Tell us how you got started as an editor.
In 2010 I was thinking of ways to save up to visit Israel and decided that with my growing household of young children (I ended up having seven) the best plan was to develop my love of writing. After finishing a correspondence course with the Institute of Children’s Literature in 2012, I started blogging about the Bible and science and learned to edit my own writing. Before long, I started being asked to review self-published books by other creationists. Many times, I desperately wished I’d been able to help them shape their ideas and style before investing in printing!
When my youngest was around a year old, I found out that PENCON was going to be held in my city. I’d never even heard of The Chicago Manual of Style, but everything the presenters discussed about big-picture editing resonated exactly with the kinds of issues I was seeing. I realized this vantage point was a gift from God and it was worth pursuing a career helping authors with valuable messages shape and polish their words.
I’m still working to develop a steady clientele, but in 2018, when my husband had some serious health issues and I desperately needed to bring in income, I was offered a position as the managing editor for the Creation Club, a biblical creation website. I’ve joined CEC and gotten to help both brand-new authors and those looking to polish their books for second editions. I let a theologian whose work I’ve long followed know I’m an editor and now help him with his ministry’s print magazine. One of my favorite opportunities is volunteering my services for several ministries I appreciate deeply.
In 2021, I joined the team with Elk Lake Publishing and have gotten to work with one of their manuscripts from rough first edit to learning to format for the printer.
What are your areas of focus, and why did you select them?
I read nonfiction and children’s books, so that’s what I edit. I delight in important and life-changing ideas but feel the need to present them in clear and easily digestible prose. My favorite nonfiction subjects are theology, psychology, and the natural sciences. I also love a good children’s fantasy.
One of the genres I’ve spent the most time with is picture books. I’ve been reading them either to my siblings or my children since around 1990 and know what a skill it is to express so much in a few words. And there is always a double audience for these books with both the adult and the young child needing the experience to be a delight.
I’m constantly developing my punctuation and grammar skills. Proofreading will never be my favorite activity, but, like dusting my baseboards, it is necessary to preparing a quality end product.
What does a typical workday look like for you? How do you manage your time?
I don’t have a typical workday. My busy household comes first, so I fit editing into the corners. I usually end up with around four hours to edit in the afternoon on Mondays, then I’m busy until Thursday. If I have a big project, I can put in a good seven hours Thursday through Saturday, but a sustainable pace for me is more like four to five hours over those three days. I’ve always taken Sundays off because I try to stay off of electronics altogether to keep my priorities straight and focus on eternal relationships.
What is your favorite thing about being an editor?
If I can only mention one area, it’s helping new authors recognize their writing strengths and weaknesses. It took me years to get to that point with my own writing, and I can help fast track an author to have the confidence they need to move forward with their books.
Part of this process is helping them learn how to overcome their weaknesses and discover blind spots they otherwise wouldn’t even know were holding their book back.
Just under that is the satisfaction of correcting an issue knowing it will never end up on the public-facing material. Unlike my dishes, those words will stay beautifully useful.
What is your biggest challenge in being an editor, and how do you work through this?
Finding clients. For that, I do everything I can to be a blessing to potential authors on social media as time allows as well as stay connected with CEC. I’ve also reached out to people directly to offer my services a few times with good results.
In the editing process, it can be tricky to know clearly what my client is wanting from me, plus, what I do with a rough manuscript is more like performing major surgery than applying cosmetics. Whenever possible, I spend time getting to know authors and their goals. This helps me build rapport, so when I send them a long letter of recommendations and concerns along with a manuscript covered in notes, it’s not so painful.
It sometimes makes me cry when a client is positive and grateful for an edit I know would have put me in a fetal position of creative angst if I’d received myself.
What advice do you have for editors just starting their career?
You don’t have to have a degree or spend a lot of money to jump into this work. It does help to love the process and find an area you are naturally good at.
I bought my copy of The Chicago Manual of Style at a point when toilet paper was expensive for me, but it was worth it. For the first two years, any money that wasn’t going toward rent or kids’ shoes went right back into my education.
The PEN Institute and everyone connected with it are hugely encouraging for developing new skills and answering questions. I expect to always be learning something, but that doesn’t mean my work isn’t valuable already. Now I know where to go to develop my skills and that it’s OK to have a section of CMOS that falls open (for me, it’s commas) from frequent use.
And unless you are volunteering for something you believe in, always charge more than minimum wage for your time. Doing work for less than that isn’t good for you or your client.
Cheri Fields is a big-picture thinker and natural teacher. She loves to come alongside authors and help them transform their ideas and first drafts into a cohesive and delightful whole ready to present to the world. She is a Gold member of The Christian PEN and edits nonfiction and children’s editing.
Her writing fits around her editing, and her editing fits around her busy homeschool life bringing up seven productive citizens.
Be a part of PEN Tips Featured Editor Series!
Are you a PEN Gold or Silver member? Want to promote your editing services’ online visibility? Be a PEN Tips Featured Editor! Once a month we’ll pull from submissions and feature a photo, bio, and details from the survey to showcase our wonderful PEN Gold and Silver members.
Submissions will be edited and proofread to follow CMOS guidelines and the CEN Style Guide.
Complete the survey to participate.
Email PEN Blog Coordinator Valerie Riese at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.