Interview with Proofreader and Writer Vicki Essex

I’m so excited about this post because it’s with my very talented friend, Vicki So, who is a professional proofreader and writer. I used to work with Vicki at Harlequin when I was an in-house proofreader.

In addition to her proofreading career, Vicki is a successful author and mother. She’s published six romance novels under the pen name Vicki Essex, and has another project under a different pseudonym in the works. If you’re interested in learning more about Vicki’s books and writing romances, you can check out her blog. (I love her post about being a book cover model for a day.)

Vicki was kind enough to take time out of her busy schedule to discuss her role as a proofreader, how she got started, and her writing.

Your day job is as a proofreader at a publishing house. Can you tell us a little about what you do?

I work at Harlequin Enterprises, the world’s leading publisher of romance. Proofreading is at the very end of the editing process after substantive editing, line editing and copyediting. (Note: not all publishers have the same rigorous process.) I read books and ancillary materials such as covers, inside ads, excerpts and anything that has writing on it. I check for proper spelling, grammar, punctuation, house style, consistency, timeline, readability, typesetting issues and anything else that might be problematic.

How long have you been a proofreader?

Over ten years.

Why did you decide to pursue proofreading?

To be honest, I was just looking for a job in publishing. I saw the posting for a contract position as a proofreader, and thought, why not? It was a foot in the door, and if I didn’t like it, I could leave. But it turned out I loved it.

Did you have any prior editorial or proofreading experience before you started working for your current employer? What job did you have before Harlequin?

Any time you work with words, you’re editing and proofreading, so it’s all experience. I worked on the student paper in university. I did some freelance copyediting after graduation. I’d worked in magazine publishing for two years as a publishing assistant and sales coordinator, and I worked in marketing. Before that, I’d also worked as a page at the Toronto Public Library, which requires a keen eye for detail.

What did you study in school? Did you take any proofreading or editing courses or programs? Or did you learn from experience?

I have a bachelor of journalism from Ryerson University. The journalism program includes a copyediting course, where you learn Canadian Press Style. My current workplace uses Chicago Manual of Style, 16th edition and Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th edition.

Phon’s Note: If you want to learn how you can start, I have a FREE masterclass where you can learn more about proofreading, copyediting, and marketing.

You can register now by clicking here.

Do you have any advice for people who want to proofread fiction novels?

If you want to work as a professional proofreader, you have to love words and the rules around language. You also have to be flexible—authors have their own style and voice, and sometimes take exception to you messing with their manuscripts. If you’re doing it freelance, it can be very isolating. That’s great for some people, but not for others. I think a lot of my skills and personality suit the proofreading job—it’s very independently driven, and the work never ceases. I would also recommend you read widely and prolifically. Reading fast is one thing; reading comprehensively is another.

You’re also a published writer, and have released six romance novels. Did proofreading romance novels influence you? And do you think it made the writing process easier?

I was absolutely inspired to write romance by my job. I’d actually never read what I considered a romance novel before I started working at Harlequin. A few months into the job, I thought, “This looks so easy! I should write a romance!” I had all the same wrong ideas lots of people have about the romance genre: that romance is “based on a formula,” that they’d “publish anything,” that it was an easy way to make money.

I was so wrong. Writing—any kind of writing—is hard, and you have to work on your craft, develop a thick skin and be willing to learn.  It took me three years and three bad manuscripts to get my first book published, and I did that with the help and support of the Toronto Romance Writers. Being hip deep in romance all day taught me a lot about the conventions of the genre and the tropes and language associated with it.

I’ll add here that the stigma around “bodice rippers” and “mommy porn” is rooted in historical misogyny: the one genre that is predominantly written by women, for women, is usually denigrated as being “worthless trash” because of its popularity and proliferation, especially throughout the 18th and 19th centuries. There are lots of books and essays about how romance is a valuable feminist genre, and I’d encourage anyone who thinks otherwise to read up on it.

Tell us about your writing. What kind of stories do you like to write or themes you like to focus on?

I love stories with good meaty conflicts, and the romance line that I write for, Harlequin Superromance, tends to feature stories where the romantic conflict is central to the story. I tend to write diverse characters as a personal mandate, and I like stories that humanize people we either marginalize or idolize.

For example, I wrote about a Brazilian female mixed martial artist in In Her Corner; I have a Chinese-American wannabe editor in Back to the Good Fortune Diner; I have an Indian-American condo developer in Matinees with Miriam. I like digging into my characters’ psyches and exploring how their pasts, families, experiences and upbringings made them who they are.

Making a character understand and overcome their personal traumas and issues can be enlightening and quite therapeutic. Oftentimes on the writing journey, I discover something about my characters and myself that I hadn’t realized when I first start plotting the story.

How does it feel to be on the other side of the editorial table now, being a writer having your work proofread?

It’s a blessing to both work at and write for Harlequin. I have nearly unlimited direct access to my editors and every hand that touches my book. I get to see the entire production process firsthand. That said, I don’t breathe down anyone’s neck—I have full confidence in the work my colleagues do at every step. Besides, when you share a kitchen and bathroom with these fine folks five days a week, you don’t want to tick anyone off.

I sometimes get a little nervous when I know one of my coworkers will be reading my book, not because there’s (gasp!) sex in my books, but because I want to know if they actually liked my book. I almost never ask, though.

What writing projects are you working on at the moment? What do you have planned for the future?

I have a four-book older young adult fantasy Western series coming out this summer under the pen name V. S. McGrath. The Devil’s Revolver is about a stubborn, vengeance-driven young woman on a desperado quest to save her kidnapped sister from a group of vicious bandits. She has the help of a magical gun that takes a year off her life for every person she kills.

Working on The Devil’s Revolver has been an exciting process—my new publisher, Brain Mill Press, has pulled out all the stops for the art and marketing of this book. I’m hoping fans of mixed-genre Western-themed stories like Westworld, The Dark Tower, and Wynonna Earp, and fantasy readers who want a story set in a non-feudal world, will give the series a try.

I always have ideas for more romances and other books kicking around in my brain, but the focus will be on this series for the next little while. So much of writing is staying focused and not getting too distracted by the newest shiny idea to pop into your head.

If you want more details and updates about The Devil’s Revolver, check out and sign up for the newsletter to get notices on when the books are released!

You can also follow Vicki on:
Twitter @VickiEssex
Twitter @VS_McGrath

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