When I started out 7 years ago as an editor, I had hoped that at some point I would realize my dream to be an author.
Fast-forward 7 years and the picture looks quite different than what I expected. While I tried my hand at being an author, that didn’t quite work out. However, because my freelance editing gig evolved quickly into a business and my role evolved as I went from editor to senior editor, I was able to creatively define just what it means to do this job.
While it’s true that there is always something editing-related on my plate (though mostly it’s editorial direction and decision-making for our publishing imprints), what’s also true is there is always something writing-related on my plate.
This is my roundabout way of announcing I’ve released my latest Highbrow courses! It is called Mastering Your Conversations, and if you want to sign up for it, you can do so here:
This course was not my idea. I was asked to write this course by the Highbrow team, as a dream course they wanted to see on their platform. The opportunity arose because, I followed a rabbit-hole forward — from the first 2 courses I wrote on self-publishing and author promotion, purely to promote our editing company, to the follow-up requests which led me to write 16 more courses. I’ve quickly earned a reputation as someone who is great at taking a new topic and, like a journalist, doing my research then making it informative and engaging.
All that said, to this day, though I now have 19 courses on Highbrow (including the audio versions for 14 of them on Listenable — click here to get that), I still consider this part of my “senior editor duties” as the “write content for company revenue” part of my job description.
And I have no plan to stop with Highbrow, though it’s worth saying that I plan to shift gears and take on something radically new:
I will be writing longer courses now that focus on notably dynasties — one 900 word lesson for each person, following a bit of a Game of Thrones format where each day we will see who will hold the throne next. I am starting with the British monarchy, and, provided there is interest, will tackle other of my favorite dynasties, like the French, the Popes, the US Presidents, the Roman Emperors, and do on. If you are familiar with podcasts like Rex Factor, Totalus Rankium, and Pontifacts, the concept is similar, except, because my goal is to deliver a lesson in a 10-minute daily reading (or listening) session, I will be briefer and it means you can get through an entire monarchy, from start to finish, in a matter of weeks, rather than a few years.
I have blogged before about my love for reading in this fashion, where I will work my way through a line of succession from start to finish, so it is exciting to finally have a place to put all my notes into action.
And of course, I have no intention to quit my job as an editor. Every year I work on a few meaningful books and find I enjoy how the editing process is two-way — I often learn as much from working with an author on a book as that author might learn from me.
I also believe that some of the best editors are also skilled writers. Some of the best writing feedback a writer can receive from an editor is the kind that is very tangible and easy to follow as a working example. Whereas, when an editor waves their hands and gives very general comments which makes you think they sped-read your book (an approach I am pretty harsh in calling “phoning it in” since I sadly see this a lot from other experiences shared with my by other authors), this is unhelpful because a writer is left staring at a wall of criticism without much sense of a path forward.
In order to understand what you are asking a writer to do when you give them an edit, it’s critical that you understand what you are actually asking them to do, not just conceptually, but from experience. It’s true that some editors have read thousands of books, and from this have a wealth of snippets sewn together in their mind, like a complex tapestry of the literary landscape, and can lay down a particular square inch of that cloth for a writer to consult. Even that can still leave a writer having to guess, or worse, imitate unintentionally.
I still prefer a hand-on style, which means if you’re going to dole out medicine, you ought to have taken it yourself. This means writing a lot, so that when I’m working with words that aren’t my own, I still have an understanding how to work with words that are missing something, and figuring out what that is by way of in-line examples, lots of comments (anyone who has worked with me will be familiar with how, on most pages, my explanatory/instructional comment bubbles are so dense they sometimes have more text than the page itself), and most importantly, a solid work ethic of knowing in order to understand what it means to tell this writer what they have to do, I have to walk in their shoes with their story, really know on a deep level what it is I’m suggesting to them.
In fact, it’s this very thing that makes me love editing and has given me consolation in choosing this career over my naïve first hope of being an author instead. Working on someone else’s story, where I get to think like a revising writer, with an editor’s toolkit, is often more rewarding than working on my prose — particularly because I don’t have to sweat over coming up with the story, characters, and plot. The writer has rescued me from all my weak spots where usually I falter on my own in my attempts as an author. Instead, I can come in with my strongest skill: my work with words.
In the same way, writing educational non-fiction is a perfect marriage for my tendency to get labyrinthine and ludicrous with plot and character when I attempt fiction. There’s always a solid form and, like a skilled author who has delivered through their story genius, that form also gives me something to work with where I can do my part and focus on how to use words effectively.
Back into the forge I go. It won’t be long before I emerge with my first dynasty course, which I’m already excited about, even though I haven’t formally started writing it yet!
Please, if you have any requests for dynasties, let me know in the comments. Meanwhile, enjoy the latest Mastering Your Conversations course, or any of my other courses. There are enough of them that, if you took them all, your inbox would be full for half a year!