It’s not often editors have the opportunity to step from behind the scenes to publish their own work, but that’s exactly what happened to Courtney Guerra. Guerra, who graduated with an Editing certificate in 2011, is the author of Is This Working?: The Businesslady’s Guide to Getting What You Want from Your Career, which is being published by Adams Media in April 2017.
Businesslady is focused on providing professional advice to young women and men who are looking to advance in their careers. The book began as an advice column a few years ago simply because, as Guerra notes, “I love advice columns!” In 2013, Guerra’s husband began a tenure-track academic position and she was unsure if she could continue working at the University of Chicago role she had held since 2007. The university allowed her to work remotely, so Guerra began looking for a productive hobby. Having previously worked in HR consulting, Guerra pitched the idea of a workplace advice column to The Toast, a daily blog. The result was “Dear Businesslady”, where Guerra would anonymously answer workplace-related questions.
She covered everything from working with managers and switching careers to harassment and mismanagement. It was an immediate success, and Guerra was soon managing a monthly column. Although The Toast shut down in the summer of 2016, “Dear Businesslady” lives on at another blog, The Billfold. For those who have “Dear Businesslady” questions, they can email Guerra at firstname.lastname@example.org. What sets “Dear Businesslady” apart from other advice columns is its strong, confident voice. Guerra honed this voice in her years working in the Division of Humanities at the University of Chicago where she offered editorial feedback to the faculty and drafted material for the dean.
According to Guerra, “Writing in the voice of an authority figure really shaped the tone of the column.” Guerra’s strong voice also got her noticed by a publisher. In December 2015, Guerra received an email from an acquisitions editor who saw her column as a way to appeal to a wide range of professions and experiences. Guerra was extremely excited to turn her column into a book and began ghostwriting—and answering—questions that covered general topics like approaching a job search and crafting a resume. She also tackled harder questions like how to deal with managers and navigating work friendships—she pulled material from her personal life to make the book unique. Having completed the Editing certificate through the University of Chicago was an additional boon for the first-time author. Guerra soon discovered she was given more editorial freedom because the publisher quickly saw how comfortable she was adjudicating questions of style and grammar. Additionally, because Guerra was extremely familiar with the Chicago Manual of Style, she was able to defend her editorial choices and have a direct impact on her work.
The skills she learned in Basic Manuscript Editing and beyond allowed her to communicate effectively and comment productively on her material. Additionally, the Editing certificate had an important impact on Guerra long before she started her advice column. As she notes, “I learned that if you’re interested in doing a particular kind of writing, you need to put yourself out there. I was initially hesitant to send a pitch to The Toast because fear of rejection is easier to deal with if you haven’t tried, but I was contacted immediately. The fact that now I was able to publish only happened because I trusted my idea.” She learned the art of persistence from practicing her editing skills throughout the certificate program and learning from her instructors and peers.
Guerra currently works as a Senior Writer, Grants and Fellowships for the Division of the Humanities at the University of Chicago. She uses her editing and writing skills daily, as she helps faculty with grant applications for research funding. She helps make the proposals stronger by noting unclear passages, offering alternative language, and finding a consistent voice. Her current role is appealing because it allows Guerra the opportunity to solve the puzzle of how to make a piece of writing work, which is initially what appealed to her about writing the advice column in the first place: “The advice column appealed to me on a macro level because I love helping people fit things together. I love offering suggestions and advice to help them clarify their goals.” As for her next challenge, Guerra isn’t sure what’s in store. She has loved getting a first-hand look at the publishing industry and would be interested in exploring additional options in that industry someday, but she also loves her work with faculty at the University of Chicago. Whatever she does, she’s sure it will involve editing in some capacity. As Guerra says, “I love editing! The introduction to the book speaks to my love of editing. I love the challenge of looking at a piece of writing and trying to figure out what it’s trying to say.”