Happy Tuesday! I hope you had a great weekend and spent a little extra time doing whatever you enjoy. Today I’m excited to bring you an interview with Zyanya Avila Louis, a writer, teacher, copy editor, and …. copy editor again!
I met Zyanya at Emerson College, where she was practically a celebrity to her first year writing students. Walking across campus, she’d be stopped every 10 feet by an excited student who wanted to talk to her about their novel she’d agreed to proof or the application she was helping them through, or who just wanted to give her a quick hug. Now that she’s formally put out her freelance copy editor shingle, I can’t think of a more supportive collaborator a writer could turn to.
In other words:
Born and raised in El Paso, TX, Zyanya Avila Louis holds a BA in Creative Writing from UTEP and received her MFA in Fiction from Emerson College. During her time as a teacher and mentor at Emerson and other institutions, she developed a passion for working with international students, multilingual students, and other diverse student populations. Bilingual herself, she loves writing and reading fiction and non-fiction, and occasionally enjoys poetry. On top of her writing projects, she also works as a copyeditor/journal manager for a scientific publishing company and freelances. Zyanya lives in Quincy, MA with her husband, their demon cat, and her growing library of books.
I hope you enjoy this interview with Zyanya. If you’re looking for a copy editor for a project of your own, you can contact her at @storytellerowl8 or email ZyanyaAvilaLouis at Gmail.
(And, heads up before we get into it — when I paste entries into Substack, the form sometimes add extra spaces or does funky things with the type. Any typos here are my fault, so please don’t hold them against Zyanya!)
Q. How long have you been working as a freelance copy editor? How did you get into it? What kinds of work will you copy edit? Are there genre restrictions, length restrictions, etc?
A. I've been a freelance CE for kinda some time! I started doing it in high school-- I'd charge my classmates like $5 a paper for our English classes, etc. It was fun and everyone pretty much won. Now, I'll do pretty much anything, depending on the needs of the writer: if it's a genre I'm really familiar with (fiction, for example) I'll offer more in-depth editing beyond just copyediting. Other than that my only other restriction is that the content is not offensive but luckily I haven't really encountered anything like that.
Q. I know that you’re also a copy editor at your full time day job. How is the work there different from the work you do on your freelance jobs? Do you like one more than the other? Do you ever get burnt out?
I work in scientific publishing for my full-time job, so it's almost the "opposite" in content from my freelance work, so I never feel like I'm getting burnt out. I actually really enjoy copyediting the scientific papers I get at my full-time work because it makes me feel like I'm contributing something to the STEM field (an evermore important thing nowadays it seems), but my freelance work always feels like a nice little break and going back to my home genre of "creative" work (I use quotes because I notice that there's lots of creativity in the sciences too!). Maybe I use different parts of my brain for each one? One of these researchers should study me. Ha!
Q. How do you figure out what to charge clients? Do you charge by the hour, word count, or does it vary? What other things figure into the pricing?
A. I think about fairness above all else, then apply either an hourly rate or by-word rate depending on what the author prefers (personally I like by-word, but I also estimate by time for another institution that hosts my profile as a consultant because they require that). For example, I once had a project where I was working on more of a sensitivity/cultural read than really hard and fast copyediting, so only a few sections of the book really needed my attention, but I still had to read the whole thing for context. I looked at how many pages were applicable and assumed that those needed more time, so I gave an estimate for that, then gave another estimate based on a faster reading time for the other sections. All this was decided in tandem with the author. I'm not sure how other freelancers do this, but I want my authors to feel like they're getting great service for the work they've spent so much time on, as well as make sure I'm compensated fairly as well.
Q. What is your work style when you’re copy editing? How many hours in a row do you work? Do you work at home or somewhere else? How long does it take to get through a whole book?
A. I like to say that editing is the only marathon I'll ever run. I like to sit down for a whole day and pump out as much as I can rather than break it up because I feel like I immerse myself better into whatever I'm reading. I can get through about 120 pages on a Saturday! I usually like to work from home because I'm too much of a people watcher so I get distracted anywhere else. Plus, coffee and/or wine is free and I can work in my PJs. :)
Q. Why should writers think about hiring someone like you to help them with their manuscript? How do writers find you?
A. A CE will help them see things they've missed, from errant commas to plot holes! It's helpful even if a writer has a group because then it's a completely fresh, all-at-once view, rather than having had, for example, chapter by chapter feedback over the course of a few weeks or months. Plus, if you find the CE at somewhere like, say GrubStreet (where you can also find me!), you also have the added bonuses of some form of mediator to help with the logistics of paying, etc. and most importantly have a bit of a vetting process by the community/institution that hosts the CE. This is nice if you're just starting out in a writing community, too.
Q. Are there any common mistakes you’ve noticed across the board?
Probably little grammar mistakes for the in-depth line editing level. Consistency in names for some reason as well! But every project is different, so it's more noticing patterns within each piece and watching out for that stuff.
Q. Are you looking for more projects to work on? And if so, how can writers get in touch with you?
A. Always!! Folks can message/follow me @storytellerowl8 or email at ZyanyaAvilaLouis at Gmail.
Q. A fun one – if you had a 5 minute super toy run, like this:
in a stationery store what would be your strategy? Are there any stationery products you’re obsessed with right now?
I LOVE this scenario and someone needs to do this, and also with a bookstore. I would start in the stationery section, like where all the pretty paper and writing supplies are, and see what pens and cool paper I could grab. Then maybe if I had time look at the trinkets? But probably just use all my time to get fun notebooks, calendars, and gel pens. Lol!
Thanks Zyanya, and thanks to all of you for reading!