It’s still hard to believe it’s actually real, but my book, Use Your Useless Degree: How to Use Your Humanities Degree in a Career as a Freelance Editor & Writer, is a real thing!
It’s an actual book!
It’s bound with a spine and a cover and 196 pages of content I wrote and designed!
Just look at the proof copy! *Heart Eyessssss
It’s so crazy to see my own name on the front of a book cover after putting so many of my clients’ names on them for the last 7 years. I've loved helping authors publish their books over the last 7 years. I’ve loved the actual editing, the correspondence, and the hard work of educating, training, and finding myself the experience necessary to be a successful editor in the publishing world.
But now, it’s my name on there…
I started writing this book almost a year ago for many reasons:
It came fairly easily to me…I knew the content and the life and I could write it without having to do a ton of research on the side for it.
I had put in the work to actually figure all this stuff out for 7 years…figured I might as well share it.
I wanted to pay it forward.
You might say that last one was my true “purpose” for writing this book. As a new editor just out of college back in 2013, I had only my humanities degree training, my experience as a writing tutor, and my love for writing and editing and grammar as leverage to land new editing projects.
I applied to university presses and contacted over 100 people who might have any kind of work I was qualified to do. I sent emails and wrote letters. I filled out applications and found groups to join. I took work that I didn’t love simply to have something to put on my resume.
But I didn’t gain traction until a friend of a friend of a friend (my grandmother’s high school boyfriend’s son’s sister’s high school friend, to be exact) decided to take a chance on me and hire me to edit his book. Michael Munger is a professor of Political Science at Duke University, and he was writing a book called Choosing in Groups to be published by Cambridge University Press. He needed some editing on the first four chapters, and since our mutual acquaintance, Joe, had referred me to him, he decided to give me a shot. I had to learn to use Track Changes and make clear and concise comments for a professional writer, and my edits were going to be considered for publication by Cambridge! Talk about a “star struck” moment for a newbie editor.
Then, one of my former professors, David Wolf, referred me to his friend, Chris Draper. Chris needed an editor for his book, and I would need to figure out how to publish it on Amazon. The Book of Gabrielle was my first developmental editing project (which is where I fell in love with developmental editing!) and my first project published on Amazon. I expanded my knowledge of self-publishing and editing so much in that project that I was able to re-title myself as a developmental editor and—with the amount of research and figuring I did to publish the book on Amazon—self-publishing coach.
Then, a fellow editor I had become acquainted with in the area told me about her friend who taught an Editorial Bootcamp class, so I scraped together $200 and attended every class Laura taught, taking pages on pages of notes. She told me about the Editorial Freelancers Association, and I became a member. I applied for dozens of job posts that I got as part of the EFA list serve, and eventually found Ned Pelger (GreatSexChristianStyle.com), Steve Lowe, Rev. David McNitzky, and a dozen other amazing clients to work for.
Every single new client, network contact, and project helped me learn something new about editing or publishing.
I learned to use Word (See chapter 4 of the book!), create cover designs (See chapter 8 of the book!), edit for style guide adherence (See chapter 5 of the book!), publish books for print and eBook on Amazon (See chapters 6 and 7 of the book!), and I learned how to find new clients through the EFA and other job boards (See chapter 12).
I also had to learn how to run my own business, charge for my services, and establish an online presence where authors could find me (See chapters 9, 10, 11, 13, 14…).
And I had to learn how to deal with people and grow myself without losing myself in the work (See chapters 15-19). With every new project I landed, I felt more and more as though I was constantly stretching and learning and growing as an editor. I’m still doing that.
Every one of my professional connections had nudged me in the right direction. Every new client had led me to new skills and new projects. Every new editorial colleague had taught me and shaped me professionally and personally.
And what I realized was that though my humanities degree had made me into the kind of person who COULD constantly learn and grow and stretch to take on new kinds of projects or work in a slightly new area, I had to learn so much by trial and error to be a successful editor.
And everything I had learned could be pretty neatly tied up into a book—a book that could help humanities grads like me compress the years of professional development and get right into the “having the necessary skills” part of landing their first few projects—maybe before they even graduated!
So, that’s what I did.
Here’s a sneak peek from my new book:
Use Your Useless Degree: How to Use Your Humanities Degree in a Career as a Freelance Editor & Writer
By Kathrin Herr
How I Make Money Using My “Useless” Degree
When I first got to college in 2009, I thought I wanted to be a communications major. Then I thought I would major in music. Then I decided to design my own major in multimedia writing. But by the end of my second year, I had settled on a major in religion.
It was a subject I was interested in, it required the most writing of any major at my school, and my professors were supportive of my talents and goals. I could give you a whole litany on the value of a liberal arts education for the growth of the publishing market, but suffice it to say I recognized early on that my degree would lead me to a rewarding, fulfilling, and life-long career few people my age are willing or able to pursue.
I graduated in 2013 from a private, liberal arts college in Iowa (Simpson College, represent!) with my BA in religion.
I can’t tell you how many times I heard, “What are you going to do with that?” when I told people in the real world what I had majored in.
The world tends to think solely in terms of production. If you can’t produce a useable, marketable, scalable product, you’re useless. If you can’t get rich quick with your productions, or at least earn a $70k salary right out of college, you’re not doing it right—whatever “it” is.
Humanities majors hear the same questions repeatedly:
What are you going to do after graduation?
What useful skills are you learning in your classes?
How are you going to use your degree to make a difference in the world?
To me, the hilarious part about those questions is that few people outside of the humanities think the abstract skills we learn in religion, history, English, women and gender studies, and philosophy will be useful in our quest to produce meaningful and scalable products.
When they ask us what we are going to do with our humanities degrees, what they are really asking is:
How are you going to make money?!
The Perks of Our “Useless” Degrees
In our “useless” degrees, we learned how to ask the big questions.
We learned how to research, think, write, and communicate. We learned how to create, change, and inspire the world around us. We learned the power of the written word to heal and protect people. We learned the power of the written word to connect people.
I chose to major in religion, but my choice did not mean I intended to go into the ministry. I chose religion for the volume of writing it required, the one-on-one relationships with my professors it facilitated, and the fact that I always had more questions than answers (and that I wasn’t the only one questioning).
I learned how to edit words because I had to write and edit, A LOT. I learned how to ask questions that most often led to more questions. I learned to be content in my state of inconclusiveness and lack of discernment. I learned how to talk to people intelligently, love people well, and disagree with people...usually lovingly.
And though it wasn’t my intent, my religion major opened up a vast world of clientele for my editing business. Because I speak the theology language, I have been able to work for pastors who wrote books for their congregations and authors of spiritual memoir. My degree gave me my editing niche and allowed me to create a job I love. I even got to throw in other parts of my personality into the mix, editing humorous books like Great Sex, Christian Style by Ned Pelger—one of my favorite books by one of my favorite friends I’ve never actually met face-to-face.
Furthermore, my education cultivated in me an affinity for life-long learning. In my classes, I was consistently challenged to read new types of literature, engage in new kinds of media, learn new technology and skills, and communicate with people from all different backgrounds and opinions.
I learned how to learn by adapting to different situations in my educational formation. Nowadays, I often have to figure out website design, DNS settings (...wait, what are they again?), cover design software, video editing software, a new social media platform, or genre-specific language I’m not familiar with. I am able to learn to handle each new situation or issue that comes up because I learned how to learn in my religion degree.
I’m a life-long learner.
I’m a runner, and I love the meme about track and cross-country that says, “My sport is your sport’s punishment.” In humanities degrees, our most cultivated skill—our “sport”—is the skill most other degree programs despise and are “punished” with.
That skill is...wait for it... WRITING. (dun, dun, dun...)
We write argumentative papers with persuasive arguments. We write research papers with three pages of citations and 50+ footnotes. We write personal essays. We write fiction and poetry. We write descriptive or evaluative papers on works of literature. We write discussions of literary troupes and mechanisms and conventions. We even write journal entries.
And we are often asked to engage in peer revision. We trade papers with a fellow student, read, give notes, and provide constructive feedback. We “edit” each other’s work.
And then our professors (most of whom are stellar writers themselves) grade and provide feedback on our papers and return them to us so we can review the feedback and use it to do better (or even better) on the next paper.
The structure of our class assignments have prepped us for greatness as editors and writers...and we didn’t even have to suffer (too much).
My humanities degree also taught me to be an autonomous thinker and to accomplish goals by deadlines I set for myself.
In my senior year, I had to complete a large thesis paper project that included creative writing, research, and biblical interpretation. I had due dates to meet throughout the semester, but I was for the most part left to my own production schedule. I had to be self-motivated in order to get the research done, the 1700-word poem written, complete the extensive biblical interpretation, and prepare my final presentation. I didn’t have anyone holding my hand making sure I got my work done.
Being self-motivated to complete projects like this primed me for freelance work. I still have deadlines to meet, but I work from home, and I have to set work schedules for myself that will allow me to meet those deadlines. I have to decide when to start and finish my work day...and when or when to not put on pants. No one holds my hand as I copyedit a 400-page book in two weeks. No one writes out a work schedule for me when I have a publishing project that will take one month to complete and requires 100 different tasks and details to remember and execute.
The structure of my humanities degree gave me the autonomy to succeed as a freelancer.
The term “freelance” has a somewhat negative connotation. Freelance work has often been equated with doing valuable work for next to nothing for payment.
I’m surprised at how many people think freelancers are the “market rejects”—the editors who weren’t good enough to get jobs at big publishing companies or news organizations.
But here is the truth—a truth I’ve learned in my nearly eight years working in the publishing world as a freelance editor: Publishing companies today are laying off their full-time editors and throwing them into their own freelance pools.
With the burgeoning popularity of self-publishing and the rapid growth of the eBook empire, traditional publishing is slowly becoming a thing of the past—part of a “good-ole-days” portrait—and many traditional publishers can’t afford to keep full-time copyeditors on salary.
While the majority of university presses still seem to be going strong, the job pool for those salaried positions are limited to a short list of editors with 20+ years of experience in an “inner circle,” so even the best editor right out of undergrad is unqualified for such a position. And even university presses use freelancers more often than they hire salaried editors (but you still need 20+ years of experience working for a major publishing house or press...so you should have started when you were 2 years old).
What’s more, major companies like Meredith Corp. who still keep a number of editors on staff tend to promote in-house: their interns become their assistants become their editors become their executives. And even in those companies, long-time salaried editors have been laid off and added to a list of freelancers.
So how can you, a 20-something fresh from your humanities degree, break into the publishing world?
Start your own freelance editing services company.
Should You Be a Freelance Editor?
Entrepreneurship does not make for an easy life, friends. Before you gear up to take the self-employment plunge, do a gut-and-character check:
Are you a go-getter?
Are you willing to learn necessary skills—and never stop learning?
Are you willing to sacrifice parts of other things—a social life, for example—for the sake of doing the preliminary work to build your business?
Are you willing to ask for help (monetary help included)?
Are you a collaborative learner?
Are you good at grammar?
Are you a good writer?
Are you willing to do professional development exercises to improve your talents and skills?
Are you detail oriented?
Are you going to put in the time and effort necessary to build your business?
If you answered yes to those questions, you just might have what it takes to be a successful freelance editor!
In this book, I am going to give you all the other tools you need to successfully launch your freelance editing business. It’s a long process and it takes a ton of work.
I won’t lie and tell you it will be easy. But it will most definitely be worth it.
And by the time you finish this book, you will be able to answer the question, “How are you, a humanities major, going to make money?” with a simple statement:
“I’m going to make money as a professional freelance writer and editor.”
Use Your Useless Degree: How to Use Your Humanities Degree in a Career as a Freelance Editor & Writer will be available on Amazon in December of 2018. Join Kathrin’s mailing list to get updates on publication and receive more tips for living with purpose.