Ashley: Writer, Freelance Editor

Name: Ashley Strosnider

Age: 32

City: Lincoln, Nebraska

Main Hustle: I work full-time as the managing editor of a 92-year-old literary journal based out of the English department at a large university. I always joke that it’s emphasis on the managing, and not the editing. I’m in charge of a large team of volunteers, student interns, and a handful of reliable contractors, and I handle our production schedule, finances, and marketing. In addition the the journal, my role in helping manage a growing nonprofit sister project, focused on publishing and promoting the work of emerging African poets, has grown exponentially over the four years I’ve spent in my role. Both parts of my job are rewarding, allowing engagement with a diverse range of creative people–I have a hand in publishing the work of more than 150 writers every year–and when I crawl out from under the long to-do lists, I find that, in true extrovert fashion, I really do draw creative energy from this kind of broad communication and deep engagement with others who share similar creative passions to mine.

Side Hustle: If you hadn’t guessed from the keywords above–nonprofit, literary, poetry, university–it’s not a lucrative main hustle in a monetary sense, though the value of being engaged in work that feels important is enough to keep me showing up 40 or more hours a week. But, I needed a side hustle. I’m a writer at heart. I’ve written a couple novels, and I’ve had some success publishing poems and short stories. Sharing stories is at the heart of my real creative interests, and I try to make time for my own creative work. Again, though–it’s not a cash cow. So my other other side hustle is freelance editing. If my dayjob is all management, freelance editing lets me get back to the nitty-gritty red-ink work I really love, and over the past year, I’ve built up a pretty successful side business that lets me be a grammar nerd and learn from even more writers and thinkers. I work with a few small or independent publishers, and I work with a lot of independent authors on projects ranging from developmental editing for a finance series, providing editorial evaluations for high fantasy and women’s fiction, and even a couple regular gigs copy editing cozy mysteries and (gasp!) erotic romance. It’s a great way to supplement my income and build my self-confidence about my ability to manage my own finances. Meanwhile, I get to exercise that detail-oriented part of my brain that loves putting commas in their right places while helping other writers confidently develop their own creative work they’re hoping to bring to the world. It’s a major win-win for me.

How did you get started?: I’ve been writing and editing for years, but I got to hone my skills and earn a few credentials while I was pursuing my MFA in Creative Writing. I edited the graduate student-run literary journal there, and I spent a summer in Minneapolis interning an an independent publisher. From there, I took a job working for a major self-publishing company, largely running QA on other editors’ work for independent clients, which gave me great insight into where the quality bar is, what kinds of skills I needed to sharpen, and what separates a really great editor from the rest of the pack. A friend of mine hooked me up with my first freelance/contracted proofreading job for another small press in the area (network network network!). Meanwhile, I was volunteering with independently run literary magazines, which allowed me to stay in touch with the kind of writing I really loved and wanted to pursue in my own creative work.

When/where do you work on your Side Hustle?: I work my side hustle around my full-time day job, so I’m often spending a few hours this evening or a good chunk of my weekend editing or, when I’m really lucky (by which I mean: managing my time excellently), poking at my own novel. My favorite place to work is at home in my apartment, in a sunroom I turned into an office last year, complete with houseplants and a big desk. It’s my real boho oasis, and I love being comfortable working in a bright space. Sometimes when the weather cooperates, I can be found out on my patio squinting at a computer screen, and occasionally when I need out of the house, I like to work in local coffeeshops or a neighborhood brewery where I specifically asked them *not* to tell me the WiFi password.

What are the challenges of your Side Hustle?: Each of my side hustles has its own challenge, and the two together create one big one: how much time to spend on which. For my creative writing, the biggest challenge is that there’s rarely a monetary payoff, and if there is, it’s never in the short term. I can write novel after novel and maybe never find a publisher, so I have to keep in mind there that my time is “worth” only the joy the pursuit brings me. Meanwhile, I’ve got bills to pay, so the freelance editing hustle is also pretty time consuming. The biggest challenge there is keeping a good balance between growing my business in a feast-or-famine climate–sometimes five people want me to edit books, and sometimes none, so the income has peaks and valleys–while making sure to do something besides work all day every day. I have to do real work sometimes to make myself relax, but it’s good not only for the mind and the body. It actually helps me to reflect and adjust my perspective on my goals when I can take a couple steps back now and then.

What are the rewards of your Side Hustle?: I love the feeling of independence and self-confidence I’ve gained through my ability to generate supplemental income. In the past year, I’ve paid off a not-insignificant amount of debt that had been dogging me for a few years, stressing me out more than I’d even realized. Now, I’m able to save, so that an emergency car bill isn’t panic-inducing, and I took a vacation for the first time in 6 years of working full time. I feel empowered to make decisions that my future self will thank me for (retirement fund, anyone?). And I really do feel lucky that my side work puts me in a position to hear stories and learn ideas from new thinkers I might never have encountered otherwise. Editorial work is very collaborative work, and it’s truly educational and a great way to connect with people.

Who is your greatest supporter?: My mom is super proud of me no matter what I’m doing in my life, and I’m always grateful for that. She’s been especially supportive of the fact that I’m learning to manage my own finances and handle a small business, particularly since these aren’t skills that the women in our family have usually handled. Interestingly, one of my first editing clients has become a kind of mentor to me, too. He’s got years of business experience, and he’s been able to share great tips with me about negotiating rates, managing projects, and networking, while I’ve been able to lend my editorial and publishing industry expertise. This has shaped my sense of what the dream client relationship looks like: a real collaboration with mutual learnings.

Who/what is your greatest source of inspiration?: I have a huge amount of respect for writers who manage to publish great books while working full time. There’s too many to list, but one who comes to mind is Dana Spiotta, who tells a story about working and writing in odd hours, stringing index cards all around her apartment. Her first novel, EAT THE DOCUMENT, is absolutely brilliant.

Have you received recognition for your work?: As I mentioned, I’ve had some creative work published, and my website has links to some of those pieces, as well as testimonials from some of my editing clients.

What is your dream for your Side Hustle?: I hope to be able to maintain and grow my business so that I always have an added level of financial security, flexibility, and the opportunity to work with and learn from all kinds of new writers.

Do you have any advice for others working on a Side Hustle?:

I think most of the other advice I’d give here can be boiled down to one idea: know what your time is worth. Sometimes that means learning how to negotiate rates for fair compensation. Sometimes it means volunteering or taking unpaid positions because that time is worth the additional skills and street cred you can build while in those roles. And sometimes it means pouring yourself into a hustle that may not pay off monetarily, in the short term, or ever. But if your time is worth the joy that comes from that pursuit, then it’s absolutely worth pursuing.

Check out Ashley’s website, follow her on Twitter, or reach out via email to connect or collaborate!

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