Thursday, October 19, 2006

Does It Really Matter?

by Kristine Coblitz

I never set out to be a technical editor.

A few years out of college and desperate to get a job in the journalism field where I could actually put my degree to use, I answered a classified ad looking for a news editor for a trade journal about the thermal-processing industry. Granted, I knew absolutely nothing about the thermal-processing industry (or engineering, for that matter), but I got the job, was promoted to managing editor three years later, and spent almost eight years editing press releases and articles about heat-treating furnaces, steel, and powder metallurgy.

(Still with me so far? Don’t quit reading yet.)

Now I’m a home-based freelance writer and editor. My biggest job is working as the editor of--you guessed it--yet another engineering magazine, this one dealing with fluid power.

It seems I’ve found my niche.

When I tell people what I do for my day job, I watch their eyes glaze over when I talk about thermocouples, hydraulics, and die casting. Several of these well-meaning people ask how I can stand to do something so BORING. I mean, who cares about furnace installations and packaging machinery, right?

I often wondered the same thing when I was starting out, especially when I was under tight deadlines and pulling my hair out over typos and production snags. My perspective changed, however, when I met a few of the engineers and company executives who actually read these magazines. They care. A lot. Keeping on top of what’s going on in the industry and reading articles about emerging technology is the foundation of their businesses…and their livelihoods. This is how these people earn their paychecks. It’s not just a magazine to them.

Talk about a wake-up call! Never again did I question the validity or purpose of what I did for a living.

I’ve carried this valuable lesson over to all aspects of my technical and fiction writing career. I have a responsibility to my readers, and they deserve my respect. It’s my duty to give them what they need—either by getting the facts correct in a technical article or by providing a credible escape when they flip open the cover to a mystery novel.

Does the hard work really matter? You bet it does.


Anonymous said...

Oh, Kristine, how this blog hit home for me! I remember the actual day I had the same AAA epiphany.---It's All About the Audience!!

Cathy said...

My dad and brother have enginer-like minds, and they read technical journals. No fiction for them, for they have to keep everything running. So what you say is very true, Kristine.

As for me, I'll read your novel.

Anonymous said...

Kristine: I spent many years doing layout and mechanicals for trade ads...back in the day when you did them with rubber cement and an exacto knife. Lots of bloody fingers but those little ampersands had to be just in line and perfect. I don't think I cared as much about the advertisers as I did about my own obsession with doing it right. Until I met one of the clients and he complimented me on the good looking ads we produced. Funny how putting a face on the end result can change the way you think about it!

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

The Tour Manager and I had once talked about me trading in my freelance copyediting career to do tech writing for his company (then a start-up and no, he didn't own it, just work for it). I was hesitant, until he explained that my job would be to put all those technical terms he loved so much into layman's speak, so that any idiot (his words!) could understand it.

These seemingly invisible jobs are certainly important. But you need to know about them before you can appreciate them.

Anonymous said...

A valuable reminder for all writers, Kristine! If we don't care about the audience, why do we publish what we write?

Anonymous said...

Eres un guampudo.
Tu mama es muy fea.
Eres tan feo que las ratas te comieron el documento y te dejaron la foto