Updated: Jan 11, 2022
What comes to mind when you hear the word mentor? For me, the term always elicits the image of a wise, (typically) old man, imparting his teachings upon a chosen apprentice destined for greatness. You know: the Yodas, Dumbledores, or Uncle Irohs of the world. (That, or some kind of overworked, underpaid high school guidance counselor.)
When I heard about the mentorship program offered by the Northwest Editors Guild, I initially wondered if it would be a worthwhile endeavor. Setting aside the fact that I’m far from the ideal candidate for a world-changing teenage protagonist, I’d only just begun my shift into an editing career. I worried that a mentor would want someone with projects already lined up, that it would be boring or a waste of their time. But starting a freelance career is daunting, and ultimately, I figured it couldn’t hurt to get some advice. And I’m so glad I did.
I had the pleasure of having Erika as my mentor, and I can say with utmost sincerity that it was an incredibly valuable experience. Erika’s guidance has been so helpful, and I’d like to share a few pieces of the wisdom she bestowed upon me throughout our correspondence. Maybe I should send Erika a fake beard?
Make your own life easier
Templates! Spreadsheets! They’re a beautiful thing. And fortunately for the ever-busy editor, there are dozens, if not hundreds, of premade resources available all across the internet. You can even design your own, if you feel so inclined. As a freelancer, you’re solely responsible for your business, and it’s so easy to get overwhelmed. As a beginner, specifically, it’s incredibly difficult to know everything you’ll need to have on hand. That’s where a mentor comes in. Throughout the mentorship program, Erika provided me with several extremely convenient templates, example documents, and even a pricing calculator. Other editors, too, have kindly shared similar things with me, and I really can’t express enough how useful they are.
Learn from your mistakes
“If a client calls you out on a mistake, don't panic. Do some research, and if your client is correct and you have made a mistake, fess up to it," Erika said to me once.
In a perfect world, every author and editor would have a beautifully balanced relationship filled with clear communication and respectful discussion. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case—and even if it was, language can be incredibly subjective. English is a mess of contradictions and exceptions, and it’s impossible for everyone to know everything. As a newer editor, I find it’s very easy to want to strive for 100% perfection. That simply isn’t practical, and hearing that reassurance from an experienced editor has done a lot to help me maintain my confidence in my work.
There will be times when your correction is wrong, or when you’ve misinterpreted a client’s intentions. It doesn’t mean you’re a bad editor. But how you handle the situation can prove that you’re a good one.
Give yourself a weekend
“When it comes to taking time off for hobbies and mental health, I suggest allowing yourself two days off per week."
This is something I originally heard from a friend who’s worked from home for most of his career. Having Erika (and other freelance editors) confirm it independently really drove the point home for me, and it’s something I’ve been actively working on as I build my freelance career. One of the most appealing benefits of freelance work is freedom, but with that comes the responsibility of drawing your own work-life boundaries. Neurodivergent folks like myself often struggle with this. We tend to hyper fixate to the point of overwork or lose focus and scatter tasks all throughout the day.
Of course, this isn’t to say that we should all try to force ourselves into a 9–5 schedule. But I’ve found that maintaining a clear divide between “working time” and “resting time” truly has been beneficial to my mental health. Not only does it give me time to focus on other things, but it grants me the permission to enjoy them, alleviating that guilty “you should be productive at all times” feeling.
Network, network, network
This is easily the best piece of advice I’ve received as a new editor. It’s also one of the ways Erika has helped me the most, and my biggest reason for recommending a mentorship program to other beginning editors.
Networking is vital to a successful freelance career, but it’s also incredibly difficult to do on your own, especially if you’re not used to it. Nobody wants to be a door-to-door salesman, and it’s already difficult for authors to trust someone else with their manuscript, let alone a complete stranger with no connections whatsoever. Having a mentor means you have a starting point, and the more closely you work with them, the more your mentor will be able to vouch for you. In my case, Erika was kind enough to put me in touch with a wide variety of editorial connections, including another developmental editor like myself.
Growing your network is, ultimately, your own responsibility—but a mentor can help with that, too. For instance, if you find a publisher you’re interested in working for, your mentor could know the other editors on the team and might even be able to introduce you. They might have even worked with that press themselves. This can also apply to individual clients, albeit in a broader sense. Not every editor will suit every author, and vice versa—a mentor can give you excellent advice on how to identify whether or not you’ll be a good match.
Could there be downsides to having a mentor? Sure, of course. There can be downsides to anything. You and your mentor could have completely different communication styles. They could be unavailable to you, which would defeat the purpose.
But personally, I think the potential benefits far exceed the risk.
Go find yourself a mentor, and be sure to make the most of it!
Brittany Morgan is a developmental editor of fantasy, historical fiction, and paranormal romance, with a particular passion for diversity within these genres. She is also a localization editor specializing in English to Japanese translations. Brittany has worked as a teacher, a translator, and even a model, and she is constantly searching for new experiences. As an editor, Brittany is committed to building strong, respectful relationships with her authors; she believes that positive feedback is just as important to growth as critique.
To learn more about Brittany, please visit her website: www.editorbrittany.com