Editor’s Insight: Katherine Kirk

I’m Katherine Kirk, and I proofread, copyedit and line edit fiction and tabletop role-playing game content (like fanzines, game modules, and kickstarter copy). I started editing at the beginning of the pandemic, and I threw myself into learning as much as I could, as fast as I could, so I could build it into something sustainable as soon as possible. I’m a member of the Editorial Freelancers Association (EFA) and an Intermediate Member of the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP) and occasionally drop by Club Ed. You can find me at www.geckoedit.com

Best marketing tip

I see a lot of new editors making the mistake of thinking they have to fight other editors for work by racing to the bottom, badmouthing or undermining them, or pumping paid adverts out into the ether. But the best way I’ve gotten work, especially from good clients who pay fairly, is through referrals. And I got those by building strong networks with other editors.

Before you rush off and start emailing other editors to beg for work (do NOT do that), you need to get them to trust you. You can do that by joining professional organizations and participating in the various conversations they’re having, on social media or in their forums or mailing lists. Offer your help to others, and show you know what you’re doing. If you’re someone who is constantly asking questions in an editors’ group that could easily be answered by consulting your dictionary, style guide, or client (about their preferences), then you’re not going to come across as very competent to other editors in those spaces.

Of course, if you have tried all those before you bring an interesting, tricky question to other editors, then they’ll be more willing to chip in and discuss it—and that is how you build relationships with them. Give more than you ask for and play the long game, building genuine, authentic professional relationships. Soon enough, people will start to see you as an expert in your field (as you should be after the next two tips), and they’ll start referring work to you. It can also help to feed the referral engine by referring work that you’re not suitable for to others who are. For example, I have a person who immediately comes to mind for anything that is business/environment-focused, because that’s her niche and definitely not mine.

Best “learning the skill” tip

A lot of spelling, grammar, and style stuff can be self-taught if you have access to the Internet. But editing is about so much more than that. If you are planning to offer this as a professional service, you’re going to need to invest in those skills, and that means spending money. The most reputable courses are the ones offered by universities (like USC San Diego), the Publishing Training Centre (PTC), or by professional editing organizations, like the CIEP and EFA and Club Ed.

  • The EFA focuses mainly on US editing.
  • Club Ed also focuses on US editing but has students from all over.
  • The CIEP is UK based but has a growing international membership.
  • Editors Canada speaks for itself.
  • ACES: The Society for Editing broadens the scope to in-house editors, such as those in newsrooms or with publishers.
  • The Institute for Professional Editors (IPEd) offers an accreditation scheme for editors in Australia and New Zealand.

Being involved in an editors’ group or association gives you access to the wealth of knowledge held by other members who’ve likely already faced—and solved—the problems you might encounter as you’re starting out. Many have regular local (and virtual) meetings where members share their wisdom in formal webinars or informal conversations and may also have mailing lists and forums.

Many of these professional organizations hold conferences (virtual and in person) and publish materials that give tips on specifics from editing recipe books to avoiding microaggressions in your queries to authors or wrangling Word into doing what you want, when you tell it to. Not to mention the networking benefits!

Best business practice tip

Almost every week for the past two years, I’ve attended the CIEP’s Cloud Club West, which is the local group meeting for international members in the Western Hemisphere. On any given Thursday, we have 25 participants from about 20 different countries. Each meeting is packed with useful business advice, and that shared wisdom has made me a more efficient, more fairly paid, and more professional editor. One of the best tips I got was to treat my business as if it were a big Fortune 500 company, and do an annual review.

At the end of my first year, I took myself on a retreat (i.e., booked into an AirBnb for a weekend). I had a plan and I followed it: I took a long, hard look at what was working, what wasn’t, what my long-term goals are, and what I needed to do to get there. Then I followed that plan for a year. And it made a big difference.

At the end of year two, I discovered Sophie Playle regularly publishes a workbook to guide editors through this process, and that took things to a whole new level. Spending a bit of time on taking yourself and your business seriously means making sure your contract covers you for the worst-case scenario, your onboarding process is smooth so you don’t spend too much billable time on it, the clients you have are clients you value and who value you (and pay you fairly), and your business is set for growth. If you have a solid foundation, your business will be much stronger for it, so don’t rush or skip this process.

Sneaky fourth tip

As you can probably guess, there’s one tip to rule them all, hidden in the others: join one or two of the professional organizations I’ve mentioned above. Editing can be a lonely business, and finding your people will make everything much easier. You’ll get out of it what you put in. And you’ll probably make some amazing friends along the way. Besides, who else are you going to talk to for an hour about semicolons?

Join the Club!

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