The Monthly Q&A: Vanessa Lanaway

Vanessa is a freelance editor with 14 years' publishing experience. She specialises in children's and young adult publishing, but also enjoys working on a range of books for both children and adults.

How has your month been?

My month has been delightfully varied - as most of my months are! I've worked on a huge range of edits and proofreads, spanning everything from young adult fiction, primary literacy, middle-grade fiction and kids' craft books to history textbooks, erotic fiction, some primary school workbooks and a particularly fabulous chicklit novel.

I also completed a very 'meaty' proofread (kind of a proofread/copyedit/fact check all rolled into one) on what had been a problematic project. It was satisfying to feel like I was able to help pull things into shape, and fortunately the client was completely in agreement about the work required, which meant I wasn't worried about my feedback being unwelcome. (Sometimes proofreading feels a lot like nitpicking - even though the whole point is to identify issues, submitting the job can be a bit fraught.)

What are the biggest challenges you face in your work?

I think juggling my workflow is probably the biggest challenge. As a freelancer, it's very hard to turn down work ('What if they never ask again?' - we call this 'The Fear'), but obviously I also need to be careful not to overcommit myself. In theory, it's easy to book jobs into a calendar and have a clear idea of what each week looks like but, in practice, work rarely turns up when it's supposed to (understandably - juggling publishing schedules can be a bit like herding cats), and some jobs are much bigger than expected. I find being flexible and accommodating, and keeping a sense of humour, tends to make this manageable (and having solid project management experience definitely helps). I also tend towards 'overbooking', so that if a job runs late or falls through, I don't end up twiddling my thumbs. Of course, this means there are times when I'm particularly busy, but I'm careful never to promise anything I can't deliver. As a wise freelancer recently said to me, 'My "office" is open for business hours. I work...whatever it takes'.

The other tough thing about being freelance is that feedback of any kind is very rare, and the self-doubt can really eat away at you. Sometimes I miss the yearly performance appraisals that came with being in-house. As a freelancer, the only real form of feedback is repeat business (which is the best kind, really, but doesn't soothe the soul in quite the same way). The tiniest kind word from a client can make a massive difference!

What do you love most about your work?

Getting to work on books that I would have read anyway. Young adult fiction is my true love, and since going freelance I've had the opportunity to work on some amazing YA by some incredible new Australian authors, and also some books by authors who I've loved for a long time. Those 'fangirl' moments are pretty incredible - I always feel a bit guilty invoicing for those jobs!

I also really love the variety that comes with being freelance, and getting the chance to constantly develop my skills and apply them to new areas of publishing. This will sound cheesy, but there really aren't many jobs that I don't enjoy - after 14 years in publishing, the novelty of being paid to play with words is yet to wear off. I still feel like I'm getting away with something ...

How did you get here?

I did a Bachelor of Arts/Professional Writing, which included some editing subjects. As soon as I entered my first editing class, I knew I had found my 'thing'. While I was at uni, I was working in a bookstore. (Before that, I worked in a library. Why, yes, I am kind of a book nerd. Why do you ask?) A former Angus & Robertson colleague, who was by then working at Pan Macmillan, emailed me to say that Macmillan Education was advertising for an editorial assistant in the primary library division (which covers children's illustrated non-fiction). I somehow got the job, and was fortunate to work with some terrific editors and publishers who were very patient with me (at just 21, I was as green as they come!), put enormous faith in me, and gave me some incredible opportunities. Having a job in publishing was amazing enough - working on children's books was a dream come true.

While working at Macmillan I also completed a Grad Dip in Editing and Publishing at RMIT, which I still say was one of the best things I ever did for my career. I stayed at MEA for 10 years, moving up to editor and then managing editor, before deciding I wanted to get back to hands-on editing and going freelance four years ago.

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

It definitely varies, but as a minimum I try to work a standard 40-hour week. (No pyjamas! No daytime TV!) Of course, not all those hours are billable, and some weeks there are nights and weekends on top of that. But I'd rather work stupid hours than turn down work. Loving what I do makes that easier - a bit too easy, sometimes...

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

I always secretly wanted to be a postie. I still haven't ruled that one out...

Thanks so much, Vanessa!

You can follow Vanessa on Twitter at @reddotscribble or email her at red.scribble@gmail.com.