"Click. Add note to replace text. Add text box with notation for typesetting. Strike through text. Insert correct source at cursor." I am working in Adobe Acrobat on page proofs, preparing them for publication with a university press. I have been invested in this project from:
A Different Kind of Manuscript
Twenty years ago, however, you would have found me in the venerable Biblioteca Ambrosiana in Milan or Biblioteca Statale of Cremona in Italy, perusing a different kind of manuscript – ones written by hand on vellum or parchment paper in the late Middle Ages. I imagined a life of research, studying the written treasures hidden within the pages of such medieval manuscripts – accessible only to those trained to read the cryptic script and qualified to handle the fragile pages – and teaching Latin to university students. How did I end up working on modern books, on digital platforms, for other scholars?
Jumping through the Hoops of Academia
Real-life choices and tapping into my scholarly skill sets led me to this point. I submitted my doctoral dissertation – a critical edition and study of a medieval Latin grammatical text, previously existing only in manuscript form – two weeks before my first child was born. As a new mother, I held a sessional lecturer position, followed by a postdoctoral research fellowship, which allowed me to work on related manuscript research and get some publications under my belt – crucial for a promising academic career.
Working as an Author and Editor ... and with an Editor
Working with prestigious Brepols Publishers on seeing my own book through all of the stages of publication perhaps planted the first seeds in my mind of the possibility of a career in scholarly publishing. My editor Rita Beyers added so much value with her suggestions that improved the book, and I enjoyed the interchange with someone who had thought about the details of my work in such depth. During this time, I was also asked by some professors who recognized my penchant for detail to copyedit articles and book chapters in preparation for publication. I enjoyed the challenge.
Book and Baby!
As my own book came to light, I also gave birth to my second child. While I contemplated teaching positions alongside motherhood, I watched many of my colleagues in my field become itinerant instructors, moving to a different university every year for contract positions, picking up and moving every year for years before landing a tenure-track position. I did not see this as an option for me, since my husband had a secure job where we lived, which, as new parents, we did not want to jeopardize.
Jumping Off the Academic Carousel
So, I made the decision to jump off the academic carousel for a while and stay put to focus on raising my family. It was an important life decision, and I don’t regret it for a minute.
When my third child finally went to school full-time, however, it was time for me to think about my career again. Jumping back on the carousel, though, would prove difficult after so much time away without having jumped through the necessary academic hoops, so to speak, in the intervening years.
Along Came Erasmus
As chance would have it, I was hired as a freelance copyeditor for the Collected Works of Erasmus series, work that allowed me to use my Greek and Latin, familiarity with scholarly sources and apparatuses, and engage with scholars and publishers once again in a meaningful way. I loved it.
... and Real Life
While working on Erasmus, I was fortunate to land an adjunct instructor position for a year – but again, always limited contract. I kept my eye out for other contract teaching opportunities while continuing to edit, when my youngest child was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. In a flash, I realized just how ideal life as a freelance editor was for me and my family, allowing me the flexibility needed in order to be able to run to school when necessary to help my daughter manage her diabetes.
Building My Freelance Editing Business
Since then, I have not looked back. I learned the intricacies of working as a professional editor on the job, thanks to a generous mentor and a patient managing editor. I discovered the Editors Association of Canada, enrolled in as many of their professional development seminars and workshops as I could, and realized that I could expand my client base and establish my own freelance editing business. I learned to create back-of-book indexes, since I love to gather and organize information. I studied the Chicago Manual of Style and Nancy Mulvany’s Indexing Books. Focusing specifically on academic and scholarly editing, I am able to provide a quality niche service to university presses and individual scholars, drawing on my own academic experience.
Editing Involves All of My Skills
They say that a good editor has a wide range of varied knowledge. Indeed, I have found that in editing other scholars’ work, I get to draw on everything kicking around in my head – my foreign languages, love for grammar, subject matter that has stuck with me over the years, practical life experience – and apply it in a meaningful combination. I am also constantly learning while I work, learning about new disciplines, such as sociology, political science, and business, gaining new software and small-business marketing skills, and adding all of this to my mental collection.
Although my career has followed a path different than what I had imagined when I originally set out as an academic, I am convinced that I am now where I need to be. While I began my career with medieval book production – the materials, the scripts, how they were made and for what purposes – I now play an integral role in modern book production, from author manuscript (nowadays in MS Word) to the final digital proof pages in Adobe. I use all of the skills in my arsenal to help authors get their – often years worth of – research out to the world in as clear, correct, concise, comprehensive, and consistent form possible – and that is rewarding.
How did you get to where you are today? Did life decisions lead you down a different path professionally than you had originally expected? Have you packaged your skills for a new purpose with happy results?
I am Carla DeSantis, and welcome to my blog! I love language and words and books, and have turned this love into a business, helping others to perfect their written message.