Editor: Kory Stamper Company: Freelance, currently with Cambridge Dictionaries # of years in editing: 22
Tell us a little about yourself, including how you got started as an editor?
I am an indiscriminate lover of language, and have been for a long time. In college, I majored in medieval languages; not a growth industry, but it set me up for my first career. I got a job as an office assistant once I graduated, where I learned about proofreading and editing workflows. I left that job to become a lexicographer (a writer and editor of dictionaries), where I not only learned how to write definitions and research etymologies, but honed my editing skills on marketing copy, ancillary materials like Word-A-Day calendars and AOL content areas, and corporate communications. At the same time, I began doing some freelance editing for friends whose companies needed it--everything from one-sheets for indie bands to book-length academic reports for the IAEA--and I began writing about language on my own blog. Somewhere in there I did some freelance speechwriting, and I wrote a book. I now split my time between writing books and editing (mostly dictionaries).
What is your area of focus and why did you select this niche?
English-language reference is my primary editing focus, and it sort of selected me. I enjoy it because It's a good mix of writing and copyediting for general audiences of all literacy levels. You need to be able to distill a complex idea down into clear and concise language.
My freelance editing tends to focus on corporate communications, and particularly external communications. Because of my experience with dictionary users and language learners of all levels, I have insights into the sorts of idioms and collocations that might confuse people, or that clutter a page with unnecessary verbiage.
Walk us through a typical workday. How do you manage your time?
As a writer and freelancer, "typical" changes depending on what's on my plate. Currently, my editing work takes up more of my day than my writing, so we'll call that the current "typical."
If I don't have meetings scheduled first thing in the morning, I begin with at least 16oz of strong, black coffee and an hour or two of writing--I find that the rest of the day benefits from that sort of creative wrassle with language. I set a timer for two hours, though I usually find that I'm ready to move to the next thing after about an hour, hour and fifteen minutes.
The next thing is editing. That varies from day to day, but right now includes quite a bit of project management. Some days are planning; some are actual in-the-sandbox line-editing; some are conference calls and meetings. I edit for a few hours, then supposedly take a lunch break to walk the dog, then back at it. I try to wrap everything up by 5:30-6:00pm, but it depends on deadlines and what else comes in.
After dinner, I try to be a normal human being, but will usually take another couple of hours to write or research for writing. Right now I'm going through edits to my second book. I'm a night owl--my best creative work happens between 9:00pm and 2:00am--but I try to keep my late nights to a minimum, because I am now at That Age.
What is your favorite thing about being an editor?
I love language so much--its variety and its wildness. When I edit, it's a chance to use this thing I love so much to help two people--the writer and the reader--better understand one another.
What is your biggest challenge and how do you work through this?
The lack of proximate coworkers can be hard--even for an introvert like me. No one to have lunch with, no one to go for a walk with, no one who understands the ins-and-outs of your particular job. I'm lucky that I have regular check-ins with my current coworkers, and since many of us are remote, those check-ins also function a bit like watercooler chatter. Otherwise, I make sure to check in with a handful of other folks (editors and otherwise) on a regular basis. Being alone with the English language for too long can be dangerous.
What are you currently working on?
I'm working on some reference projects for adult English-language learners.
What advice do you have for someone who is just starting their career as an editor?
Network. Most of my freelance work early on came to me through friends or other editors I knew who had overflow work; I now routinely refer potential clients whose work doesn't quite fit into my schedule or doesn't line up with my strengths to other editors. Networking also gives you an opportunity to find out what other kinds of editing are out there, and what sorts of skills are currently in demand.
While you're networking, be willing to learn as much as you can. Webinars are great; if you can afford to attend editing conferences, do it. There's always something to learn!