The Job of an Academic Editor: Part 1 (Fruscione #Postac Post)

by Joseph Fruscione

Joe Fruscione

I’ve written previously about the life of an academic editor.  In previous installments, I wrote about developmental and STEM editing opportunities. With a hat-tip to Jo VanEvery for the suggestion, I’m focusing today on editing academics’ work, which can be an easy segue for current and future post-acs. Virtually all academics know a colleague, mentor, or graduate student in need of developmental or copy editing. Jo, who works with tenured and tenure-track scholars, offers this: “Understand what an editor can do for you; if you outsource some of the editing, you can do more writing. Get the support you need.”

I’ve done several projects for professors and graduate students—some of whom I connected with via Tall Sister Editing, which a friend and former colleague runs. I’ve worked on different stages of scholarly projects: from trimming and restructuring a monograph, to helping revise journal articles, theses, and dissertations, to guiding Master’s or doctoral students’ work on multiple writing stages. Letting your academic connections know about your career transition can boost your freelance or full-time editing work. Get your name out there in academic circles via e-mail and social media, and do your best to keep it out there and build your clientele and editing portfolio.

You don’t have to be fully post-ac to work with academic clients. Laura Fowler Graham is a current academic who works as a writing consultant and coach. Laura finds her clients through social media platforms and word of mouth: “Some of my clients have been referred to me through friends and colleagues. I’ve solicited business from colleagues who are writing monographs and are looking for an independent editor. I have a website that lists the types of services I offer and my prices.” Laura does light to heavy copy editing, depending on what level of service her client requests. In her experience, “scholars prefer medium to heavy copy editing because their writing is generally much more complex and lengthy than the other types of documents.” If you do different levels of editing, make sure you have different rates, and charge accordingly for time-consuming work. I’ve worked from this breakdown of light, medium, and heavy copy editing, and I share it with new clients when discussing their needs, strengths, and areas of improvement as writers.

Laura’s academic training has been useful, but not without hindrances: “My experience with peer review and grading student papers has made it difficult for me to break away from the habit of wanting to analyze the material on a scholarly level, rather than just looking to the text to make sure that it is clear, concise, and free of grammar errors.” Academics gain a lot of useful and transferable skills through teaching and research. If you’re transitioning, self-reflect and identify these skills and your areas of improvement to help buttress your post-ac identity and increase your professional confidence.

From such investment and confidence will come success—and, if you’re so inclined, entrepreneurship. Fellow TPII consultant Margy Thomas Horton has her own editing business, Scholar Shape:

I offer the full range of editing services, from development to final document processing. What sets ScholarShape apart from other editing shops is the menu of customizable editing and consultation services I’ve created. Examples of my unconventional editing services include Real-time Editing, Article Submission Management, and Reverse Outlining. My consultation services include Writing Sessions and Project Mapping.

Most of Margy’s clients find her through referrals, word of mouth, and reading her blog posts. Her academic training “was necessary preparation for my work as a supporter of scholars”: What has changed for me is that my perspective on academia has broadened. I had always looked at everything through a humanities lens, but now I approach academic inquiry from many perspectives at once, having absorbed the fascinations and tried on the approaches of my scholar-clients in fields ranging from chemistry, to law, to sociology, as well as in humanities fields like history and literature. I now see into the work lives of academics at every career stage. I recognize for the first time not only how intertwined all the disciplines are, but also how interdependent the many members of the Academy are—even if, at times, scholars can be isolated or alienated from one another.

I like this idea of being “a supporter of scholars,” because many—and not just PhD students—need different kinds of editing, encouragement, and developmental work to advance various academic projects.

Another “supporter of scholars” is Annemarie Perez, who is in a strong position to know the challenges facing her clients—as well as how to offer the necessary support:

Sometimes it’s psychological. Especially for students finishing their dissertations, the process of writing is fraught with anxiety and insecurity. By the time they reach me, many of my clients have been treated quite poorly by advisors and departments. Finishing a dissertation (or book with the tenure clock ticking) is hugely stressful in its own right. I treat my clients as people who are paying not just for my editing skills, but also for my compassion, professionalism, and ability to treat them with dignity. I do my best to relieve as much stress as I can by being professional. This can be hard because, in working with academics, deadlines inevitably get pushed and I have to balance one client’s needs against my commitment to others.

Annemarie does different kinds of editing and coaching. Her services run the gamut from formatting (APA, MLA, Chicago, etc.) and line editing (light, medium, and heavy) to developmental and consulting work. “My clients find me through word of mouth, both from former clients and from departments and schools who know me. I used to do a lot more editing, dissertation coaching and ‘bootcamps’ and less teaching, so there are a number of people passing my name around.” Annemarie’s work for the Doctoral Support Center at USC’s Rossier School of Education has helped her editing–coaching career: “I was a graduate advisor there for two years and saw the balancing act students working full-time have to do to finish their dissertations. It made me understand why someone would need or want an editor.” If you’ve worked in a writing center or similar environment, stress the skills and experience you gained when applying for jobs.

Laura, Margy, and Annemarie have helped show the kinds of editing work available for scholarly projects. If this is a current, or even possible, post-ac or alt-ac career path for you, let one or more of us know. The post- and alt-ac communities are strong, supportive, growing…and always eager to help new members. In the next piece, my colleagues and I will offer some practical advice to get you started finding and doing this work.

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About Karen Kelsky

I am a former tenured professor at two institutions--University of Oregon and University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign. I have trained numerous Ph.D. students, now gainfully employed in academia, and handled a number of successful tenure cases as Department Head. I've created this business, The Professor Is In, to guide graduate students and junior faculty through grad school, the job search, and tenure. I am the advisor they should already have, but probably don't.


The Job of an Academic Editor: Part 1 (Fruscione #Postac Post) — 6 Comments

  1. As someone in the process of transitioning from an academic career to one in freelance editing, I enjoyed your post and am very much looking forward to the next.

  2. I just came across this post — very helpful. I have set myself up as an academic editor, and according to my clients I’m pretty good at it. The trouble for me lies in the marketing. I still struggle with feeling like an impostor and the idea that settling my skills equals bragging (and not in a good way). But I’m working on it!

    Fortunately there is quite a lot of free support for fledgling businesses in my town, so I have been able to learn about the nuts and bolts of taxes etc. Simply socializing with others who are trying to get a business of the ground has been helpful.

  3. Thank you for this. I’m a PhD student finishing my coursework and have been trying to supplement my assistantship stipend by doing freelance editing…it’s been difficult to figure out how to market as well as figure out how much to charge. I really appreciate this!

  4. Pingback: Writing, Editing, and Imposter Syndrome | Krista McCracken

  5. Hey,

    I just came across this! I made the jump from part-time to full-time academic editor and translator early this year. It was interesting to read about your experiences and I would love to know more about any post-ac editing communities.

    I joined a (UK) professional editing association (the SfEP) and found this to be a massive help with training and getting to know other editors.

    It was scary going full-time freelance at first but I now feel I have much more control over a lot of aspects of my life (especially over where I choose to live!) and more confidence as a result.

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