Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hi! I’m Kate Angelella and I’m the owner of Angelella Editorial, a freelance editorial business that helps authors take their writing to the next level.
I started the business about five years ago as a sole proprietorship, but have since grown into a very different company with a brand new co-founder and a stable of eight amazing editors working as independent contractors for the company. Together, we provide author coaching, full and partial manuscript critiques, authenticity reading, ghostwriting, and book doctoring. Basically, we help authors who have taken their novels as far as they can take them on their own by giving them feedback on their stories and helping them navigate the next steps in their literary journeys.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
I started out my editorial career working as an assistant editor at Simon & Schuster Children’s Books in New York City. The first book series I edited was Nancy Drew, and later the Hardy Boys series (the new series! Though like many people, I have a fondness for the old hardcover series). I was blessed to have been given an opportunity to skip the entry-level position in my career track, so I was a bit over my head when I began and tried to make up for it by working my butt off--which meant long hours and lots and lots of reading.
A lot of people think editors at publishing houses edit in the office, but the truth is, our days are so filled with meetings and paperwork and email, we do most of our editing in our free time (at night after work and on the weekends). At that time, I was working full time at S&S and also in the midst of pursuing my graduate degree in Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts, so it was a very full plate, to say the least. It’s a time I remember as “baptism by fire.” I loved working with authors and other editors and reading middle-grade and YA fiction for a living--it was my dream job! But it was a lot of work, and I began the job during a transitional time in publishing. Which meant a year in a half in, my company had put a freeze on promotions and was no longer compensating for overtime, which was a sizeable portion of my paycheck.
S&S was the best career learning experience of my life. During my time there, I acquired and edited dozens of books by authors I’m extremely humbled to have worked with, such as #1 New York Times bestselling author Nova Ren Suma and NAACP Image Award- and Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe award-winning author Kekla Magoon.
But it definitely took a toll, and I realized that corporate publishing might not be the best fit for me. Years later, burned out and experiencing health problems, I took leave from grad school and left my job at S&S. When my husband got a job teaching writing at the University of Maryland, I was grateful for a fresh start in a new city. But once we got there, I realized I had no idea what I would do for work in Baltimore with little access to big publishing houses. I loved editing--I didn’t want to start over with a brand new career. But the idea of doing proofreading or copyediting at a financial office or academic press didn’t appeal to me either. So, with more than a healthy amount of skepticism, I decided to dip one toe in the freelance-editing waters.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
I pitched some SCBWI writing conferences, talked to people about different aspects of craft, and let them know that I was available for freelance work. But something about writers? They love to write. And they love to write about what they love to write. So I went on Twitter, and there, I found an extremely welcoming, thriving community of writers. I was not someone who felt comfortable pitching myself to people (I’m still not!), but I was rather fond of paying my bills, so I did the dreaded cold-call thing: I DMed my heart out and told people whose stories sounded interesting to me that I would love to work with them to help them make their books awesome.
Very few businesses will ever be a smash-bang, overnight success. You have to invest in yourself and the future of your business with time and money and ideas, all.
At first, I did a lot of free and low-income work. I was building my own business from nothing, and though I had the S&S name and some very talented authors in my portfolio, as a freelancer I was brand new and I needed to prove my worth to my writing community. I participated in some Twitter pitch contests, where writers compete to work with mentors who edit their books for free, in hopes that agents will bid on a chance to see their finished manuscripts. Soon, some of the folks I’d offered work to were getting published and kindly offered me some endorsement quotes for my website.
I kept pounding the pavement and found a lot of great work with a website called Reedsy, a curated site where authors meet vetted freelance publishing professionals. Within a couple of months, I was fully booked. For a while, every month I worried about finding work the following month. But by the grace of God, the jobs always seemed to come. Pretty soon, I was working almost exclusively off referrals and word of mouth and booking two to three months in advance. By this point, I was doing my favorite part of my job at S&S--working directly with authors--and making more than I had ever made at my corporate job. And I was doing it all in my pajamas.
With my business doing well, I decided to finally go back and finish my final semester of grad school at VCFA. The school, lovingly called “Hogwarts” and “Brigadoon” by its students and faculty alike, is one of my favorite places in the world, and while I was there, I met some wonderful, talented, and insightful writers and readers...I just knew there was something there. But for the time being, I focused on earning my degree and finally finished it out in January 2017--earning an MFA 10 years in the making.
Describe the process of launching the business.
The most valuable part of the Twitter cold-calling days: I met a man by the name of Kyle V. Hiller. He hired me to edit his middle-grade novel, The Recital, and I fell in love with his sense of storytelling. We became close friends through our editorial collaboration and found that we had a lot in common (don’t get us started on cheese fries and Buffy the Vampire Slayer). Kyle became my editorial assistant and in 2018 and I found that he was an amazing editor. The synapses in my brain were firing. I just wasn’t sure what to do with my ideas yet.
It wasn’t until I was expecting my son that Kyle and I came together and spoke about a bigger vision for Angelella Editorial’s future. We wanted to do more than just edit books; we wanted to help foster community amongst writers, especially writers of children’s and YA literature, and offer services that no one else was offering. And we wanted to hire more editors to work as independent contractors--people who had a variety of strengths, specialties, and personalities who could really round out the company and provide more for our clients. Who to turn to? The answer was clear: my talented, insightful classmates at VCFA, to start.
Owning your own business can be wonderful, but it’s also harder than any other job I’ve ever had, with longer hours, and lots of homework. And it’s more difficult to separate home from work when your work is all around you, all the time. So if you don’t love what you’re doing, what’s the point?
I still remember the phone call I had with Kyle when we decided that we would launch this business. My son was just a couple of months old, sound asleep in my arms, and as we spoke about all of our (completely exciting and awesome) ideas for the future, I thought, What am I doing?! Why am I jeopardizing a good thing just when I have 100% more responsibility in my home life by going out on a limb and making it so much bigger? I was scared. It wasn’t just me and my husband I would be messing with if I failed; now I had a child to provide for, and a limited amount of hours in the day in which to do it. Though I wasn’t risking a lot of capital, I would be spending a lot of time on the business instead of editing, and wouldn’t see revenue from my efforts unless (and until) our new ideas panned out. And time, when you have your own business and a new baby to take care of, is currency. So again, scary.
But isn’t that the thing about growth? It’s never easy. It’s always at least a little bit scary. And most of the time, as my husband likes to remind me if you’re not scared, it’s not worth doing.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
He was right. The thing about Kyle and me is that we’re a lot alike, but we’re also very different. I am pretty basic when it comes to technology, but Kyle is incredibly knowledgeable and tech-savvy and designed our entire website. I have a solid background in traditional publishing, but Kyle’s background is rooted in indie- and self-publishing. I am very pragmatic and have a tendency to worry about risk, and Kyle is very good at pushing me outside my comfort zone. We’re a great team.
So we spent a lot of time talking about goals for AE, and we took some risks. We launched live chats on Twitter and live streams on YouTube where we talked about craft and answer people’s questions in live time. Those went okay and we learned a lot from them, but what we learned most is that blog posts and podcasts are much more convenient for people--they are more easily accessible on an individual basis, easier to consume while doing other things, and less of a time-specific commitment.
We also came up with a social media content strategy that enlisted the help of our new independent contractors to keep our content fresh (new posts daily on both Facebook and Instagram, as well as one-on-one engagement with people posting within relevant hashtags in our industry) so that we could contribute to the writing community conversation on social media and get our name out there in a way that wasn’t just about profit, but about supporting our fellow writers.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
Our focus now is on creating three kinds of content: freemium (free content, such as blog posts, newsletters, book giveaways, and podcasts where our editors tackle a different topic of craft with every post and/or episode), low- to mid-tier premium content (such as webinars, author coaching, and low-cost editorial services) and premium content (high-end editorial evaluations, ghostwriting and book doctoring, and writing retreats).
After we began our weekly blog posts, for example, we saw an uptick in people’s engagement with our website and started getting many more job requests through Google alone.
This was an especially intimidating new venture, given the intricacies of planning an international event, but it has already turned out to be one of the most successful--we’re 90% booked and we only opened up applications a month ago.
And besides: croissants!
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
Though I get more business through my own business, I still get freelance work from Reedsy, and would not have been able to maintain a client base all these years without it.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
Both Kyle and I are big Gary Vaynerchuk fans. In particular, I love his message about learning from your mistakes/failures and moving forward, smarter and better, because of them, rather than dwelling.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
There is often a slow burn when it comes to owning your own business. I think there’s a lot to be said for patience. Very few businesses will ever be a smash-bang, overnight success. You have to invest in yourself and the future of your business with time and money and ideas, all.
Don’t be afraid to engage with people one-on-one and take tips from other people in your career community. I find people are generally open to conversation, and though it would be easy to see other freelance editors as competition, there is plenty of work to go around and we are all so different! We all have different expertise to offer our communities. We also have a lot to learn from one another, and there is nothing better than helping to lift up the community in which you’re working.
Finally, make sure you love what you’re doing. Owning your own business can be wonderful, and yes, there are often pajamas involved when you get to work from home. But it’s also harder than any other job I’ve ever had, with longer hours, and lots of homework. And it’s more difficult to separate home from work when your work is all around you, all the time. So if you don’t love what you’re doing, what’s the point?
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
We are currently looking for a part-time, unpaid intern who could help us with social media engagement, growth, analytics, and eventually helps with our podcast when we prepare to launch a new season of episodes in January.
Where can we go to learn more?
- Check out our podcast, Angel Editors CraftCast, on Google Play, iTunes, and Spotify!
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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