Name: Nicole Wayland
College & Majors/Minors: Cornell University, B.S. in Communication
Current Location: Washington, DC
Current Form of Employment: Freelance Copyeditor/Proofreader at Ford Editing
Where do you work and what is your current position?
I am a freelance copyeditor/proofreader and operator of Ford Editing. As a freelancer, I have the luxury of working anywhere as long as I have my laptop and an Internet connection, but I spend most of my time working from my cozy corner apartment just north of Washington, DC. I am very passionate about what I do, and I love that I am always learning something new. I edit for several publishers (both academic and trade), as well as businesses and individual authors. I also have a wellness blog called Healthy Happy Sound that I update weekly.
Tell us about how you found your first job, and how you found your current job (if different).
After graduation, I moved to Buffalo, NY. I knew the chances of finding a publishing job (my dream career) immediately were pretty slim, so I took a waitressing job while I searched. At the restaurant, I worked with over one hundred servers, bartenders, cooks, and managers, so I was able to network, learn about the area, and ask around for leads on publishing work. I also looked online. I signed up for several job announcement websites and scanned pages upon pages for the perfect position.
About six months after relocating, I found a job posting for an editorial assistant at an academic press (on Craigslist of all places). Although initially I didn’t see myself in academic publishing, I knew the position would give me the experience I needed to get a start in the field. I interviewed over the phone a few times and then in person, and by the beginning of March 2008, I was working in my dream field. I knew I wanted to work in publishing since I wrote my entrance essay for Cornell, and it had become a reality.
I worked at the press for just about three years before relocating to Washington, DC, in 2011. After arriving in DC, I took a position at Cornell University’s Washington DC semester program. Working for Cornell felt like home, and part of the job required writing and editing, so I thought it would be a good fit, at least until I got my bearings in a new city. But it didn’t take long for me to realize how much I missed the publishing world. I started to take a few editing projects in my spare time (my commute to DC alone provided over two hours per day for editing), and it picked up rather quickly. Within a few short months, I had to make a choice—my office job or freelancing. I took the leap to full-time freelancing in October 2012 (with the full support of my coworkers at Cornell and a goodbye/good luck card from all the students that semester) and haven’t looked back.
What was another writing-related job that was important in your career?
My time at the press (my first job out of college) undeniably set me up for my current freelance position. Because the company was relatively new and small, the team was very close. I worked alongside the director of the press on a daily basis and learned a lot from her. I started as an editorial assistant, then moved to assistant editorial manager, and then finished my time there in the publications manager post. I learned about operations, management, marketing, design, human resources, purchasing and sales, and customer service. I also traveled to represent the company at several conferences throughout the year. Having the responsibility of wearing many hats while at the press gave me the experience needed to operate my own business, and I’m still learning every day.
What did you do in college to prepare for your post-grad life?
Unfortunately, I didn’t do as much preparing as I wish I had (I feel like that’s a common theme among most college graduates). Because I paid for college on my own, I was constantly working to pay for my car, books, and other bills, which didn’t leave a lot of time for clubs, studying abroad, or networking. My primary focus was on getting the best grades I could while working to pay for school, a balancing act that turned out to be very helpful in strengthening my organizational and time management skills.
That being said, I do remember taking a class on résumé and cover letter writing, which I found very helpful when applying for jobs after graduation. I was told by the director of the press I worked for that my cover letter really stood out to her—it put me on the list of top contenders and eventually helped me land the job.
I think my choice of school also helped to prepare me for post-grad life. Being at Cornell showed me that you have to work hard for what you want. As Theodore Roosevelt said, “Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty. . . . I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life. I have envied a great many people who led difficult lives and led them well.” I worked very hard to do well there, and that work ethic is something I’ve carried with me.
What is your advice for students and graduates with an English degree?
First, as a student, talk to your university career center. Tell them what you would like to do with your degree, and they can tell you if you’re on the right track. Once you’ve confirmed that your degree program aligns with your career goals, do everything you can to boost your knowledge and experience in that field. Take internships, talk to professors, and, when given the choice, tailor your classes to bolster your résumé (i.e., put some thought into elective classes and try to get the most out of them). The sooner you test the waters, the sooner you will know if what you’re doing is what you want to do when you get out of school.
Be true to yourself. If you want to be a writer (or one of the many other careers you can have with an English degree), do it regardless of what others think. In the end, you are the one who has to be passionate about and love what you do. You can be successful at anything if you work hard. I have been teased for getting a degree in communication (some argue that it’s a useless major), and now I own my own business. I absolutely love what I do, and I am happy that I stood up for what I wanted and didn’t listen to the naysayers.
Be patient and don’t give up. I really believe that we make our own luck. Good things happen to those who are willing to work hard and seize opportunities. As a freelancer, I have contacted publishers in the past who either didn’t need help at the time or just plain weren’t interested who have been delighted to add me to their roster six months later. The key is to be patient and do what you can to build your portfolio in the meantime.