This is a podcast about developmental editing. But today it is a podcast about how to develop an editing business. Specifically, here are five lessons from a year of building an editing business that you can apply to your writing, too.
We’re at the end of the year, the time when everyone is doing a lot of reflection on where we’ve been and where we’re going next. And for me, that means looking back on the last year of my editing business—which, coincidentally, was also the first year of my editing business—and seeing what I’ve learned.
As you might imagine, I have learned a lot in my first year of running a business and editing novels full-time. And while some of the things I’ve learned are really nitty-gritty details, like which tools I prefer for AI transcriptions, many of them are bigger-picture concepts that apply to more than just editing.
(I have a feeling that I just made a few people super curious about my favorite AI transcription tools. I set myself up for that, so I’ll tell you. I use Fathom as an AI notetaker to record all my client calls on Zoom. I use Descript to record and transcribe and edit my podcast. And I use Otter to record quick notes to myself on the go.)
3 Reasons Editing Business Tips Apply to Writers, Too
But my point with this episode isn’t to give you my top tech tips. Actually, I want to give you a bit of a glimpse behind the scenes at some of the bigger-picture lessons I’ve learned this year.
Why am I pivoting from editing tips to editing business tips? Well, I have a few reasons.
1. To share editing in real time
First, because this is top of mind for me right now, and what you get on this podcast is what I am literally doing in my editing business on the day to day.
All the tips I share on the podcast come directly from the work I’m doing with writers one-on-one as I edit novels. And this month, since these editing business reflections are top of mind for me, you’re getting to hear them, too.
2. Editing a book and building a business are more similar than you’d think
Second, because all year as I have worked with clients, I have felt that there are tremendous parallels between the project of a book and the project of building my editing business.
I haven’t talked about this a ton, either on this podcast or with my clients, because I don’t know how relatable it will feel to writers if I talk about my experiences building a business. But I definitely relate to what writers are experiencing in their creative projects through the lens of my own editing business.
So I want to share some things that I have learned about running this business because I think that you will find that there are parallels to your creative projects, even when your project is a book and not a business.
3. If you want to be an editor, this is for you
And the third reason why I want to share what I have learned from a year of building my editing business is because I have wanted to be an editor for so many years.
I have dreamed of being an editor since I was a very little child. I know you’ve heard me talk about that on the podcast before. I say it often because I love this work so much, and it has been so important to me for my entire life.
And I think about what I would have loved to have had in all of those years when I was thinking about editing, and dreaming about editing, and editing friends’ papers in school and reading all these books and having big thoughts about how the stories worked, but having no real idea of how I could ever actually make this my career.
And I would have absolutely loved a podcast that would both teach me all the things that an editor does in their daily work and would also teach me some insider secrets about what it’s actually like to run that editing business and do that work.
So this episode is for all of you writers out there who are following me, who are downloading all my worksheets and guides and templates, who are putting them to use in your own writing and you’re leveling up your book using the tools that I’m teaching on this podcast.
And this episode is also for anyone out there who’s listening who just really wants to be an actor. Because I have been there and I get it.
And to be honest, I’m still in the early stages of my editing. I’ve been editing professionally for about six and a half years. But I’ve only been building an editing business and really honing in on what I do as an editor for the last year or so. I’m still very early in my editing career.
But I would love to use this episode to lend a helping hand to all of those aspiring editors who are coming up behind me. This work is so fun, and it’s so rewarding. And I have wanted every bit of insight and knowledge and support that I could get. And now I would love to share what I know and what I’ve experienced with you.
Hint: You’re Building a Business, Too
So in this episode I’m going to share the top five things that I have learned this year from running my own editing business.
Well, I’m going to share five things that I have learned this year from running my own editing business. We don’t have to rank them. I’ve learned many more than five things. These are just the five I picked.
I hope you find these useful and inspiring for tackling big, creative projects like editing your novel.
And I also hope that you get some insight that further inspires and prepares you to start your own editing career, if that’s the thing you’re dreaming of.
Also, I’ll throw this one out there too: When you start publishing your books, whether you’re doing that traditionally, or self-published—and certainly especially if you’re self-publishing, but also not exclusively if you’re self-publishing—when you start publishing your books, you really are building your own business.
You’re now creating a product that you want to sell to customers.
Which is not the way that any of us like to think about books. We’re here to think about stories and exciting, creative things.
But the reality is once you get to the publishing side where you want to get those stories in the hands of readers, it’s going to be really, really helpful for you if you start thinking, at least in part, of your writing as a business.
And so some of the things that I share with you here, you might apply not only to the writing of your book, but also the publishing and the marketing side of your book, once it becomes not just a story in your head and pages on your computer, but a physical, tangible object that you want to share with readers who are hungry for it.
So keep that in mind as well. You might not be as distant from the business-building side of this experience as you think.
My Top 5 Lessons From Year 1 of Business Building
All right, let’s get into the five things. Here’s the first one:
1. Editing requires sustainable fuel
The first thing I have learned is that editing is deeply thought intensive work. It requires an enormous amount of brainpower.
In a full day of editing, I spend all of my brainpower, and I fall into bed at the end of the day mentally exhausted. I have used all of my brain energy up. And brains take a lot of energy. It takes a lot of fuel to run a brain. In order to do my best work, it is absolutely essential that I fuel myself well.
I started off this business as a solopreneur who was too busy to cook, too busy to do anything other than work from the moment I jumped out of bed to the moment I rolled back into bed at three in the morning. No time for anything but work.
So I was leaning hard on a diet of frozen burritos and no sleep. And a diet of frozen burritos and no sleep does not the best editing thoughts produce.
In order for this to become something that I can sustain, I have to fuel myself well. So for the last few months, I have really pivoted hard to leaning on building and re-establishing and focusing on maintaining and prioritizing healthy habits: eating well, eating vegetables, drinking water, moving my body, and sleeping. The sleep one, honestly, is still the hardest one on that list, but I’m working on it.
When I do these things, everyone benefits—everyone across the board in my entire life. I benefit. My clients benefit. My friends benefit. My family benefits. Everyone benefits.
And when I don’t do these things, everyone misses out.
They are hard, hard, hard habits to build and maintain. For me, like I said, sleep’s the real killer here. But they are absolutely essential for my own health and for the health of my business.
So that’s number one. Fueling myself well is non-negotiable is what I have learned this year.
2. Marketing = figure out what you do + tell people that you do it
Second thing: Marketing, in its simplest form, is just figuring out what you do and then telling people that you do it.
My business really caught momentum in May. I was on a zoom call talking with one of my editor colleagues, Kim Kessler—if you’ve listened to this podcast a while then you know who she is—about the clients that I was hoping to work with, the clients I had where it was going really, really well, the spaces where I could just tell something wasn’t a great fit, and what I really wanted to design in my business going forward. Just all the data that I had so far about what I’m good at, what I want to do, who I want to work with, and how I want to work with them.
And then I took a look at everything I just told her. I thought, “You know what, if I just say that to people, then I bet I’d find some clients.”
So I organized it into a tidy little post, and I posted it in a Facebook group of writers. And that, honestly, was the one post that fueled my business for the rest of the year. I’m not even joking. That post gave me all the momentum that I needed to carry me through the rest of the year.
So when you know what you do, and you know who to tell, that’s all marketing is. Figure out what you do, and tell people that you do it.
At the same time, that’s really hard to do. If it were easy, everybody would find marketing easy all the time, and nobody finds marketing easy. Marketing is something that people spend lots and lots of money hiring other people to do for them.
And that’s because it is really hard to figure out what you do. And it is really hard to figure out where and how to tell people that you do it.
So I personally am constantly iterating on and exploring what exactly I do best and how I best serve writers, and I’m constantly refining what I do and focus on in my business. I don’t think that’s ever going to stop. I will always be learning more about how I work best, what things I can best offer to writers, and how I can serve them even better.
So that’s thing two: figure out what you do. And then tell people that you do it.
And like I said, that goes for your book as well!
3. Community is essential
Number three: community is essential. Absolutely essential.
Before I launched my editing business and became a solopreneur editing full time, I worked for several years on a team at a writing company. So I was in the writing world. I was still working with books and editing books, but I was on a team and I had a lot of other responsibilities besides editing books.
And one of the things I was most afraid of in leaving that Job was that I would no longer have a team, I would no longer have coworkers, I would no longer have friends that I would get to sit on zoom with every week and chat with and troubleshoot with and share my problems with and ask for support from. I wouldn’t have companions to go through my work life with and get help whenever I get stuck and celebrate when things are going well.
I was very afraid that I was going to end up very lonely and isolated because I was going to launch my own thing, become a solopreneur, and then never talk to anyone ever again.
But the moment that I left my previous job and launched my own business, two of my editor friends were like, “Welcome. You’re ours now.”
And they immediately folded me into their community and connected me with a whole network of editors and book people.
Those two editors and I now co-work on Zoom multiple times a week. We are building our businesses alongside each other. We are collaborating, sharing our strengths with each other to shore up each other’s weaknesses, so we can raise this tide and raise all the ships in it. We’re untangling sticky plot problems and business marketing strategies together.
And I can honestly say that if it were not for the community of editors around me and these two editors in particular, then my business would not be what it is today, and I as an editor would not be who I am today.
I would still be working super hard. I would still be building this business. Let’s not imagine that I was ever going to give up on this lifelong dream of being an editor.
But it has made such a difference to be surrounded by a supportive community of people who get it, who are doing the same thing, and who can help me figure out how to do my thing even better.
So that’s thing number three: community is essential.
4. The work I do is valuable, and it’s making stories better
Thing four—and this one, honestly, has been maybe the hardest one of all these five things for me to learn:
The work that I am doing is valuable. And I am helping writers make their stories better.
Yeah. It might sound weird for me to say that, to admit that I have been afraid that wasn’t the case. But it’s true. Imposter syndrome can be rough.
So, thing number four here is I am learning, I am seeing, I am confirming every day that the work that I do is valuable and that I am helping writers make their stories better.
My absolute favorite days in my editing business are the ones where I get on calls with writers after reading the revisions. And I just slow clap because they freaking nailed it.
They took my feedback. They made it their own. They edited their story in exactly the way they wanted to. It worked. They fixed the problems. And their story is so much better for it, so good I have nothing more to say.
That is the most rewarding part of my work: to see writers taking my feedback, using it to spin dozens of brilliant ideas of their own, and transforming their stories for the better.
I’ve been seeing that happen more and more, just because I’ve been doing this long enough now that I’m starting to see the results of the work that I’ve been doing with writers, not just the early beginnings, but the happy results at the end.
And the results are so good, you guys. The results are so good. It’s so so so exciting to see the stories that writers are creating based on the feedback that I’ve given them and the ways that they are leveling up their writing with the feedback that I have given them.
I never get tired of it. This is what I think about as I fall asleep at night. It’s the thing that is most encouraging to me, most rewarding to me, most exciting to me in my business. I just want more of this, more getting to celebrate the writers who are freaking nailing it telling awesome stories.
5. I’m capable of more than I realize—and so are you
And the last of the five things that I’m going to share with you—certainly not the last thing I’ve learned this year, but the last of the five things I’ve learned that I’m going to share with you here—is that I am capable of far more than I realized. But I never would have discovered that if I had not made the leap.
I dreamed of being an editor for a long, long time. For years, the only vision that really felt right to me of what editing would look like was to build my own independent editing business, to run my own business, take on clients myself, and work one on one with writers directly. That was the only thing that I could imagine that really felt like it was going to allow me to do the kinds of work that I wanted to do with the writers that I wanted to work with.
But I was so afraid that I couldn’t do it that for years, I never made the leap. I told myself that I needed to find a more stable job, something more responsible, that it was irresponsible to go into entrepreneurship, that it was risky, that there wasn’t a market for it, that I wasn’t going to be able to deliver on the work that I was selling, or that I wasn’t going to know enough to do it, or that nobody was going to want to work with me.
I just told myself all these reasons why I wasn’t enough to do this, not realizing that for several years before I made the leap, I actually was prepared.
When I first decided I wanted to edit, I was not ready. When I got my first job out of college, I was not ready. I could not have built this business right out of college. I could not have built this business the first time the idea came into my head. It came into my head years and years ago, and I could not have built it then.
But I could have built it several years before I actually made the leap because I was ready and I didn’t know it. I didn’t know it until I made the leap.
And I’m saying this to you because I think that there’s something universal here about risky creative projects. And your book is one of those creative projects.
You’re never going to know that you have what it takes to write and edit and publish an amazing story until you do it.
It’s not that you can’t do it. It’s that you don’t know that you can do it. And you won’t know that you can do it until you try.
So I encourage you just like I encouraged me. Well, I didn’t encourage me. Other people encouraged me. I encourage you the way other people encouraged me: to take the leap and do the thing.
Because you can do it and you are capable of far more than you realize. I believe that for you.
Lessons for My Editing Business and Beyond
All right, those are the five things—or, those are five things, not the five things. Again, I have learned a lot of things this year in my business. Many of them are tiny nitty gritty things that really do not matter to you. You do not need to know all the random details that I have learned this year at business building.
But those are five things that I have learned that I think are applicable both to building an editing business and also beyond:
- That in order to do my best work, I must fuel myself well.
- That marketing in its simplest form is simply figuring out what you do, and then telling people that you do it.
- That community is essential.
- That the work that I am doing is valuable, and I am materially helping writers make their stories better.
- And that I am capable of far more than I realized, but I never would have discovered that if I hadn’t made the leap. And the same is true for you.
I hope that those five things are encouraging to you.
I want to give a special shout out to all of you aspiring editors who are listening to this who are just yearning for the day when you make your own leap into editing. You can do it. I believe in you. I am so excited for you to get involved in this work as well because it truly is the most fun and rewarding work that I’ve done in my life. I love it and I hope you do too.
I cannot wait to read more stories and help more writers in this editing business that I’m building.
Thanks so much for listening and joining me along the way. Happy editing!