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Mary Embree on how to be a freelance editor

By the 1980s, Mary Embree was feeling burnt out by her career intelevision production. Just a few years later, she remade herself into afull-time freelance editor.

By the 1980s, Mary Embree was feeling burnt out by her career in television production. Just a few years later, she remade herself into a full-time freelance editor.

Embree got her break editing a friend's book that was later picked up by Simon & Schuster. A chain reaction of references soon provided her with more work than she could have imagined.

Her latest book, "Starting Your Career as a Freelance Editor: A Guide to Working With Authors, Books, Newsletters, Magazines, Websites, and More," is an attempt to share her business philosophy with naturally gifted wordsmiths and persnickety proofreaders.

"Some people are just really good with words; they're naturally good with grammar. I believe they can learn to be editors," she explains, from her home in Port Hueneme, Calif. "I did not have a college education, but I learned through the years, as I was constantly being asked to do more editing in the jobs that I had."

Over the last 20 years, the booming self-publishing industry has created a cascade of projects for Embree. Her clients typically hire her to help them take the book from cradle to page, from discussing their initial ideas to suggesting broad structural changes to copyediting the manuscript according to the Chicago Manual of Style.

"Starting Your Career" includes chapters on each step of that process, plus advice on promoting the business, record-keeping and establishing a framework for hourly rates. But, most importantly, the book provides plenty of wisdom on the core of any editing business: fostering good relationships with writers.

"You need to be firm and honest with them at the same time. That isn't always easy. You don't want to insult them," she explains. "It's a very fine line there."

On her writing résumé


Before starting her career as a freelance editor, Mary Embree worked in Hollywood as a production assistant for "Good Times," "One Day At a Time" and "Three's Company." Her other books with Allworth Press include "The Author's Toolkit" and "The Birds and Bees of Words: A Guide to the Most Common Errors in Usage, Spelling, and Grammar."