Editor: Karen Wise Company: Freelancer # of years in editing: 35+ years
Tell us a little about yourself, including how you got started as an editor?
Fresh out of college, I got a job as an editorial assistant in the college division at a textbook publisher—that was back in the days when there were many more publishing houses out there, and no internet! I got to learn on the job and ended up editing books in every discipline imaginable—history, political science, French, Spanish, Italian, biology, chemistry, math, you name it. I worked my way up to senior editor and probably would have stayed there forever, but the company was sold. I was offered a comparable job at the new company, but I decided that would be a good time to start freelancing, since my colleagues were scattering to the winds and I would have plenty of work coming my way. That was back in 1995 and I haven’t looked back since.
What is your area of focus and why did you select this niche?
Over the years, I branched out from textbooks to many other areas, and now my specialty is cookbooks. I love to cook and I love to read cookbooks, so this niche was made just for me. I really enjoy the process of editing a recipe, visualizing each step along the way to make sure it will make sense to a person actually following it in the kitchen. (A lot of people ask me if I test the recipes. That’s not part of my job, but I do get first shot at lots of great recipes before anyone else! Definitely a perk.) I also do other trade nonfiction books, like parenting, self-help, memoir, how-to, entertainment, etc. I work solely for traditional publishers rather than for individual authors; that’s just what I’m used to.
Walk us through a typical workday. How do you manage your time?
I work from home, which means I get to wear my jammies and have a cat on my lap while at work. I don’t think I could ever go back to a traditional office! And it’s gotten much easier with the advent of social media; now I have online editors' group so I can share resources and queries with colleagues. I have good self-discipline and don’t mind being alone, so it’s an ideal situation for me. But a few years ago I did have to institute a rule that I’m not allowed to eat lunch unless I’ve gotten dressed.
What is your favorite thing about being an editor?
I just really love the whole process. Someone has written something that they’re an expert on, and it’s up to me to ensure that their meaning comes across as clearly as possible. There is nothing better than having an author thank me by saying, “You made my writing better, but it still sounds like me!”
What is your biggest challenge and how do you work through this?
I sometimes have trouble saying no to work. Maybe it’s a really cool-sounding book that I hate to pass up. Maybe a long-time client is in a jam, and I want to help them out—or it’s a brand-new client that I want to start a relationship with. So sometimes I take on too much work … and of course I never really “leave” the office, so I tend to work most weekends. I’m getting (a little) better at this, but it’s still a struggle.
What are you currently working on?
I just finished editing a cookbook that tells you how to get the most out of using a convection oven, and I’m currently working on a massive pizza cookbook. I’m also proofreading a college-level French textbook for an old colleague from our textbook days. It’s kind of nice to shift gears like that once in a while.
What advice do you have for someone who is just starting their career as an editor?
I’ve had people say to me, “I bet I’d be a good editor! I’m always spotting typos on menus!” As we all know, there’s a lot more to the craft of editing than just being a good speller. There are loads of webinars and workshops out there, plus books and websites, and a whole lot of really wonderful people who are willing to share their expertise. Take advantage of everything you can!