I’ve been editing fictional works since July 2017, and have owned Penmanship Editing since February 2017. It has been an emotional rollercoaster of greatness. I’ve worked on some amazing books, cried out of frustration, pulled many late nights to meet closing deadlines, and gone out of my way to help clients be as successful as possible. This is a brief look back on how far I’ve come and the challenges I’ve faced so far.
How Did It Start?
It all started when I was getting ready to leave university from my Animal Behaviour and Welfare degree. I didn’t quite know what I wanted to do, but knew that a career working with animals—which often leads to working face-to-face with people—wasn’t the right choice for me. My degree had been fantastic and fun, and I learned a lot, but working in the scientific field just wasn’t right for me. So, I started looking at things I loved to do. Two things came up: editing and writing. I had already spent years looking at people’s rough work and trying to help them by doing free edits. I didn’t quite realise what I was doing back then, but it suddenly dawned on me that I could become an editor.
So, I started to do research on how to become an editor. I knew that I didn’t want to work as part of an editorial team or under a publishing house, because I don't like your typical working environments and suffer from reoccurring pain so needed to a more relaxing environment. This is when I stumbled upon the self-publishing world and freelance editing. It sounded perfect, but a lot of hard work! The first thing I needed was experience, which I didn’t have because my work so far had been informal. So, I went out to get some. I worked on someone’s PhD thesis, thanks to my tutor, in my final year. English wasn’t her first language and I helped brush up the introduction for her for a small charge of £100 (it was about 15,000 words). That was my first editorial paycheck. Although I hated the subject content and I quickly realised academic editing wasn’t for me, I loved the grammar side of things and thinking about readability. So, I opened Penmanship Editing, a business dedicated to the one aspect of reading I could never tire of: fiction. Okay, it wasn’t quite that simple. I built the website, created a marketing plan, and chatted to other editors at the EAE (don’t know where I’d be without you guys!).
The biggest challenge still awaited me: I needed to build my experience and portfolio. So, I agreed to take on six projects across three genres (two each): fantasy, science fiction, and young adult. Those are (were) my three favourite genres. I quickly found people who needed editing for no cost, and chose those who specifically needed help in readability and story structure, but who had a firm grasp of basic grammar already. This was to avoid taking on ESL editing, or similar, without any training.
This is what I did over my first summer after uni: work for free. I managed a city move in this process and probably wouldn’t have been able to do this if it wasn’t for my fiancé (partner at the time) who works as a software developer full time. He decided that I was worth providing for until I found my feet with my business. Now I earn more than he does, muwhahahaha. It was the right call on our part, as we couldn’t be where we are now if it wasn’t for that struggling part of our journey. In return for supporting me, I promised to work hard at the business and provide every meal (I love cooking and was probably going to do this anyway, so it was a sweet deal for me). The first project I worked on from this free bundle was The Tamer Chronicles by Jessica Wing, which was an amazing first project. It was filled with challenges and delights alike. I only got to do one round of editing on this book, which looking back I wish I was more insistent on doing a full review round and helping with the layout. I wasn’t as knowledgeable about layout as I am today, though. I helped her with readability, story development, avoiding cliché characters, and structuring. I then worked on all the rest, some of which are available to buy:
The Tamer Chronicles by Jessica Wing
Fallon: Memoirs of the Reborn by Laura Waide
Quintessence by Amy Marie (second book in the Statera Saga)
Were there any bad experiences?
Yes, two. There were rocky experiences throughout, as with any editor, but I had two major bad experiences during this free editing period. The first was that I had to drop a client as we weren’t a good match. As an editor, I have to make sure I can work with my clients and not against them, and we just had very different ideas on what makes a quality fantasy story. I left them with my edits and the ability to use any advice I had already provided. Unfortunately, they didn’t take this too well, which is why I know they probably won’t see this, because they blocked me on every account they could, including my email address. This gave me a massive lesson: always find out more about the person you are working with, and always listen to your gut and take heed of those red flags.
From then on, I did not (and still don’t) take on clients that I think are going to be difficult to talk to or verbally abusive. I am, however, a lot more lenient than editors who do not take on new authors with epic manuscripts, or people who haven’t taken the time to learn their craft. I believe that we editors are an important part of a writer’s life, and being that lesson or that craft learning is just as important as correcting their grammar. This led me to creating my project survey on the website. You can all see this for yourself if you like, it’s on the pricing page. This asks questions about the writer and their project, so I know straight away if they aren’t going to be the right fit for me. Since then, I’ve only ever worked with lovely, amazing writers who have become a massive part of who I am. Every single one of them has shaped me into the person I am today.
The second bad experience was with an author who never published, despite the free deal being for publishing authors only. He never uploaded the new edited version and I could never take the credit and build my portfolio. This was a giant waste of my time and I’m still slightly sore about it. It was an amazing book and had such potential. This was one of those times I would have easily taken it off the author’s hands and republished myself. It was that good. I couldn’t take any lessons from this, as I didn’t plan to work for free outside of this deal, so the situation was unlikely to come up again. This could have broken me as an editor, but I let it slide and continued on.
Above and Beyond:
I worked for the rest of the year on a variety of projects across crime fiction, fantasy, YA, romance, poetry, and short stories. You can see some of them on my portfolio on the website, but many more are due to come out soon. This gave me the building my portfolio needed. I get as many clients as possible to give reviews of my services, and I haven’t received anything less than five stars, ever. With some of the reviews saying I go above and beyond the scope of a normal editor.
I love my job, I really do. So, when a client is having an issue and needs some help that is outside of my contract, I do my best to fulfil their needs. This means I do shout outs on social media upon the book’s release (it takes me five minutes and the authors are really grateful), I research things for them and look them up, I do the occasional formatting assistance where I can (despite never charging for it), and answer emails at midnight and other ungodly hours (only if I’m already awake, mind you). Everyone is always fantastic about this and are appreciative of how quickly I can answer emails and how much effort I put into making their book a success. This has given me a good reputation as an editor who cares. It’s one I cherish and will always protect.
My Experience with Memoirs:
This has made its own section of this blog because it’s had such an impact on me personally. In January, I took on two new clients: Tamala and Steve. They both have emotional and impactful stories to tell. I decided to take a chance and work on something I have no experience with: memoirs and self-help books. It was the best decision of my career so far. Working with Steve was amazing. His story is so emotional and had me tearing up at the ending every time I read it. Tamala’s and her mother’s story is so important to tell. It needs to be heard by people so we can make a difference. Despite Tamala living in the US, her story still resonated with me. You can purchase Steve’s amazing and heartfelt story on Amazon:
I now jump at the chance to work with memoirs and realised that I was pretty good at it, too. I’m a naturally emotional person, which means I understand what it’s like to sit at the computer and cry because you have to cut that scene you worked two months on writing. I know receiving edits is challenging, so I make them as polite as possible. For example, rather than say, “Your story is weak and we should cut this and that”, I’ll say, “Your story could be stronger and we should look at options to make it more concise and easier to follow for the reader” (then go on to explain each cut, obviously). This has been my founding principle as an editor. How you say something has a profound impact on the writer who will probably cry while reading your edits at some point. So, try and phrase things in a polite and friendly way to ease that burden. I wasn’t making the point ambiguous or trying to hide the truth, I was just cushioning the impact my words had. A lot of editors disagree with me, but I stand firm in my belief that we need to work with writers to produce the best work possible. For high quality work to be out there, we need to be partners, not employees.
Where Am I Now?
I’m now working my socks off to catch up from a crazy schedule and am slowly starting to book in for June 24th onwards. I have worked on poetry, some more fantasy, and more sci-fi than I care to admit. I have gone from just leaving uni with next to no money to earning £30k a year (USD40k) not even a year after graduation. I’ve created a business that means more than just blank editing: I care about my clients and their success, I give free advice and critiques in writing groups, I provide free assistance when I can to go the extra mile. This is the kind of business I always wanted to create; the kind that means something to the people using it. I cannot wait to work on my next career changing manuscript. I wonder what it will be?