Writing Insights from Karen Yin of AP vs. Chicago

Karen Yin is a freelance writer who shares her style guide notes and revelations in the very useful blog, AP vs. Chicago.

Below, Karen elaborates on combining freelance work with passion, investing in strengths over weaknesses as a freelancer, building up a client base, maintaining a blog as a freelance writer, contending with differences across style guides, and making the most of professional groups and organizations.

As a freelancer, do you still work within the entertainment industry, have you carved out a different niche, or has your work and client base become more broad?

Karen YinI’m grateful to be in a position where I can confidently turn down work that is no longer in alignment with the life I want to create for myself. Everything that I choose to do now combines my strengths with my passions. All those quirks that make me weird in everyday life—such as being hyperaware of details and patterns—become assets which set me apart. It’s rewarding to help small businesses create a sustainable editorial strategy from which website content and marketing messages evolve. My latest passion project is developing a division of self-publishing services—proofreading, designing, and publishing e-books—for authors whose work celebrates diversity.

What advantages does a freelance writing career have over one in which an individual writes full time for a single employer?

If you have the stomach for it, freelancing can be very freeing and thrilling in its unpredictability. Instead of doing everything yourself, consider joining forces or trading services with professionals who can fulfill those roles better than you can. Part of designing a sustainable career for yourself means investing in your strengths and not your weaknesses.

Do you get many inquiries from clients who find you through your blog? What advice would you give to other freelance writers who might be interested in promoting their work through a blog?

I get most of my work through my connections and urge new freelancers to hit up people they already know. Especially if you are just starting out, resist the temptation to put your time, money, and energy into things with questionable return, like websites/blogs and business cards. Look around you and see how you can serve your immediate community. Don’t be shy: Let people know that you are available for work.

If you decide to launch a website or blog, which can come after you have gained some traction, please, please, please hire a professional editor to look it over (or do a trade). So many editors have static web pages with spelling errors, it’s harder to find an editor’s site that doesn’t! When I was hiring editors and proofreaders, only one out of three hundred résumés were error-free, and that one usually had very little on it.

What are some of the most distinct differences between AP and Chicago styles?

Punctuation, numbers, and purpose.

What recommendations would you give to someone who does not which manual of style to study and follow?

This is the top question from my readers. I used to run their personal factors through a mental flowchart and give everybody thoughtful suggestions. Now I just tell them this: Learn the most important twenty percent of both styles (or any style) and look up the rest on a need-to-know basis.

I have my own chart of the most important twenty percent, but I love pointing readers to this comprehensive Copyediting article by Erin Brenner which breaks it down and makes the learning process less daunting. Don’t kill yourself trying to memorize everything. Just familiarize yourself with what each style covers, so you know what’s even possible to look up.

Chances are that there are entire sections which are completely irrelevant to what you’re editing. Also, familiarity comes with experience, so look things up often. There is no shame in it, and it keeps rules fresh in your mind. No style is ever written in stone, so don’t be afraid to have a conversation and adapt a style for your own purposes. Even when you choose to be inconsistent, be consistent in your inconsistency. If you’re not a natural note-taker, learn. Oh, I also tell people that grammar comes before style, so brush up.

What sorts of professional opportunities or helpful resources do the Editorial Freelancers Association, American Copy Editors Society, Asian American Journalists Association offer? In what cases would you recommend that a freelance writer join one (or more) of these associations?

I join professional organizations to increase my access to community and education. For example, the Editorial Freelancers Association’s Los Angeles chapter organizes regular events for its members, and meeting my tribe in person helps me feel less isolated. Like all other things, simply paying your membership dues is not enough. I also do the work: establishing contacts on LinkedIn with the members I’ve met, following them on Twitter, sharing job listings and links, and so on. Support your peers whenever you can; be mindful when building community. The EFA also offers many truly valuable resources to the public, including books and online courses for professional development.

The American Copy Editors Society has an annual conference which I hear is rockin’, and I plan to be one of several hundred editors who are descending upon Vegas in 2014.

I support the Asian American Journalists Association because it supports me and issues which are significant to me as an American blogger of Chinese descent. Again, this is part of supporting community. In addition, I highly recommend subscribing to the Copyediting newsletter by becoming a member as well as following it on Facebook and Twitter. It’s comforting to know that you are not alone in this endeavor, whether it’s holding the line with grammar and style or freelancing.