3 July 2013 - JULIA PETRAKIS - Guest Editor


JULIA PETRAKIS

- Guest Editor -
G'day guys,
Today I welcome an editor with a wealth of experience - Julia Petrakis. Julia has over 20 years of experience indexing for major commercial and academic publishing houses. She has also been a great supporter and activist for self-published authors - co-founder of www.indiePENdents.org 

Welcome, Julia ... 
  
TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT YOURSELF AND YOUR BOOK-EDITING JOURNEY.

I am a 77-year-old widow and mother of two 50-ish college educators and two over-21 granddaughters.  My journey down life’s lane began when I graduated from Harvard College with a major in biochemistry and a “minor” (Harvard didn’t really have minors in those days) in English lit.  For some 30 years, I jumped from lower-level job to lower-level job:  lab glassware washer, clerical worker, secretary, and court reporter.  Then in the 1980s, three things happened:  I divorced my first husband, met my second husband-to-be, and became acquainted with the home computer.  Computers, I said, are going to be the wave of the future; it’s one wave, I am going to ride; and I bought my first computer for $2,000 out of an Iranian’s apartment in Rosslyn, Virginia:  a Columbia MC with 64 K of RAM and two floppy disc drives.

My first interest was in on-line research and I started up my own company, Facts OnLine, doing just that.   Some years later, my by-then second husband (a PhD in biochemistry but also a medical writer and editor) asked me one day to take a back-of-the-book indexing job he didn’t want.  “I can’t do that,” I said.  “Sure, you can.  Pick out words that are interesting, put page numbers after them, and then arrange them in alphabetical order.”  Well, of course, it’s not quite that simple, but it was a beginning and I have been doing it ever since.



As the indexer, who is the last-in-line in the publishing process, I also began to do quite a bit of minor copyediting, telling my publisher what I found that hadn’t yet been fixed.   My son, then a professor at American University in Washington, DC asked me to copy edit as well as index his first book and then his second book.  And then a friend of his asked me.  So it went until one day on a LinkedIn discussion board, writer Jasha Levi threw out some off-the-cuff remark, I answered with an equally off-the-cuff remark, and very shortly thereafter, I had suggested that I first edit some remarks he was preparing for a conference and then that I edit a book that he should write, expanding on the themes of the remarks.  And so he did and so I did.  As a result of working on Jasha Levi’s book, I learned about self-publishing and put his book out first on LuLu.com and then on CreateSpace and as a Kindle. 

I now continue to do back-of-the-book indexing for academics and the Brookings Institution.  I am a writing mentor in the Writing Center of A.T. Still University. I edit occasionally for individual academic scholars.

WERE YOU A GOOD READER AS A KID?

I guess so if precocious is good.  My only pertinent memory is of starting a book report/presentation on Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises to the entire 8th grade class.  Within seconds, I was told to sit down.  The book was apparently not appropriate for 8th-grade girls.  Of course, at the time, I hadn’t understood most of the book or the reasons it wasn’t appropriate.



WHAT DO YOU ENJOY MOST ABOUT BEING AN EDITOR?

I love taking awkward, poorly written sentences and making them shine and at the same time, keeping the author’s story and voice.

WHAT IS THE HARDEST THING ABOUT YOUR JOB?

As jobs go, there is nothing hard about it at all.  I sit in a chair next to the window, listen to folk music on my iPad, and read mostly interesting writings.

WHAT ARE SOME OF THE BEST BOOKS YOU HAVE EDITED? WHY?

The two most interesting books I have edited have been nonfiction.  The first, a book on the life of the Dahlits or Untouchables in India and the second, Jasha Levi’s recent book, Requiem for a Country: A History Lesson.  They were the best, I guess, because they touched on things I knew almost nothing about, but things I was interested in knowing more about once I started.

DO YOU HAVE ANY TIPS FOR NEW WRITERS?

As an editor and end-of-the-line evaluator for The indiePENdents, learn your punctuation -- what it is for and how to use it.  Of all the books denied The indiePENdents’ Seal, the vast majority are denied the Seal because of poor punctuation, because of commas, semicolons, and periods that have been thrown around like grass seed.

DO YOU HAVE A PREFERRED TIME TO EDIT?

I am a daytime worker, up and at work by 10:30 a.m. at the latest.  Work with a brief break for something to eat midway, and then on to 6 p.m., at which point the brain seems to say, “Enough, Old Girl.  Go have your glass of wine and listen to the evening news.”

DO YOU HAVE A FAVOURITE PLACE TO WORK?

At my desk, which is right next to a window overlooking the garden and the birdfeeders.  I have two baskets on the back of my desk, one for each of the cats, Larrie and Nieukitti, and often a blanket on the floor nearby for either or both of the two basset hounds, Emma and Sophie.  The parakeet, Thomasina, is nearby and sings out when she hears the birds outside my window.  In the opposite corner, is the small tank in which the nameless silver dollar fish has been isolated for being a terrible fish-tank bully.




WHO IS YOUR FAVOURITE ALL TIME AUTHOR. WHY?

It used to be Dickens.  But now, after indexing a large book on Marcel Proust’s writing, I am about to start the Proustian journey, and I may change my mind.

WHAT’S THE GREATEST COMPLIMENT YOU EVER RECEIVED FROM A WRITER?

“Your edits were impeccable!”

WHAT WAS THE WORST COMMENT FROM A WRITER?

I have actually never had a bad comment from a writer.

DO SOME OF YOUR CLIENTS FRUSTRATE YOU?

No.  I remind myself (and them) that whatever I am editing is their writing.  They get to choose.  I simply suggest.

OTHER THAN EDITING, WHAT ELSE DO YOU LOVE?

I love learning and so whether it is learning to put up a website or taking an online course in terrorism (which I did several years ago), I love trying anything new.

DO YOU ALSO WRITE?

Years ago, I did some short-story and poetry writing.  Nothing was ever published.

ARE SOME MANUSCRIPTS DIFFICULT TO REVIEW? WHY?

The most difficult are those in which the word choices are poor, in which I know what the writer said isn’t what he or she meant or what was meant wasn’t what was written.   Trying to find the correct word choice while still preserving the writer’s voice is sometimes very difficult and time consuming.

DESCRIBE YOUR PERFECT DAY.

When everything goes according to plan, whatever the plan may be -- which, as we all know, is very rare, like most other things that could possibly be described as “perfect.”

WHAT ARE YOUR PLANS FOR THE FUTURE?

Keep going.





Clancy's comment: Many thanks, Julia. Keep going indeed. And, thanks for your support for self-published authors.

Love ya work!

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