The Monthly Q&A: Stephanie Holt

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Stephanie Holt has been editing in various roles for over 25 years. For the past 14 years she’s combined freelance editing with teaching editing, currently with RMIT’s Professional Writing and Editing programs.

How has your month been?

This has been a hectic month!

As a teacher and program coordinator, for me this time of year is dominated by marking, getting students through their end-of-semester assignments, and trying to remember to celebrate our students’ achievements.

I find the close attention of copyediting and proofreading very soothing, and always try to sneak some into my teaching work, even at busy times. I spent a lovely weekend proofreading Visible Ink, the literary annual our students publish (tip: it’s a great edition!), getting a sneak preview of a fascinating array of creative writing and visual art. And I’m just finishing checks on first pages for Frayed, an anthology one of my classes has compiled, featuring work from 33 final-year students.

This time of year I try to clear the desk of freelance work, sift through new opportunities and maybe catch up on a bit of related paperwork. (The excitement of seeing a book you’ve edited in the local bookshop doesn’t last long when you realise you might have stuffed up your invoicing.)

It looks like I’ll soon be editing a PhD thesis for a friend, a first for me, and something I’m really chuffed about. I got a bit of stick on our editors’ Facebook group for pondering doing this one for ‘mate’s rates’, but when the person who gave you your first big break in publishing and one of your best jobs ever (on a tiny team producing a gorgeous art magazine) calls you up with the publishing equivalent of ‘we’re getting the band back together … ’ well, I couldn’t refuse!

Apart from that, there’s the November issue of the PEN Melbourne Quarterly to get to press, with a special section on PEN’s international campaign to free Iranian journalist Behrouz Boochani from Manus Island.

What are the biggest challenges you face in your work?

Balancing my own writing and editing with teaching is probably the biggest challenge. I take editing jobs that really interest me, or for organisations or causes I really believe in, and try to be disciplined and realistic about workload.

There’s also the constant need to stay abreast of developments in the industry and new technologies and expectations. As a teacher, that’s especially important – but not always easy. As our employer puts it, in an ugly bit of university jargon, we have to maintain our ‘vocational competency’. I loved getting to the national conference this year as it’s a fantastic way to fill in some of those gaps in knowledge, and be inspired about directions we’re heading as a program.

What do you love most about your work?

It’s such a privilege to edit someone else’s words, always motivated by thinking about their readers, and the kind of difference that clear information, or an engaging message, or the right story can make in someone’s life. I love the mix of ‘big picture’ thinking and attention to detail, of creativity and intellectual rigour. I still get a thrill from discovering the perfect fix for a niggly little expression problem.

It’s also such a great job for the curious. People would pay good money to get the immersive crash course we get every time we take on a new job. But we’re being paid to do it! As a footy tragic, spending a month working on James Coventry’s recent Time and Space – a history of football strategy – was like being a pig in the proverbial.

How did you get here?

I fell into editing. I was the clichéd little girl reading books under the covers for hours every night and dreaming of ‘writing books’. I learned I wasn’t a story writer, but I also discovered there were other ways to make books. While trying to finish an arts degree (successfully, after 11 off-and-on years) I got involved in women’s and community organisations and the art scene, which led to some fascinating publishing projects, most importantly seven years' involvement with Sybylla Feminist Press. I’d been doing administrative work for a community group when I got recruited to work for fledgling World Art magazine. As my first boss said, someone who can keep books and edit books was just what they needed. From there I went to Meanjin, and from there to teaching and freelancing. Not surprisingly, given that pathway, I’m a big advocate of volunteering and multiskilling!

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

I’m busy all year round! Between freelancing, pro bono work and teaching, there’s always something to do. We get a little downtime over Christmas/New Year, which is always lovely to recharge the batteries and do the important unstructured thinking work.

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

If I wasn’t editing and teaching, I’d like to be researching and writing history books, while turning my three acres of land in central Victoria into a productive permaculture property, and working on my bookbinding and line-dancing. I’m still trying to decide if ‘we edit and bind your book’ is a ridiculous hybrid or a desperately needed niche service.

Thanks so much for answering our questions, Stephanie.

You can contact Stephanie by email at or on LinkedIn at Stephanie Holt.