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.