Is High Tech High Stress, High Pay, or Hype?: Strategies for Entry
by John Faulkner, Senior Editor, Autodesk
Lisa Carlson opened a packed-to-overflowing meeting on a topic that obviously struck a chord. She introduced John Faulkner by describing his checkered career from theater major, television and freelance writer, magazine writer with design and marketing duties, and taxi driver to staff technical writer and editor.
Enlarging on Lisa's description, John described how he got to Autodesk and what he has done there: currently, writer and editor of white papers, mailers, and electronic marketing content; formerly, writing coach, style guide creator, and developmental editor of manuals for software users and developers. He emphasized that an editor can be effective without a thorough understanding of the product. The editor is a generalist; the writer is a specialist.
John particularly stressed one theme in pursuing a career in technical publications: learn to think about what you do as adding value. Look for ways to add value to a project with problem analysis and problem solving. You will very likely have to explain the differences between proofing, copyediting, and developmental editing, but that can be useful in itself. An editor can sell the idea of establishing standards and developing a style guide. An editor can sell the process of developmental editing, technical review, copyediting, and proofreading. Develop and sell skills that enhance Web sites, online help systems, and multimedia projects. Always look hard for ways to add value in the allotted time, which is rarely adequate in this market-driven industry.
John advised ignoring "light, medium, or heavy" editing terminology. "Just edit the crap out of it," he said. One member urged tech editors to set priorities for editing tasks, as there may only be time to do the high-priority tasks. Most technical editing is done on hard copy, not online; John said online takes him twice as long.
Asked about rates, he said copyediting and developmental editing range from $45 to $65 per hour. (The difference between the two is frequently not perceived.) "No one in this room," he said, "should charge less than $40." Proofreaders get $30.
Contracting can be a good entry into a staff position. Identifying the people who hire editors is difficult. There can be many teams or groups in one company that are not analogous. You have to research and network. Find books and publications and find out which group produced them. The East Bay Business Library is good for researching companies. Other good resources are the Society for Technical Communication (STC) and the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC).