by Alexandra McKee
When I think back over my career as an editor (so far), I am amazed by the simple realisation that my unique skill set has been the result of my interests developed through academic application and professional experience. As I continue on my journey, I have a keen enthusiasm to further develop my editorial expertise by finding my own particular niche, driven by my recreational interests and immersions.
The joy of reading
Declaring English as my university major in the United States was an instinctive and instantaneous decision. Avid reader and lover of language, I enjoyed spending my time buried in a book while developing the writing skills to analyse and discuss the relevant themes, meanings and discourses set to task by each professor. But how would I apply the simple skills of reading and writing to a chosen career? With graduation swiftly approaching and college career fairs adding to my ‘undecided’ anxiety, the pressure was on. My quiet epiphany came courtesy of some of my college roommates asking me to check over their college essays and papers prior to submission. I enjoyed being asked for their help and they were appreciative of my corrections and suggestions, so it was a mutually satisfying exchange and a lightbulb moment for me. Staying true to my love of reading and language, I now realised I could help others polish and hone their writing. In that case, what could be better than a job in book publishing, where I could get to grips with the creation of books, from start to finish, and get the chance to work directly with authors.
Learning my trade
Learning my trade in Young Adult fiction, I went on to become an assistant editor, and later a managing editor, at an illustrated book publisher, where my scope widened from black words on white pages to prose, poetry and non-fiction married to stunning imagery. My love of words led to my love of pictures and the unique combination of the two. Language introduced me to the visual. Not only would I correct proofs of books assigned to me, I learned to input the changes directly onto the working document itself – a new skill evolved out of my foundational editorial knowledge. After learning my way around the software (Quark X-Press in those days), I wanted to know more and dabbled in educating myself about the design side of things in my own free time.
Born in the USA
After moving from the States to Ireland, I started my own freelance business in 2005, offering editing, writing and design services to clients. My main clients were magazine publishers and local businesses, mixed in with some fiction editing from self-published clients. Well aware that there were plenty of capable editorial colleagues throughout Ireland, making competition robust enough for jobs and clients, I wanted to develop my editing skills to include expertise of some kind outside the general norm of copy-editing and proofreading skills. But what could I offer that was a little bit different? Now that I was an expat living abroad, Americanisation of texts for UK and European publishers and writers immediately sprang to mind. Some careful research followed, and the ongoing development of a UK/US English dictionary was the result, ensuring I knew my ‘pants’ from my ‘underwear’, and using my new-found proficiency for clients looking for that particular type of consultation.
Knitting my interests together
Finding a small niche as a freelancer has been an empowering move, helping me to define my unique services to clients, while expanding my skill set. Grasping Americanisation encouraged my ambition to develop more specialties so that I could continue to set myself distinctly apart from my editorial colleagues. With academic qualifications behind me and over twenty-five years editorial experience under my feet, where would I source fresh inspiration for new niches? What subjects would they be? Well, when I wasn’t writing, editing or designing for work, I was most likely consumed with a favourite pastime, my top two being cooking and knitting. Pondering adding hobbies to my career mix, I realised what a dream it would be to work on editing cookbooks and knitting patterns.
Excited about branching off in a new direction, I read about and researched recipe editing before landing my first cookbook. While I could apply a lot of my general editorial knowledge to editing recipes, there was plenty I had to learn about how to handle the treatment of ingredients, measurements and methodology.
Having developed my cookbook editing niche, I am only getting started on tackling the subject of knitting. Proofreading and editing knitting patterns requires a form of technical editing that reflects good knowledge of the craft as well as basic maths skills for reviewing various calculations and measurements, in addition to checking for general editorial elements, such as style, consistency, spelling and grammar. It will be a rewarding challenge learning this, simultaneously enhancing my craft knowledge while opening a new door to clients looking for a specific editor to review their craft work.
‘Niching down’ and skilling up
Every specialised form of editing has its own set of rules, structures and nuances, and part of the fun and freshness is learning those ‘new’ things while expanding your editing knowledge base. ‘Niching down’ is also a great way to create your own opportunity for Continuing Professional Development – self-prescribed personal growth that adds more feathers to your professional cap, while widening your appeal to prospective clients.
Alexandra McKee is an editor, writer and graphic designer based in County Tyrone. She launched her freelance business, Word Works, in 2005. Her clients include regional and international businesses and private customers. She is a Full Member of AFEPI Ireland. Connect with Alexandra on LinkedIn.
The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of AFEPI Ireland.