When Anne Lesser was in between careers (after a time as a French and music teacher, which she now considers “another life”), she picked up the job-search book What Color is Your Parachute? “One of the book’s exercises asks you to think of life experiences that made you feel happy and productive,” she recalls. “I did the exercise, and realized that all of the memories I listed had to do with making things better, fixing things up. And you really have to care about those things to be a good editor.”
“I also realized that I’m really independent, and like being busy,” Anne says. “I didn’t want to be tied down to any one job.” Freelancing seemed like a perfect fit. It was also perfect for her home in rural Massachusetts, “a fascinating place to live, but not the best place to find work.”
Anne made a name for herself from the ground up: before email or LinkedIn, she had to work a little harder than today’s job-seekers. “One day, I literally went to the library and wrote down the names of book publishers I recognized. I cold-called them, took editing tests, and just hoped someone would take a chance on me,” she says. Soon enough, people did start calling. And Anne found that when former clients switched jobs, they’d want to take her along with them.
Thirty years later, Anne has the craft of freelance editing down to a science. Here, she shares a few of her tips for staying sane:
- Stay on task. “You have to learn to walk by the dirty dishes in the sink, and other pulls on your time. Otherwise, you’ll never get anything done.”
- Get organized. “With lots of projects going on, you’ll often be working across multiple style guides. It’s important to have everything straight. I keep a separate binder for each project I’m working on.”
- Get creative with technology. “Having a second monitor changed my life,” Anne says. “I can have a style sheet up on one, and project copy open on another. I also use some of the tools available on Editorium.com—they can really expand what you’re capable of as an editor.”
- Beware of ‘mission creep.’ “The last thing you want is to finish up a project, only to find it’s not what the client wanted. Get the parameters of the project really clear from the get-go.”
- Take time to enjoy your work. “I learn something from every piece I work on. I edit a personal finance column, which always gets me thinking about saving money. And recently, I edited a book called Thinner This Year. I think I lost a couple pounds doing that.”
But Anne is more than just a master copyeditor. She’s also a classical pianist, an avid gardener, a gourmet chef, and a self-proclaimed Francophile. On the Dragonfly team, she works on European Urology projects, which she balances with her own freelance work. “This job isn’t for everyone,” Anne says. “But for me, it works out well.”
Mary Dixon, a recent graduate of The College of Wooster in Wooster, Ohio, and an intern with Dragonfly Editorial, is writing a series of profiles of Dragonfly writers and editors.