My Path to Copyediting
People often ask me how I got started in copyediting, so here’s my story.
After mini-careers in marketing and elementary education, I became a stay-at-home mom. On a trip to the library one day, I came across the book Crazy Heart by Thomas Cobb (the one that became a movie with Jeff Bridges in 2009) in their used books section. I bought the book and took it home, and as I began to read it I found a piece of ivory stationery tucked between its pages. It was a letter dated April 21, 1987, to a Dave Smith from Ted Solotaroff, who, according to the letterhead, was a senior editor at Harper & Row. Apparently Mr. Smith was either a book reviewer or an author, as the letter read:
I’m taking the liberty of sending you an advance copy of Thomas Cobb’s CRAZY HEART, which we’re publishing in September. I hope you’ll have a chance to read a few pages and make the acquaintance of Bad Blake. If you do, I think you may well stay around for the rest of his set.
And handwritten below were the words, “You haven’t answered my letter. Some author!” For some reason, I was both curious and excited, because it seemed that in a tiny way I had entered the secret society of the publishing world.
A few years after that, I was a member of an email discussion list and made a connection with a guy who worked for Book-of-the-Month Club. When I learned of his work there, I emailed him and asked about becoming a book reviewer for BOMC. He was happy to give me some freelance assignments, and I enjoyed the work, but of course it didn’t pay well at all. I wrote to the folks at the now defunct BOOK magazine and wrote a number of reviews for them as well and was able to represent the magazine at the Book Festival of Los Angeles in 1998 or 1999.
Still a stay-at-home mom, and as my kids entered school, I started thinking about what I could do to keep busier and make a little money. Through research on the Internet I came across a discussion list for copyeditors called CE-L and joined up. I noticed that one of the members was the managing editor for Indiana University Press, so I wrote to her and asked if I could work on a manuscript for her, and she agreed — even though I didn’t have previous experience or formal training in copyediting. The first book I ever copyedited was Eero Tarasti’s Existential Semiotics. I had no idea what I was reading about, but I knew when to check spelling and how to correctly punctuate the text and somehow made it through. My success with that job gave me the confidence to apply to other university presses, and I soon became quite busy with one manuscript on top of another.
I began to contact a number of other publishers, including Avalon Publishing Group. And that’s where I became even more excited about the projects I was working on. I made valuable contacts and worked with a variety of imprints, including Carroll and Graf, Thunder’s Mouth, Marlowe, and Nation Books. But eventually Avalon was purchased by Perseus Books Group, and everything changed, as many of my contacts were replaced.
Fortunately, some of the people who were let go have gone on to bigger and better jobs, and I still maintain contact and work with them from time to time. I also work with Perseus as well as a growing number of other publishing clients. And over the years, I’ve increasingly been so busy that I’ve had to turn down work. So now I have luxury of picking and choosing my clients and projects, and I enjoy being in demand.
I truly love what I do and don’t expect to retire anytime soon!