediting.com), having recently retired from an insurance claims career. She obtained a Specialized Certificate in Copyediting through UC San Diego Extension, and completed the “Indexing: Theory and Application” course at UC Berkeley Extension. Kathleen copyedits nonfiction and fiction, and she does pro bono copyediting work for new authors and nonprofits through Embark Editorial Agency.
Managing multiple priorities is one of the biggest challenges for freelancers, especially ones who are just starting their careers. In this month's blog post, Sandra D. (Embark editor emeritus) explains how she juggles the demands of her home life and new career.
I AM A WORD NERD, a girl who loves the quiet space that books, editing, reading, and writing provide. I also happen to live in a very small, loud house with four young kids whom I am attempting to mother. The irony is not lost on me. As a parent, I sometimes find it difficult to juggle my kids’ needs alongside the demands of my editing and writing career. In all honesty, I find it far too easy to lose my equilibrium, to loosen my grip on professional aspirations, and to stuff away my desire to balance both of these (very) good things. Yet, I am also resolutely stubborn—I get this endearing trait from my dear dad—and when the chaos subsides each night, I take fresh stock and refuse to submit to anyone’s limitations, much less my own.
I’m sure I’m not alone in finding the work-life balance hard to achieve. But, in defense of a robust, well-rounded life and livelihood, I want to reassure my fellow editors that personal and professional balance is possible and offer some tips that I use for staying sane under siege. Use these strategies to find your way to a happier balance between your first love (editing, of course!) and all your other loves, whatever they may be.
Tip #1: Trust in Your Training & Stay Positive
Believe in your ability to continue to grow professionally throughout your career. Challenge yourself by editing varying types of copy. Go to conferences. Get newly published books or pick up classic texts on the art and practice of the editing craft. Read the newspaper, do crossword puzzles for fun, and find intriguing reads at the local bookshop downtown.
Those of you at Embark have the benefit of excellent resources to aid you as you build your experience. You have the opportunity to receive honest, collaborative feedback from both your fellow editors and the Embark staff and clients. Make the most of the support.
Embrace the process of absorbing the lingo and methods of your craft into your psyche. Allow it time to take root and become second nature. Enjoy what you do!
Tip #2: Take Time for Self-Care
Find the daily or weekly balance you need to feel healthy and thrive. For me, that’s finding time for exercise and being with adult friends. I regularly take a break from the intensity of my editing-and-parenting juggle and step away for awhile. I come back feeling invigorated and renewed. Find that thing that renews you and make it a part of your regular routine. Cultivate your hobbies and find time to take a vacation.
Tip #3: Take Criticism Well
You will make mistakes. You will make stupid mistakes. You will turn in less-than-polished product because of some life emergency (or not!). Even if you have a legitimate excuse for the lapse, you must own your errors. Be humble and professional enough to admit where you went wrong. And then, next time, be professional enough to work hard to avoid those errors again. Turn in work you are proud of.
Tip #4: Set Healthy Boundaries
Give time to your children, your partner, your other loves, but remember to ask for what you need in return. Be direct. Be kind. Be fair. Identify and evaluate the expectations others place on you alongside your own goals and needs. Be a team player but protect the boundaries you mutually agree upon.
Tip #5: Take Your Life Seriously
And finally, I want to remind you that you have only one life: Make it count and do what you love. For me, my personal life (raising all these kids!) is valuable and precious, but it’s just one dimension of who I am and what I’m interested in. The kids do grow older and seasons of life do change! I take my career seriously because I love my own life and value all aspects of who I am. In other words, take into account both your head and your heart as you chart your career course.
These are some strategies I use to keep my sanity as I parent and write and edit and read and live my life well. I hope you may find that balance, too, in ways that work for you. Happy editing!
Do you have some coping strategies to share? If so, write them in the comment box below, or share them on the Embark Network Facebook page!
In this month's blog, Eva Hartmann (www.yourfictioneditor.com) contributes her unique perspective on a very important topic that recurs throughout The New Blue Pencil blog: the writer-editor relationship.
Find out more about Eva at the end of this post!
M Y EDITOR WILL TELL ME IF THE STORY WORKS, RIGHT? My editor is going to transform my book into a breakout bestseller, right?
Many authors look to editors to tell them if their writing is good and if the book is going to make a lot of money once it gets released. I, for one, wish I had a crystal ball. But though I am not able to predict a writer’s literary future, it is within my power to dispel a few myths about what editors actually do and try to explain away the disconnect that lies between them and some of their clients.
Editors Are Industry Experts, Aren’t They?
To some authors, editors seem to be strange creatures who toil alone doing something mysterious with words on a computer and who have potent magical powers because they are often the ones who screen submissions and decide whether they are worthy of their publishing house.
Doesn’t that mean they are experts in the subject matter? They must KNOW what readers want; why else would they be in that position?
Why, indeed? The thing is, unless an editor has expert experience in storytelling, like Michael Hauge (Hollywood story and script consultant) or Donald Maass (literary agent and author of The Breakout Novelist), they really don’t have license to tell an author what is great or not. Mostly, an editor can point to elements that make great writing and story weaving, but at the end of the day, it is the readers who really decide if a book is any good. Trying to predict how anyone will react is nearly impossible.
Publishers do try to follow reading trends by accepting more books that are similar to what’s hot right now, which is why some otherwise very good books are rejected by publishers. There are times when the industry may say that vampires aren’t selling anymore or that shifter stories are dead, but the truth is that genres go around in continual cycles. And, sooner or later, a novel breaks out that leads publishing in an entirely unexpected direction.
Aren’t Editors Just Grammar Trolls?
Authors are also thrown for a loop when editors send back manuscripts with way more corrections than authors are expecting.
How can there be so much to correct? English is my native language!
The process is kind of like taking your car to the mechanic and trusting them when they tell you the engine needs to be completely rebuilt. How do you really know if the mechanic is telling the truth? You don’t. You just have to trust training and experience. For most mechanical issues in a manuscript, the editor should be able to point to a style guide or other reference to show the rationale behind the corrections. But it is not an editor’s job to teach an author how to edit.
Does It Really Matter Who Edits My Manuscript?
Yes! It matters. A problem can arise in the relationship because authors don’t understand the editing process and often don’t know what kind of editing they need.
Aren’t all editors the same?
If we return to the mechanic example, should a driver of a vintage VW bus send it to a Mini dealership to be fixed? Of course the answer is: “No, not really; it is best to have a specialist, someone best suited for the task at hand.” Some editors want to edit a variety of work at a variety of levels, others do not. There are those who prefer to stick with developmental editing, others with copyediting or proofreading. Some editors are authors themselves and have additional training in the craft of writing, but not all do. (And it’s important to note that the craft of writing is actually very different from editing.)
This is why it is important from the outset that expectations for the assigned project are clear to both parties. And this is when a sample edit comes in handy. In only three to five pages, an editor can get a feel for what level of edit is needed and the author will get a glimpse of what to expect. It’s kind of like a first date: both parties can see if they will get along.
Aren’t All Editors Merely Frustrated Writers?
Developmental editing is where the lines can become very blurred with the job of the writer, and there can be times when an editor oversteps the mark. As an author myself, I have experienced this issue twice. In one case, I had completed a novel, and by the time the editor got done giving “feedback,” she had outlined a completely different book than the one I had just finished writing.
Editors are supposed to help authors tell their story, not the story the editor thinks it should be. We should be able to go in and point out what needs strengthening or what needs to be cut because it is going down a rabbit hole. But to tear an author’s work apart and completely rewrite it is not what we get hired to do. Those types of things are the domain of coauthors and ghostwriters, not developmental editors.
It can be a little tricky for editors to keep to their side, but it is critical to stay on task. Some authors, especially first-time authors, are very close to their work. It was a journey of faith for them, and they can often feel vulnerable and exposed when showing their beloved book to others. After all, no one wants you to tell them that their baby is less than cute.
And so, as complex as it may seem, authors and editors can make a great team and have fun together, provided that they find the right partner and are careful not to step on each other’s toes. If, as a writer or editor, you have come across other kinds of misunderstandings, share your experience in the comment box below!
If you enjoyed this post, read Writers & Editors: Are they on the same page? and Why Even The Best Writers Need Editors, and Beyond Copy: Adventures in content editing.
About the Author
Eva Hartmann is a voracious reader and a fan of all genres of fiction. She is also a multi-published bestselling author of contemporary romance and paranormal romance novels (find her work at jewelquinlan.com). As an editor, her focus is also fiction (yourfictioneditor.com), and helping authors polish their manuscripts until they shine. She also has the additional goal of helping authors develop their online platforms through easy video workshops. Eva does pro bono copyediting work for nonprofits via the Embark Editorial Agency.
In a previous post, Lorna talked about attending a Chamber of Commerce networking breakfast at which she was forced to give an off-the-cuff presentation. Now she has begun to deliver free one-hour presentations to writers, something that requires an extra level of confidence.
I AM NOT SHY, EXACTLY. But I do not particularly enjoy being the focus of attention, and I hate having my photo taken. But over the past year of running my editorial business, I’ve been forced to dig deep and overcome my introvert tendencies, because I know that visibility is essential to building a client base for both my own business and the Embark Editorial Agency.
Having attended many writing groups as a writer, I found one that has a guest-speaker program and decided to offer to give a presentation about copyediting. When the offer was gladly accepted, I was committed, and I was determined not to chicken out.
I created a 60-minute presentation entitled “Copy Editors: Nitpickers or Lifesavers?” The objective is to show writers that copyediting is about so much more than spelling and grammar. The agenda of the presentation looks like this:
Being an introvert, I want to do as little talking as possible, but I also feel that it is important that I don't simply give a lecture. So, at every point in the agenda, I ask plenty of questions to draw as much information out of the writers as possible. I also break up the presentation midway through with a pop quiz consisting of 10 sentences that contain a hard-to-spot error. The fact that nobody (yet) has got anywhere close to getting all 10 correct helps to show them they need a copy editor more than they thought!
If you’re thinking about doing a presentation of your own, you might want to consider the following:
Worth the Effort?
My first presentation took place in December. It wasn’t the best time of year (too close to the holiday) or the best time (Friday, 6:30 p.m.); nevertheless, there were 15 people in attendance. As a result, two writers followed up on the offer of a free 5000-word edit from Embark Editorial Agency. And one of those subsequently contracted me to do a developmental edit on his novel. And 15 writers now know about the range of editorial services I offer, and they might think of me for future projects.
The second presentation (to another group) happened on March 18. Although 10 people had signed up, only 3 attended. I adapted the previous presentation on the spot and delivered a more intimate, conversational event. Was I disappointed? No. As an introvert, I was a bit relieved! Besides, nothing is a waste of time. On this occasion, I talked to three wonderful writers and got another opportunity to build my confidence, and the organizer was very keen to get me back again.
I’ve only done two presentations so far, but I aim to offer them to more writers’ groups in the Los Angeles area, of which there are many, including groups for memoirists, bloggers, and fiction writers.
I encourage you all to try this, even if you only do it once. If you’re a writer, you’ll probably be involved in writers groups already. If you’re not, check out Meetup.com for groups in your area and make an effort to join them. I know from experience that it’s hard for introverts, but we all have to put the needs of our fledgling editing careers first by getting ourselves out there. And who knows? Perhaps you might even enjoy it!
For those of you who need some more advice about how to network, check out this blog post from Copyediting.com: Networking for Introverts: 9 Tips To Use at Your Next Event.