Tell us a little about yourself, including how you got started as an editor?
When I started editing – copyediting – I didn't know that was what I was doing. The first manuscript I copyedited was a text written by the director of the university research centre where I worked as an administrative assistant. It was 1989, and I was new in a job that, in essence, entailed photocopying class notes for graduate students, answering the phones, drafting correspondence and helping the administrative officer with other menial tasks.
Following a casual chat on the stairway one Friday morning, the kindly and now late Professor Hal Kendig, who I did not realise was a leading scholar from the United States, let me take home his manuscript to read. I spent the entire weekend inhaling the remnants of Hal's cigar smoke and about 500 pages on international gerontological research. It was engaging and very well-written and, though I was oblivious to this fact at the time, would wow the author's peers at a meeting of the World Health Organization the following week. Nonetheless, when I returned them to Hal on the Monday morning, those pages were riddled with the red ink of my 25-year-old conceit. And when Hal returned from Tokyo a week later, he boosted my ego further by declaring that I would be assigned to edit his manuscripts from there on, prior to submission to his publishers.
'Editing? So that's what I was doing?' I thought to myself. I knew then that I wanted to do more of that kind of work, and that I needed to find out how to do it properly. Within about three months I was applying for entry into the highly competitive Graduate Diploma in Editing and Publishing (at a different university). That's how I got started.
What is your area of focus and why did you select this niche?
I was trained to edit in a range of genres and fields, and I like to call myself a generalist. Which means I’ve tried my hand at copyediting, developmental/structural/substantial editing, proofreading, ghostwriting, copywriting, publishing, coaching, training and project management. I’ve edited widely in fiction, memoir, narrative/creative non-fiction, academic, reference and education texts, corporate, business and professional genres. I’ve worked in-house for two multinational publishing companies and for 5 years was the lead writer and publisher for a prominent non-government organisation with a national focus. The latter is where I was introduced to public health, and this interest led to a parallel career in public health research. I’ve also completed formal training to be certified as a coach.
That’s the preamble to explain why I have several different areas of focus. Today I work as
(a) an editorial consultant providing the full range of editorial services – mostly in fiction, narrative non-fiction, memoir and academic genres;
(b) a researcher and research ethicist in public health;
(c) a trainer of novice and experienced editors, in fiction (crime fiction, historical fiction and contemporary fiction), academic editing and business skills (e.g. marketing)
(d) a coach with writers and editors; and
(e) a professional supervisor for writers and editors who work with sensitive or disturbing content. The reasons I work in all these different modes and areas is that I simply love variety in my work and please don’t make me choose! And truly I enjoy the flexibility of being able to support people from different walks of life. I hope to reach the end of my working life (eventually, in the distant future!) with a sense that I have made a difference – that I have contributed in ways big and small towards making the world a better place for everyone.
Walk us through a typical workday. How do you manage your time?
I tend to look at my schedule on a weekly basis, which helps to reduce stress. This week is looking pretty cruisy. Today’s the deadline for the copyedit of a 500-page text on mental health nursing, so I’m packaging up all the files and raising an invoice for the past 6 weeks’ work. I’m also doing some marketing tasks for my business; editing the back-cover blurb and jacket text for a professional text I edited last month by an Australian living in Hong Kong; doing a second-round copyedit on a confidential government report; preparing and delivering the 4th workshop in my developmental editing (historical fiction) course; and meeting with the panellists for a session I will be chairing at the Historical Novel Society of Australasia this weekend.
On Sunday afternoons – or, if the weekend has been a ripper, early on Monday mornings – I plan the week, using three of four essential tools that keep my busy life on track. My electronic diary, which is synced through desktop, laptop, tablet, smartphone and smartwatch, shows meetings, appointments and times blocked out for writing, editing or course/workshop preparation. Reminders are constantly ‘dinging’ through my wrist, including hourly exhortations to stand up or move (or eat). It’s like having a helpful but annoying assistant.
Things to Do is a printed book with the same empty template, a week per page: I list ‘Priorities’ on the left-hand side and ‘If there’s time’ on the right. Everything I need to do or think about this week is written here, in pencil – even though I rarely rub anything out. If I have a violin lesson scheduled, my electronic calendar will remind me when I can practice (though I sometimes ignore it and skive off). The third tool is a whiteboard showing the main projects, tasks and deadlines for the week. I probably don’t need this, but I do enjoy the sensation of cleaning it off on Fridays as a signal that it’s now ‘wine o’clock’.
What is your favorite thing about being an editor?
I love all of it, but if you're going to force me to choose, I'll say manuscript assessments and developmental editing. And teaching – it surprises me every day because I never pictured myself as a teacher. I also love it when a book I've edited arrives in the mail with appreciation (words, wine, chocolates, flowers) from the author/publisher/client, or when I receive an invitation to the launch.
What is your biggest challenge and how do you work through this?
When an author is resistant to their work being edited. When this occurs it’s usually when a publisher has assigned me to their famous, well-published author who believes that every word is sacred.
I have learned to ask the client/publisher to prepare their author for the editing process and to formally introduce me. Most of the time it works, but if it doesn’t, I ensure that all correspondences are polite and generous and, most importantly, documented. Either I copy the client/publisher into every email, or I keep a copy just in case and give a regular update with all parties copied in.
Individual authors, especially novice authors, who find and engage me on their own are often a bit nervous about what is to come, but they are usually ready for the experience. Meaning that they are open to receiving and assessing my feedback. I always take the time to develop a rapport with them and to convey the sense of what our partnership in this editing endeavour could look like. If I am able to engender the trust needed, then there is no greater joy than being able to support an author as they garner the courage needed to develop their writing career to the next level.
What are you currently working on?
A text on low-blood pressure by a self-publishing doctor, for his patients; a treatise on contemporary life, also by a self-publishing author. And apart from the above, I am drafting content for a fiction editing masterclass I will be offering in 2022, and I'm working on the second edition of my book, Editing for Sensitivity, Diversity and Inclusion: A guide for professional editors, which is slated for publication by Cambridge University Press in 2023.
What advice do you have for someone who is just starting their career as an editor?
Do whatever you can to understand the publishing process and your role within it.
You should never stop learning.
If you’re freelance, get involved in all the activities offered by your professional association and soak up the lessons available to you. Find one or two editors in the same position as you and start a regular catch-up – and don’t cancel unless someone is sick or on holidays – so you can debrief, ask for advice and share victories and successes.