How I Quit Teaching and Started Editing Novels in L.A. with the Clever Use of Craigslist and Rock-Bottom Rates
Six months after I went on maternity leave with my youngest son in 2008, I found myself editing every day. Friends, family members, and neighbors kept handing over material: scripts, business plans, marketing copy, NaNoWriMo manuscripts, short stories. It kept me going despite a wicked trek through postpartum depression, and when a friend suggested I might be able to make a living at it instead of going back to teaching (I had a brief, disastrous spell as an emergency-permitted continuation high school English/Social Studies teacher), I checked out the competition on Craigslist and quickly resolved to mop up.
Posting an ad I’d cleverly constructed with code swiped from a now-defunct marketing network and copy that hit all the high notes—not to mention rates that couldn’t be ignored—I landed a book within the hour. An hour later, I had another, and they kept coming in. Editing those first few projects was a special kind of torture, but I loved it. Suddenly, I was on a mission.
I ordered 50 books at a time from the Los Angeles Public Library with my teacher card and devoured books on copyediting, self-publishing, Microsoft Word, marketing, web design, freelancing, bookkeeping, networking, time management, mentoring, you name it. I ordered business cards and handed them out to every single indie author at the LA Times Festival of Books.
Over the next year, a friend proposed a better name for this endeavor, another built my first website, and I increased my rates by a fraction of a cent every time I knew I deserved a raise. I got better business cards, too, but only slightly:
Most of my income went towards late fines and Costco coffee in those days, but the hustle paid off: I crammed the worst part of the learning curve into the first couple of years and I’ve worked steadily ever since.
Right around the time I turned beet red just trying to talk to the owner of The Iliad Bookshop (my favorite local haunt), I realized that editing in my pajamas for two years straight had made me a little tweaky. Luckily, the indie publishing scene in Los Angeles was bursting into full bloom. I emerged from editing hibernation to investigate.
At the LA Times Festival of Books and the UCLA Writers’ Faire, I found my tribe. These were my people. As someone put it at the Festival of Books that first year, “Everyone in this room was the weird kid at the party in high school. Every one of us belongs here.” I signed up for the Writers Digest Conference West, the West Coast Writers Conferences, YALLWEST, BookExpo America, and countless other gatherings for writers, readers, and indie publishers. I started hosting gatherings of my own: Creating a Sustainable Writing Practice (a hybrid creative writing/time management workshop that let me geek out on Natalie Goldberg, Lynda Barry, and David Allen’s Getting Things Done system), a couple of novel-writing workshops for kids, and a series of editing workshops for adults. Oh, and I got better business cards.
My First Story Editor
My first collaborative editing venture was with Matthew Arkin. He and I met at a café in Studio City and agreed to share a table and the only available outlet in the joint. Across open laptops and works-in-progress, we found common ground. Matthew was working on a noir detective novel and thought he’d need eyes on it before too long; when he called me the next year to tell me he’d raised $17,000 with a Kickstarter campaign to publish the book, we got together and grilled each other about our methods.
I copyedited his novel and discovered that he was brilliant. We worked together so well, in fact, that after he’d beta-read a few manuscripts for me and given feedback that was beyond my own abilities, I offered him a job — partly in hopes that he wouldn’t start an editing business and sweep all of L.A. out from under me! He swears he doesn’t want to, but I try to keep him happy just in case. So far so good.
My First Partnership
My next moment of kismet was meeting Sun Cooper at a Writer’s Digest Conference in 2013. We waved at each other across the crowded conference floor like lifelong comadres, instantly understanding that we had work to do together. We bonded over books, boots, and buffalo and compared notes on the book shepherding work we’d found ourselves doing for our favorite clients — me through My Two Cents and her through Follow the Buffalo. We discovered that we each loved the tasks the other couldn’t stand, and we holed up in a midcentury modern bungalow in Palm Springs to draft a partnership.
Over the course of that long desert weekend, Sun and I dreamed up a vision, lassoed the details, and started marking up maps for the authors we loved. We launched Outrider Literary the next year and collaborated on book shepherding projects for the next two years until our attentions were pulled closer to home.
Sun’s visionary consulting brings light to creative writers and mindful publishers through Sun Literary these days. Go find her there and bask in her many beautiful endeavors — you’ll be glad you did.
The Big Picture for My Two Cents
There is as much bliss in freelancing as there is terror, but the beauty of working with individual authors on a project-by-project basis is in the freedom to continually evolve. Like many of my brilliant colleagues, I’m always researching, honing my skills, pushing myself, refining my processes.
I have my clients (even and especially the difficult ones) to thank for this state of continual evolution; they’ve made it possible for me to improve my craft year after year by trusting me with their most valued creations. My mission is simple, even when its execution is complex: To facilitate the transmission of interesting ideas from passionate writers to discerning readers. That’s the heart of it, and I’m honored whenever I’m invited to help.
“The idea is to write it so that people hear it and it slides through the brain and goes straight to the heart.” – Maya Angelou