Our editorial industry is made up of people carrying out a huge range of tasks across many different sectors. Although we are bound by common aims – to make text consistent, accurate and clear – our chosen areas of work can differ in fascinating ways.
Jill Cucchi is a freelance copy-editor. She has answered some questions on her main specialism: archaeology.
- Briefly, what’s your work background?
I started out in the civil service writing business cases for HM Treasury and answering parliamentary questions, but my passion was always archaeology. After many years volunteering on digs, and after completing a BA (Hons) degree in archaeology in 2004, I landed my dream job as a field archaeologist with Durham University.
- How long have you specialised in this particular kind of editorial work, and how did you get started?
I did some editorial work for Durham University’s archaeology department, but it wasn’t until I moved to France that I realised it could be a full-time job. After ‘checking’ some journal papers for my husband’s colleague, and really enjoying it, I started looking into copy-editing (via indexing and proofreading) as a new career. I’ve recently started to specialise in academic journal/conference papers written by authors with English as a second language.
- What specific knowledge, experience or qualifications do you need?
You need to have a wide-ranging knowledge of archaeology and archaeological practices (e.g. chronology, excavation, methods of dating), as well as a good understanding of related disciplines (e.g. zooarchaeology, archaeobotany). For me, having French as a second language is also useful in differentiating scientific jargon from direct translations.
- How do you go about finding work in this area?
As most scientific papers need to be written in English, academics who are non-native speakers are always looking for copy-editors and/or translators. As my husband works for the CNRS (Centre national de la recherche scientifique) at the Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle (Paris), and his colleagues knew he had an English wife with a background in archaeology, I was constantly asked if I could do urgent jobs when their usual copy-editor was busy. After a few (hopefully well done) ‘rush jobs’, I took on every urgent job that came up, did minuscule jobs (e.g. reading a 100-word abstract, correcting a book review), offered a final free proofread, adjusted my hourly rate – anything in fact to get some experience. Often the copy-editors that academics use have a PhD (I don’t), or are fluently bilingual (I’m not) so competition is tough. However, now I have an ever-growing set of regular clients, and I’ve had requests from other universities and museums via recommendations.
- What do you most enjoy about the work?
I love that it combines my two great passions: archaeology and literature. I love taking a piece of complicated text and making it readable. I love it when a client has a paper or a grant application accepted and I can breathe a huge sigh of relief. I love that my job allows me to read (and write) and learn about archaeology without getting wet and muddy, though that is fun too.
- What are the particular challenges?
Trying to copy-edit complex scientific papers when I am not a science graduate and the author is a non-native English speaker. Also, the text can be incredibly specialised (e.g. 12 pages on the nitrogen value of pig’s teeth), so it can be challenging to stay focused.
- What’s the worst job you’ve had – and/or the best?
The worst job I had was a paper I had copy-edited being refused publication and not knowing why. Ouch! (But later accepted, thankfully.) The best job I had was a scientific budget report with a two-day turnaround (sadly, the two days were Saturday and Sunday). The client readily accepted my increased hourly rate and insisted I take a bonus – I thought I was dreaming.
- What tips would you give to someone wanting to work in this field?
You will need a sound knowledge of the subject so read lots of journals, volunteer on some digs, see if you can help out at your local museum and register for some (often free) online courses (e.g. FutureLearn – they have several archaeology/history courses). You’ll also need excellent (I’m not quite there yet…) copy-editing skills as the publication process is tough.
- What is the pay like – and are there any other perks?
It varies (wildly) depending on the client’s grant allocation or the project’s budget, but I’d say for an average 15-page paper (about 8/9 hours) you could expect around £200. My biggest perk, at the moment, is just being freelance – after 12 years in the civil service this is a dream!
- What other opportunities do you think editorial work in this area might lead to?
It’s hard to say really as I’m just starting out, but I’ve recently been asked to translate and copy-edit a book chapter for the Musée du quai Branly on anthropology, which is a new and exciting direction for me. I’ve also been asked to copy-edit a catalogue for an art gallery in Paris, which has nothing to do with archaeology at all, so it seems the possibilities are endless.
The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the SfEP