Updated: Jun 14

There won't always be signposts to where you want to go or where you end up, but know that choice is not limited to the present options–sometimes you might be the one to put up a new signpost.

Experience is Free

It has been decades since I first began a career I always knew I was born to do: work with words. Surprisingly to most professional writers I have met, my first actual job was as a journalist, while I was still in secondary education, on a freelance assignment for a local cultural magazine. The job wasn't advertised, and I did not get introduced to the editor. Instead, I combined a school assignment and interviewed students about their thoughts on celebrities, such as the late-Rock Hudson, having their sexuality being outed in the news, especially after death. There were two sides of the camp, pardon the pun: those who thought it was disrespectful and those who thought it should be front page. The story eventually was spiked when the publisher decided that a story was too suburban with only one school of random interviews. I wanted to start the conversation, one that didn't eventually take place elsewhere. (I should have taken it to the weekly news magazine instead.) That experience didn't hold me back - it made me more determined to try other stories, other publications. The world didn't limit me to one local rag.

Fast forward to a local pub in the outskirts of London, where I was paid in pints to write a gig review of a small time band. It led to my first by-line and future commissioned gig reviews on the circuit, with small but regular cheques, as well as the pints. I was young, loved music and the pub atmosphere in South London was not unfamiliar to me. Yet I knew this was only the start. Before long, I was in central London gaining 'work experience' at a national weekly music magazine I knew well that wasn't hiring but was keen to have an enthusiastic volunteer shadow the editorial news-desk. Networking takes place any and everywhere, working or not - remember that.

This led me to meet an arts editor at the publishing company's premises working on a more mature music monthly and who was willing to have a look at some of my budding features ideas. I eventually earned his trust. This slightly upmarket music magazine became one of my regular pay-cheques as a film critic (again note, I changed the gears here), and I no longer needed cuttings from free papers to add to my portfolio. Although I still enjoyed being a regular arts critic, contributing actor interviews, theatre reviews in coverage. Anything I was interested in, I managed to work out a way to add it to my profile; paid or unpaid - it still helped my career up each rung in one way or another. If we look only for the paths pre-paved, we miss out on the opportunity to trail-blaze for ourselves and others.

I soon crossed from working contracts to writing and sub-editing shifts while full-time positions were competitive and my cuttings book was rather limited, but as it was always growing, it was finally making an impact. I had carved out my own career as a professional journalist familiar in all areas of publishing long before publishing became the free-for-all world it is now. Only 'the qualified' were printed, whereas now it seems the loudest of many voices is heard above the sea of others. Had I waited for an 'in' rather than creating one, my career and attitude today might be very different. As it is, I am not daunted by challenges, but excited by and rise to them. Being able to give back to my community of fellow writers by encouraging them is nothing short of icing on the cake, as my career path has always remained sweet!

Published by Peninsula Editorial Consultancy Published • 20h For those who missed it the first time round... an article by L A A following a recent post about the cycle of experience, jobseeking and carving your career's elusive break.

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Updated: Jun 5

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Anna Cale explains how she has benefited from having her writing edited for magazines and a book on the CIEP blog,

The Perfect Partnership: The Value of Editing to an Author

As a freelance arts and culture writer, I think I am generally pretty good with words. But I also have to be professional. I always hit my word count, I submit my work to the agreed deadline and, importantly, I am open to feedback. Most of the time, anyway.

I am often too close to my work. I need someone else’s eye for detail, for spotting whether I have gone off track a little. I need a good editor. This is not something that comes easily, but I have always tried to remain open-minded and not too defensive. However, in my experience of writing articles, and then recently my first book, the role of an editor in the process has differed significantly.

Knowing your audience

When writing short-form articles for magazines, my interaction with an editor is quite limited. I pitch an idea in an email to the person who has the power (and budget) to commission. This is usually a hook that sums up the idea, with a short paragraph providing a little bit more detail of how the article would explore the idea.

If the editor says yes, then we talk terms. Once the agreed article is written, it is sent to the editor for review, and you work together to form the final piece for publication.

You need to know the publication well before pitching an idea, identifying their style and what they usually commission, to have a chance of having your article idea accepted. It is a fast-paced and competitive environment, and there is some advantage to doing your research. This also really helps when it comes to the editing process, and hopefully shortens it considerably.

Sometimes you build a good working relationship with a particular commissioning editor, and that helps to make the process easier. You can start to second-guess what they want. But turnaround can often be quick, even for monthly magazines, and you don’t actually have much opportunity to build a connection. Both sides want the process to be as quick as possible.

Becoming a book author

When it came to writing my first book, however, the entire editing process was significantly different. My copyeditor was assigned to me by the publishers once I had submitted my final manuscript. I suspect this varies as each publishing company will work differently, but in my case that meant I had no interaction with an editor until that final stage, over a year after signing my contract to write 70,000 words.

I had done my research before putting together my original proposal for the publisher. Not just on the subject matter, but on the style of book the publishers usually release. I knew I would have to tailor my style a little to their audience, without compromising my own identity as a writer.

I was always going to be very protective of my book. It had been my baby for a long time. Friends had looked at drafts at various points, and my poor husband had read the entire thing twice. There was frustration along the way, as I realised just how much I use certain phrases (I’m looking at you, ‘of course’) or made the decision to alter sections significantly. I knew it was in a decent state at the point of submission, but I still didn’t feel prepared for editing and what that would entail. It was a complete mystery to me.

I was therefore rather apprehensive about the work involved in the editing process, but my editor guided me through it. Receiving a warm and friendly introductory email from her really helped, as she told me what the next steps would be. It felt like a fog had finally lifted. She was in control of the coordination of the various iterations of editing the manuscript, and I had confidence in her approach from the start. For me, as a debut writer, this feeling of trust was invaluable.

Working together

My experience of the editing process was a positive one. It felt like a constructive working relationship built on respect, with a balance of acceptance and compromise to reach a shared goal. We both had the same thing in mind – for me to produce the best book I possibly could.

It was about respecting each other’s knowledge. I was the subject matter expert on the topic, but my editor was the expert on how to present that idea for publication. Any spelling, punctuation, formatting or grammar changes she made were a given for me. I knew my editor would be bang on with that stuff, and I accepted those changes largely unchallenged. Anything more substantial was raised with questions or suggestions. I didn’t always accept those ideas, but did explore them within the context they were given to me.

It was a long process. We navigated the journey from rather long Word document to typeset PDF, with considered discussions over how best to present the appendices, the bibliography and filmography. The index was a pain, and I realised along the way that my grasp of the alphabet was not as hot as I had previously thought.

Respectful cooperation

For me, the main thing was consistent, open dialogue and communication. My editor clearly set out the process for me from the start, but I also felt empowered to approach her with questions or concerns. I finally had someone who was there to help me navigate this strange experience of writing a book when, during the previous months of researching and writing, that link had been sadly missing.

We had a shared willingness to understand each other. I did sometimes push back – our positive and understanding relationship gave me the confidence to do that. I did not feel uncomfortable or threatened by her input. I felt comfortable asking questions when I didn’t understand a comment, and equally, my editor seemed happy asking questions when she wasn’t sure about the subject matter or significance of something. We had respect for each other, the end result was something beautiful, and I feel we created it in partnership.

*This post previously appeared on the Blog of the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading.

The Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP) is a UK-based non-profit body promoting excellence in English language editing, sets and demonstrate editorial standards, and provides a community, training hub and support network for editorial professionals.

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