Q&A with freelance editor Sea Chapman

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.

Learn more about Sea Chapman on her website and follow her on Twitter.

Q&A with Bryan Hanks, editor of Neuse News

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Bryan Hanks is the editor of the Neuse News, a recently launched news website covering Kinston and Lenoir County in Eastern North Carolina. A U.S. Army veteran, Hanks worked at newspapers in Lincolnton, Gastonia and Shelby before arriving in Kinston in 2002 as sports editor of The Free Press, where he later served as editor. Hanks left The Free Press in 2016 and has worked with the Kinston-Lenoir County Chamber of Commerce and as the public-address voice of the Down East Wood Ducks, a minor-league baseball team. He also has been the media director for Raleigh’s John Wall Holiday Invitational basketball tournament since 2007.

Q: What is Neuse News? What are your goals for the site?

A: It is a hyper-local news site created and published by former Kinston Mayor B.J. Murphy with one simple goal: Present local news without favor or bias on a site that requires no subscription fees and that doesn’t force you to sit through irritating pop-up advertising.

Because of the manner in which print media literally gave away its product online when the internet exploded, consumers became accustomed to reading stories for free for almost 20 years. When those same print media outlets then tried to begin forcing consumers to read their product after going through paywalls (which include those irritating pop-ups and subscription fees), you can’t blame the readers for being upset. It was a bad business model in the beginning to give away your product and then expect your customers to start paying for it after they’d been getting it for free for decades.

I like to use this analogy: Imagine McDonald’s has given away Big Macs for 20 years by delivering them to your living room whenever you want them. Yes, they’re tasty but when — all of a sudden — McDonald’s expects you to start paying for those burgers, you’re going to be upset. On top of that, when you have to eat three celery sticks before you can even get to the Big Mac, it irritates you further and makes you begin going after other options.

With Neuse News, our goal is to deliver a better product than the local newspaper, which makes you pay for its non-local content and forces you through pop-ups even after you’ve paid for their content.

Additionally, our entire staff — all freelancers for the most part — live and work in Kinston and Lenoir County and care only about this area. That can’t be said for the local newspaper, whose publisher lives in Wilmington (and is rarely in town) and whose editor lives in Craven County (and is responsible for editing several other newspapers). Its newsroom staff has only a couple of county residents who are responsible for a lot of coverage for not just Kinston and Lenoir County but for areas outside the county.

Q: You previously worked at newspapers in Kinston, Gastonia and Lincolnton. How is Neuse News different for you?

A: The hyper-local thrust that B.J. insists upon is refreshing to me. We care about what is going on in Lenoir County — not what’s happening in New Bern, Jacksonville, Wilmington, Raleigh or Charlotte (unless, of course, it directly affects our folks in Lenoir County).

In my last few years at the local newspaper, we were forced to do more with less on a daily basis — have more local bylines with less staff and cover more news with fewer resources. It was frustrating to lay off and furlough talented journalists who wanted to do nothing more than be great reporters. It was also frustrating to try to recruit reporters to an area when you knew in the back of your mind they’d probably end up eventually being laid off or fired because of the corporate structure of news-gathering organizations.

With Neuse News, we’re already delivering a superior product by employing former local journalists who have moved on to other chapters in their lives. They still have that passion for local news, and this is an avenue for them to pursue that passion.

Q: It’s a tough economic environment for news organizations. Neuse News promises no pop-up ads or subscription fees. How will the site survive and thrive financially?

A: That’s probably a question best answered by B.J., but I know this much: A bunch of local businesses and individuals — who have missed local journalism by journalists who live in their community (the way it used to be here) — have stepped up to help us start this venture.

We are thankful and grateful to those businesses and individuals for their help. Honestly, the Neuse News doesn’t exist without that help because we are committed to being that free source of news to Kinston and Lenoir County.

Q: You’re a strong advocate for Eastern North Carolina. What makes the region special to you?

A: I grew up in Wilkes County in northwestern North Carolina, then went to college and began my career in the Charlotte-Gastonia-Shelby area. For nine years, I dated and then married my late wife, who lived in Raleigh. As a freelancer, I traveled to literally every corner of the state, so I feel like I know North Carolina a little better than the average Tar Heel.

Kinston and Lenoir County is unique in a lot of ways. It’s about an hour from the beach, 30 minutes from Greenville and ECU, less than 90 minutes from the Triangle and three hours from the mountains, so you’re in the middle of everything.

But the difference is the people that are here; again, I’ve lived and worked all over the state, and I’ve never seen a community of people that truly love their home the way folks do here. This area has been through several hurricanes and floods, a tragic plant explosion (West Pharmaceuticals in 2003), the loss of major economic drivers such as tobacco, but the folks here continue to love and advocate for Kinston and Lenoir County.

I may have been raised in Wilkes County, but Kinston and Lenoir County is my home. I plan to be here for a long, long time.

Q&A with freelance editor Karen Conlin

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Karen Conlin is a self-employed editor who works with fiction and nonfiction books. Her prior experience includes editing at gaming company TSR. Conlin is the 2018 winner of the Robinson Prize awarded by ACES: The Society for Editing. In this interview, conducted by email, Conlin discusses her work past and present, and her interest in register.

Q. Describe your work. What is your typical day?

A. Let me stress that mine is probably a very atypical day, because not only do I work from home, I’m also the chief caretaker of my granddaughter when her mother’s at work. So …

After the usual morning routine of making breakfast for whoever’s awake (usually just myself and my husband, but with a toddler one never knows!), I head up to my work space and dig into emails and administrative cleanup. When that’s done, I look at the projects on my plate and prioritize them.

Right now, for example, there’s this interview, an article on register for an upcoming issue of Tracking Changes (the ACES newsletter), and the tail end of a copyediting job on a novel set in the Old West in the late 1880s. That’s the order in which I’ll tackle those, and if I have time later, I’ll write a blog post for Grammargeddon! about forming plural possessives. Never hurts to review the basics!

In between those, I’ll be toddler wrangling. I might be able to finish everything I plan, but then again … toddler!

Q. Earlier in your career, you edited for TSR, the company that then owned Dungeons & Dragons and other games. What was it like editing material for role-playing games?

A. I always say that working there was my favorite job as an actual employee of a company. The designers/developers (which is what our writers were called) were so creative!

I didn’t even mind that my first two weeks were spent reading rule books. All of the rule books. ALL of them.

That was before AD&D 2nd Edition, so you might think it wasn’t so bad — but the D&D line was included in my workload, so I had to read all of the BECMI rules, too. (I think that series stopped at Master, at that point. My memory’s hazy, though.)

Editing RPG material is a strange blend of technical editing and fiction editing. So many rules!

And you have to ensure that they’re all followed, which was the hardest part because those creative designers always wanted to find ways around the rules to do what they wanted rather than what was allowed. I learned a lot about diplomacy (and I don’t mean the board game, but we played some of that, too).

Q. You’ve led sessions and workshops on register. What is register, and how does it affect how you edit?

A. Register is a concept from linguistics, normally applied to people’s speech. However, I think it’s just as applicable to writing.

The five main registers are frozen, formal, consultative, casual, and intimate. The correlations are as follows:

  • Frozen is language that never changes, like memorized prayers (think Catholic mass or any number of Protestant recitations, like the various creeds).
  • Formal is most often found in medical, legal, or academic writing, although with the plain-language movement that’s changing slowly and there are fewer words the average reader or listener won’t understand.
  • Consultative is the register of meetings with professionals, like a parent-teacher conference or a visit to your doctor. There’s an assumption of mutual respect, and the language is less formal and more “everyday,” without dropping into slang and other marker of the next register, which is casual.
  • Casual is the one we use with our peers (coworkers, for example) and the one we hear most often around us in daily activities. Sentence structure is less rigid, and word choice can include slang terms and “verbal shorthand” like “Ready?” for “Are you ready to go?”
  • Intimate is used with loved ones, family, and closest friends, and can include in-jokes and terms no one else will understand because they’re “on the outside.”

I edit fiction, so I don’t see a lot of frozen or formal register. In my work, the narrative language is most often consultative or casual, depending on the narrator; dialogue, though, can be anywhere on the map.

Keeping a character’s register consistent is part of the job for me. If they start out speaking casually, why do they shift to consultative? Does that shift make sense within the story and between the characters involved?

Q. Congratulations on winning the Robinson Prize. What does this honor mean to you?

A. Honestly? I’m still amazed that my work was judged best of all the submissions/nominees.

I’ve read since then, though, that part of the reason I was awarded the Robinson was that my work exemplifies the direction in which editing is headed and in which the membership of ACES has gone and continues to go: freelance/independent contract editing, whether that’s for fiction (which is what I do) or for a corporate client, a mainstream publishing house, an academic press, or what have you.

I always have said I have my clients to thank for my success. That’s never truer than now. Along with the samples of their edited work, their recommendations and testimonials showed the panel of judges what they value most in my work (hint: it’s not my grammatical prowess, although that’s very important), and I owe them my heartfelt thanks for this award.

Q. What advice do you have for students considering work as self-employed editors?

A. Don’t expect to support yourself on freelance editing right out of the gate. Have a solid source of income, and use your editing to supplement.

If you’re going into, say, medical or academic editing, talk to others who already do that work and ask them if they have suggestions on how to make a go of it. Most of the editors I know who do that kind of work have publishers for clients.

Fiction editing’s a whole ‘nother ball game, as they say. It’s rather like my current project — the Wild West. I’m lucky to have a good stable of repeat clients at the moment, but when their series come to a close … I’ll be looking for replacements. There’s no opportunity to sit back and relax, because you need to keep the work coming in.

And even so, this is my favorite job. Hands down. It ain’t always pretty, but it’s satisfying.

Follow Karen Conlin on Twitter and read posts on her blog.