How to juggle non-editing roles as an editor

As a young editor in a small business, I take on a variety of tasks that certainly extend beyond editorial work. Designing, marketing, audio recording, editing an app… nothing is off-limits! At first, this was a challenge—and to be honest, there are still days where I wonder if I really know what I’m doing outside my field of expertise—but I’ve learned (more or less) how to juggle non-editing roles even as an editor.

Marketing and Social Media

For me, going from editing to creating was easy; I have always loved to write stories and poems, so adapting my skills to compose marketing materials was hardly a stretch. After all, the goal is pretty much the same: captivate the reader. It makes little difference whether that’s through a solid opening chapter, a clever slogan, or a hilarious tweet. Of course, there are some considerations in marketing that you don’t find in creative writing: word count limits; cost per click; buzzwords; discounts; engagement via replies, likes, follows… But being an editor generally means you know your way around words. With practice (and a heavy reliance on performance stats), you’ll likely find writing blurbs, ads, and social media posts to be right up your alley.

Design and Content Creation

The bigger challenge for me is learning design. There are college-level programs dedicated to this skill, but I have never attended so much as a single class (hence the difficulties). Before COVID-19 struck, I was beginning to use Adobe InDesign, Photoshop, and Illustrator to make posters and book layouts with the help of our ACTUAL QUALIFIED design guy. But then, pandemic! I work from home and have neither my guide nor those programs. Luckily, he found me a solution: Canva. This user-friendly design tool has templates, images, and features that allow almost anyone to create an aesthetically pleasing design, so long as they have a basic understanding of technology and colour. As a landscape painter and long-time greeting-card-sketcher, I have been able to fashion some pretty nice posters and social media posts. I’ll have to wait to get back to the office to keep learning the InDesign layouts, though.

Branching Out

My recommendation for an editor looking to expand their role is to use what you know. I draw a lot from my personal life, especially in the marketing area. A few examples:

  • Saw the movie Encanto on the weekend? Tweet about culture and diversity on the work Twitter.
  • Playing an app with in-game purchases of outfits for your avatar? Suggest that feature when your company is building a free reading app and wants to find a way to increase profits.
  • Celebrating Labour Day with a picnic? Snap a photo and post it on Instagram—yours and the work account. Followers love seeing more than just advertisements.
  • Local library having a writing contest? Host a similar contest at the publishing agency where you work. (Check out DC Canada’s One Story a Day Writing Contest for Canadian kids in grades 1 to 6. Submissions close March 31st at 12 p.m. EST!)

Again and again, I come across events, people, or ideas in my daily life that can be applied to the marketing field. It could be a meme, an ad, or a painting. It could be a quote or a you-might-like-this-Instagram-personality suggestion on my personal account. Regardless, we are exposed to marketing and design constantly, especially in the Internet age. And we are all consumers, so by adding your editing skills to your knowledge of what the public wants, you can take on more functions within your company.

Finding Balance

Finally, in terms of priorities, I try to work on a bit of everything each day. I usually start my morning by creating a quick social media design on Canva and posting it on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and sometimes Pinterest. Then I do some editing, write a blog post or newsletter, look over new submissions, and edit something else. Maybe I’ll work on a podcast episode or translate some books to French. Maybe I’ll spend an hour Googling childhood education centres and send them some emails about relevant products. This way, it’s easier to stay focused, especially when working from home for over two years—flipping back and forth between fields helps me hone my craft (writing, editing) while still engaging with the public (social media, emails) and learning something new every day (design, apps).

Many jobs within the publishing field require you to have a way with words and another skill—graphic design, marketing, sales, etc. Strictly speaking, as an editor taking on non-editing tasks, you’re already halfway there.

About the Author

Kara Cybanski is a PhD student in Spanish at the University of Ottawa and an editor/social media manager at DC Canada Education Publishing. She intends to become a professor of World Literatures and Cultures specializing in women’s/LGBTQ+ literature in Spain. Kara loves cats, hamburgers, diverse stories, and learning new languages, and hopes to be a celebrated author and professor someday.

January Speaker Night: Educational Children’s Books with Kara Cybanski

Summary by Tom Vradenburg and Coryl Addy. Edited by Stephanie Mason

We editors like to think of ourselves as adaptable and curious about new subjects and other genres. However, our real professional lives often involve grinding through the same kinds of material day after day. 

Kara Cybanski gets to live our dream at DC Canada Education Publishing, a small firm based in — who knew — Ottawa.

On January 19, Kara joined us to discuss her many roles as an editor for children’s education. She discussed the multiple hats she wears and the facets of publishing she works on, including design, translation, content writing, and editing. As an editor for educational children’s books, she also ensures she has educational value in mind.

In any government department, specialized teams handle each of those roles. We’re told we should ‘collaborate’, but specialists are usually reluctant to step out of their lanes. 

DC Canada, like many small businesses, doesn’t do lanes. But it’s not a brand-new startup, either. Founded in 1999, its first title was an ESL book for Grades 1 to 12.

Kara highlighted the editorial process for DC Canada’s small team by noting that before reviewing submissions, searching for illustrators, and finally getting to designing and printing, the team ensures that their materials meet two criteria: 1) it’s a good book for children; and 2) it has educational value. Kara highlighted that a wide variety of materials can be considered “educational”, with recent release, Recess in the Dark, focusing on cultural education. 

Every new title goes through a similar submission process: three to five staff will read a manuscript and recommend accepting or rejecting it. As with all book publishers, marketability is a consideration, as well as whether it’s the right book for the company at the right time.

DC looks  for a balance of good storytelling and educational value, which may not always be apparent in the theme or subject of the book.

Recess in the Dark, for example, is about children going to school in the North; its title refers to winter school days of little or no sunlight. It does explain that dog teams are still used in the North because they’re more dependable than snowmobiles. But much of the text is poetry, and Recess in the Dark walks readers through the fundamentals of verse.

A notable asset of DC Canada is that it showcases educational materials in English, French and Chinese. The company began as a resource for teaching ESL learners and has since grown to include books, games, read-alongs, and a wide range of multimedia resources for children.

Kara also shared a few favourites she would recommend, including Our Farm in the City, which details the experimental farm in Ottawa to talk about science and nature, and One Story a Day, that illustrates a different topic for each day to stir a new conversation each day with your child (365 stories total!)

Kara’s  advice to children’s book authors was inspiring: “When you’re coming up with a concept for that children’s book, think about what’s unique about your book.” She went on further to say, “You have this responsibility to share important messages” about ideas like kindness, respect, immigration or historical events, for example. 

We ended our time with Kara by engaging in a short question and answer period, in which one of the interesting questions posed to her was, “Have you found guidelines or resources on ethics for children’s publishing?” They then noted that the issue they were pointing to is ‘massaging’ to ‘cover up the truth.’ Kara noted that it’s a fine line to tread, especially when introducing heavy topics, such as slavery, in an age-appropriate manner. She also noted that a story about a child with two mothers might not sell in countries that frown on homosexuality.

Overall, a wonderful and engaging night spent musing about the inner workings of an important piece of the publishing industry!