An Editor Roaming the World of Literature
What made you decide on your major? Did those same determinants help in choosing your job?
I chose journalism when I was 10-years-old because my grandfather told me the only way to make money as a writer was to be a reporter. I enjoyed writing and practicing my writing enough that I didn't question his logic for a very long time. I came to the realization during my senior year that I didn't really want to be a reporter. But I had very much enjoyed editing at my internships, and I enjoyed coaching younger writers as the editor in chief for The Pacific Index, so that gave me something to focus on as I initiated my first post-college job search.
Around that time, I was tutoring a 4th-grade boy who was a struggling reader. The challenge of finding something to read that engaged both of us turned out to be really rewarding. I was able to return to books I had loved as a young reader, and also had an opportunity to reevaluate what makes children's books "good," both to children and to adults. That was my first step toward a career in children's book publishing.
Was it difficult for you to find a job that applied your major?
It wasn't hard for me to find a job, but I think I got extremely lucky. I had moved to Sacramento--temporarily, I thought. I found a copyediting gig in the newspaper classifieds, took an editing test, and was hired within a week.
What are some of the main responsibilities and duties of an editor like yourself?
Now, I'm a freelance editor, not a traditional journalist. As a freelancer, I do all levels of editing, and each type of editing has different requirements. Depending on what stage a manuscript is at and what type of editing I'm asked to do, I may be ensuring the designed book pages match the final, edited manuscript, and that each subsequent version of the pages hasn't had errors introduced. Or if I'm involved earlier, I will check that the text is clear, consistent, and correct, and that the author is communicating what she intends to communicate.
As a developmental editor, my favorite kind of editing, I'm more of a coach. In this role, I consider big picture issues, like plot, characterization, voice. I specialize in children's books, so a major consideration for me is appropriateness for and marketability to the intended audience.
In any of these roles, I'm responsible for meeting my deadlines and helping the author meet his own deadlines. After the editing and revisions are complete, however, a freelancer is finished with the project and moves on to the next book. A staff editor, however, has a long way to go, still. She negotiates the initial publishing contract, writes marketing copy, presents her books to sales teams, and generally serves as a project manager and cheerleader for her books and her authors.
What are some of the required and preferred qualifications for your job?
A love of language and a desire to help people communicate. It's important to understand grammar, etc., but it's also important to be able to help a writer say what he intends to say--without subverting his voice. So if you understand basic English grammar, etc., and how to use a dictionary and style guide, then what you're really relying on are soft skills, including listening, communication, diplomacy, and a broad knowledge of the literary marketplace. (That means, in part, you need to be well read.)
Which of the skills that you used in your major do you use most regularly in editing?
I interview every client before signing to make sure I understand what they want from me, as well as their intent for their manuscript. That sometimes feels like an interview, or an interrogation, depending on what side you're on. I also write, edit, and research, obviously.
How do you apply the writing skills you honed at Pacific in your job? How does the writing you do now compare to the writing you did as a student?
Hm, well in school I largely strove to present information in an unbiased way. These days, I don't have to worry about bias. Actually, I have to be persuasive, to guide a writer toward a specific goal or epiphany. An editor is the reader's advocate, so if I read something that's confusing, contradictory, insulting (where it's not meant to be), etc., then my goal is to point this out to the author and help him discover ways to revise his content. Or if I'm writing marketing copy, I'm trying to convince the reader to buy a book. Nothing unbiased about that!
Does the literature/art that you were exposed to in class influence your style as an editor? What about your liberal arts education as a whole?
I transferred to Pacific as a junior, so I completed most of my gen. ed. art and literature classes at my junior college. One of the benefits of going to a JC was having classmates with a broad range of life experience. When I transferred, I strove to continue to broaden my world view and many of my professors seemed to share that desire. All of those experiences certainly influence how I approach my work. Especially now, given the We Need Diverse Books movement in the children's literature world, I seek to remember the multitude of family types, communication styles, learning styles, belief systems, and all the diversity in our country and our world.
Do you think your liberal arts education, especially as a Media Arts major, sufficiently prepared you for the business world?
I suppose in both cases [working in the corporate world and navigating a profit & loss statement, calculating my taxes, understanding a contract, etc.], yes, my college experiences helped prepare me to work, even if I never saw a spreadsheet until I got to my first day on the job. I often think the most important thing I bring to any new job is an ability to learn, especially by doing my own research and by observing colleagues and asking questions (in fact, I did literally interview a number of senior level colleagues in my first year at Random House.) Book publishing, especially editing, is an apprenticeship job, so I gained expertise by always being a student: I did the work my boss assigned me, I read a lot, and if I had extra time, I went around the office asking if I could observe or help others.
Do you see yourself continuing as an editor for the next decade or so, or do you have other plans?
Absolutely! I love working with writers and I love being involved in bringing great literature to the world.