Sea Chapman is a freelance editor who works with a wide range of material while specializing in fiction, including thrillers, mysteries and fantasy. She lives in central Arizona with her family. In this interview, conducted by email, Chapman discusses how she got into editing and her life as a freelancer.
Q. Describe your job. What is your typical day like?
A. I have been working as an editor since April 2006. From book manuscripts and audio transcripts to press releases and ELL programs, I’ve worked on a little bit of everything. I have specialized in editing creative writing for the last seven years.
I offer various levels of editing for creative fiction and nonfiction writing. I specialize in editing thriller, mystery, historical fiction, and speculative fiction (science fiction and fantasy) manuscripts. I do edit graphic novels, visual novel and narrative game scripts, and comics (web or print) sometimes, too. I also love to edit essays and articles about anthropology, archaeology, and history; constructed languages (conlangs); death and grieving across cultures; international humanities and art history; and travel.
Additionally, I also enjoy speaking at events and teaching workshops on various subjects, as well as being involved with the publishing community in other ways. I was one of the jurors for the Speculative Literature Foundation‘s 2016 Working-Class Writers Grant, and I was one of the judges for the 2017 Writing Contest hosted by the Society of Southwestern Authors. Freelancing affords me the schedule flexibility to pursue those kinds of opportunities.
All that said, my typical workday is nothing glamorous or exciting, I’m afraid. On weekdays, after starting my day helping family members prepare for school or work, I do some chores around the house—dishes, laundry, general cleaning and tidying up, tending to my dogs—and then settle in with some breakfast to go through emails, social media, news sites, schedules, and checklists. Thirty minutes or so later, I start editing.
I usually edit for about two or three hours before taking a lunch break and possibly running some errands, and then I edit again for another two to three hours. In the late afternoon, I have more family obligations and chores, though I sometimes have what I call “live editing demos” scheduled, where a client and I access a Google Document at the same time and I talk them through the editing or revisions process in real time. Then, when needed and if time permits, I might work for a few more hours before going to bed. I do try to avoid editing more than four to six hours a day if I can help it, though.
I do most of my administrative tasks on weekends, as well as web design work and brand consulting on the rare occasions I take on those kinds of projects.
To be honest, my schedule hasn’t been as orderly or straightforward as what I’ve described above since I returned to school a couple years ago. I also used to have more flexibility and time each day for pursuits like learning to play musical instruments, learning new languages, researching topics of interest to me, and going out with friends. Now, more than not, I am usually at home working on an editorial project or two while also completing a comparable amount of school work. I have to schedule my time out weeks in advance just to ensure I can meet up with a friend for lunch every so often or go to the library and get out of the house. Balancing school, work, and more is difficult, and my hat goes off to your students.
Q. What attracted you to a career in editing?
A. I have always loved reading, writing, language, and storytelling, but editing itself as a career fell into my lap unexpectedly. I had edited résumés as a side gig for over a year by the time I ended up working as the project manager at a design firm in Los Angeles. I was also working a second job as a supervisor at an indie bookstore in Pasadena. The managing editor for the firm’s popular design webzine left abruptly, and my boss needed to find a quick replacement for her. I offered to take on the editing work on top of my regular duties, because what Angelino doesn’t work three jobs at some point or another, right?
After undergoing a steep learning curve and numerous challenges, I found my groove and loved my time editing the webzine. That opportunity changed my whole career path. I’m fortunate to have had some wonderful mentors along the way who’ve helped me understand my goals and opportunities for growth as my life, worldview, and priorities changed over time.
Editing isn’t necessarily this Instagram-worthy job set against a colorful backdrop of bookshelves, typewriters, and tea mugs. There are as many unpleasant or frustrating days as there are pleasant or thrilling ones. As I once wrote in an editing group on Facebook a few years ago: Grant me the serenity to accept the things the author will not change, the courage to keep editing the things I can, and the wisdom to remain a descriptivist. I will always enjoy the intellectual and creative challenge editing offers me, though, and I love helping writers shape their stories.
Q. You edit both fiction and nonfiction, including graphic novels and comics. How do you shift gears between genres and formats?
A. I prefer to keep my work schedule simple because the rest of my life and schedule are not always consistent. I try to avoid booking more than two projects at any given time, and I try to work on the same formats at the same time — that is, I try to book novel manuscripts at the same time while booking comics at the same time and so on — because it’s easier for me to maintain a state of flow when I don’t have to shift gears too much.
Booking editing projects that way isn’t always possible, and when it’s not, I dedicate shifts to each project each day—mornings for one project, afternoons or evenings for another. Often, because different applications, tools, and style guides are being used for each project, it’s easy enough to get into a work rhythm.
However, if I find that I am getting too distracted by the differences in projects being worked at the same time, I may alternate days spent working on each and contact clients to revise milestones and deadlines if needed. Sometimes other tricks, like listening to specific music genres only while working on specific genres of writing, can help me settle into my editing rhythm a bit faster and more smoothly.
Q. You are active in ACES: The Society for Editing, including leading a session at its most recent conference. How is ACES valuable to you?
A. I’ve found community and camaraderie in ACES that isn’t always possible to achieve on my own as a freelancer who lives on the rural outskirts of a major metropolis. Attending ACES conferences has made it possible for me to expand my friendships with editors I’ve only known online otherwise. Those conferences have also given me amazing opportunities to be taught by some of the most brilliant people in publishing, new media, and journalism.
I prioritize attending the ACES conference each year over all other forms of professional development because it is that valuable of an experience for me. Sadly, I won’t be able to attend next year, and I am genuinely heartbroken about it. ACES conferences are such validating, enriching experiences that I think every editor needs, whether freelance or in-house, especially when our work is sometimes trivialized by various organizations or people in power.
Q. What advice do you have for people interested in freelance editing?
A. I wrote a listicle about this in 2017—don’t laugh! Listicles were popular back then. You can find it at this link: https://seachapman.com/2017/05/05/a-listicle-for-new-editors-seeking-work/
Freelancing and in-house work each have their advantages and disadvantages. Freelancing is much more involved than many people expect. You have to handle scheduling, project management, bookkeeping, taxes, marketing, finding clients, writing contracts, sending job bids, subcontracting work out or taking on subcontracted work, and more. There is so much administrative stuff to do, and it eats up a lot of your time. You also have to keep up with regular changes and updates to style guides, dictionaries, and other reference texts. Professional development never ends because language is fluid and constantly evolving, so we as editors have to be teachable and adaptable.
Freelancing can be very isolating, too. You need to actively engage with the editorial community online if you cannot do that in-person. If you are fortunate enough to have access to local association chapter meetings, like those offered by the EFA or Editors Canada, attend those and participate as often as possible.
Speaking of editing associations, join a few and take advantage of the training, networking, benefits, and events they offer. As your own boss, you have to find those opportunities for yourself.
Last thing, I promise: Checklists are your friend. Use them for everything in your business. They make freelancing so much easier.