Editor: Christine Steele Company: UC San Diego Extension # of years in editing: 25 years
Tell us a little about yourself, including how you got started as an editor?
I loved reading and writing as a kid and participated in a few grade school spelling bees. In college, I was on the school newspaper as a features editor and copyeditor and loved it. I majored in print journalism at Ventura College and got a bachelor's degree in Communications at California Polytechnic University, Pomona, in Southern California. I was a little nervous about starting right away as an editor after graduating, so I eased into it and found a combo job as an administrative assistant and proofreader at DayRunner, a planners and organizers company. I proofread the marketing packaging for leather planners. I later tried out editing for a pharmaceutical trade magazine, an internet toy site, a healthcare company, and lastly, an investment firm. I spent 12 years as a financial copyeditor, and it was one of the best experiences I've had in my career. I helped elevate the level of editing at the firm and developed an amazing style guide and launched seven editions during my tenure.
What is your area of focus and why did you select this niche?
I copy edit various topics today, but the bulk of my career has been financial copyediting. I thought it would be boring to edit and I didn't consider myself that interested in finance, but I was curious. I decided to give it a try. It was exactly the opposite of what I thought. It was interesting to read about, and I was able to understand it. The people in this industry were also fun and personable, and the language was not as confusing as I thought it was -- unless it was written that way! It became my mission to be an advocate at the company to help simplify complicated text so that all readers could understand it.
Walk us through a typical workday. How do you manage your time?
Right now I'm working part time from home teaching copyediting online and also doing some freelance editing. I get on the computer by 9 a.m., check email, write my to-do list for the day, maybe have a client call (could be video), take a break that might involve stretching or a neighborhood walk, read relevant language articles that come across my inbox, copyedit whatever projects are due and email clients, communicate with my students via a discussion board and answer questions, and try to get off the computer by 6 p.m. Since everything seems to revolve around the computer these days, sometimes I might not log off till 7. I can get so lost in what I'm doing, but that's because I often enjoy it.
What works well for me is to hand-write my to-do list every day and set electronic calendar reminders, or I won't manage my time well. I hold myself accountable by doing these two things, and it keeps me on track. I tried using Trello and a few other task-list programs, but the old-school way of writing my to-do list works best for me, and it always feels great to manually cross off what's accomplished.
What is your favorite thing about being an editor?
Two favorite things:
Simplifying complicated language so that it's easy to understand by everyone. It's a fun challenge to make the copy inviting to read -- even finance!
I help others with their bios, resumes, and LinkedIn profiles, and when I'm finished, the client can't believe how amazing they sound on paper. It's all their info and experience, but I know how to bring it out to make them shine in the best way possible. It makes the client happy and feel more confident. That's really rewarding.
What is your biggest challenge and how do you work through this?
Working from home alone is isolating (as all freelancers know), and I miss being around more people. To get out, I attend networking breakfasts and happy hours through a few outlets I've found online or through apps, invite others to lunch, go to a nearby coffee shop, take a walk, volunteer, and go to a weekly gym class! I realize my life is not so isolating after all, but I must make the effort to get out.
What are you currently working on?
I'm preparing to teach two online copyediting classes again starting in January for UC San Diego Extension. I will also be teaching a new online class for them next summer. It's the Business of Copyediting and debuts in spring 2020. I'll be getting ready soon to record the lectures ahead of time that go with the six-week course. We start way ahead! I'm also looking for more full-time work, so I'm spending time on a few job boards.
What advice do you have for someone who is just starting their career as an editor?
Three things from me...
Don't be afraid to ask questions! You will only learn more and become more confident as an editor because of asking questions.
This is one of my fave excerpts from an interview with Bryan A. Garner, author of "Modern English Usage" where he offers three things:
Do everything you can to educate yourself about the language.
Keep making language distinctions. Don’t think that you’re the only one who cares about linguistic distinctions, because you’re not. You may be the only one in your immediate surroundings who seems to care, but there are many of us out there.
Understand that copyediting involves people skills as well as technical skills. A big part of what you’re trying to do is sell good edits, so you have to be realistic in your working life about what points you can push and points you can’t. And be willing to back up what you say, but do it in a charming, nonthreatening way.
And in my working with students, I regularly remind them to be careful with their tone in queries to the author/writer. It's not about offending the writer's ego. It's about being careful that our own ego doesn't show because of how we word our questions. "The Copyeditor's Handbook" by Amy Einsohn and Marilyn Schwartz has an excellent section on tone and queries.