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Making a Living: One Writer’s Story, Jerri Corgiat, author and copy editor

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Welcome to our new series for 2012, Making a Living: One Writer’s Story, which we hope will give you ideas on how you can make a living as a writer if your writing alone isn’t paying all the bills. Link to all stories in this series.

Author and Copyeditor Jerri CorgiatToday’s guest is Jerri Corgiat!

First, can you tell us a bit about what you write and your publishing history?

I wrote a series of five contemporary romances based on women from the same family in a small Ozarks town and spanning about a dozen years in their lives. They were published by NAL between 2004 and 2007, went out of print, and now live on as ebooks, published by Istoria as the Love Finds a Home Series.  They’re often categorized as similar to Robyn Carr, Debbie Macomber, Susan Wiggs, which is lovely.

I’ve been very gratified by the positive response from both former readers and new ones to the reissuance of this series, so I’m planning to finish a sixth book this year—and take it straight to epublication.

I’m also working on another novel, a departure for me—rather along the lines of Kate Morton’s The House at Riverton. That one’s very slow going as it’s a historical spanning about a twenty-year period. I’ve loved doing the research, but, oh my… there’s a lot of research to do! I’ll try the traditional publication circuit with that one. I love the choices available to writers now.

What writing-related work do you do to earn money, besides writing books, short stories, etc.? What prompted you to find a writing-related revenue stream aside from your novels?

In 2008, NAL dropped the Love Finds a Home Series, despite having the last two books picked up as lead alternates for the Doubleday and Literary Guild books clubs. It was rather a blow since the readership had been building. But the market had changed. Efforts to float similar books met with an onslaught of, well, vampires. Too, and perhaps more importantly, for several years, I had a number of life events happen, taking my focus off my career. When I looked back, gasp, the recession had started.

My muse had also wandered into the aforementioned strange territory, so it became necessary for me to find other income while I gave that a try. I’ve never been successful at “writing to market.”

Long story short, I now copyedit, contracting for independent one-off jobs, as well as doing ongoing work for a New York publisher.

How did you break into this field?

By following a rather tortured path. Another writer mentioned on a writers’ listserv that she worked as an online writing teacher and the school. I have a degree in journalism in addition to some writing cred, so I contacted her to ask what she did and if I might qualify. She sent me a contact name… and I ended up doing the same.

I became disillusioned with that job for various reasons I needn’t go into, but it gave me an additional resume line to use in applying as an editor for Tekno when they were providing editorial services for Five Star’s romance line.

I loved working for Tekno and met some wonderful authors, some of whom I’ve stayed in contact with, but I decided to move on. Another writer who also had been freelancing with Tekno suggested I follow her into copyediting with the aforementioned NY publisher. I requested a test from the contact she gave me, passed it, and I’ve been working as a copyeditor with them for the last two years, with no plans to stop.

More recently, with the boom in independent epublishing, I’ve had print-published authors contract for copyediting services for new works they’re putting up online. I find that very gratifying work—these are skilled professionals who know what they’re doing and what they want; most ask for a light, respectful touch and I think I’m good at that (although I can also do Editing X-Treme.) Plus it’s exciting for me to be a “first reader” and have even a small part in getting their books out there.

Do you have any advice for other writers who want to stay in the writing world, but aren’t currently making enough to pay their bills through their writing alone?

Network! On every listserv where there are writers and readers, there are at least a few editors, copyeditors, writing teachers, ghost writers, web designers, PR specialists, journalists, cover artists… lots of writers have day jobs or part-time jobs or contract jobs in some field that relates to writing or publishing. If you’re interested in getting into a particular arena… ask if anyone’s already in it, then type ‘em an email. What’s to lose?

Too, if you see a post, like I did, which mentions a second job, don’t be afraid to ask how they got it. Most people like talking about what they do. Another avenue is to ask your agent or editor (or anyone else you might know in the publishing business) for possible contacts. For example, in copyediting, most publishers have a test which they’re more than willing to give you. The trick is finding out who to contact to get it.

My freelance work led me, BTW, to qualify for a traditional position with a local magazine publisher. I decided not to go that route because, although the work would be largely at home, it sounded as though it would usurp most of my time. Still, it was nice to know that my recent endeavors have made me more employable, even in this crummy job market.

Another suggestion: exploit your best traits. Combining the short-term deadlines of project work with the long-term deadlines of writing books requires self-discipline and organization. If these don’t play to your strengths, yet you still need a second income, I’d look for a part-time job where the structure you may need is already in place. There are numerous businesses which issue some kind of publications, even internally. Be brave and check them out—you never know who might need your skills.

What do you enjoy about this second business?

It’s a left-brain activity for the most part which balances well with the right-brain activity of creative writing. It’s something I can point to regularly (unlike I can when writing a book) and say, “That’s done!” ? It’s a regular, fairly predictable paycheck. I can do it at home—I love working at home—and have a flexible schedule. I can take more work or less work depending on life demands as well as book demands. That doesn’t mean, though, that I’m “at work” less. Some weeks, the deadlines leave little time for writing. Some weeks, I don’t have a weekend. But most weeks are well balanced providing I’m organized.

Do you think having a second income from something writing-related that isn’t actually writing helps your writing career, or does it get in the way?

Obviously, I’m reading a lot of other peoples’ work; it stirs the creative juices in a way other jobs wouldn’t. It’s also forced me to hone my grammar skills, which makes my own work more copy-ready, never a bad thing when it goes in front of an editor. But, like any job, it takes time away from writing. That said, the publisher I largely work for has no problem letting me go “inactive.” I can take as little or much work as I want.

Also, because I copyedit, I don’t have time to do such things as convert, find cover art, or spend much time promoting my ebooks, not if I also want a life (and I do). So I found an epublisher who does those things for me and, of course, whom I pay (in the form of sharing royalties) to do it. But the thing is…I enjoy copyediting. I do not enjoy learning the tech side of ebooks, hunting down the best cover artists, and I despise spending time on promotion (although I’ll go where I’m pointed). So I’m doing the things I love and leaving the rest. It’s a trade-off. But isn’t a lot of life?

If you could earn a living from just one of these choices, which would you choose?

I like doing both, I really do, not to mention I enjoy the regularity of a monthly income since post-advance, the income from my books isn’t predictable. I just wish I could clone myself. I have more things I want to write and do than I have time for!

That said, if I had to pick only one, it would be writing.

With the new world of publishing and the move to self-publishing by many authors, do you think new opportunities will open up for writing-related revenue? Where do you see a need aside from what you are doing?

Yes, I see new opportunities. For one thing, there are a number of startup companies that may now be running under the sole labor of their principals, but if they expand—even a little—they’ll be looking for additional help—contract, at least, if not something more permanent. As I mentioned before, the experience of doing contract work adds to employability and can lead to job offers.

Also, in this new frontier, more and more authors are electing to bypass traditional publishing: they’ve already built solid audiences and are taking some, if not all, of their new books direct to the Internet. They are savvy enough to know they will lose those readers if they present anything of lesser quality than they’ve published before. They know the polish of a professional editor and/or copyeditor will help assure that doesn’t happen. In addition, they have need for cover art, promo, conversion.

How important do you feel it is for writers to support other writers both by providing these types of services and by hiring other writers?

Altruistic or paying-it-back (or forward!) reasons aside, it simply makes sense. For example, when epublishing my work, I picked Istoria, because they have a principal who is also a published writer; they know the business, they know the frustrations writers face because they’ve experienced them, and so they communicate and they listen.

I’d pick a published writer over a non-writer to do any job needed for any of my work. What published author hasn’t had cover-art issues? Hated the back-cover blurb for a book? Received back a manuscript from an overzealous copy editor who questions every word?

Every writer I know has encountered snarls in the traditional publishing world concerning every step leading to publication—I mean, I’m a copy editor and I’ve also called certain copy editors every name in the book when I’ve gotten a glimpse of the mess made a manuscript.

I’d say the chance of experiencing those snarls decreases substantially when the hired pro is also a published writer.

If writers would like to hire you, where can the learn more about your services, fees and availability?

That’s an easy one. Look at the editing-services page on my website www.jerricorgiat.com or email me for information: jerri@legtech.net.

Anything else you’d like to add?

When looking for a copy editor, I’ve found most authors want to know something about cost before undertaking the search. Here’s a list of what are considered reasonable rates from the Freelance Editors Association. The range can be wide; if you don’t initially find anyone to fit your pocketbook, keep looking.

Asking for copy editor recommendations on any author listserv or looking for resources on writer association pages can get you a list of names to start your search.

Once you’re interviewing copy editors, look for tiered schedules—where the copy editor charges different prices for different levels of service—and ask for specifics on what is included in each price. Authors have different needs; there’s no need to pay for what you don’t want. Also, ask what references (Chicago Manual of Style, Webster’s 11th, etc.) the copy editor uses as their fundamental foundations. Using Word’s spell-check is not sufficient—for example, Word ‘passes’ any hyphenated word whether it’s a correct to hyphenate or not—nor is “I just know this stuff” adequate.

Also ask for the copy editor’s philosophy. Of course, we all want to get it “right,” but right is subjective, even in copyediting. I strive for readability, consistency and logical application of the rules, which can trump any reference. I also remember the cardinal rule: it’s the author’s work and, especially in the ebook world, the author is in charge.

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