Perfecting Pieces for Publication—An Interview with Maria Gerber

Mar 12, 2018 | Posted by the IEW Blog Team


Behind every great writer is a great editor. This holds true for nearly all great authors, and for us at IEW. IEW has a small but sharp team of editors who work on a wide variety of projects for the company. Incredibly valuable yet often invisible, these are the professionals who double check grammar, correct misplaced commas, and clarify concepts so that the author’s ideas are clearly communicated.

Senior member of the team is Maria Gerber. Recently we posed a few questions to Maria to learn more about her role at IEW and how she got started as an editor. We hope you enjoy learning more about the important work she does for IEW.

Can you tell us a little bit about how and when you started working for IEW?

It was around 1999. We were home educating our daughter, Becca, as were Mr. and Mrs. Pudewa home educating their lovely family. I accepted a warm invitation to attend a 2-day writing seminar called Teaching Writing: Structure and Style. After some time, another generous invitation to Becca offered her many weeks of writing instruction: a Student Writing Intensive.* Millions of us know the rest: how we ourselves became better writers, how the Structure and Style™ writing method gave us fine tools with which to teach our children, and how our children and our students learned to write excellently.

This next part might sound like a condensed Unit 3 composition! Mr. Pudewa was teaching courses, traveling to conventions, filling and shipping orders out of his garage, and writing a quarterly newsletter. One evening, Mr. Pudewa asked me to read a rough draft of his latest newsletter. There was a typo. He agreed it was ugly. At that moment I became an independent contractor. It was he who recognized that maybe I had a good eye. He took a chance on me, for which I have always been grateful.


What was your role in your early years with the company?

Happily, my primary role has always been as an editor for IEW®. Other tasks included customer service and exhibitor. In 2004 Mr. Pudewa graciously asked me to author a book of theme-based writing lessons, Fables, Myths, and Fairy Tales, and it was an honor and a privilege to become an author for IEW.


How would you describe your job as editor?

Although an IEW editor is one link in the large workflow, she is an important link—especially because Mr. Pudewa gave his company the name “Institute for Excellence in Writing.” Finding errors in authors’ works is, for me, like a fun game. Editorial work for IEW is often fascinating, for fact-checking must be done in many pieces headed for publication. Above all, editorial work for IEW is about asking questions: What isn’t clear? What is missing? What is wrong? What doesn’t make sense? You want it when?


What types of editing do you do for IEW?

Well, IEW is a publishing company; everyone’s words and every text must be proofread. I edit authors’ manuscripts, marketing materials, text on books’ and products’ covers, articles, the Magalogs, e-blasts … just about everything except the website. Other members of the editorial staff proofread there. Books and products require editing at multiple levels: light (mechanical), medium (e.g., numerals, lists, front matter, cross-checking), and heavy (content).


What does a typical day look like as an editor?

Sometimes, a day of production for a full-time IEW editor is eight hours long. In periods of important looming deadlines (most of the time!), attention to a project or multiple projects might take eleven to fourteen hours per day for several days. That includes weekends if necessary. In case a co-worker has an urgent need or question, emails must be answered early on a weekday morning. Then, the editor picks up editing where she left off.

We check in with a supervisor at least once per week in order to report on the status of projects. Intermittently the project’s page designer and the editor go back and forth with questions and replies. We encourage each other. And while we’re editing, we all need little breaks to rest our eyes, clear our heads, take in nourishment, and sleep. In these ways we are able to avoid distractions, ward off burnout, and see results at the end of a day. Beautiful, clear ideas on a fine-looking page motivate an editor to keep going!


For our students who may be interested in becoming editors, do you have any recommended pathways to help them achieve their goal?

Many pathways might lead to an editorial career. Plan to work hard. Start with these enjoyable practices. Carry something to read or have an audio book with you. Read a great deal. First, read the one thousand good books. Eventually read a variety of other works: manuals, editorials, grammar sites, biographies, periodicals, infographics, book jackets, film reviews, cookbooks, academic pieces, newsletters, catalogs, products’ labels, encyclopedias, comics, and cereal boxes. Notice what genres of printed matter capture your interest; begin to specialize in one or two types. An area of expertise will come in handy someday.

Study Latin. Study it seriously. Study it for three to five years. An editor needs mastery of analytical grammar.

Do a lot of writing, and use a grammar reference to learn what is needed when it is needed. Contribute to Magnum Opus. Enter writing contests.

On someone else’s writing, practice editing skills regularly. Think of the exercise as a game. Can you find all the errors?

If a student has the opportunity, he might work on his school’s newspaper or yearbook. To be hired as an editor, no specific academic degree is required, but most editors were English, communications, or journalism majors in college.


What are the qualities of a good editor?

An editor worth her weight in gold possesses these qualities: patience, excellent communication skills, mastery of standard word-processing programs and proofreading symbols, mastery of analytical grammar, the ability to pull all-nighters, interpersonal skills, high attention to detail alongside an ability to see the big picture, familiarity with two major style manuals, a sense of humor, and a love for good writing.


What project are you most pleased with?

Of the many projects I have been blessed to contribute to, my favorite has always been Andrew Pudewa’s Linguistic Development through Poetry Memorization. What a gem.


Once an author completes a book (such as a theme-based book), how long does it take to move through the editing process?

At IEW, bringing a book through many read-throughs by content and mechanical editors can take seven months to one year. It’s terrible and wonderful!


As Maria puts it, “To be an editor is to help bring authors’ perfect pieces to publication.” We think she does that excellently! We hope you enjoyed learning more about the editing process. To gain experience with editing other writers’ work, we suggest Fix It! Grammar. It’s a wonderful program that allows you to practice and polish your editing and grammatical skills.


*The Student Writing Intensive series was discontinued in November 2019 and replaced with the new Structure and Style for Students program.

Once upon a time but not so long ago, Maria Gerber was a schoolteacher and then a homeschooling mother. Blessed with meaningful work as an editor and a music educator, now she lives on a wooded hill in Oklahoma and especially relishes time with friends and her fabulous family.

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