My tech editing origin story

Today, I thought I would share the story of how I got started tech editing.

While at university I had done a bit of designing — I had a pattern published in Knitty — and had done some sample and test knitting as well. And then one day while I was browsing the forums on Ravelry for test knitters, I saw a post that said “someone to test read my knitting pattern” and in the post she said that she needed: Someone good with math — there isn't a lot of complicated knitting, but there are a lot of numbers and tables to wade through. And I thought well, numbers and tables are kind of my thing. So I graduated from university with a degree in mathematics with education. I thought I was going to be a math teacher and then for various reasons that did not pan out and so I graduated from university with really no idea what I was going to do with my degree. So during this time I was testing as just something to do and really just, you know, didn't know my direction, but I knew I was good at maths and so when I saw a post, someone who needed not someone to test knit but to test read their pattern and they wanted someone good at math who could handle the numbers and tables, I thought, yes, I'm perfect, I can do that. I had no clue that it was called tech editing, but she ended up hiring me. So that was my first tech editing job and it was November 2008, which is crazy to me. I can't believe I've been tech editing for 10 years.

So that was job number one and then I remember job number two was someone who was actually looking for a tech editor — by that time I knew what it was and that it was something I was going to be great at — and it was a designer who I had test knit for. And so when I saw his post, I had messaged him and said, I’ve only done one job, I'm still new to this, but if you'd like to give me a chance, like I'd love to work with you. And he said, “Oh, I remember you from testing editing, your comments were so helpful. I'd love to work with you.” And so that was my second tech editing job and it went great and things kind of took off from there.

May 2010 was when I was like, this is officially a business that I want to do, let's go for it. And so then I was kind of spending a few hours a week officially as my business hours where I was looking for clients and applying for jobs and figuring out my craft and then I would still be editing when my son was napping. Basically I was editing as soon as I would get in a pattern from a designer. I couldn't wait until just those few hours I had and those few hours I had weren't enough for the jobs that I had. I had more work coming in then that. So if in the morning I woke up with a pattern in my inbox then that afternoon when he was napping — sometimes it was in his bed, a lot of times it was in a sling on my back because he did not like to be put down — that's when I was editing.

My business grew pretty quickly because I was getting a lot of referrals which is awesome. That's an amazing way to to build your business because it means that you're doing such a great job that people are happy to recommend you to other people. And so that was the main way I was building my business. The two designers that I started with recommended me to other people and then I was still looking on Ravelry forums for people putting out calls for tech editors. That's not so common anymore. Now you really have to properly market yourself with Instagram and things like that. But Instagram wasn't a thing when I started. (Instagram was developed in October 2010.) But now that's what you have to do to get clients. You have to be present on Facebook groups (also not a thing when I started), you have to be present on Instagram, you have to have a website.

When I started my main marketing tools were Ravelry forums, my website, and Twitter. That was mainly how I got work. So I started 10 years ago, started basically with two clients who were then able to give me recommendations and referrals to other designers. I hunted the Ravelry forums for jobs pretty much on a daily basis, but certainly at least a few hours a week. I was consciously looking for work and editing every moment that I could while my kid was sleeping so that I could get jobs back to designers as quickly as possible. And things just took off from there.

It's one of those things, even now, getting those first handful of clients is the hardest part and then once you kind of build up a good client base and they start recommending you to other people, the ball starts rolling and suddenly you have more jobs than you can handle.

I quickly went from needing just a few dedicated hours a week plus nap time to needing twice a week dedicated hours plus nap time and then by the time my kid was about 18 months old and I was pregnant with my second child, I needed three full days a week. I was working with magazines at that point so there was a lot more work on my plate. I was also working with book publishers and designers. So I was working when he was in nursery and then a lot of other stolen moments here and there. I continued editing through my pregnancy — I actually was putting the finishing touches on Issue 4 of Knit Now magazine while I was in early labor. I had a planned c-section and the kiddo decided to come two days early. So I went into labor basically the night before my last day of work. So Tuesday morning I was bouncing on my ball, trying to send emails to my editor, letting her know the last minute changes that needed to be made and the bits I didn't get to that someone else was going to have to check. But the reason why we were crunching so hard to get Issue 4 out was so that I could take post birth off. So I did take about four weeks off after he was born and then I was right back editing.

And that was kind of how I built my business, that was how I got started. Basically I built up my business while pregnant and then while I had a young baby at home. I continued working while having an 18 month old and pregnant with my second and continued working when I had a two year old and a baby at home.

When I had a one year old and a three year old I actually went back to just working evenings and a couple afternoons. My husband would finish work a little bit earlier some days and he would work later other days so that I could have a little bit of an afternoon to work twice a week but that was basically it. There was no nap times then — not with my three year old! So yeah, it was a lot of evenings, but I was still able to do it. I did give up the magazine work which was not fitting into our family and it was around that time that I brought out the Learn To Tech Edit course which teaches people how to become tech editors. Building, marketing, and selling a course was easier to fit into my schedule then very heavy deadline based tech editing work, so I cut down on my tech editing work, stop doing the magazines and stop doing the book publishers. I still worked with independent designers and then started developing my courses.

And so that was kind of my journey into tech editing! Things got a lot easier once my kids went to school full time, I'm not going to lie, but it’s totally possible to do with kids at home regardless of your circumstance or if you're working a full time job and you only have evenings to learn to tech edit or to take on tech editing jobs. If it's something you think you really want to do and make a bigger part of your life I would say go for it. 

So I hope that's been helpful for you guys. If you want to learn more about tech editing, what a tech editor is, why you might use one as a designer, how to become one yourself, and what kind of skills and background and tools you need I have a free course which you can find here.

Editing for Magazines vs Book Publishers vs Designers

Let’s Talk about editing for magazines compared to editing for book publishers compared to editing for independent designers.

I started tech editing about eight years ago and I initially started working with designers who were self-publishing on Ravelry. Then after about a year I got a gig working with a magazine and after a few months for a variety of reasons, I moved to another magazine -- Knit Now magazine -- edited by the fabulous Kate Heppell and based here in Manchester. They were a brand new magazine and Kate had mentioned on Twitter that they were going to need a tech editor. I applied for the job, and I went for an interview, and I guess they were happy enough with my work to hire me. So that was how I got started editing for Knit Now magazine. I was with them as their only tech editor for maybe eight or nine months and then we brought on another tech editor. I ended working with them for just shy of two years total.

The reasons I left were mainly that the magazine publishing schedule, at least here in the UK, is very fast paced. Knit Now put out 13 issues a year, which is one every four weeks. When I started we were putting out over 20 patterns every issue and we were initially all accessories which I loved. And then Kate started to introduce more garments, which is great for the magazine, but it's not my area of speciality and I don't love editing garments. It was a tight schedule and I had two young kids at home and it was a little bit too fast paced for me. I did work with a magazine after Knit Now, which was a magazine based in the states, and they only published I think four or five patterns per issue and they put out four issues a year. So the schedule was a lot less frantic and there was just a little bit more time to edit the patterns and there were fewer patterns so I enjoyed that a lot more. 

So magazine work, in general, is a bulk of patterns given to you at once. There's a lot of editing to do and you are making all the corrections. When you work with a designer, in general, you're just pointing out errors to the designer. The designer is making the corrections and sending a corrected proof back to you for you to then recheck and approve. With magazines, there's no back and forth with the designer, so that was hard. Because if I'm making corrections then I am prone to making mistakes and so you really need someone to check your corrections. When we moved to two tech editors, that really helped with that problem because when we got the PDF proofs to check, I could look at the patterns that I didn't tech edit and at least just run through them and the other tech editor could do the same for me.

I think people think that editing for a magazine is like a dream job but for me, it wasn't. I didn't like getting a bulk of work to do and to have to try and fit that into my schedule when I had a very unpredictable schedule. I had kids who would get sick or who would not sleep and it was just too hard to fit a bulk load of work and very tight deadlines into my very chaotic life. Working with book publishers was very similar. The deadlines were a little bit more flexible and longer but you would still get a bulk of patterns, sometimes 20 plus patterns. You were also a lot more involved with the designer and had a lot more back and forth with them which was nice. It still wasn't the right fit for me, but working on books can be a lot of fun, especially if you like that sort of challenge and you like a variety of patterns.

When you're working with designers who are self-publishing, you just get one or sometimes two patterns at a time and I really liked that. I liked that I could pick and choose my work. I liked that I could tell the designer "no, I'm not the best tech editor for this type of pattern" and suggest they contact an editor friend of mine. I liked being able to just work on the patterns that I knew I could do better than anyone. It was also more flexible. I could tell my designers: "I work Tuesdays and Thursdays, so you need to get the patterns to me by Monday night or Wednesday night or you'll have to wait until the next week." And I could see when my schedule was filling up and tell designers they'd have to wait a couple weeks before I could fit them in. So I had a lot of control over my workflow.

So those are all things to consider when you're thinking about the types of jobs you can take as an editor. Do you want a large volume of work at once? Would you prefer to have a slower drip of patterns that you can kind of schedule and control your workflow? How much are you willing to do on any one day? Do you mind tight deadlines? Do you love them? If you specialize in something and you're thinking about taking on bulk work, what if there's something that you're not familiar with? With magazines, you certainly cannot control the patterns you get in so you better be comfortable editing a wide variety. I'm a tech editor who preferred to specialize in a few things rather than everything but others prefer to have a huge variety. It's up to you.

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