In-House or Freelance: Teamwork in Developmental Editing

Presentation by Renee Deljon and Vici Casana
October 18, 2006
Forum organized by Nancy Faass and Bonnie Britt
Notes by Micah Standley

Thomas Edison was once asked why he had a team of 21 assistants. He answered, "Well, if I could solve all the problems myself, I would."

In today's marketplace, teamwork and collective thinking are often the keys to maintaining a competitive edge. According to Renee Deljon, a senior developmental editor at Thomson Wadsworth, "There is nothing solitary about my job." From developing strategies on increasing market share to launching the first edition of a new textbook, Deljon works with all levels of the company--copyeditors, production staff, editors in chief, even the president and CEO—to create compelling and effective textbooks.

As an in-house developmental editor, Deljon's responsibilities for her team are varied: Benchmarking competitors' products, conducting extensive peer reviews of the titles she is working on, and creating persuasive messages to help sell the book are just a few of the tasks she is charged with. What about working with the actual content of the book? Deljon says that this can be one of the most frustrating aspects of her job because she spends a limited amount of time working with content. "I love my job when I actually get to do it, but the fact is all of these other things we [as developmental editors] do are also part of our job."

Ultimately, Deljon's role involves making content as competitive as possible, and the nature of that content is becoming more complex. Innovations like XML (Extensible Markup Language) and metadata are cross-referencing and "chunking" content like never before, and these methods are transforming content into assets for developmental editors to manage. Initially, Deljon was discouraged by this process of tagging and grouping content because it seemed mechanical and administrative; however, she finally decided that it was yet another important part of effective learning design. Only people who understand how textbooks work will be able to influence how those assets are managed.

Deljon asked one of her colleagues, the president at Thomson Wadsworth, if he had any thoughts on the future of developmental editing. His reply:

"For developmental editors, more training and closer management of authors will be in the future. Developmental editors will need to take the lead in helping authors work effectively with emerging alterations to the basic author workflows—writing with an author in templates, understanding how to create content in anticipation of metadata tagging, and planning ahead in general for customization and chunking content that will ultimately be delivered in combination with assessment and learning plans. The ability to develop pedagogical and art- visual programs that can be efficiently produced for multiple media, yet meet cost and schedule objectives, will be a particularly important skill to master."

XML and metadata training is yet another task in the near future for Deljon. She notes that freelance developmental editors should make sure to be at the top of the list in a given content area. When the time comes, these editors will be the first people recruited from the outside to be trained in XML and metadata tagging so they can help process the editorial workload.

In developmental editing, one of the positives of being a freelancer is the ability to clearly define your role in a team. Vici Casana's varied experience as a freelance developmental editor—her work ranges from textbooks to detective fiction--has given her a unique perspective on how to work effectively with authors.

For Casana, the first rule of freelancing is clearly outlining her role with a client. She recommends requesting a sample of the manuscript before launching into a project. This allows her to determine exactly what the author is looking for (for example, is this truly developmental editing or copyediting? or both?) and how to estimate her fee for the project. Through this process—one that Casana charges the potential client for--she creates a contract for the client to sign.

"I always have the author sign a hardcopy of a contract, or at least a letter of agreement, before starting a project," Casana says. This allows her and the author to mutually define the scope of work so that both parties are clear on what is expected and when payment is due. Casana also leaves room in the agreement for negotiation, should the project become more complex than originally planned.

Another important step in her process as a freelance developmental editor is generating an analysis after completing a portion of the project (usually after each chapter). Summarizing her comments and assessing the organizational needs of each portion allows the author to further hone his or her work.

When it comes to getting work as a freelancer, both panelists agreed that building upon a previous relationship with a client is the norm. Casana's work as a copyeditor with Houghton Mifflin, combined with a background in teaching, allowed her to grow into developmental editing projects with that company. From there, she joined a few freelance organizations "like the Editorial Freelancers Association and Bay Area Editors' Forum" and started getting outside work by being listed in their directories.

Job descriptions and responsibilities for developmental editors, both in-house and freelance, are continually expanding as technology creates new ways of using information. The one constant in this ever-changing environment is the ability to work effectively with others to successfully complete the project.

Micah Standley is the associate editor of artistic publications for San Francisco Opera. He has written and edited for projects ranging from music and opera to veterinary medicine and quilting. He is also a freelance musician.



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