Editor: Emily Bowles Number of years in editing: I’ve been a full-time, freelance editor since October 2018, so about two and a half years as of this writing. Prior to that, editing was a significant part of most of my jobs, so I’ve been active as an editor to some degree since 1991. Perhaps the more honest answer is that I have been editing since about third grade, when I (mentally) corrected other kids every time they wrote “alot.”
Tell us a little about yourself, including how you got started as an editor?
To be honest, I decided to make a go of freelance editing after leaving a horribly toxic job situation. I was absolutely ready to be my own boss and to do what I loved.
Nearly all of my jobs from college onward had been at some intersection of communication and the arts—I had done writing, editing, marketing, and research while working at art libraries, galleries and museums, and arts-oriented websites, magazines, and non-profits—so I felt confident in my skills. It was a bit scary at first, no question, and I’m glad I made the leap.
What is your area of focus and why did you select this niche?
Editing art history manuscripts is my primary focus because art history is a true love and passion of mine. I’ve been interested in the visual arts for as long as I can remember. I majored in art history in college and later earned a master’s degree in art history. I already loved looking at art and reading and writing about it, so editing in the field of art history was a natural extension.
Walk us through a typical workday. How do you manage your time?
I start the day with coffee, a bit of the New York Times, and a few games of Words with Friends—all to get my brain warmed up. When I get to my home office I listen to some music—anything from Foo Fighters to Puccini, depending on my mood—while I review the day’s workload and agenda. I get all my correspondence done first thing; I reply to emails, respond to queries from potential clients, write and send business contracts and invoices, etc. Once these are finished, I can focus on editing in long blocks through the afternoon. At the end of the day, I check my email again and send any necessary follow-ups (and play more music). If my workload is heavy, I might do another hour or two of editing after dinner, but I try not to do this more than once or twice a week.
What is your favorite thing about being an editor?
I’m naturally curious and I love learning, well beyond art history. Editing provides me with a steady supply of fascinating topics, and I enjoy working with people who do research in all kinds of different fields. I also love the immediate gratification of making a book, an article, a paragraph, or even a sentence better—clearer, more focused, more persuasive, more powerful—than it was when it was given to me.
What is your biggest challenge and how do you work through this?
Lately, my biggest challenge has been helping potential clients understand that I may not be able to help them with their project as soon as they would like. Sometimes authors wait until only a week or two (or even a few days) before their deadline to hire an editor. I get it; it's easy to lose track of the big picture when you have been putting in long hours of writing. It’s also much easier for any of us to understand that a service is in demand when it has a visible element—when you can see a long line of people waiting ahead of you, or when you look at an online availability calendar and see dates blocked out. It’s harder to understand when it’s an editor telling you in an email that their schedule is completely full through the middle of next month, especially when that’s something you hadn’t even thought about.
What are you currently working on?
I recently edited a book about the Bruton sisters—Margaret, Helen, and Esther—and their lifelong, individual passions for making art in the Bay Area, and a manuscript on ninth- and tenth-century silk banner paintings from the Mogao Caves in China. Both were fascinating. I’m currently working on a manuscript dealing with race and representation in European decorative arts of the seventeenth century, and the articles in an upcoming issue of Pacific Arts. Beyond art history, I just finished editing a book on the philosophy of mathematics and am about to start a book on Alaskan history and environmentalism.
What advice do you have for someone who is just starting their career as an editor?
If you have a full-time job now and are thinking of becoming a full-time freelance editor, I’d recommend doing some editing gigs on the side while you keep your current job. That way you can experience what freelance editing is like firsthand and see if it is a good fit for you while still getting a steady paycheck. Likewise, start doing any professional development work, such as taking an editing class, before you transition to full-time freelance work. That said, I’m living proof that a leap-of-faith career move is possible, too. In that case, make a business website as soon as you can, network with your friends and colleagues about your move to freelancing, and be open to doing some pro-bono work at the beginning, both for the experience and (hopefully) for some stellar testimonials and referrals.