Hi, and thanks for your willingness to appear on my blog! I’m looking forward to sharing your knowledge and advice with the rest of the world (at least with the small portion of it that follows my blog). When did you start writing/editing professionally?
I tend to think my career started on my high school newspaper, although it technically wasn’t professional because I wasn’t getting paid. I guess my first professional writing and editing job came after my freshman year in college, when I worked part-time for my hometown newspaper.
Why did you want to be a freelance writer/editor?
I have to say it wasn’t my first choice to be freelance. I majored in journalism in college, got a job on a newspaper copy desk right after graduation, and spent 10 years as an editor of various stripes for daily newspapers. I put my husband through grad school, and we moved across the country for his first full-time faculty job when my oldest son was about a year old. That seemed like a good time to step away from full-time work in newspapers for “a while.” I never dreamed that the newspaper industry would practically vanish before my kids were in high school!
When my two sons were young, I worked as a freelance editor because it was a way I could bring in some extra money and work around their schedules. In those years, I worked primarily for an academic journal publisher and took any other kind of editing assignment that happened to come my way. I returned to part-time office work when my youngest was about eight as the managing editor of an academic journal called Christianity and Literature.
After five years in that job, I was looking for something new but not having much luck. So I decided to return to freelancing. But that time I knew I needed a different mindset – instead of calling myself a freelance editor, I established my own business—with a name and a website and the necessary state and county licenses—and started learning how to be a business owner. That was in 2011, and my business exceeded my expectations from the very first year and is still going strong.
What’s your specialty/focus? Why/how did you pick this?
Nonfiction, particularly academic and Christian material. My background in journalism gives me a very broad background in nonfiction. I got my first steady freelance work as a proofreader for social science journal articles from a local publisher, and that started my academic publishing career, which makes a lot of sense because my husband is an English professor and I know many academic writers through him. Last but not least, I’ve been a Christian reader and writer all my life, which provides the background that helps me be a good editor for Christian material, especially scholarly Christian books and articles.
What’s your favorite part of this kind of work?
I love learning about all sorts of new things—I can’t imagine another career that would bring me into contact with so many different topics and ideas. In the past year, I’ve worked on material ranging from a report about the water quality on Long Island to a memoir from a Hollywood screenwriter to a how-to book about healthy eating and a scholarly history of Pepperdine University. I also love the way that editing allows me to “work in words,” like a painter would work in watercolor or oils. Writing requires a lot of research and planning and thinking and re-thinking. Editing allows me to simply work with the words that are already in front of me—I get to concentrate on how to make a sentence more powerful or how I can make the text better by moving paragraphs around. It’s very satisfying.
What’s been the biggest challenge you’ve had to overcome during your career?
I think the biggest challenge has been learning how to take the skills I developed in my journalism career and apply them in different places and in different ways than I had ever envisioned.
What’s surprised you the most during your career?
I guess I’m always surprised that something that seemed to be such a stable part of the culture—like newspapers and the book publishing industry—can change so dramatically and so rapidly. Newspaper copy desks have almost completely disappeared in about two decades, and editing positions at publishing houses haven’t fared much better. I never dreamed two decades ago that I would be working independently from home and yet still be a part of the current publishing industry!
If you could give a new freelance writer/editor one piece of advice, what would it be?
Tell everyone you know what you do and what you want to do. You may think there is no way in the world a particular person would bring business to you, but you may be surprised! Almost all my work has come by word-of-mouth connections and recommendations—many of them in totally unexpected ways.
If you could do one thing differently in your career, what would it be?
For many years, I thought I was “just freelancing” and that I would get a “real job” again at some point. I wish I had always been wise enough to see that what I was doing was a “real job!”
What’s your favorite kind of work? Why?
I like working with good writers who enjoy working with me to make their text better! Good writers usually understand that good editors can make their work better, and they are appreciative and collaborative.
What does your work space/office look like?
My oldest son moved out last fall, and I took over his bedroom for my office. My desk looks out over the front of the house—a view I’ve never really had before. I love watching the neighbors and the birds and the wild bunnies that live in my yard while I’m working. My dog keeps me company; she either naps on the daybed next to me or keeps a close eye on the bunnies in the yard.
What is your go-to snack when working?
Excluding the CMOS (that’s a given) what one editing resource would you recommend? Why?
The Subversive Copy Editor by Carol Fisher Saller. It’s the best book I know that explains the why of an editor’s work and reminds us that we work with authors for readers.
If you could only recommend one writing resource, what would it be? Why?
Steven Pinker’s The Sense of Style. It’s one of the best books I’ve ever read at explaining how to write elegant but readable text—especially for academic writers. It really helped me understand the reasoning behind some editing changes I almost always make but had no way of explaining to the author.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
If you’re thinking about freelancing, you have to be willing to make your own business. It would be nice if there were some steady “freelance pipeline,” but there’s really not. Instead of wasting your time looking for that magical stream, read some marketing books and go to business support meetings. Learn how to sell yourself and your skills.
Thank you so much for appearing on my blog! Have a blessed day!
Learn more about Tammy at her website, www.editmore.com.