Five veteran editors were on hand at the August meeting of Freelance Austin at FiberCove to talk about Freelance Austin Editing Paneltheir personal journeys through the professional world of editing, and share tips on how to understand and get into the biz.

Meilee D. Bridges, owner of The Good Word Consulting Services, moderated the event, while Kamila Forson, a freelance fiction copy editor, provided an introduction and overview of the stages of editing large manuscripts.

The three panelists brought a wealth of knowledge and a range of editing experiences to the discussion:

Bridges, Forson and Marchman also co-founded the Austin Editor’s Guild, a self-described “group of local Austin-area editors united in defense of consistent grammar, punctuation, and content.”

What editing entails

While many people may think of editing as fixing misspelled words, grammatical mistakes, and punctuation errors, this is actually one of the last stages of editing a written work, especially a longer or more complex work, such as a book.

As Kamila Forson explained, manuscripts for books are typically reviewed by at least three types of editors, as well as design professionals and proofreaders, before they are ready to be put out by a publishing company.

First, an acquisitions editor will determine whether the content is relevant and attractive to the company for publication. If it meets this test, a developmental editor looks at all the pieces of the whole: how the content is structured and organized, whether there are gaps in the story or narrative, and other “big picture” items that relate to overall quality.

When these larger issues have been addressed, a copy or line editor will target and correct mechanical errors, homogenize style, remove redundancy, and perform other detailed editing functions. Throughout the process, editors work with the author who reviews the edits as well. Proofreading is the final stage and is intended to catch any errors in content, mechanics or formatting that may have been missed or may have been introduced during editing and design.

While these functions may be formally separated in a publishing house, freelance editors may find they are expected to or need to perform any and all of these for their clients, depending on the type, length and content of the work to be published. As Karen Aroian explained, it’s very important for a freelance editor to pose the big picture questions when working with a client, even if the answers bring about big revisions. For instance, she advises asking the client

  • “Why this, why now?”
  • “Who is the audience?” and
  • “What is the value [of this written work] to that audience?”

Exploring these questions on the front end will help ensure that the finished product sells and does not just sit on Amazon, she said.

Amy Winters agreed, comparing the process of editing a book to midwifery. “Be gentle, but also be honest,” she said, adding that you may need to educate your client up front that the editing process entails more than just commas and periods.

Your work may involve substantial cutting as well as revising, Meilee Bridges pointed out. If you need to cut a lot, it’s important to be gentle as well as assertive, she said.

Panelists agreed that a “typical” day was not very typical – so much depends on the range and number of projects each is committed to at any given time. “It depends on deadlines,” said Judy Marchman who works on books, magazines and other projects. But, she acknowledged, she does get to spend a lot of time in her pajamas, especially when she is in the weeds.

Getting into the field

Each panelist entered the field of editing a little differently, and two of the three began their careers outside the state. Nevertheless, all three women shared common experiences of working hard in the first jobs they landed in the publishing/editing world, and taking advantage of whatever opportunities and mentoring was available along the way.

Advice for breaking into the field focused on the importance of networking. Winters, who began and maintains her editing career here in Austin, advised editing hopefuls about the importance of maintaining a positive reputation. Austin has a very small community of editors, she said, so if you take on a job and “flake” on it—the other editors will hear about it. She also noted that many editing jobs could be found outside of formal publishing houses, for instance, on Craigslist or in various departments within the University of Texas.

Speakers also acknowledged the importance of having a range of skills beyond traditional editing, such as being able to work with graphic design, analytics, search engine optimization, or how to effectively use different social media platforms.

Being a subject matter expert can be very valuable as well, and can enable freelancers to carve out an editing niche in a particular field. For instance, Marchman has been able to combine her love of horses with her writing and editing skills: she copyedits the The American Racehorse and The Horseman’s Journal, and spent 9 years editing books for Eclipse Press/Blood-Horse Publications. Marchman has also written about horses and racing for such publications as Kentucky Monthly and the Kentucky Derby’s official magazine.

For potential job leads, networking and other support, presenters suggest checking out the following resources, (in addition to Freelance Austin, and Women Communicators of Austin of course!)—

Here is a roundup of other online resources our speakers recommended…

With the amount of experience and wisdom between them, the panelists provided plenty of great information to anyone considering freelance editing or likely to work with editors.

Margaret Nicklas