From Proofreader To Editor: Expert Interview
I’m a big believer in proofreaders possessing some copyediting skills. It not only separates you from those who do basic skills like fixing typos and punctuation, but it leverages you for future higher-level editing positions. If you’ve taken my free Proofreading 101 course, then you know why I believe it’s SO important to know light copyediting.
In this post I interview Toronto-based freelance editor Shannon Whibbs. Shannon and I went to publishing school together, and worked for the same book publisher for a couple of years. Shannon began as a proofreader, but made her way up the ladder and has worked for some of Canada’s leading publishing houses. Here she discusses proofreading, the importance of learning copyediting, and what freelance life is like. If you’ve always wondered if proofreading can be a stepping stone to more, this is for you!
How many years have you been working in publishing?
How long have you been freelancing?
And how long were you a proofreader?
I never really stopped. Proofreading has always been an integral part of my job as an editor. But as an actual full-time job, I proofread for two years at the start of my career.
After publishing school you got a job as a proofreader at a global publishing house, Harlequin, where proofreaders also did light copyediting. What expectations did you have about proofreading going in, and what did you learn about proofreading that you didn’t know?
I’d always had a knack for proofreading and editing. I was the person people asked to look over [other students’] school papers for mistakes. I had an eye and also found the work interesting and satisfying. That was a large part of the reason why I pursued editorial work as a career.
As a result, I felt pretty confident starting my job at Harlequin, but knew I still had a lot to learn. And I learned so much more than I anticipated! I am grateful for that early rigorous training. I learned about adhering to house style, looking for plot holes/inconsistencies, what a “bad break” is and how to train your eye to catch them, and too many small details about spelling and grammar to even list here.
After proofreading for a couple years at Harlequin you moved to a smaller publisher for a higher position. What was your position and what did you do?
I accepted a position as an assistant editor at a smaller Canadian press. My main duties were to provide editorial support to the managing editor and publisher. This involved proofreading, light copyediting, and administrative support. I was also in charge of all reprint editions and project management of the press’s biannual catalogues.
You applied while you were working as a proofreader, so what made you confident that you were capable of transitioning to a higher level of editing?
I just knew it was time for new challenges after two years of steady proofreading. I always enjoyed talking with the copy editors at Harlequin and knew it was the kind of higher-level work I was interested in. I wanted to be able to interact more with the text. I still enjoy proofreading a great deal, but now it’s part of a larger skill set I’ve worked hard to build over the years.
Phon’s Note: Shannon later moved on to Dundurn Press, another independent publishing house, where she held the positions of assistant editor, managing editor, senior editor, and acquisitions editor. She then went on to work as an associate editor for HarperCollins before she became a freelance editor.
How did your proofreading skills translate into your new job?
Proofreading has translated into every job I’ve ever had. Every company produces communications materials that need proofreading. Whether it’s a book, a book cover, a press release, a brochure, a catalogue, an advertisement, or even an event invitation. Typos and errors in company documents—particularly ones released to the public—look amateurish and sloppy and reflect badly on the organization.
Was it also helpful that you knew copyediting skills, as well?
Definitely. Having higher-level editing skills is always an asset.
How do you like being a freelance editor?
After fifteen years working in-house in book publishing, I am enjoying this new way of working. What I’ve given up in stability I am making up for in freedom and choice. I spend a lot of time drumming up new work to pay the bills, but I can also choose when I want to invest those hours. There are pros and cons and trade-offs between working for a company and working for yourself.
What kind of material do you work on and do you also do proofreading and copyediting?
I work on a variety of things—keeps things interesting! I work with authors who are developing manuscripts for self-publishing or submission to agents or publishers. I substantively edit, copyedit, and proofread for a few publishers, and I also provide editorial support and project management to non-publishing organizations regarding their communications materials.
What would be one piece of advice you have for someone who wants to break into proofreading books?
Proofread everything all the time. Menus, signs, magazines, books you read for fun. Especially with books—look for bad breaks and typos. You’ll be surprised how many you find. It’s all training for your eye. Because your job, ultimately, is to be the person who catches the error everyone else missed.
Thank you, Shannon! That was a great and very informative interview. I hope you’ve discovered something new about proofreading, and why it’s important to learn light copyediting skills. If you’re interested in learn more about the skills Shannon and I have, check out my course syllabus for Proofreading Pro.