Building Relationships: A Post-Conference Conversation

November 2019

By Bruno George and Jesi Vega

To all the editors who participated in the Northwest Editors Guild’s Red Pencil Conference 2019 in September, we’d like to say once more—thank you for joining us! It was a day full of new perspectives, new ideas, new skills, and new voices. It was also a day for celebrating editors and our commitment to creating bridges between writers and readers.

Keynote Speaker Viniyanka Prasad talking with attendees at Red Pencil 2019. (Photo by Betsy Berger).

We would also like to thank once again the many supporters who stepped up to make the Guild’s first scholarship program a reality this year. Six Voice & Voices scholarships were awarded to encourage six editors to attend their first Red Pencil Conference. We hope they will continue to add their voices to our growing editorial community.

We on the conference committee were delighted to introduce the scholarship recipients to each other by email just prior to the conference. At least two of them, Bruno George and Jesi Vega, continued their conversation after the conference, and they agreed to share some of their discussion here. We hope many of you are likewise having post-conference conversations that enrich and inspire your editing practice now and into the future.

—The Red Pencil Conference Committee

Bruno: I’m grateful to the Northwest Editors Guild for giving me a chance to attend its Red Pencil Conference, which focused on voices underrepresented in the publishing industry. In the keynote address, Viniyanka Prasad related an anecdote from her legal career that described how a Black woman’s voice was shut down by a lawyer prepping her for testimony.

Viniyanka Prasad delivering her keynote speech. (Photo by Betsy Berger).

In that anecdote, a person of color was in the position of a writer trying to tell their story, while a white person acted as the gatekeeper or editor. That got me thinking about other gatekeeping situations in publishing. I’m an editor; I’m also a white transgender man who does not generally get read as male. I find that freelance editors like me are often expected to market ourselves with our photographs and our life stories. How does that affect editors who are people of color, or LGBTQI, or from other underrepresented communities? What happens if our voice or our face isn’t recognized as part of the majority? How does that impact what we do, or get the opportunity to do?

I haven’t come up with a way to deal with this yet—this precarity, this exposure to bias. Or to the extent that I have dealt with it, I’ve gone for a bland and impersonal web presence.

Jesi, your editing business, Represent! Editorial, tackles these issues of representation head on. From your business name to your photo and bio, your focus is on working with writers of color and writers from other underrepresented communities. What has the response from writers been like? Did you initially try a different approach before settling on your current business name and focus?

Jesi: As a white-passing Latina, I’d flown under the radar as a woman of color in my previous career, and it caused a lot of anguish and dissatisfaction. When I was exploring this new career as editor, I knew I didn’t want to make the same mistakes again: “pretending” I was white and that I wanted to center white stories. Early on, I committed to nurturing and supporting writers of color.

However, that was easier said than done. I soon discovered that the kind of writers I wanted to work with didn’t know how to find me. So I did two things. I immersed myself in social media, following writers of color and people of color in publishing, and I began circulating in my own community. I began talking to people about what I do and what I, as an editor, could do for them and their projects. Fortunately, I’m not a shy person. I started building relationships, and the results have been life altering.

Lunch at the Language in Fiction Editing table. (Photo by Betsy Berger).

As a Latina, I don’t have the same experience as a Black woman, a First Nations woman, or a transgender woman, but as a non-white editor, I’m sensitive to the experience of being othered by the white establishment, and I think that’s where the bond starts between me and my writers. I revere my writers (and my writing students) for their difference and courage the way I wish some teacher (or entertainment industry exec) had done for me—but never did. My intention is, essentially, to provide for other writers and artists what was missing in my own creative journey and to turn my pain into passionate action on their behalf.

As for the name of my practice—I’d started with a name that was based on the name of my previous business, because I wanted people to know I was still me. But over time, that name became less relevant, and fairly recently, I took the plunge and renamed myself Represent! Editorial. I love a well-placed exclamation point and, in this case, it represents real excitement for my work and what it provides writers and readers.

Bruno: Thanks for talking with me, Jesi, about your editing business and the writers of color you work with. The Red Pencil Conference and this conversation have given me food for thought about how to approach my own editing business. Are there any words of advice you’d like to offer other editors who want to diversify their clientele and the industry as a whole?

Jesi: While I have faith that many editors are sincerely concerned about diversity and inclusion in our industry, concern alone doesn’t make the difference. Instead, I recommend that editors build relationships in communities other than their own. We’ve all got to get out of our comfort zones to bring about the changes we dream about—and sometimes that means literally going somewhere you would never have gone otherwise and meeting people you would have never met. Diversifying our industry means first diversifying our lives.

A panel discussion at Red Pencil 2019. (Photo by Jill Walters).

We look forward to seeing you at the next Red Pencil Conference—in 2021. Or at any upcoming Northwest Editors Guild event. Any member can host a coffee hour or happy hour, and all members and interested nonmembers are welcome to attend. As board president Elaine Duncan said at the close of Red Pencil Conference 2019, “We may not be the biggest editing organization, but we’re the most fun!”—and that’s because of each and every one of you who shows up. Thank you.

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Bruno George

Bruno George is a freelance editor, writer, and dissertation coach at Editing by George. His PhD dissertation on French novelist Antoine Volodine has been accepted for publication by Publication Studio Press, and his short story “Ambulants” recently appeared in the online journal KGB Bar Lit. He lives in Seattle.

Jesi Vega
Jesi Vega

Jesi Vega has had a multifaceted career in the arts. Trained in the theater as an actor and playwright, she worked for over a decade in documentaries and television before finding her current path as a book editor and writing instructor who supports and inspires marginalized writers to raise their voices and make their stories heard at Represent! Editorial. Originally from the Bronx, Jesi graduated from Vassar College and the University of Chicago. She lives in Tacoma.