Editor: Jennifer Bennett-Genthner Company: SUNY Press/ReadWrite Copy Editing and Proofing # of years in editing: 15 years
Tell us a little about yourself, including how you got started as an editor?
I've been a copy editor both freelance and in-house for 15 years; I got started working with a website company entry level and it was a very sink-or-swim mentality. I've left it a few times and focused on other things, but I always come back to it. I finally pursued freelance in 2018 because although I work full-time, I truly love the craft.
I've been working as an editor at different publications for 13 years. I fell into it while pursuing my master's degree at Cal State CSUEB, and on a whim took a class about a fledgling literary journal in the English department because it filled some space between other courses I needed to take. I ended up becoming their production and book designer, taught myself InDesign, and learned to do covers. I ended up interning with this journal for three more years, acting as editor in chief, managing editor, poetry and fiction editor, and designer at many different stages. I also worked full-time as an editorial assistant for a medical publisher in Berkeley until I wanted to really grow within the publishing field. I found an article about the Association of University Presses and job postings within, so I took a chance and started sending my resume out to various hiring university presses across the nation. Within three months, I'd accepted and relocated from the Bay Area to the northeast to take a job in the production department at SUNY Press. I've been there for seven years now as a production editor.
What is your area of focus and why did you select this niche?
As a freelance copy editor, my sole focus is on academic works with a focus on California and New York history, African American studies, women's and LGBTQ+ studies, general humanities, poetry, memoir, government, law, and coffee table books. I feel most comfortable in these subjects, and I find them the most interesting and fascinating. I initially didn't set out to focus on government and law, but a client approached me about working for them and this is their sole focus. They gave me a chance and I've loved working on their books. I learn so much.
Although I've been various editors over the years, none have kept me as interested and as challenged as being a production editor. I've found that we are quite a pragmatic and practical bunch; we like the tangible that can be implemented in real time, with a final physical result that we can hold in our hand. This is much in contrast to, say, an acquisitions editor who can be very passionate about ideas and themes within the book itself. I've found acquisitions editors to be very articulate and are wonderful teachers who love pedagogy, discussing all the wonderful ideas and theories we could get out into the world. But production is often the opposite—very concerned with the accuracy of the text, the cover, the spine, the paper we use. We want to get to the facts, find practical and implementable solutions, and apply them fast.
Walk us through a typical workday. How do you manage your time?
As a production editor at SUNY Press, we're reflecting what is becoming a rather common occurrence, where once we had departmental assistants to help us perform an unlimited amount of administrative tasks that allowed us to churn out 150 books a season with a staff that was moderate but strong. Now those administrative bodies are leaving and they aren't being replaced, so we've had to absorb those tasks into our workload. When I started in 2013, there was about thirty-four of us and that was considered short-staffed. There is now roughly fifteen of us, still producing the same amount of books. Suffice to say, my day is really packed and I hit the ground running every morning, answering emails, checking changes to copy edited pages or galleys, prepping covers for the printer, proofing indexes, discussing cover ideas, hiring freelancers for various needs; it requires an obsessive amount of organization and time management to keep myself on track and I depend on my colleagues in the department to help me maintain my sanity! On top of my regular duties, I'm also communicating and filtering unlimited questions from authors, vendors, and freelancers about roughly forty projects going at any time. On top of that work, a colleague in the department and I act as the de facto art department, which includes vetting images. I also do some cover design, signage, and logos when needed. Most recently I've been absorbed into a task force that is adapting open educational resources to print products. In all honesty, there are probably not enough hours in the day! And often I have a freelance copy editing project waiting for me when I get home, so my "work day" definitely doesn't stay within the average 9-5.
What is your favorite thing about being an editor?
I love with copy editing I can constantly learn something new about language and style. It's endlessly fascinating. And I get to read about subjects that I'm proud to have had my hand in.
As a production editor, I feel a lot of pride when I can make a really challenging author happy. I've worked with authors whose expectations can be way out of the ballpark in terms of what our press's infrastructure can provide, but I find I really enjoy a challenge. I like having a reputation for being someone who can please an author who just doesn't seem pleasable while still keeping them on track and on budget.
What is your biggest challenge and how do you work through this?
Not enough time in the day! Especially in the pandemic and working remotely, I lean on my colleagues in my department a lot—for advice, for perspective, for a laugh. I honestly couldn't get through my day without them sometimes
What are you currently working on?
I just finished copy editing a project about musicology for a client and while it wasn't necessarily in my wheelhouse it was very interesting. I also finished a project about JFK. The author was a terrific writer and it was a wonderful breeze.
At SUNY, I'm right in the middle of creating templates for our OER covers that are going to be converting from a sunsetting OER department to the press solely. It's been a challenge to coordinate with many people to get all the files I need while meeting timetables that are tight (on top of my "usual" tasks!). I'm also developing a logo with the new arm of the press that will focus on fulfilling print-ready files. We're getting there!
What advice do you have for someone who is just starting their career as an editor?
I'd say, if you're truly passionate about being in the world of publishing, take as many opportunities as you can get, even if it means a lot of sacrifice in the immediate future. Nothing lasts forever, and choices you make now can help you down the line when you may have more freedom to be picky about the projects you take on. While I may feel like I have a lot on my plate right now, all the things I have my hands in makes me indispensable and valuable to a lot of people in the field. Don't be afraid to take a leap into something that makes you really uncomfortable, because that's where you learn what kind of editor you can be and want to be. Finally, be open to relocating where you can find the work you want to do. I took a job where it was, not where I was at the time, and it's made all the difference.