April 2017 Q&A: Sally Woollett

Sally Woollett AE is a science editor who started her career in-house with a science magazine in the 1990s. She has been a freelance editor, working on science magazines, journals and in educational publishing, for 20 years. In 2013 she escaped from Melbourne’s inner north to the rolling hills of West Gippsland.

How has your month been? 

February was a rapid return to reality after the bliss of the school holidays, during which I always relish the break from routine, even though I’m usually still doing at least a bit of work. 

In the middle of the month, I renewed a contract with an existing client and gained a new client – here’s to long-term relationships! My favourite manuscript in the past little while was written by a nurse who was reflecting (with regret) on his previously uninformed attitude towards some Aboriginal patients. 

I started this week wondering how I could squeeze everything in, but then changes to (1) the science curriculum, (2) a client’s mind and (3) a report design completely changed my work plans. 

What are the biggest challenges you face in your work?

Sitting down. Although I love editing, my body does not deal at all well with being seated for long periods. I have all the gadgets: a sit–stand desk, a smartwatch that pesters me to move, a computer screen that blacks out every 20 minutes, and my trusty wheat bag. And I walk every day. A colleague of mine has a big sign at her desk that says, ‘The chair is your enemy!’ Perhaps I need one of those, too.

Another big challenge for me is handling a mixture of large and small projects. When I started freelancing, I usually worked on a single large project at a time, but now I find myself taking on large projects among ongoing arrangements with a journal, a magazine and a government department, plus occasional smaller projects for several other clients. I’m fine with keeping track of the deadlines, but managing the inevitable clashes is stressful. 

What do you love most about your work?

I think it has to be the different types of editing. I work as a commissioning/managing editor, substantive editor and copyeditor, and switching between the roles is refreshing. And the positive side of the challenge of handling a number of projects is the variety of topics. One day I might be reading about superstition in Papua New Guinea and the next about the implications of Trump’s policies for scientific exchange.

How did you get here? 

From a dusty coal laboratory, which definitely wasn’t my scene! However, I didn’t view my chemistry degree as a waste of time. I realised that I could take those skills into an industry that was more interesting to me. I called a few publishers, and eventually I came across a very kind and encouraging woman, Danielle Garlick at La Trobe University Press, who took me on as a volunteer. The next year I commenced RMIT’s Graduate Diploma in Editing and Publishing and landed an editorial assistant role with the Royal Australian Chemical Institute. I still edit their magazine, Chemistry in Australia.

What is your average weekly workload? Does it vary throughout the year? 

I work school hours for three days and regular business hours for the other two days. I try to avoid working weekends and evenings. The school holidays can be ‘interesting’, but my daughter is more self-sufficient now, so she’s more tolerant of tight deadlines than she used to be.

If you are comfortable discussing salary, can you give an idea of an indicative rate of pay for the kind of work you do? 

Generally, my minimum rate is $80 per hour. I think that’s pretty reasonable for a specialist, accredited editor with more than 20 years of experience. With experience comes efficiency, so I think set fees are a more equitable way for clients to compare quotes or estimates for editing services.

I’ve been really pleased to see in recent months that some government departments are looking specifically for IPEd-accredited editors. Thanks to the good people at IPEd for many years of hard work to establish and maintain the accreditation system. A government client recently told me that the ‘About editing’ page on the IPEd website was most helpful to him, and he now feels more confident to prepare accurate and comprehensive briefs for freelance editors.

If you didn’t have the job you are in now, what would you like to be doing?

I can’t imagine doing anything else, but if there was no editing work to be found I’d like to do something more ‘grassroots’. In recent years I’ve been editing manuscripts about rural and remote health, and about family violence, and I very much admire people who make a difference in these areas. A less sedentary job would be a wise move, too. 

Thanks very much, Sally, for telling us about your editing life.

Sally can be contacted at wools@westnet.com.au or on (03) 5623 3971.