Thursday, May 29, 2014

Becoming an Editor (or Jumping into the Pool): Part 1

You'll understand this pool-side illustration in a minute. I promise.
I am sometimes asked how I became an editor, and sometimes how to become an editor. The next post—Part 2—will explain my own journey and contain some practical suggestions for those who think they want to enter this profession. This post, however, gives some preliminary advice I think is important.

First, let me say that I am not an acquiring editor or primarily what is sometimes called a "macro" editor, one who seeks books to publish or helps authors with the highest level of structure and content. I am what is often called a developmental, line, or copy editor, depending on the level of work a book needs. You can read more about the levels of editing here, though you will find different breakdowns throughout the publishing industry.

So here's my advice:
  •  It's best not to feel too confident that you can make a living as a professional proofreader or editor unless you’ve actually received positive feedback. When I worked in a publishing house, I would get calls from people who wanted freelance editorial work because "I tend to spot mistakes in books." Well, so did I. So do a lot of educated people who have an eye for errors. But I needed to find out if I could turn a tendency into a professional endeavor. I'll tell you how I did that in Part 2.
  • Realize that you can't be a professional proofreader or editor without learning the specifics of the trade. Even if you are great at spotting errors in a book, you need to know something about style guides and what to do with those errors when you find them. This is especially true if you are working for a publisher rather than an individual.
  • Learn about best practices in this field and the nitty-gritty side of running a business if you think freelance editorial work sounds like it's for you. One way or another, you have to work through how to make a freelance editorial business work. And the hard way is never the preferred way. (See my blog post here about some best practices I have adopted for my own business—but don’t make me talk about taxes right now.)

In other words, if you think you want to make your living as a proofreader or editor (or as I heard one intern naively say, “Lie on the beach all day and read books”—and no, I am not kidding about her saying this, and now you understand the illustration above)you're going to find jumping into that pool without any specific know-how, experience, or encouragement difficult. You might keep your head above water for a while, but eventually you will probably start looking around for a lifeguard. And, frankly, it's possible that no one will even let you near the pool.

See you at the next post—Part 2—if you want to know how I jumped in. And do check some of the other approximately 3.8 million blogs, sites, Facebook pages, and Twitter accounts about editorial life. Or, maybe there are only 3.7. I'm not sure. Meanwhile, reader, writer, or even editor, feel free to leave a comment!

Monday, May 26, 2014

Why I Didn’t Post a Facebook Message about Memorial Day

I tried. 

Half a dozen times throughout the day I tried to post something true and honest and . . . well, somehow meaningful. Most everyone else on Facebook and Twitter seemed to be able to do it, with well-thought-out and sincere words, or a moving photo, or a heart-felt poem or quote. Sometimes a prayer.

I thought they were all great—and true and honest and meaningful.

But I just sat here working at my desk, stymied.

It's like when I go to stand with or send a note to someone who has suffered a loss or tragedy. I really, really don’t know what to say. What will be meaningful? I wonder. What will make a difference?

So I simply touch their arm or hold their hand or, in the case of a note, write I'm sorry. I hope they know—by those simple actions and the fact that I "showed up"—that I care. Do most people struggle with the same thing? Yes, I think so.

But this? The enormity of the sacrifice made by those who serve renders me stupidly mute. I can't even keep it together when veterans pass by in a parade, showing their own pride in serving their country and honoring those who have lost their lives. 

It's not just respect and it's not pity; it's gratitude down to my toes.

But at least today I can do this: To all those servicemen and servicewomen who have served and protected us and our freedom—all with sacrifice and some with their lives—here is my “touch,” my “hand,” my “thank you.” My showing up just a little bit.

It’s not enough; I know that. It’s not enough for your families and comrades, either. But it’s what I do when I don't know what else to do.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

5 Ways to Be the Best You Can Be (for Freelancers and, Well, Everyone)

Today I'm sharing five ways I try to be the best I can be in the freelance work I do for pay. But we all work with other people one way or another. Sometimes the reward is a paycheck, and sometimes it's a smile or a pat on the back. Whatever it is, we hope to, well, succeed, don't we?

I can't achieve perfection as a freelance writer and editor, but I can strive to do my best. And, really, no matter what your vocation, mastering habits that support these principles can go a long way toward being and feeling like a success as you interact with other people.

1.       Respond to assist. My clients most often contact me electronically. Even if I have to halt working on a project and write down a page number or the time I stopped, when my laptop or phone signals me an email or text has arrived during standard business hours, I send responses as soon as possible, even though business etiquette is usually within 24 hours. This way the client not only knows I’m here (as if in the next cubicle, available), but they can get an answer that allows them to quickly move on with the information they needed.

2.       Be accurate to assure. Even if someone they trust has recommended me, a new editor or client will truly believe my work is up to their standards only when they see it. They are taking a risk. But publishing schedules of any kind—and you can take this from my days as a managing editor in a publishing house—do not have built-in “do over” time. So getting it right, using all the skills I've worked to develop, is a must.

3.       Be thorough to ensure. Furthermore, once they believe it, clients don’t want to be caught later with a quality of work in subsequent projects that is “less than” they got at first. In-house editors, for instance, do not have time for complications that could have been avoided. (Who does?) Sometimes during the latter part of my read-through for a full-length book edit, it is tempting to just get it done and move on. But I have learned to work a project as thoroughly as when I started.

4.       Turn around to wow. Don’t accept a deadline you cannot meet or is even iffy. And that means sometimes you have to (gasp) turn down a project. But if you can beat a deadline? Do it. It doesn’t matter if your client or boss has padded the deadline to ensure enough or extra time for their part of the project. They can always use more time and flexibility in their schedule, so if you can gift that, do.

5.     Offer something extra. Here’s an example: Fiction editors ask me to verify the time line for the novels they want me to line edit. They don’t usually ask me to document it, only to verify it. But the documentation exercise not only helps me do a good job; I think the result can be useful to an in-house editor and the author if they have to wrestle with any issues I uncovered.

So, what do you do to be the best you can be in your daily work?

As a reader, when and if you see too many (there are always some) editing or proofreading misses in a book, what do you imagine has happened in the publishing process? 

As a writer, how do you relate these five suggestions to your work? Do they inspire any changes for you?

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