An Australian Editor in the Bush (SCRC no. 4)

Research Cooperative
17/06/18 09:30:11PM

Research Cooperative member JMK (aka caerellia65 ) was interviewed by PJM for SCRC, 16th June 2018*


Jo Killmister, an Australian editor living out of town, online, and in the bush, has formed her own one-person company,  Manifesto Editing  ( ). How did she get to where she is now? Jo replies to our questions...


(1) What kinds of editing do you do at present? Are you a specialist or a generalist?

In keeping with my aim over the past decade to move gradually from postgraduate written skills guidance to editing, most of my recent work has been straightforward academic editing: PhD theses and papers for scholarly journals. However, I’ve just agreed to edit reports and other formal documents for a Brisbane organisational consultancy whenever they need me. It pleases me to have a mixture of types of work of varying lengths, even though they’re all basically formal in style. I guess that you could call me a specialist with some flexibility.


(2) At what stage in your life did you begin working as an editor? When did you first consider working as an editor? What led you in this direction?

My initial career was teaching senior English to upper secondary students at both state and private schools for 15 years in Melbourne. There are obvious ways in which teaching English overlaps with editing. Firstly, you’re constantly helping people learn how to say what they mean effectively and, secondly, there’re mountains of correction involved—good training for working on long documents. However, when I began rearing my sons we were constantly moving up and down the east coast of Australia—seven moves in 11 years—and there was no possibility of my having any kind of stable career because I was the one who organised the buying, selling (or renting) and packing up of each home along with new preschools, play groups, schools and extracurricular activities. 


I began a second undergraduate degree in psychology in Brisbane in the early ‘90s and eventually completed it in Sydney at the end of the decade but, work-wise, all I had time for was manuscript assessment for an Adelaide firm and creative writing guidance for a selective girls’ high school in Sydney’s upper north shore. These jobs were both valuable training for editing, in that I had to ensure that my commentary was detailed but nevertheless helpful and encouraging.


(3) Has editing been a full-time occupation for you for any extended period or mostly part-time?

Mostly part-time, to some extent through necessity (for instance, my main responsibility in my previous job entailed providing written English skills guidance for postgrads so that I had to fit academic editing for students and staff around that task) but also through inclination, in that I have a wide range of interests among which to share my time.


(4) At what point did you come to consider yourself as a professional editor—before or after obtaining formal qualifications for editing?

Although I did a book editing and publishing diploma with Macleay College in 2010 (getting up before 4.00 am to travel down to Sydney each Friday – eight hours of travel overall for five hours of lectures) I knew by the end of the program, despite having found it hugely informative and a lot of fun, that I was still only a baby editor. The director of the program, Shelley Kenigsberg, did such a good job of opening our eyes to the myriad elements of text, and the complex range of possible approaches these can involve, that a healthy degree of humility was the only rational response. However, six years later I sat for the biennial online accreditation exam run by the Australian national editing body, the Institute of Professional Editors Limited (IPEd). 


It’s a long and rigorous exam held in strict conditions in every capital of Australia; candidates really don’t have a hope of finishing it, let alone doing well enough to reach the 80% pass mark, unless most answers come naturally. So, preparation is a matter of rewiring one’s brain to make it a machine that can function on both the particular and the global at once while making necessary changes to a variety of texts instinctively. 


When we all staggered out afterwards, I felt happy just to have finished. Two months later, when I found out that I’d passed, I was ecstatic and, yes, felt like an editor at last. But one with an infinity of things yet to learn. My age confers advantages in some ways but drawbacks in others. And whoever learns everything there is to know about the dynamics of a language?


(5) What do you like most about working as an editor? What do you like least?

I just love it when someone for whom I’ve edited a paper or a book says, in effect, ‘Thanks so much—you’ve made sure that I’ve said what I meant to say.’ On the other hand, I hate the demeaning remarks some people make about editing out of a mixture of ignorance and insecurity. I once heard an academic say of editing, ‘I don’t do micro.’ There are people who are loath to admit that the editing help they need may involve complex skills, so they try to minimise its importance. Also, editing suffers from being associated in many people’s minds with women, so it’s often still seen as somehow trivial and underserving of a living wage. 

Of course, there are a lot of people who have no strong feelings about editing either way but incorrectly assume that editing = proofreading when proofreading is merely the term given to a final pre-publication or pre-examination check of a document. These people don't mean to demean the skill involved—they just don’t see the myriad ways a piece of text can be inconsistent because they haven’t sharpened their own editor’s eye.


(6) How is your working space set up at present?

I have an upstairs room known in the family as ‘the bolthole’. It has three desks for different kinds of activities but the editing one dominates. When I work up there with a lush landscape through the window and music in the background, I’m in a world of my own—an idyllic contrast with my last regular job in which I had a tiny cubicle in a noisy, crowded space like a cell in a beehive. I still revel in the contrast.


(7) What should authors do to help you help them? Do you prefer to meet them in person or to speak directly by phone or live video call ?

Perhaps the most practical way that authors can help me to help them is switch up their own editor’s eye, partly through reading accessible grammar texts and partly through reading over the documents they want edited while trying to see them through fresh eyes. The fewer mistakes in clarity there are, the cheaper the job will be! It’s not always possible to meet authors in person, given that I live in a rural location. Of course, I’m happy to use Skype or some other video call system but I prefer to sort out an agreement via email, so that we have a written record of our expectations of each other. This is a good way to avoid mis-understandings.


(8) For anyone thinking about working as an academic editor, is there any advice you would like to give—very briefly?

If English is the language in which you wish to work then read a national style guide such as the Australian Government’s  Style manual  (Snooks & co. rev., 2002) or the US  Chicago Manual of Style so that you’re fully aware of how many variable elements a piece of text may have. And make sure that you have a solid grasp of the technical elements of the language within which you’re thinking of becoming an editor so that your editing changes will be, firstly, consistent with the current style of usage most relevant to your client (e.g. UK, Australian or US), secondly, globally consistent within each document that you edit and, thirdly, readily defensible if you’re questioned about them. 


(9) What kinds of experience, training or work habits can you recommend?

As any kind of editor, you have to be passionate about communication as a means of intellectual and emotional connection between people. It’s obviously also a good thing to be a practitioner in your chosen editing field. You don’t want to be in a position where you’re giving guidance to people about something you’ve never done yourself. That would make you very vulnerable in a competitive market. 

So, if you want to be an academic editor, you need to have solid experience of formal learning, preferably a few qualifications including a postgraduate research degree. However, you also need formal tuition in the technical elements of English (or your language of choice) and lots of practice—preferably through a formal editing program—to turn up your editor’s eye. 

Warning: once your eye for detail has been sharpened, it can be difficult to turn off!



Karloo Pool, NSW, Australia,

 ' a common rest place for bushwalkers'

(P. T. Graham, 2015, Wikimedia Commons)


* This article remains copyright of the authors, but may be reused with attribution, for non-commercial purposes, under the terms of our  Creative Commons License . Font: Verdana, 12pt.

The article may be cited as: 

J. M. Killmister and P. J. Matthews (2018) An Australian Editor in the Bush.  Short Communications of the Research Cooperative , no. 4, e1-4 (Internet,