Happy July 4th! It’s a holiday, but we have a schedule to keep here, so I’m going to go ahead and post my interview with Kristen Stieffel. Find out why she decided to freelance and what appalls her the most about freelance work!
Hello, and thank you for appearing on my blog. To get things started, when did you start writing/editing professionally?
My first professional publication was in 1999 when I worked for Orlando Business Journal. I was a graphic designer at the time, but I wrote several opinion columns that were accepted by the editor, and eventually I won a transfer from the production department to the newsroom when there was an opening for a page designer. I then got to do more news writing and copy editing.
Why did you want to be a freelance writer/editor?
I wanted to do more editing, but there were three editors above me in the OBJ hierarchy — an associate editor, a managing editor, and the top editor. None of them were going anywhere. So there wasn’t room for me to grow there. During the financial crisis, I was cut back from 50 hours a week to 40 and then 30, so I started freelancing on the side at the beginning of 2010 and left the paper at the end of 2011.
What’s your specialty/focus? Why/how did you pick this?
I specialize in speculative fiction. I’m a fantasy novelist myself; this is my first love. I’ve always adored science fiction and fantasy stories. My parents were Trekkies before anyone coined the word Trekkie, so it’s in my blood.
What’s your favorite part of this kind of work?
I consider it my job to help the writer clarify and achieve their vision for the project; never to impose my own vision or style. I love it when I return an edited manuscript to a client and they confirm that I have done that for them.
What’s been the biggest challenge you’ve had to overcome during your career?
Staying focused! There are so many things I want to do in addition to editing—writing, teaching, service projects—I can get a little scatterbrained about them all.
What’s surprised you the most during your career?
I’m appalled by the low value some people put on our work. I’ve had bids rejected because my price was “too high.” Yet it’s the price I need to charge in order to survive. Many new writers don’t seem to understand that when they’re hiring a freelance editor for a novel, they are purchasing two or three weeks’ worth of work. So my fee needs to cover two or three weeks’ worth of living expenses.
If you could give a new freelance writer/editor one piece of advice, what would it be?
Don’t undercharge. Your time and expertise have value. Charge what your time is worth. Some potential clients will be unwilling to pay that much; let them go. They are not worthy of you, and the quality of their work will reflect the choices they’ve made.
If you could do one thing differently in your career, what would it be?
I would have turned freelance sooner. It meant taking a big pay cut, but the relief from the weekly deadline grind and the newsroom stress is completely worth it.
What’s your favorite kind of work? Why?
I love doing substantive and copy editing. I derive great pleasure from taking clunky sentences and making them sing.
What does your work office look like?
There’s one tall window and a couple of bookcases, and in one corner I have a reading chair and side table. My big L-shaped wooden desk is traditional-style, but I added a big industrial-strength metal keyboard tray where one of the drawers used to be. It looks like my desk has a Borg implant.
What is your go-to snack when working?
Used to be popcorn. Air popped, plain. Nothing at all on it. But now I am on a low-carb nutrition plan, so I gave it up. I try not to snack at my desk anymore. I think I was mindlessly consuming a lot of calories that way. In the first three months on my new plan, I lost 20 pounds.
Excluding the CMOS (that’s a given) what one editing resource would you recommend? Why?
Garner’s Modern American Usage. Bryan Garner wrote the usage chapter in CMOS, but GMAU contains a wealth more information that couldn’t fit into the manual. If I can’t find what I’m looking for in Merriam-Webster or CMOS, GMAU is my next stop.
If you could only recommend one writing resource, what would it be? Why?
The Irresistible Novel by Jeff Gerke. Although it’s aimed at fiction writers, I believe it will also be tremendously helpful to nonfiction writers, especially those using narrative storytelling. The first half of the book debunks myths and nonrules that hold writers back. The second half shows how we can use storytelling to deeply affect readers’ hearts and minds.
For more information on Kristen Stieffel, find her online at these sites:
Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/kristen.stieffel
Twitter: @KristenStieffel / https://twitter.com/KristenStieffel