Name: Tara M. Clapper
College & Majors/Minors: I have a BA in English with a minor in music from McDaniel College in Westminster, MD.
Current Location: Mt. Holly, NJ (Greater Philadelphia Area), USA
Where do you work and what is your current position?
I'm a technical editor at SEMrush. In this role, I oversee the editorial direction of an industry recognized digital marketing blog. My background is in content management and digital publishing. Publishing isn't the most stable field, and I transitioned into the more robust tech industry by doing exactly what I love – managing a blog!
Tell us about how you found your first job, and how you found your current job (if different).
My very first job out of college (2003) involved copyediting job references and applications. It wasn't a very satisfying job; the company was huge and it was too much structure for me. I immediately switched to a submissions representative position at Xlibris, a self-publisher. I was able to help writers achieve publication before this was done on Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP). The staff soon discovered that I could copyedit manuscripts with a fast turnaround (the rest of it was outsourced to an overseas location), and I then offered input on the company's product and services catalog.
My position was outsourced; I was rehired and promoted to work on a pilot project, but that fell through. After that, I went through a few rough years of serving coffee at Starbucks (which doesn't pay a lot, though they treat their partners very well) and started freelancing on Associated Content, which later became the now-defunct Yahoo! Contributor Network. I explored academic publishing, marketing, and web copy writing in freelance and full-time positions, but my passion has always remained focused on geeky stuff like tech an entertainment.
What was another writing-related job that was important in your career?
Freelancing. Even when I was serving coffee, I was moonlighting as a content writer. This allowed me to develop my craft, always state that I was a paid writer, and learn to take criticism from editors (which, in turn, made me a much better editor as well). Freelancing is appealing because you can be your own boss, but when you have editors or clients, you're working for them. Instead of one problematic boss, you could have many. That can really make you appreciate decent bosses when other people complain.
What did you do in college to prepare for your post-grad life?
I was always interested in being 'in publishing,' but my school didn't offer editing classes. I took independent studies, worked on the college paper, and invested my time in the arts. Performing on stage made me a much more confident public speaker – like most writers, I was (and am) much more comfortable with written communication. Verbal communication is something I still work on and I'm currently active in a local theater group and a live action role playing game. I write plays and portray characters who face challenges; these extracurriculars are constants in my life and help me develop my leadership skills.
There's this big perception that the arts (including creative writing) provide no stability. When corporations failed and Google Panda destroyed most of my freelance clients, the arts were my constants and marketing was my day-to-day survival. Now I'm in a role that combines both; it feels stable and engaging since SEMrush is an agile company.
The most important thing I did during college was know myself and my beliefs. Running two blogs, I have to make editorial decisions that affect corporate and personal branding. The posts I approve are seen by household names and brands. Especially on The Geek Initiative, my own site, I need to determine the voice of the publication. I often consult with others whenever I come across a grey area. A good editor knows when to reference a style guide, dictionary, or policy. It's a strength to check yourself.
I wish I had taken the time to learn some practical things early: how to change a tire, how to balance a checkbook, how to sew, and how to manage finances for a small business. I should have picked up a minor in business as well.
What is your advice for students and graduates with an English degree?
If you're not satisfied with your current job, keep looking. Stability is important, but most employers will outsource you, shut their doors, and offer little regard for your future. It's great to care about your product and your employer, but if your employer doesn't take an interest in your personal brand or consider your strong social media presence an asset, start looking elsewhere. Find an employer who values you for who you really are. I'm willing to give 150% for SEMrush and network for the company on the weekends because they support the development of my personal brand. Some of my previous employers were threatened by my creative pursuits and enthusiastic social media presence.
Practical advice: Become acquainted with a trusted lawyer, doctor, and accountant/financial expert, especially if you're like me and you're better at managing words and projects than numbers.
People will tell you that an English degree is too generic or useless. If you haven't found your esoteric specialty, do everything you can to find it. Cling to it. Know that it will evolve. Integrate it into your life. It will differentiate you from everyone else.
Always freelance and – especially for women – know your value (as "Agent Carter" says).