Vanity Hells, Media Crashes, and A Whole Lot Of Gay Werewolves; or How I became an editor

So, here’s a weird thing–I’ve been pessimistic probably since I could walk. (Realistic, thank you very much.) I knew the reality of wanting to be a Published Author from a very young age–don’t bank on bank. I was very well aware that I needed to have A Real Job to make ends meet, but at the same time, I knew I didn’t want it to be something I hated. I knew I was smart, and resourceful, and I could figure something out; I just didn’t know what for a long while.

But I knew I needed an English degree, so I went out and got one. During that time, I tried out a few things. I worked at my college library, which further ingrained on me that this was something I would love to do, but I was also living on my own and the cost of grad school was horrifically impossible. It was like the world’s greatest pipe dream, somehow more so than being a published author. Because I could always write, no matter how broke, but affording tuition like that? Yeah, okay, point me to the nearest mummy’s tomb I can loot for gold.

fightin words mummy returns

I’m not even sure where the I Want To Be An Editor idea came from, I can’t quite pinpoint the exact moment. I believe I was tossing around the idea of being a literary agent, only to realize that this was still Too Much Work. I knew I didn’t want to teach; it was too time consuming. But at some point at the end of my sophomore year, I realized that I could be an editor. For the sheer reason that no one I had ever met in my program wanted to be one. Everyone wanted to be a journalist or an agent or a novelist or hell even a poet. Yes, undergrad me decided, this where the jobs will be. I will do this thing.

If current me could meet undergrad me, I’d laugh in her face, take her to Chaibo, and explain the lunacy of this idea. But I was young and naive, and print media was still flourishing. So I went into it full-keel, no stops. I took the position of copy editor at the college newspaper, I took odd jobs wherever I could, I edited student essays and tried to make non-English majors into better writers in an actual professor-appointed position. I took a job at a vanity publisher that I thought was THE BIG TIME and to this day have never seen a dime of the $1,000 they owe me in edits.

god himself could not sink this ship

It wasn’t until I did my professional internship with a newspaper, batting my eyelashes and bringing out my best doe eyes to please, please teach me the ways of copy-editing in the big leagues, that I realized just how screwed I was. What was once a mighty newspaper was running on bare bones. Like an abandoned building that wouldn’t be allowed to die. Somehow sadder than an actual abandoned building. Like my failing relationship at the time, all of the signs were there, but I had my head down and buried in my work, too over-worked to see any of it.

I graduated that same year, in 2012, and print media took a nosedive. Whole newspapers closed, PRH was born with a slew of lost jobs, everything went digital, and the words I kept hearing were, “Editors laid off. Fact-checkers no longer at the New Yorker.” I was crushed. I had put years of my life into this, I had worked hell jobs for zero pay just for a list of Things I’d Worked On. I had put up with an internship that taught me nothing, but costed me valuable time where I could have at least been making money. I had even graduated with honors while working full time to prove I was smart enough for the job. Every editing job I found wanted 5-10 years experience for entry level. But I would later learn that this was just Life now, because I was a millennial, and the deck was stacked against me.

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So I walked. I took a job as a technical writer, which at the time paid more than minimum wage but now does not, and I didn’t look back. I took my career dreams out back like that scene from Old Yeller, put em down, and went inside to write another soulless SEO article for an eye doctor.

It took me a couple of years to understand what had happened in publishing and media to figure out where I stood. Try and remember: I didn’t know any of you folks in publishing back then. What happens next is the reason I actually know any of you at all. I realized as print media was crashing, digital media was booming. Publishing was evolving to do great, kick ass things, without the need for the Big Five at all. The notion of it went against everything I had ever learned in college.

But I didn’t dive back in. I had already had my heart broken once, I wasn’t going all-out. I opened up an ODesk account and took a few small editing jobs here and there. They weren’t much, but they were something. They were credits I could point to, and my clients loved my work. Editing didn’t pay the bills back then, it did the one thing I had never expected it to do: it paid in happiness. That same fuzzy feeling I got when a client left a great review on my Etsy page became the same feeling I got from hacking stories apart. The irony that the career I had banked on for income became my Soul Work still isn’t lost on me.

At this same time, I was taking my jewelry business, Patched & Smacked, to the first ever Howlercon. For those of you who don’t know, it’s a Teen Wolf convention. The con was amazing, the shop was a hit, and there I met a few of my tumblr friends face to face, including the wonderful Alexis Arendt. We bonded over our love of a machiavellian evil genius on the show, and from there began chatting about our loves and hates with writing and publishing.

It wasn’t until the following spring, as I was working with a semi-regular client on Odesk and began asking the magic words, “Does anyone need an editor? I can be your editor, here is what my current clients say about me,” that Ally asked me if I could proofread something really quick for her, as she had a family crisis to attend to. I of course was happy to oblige, even happier to be paid for my work (this was starting to become a foreign concept, getting paid to do what I loved). It was short enough to get it done in a day. The next morning I woke up around 9am to a DM on my twitter–how would I like to come work with her at Word Vagabond?

That motherfucker used the proofread as a job interview.

it was you

And the rest is history. And by history, I mean a fuck ton of hard work to establish myself and our business as affordable, but reputable. Approachable, yet professional. When I first started, I was getting Ally’s run-off; clients who came to her at the last moment needing a fast turn around that she couldn’t fit into her schedule. And I was happy to do it! I still am! The two of us live a few states apart, but through the glory of Google Calendar and Drive we can easily pass projects back and forth so things stay on track, on schedule, even if one of us gets sick as fuck for a week.

Alexis encouraged me to go to writing groups in my area to drum up new clients, to go to conventions and do the networking thing. I talked to her about Necon, which I was terrified of doing at the time because I worked from home; I had more conversations with my cat and tumblr friends than real people, and I was just getting through a tough battle with an awful skin condition. But she encouraged me to do it and have fun, to bring business cards and enjoy myself. Today, Necon is my home away from home, this weird extended family that I love and admire. And its through these lovely weirdos I learned that I can be me and still be recognized as a professional in the industry. In short- I learned through cons and my mentor how to be my authentic self.

IM RUSSELL

I basically owe Alexis Arendt my entire soul, and I’m perfectly okay with that. Through her mentoring, encouraging me that yes, I can do all of these things, I was given the opportunity of a lifetime. Not just for the career I’d sought since I was a wee college student, but for an In into the publishing community that I had wanted to be a part of since I was a child, but could never quite grasp.

I kind of wish Twitter had a Memories thing, because this would mark the three year anniversary of my leave from tech writing into the wild world of freelance editing. Today, I have my own independent client list, and even though I’m not quite ready to leave my Smol Job and take up freelance editing full time, I am closer than ever to achieving it. Like *puts fingers very close together* this goddamn close. And the crazy thing is, I still believe that I can, even after all the soul-crushing setbacks, battles with health and mental illness, and nearly calling a lawyer once or twice, I am somehow here doing the thing that I love most in the world.

Happy anniversary, Word Vagabond. Let’s make this year even better than the last.

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