Editor: Adaobi Obi Tulton Company: Serendipity23 Editorial Services, LLC Number of years in editing: 23 years
Tell us a little about yourself, including how you got started as an editor?
My foray into publishing was literally serendipitous. In college, I was pre-med and a bio major, and it just was not working out. I had enough credits to switch my major to English, but I had no idea what I was going to do with it after I graduated.
One day, while I was leaving one of the rooms at the student center, I found a flyer that had fallen on the floor for an event that had just occurred the day before: a panel discussion featuring board members from an organization called Black Women in Publishing. A light bulb immediately went off in my head. I liked reading, and what would be better than reading for a living? This was it! So I worked with the career center to get an internship at a major publishing house, and after I graduated, I applied for several editorial positions before I got my first job as a manuscript coordinator for a science journal at a university press.
Although I loved my job, there was no opportunity for growth unless I wanted to get a PhD. I eventually took a job as a development editor with a big tech publisher, and I was there for over thirteen years before I was let go during a round of layoffs at the company. Rather than try to find a new job, I took the opportunity to finally start my freelance career, which I am currently enjoying.
What is your area of focus and why did you select this niche?
To be honest, I didn't purposely select tech publishing; it was where the job I applied for was. It's not exactly the most glamorous field, but I've grown to love it. Many of the authors were big names in their field—not that I know who they were—but they had the same goal as every author in every genre has: the desire to get their story out. And that was what I wanted to help them do. I ended up sticking with tech because I loved the people, I liked learning new things, and frankly, I was really good at it. Now as a freelance editor with expanded services, I not only edit tech books, I edit a lot of other areas of nonfiction too.
Walk us through a typical workday. How do you manage your time?
I try to break my day up into segments. When I settle in with my breakfast in the morning, I check my handwritten to-do list (I love my paper calendar) to see what's on the day's agenda, and then I check my email to see if there is anything to add to the list. After that, I answer or send out any emails I need to. I use my Google calendar to schedule and keep track of meetings and to set reminders.
Noon is usually right around when I start working on the major project of the day. If I have a few major projects to deal with, I'll wait until a reasonable break, eat lunch, and do something completely nonwork related, and then work on the next project. I usually try to end my day around 6 p.m. or so, but on particularly busy days, I'll take a break and go back to work around 8 p.m. and keep going until I can't keep my eyes open anymore. Thankfully there aren't too many of those days.
What is your favorite thing about being an editor?
I love that I can read so many different things that I typically would not have read on my own. I've read riveting memoirs and learned the story behind every Queen song ever written!
What is your biggest challenge and how do you work through this?
My biggest challenge has always been having phone conversations with authors. It's definitely my introvert personality at work: I just don't like being on the phone! I usually have a pleasant conversation when I do speak with them, though. Plus it helps both me and the author see each other as human beings and not voiceless messages that get passed in the ether, so I remind myself of that.
What are you currently working on?
I have a few different things in the pot. This week I'm finishing up development for three books, finishing a proofread on a novel and starting a new proofread in a few days, performing project management/development for six tech books that are in various stages (25% written, 50% written, etc.), and working on creating bios for a website.
What advice do you have for someone who is just starting their career as an editor?
Editing is a skill. If it were easy, everyone would do it. But, just like with every skill, there is always something to learn and a way enhance it. Don't get stuck in old ways; technology advances fast and language evolves constantly. You should be willing to evolve with it.
Also, related to treating editing as a skill, value yourself and your work. People need you and what you do. They wouldn't hire you if they didn't. And there is so much satisfaction in seeing the work out in the wild and knowing you had a part in that.