Want To Work In Book Publishing? Read How One Woman Did It

If you’ve always wondered what it would be like to work in book publishing, then you’ll want to catch this interview with Jen Tolnay. Jen is an editor and proofreader who took her passion for reading and turned it into a successful business proofreading and editing for book publishers, writers, and businesses.

Jen says, “I love reading a book in its early drafts and seeing the progress the author makes and knowing that I’m helping them get their book ready for publication—it’s very satisfying!” 

I couldn’t agree more. There’s something fulfilling about being part of the creative process, and knowing that you had a hand in making a book the best it can be. Read below to learn more about Jen and working in publishing.

Hi Jen! Can you tell us about yourself? 

I was always that kid with her nose stuck in a book! I used to walk to my elementary school every day and my mom had to keep reminding me to look up from my book when I was crossing streets (Yes, I read as I walked.).

My other loves as a kid were drawing and playing the piano, and I ended up majoring in music in college.

Can you tell us about your editorial business?

My business is Jen Tolnay Editorial and Writing Services (jentolnay.com) and I do a bit of writing [in addition to proofreading and editing], but I definitely prefer working with other people’s words.

I’m mostly working on fiction books right now—children’s and adult—which I love. I’m also a board-certified health and wellness coach so I’d like to work on non-fiction books in that subject area, plus I’d love to work on books about music because of my background as a musician. 

I’ve also worked on course materials, website copy, product descriptions, blogs, and other corporate materials. I really enjoy pretty much any type of the written word.

I offer proofreading, copy editing, and line editing. Right now, I’m mostly working with publishers, but at some point I’d like to work directly with indie authors as well. 

What made you decide to get into proofreading and editing?

I do some proofreading and editing at my day job; my company has a full-time copy editor but I’m the backup when he’s on vacation, plus I often do a first-pass edit on our blog posts, and I have to make sure all of my social media copy is clean, so I’ve known for a long time that I enjoy the work. My dad was a writer, and my mom used to read grammar books for fun, so I guess I was born into it. 

You’re proofreading and editing for publishers and businesses as a side hustle. What are you doing in addition to your editing business?

I’m a social media coordinator for a retail company so I plan, write, and schedule social media posts, and occasionally work on our blog, both writing and editing.

How do you balance your time between both jobs?

My social media job is mostly Monday to Friday, 9–5. I like to relax (and read) in the evenings, so I mostly do my editing work on the weekends, but I will sometimes do some proofreading or editing on weeknights. My favorite thing is to make a pot of coffee on a Saturday morning and work on my editing then.

Do you have regular book publishing clients?

I do have a couple of publishers who send me work regularly.

What do you like best about running an editorial business?

I’ve been interacting on social media as an editor and I’m really enjoying the fellowship of other editors; they have so much wisdom and expertise that they share generously.

I’m also enjoying getting to know authors and understanding more about how they work. I love reading a book in its early drafts and seeing the progress the author makes and knowing that I’m helping them get their book ready for publication—it’s very satisfying! 

As far as the freelance aspect, I really like being able to arrange my time in a way that works for me.

You started your career in publishing with proofreading and copyediting, and now you’re also doing line editing. What made you decide to expand your business with another skill?

The very first publisher who hired me sent me a sample edit, and also mentioned the possibility of developmental editing. That was out of my realm of expertise, but I went further than a typical copy edit in my sample edit to see if my stylistic comments would be of use, and she hired me to line edit. These are children’s books, so it’s been a really nice way to ease myself into line editing, and I’m finding I really enjoy it.

Phon’s note: To learn more about line editing, click here.

How has your editorial business impacted your life?

Prior to Covid-19, I had been playing the piano and directing a small church choir as a side income, but that has, of course, been impacted by the pandemic. Starting my editorial training and working on my business during lockdown gave me a productive way to use that extra time many of us found ourselves with. 

I’m hoping to use the extra money to travel when I feel comfortable doing that again. I’m also excited to be laying the groundwork for something I can do after I retire from my full-time job. Spending retirement working with books, earning money from my home on my schedule sounds like heaven!

Jen Tolnay is a proofreader and editor for publishers, writers, and businesses.

What advice do you have for people who are considering getting into proofreading, copyediting and editing?

I think training is a must. I always did well in English class and I knew I could spot errors fairly easily, but learning how to work with different types of documents, learning about different style guides, and the differences in American, British, and Canadian English are just a few of the things I learned in High-Level Proofreading And Copyediting Pro that are proving invaluable as I start working with clients. 

It’s also important to get an understanding of various business aspects like setting up a website, invoicing, contracts, and so on.


Want to see how you can start working with writers and book publishers? We have a free masterclass that will show you the strategies on how to start from scratch. Sign up and watch it now.

How did our course, High-Level Proofreading And Copyediting Pro, prepare you for working as a freelance proofreader and copy editor and editor? 

As mentioned above, I learned a lot about the ins and outs of proofreading and editing, plus the grammar refresher was very helpful. I also found the publishing industry information, information on how to work with clients, and the marketing information very beneficial. 

And now we have the coaching calls, which are just an incredible way to get advice and have our questions answered from someone with many years of industry experience!

Can you give us a peek at what your typical day is like?

I usually wake up at about 7:30 and try to fit in a meditation or journaling first thing. Then I make coffee and my green smoothie and settle in at my desk to work on the day’s project. 

I’ll generally take a break at around 10:30 and sit out on my desk and read, or take a mid-morning walk. Then I work for another couple of hours until lunch. After a lunch-and-TV break, I’ll get back to editing for a few more hours. 

I stop every so often to stretch, throw in a load of laundry, get something started for dinner, etc. At around 5 or 6, I’ll usually stop for the evening, or I’ll do some non-client work like updating my website or planning some social media posts. If I have a full weekend’s worth of work and want to make time on one of the days to see friends or family, I may work extra hours on my editing project in the evening so I can clear space for hangout time.

On weekdays, when I’m at my full-time job during the day, I’ll respond to client emails and sometimes post on social media during lunch and after I get home. If I have a rush job, or need to clear my weekend, I may proofread or edit in the evenings.

About Jen Tolnay

Jen Tolnay has been proofreading and editing in various capacities for over twenty years, working on many different types of content. She is the owner of Jen Tolnay Editorial and Writing Services, where she works with businesses, entrepreneurs, writers and book publishers. Jen works on fiction novels and is expanding into non-fiction, particularly in the fields of music and health & wellness. She loves working with words and helping writers put their most polished material out into the world. You find Jen on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

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2 thoughts on “Want To Work In Book Publishing? Read How One Woman Did It”

  1. I greatly appreciate this interview. I am an avid reader, too. I constantly find myself loving the proofreading, copy editing side of the written word. I am a huge fan of paranormal romance. How would I go about getting sample materials to read, proofread, and copy edit? I am learning a great deal in the HLPP Editorial Bundle. Again, thanks for a great read.

    1. Glad you enjoyed the interview, Romeka! To answer your question, in module 8 of the High-Level Proofreading Pro course, you’ll find tips on how to gain experience when you’re new.

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