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  • Writer's pictureSiân Smith

How my anxiety makes me a better book editor

OK, more accurately, this blog post is about how my anxiety makes me a better book editor for certain books and clients.


Maybe this blog post should have been saved for Mental Health Awareness week in May, but awareness about mental health is an everyday activity for me and affects my personal and business life daily, not just for a week in May.


What I mean by my anxiety improving my book editing business falls into two main categories: how my anxiety helped me identify my niche in non-fiction, and how my anxiety helps me provide the best possible service for nervous or cautious authors.



A caucasion woman with blonde, wavy hair and round glasses is looking contemplative at the camera. She's wearing blue dungarees and a stripey top.
I'm open about having anxiety


First, some background on my personal experience with anxiety. I’ve called myself a ‘worrier’ since I was a teen. If my parents were late picking me up from anywhere, I’d automatically assume they’d been in a car crash. In my later teen years I battled (and often lost) with thoughts that nearly everyone disliked me; I needed to lose weight; I constantly needed to prove myself academically.


In my university years, I still grappled with hateful thoughts about my body, but found various groups of people I finally believed liked me for who I was (across my hall friends, fencing team, and theatre group). But it wasn’t until my late twenties that I finally understood exactly what all this meant: I had anxiety. When my youngest child was a couple of years old, I took up running as a way to keep fit and happily benefited from the mental boost it provided. This opened the door to connecting with a truly marvellous running group and my mental health improved year on year.


I found myself opening up on social media about my anxiety and by 2019 I noticed I was managing my mental health and anxiety in a healthy way. My running group was looking for mental health champions which included becoming a mental health first aider, so I signed up! (I’m taking my refresher course in April.)


Like everyone, my mental health was tested to its limits during the Covid-19 lockdowns and even further when my eldest child had an unexpected eye operation in September 2021, but connecting with others on social media who were also sharing their mental health battles really helped me. It was during this period that I started reading more books on mental health and wellbeing (Matt Haig’s Reasons to Stay Alive is the first book I recall reading which was explicitly tackling mental health).


Fast-forward to January 2022, when my job role in my employed position was changing, prompting me to evaluate what I really wanted to do with my career. By this point I’d worked for 14 years at various e-commerce companies, happily editing and proofreading assorted projects. Now I realised editing and proofreading was all I wanted to do.


The past few years I’d spent up to that point working on my own mental health, connecting with others who have the same struggles, and reading more and more books which tackled the stigma surrounding mental health meant I knew straight away what my niche was going to be: mental health and wellbeing. And I’d be focusing on women writers.



3 books fanned out, with titles Simply Anxious, Happiness Within, Dear Tilly...
Working with women writing about mental health and wellbeing was a no-brainer!


So from the get-go I’ve been passionate about spreading the word about mental health through stories shared by women. I understand the language that resonates best with readers and I know readers always connect fully with an authentic and vulnerable storyteller.


An unexpected bonus of tuning into my own anxiety is my understanding of how anxiety can impact your confidence and self-esteem, which I’ve witnessed first-hand with many of my authors, many of whom are publishing a book for the first time. All the authors I work with (especially in the health and wellbeing sector) seek reassurance that I will take care of their words and of them.

 

As a fellow human who responds best to validation and positivity, I know all too well that gnawing feeling that crops up, making you feel like you’re bothering someone when you need help with something. I respond best to positive reinforcement, which is the attitude I show my own clients whenever I communicate with them. I use my own insecurities to reassure my clients that they aren’t wasting my time, they aren’t asking stupid questions, that it’s totally normal to feel overwhelmed from time to time during the editing and publishing process, but that I’m there to help reduce that panic and fear.

 

Sometimes this can be an action as simple as letting them know that I am sending a quick reply now, or that I’ve seen their message but I can’t answer just yet (knowing they might be wondering why I’ve ‘seen’ their message but not replied, automatically assuming they’ve clearly done something to annoy me!).



A bookshelf labelled 'self-help'
There's always space for more self-help and self-development books out there.

 

Of course, some authors thrive on a hard-nosed, ‘tell it to me straight’ attitude, but I’m someone who analyses the bejeezus out of a text, WhatsApp, or email and interprets any sort of direct language as that person’s way of telling me they sure don’t like me.

 

Anxiety’s persistent sidekicks are untrustworthiness and judgement. Common feelings with many of my authors about their book include: that it simply isn’t good enough; I’ll laugh at their mediocre writing style; I’ll share their book with other editors; their ideas will be stolen from them.

 

This is why I always point out everything I love in someone’s book, whether it’s with a heart emoji in the comments, a reply saying ‘I do this too!’, or a not-so-subtle ‘I love this phrase!’. But of course, that’s easy to do (and any editor worth their salt should always mark up what they love about your book). How about the parts of the book that need some work (or, as I would prefer to say, need some love)? This is when I choose my language carefully so an author won’t be hurt by what I’ve said or suggested, but can still see the potential improvement if they implement my advice or change. I usually explain my reasons for a change or let them know how a certain tweak will improve the book or clarify things for their reader.

 

What this all comes down to is knowing what sort of editor you know you’ll work best with. It could be the idea of someone reassuring you and providing a lot of remote hand-holding turns your stomach! But my best work comes out when I’m surrounded with compassion and reassurance, so that’s the only style I can use when I’m trying to bring out the best with my own clients. Being compassionate doesn’t mean I’m not afraid to speak my mind, it just means I sprinkle those thoughts with a decent pinch of sensitivity and positivity; making my point clear without using direct or frank language.

 

Above all, my anxiety hasn’t held me back; it’s helped me create a business which thrives on showing first-time authors how they can overcome their own anxious thoughts and publish their book! I’ll happily do all the virtual hand-holding necessary if it means anxious authors get to hold their coveted book in their hands.



A caucasion woman with blonde, wavy hair and round glasses smiling at the camera with a laptop in the background
Ready for all the hand-holding you need!

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