Heather E. Saunders is a freelance proofreader and STM editor who lives in Massachusetts. She edits material about mental health, aeronautics and cancer research, among other topics. In this interview, conducted by email, Saunders discusses her work, her new role at ACES and her viewpoints on the Oxford comma and the singular they.
Q. Describe your job. What is your typical day like?
A. As you might expect, a “typical” day is never guaranteed in the life of a freelancer. I have developed a general structure for my days and my weeks, but there must be an inherent flexibility to my schedule.
The morning is devoted to emails and house chores, and early afternoon is set aside for deep focus work. After a quick lunch and an extended puppy playtime, the rest of the afternoon is spent on lighter project work. I end the day with marketing, networking and follow-up emails.
I schedule new projects and check in on project updates early in the week and send invoices on Friday. I’ve developed a rhythm that ensures I have time for billed work, marketing for new work and professional development, even though those times might fluctuate a bit day to day.
Q. You were a journalism major as an undergraduate. How did you go from news to other types of editing?
A. During my studies, I fell in love with the copy desk. I started in journalism with a desire to write, but I found myself much more at home editing copy. Once I knew I preferred editing to writing, it was a just a matter of deciding what I wanted to edit.
Working in journalism actually helped me hone in on my passions; I learned very quickly which fields interested me, and I decided to pursue those right out of the gate. I’ve always been drawn to the sciences, and I studied astronomy and psychology as well as journalism. One of my first clients was an aeronautics journal, and from there I expanded to other areas.
Q. You were recently elected to the executive committee of ACES, the Society for Editing. What inspired you to run, and what do you hope to achieve as a board member?
A. I’ve loved being a part of ACES since I joined to attend my first conference in Las Vegas. I ran for the board so I could contribute to this organization that does so much for our field. I was the Boston chapter coordinator for the Editorial Freelancers Association for three years, so I felt prepared to offer my time and skills.
As a board member, I hope to help develop more training opportunities for intermediate and advanced editors as well as more opportunities to connect with colleagues, be that at local meetings, through mentoring, or at other events. There are many new things happening at ACES that I am excited about.
Q. What advice do you have to people interested in careers in editing similar to yours?
A. There is certainly no one path to a career, and I found mine through study; I studied editing and linguistics as well as news and current research in fields that interest me. And I continue this study regularly. Together, this learning keeps me current on the fields I work in as well as keeps my editing skills sharp, which continually creates new opportunities.
Q. Lastly, what’s your view on the two topics that editors get asked about a lot: the Oxford comma and the singular they?
A. I enjoy the Oxford comma in my reading, but rarely use it in my personal writing (a holdover from my early days in journalism), so I live in both worlds.
I like seeing it on the printed page, but generally only put it there if style dictates or if I’m writing for a broad audience. If Oxford comma usage was banned or made mandatory tomorrow, I wouldn’t lose sleep either way.
As for singular they, I encourage its use and am pleased to see style guides finally adopting it.