Looking back on five years as a specialist outdoor editor
Five years ago, I had a day job I hated, so I decided to quit and retrain as a freelance editor. On the 12th of July 2014 I announced that Pinnacle Editorial was looking for new clients.
For the first year I mainly worked on fiction, although I did have some early success in the outdoor genre. Along with outdoor writers Keith Foskett and John D. Burns, both of whom I’ve been privileged to work with almost from the start, I also took on the role of sub-editor at Sidetracked magazine – a job I’ve enjoyed ever since. I can thank my colleague and friend Andrew Mazibrada for this opportunity. We’d already worked together on a range of fiction projects, including several major sci-fi anthologies, and he recommended me when an opening came up at Sidetracked.
I was humbled to receive a professional recommendation from Andrew recently that concludes:
Alex and I have have complemented each other for years now to produce something of which we, and John Summerton, are justifiably proud. He is the editor I would choose to edit my own work and the chap I would most want to meet for a beer in a Lake District pub.
2015 was also the year when I started working with Mark Horrell on his fantastic range of expedition diaries and mountaineering books. Momentum picked up as I began to work with more authors on more ambitious jobs, from line editing and proofreading to my particular skill: developmental editing. I have spent twenty years studying the dark art of what makes a good tale. Recently I’ve been told that I have an ‘uncanny, almost mystical talent’ to take an average story and turn it into something special. I don’t know about that, but I do know that developmental editing is the work I find most fulfilling, and also the work I get the most positive feedback from.1
My editorial portfolio contains a record of some of the more notable projects from that time, which included Ellis J. Stewart’s book Everest: It’s Not About the Summit, Minimalism: Live a Meaningful Life by Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus, and a lot more besides.
Things kicked into high gear in July 2017 when I accepted the part-time role of digital editor at The Great Outdoors, which remains my most significant client in terms of hours at the keyboard. I haven’t had a single quiet month since.
TGO may occupy a lot of my time, but all my clients are important. I have to be discerning about the work I choose to take on, which means that if an author is listed in my editorial portfolio then I believe in that author’s work and have invested time and effort in helping them succeed.
Five years after this story began, I think I’m justified in feeling a little proud. Although I wasn’t a complete beginner when I started – never has it been more true that overnight success takes about a decade, and I am also conscious of the privilege and little doses of luck that have helped me – I did face a daunting learning curve, and I have worked bloody hard. In 2014, I could never have imagined that in five years I would be considered the right choice to look after all editorial operations at the UK’s best outdoor magazine for a month, or that I’d be regularly helping to create bestselling books (and bestselling authors too, sometimes from a standing start).
I consider my greatest professional achievements this year to be the August 2019 issue of The Great Outdoors, Sky Dance by John Burns (available for pre-order from Vertebrate Publishing later this month), and my successful Cape Wrath Trail project for TGO – a project that is now helping to guide a new direction and strategy for the magazine.
To help me grow my business and meet future challenges, I’m investing in a completely new website for Pinnacle Editorial. Right now, my editorial business lives in its own section on this site, but the time has come for a more ambitious web presence. It’ll be several months before I’m ready to launch, but here’s a teaser.
I can’t wait to find out where I’ll be in another five years – and I can’t wait to see how my clients continue to flourish and grow in their own careers.
- Developmental editing isn’t just for fiction, either – most narrative prose can benefit from it. ↩