December 2019 Q&A: Donna Quinn


Communication Officer, Bridget Blair AE, asked our new Administrative Officer, Donna Quinn, to introduce herself.

Tell us a bit about yourself

I’ve been employed in the publishing industry (full time/part-time/contract) in a range of different roles for just shy of 13 years and have worked as a freelance editor in conjunction with those for the last eight years. I have edited a variety of content over this time, but primarily academic journal articles in numerous disciplines.

How has your month been?

The last few months of my working life this year have actually been quite different, as mid-year I finished an eight-year stint as the permanent copy editor of up to six journals and thus have been exploring my options in the big wide world out there! The change in pace has been quite confronting. I like to be pushed to my limit and work best that way. As a result, I have been doing a lot of research on how to launch myself on the web, market myself, etc. I have just completed building a website and created a business Facebook page (I know, how could I not have a Facebook account in this day and age?).

It has been both challenging and fun to learn new skills and focus my attention in a different way.

I attended my first IPEd conference this year and was pleasantly surprised to find a wonderfully warm community of like-minded folks. As a freelancer you spend so much of your working life alone it becomes very easy to embrace anonymity. It was a wonderful experience to engage with people who were so friendly and willing to offer their advice. I had no idea that there was such a supportive community out there and walked away from the conference with so much information about resources that I had never considered.

What are the biggest challenges you face in your work?

I am very lucky to have had permanent editing work for so long and am now keenly aware of the struggle to engage new customers and prove my skillset. Given my recent change in circumstances, and despite having consistent editing experience, I have found it quite difficult to work out how best to showcase my work. I am lacking a portfolio as the majority of my editing work has been on journal articles and is virtually invisible – no credit appears in the published work. I have also found myself frequently pondering the fact that as the author has the final say, someone reading my work may find errors that were not of my making … how do you explain this to potential customers who may be new to the editing process? And without a portfolio?

What do you love most about your work?

I decided to embark on an editing career because of a love of reading and words, and the dream – as for many of us out there I suspect – was to work on fiction. The reality of being an editor is that you work on all different kinds of content. Editing journal articles, in particular, informs you as to the wide range of research being conducted; for example, advances in medicine, debate over the US versus China tariff war, the realities of immigration/emigration/migration and gender issues in Third World countries, Basel III banking reform, environmental regulation, and governance … the list goes on. There can’t be too many other jobs that would involve the diversity of content an editor may see each day.

I do also have to acknowledge that while the lack of security of freelance work can be quite daunting, the freedom afforded by working for myself/working from home allows me to follow my other great passion (see the last question) …

How did you get here?

After completing a Bachelor of Arts straight out of high school, I wanted to experience the world and float around a bit. Over a decade or so I had two long-term roles in different industries but hadn’t decided on my ‘career’. Eventually, I decided that I needed to choose a path. I have had a lifelong love of reading, had always loved English/history/literature subjects, am a total (and proud) word nerd about spelling, grammar, etc and one of my employers had a fantastic program of supporting employees through their Masters program, so I completed my Master of Arts in Publishing and Editing over two years at night.

I was fortunate to obtain employment with an academic publisher just after I finished my Masters and remained there in various roles until my role was made redundant. I commenced freelance editing while working full time in 2011 and since 2014 that has been my primary employment.

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

At present my workload is quite light, somewhere between 20 and 35 hours a week across the various roles. For the past four to five years, I have worked anywhere between 40 and 70 hours a week. As a freelancer, I have never declined work, fearing that ‘this busy week’ could be my last! And I have always enjoyed working under pressure.

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

My hourly editing rate varies between $50 and $70. The sessions I attended at the IPEd conference in May were quite the eye-opener. I have always been aware of the need to factor more than just work hours into your hourly rate but feared pushing my luck. I remember once attempting to negotiate with a long-time customer for a $15 increase to my rate, which would have put me on the borderline of the ‘low’ average hourly rate, and the result of that was a $2.50 increase! I was content to sacrifice pay for security.

I have spent much of the last few months engaging with peers and attending sessions that have enlightened me as to the need for the editing community to join forces to ensure fair rates of pay for everyone.

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

I am following my passion for caring for animals while working as an editor. My husband and I moved out of Melbourne to the Otways a few years ago so that we could afford some land to rescue animals. I love editing but if money was no object, I would edit for fun and spend more time bonding with and enjoying time with the animals – cats, dogs, goats, cows and horses. I find that most of my engagement with the fur kids over the year (particularly as I live in the wettest region in Victoria) comes via my office window and feeding or health-care moments.

You can visit my newly minted, hot-off-the-press website and Facebook page. I’d love to hear from you!