When did you start writing/editing professionally?
I’ve been writing and editing since I graduated from the University of Michigan with B.S. Psychology in 1988. Yes, that was intentionally tongue in cheek. Sometimes our college degrees directly relate to our lifetime careers, and sometimes they don’t!
Why did you want to be a freelance writer/editor?
I needed to pay the bills. I’d been working as the editor of a B2B magazine and left the company for personal reasons. I had built up tremendous contacts in the industry for which I wrote, and once word got around that I was available for freelance work, I started getting jobs. It was enough to support me financially, so I stuck with it.
Over time, I moved from being a journalist, which required tremendous time and effort doing interviews and background research, to being an analyst, in which I could write on my own authority. That freed up enough time to do other things.
In the late 1990s, I had a book ready to publish, but without a well-known name, I got lots of interest but no contracts. A well-known author writing on the same subject matter endorsed the book and encouraged me to publish it myself. That is how Strong Tower Publishing was born. In addition to the B2B work, I now do book development, book editing, and some limited publishing.
What’s your specialty/focus? Why/how did you pick this?
On the B2B side, I write for the commercial printing and marketing verticals. On the Christian publishing side, I do nonfiction and theology. I fell into both circumstantially, but I stayed in them because they lined up with my own background and, consequently, were areas I understood, I enjoyed, and in which I could bring additional value beyond just the mechanics.
What’s your favorite part of this kind of work?
I love the intellectual challenge and the freedom that it gives me in terms of schedule and parenting. It is a job that I can work around the rest of my life. I have the freedom to work at 5 AM, until midnight, and in the car and on vacation. For a Type A personality, this job is also a good fit because it plays to my strengths and allows me to hide my weaknesses, which involve my distinct inability to play politics and work in a structured environment.
What’s been the biggest challenge you’ve had to overcome during your career?
The need to constantly evolve and adapt to a constantly changing content development environment. When I started, there was tremendous need for high-quality content, and on the B2B side, I was writing articles for $1 per word. As the amount of content available online ballooned, and as the free available online content was increasingly high quality, I had to adapt to different types of clients, different writing styles, and the need to write shorter pieces (and more of them) to meet the demands of the digital marketing world.
Now instead of doing primarily market research studies (which large companies are producing in-house and distributing for free) and magazine articles, I am writing private newsletters, tons of blog posts, and white papers for online download. On the Christian publishing side, the explosion in new authors without budgets has meant that I rely more heavily on long-term clients that I can charge by the hour. Writing full-time and raising a family means I cannot afford to take low-paying editing jobs that eat up a ton of time without the financial reward. So if the editing job doesn’t pay sufficiently, it’s actually more profitable for me to buy a set of chairs at Goodwill, repaint, distress, and wax them, and then sell them on consignment, than to edit a book.
Those are the kinds of decisions that you start making after 25+ years in this business. What will make me the most money in the least amount of time?
What’s surprised you the most during your career?
How God has provided for me at every turn. I have always sought to run my business according to Colossians 3:23, and God has honored my efforts. When I lose a client, I gain one shortly thereafter. When the business environment changes, God has been faithful to guide me in retooling and redirecting to keep the income flowing. It’s not easy, and it requires me to be open, listening, and responsive, and for a Type A who doesn’t like to listen or change, that’s hard for me. But the benefits have been watching God bless our family in more ways than I can count.
Diversify. Writing and editing is a fickle business. Don’t rely on any one type of work (book editing) to pay the bills. Do B2C work, but also B2B work. Find local companies that need marketing, web development services, or press releases. Market yourself to local corporations for PR work. Do side jobs for the local newspaper. Find side work unrelated to editing to fill in when things get slow. This way, when one area of your business dips, there is something else there to fill in the gap.
If you could do one thing differently in your career, what would it be?
I had a client many years ago for whom I wrote market research studies. He asked me to learn Excel so that I could start doing the charting and layout work in addition to the writing. At the time, writing jobs were flowing and paying well, so I politely declined. He took his work to another writer who could do both, and not only did I lose the job, but I never developed proficiency in charting and graphing. I always wondered how that line of work might have developed if I had gone through that door.
What’s your favorite kind of work? Why?
I love long-term book development because it brings together all of the skills into one. I love working with great authors who write multiple books so that I get to know them personally and their goals and audiences really well. At a certain point, we really become a team, and in the end, we grow together and come up with a great product.
What does your work space/office look like?
My couch. Usually, there is a cat sitting on me and shedding hair into the keyboard.
What is your go-to snack when working?
Coffee, and when I get sick of that, various types of tea.
Excluding the CMOS (that’s a given) what one editing resource would you recommend? Why?
I still rely on an old business editing book that changed the way I think about editing. It talked about how, while grammar rules are important, there is one rule that trumps grammar—clarity. It’s like Jesus talking about the law vs. love. When the donkey is in the pit on a Sunday, the law of love says pull him out. Likewise with editing. Sometimes the law of clarity and reasonableness trumps official rules of grammar, and as long as you can justify it and defend it, that’s okay. Good writing and editing has an element of subjectivity and judgment to it, but that’s something you only become comfortable with over time.
If you could only recommend one writing resource, what would it be? Why?
Chicago Manual of Style
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Over the years, I’ve continued to encourage new authors to make the distinction between editing and polishing. Editing is a mechanical process of punctuation, usage, grammar, and style. It’s not rewriting. Yet too many authors find themselves rewriting books and polishing documents at a copy editing price. These are different services and need to be charged differently. If you contract to do editing but find yourself rewriting and polishing, either force yourself back into editing mode or renegotiate with the author for the more complex service. You won’t be able to pay the bills getting paid for renovating a house when you’re only being paid to paint it.
Thank you so much for appearing on my blog! Have a blessed day!