Isla Rosser-Owen

Isla Rosser-Owen

Isla Rosser-Owen

Professional Member

Why did you choose an editorial career, and how did you get into it?

I started getting interested in writing at an early age when I was helping out at a community newspaper where my father was working, and so I decided to pursue a career in journalism. A few articles down the line I realised that, while still fascinated by current affairs, I was more interested in the word crafting itself than in journalism as a profession and that actually I was more inclined towards editing and research, so I decided to sidestep into publishing.          

What training have you done to get your editorial career up and running?

Some initial in-house journalistic training, followed by courses taken with the Publishing Training Centre and the SfEP in proofreading, copy-editing, grammar, web editing and others. I have also had stints in-house, which have expanded my production and printing knowledge as well as made me a more efficient project manager. In terms of getting my freelance editorial career up and running, the SfEP directory has been a huge help in finding clients. I haven't had to do too much cold-calling so far, but perhaps that's the next thing to look forward to!

What work are you most proud of?

Having initially had to take on a lot of non-editorial work in order to afford the training, mine has perhaps been a slightly unconventional route into publishing – I hope that shows my level of commitment – and so I suppose the main thing I'm proud of is just being here in the first place! I've had to work long hours and some rather disappointing jobs in the process, and so I'm so grateful to finally be doing what I want to be doing with my career and that I'm using my own academic discipline to boot, which is modern Middle Eastern studies. 

What do you do if you're struggling on a job?

If I'm struggling in terms of stress or project fatigue then I'll go for a long walk. I'm lucky enough to live on a Scottish island with some great scenery and lots of potential when it comes to blowing away the cobwebs. I also do a lot of gardening these days, which I find quite therapeutic. Sometimes I will have a rant at my indifferent cats. 

What does being a member of the SfEP mean to you?

First and foremost, the SfEP represents a standard to aspire to, which I think is hugely important in an otherwise unregulated way of working. It's good to have a professional body to remind you of best practice and to highlight where you might be going wrong. It also represents opportunity in terms of both professional development and possible clients, but also networking with other editors and those in related professions. I'm only recently beginning to appreciate the level of support on offer from the SfEP and its individual members and it's so comforting to know that that's there.

Which editorial tasks do you enjoy the most and why?

I enjoy the project management side a great deal, as I enjoy dealing with different clients from all walks of life and from all over the world, and because I like identifying problems and finding solutions to them. You do receive more instantaneous feedback at that level, whereas any satisfaction gained from trudging through a particularly difficult book can obviously involve a slightly delayed reaction and is less easily identified!

Because I work with languages that are relatively new to many modern commercial publishers, I do also enjoy being able to share some of my knowledge in developing house styles and related processes.

Do you have any editorial pet hates?

References, references, references! Especially the 'cut-and-paste bibliographies' where the author has just pasted references in, often from several different places with their own diverse styles, and hasn't even attempted to apply some consistency – those drive me round the bend!

What has most surprised you about your editorial career?

My own writing, which is something I'd like to pursue at some point, has certainly developed and become more inspired as a result of being an editor. I've also developed so many other interests as a result of the projects I've worked on, one of which is archaeology, and I have started to engage more with the wider book world too. I now help to organise my local book festival, for example. So I suppose, for me, the main surprise has been how an editorial career has ended up enhancing other areas of my life and how it's helped me to become a more confident person. 

What's the best career advice you've received?

If it ain't broke, don't fix it. And stick to the brief! 

What advice do you have for people starting out on an editorial career?

There are two things that I think are important: 1) be realistic in terms of goals and expected outcome, and about the reality of the profession itself (it's not that glamorous and it's not always well paid); 2) have a bit of patience to stick with things until the right situation presents itself, as well as the belief that it will turn up eventually.

Learning to pick and choose between jobs in the pursuit of fair pay and better quality work is a must, while bearing in mind that it can take a while to get a feel for the lie of the land. Be prepared to take more of the rough than the smooth for a while, and to grow a fairly thick skin!

Do you ever stop editing?

I try not to be too pedantic in my day-to-day dealings with people, especially as I've done some literacy support work in the past and understand that many people haven't had the best grounding in English these days, plus also that language is a constantly evolving thing. I do try to take the long view, but I admit I find it difficult not to chuckle at typos sometimes. And, yes, sadly I mentally edit pretty much everything I read.

Finally, tell us one thing about you not related to editing

I am trying to learn photography, which is something that I have been fascinated by from a young age but have never really had much of a chance to learn more about. I've finally bought a decent camera, but need to work out how to use it properly! My particular interests are landscape and wildlife photography, so living on a Scottish island is the perfect location for exploring those. 

The SfEP does not give any special endorsement to the members who appear in Meet our members. If you are looking for an editorial professional, we recommend you search the Directory of Editorial Services.