In this blog post, former Embarker Shayna Keyles tells us what she's been doing since she left the Agency. Thanks for sharing your insights, Shayna!
A FEW MONTHS AGO, I LEFT THE CHAOTIC WORLD OF CONTRACTING TO WORK FULL TIME FOR AN INDEPENDENT PUBLISHER. I’ve learned a lot of things in my new position, but above all, I learned that there’s no such thing as a full-time copy editor. It’s true that my contract with the company says “full-time copy editor,” and it’s true that The Copy Editor’s Handbook and CMS 16 both sit on my shelf at the office, but copyediting takes maybe half my time. This post is about what I really do at work.
This vague term, which covers everything from tracking timelines to searching for photos to performing developmental edits, accounts for a significant portion of my time. We aim to publish twenty books each season, and each season, I see three to five books from conception to production. As our sole in-house editor, I also take on the developmental responsibilities of more challenging manuscripts. Some days are fully dedicated to project management: I’ll email all of my authors to check up on deadlines, review the progress of newly submitted drafts and offer suggestions, hunt down missing citation details and do some fact checking, and then spend a few hours talking with the sales and marketing team about cover and catalog copy.
Abiding By Rules
When I started my job, I already knew that editing was about following the rules. What I didn’t know was exactly how many rules there would be for me to follow, and how many rules I would forget on an almost daily basis. I’ve learned the rules for writing a good transliteration (converting script), listing ingredients for a cookbook, citing military field manuals, discussing volume measurements versus construction measurements, and using the metric system in books for US print. However, I’ve forgotten everything I’ve ever learned about commas and hyphens, sentence style capitalization, and how to spell. But it’s okay—that’s why we have sticky notes.
Making Things Fit
Not all manuscripts are complete when they make it to the copyediting stage. Usually, the publisher sends them back to the author, but in special cases we might try our own hand at making things work. Because of this, you might find me with a crime scene-like configuration on my desk, trying to put together pieces from seemingly different puzzles. After a few grueling hours, I’m usually successful, but sometimes an author disappears or a project breaks down before it can be fixed. You’ll probably encounter projects like these.
You love some authors, others not so much. Fortunately, most times, you only have to deal directly with those authors whose projects you manage, but even when you don’t have to communicate directly with authors, they read your queries. You will encounter that author who doesn’t believe in deadlines and sends a manuscript back for a fourth, fifth, or sixth pass. You will have an author who doesn’t believe in science or fighting sexism, or something else fundamental to your worldview. You will have to suck it up and do a good job, because as an in-house editor you don’t have the freedom to choose your clients.
Though I don’t use Adobe InDesign or Adobe Photoshop day to day, it’s important for me to understand how layout works, because when I finish my job, it’s time for the designers to push the book through production. Once I’ve finished an edit and finalized all author queries, I produce a production file for the design team. In this file, I label or tag every formatting choice that will affect the final document. This means that instead of working with bulleted lists, A-heads (primary headings), or indentations, I have to manually enter any of those features. I do not work with any images, but I create tags for the design team that indicate where an image should be inserted.
After I create a production file, I review it with the designer to make sure the features look good where I placed them. At this stage if necessary, we also change headers, update lists, reposition charts, and otherwise modify the formatting for an easier read. The entire point of this process is to make the text visually appealing for the reader. I don’t have any say in what fonts are used, but I do have a hand in the proofing process to help resolve outstanding issues of readability before anything goes to print (see Proofing & Production below).
I didn’t say I never copyedit. And when I do, I’m often working on three to five full manuscripts at a time, with some smaller documents thrown in for good measure. This is the work that I’m most likely to do remotely, though I rarely work from home. The long hours of sitting that’s required for copyediting is the reason I got a standing desk rig for the office, and why I can often be found during breaks pacing back and forth. Of all the things I miss about contracting, it’s the daily hour-long walks I’d take around the city. However, my new bosses are incredibly flexible and accommodating, so it’s been a worthwhile trade.
Proofing & Production
My eye for detail has been put to the test since I became a copy editor. I review manuscripts in their final stages by searching word by word and line by line; seeking out kerning errors (which relate to the spacing of letters) or bad line breaks; double checking hyperlinks; spotting misplaced periods; and suffering through the often faulty Adobe Acrobat DC application. Though, after a week of heavy copyediting and developmental editing, a pile of proofs is a welcome relief.
Text aside, I also look at design proofs, copyright proofs, cover proofs, and other production-related processes that might need a trained eye.
Reading is the reason I became an editor, and it is still one of the things I love most about my job. Despite the fact that at the end of the day my eyes aren’t usually in the mood to let me enjoy a book of my choosing, I’ve learned more than enough in my job to make up for my pleasure-reading glut. Through editing, I’ve (theoretically) learned how to rig a solar array, build an igloo and survive in it, construct a built-in wardrobe and a Murphy bed, and pressure-can a year’s worth of food; I also learned that zebras kick to kill, beeswax comes in five forms, and lavender can be good for your lungs . . .
Overall, I’ve come a long way from freelance to in-house editing, and I’m still learning and evolving. By working in-house, I get to work with a great team of editors, designers, and other knowledgeable professionals, and the formerly far-off world of publishing has been opened up to me.
I wish you all luck on the rest of your editing journey!
Each January 1, I feel enormously optimistic. Any personal or professional disappointments can be written off as last year’s failures, and the neatness of the date 01/01 helps me reset all aspects of my life. This optimism always inspires a long list of resolutions, usually too many to keep. But this year, I’m keeping it simple with a few well-defined goals, which I’m sharing with you in this post. Happy New Year, everyone!
LOOKING BACK ON 2016, I'M SATISFIED THAT I NOT ONLY MET MY PROFESSIONAL GOALS BUT ALSO EXCEEDED THEM. At the beginning of 2016, I hadn’t yet completed the UCBX Professional Sequence in Editing, and I had no idea if an editing career was feasible. However, less than 12 months later, the Embark Agency is doing well, and I have regular paid editing work from not one but two publishers. But I’ve much more to do.
In a previous professional life, I was a nonprofit consultant, specializing in program evaluation. As any evaluator worth her salt will tell you, objectives must be SMART—meaning Specific, Measureable, Achievable/Realistic, and Timed—or you risk failure and the demotivation that follows. My three new goals are simple yet, hopefully, powerful enough to enable me to build on the foundation I laid last year.
1. Join the Editorial Freelancers Association and attend the 2017 Conference
Professional affiliations are essential once you’re a working editor. They add credibility and, more important, they help you develop your skills and network. The EFA website is horrible (I’m hoping the EFA’s 2017 resolution is to improve it), but keep an eye on it for news of the next conference (August), and I hope to see some of you there!
2. Double my income
Having budgeted for 2017, I know my overheads will amount to at least $1,700. I made approximately $5,000 in 2016, and I hope to earn $10K during the next twelve months. I'll not be rich any time soon, but building a business takes time. I get regular work now that I'm a contractor for two publishers, but I'd like one more publisher to complete the set. I also need to grow my private client list, which I aim to do by giving copyediting presentations at various writers groups in the Los Angeles area (more on this in a later blog).
3. Read for at least one hour every day
Because reading is such a pleasure, I often feel guilty spending time reading when I have a long list of other things to do. But as an editor, reading is essential and should be a part of every working day. Books on editing feature heavily on my reading list this year, and I’ll let you know what I think of them in this blog.
Three resolutions are enough, because each involves multiple mini objectives, which will keep me busy. And, of course, I have to set additional goals for the Embark Editorial Agency, which I will reveal more about in the coming weeks.
I’m excited about the career opportunities that lie ahead not only for me but also all Embark’s editors, and I wish everyone huge success. I would love to hear what professional goals you might have made this year, so don’t be shy: share your resolutions by posting a comment and inspire others to make 2017 a great year!
How are you promoting your copyediting services to the local business community?
In this post, Embark founder Lorna Walsh explains how the $35 she spent to attend a meeting at the Pasadena Chamber of Commerce might be the best investment she made in her career this year.
I HAD NEVER BEEN TO A CHAMBER OF COMMERCE MEETING BEFORE. In my imagination, such gatherings comprised (mostly) men in suits talking about zoning laws and the impact of the minimum wage. So, when I showed up for a 7:00 a.m. breakfast meeting, I was somewhat skeptical as to how much benefit I would get from it. What I found, however, dispelled my preconception.
There was to be no loitering self-consciously by the coffee urn until it was time to leave. The woman at the check-in desk immediately introduced me to a chamber member who took me under her wing. I imagined we would choose a table and chat with whomever happened to be sitting there. But it quickly became clear that the networking wasn’t going to be casual.
Each table had a designated host, who immediately kicked off a round-table introduction. Everyone had a minute to explain the nature of their enterprise and share business cards. Then, before I had a chance to take my first spoonful of oatmeal, everyone was invited to the front of the room in quick succession to deliver a 20-second pitch.
While I was figuring out how best to my pitch my business, Ideal Type LLC, I gleaned that the membership of the Chamber consisted of freelancers, start-ups, small businesses, nonprofits, and corporations: all potential clients. I don’t recall exactly what I said during my brief stint at the podium (public speaking is not my forte), but the terrifying experience taught me a valuable lesson: have an elevator pitch ready for your freelance business, because you never know when and where you’ll need to give it.
Having heard everyone’s pitches, attendees were invited to announce with whom they wanted to connect before they left the event and why. I was bold enough to stand and identify two people. The first was from a nonprofit, and, when I spoke with him afterwards, he was excited to learn about the Embark Editorial Agency’s pro bono service. However, I struck the mother lode with the second contact I made that morning.
As luck would have it, the sponsor of that meeting was a publishing company that specializes in producing business books, and the people I talked to were interested in my freelance services. Bingo!
Luck & Persistence
I dutifully followed up with both contacts that same week. Nothing came of my conversation with the nonprofit, but within the week I had an informal interview with two employees from the publishing company. It went well, and I was promised work.
Was it really that easy? Sadly, not: there was no copyediting work for me at that time. But over the next few months, I kept in contact with occasional emails. Just when I was losing hope, I received an email from the company asking if I was interested in ghostwriting. I can’t say I jumped at the chance, because I honestly had no idea what ghosting involved. But I was curious and open-minded.
Ghostwriting comes in various forms; read this article by Andrew Crofts for some additional insight into the subject. But, as it turned out, ghosting for that particular publisher is what I would define as heavy copyediting (if you’ve taken the last in the UCBX sequence, you’ll know what I mean by that). The job is not to write new material. Rather, the ghost works with existing transcripts of spoken presentations to better organize the information, add transitions and headers, eliminate redundancy, recast sentences when necessary, and generally ensure the text is correct, concise, consistent, and cohesive. I produced a sample chapter for the publisher, had a follow-up phone interview, and boom! I’m a ghost!
The Take Away
The key lesson here is to get involved in your local business community somehow. People favor doing business with people they’ve met, and more so with people who are members of the same club (think of a Chamber of Commerce as Freemasonry without the funny aprons). The Pasadena Chamber of Commerce has meetings that are open to nonmembers, so check out the schedule of your local chapter. There may be other professional groups, too; check out Meetup.com for what’s happening in your area. I also recommend that you join the Freelancers Union and attend its local networking events (joining is free and so are many events). But whatever you do, be ready with professional business cards, a professional website, an irresistible pitch, and an open mind.
Though the Agency doesn’t provide content editing services, sometimes an author will request feedback. Ideally, content issues should be dealt with before copyediting begins, but flexibility is often needed when working with authors who self-publish.
In this post, Embark copyeditor Jaime R. shares her recent experience of going above and beyond the call of duty for a fiction writer.
WHEN IT COMES TO EDITING FICTION, there are many aspects to consider. There are not only characters with their own flaws and personalities but also worlds vastly different from our own, characters story arcs as well as the overall story’s beginning, middle, and end. My most recent copyediting project allowed me to go further into content editing to help the author create the best reader experience possible.
THE EDIT LETTER
Carol Fisher Saller tells us her recipe for constructing a letter to the author, and in her view, there is no right way to compose an edit letter; each one is different. But writing a detailed edit letter for the first time allowed me to see for myself what type of information would be better served in an edit letter. Through a letter, the editor can explain issues more thoroughly than a simple copyediting query. Queries are meant for quick minor issues; the edit letter is where we delve into the nitty gritty. In this particular project, the edit letter separated the content issues from the copyediting of the manuscript itself.
READING GLASSES, NOT A MICROSCOPE
In this case, the letter was used to call the author’s attention to character flaws that needed to be addressed, complications of having two climaxes, and continuity issues that arose in multiple locations that could potentially lead to reader confusion. To do this, I had to read the piece through the lens of a regular reader, not the magnifying glass that an editor uses.
The letter not only enabled me to describe in detail how the issue impacted the story but also to supply suggestions for resolving these issues. Of course, the letter included page numbers where the author could easily locate these issues.
COPY V. CONTENT
How do we know the difference between copyediting issues and content issues? Copyediting is what we usually think of when we are correcting grammar, fixing wordy sentences, and cutting redundancies. The copyediting issues that arose in this project were as follows:
In this piece, there were many foreign words, not all of them translated and not all spelled correctly. Chicago’s method of italicization followed by the English translation in parentheses looked awkward. It seemed more appropriate that the author used her words to give a vivid description of what the word meant and guide the reader naturally to the translation within the prose.
Content editing is a little less straightforward, and it’s somewhat of a gray area for copyediting that can border on line editing. The content issues that were pointed out in the letter about this piece were those that would affect the reader experience:
ACCENTUATE THE POSITIVE!
The one thing that we always need to remember when writing our edit letters is to use tact. Don’t lose sight of the fact that this story took the author a lot of time to create, and while it’s easy for us to point out what needs to change, be mindful that the author might get overwhelmed by critiques.
My best friend is an author, and he struggles with the back and forth of feeling that he’s a great writer and then that he’s a terrible one. We can certainly help our authors feel better about their work if we mention things we find interesting or funny, for example. Copyediting.com’s Erin Brenner even discusses how some editors use emoticons to help put their authors at ease.
It certainly does not hurt to tell the author where they did a good job. And, sometimes we are so focused on our job that we forget to let the author know that we appreciate them for choosing us.
On this project, I'm happy to say that the client was the kind of enthusiastic author we all want to work with. She was completely open to any suggestions that I had for her and was excited to see what our combined efforts produced for her final piece.
When you're writing or editing copy, do you consider yourself a technician or an artist? In this post, writer and Embark editor Norman R. encourages us to think of a screen as a canvas and our keyboard as a palette. If you have any views about the artistry of wordsmithing, let Norman know in the comments!
AS YOU READ THE LATEST PULITZER PRIZE NOVEL, you might think, “Hey, this author’s a real artist.” We often associate writing with art. What about copyediting? Or editing in more general terms? Is there an artistic dimension to this craft? Art takes patience, precision, and intentionality. How much of this mind-set do writers and editors share?
WRITE LIKE A PAINTER
When I write, I see myself as a painter. I have my white canvas in front of me and a rough idea of what I want to communicate inside me. Then I start filling the page with all these ideas, without paying any attention either to their form or their organization. Letters, words, sentences, and paragraphs start unfolding on the page … until a picture develops.
You can tell by my naïve concept of the painting process that I’m less than an amateur painter. But I’m fascinated by that process, and I was recently at the Museo Reina Sofía in Madrid, where I admired Pablo Picasso’s Guernica (1937) -- see picture. The exhibit preceding the painting is loaded with expectation and suspense: before a visitor enters the room where the masterpiece is displayed, several other rooms show all the smaller studies Picasso made beforehand. Observing all the different versions of Picasso’s studies for the Guernica made me think of Katharine O’Moore-Klopf’s copyediting process. At the top of her to-do list she places two actions:
EDIT LIKE A SCULPTOR
Form is crucial. Thanks to form, we can immediately recognize the text in front of us as a poem, a magazine article, or a caption. But how do we get to that form? When I edit copy, I feel like a sculptor. I have a block of words in front of me that needs shape: sometimes I’ve got to chip away at it before the message emerges in all its clarity and power; sometimes it just needs some gentle polishing. However, I need to be careful not to modify the author’s message.
When I first started copyediting, I thought of an old Italian story, summed up in the saying, “Because of a period, Martino lost his cowl.” The story involves a sixteenth-century Tuscan abbot, Martino from Asello, who wanted to decorate the entrance to his monastery with the words, Porta patens esto. Nulli claudatur honesto, which means “Let the door always open. Do not close the door to the honest man.” Unfortunately, when he carved the sentences on the marble lintel, he wrote: Porta patens esto nulli. Claudatur honesto, which translates to: “Do not let the door open for anybody. Close it down to the honest man.” Because of the misplaced period, Abbot Martino not only made a gaffe but also lost his office. Luckily for us, words are not set in stone.
COMPOSE LIKE A MUSICIAN
Finally, when I write and edit, I am like a musician. When I have all the words on the page in front of me, I like to play around with punctuation to change the rhythm and style of the sentence and the paragraph, try new combinations and new sentence structures. When I work on other writers’ texts, I listen carefully to their voices, understand the rhythm of their speech, and savor the flow of their messages.
Rhythm is at the core of the writing-editing process for Stephen King as well. He dedicates the final section of his memoir On Writing to an example of his editing process, in which he shows both the rough and the edited versions of a short story. King explains that most of his edits are “intended to speed the story;” that is, they involve matters of rhythm.
Though King claims he works alone, I like to believe that writers understand how to express their ideas better through the dialogues they have with their copyeditors. And by working on several kinds of texts and interacting with several authors, copyeditors can learn how to be flexible with grammar and how to communicate in different ways. By interacting with each other, writers and editors learn how to see the world with somebody else’s eyes. This is the way art also challenges us, and it’s a tough challenge: are you willing to accept it and embark on this journey?