The story of my first publishing job is awfully straightforward. I got my bachelor’s, whipped through my master’s coursework in a year, and decided I wanted to go into publishing. I was in Fort Worth at the time, and the only big gig in town was Harcourt Brace Jovanovich College Publishers. I sent them a resume (the only resume I sent out anywhere), went on an interview, and was offered a job. I didn’t know anyone there, so I guess I was either lucky or impressive. :-) I worked there for four years, and during the third one I decided I’d rather be doing fiction.
In order to get my first freelancing job, I looked at who published all my favorite books, called those publishers, and asked for the person who hired freelance proofreaders and copyeditors. I noted to them that I was currently in charge of hiring and supervising freelancers myself, told them I loved science fiction and fantasy, and asked if they might send me some work.
Some people were really rude and cut me off; some were nice. Ballantine/Del Rey sent me a test that I passed with flying colors, and I’ve freelanced for them ever since–a dozen years now, I guess. I eventually branched out to other publishers, and that’s where I stand today.
A lot of people have asked me how to get a job freelancing, and I suppose that my description makes it sound easy. It really is not, though. The critical factor in that conversation was that I mentioned I was in charge of hiring freelancers. That served multiple purposes. First, it told the person I was talking to that I had at least some notion of what I was doing. Second (and I’m sure this sounds awful to some people, but it’s the way the world works, folks) it implied a networking and possible freelancing contact.
Here’s something a lot of you may not realize: The proofreader or copyeditor who’s doing your book may very well be a production editor or editorial assistant or even an editor at another company. It happens all the time. (And it’s another reason to be polite. ;-)) Publishing does not pay particularly well, and the turnover rate is pretty damn high. People in publishing often freelance on the side. When you’re in publishing, making contacts with people at other companies is honestly essential–not only for if and when you switch jobs, but in case you want freelance work. I’m a full-time freelancer, but we aren’t very common: It’s pretty difficult to make a living this way.
I'm a freelance copyeditor specializing in fantasy and science fiction. SF/F novels I have copyedited have been finalists for (and have sometimes won) the Hugo, Nebula, Arthur C. Clarke, Endeavour, Golden Spur, John W. Campbell Memorial, Quill, Locus, Philip K. Dick, British Science Fiction, British Fantasy, and World Fantasy awards. In 2007 I became the first and only copyeditor ever short-listed for a World Fantasy Award.