Editor: Barbra A. Rodriguez Company: Founder of Vital Wordplay Number of years in editing: 20 years
Tell us a little about yourself, including how you got started as an editor?
I planned be a veterinarian into my college years, and read books while growing up to hide away from rambunctious older brothers. I landed a first job copy editing for a small-town newspaper, but it changed ownership, and the position became an internship instead (which I couldn’t afford to take after a year of interning without benefits at major newspapers beforehand). I began editing newsletters and magazines a few years into serving as a pr rep at universities, which I did for 19 years. That work as a communications director and/or writer mainly involved writing web features, press releases and social media and other brief summaries about medical advances, sustainable landscape and natural science research, and engineering. I pursued editing more directly after switching to full-time freelancing in 2016.
What is your area of focus and why did you select this niche?
I’ve trained for decades in a mindfulness-related martial art, and my passion is helping others develop a fulfilling, harmonious approach to life. I currently focus on editing and proofreading non-fiction, with an emphasis on content that broadly touches on healthy living; that includes everything from working on a biochem teacher’s manual for W.W. Norton, to proofreading an annual report for The Nature Conservancy, to editing and proofing self-published books.
As a freelancer, though, you sometimes take on projects that aren’t central to your personal mission, and I am immensely curious. So, I’ve also enjoyed working on books about business, dental hygiene, and other topics for a publishing house, including a fact checking project. And I continue to write about topics related to conservation, diversity in higher ed, and other healthy living-related subjects (including developing book proposals of my own).
Walk us through a typical workday. How do you manage your time?
I work best on a regular schedule, so I am usually at my desk by 8 a.m. and I stop around 5:30ish on most workdays. I take minimal work breaks other than to work out if it’s best to fit that in over a lunch, and fit in a slower Wednesday schedule when possible to get a brain break. I use software to track my time on freelance projects, which helps the client should they want my services again later, and helps in knowing how to price services for future clients.
Having an anchor client or two is extremely helpful as a freelancer, and I serve part-time as the executive editor of an engineering magazine for an institute. So, my day often revolves around seeking volunteer authors such as engineers for the bi-monthly pub, and editing features written by these nonprofessional writers as well as other institute-related content. I still have a fair bit of time flexibility, and I fit in my other clients and business marketing around that anchor work, including editing books, writing occasional features and social media for an environmental unit at a national lab, proofing conservation-related magazines, and working on blog posts about editing and writing.
What is your favorite thing about being an editor?
I love the project diversity and learning new things about how to approach the world while editing content. That’s one of the reasons I enjoy working with memoirists so much, such as one I provided developmental, copy editing, and proofreading for last year about his book on developing a personal spiritual path after a near-death experience. I tend to be a thorough editor if an approach isn't defined in advance, while always prioritizing the author’s voice; so, when an engineer or other author whose English could benefit from some smoothing out seems glad about my edits, that’s also an amazing feeling.
What is your biggest challenge and how do you work through this?
Being financially successful as a freelancer is tough despite the rewarding aspects, and spending enough time on marketing my business remains the biggest challenge. I’ve learned to think of things such as doing social media posts as a way to catalog snippets of information that I am interested in (given that you’ll always enjoy doing something more that you personally value, and that that comes across in your writings).
What are you currently working on?
I and the managing editor are finalizing the last event-related content for the next issue of Deep Foundations magazine, and we just held a meeting with DFI leadership regarding articles in the works for the next issue. I am also finishing up a copy editing and proofreading test for a publishing house, and prepping to fact check a science podcast this fall, to talk with a potential client about author coaching, and to write an editing blog post.
What advice do you have for someone who is just starting their career as an editor?
If you’re starting out as a freelance editor, the quality of your work and attitude means everything for building professional credibility, and networking is hugely important. Be willing to take on small jobs early on and to give them extra attention to prove your value while building your portfolio.
My general advice? The gist of it is to find ways to challenge yourself, while staying in connection with community and your core values. The challenge part includes being open to the fact that there are always things you could understand better. For instance, even though I’d edited for a decade-plus before doing so full-time, I completed UC San Diego’s copy editing certificate program last year to build my knowledge about taking on long-form editing projects such as books. That background, for instance, helped me codify an approach to providing light, medium or heavy copy edits to meet a client’s needs. I’ve also availed myself of ACES’ online classes in recent years, and will be taking an upcoming class to inform my editing of creative non-fiction and to branch out into editing fiction.
I would also recommend defining a personal mission statement and your personal values. For your career trajectory to be personally satisfying, it helps to have overarching values in place that drive day-to-day choices so that they align with what’s meaningful to you. For instance, I have a template for considering freelance assignments; a project will get more points not only for things like whether it is in an area I like to cover, but for whether the project takes courage for me to do, or adds to my sense of connection (two of my core values). That said, as I’ve noted when presenting this values-based approach to freelancers, some days are just too crazy to focus on much more than what’s in front of you; it’s fine if your mission falls back to (or when the mission connection of a project isn’t clear, is) simply about treating yourself and others as well as possible while doing your best to address project needs.