Recently, I received the following comment from a writer:
Hi Victoria, I am a poet and the editor of a community journal of literature and visual art. We publish short prose and poetry, as well as the work of local artists. This is an annual, and we have just completed our twelfth journal. It is published by a not-for-profit organization, and my position as editor-in-chief is unpaid. I have also done some paid freelance editorial work for people I have met through the journal. Before the founding of the journal, I worked for ten years doing editorial functions for a publisher of law books. That position gave me a great deal of training in electronic editorial programs. I am now interested in pursuing work as an editor for self-published writers. Can you offer any suggestions for “breaking into” this business? Thank you, Judith MK Tepfer, Editor-in-Chief, East on Central
Hi, Judith! As you must know, there are zillions of aspiring writers now seeking publication in journals like yours. The question of editing lies in both selection and the preparation of manuscripts.
My work is both similar to and different from yours. Now that I have a full roster of clients, I’m forced to select only a percentage of the manuscripts with which I’m queried. However, I edit them much more deeply than I probably would if I were working unpaid for an annual journal.
Certainly, my background in editing technical manuals helps enormously with Copy Editing, as yours in editing law books must. It means that I can throw Copy Editing in free with Line Editing because Copy Editing takes so little effort.
However, the real work I do—Developmental Editing and Line Editing fiction and memoir—takes years to learn properly. It took me thirty years of studying storytelling, most of that while I was working professionally as a writer and editor in the tech sector.
I know there are, right now, almost as many aspiring editors hoping to break into freelance editing as there are aspiring writers hoping to break into publication. Most of these aspiring editors have no experience in professional editing. However, some are long-time editors laid off by publishing houses, who have a great deal of experience in professional editing. And some worked briefly at publishing houses before being laid off, giving them only a modicum of experience in professional editing.
So your competition is enormous.
I earned my reputation in freelance independent editing through four years of intensive blogging and editing. I created an enormous ‘portfolio’ of blog posts on craft significantly different from those on other writing blogs, along with sample edits for writers to study. I worked constantly to build credibility in the online writing community through Twitter and StumbleUpon, making friends with my favorite bloggers by reading their blogs regularly and inviting them to mine as guests, while offering them unique guest posts. I worked my heinie off to create content nobody else was creating. And it wasn’t easy—there are a lot of blogs about writing out there!
After years of this work, my reputation eventually earned me regular guest posts and a newsletter column on my favorite writing blog, Writer Unboxed, and an online webinar for Writer’s Digest. My blog was named a Top 10 Blog for Writers 2011 and Top 20 Blog for Writers 2012, as well as a Writer’s Digest 101 Best Blogs for Writers 2013. So I have great SEO. Usually, when writers Google “independent editors” I’m on that first page.
This was all was a ton of work, easily ten or more hours a day, five days a week, for four solid years. It took all my attention from early 2009 to early 2013. And I still maintain my blog and Twitter presence, even though editing now takes up most of my time.
While I was working to build my reputation as a freelance independent editor, I was also reading and analyzing scores of novels so that I could develop an understanding of plot structure that would work for any story brought to me by any client. And I was dissecting, word-by-word, the sentences and paragraphs and scenes that struck me most forcibly so that I could develop an ease with language that would allow me to Line Edit any writer’s prose into their own special, polished voice.
As I was learning, I wrote two books on writing, The Art & Craft of Fiction: A Practitioner’s Manual and The Art & Craft of Story, 2nd Practitioner’s Manual, and half of a third, The Art & Craft of Prose, 3rd Practitioner’s Manual.
And I still read, analyze, and dissect constantly, evenings and weekends, whenever I’m not editing. This work is my life.
So that’s how I did it. It’s turned out fabulously. I have clients I love, people writing wonderful stories of deep significance with terrific power. And I even sometimes receive fan mail.
I love my job.
Just know that the road here was long and hard and exhausting. If you love this work with all your heart and soul, it’s absolutely worth it.