In the first part of my Finding Your Niche series, Laura Poole, founder of Archer Editorial Services (www.archereditorial.com) and co-founder of Editorial Bootcamp (www.editorialbootcamp.com), answered the thirteen questions I asked three editors about finding your niche. She presented an interesting perspective and provided great answers to my questions. In this post, Katharine O’Moore-Klopf, ELS, answers the same questions. Katharine has been in publishing for 27 years, the first 11 as a production editor for various publishers, and since then as a full-time freelance copyeditor. She is a medical editor with a specialty in editing manuscripts written by non-native speakers of English. Her editing has helped researchers in 20-plus nations get published in more than 30 medical journals. She is also creator and curator of the Copyeditors’ Knowledge Base, which is housed within her Web site, at www.kokedit.com. On Twitter, she is @KOKEdit.

Hi, Katharine. Thank you for agreeing to answer these questions and continuing our conversation about finding your niche. I really appreciate it. Even after the first part of this series, this subject continues to fascinate me. Everyone wants specific answers on what he or she needs to do to find his or her specialty, their niche, even if those specific answers don’t exist. You’ll be providing another way of looking at the subject.

1. Tell me a little bit about yourself. What’s your background?

I’ve pretty much always been in some area of publishing. I have a bachelor’s degree in journalism, and my first professional job was as a newspaper reporter in Texas. From there, I went on to work in-house for a small niche publisher in Colorado, then for a very large mainstream trade publisher in New York, then for a small medical publisher in New York, and then finally I became a freelancer.

2. How long have you been freelancing? What made you decide to freelance?

I’ve been freelancing full time since early January 1995, two weeks after my second child was born. I have three children, now 27 (a daughter), 16 (a son), and 9 years old (a son). I spent all of my daughter’s early years commuting to work for publishers, 1.5 hours each way by train to Manhattan. I missed her so much—and wasn’t the one who was there when she reached a lot of developmental milestones—so I decided that once my first son was born, I would try freelancing so that I could be more available to him than I was to my daughter. Though there were plenty of crazy-making days as he was growing up, it worked so well that I continued freelancing full time when my second son was born several years later. I have fond memories of breastfeeding baby boys while editing and of taking breaks from work to cuddle toddler boys and read stories to preschooler boys. I’m still freelancing full time as they are moving more and more out into the world, and it’s wonderful to be available to ask them, when they come home from school, how their day went. What made me decide to freelance? Hugs and kisses from sweet children.

3. A niche is defined by MW as “a place, employment, status, or activity for which a person or thing is best fitted , a specialized market.” How many years did you freelance before you decided on a specialty, before you found or decided on your niche?

When I first started freelancing in 1995, most of my work was for mainstream trade publishers and university presses, editing manuscripts for novels and for biographies; books for the general public on health and on travel; and books on business, music therapy, psychology, literary criticism, the environment, etiquette, and lots more.

But some of my work was for medical publishers, editing journal articles and textbook manuscripts. That portion of my work grew, I think mostly because I always gravitate toward better-paying clients, but also because I find medicine fascinating. By about 2006, most of my work was medical editing.

4. What is your niche?

I am a medical copyeditor, working both with publishers and directly with authors. I specialize in substantive editing of medical-journal articles for non-native speakers of English.

5. How long have you been freelancing in this particular area?

I’ve always done some of it, but 2005 was when I began doing a lot more of it.

6. What made you settle on this area?

ESL (English as a second language) medical editing is like solving a puzzle: What did the author mean to say? It’s highly intellectually stimulating. It’s very satisfying when an author tells me that his or her article has been accepted for publication after I edited it, and I’m constantly learning about the latest advances in medicine.

7. Is it okay to have more than one niche?

Sure! I had two for years: editing mainstream books for the general public and medical editing. It kept my brain sharp.

8. What do new freelancers need to know about finding their niche? What do they need to consider?

No matter how lucrative a particular niche may seem to you, if the subject matter is something you dislike working with or are bored by, you and that niche won’t be a good match. If your niche concerns material you enjoy and are passionate about, you will want to keep learning and will do a much better job.

9. How soon should freelancers begin looking for their niche?

It’s important first to ensure that your skills are at the level necessary for you to do great work, so pay your dues first through continuing education and accepting every reasonable project offered. Plus, it takes time to realize what your passion is, so try a lot of subject matters.

10. Is it important to establish yourself as a freelancer first, to get some clients, or should you jump right into a certain area? What is the better way to go? Why?

Yes, do establish yourself as a freelancer first. If you jump into a certain area before you have much experience, you may find yourself “typecast,” working on subject matters that you don’t really love.

11. What should freelancers know about themselves? For instance, I have been freelancing four years now and I still don’t know what my niche is. What do I need to think about?

Not everyone needs a specific niche. Some people are good generalists, and that’s fine. Your niche, if you’re going to have one, will probably sneak up on you over months and years.

12. After you’ve established a niche, is it okay to change niches? Would it be better to add to your niche, or should you settle on one area? Why?

Sure, you can change niches, but you’re going to have to work hard to get the attention of clients in your new niche and convince them that you’re capable of great work in more than one area. Don’t drop your current niche while you’re building up skills and experience in a new one.

13. Is there anything you want to add? Have I forgotten an important aspect?

Always, always keep learning. To be an editorial freelancer is to be always searching for new subject-matter knowledge and for new ways to work better and faster and smarter. Don’t keep doing things the same old way just because that’s how you’ve always done them. Periodically analyze your workflow and client-seeking processes, and always be open to new ways of doing things. Don’t cheap out on office equipment, including reference works and software, or on your continuing education. (For example, in 2008, I took the rigorous certification exam offered by the Board of Editors in the Life Sciences. I wanted that certification to show my medical-editing clients that they are getting a well-trained editor. That “ELS” after my name indicates that I am a board-certified editor in the life sciences.) And network, network, network. That’s vital for learning about and moving into a new niche.

Allison Parker answers these questions in the third part of my series.