WOW: Did you always know you wanted to be in the writing industry?
Linda: I've always been interested in the ways in which people communicate-not just in terms of words, but also in terms of visuals, body language and other nonverbal cues, and so forth. I happen to have a knack for writing and editing, and I enjoy doing that type of work.
WOW: So, what was your original goal? Did it stick?
Linda: My original goal was to work as a copywriter for a major advertising agency; I wanted to be the next superstar in that field. I put myself through the last three years of college by starting and running a small ad "agency" that catered to local businesses, university organizations, and individuals. By the time I left college, I'd developed a real taste for control-of my career, my days, and my finances. I realized that my desire for autonomy didn't exactly match up with the typical ad agency work environment, so I took a step back to regroup, and I focused on working for companies that would give me a creative outlet, a steady paycheck, and some amount of control over my job.
WOW: With that focus in mind, you managed to become a senior editor and editorial director for ten years. That certainly explains why we were interested in interviewing you. What other experience did your bring to your business? And how is your knowledge holding you in good stead today?
Linda: In addition to those positions and the advertising business I ran in college, I've also worked as a buyer for a major retailer and as vice president of marketing for a book distribution company. My experience with the creative, financial, and marketing sides of business has really helped me both understand and translate clients' needs and manage my own business.
“.. I'd developed a real taste for control-
of my career, my days, and my finances.”
WOW: What a great business head you have plus your creativity. We will guess you didn't wake up one morning to discover you were a freelancer. That takes some planning and a lot of fortitude, right? What prompted you to take the plunge?
Linda: Maybe I shouldn't say this-but actually, I didn't do any planning. I just got tired of working for companies that were sold and merged and acquired and restructured. I got tired of the bureaucracy and the upheavals and the uncertainty, so I left corporate America and started working for myself. Of course, it helped that I had developed many contacts over the years-that allowed me to jump right into freelance editing. Also, to be honest, I had a bit of a nest egg to see myself through that first year, and I used every bit of it.
WOW: Your subconscious must have be planning your way out because you were able to make a responsible move into freelancing. Would you describe the services you offer your clients?
Linda: For the most part, my work involves freelance copyediting and substantive editing of nonfiction material. The majority of my business comes from book publishers and from organizations outside the publishing industry-for example, I currently copyedit in-house marketing materials for a large pharmaceutical firm. In addition, I edit magazine and journal articles, business plans, book proposals, and various types of marketing and advertising copy. I also write press kit materials for public relations agencies and the occasional article for consumer magazines, and I do some publishing consulting. My goal for the next two years is to become more proactive in writing and pitching ideas to magazines.
WOW: There is a prime example of the variety of services to be offered, how did you make the decisions of what you include?
Linda: I've been working at some job or another since I was fourteen years old. I know what I'm good at and what I'm not good at-and what I do and don't enjoy working on. I'm a terrific nonfiction editor, but I have no experience at editing fiction, so I don't do that. I'm great at writing copy for print ads, but I'm not so good at writing, say, political speeches. I'm lucky in that I stay pretty busy doing work that I know I'm good at.
“A call to 911 brings a helicopter,
not an ambulance.”
WOW: What educational background would prepare someone to excel in copyediting?
Well, of course it helps to have a firm grasp of all elements of the English language-spelling, punctuation, syntax, and so forth. Copyediting is a detail-oriented job, and many copyeditors (myself included) tend to be annoyingly obsessed with punctuation, spelling, and so forth. But it's also important to have a feel for the language-to be able to turn dull sentences into prose that sings. As an acquisitions editor, I was lucky enough to learn how to copyedit by working with an outstanding managing editor and a great group of in-house copyeditors. But some universities do offer copyediting courses, and those can be invaluable for anyone who has little or no actual experience in the field. I'd also recommend getting as much education in operating various software programs (Word, Quark, PowerPoint, etc.) as possible: the more technologically advanced businesses become, the more such software comes into play when editing.
WOW: Once the education is in place, what advice do you have for women that want to be freelance copyeditors?
Linda: If possible, get at least a couple of years of working as a copyeditor for a company under your belt before you strike out on your own. Not only will that give you the opportunity to see whether or not you really want to do this type of work, but it will also help you to build contacts and strengthen your knowledge base. Reach out to managing editors of magazines, book publishers, newspapers, and other organizations. Take them to lunch; pick their brains; develop relationships; ask for their help. If possible, pick up a few copyediting gigs on the side while you're working and have a steady paycheck, or volunteer your editing services to a worthy nonprofit organization-anything that will help you build your skill set and your resume.
WOW: What type clientele do you target?
Linda: When I first began to expand my client base beyond book publishers, I spent a lot of time working to educate businesses as to why they needed editing services at all. I don't do that anymore. There are plenty of companies that already value editing and good writing; it makes much more sense to target those firms as potential clients. I've also become much pickier about working with individuals who are first-time authors, and I continue to focus on maintaining a diverse collection of clients.
“...build contacts and strengthen
your knowledge base.”
WOW: What are some of the challenges you face in your day-to-day business?
Linda: I work out of my home, where I also care for my mother and a crazy menagerie of animals. It's a challenge to balance everything, and I sometimes find myself editing at two in the morning because I had to spend the day dealing with a cow that jumped the fence, or shuttling my mom to her doctor's appointments. I really have to work on staying well rested, because I never know when I'm going to have to pull an all-nighter to meet a deadline.
WOW: What do you count as the biggest benefit you derive from being a freelancer?
Linda: By far, the biggest benefit is the ability to be here for my mother and to help her remain as independent as possible. I could never do that working a normal 9-to-5 job. It's also certainly great to have a commute that's measured in feet, not miles, and I love being able to set my own hours, work with a cat on my lap, enjoy an endless stream of really good coffee, and wear slippers all day. And, as I mentioned earlier, I love the fact that I am my own boss; I control my own destiny.
WOW: What happened the day (we're ignoring that there could be more than one of these days) that made you scream “What was I thinking that made me want to be a freelance copyeditor?”
Linda: Hmm. Perhaps it was the day I learned about self-employment taxes and health insurance costs!
WOW: On the other hand, what has given you your biggest laugh (if that hasn't come yet) or your most unusual assignment? We'll take both, if you'd care to share.
Linda: I can't really think of anything that's given me a huge laugh (well, other than the occasional client's inability to string together three words, but hey, that's why clients hire me), but I certainly have learned a great deal about subjects I would otherwise never have bothered to look into on my own. Thanks to editing jobs, I now have a basic working knowledge of car repair, the physics behind magnets, Jewish cooking, the history of Marvel Comics, glam rock, and getting a great divorce settlement. Perhaps my most unusual gig was with a Las Vegas-based magazine, which hired me to write an article about cool restrooms in Sin City's casinos, clubs, and restaurants.
WOW: What groups do you belong to that help and allow you to vent, etc.?
Linda: I belong to a couple of online groups for freelancers and editors; they're fabulous resources of knowledge on everything from technical editing issues to computer-related problems to networking. As far as venting goes, I try to do it quietly, either by sharing my problems with my goats (they're very sympathetic, when they're not trying to knock you over) or by reading others' rants about anything at all-the TV show recaps on the Web site Television Without Pity are good for vicarious venting.
“it's great to have a commute
that's measured in feet, not miles.”
WOW: What are some of the ways that you network? We happen to know you don't live in the middle of a big city?
Linda: I live on an acre and a half of baked dirt in the middle of Nowhere, Arizona, a.k.a. "The Land that Cable TV Forgot." We are 30 minutes away from the nearest anything-gas station, grocery store, you name it. A call to 911 brings a helicopter, not an ambulance. Fortunately, my business was pretty well established by the time I moved here from Portland, Oregon, three years ago (before Portland, I lived in Los Angeles and Chicago), and the clients I have tend to recommend me to others. Unfortunately, I'm not able to spend much time networking in person these days, but I do make sure to keep in touch with all my contacts via the Internet.
WOW: Setting rates must be difficult, as the work varies so much. Do you charge by the job or individual increments? Is there an industry standard? Or, do you base it more on your needs and that of the clients?
Linda: For editing work, I charge either on an hourly basis (with set hourly rates) or on a project basis, with that fee being negotiated in advance. My rates for writing gigs are generally set on a project basis, and those rates vary widely, depending on the project and on the rights involved.
WOW: Do your clients have to adhere to the computer capabilities and/or programs you have, or do you expand as the need arises?
Linda: I am the first to admit that, when it comes to computers, I am an idiot. For this reason, I'm very wary about taking on projects or clients that require knowledge of software programs I don't know-there's just too much of a learning curve there, and it's difficult to guarantee that I will be able to learn a new program and finish the job in the time the client requests. I have had to turn down some gigs because I don't know, say, Quark, or HTML. In some cases I've been able to "learn as I go"-but that's done only with the client's explicit knowledge that the software program I'm working in is new territory for me.
“I sure don't miss the office politics
WOW: What would you include in a 'laundry list' of necessities for a copyeditor's home office?
Linda: Well, a nice cat, for starters. Other than that? A computer with current software (Word, etc.), a good Internet connection (high-speed is definitely preferred), a dedicated phone line (two, if you're using a dial-up modem), a printer, a good chair that supports your back, good lighting, and a library of reference materials-mine includes Webster's 11th and 10th, The Chicago Manual of Style 15th and 14th, The AMA Manual of Style, various AP style guides, a couple of legal style guides, and an assortment of reference books on subjects I tend to do a lot of work in (music, film, television, travel, etc.). My fax machine has about two years' worth of dust on it-nobody seems to fax anything anymore. My next big office purchase is going to be a combo TV/DVD player, because I recently picked up a client who needs transcription and editing work done.
WOW: What do you wish you had known before you became a freelancer?
Linda: : You know, having worked in publishing and having dealt with freelance editors and writers before I struck out on my own, I pretty much knew the lay of the land about freelancing in this business before I started. Sure, there were a few surprises along the way, but there hasn't been anything that's made me think, “Wow, if only I'd known that ahead of time, I would have done this or that differently.”
WOW: Why are you happy you are a freelancer?
Linda: I'm very happy working on my own; I don't miss having to get approval from a boss or a board before I take action; and I sure don't miss the office politics and paperwork. Most of all, being a freelancer allows me a level of control over my own life that I would not have working in a corporate environment-that's always been important to me, but it's essential now that I am a caregiver.
WOW's closing comments: Linda, thank you for sharing some great advice and giving a few laughs along the way. We certainly wish you continued success and look forward to keeping in touch with you.
About Linda Gray
Linda Gray is a twenty-year veteran of the publishing industry. A former senior editor and editorial director of the book-publishing division of Tribune Company, she has acquired and edited more than 200 nonfiction manuscripts and has worked with authors, agents, and companies throughout the United States and abroad, including Universal Studios, Neiman Marcus, Chicago Review Press, I magazine, Dayton's/Hudson's/Marshall Field's Corporation, National Lampoon, and MQ Publications. Currently she runs a successful editing and writing business in the Phoenix, Arizona, area. Gray is featured in the book Book Editors Talk to Writers by Judy Mandell (Wiley, 1995).
Linda may be reached at LindaGray1@aol.com
Telephone # 623.388.9468.