Olayinka Lawal: My Editing Experience Goes Well Beyond Grammar and Punctuation

Growing up, Olayinka Lawal absolutely loved reading. She would often choose reading over making new friends. In short, she was naturally drawn to the world of books. Her favorite classes were English and History and these developed her keen interest in historical narratives and writing.  

In her sophomore year, Olayinka embarked on a writing and editing venture as Editor-in-Chief of Idunnu Studios – a multicultural children’s content creator that celebrates diversity and girl power founded by Oladoyin Oladapo.

To Olayinka, editing is about strategic conversations, consistency in tone, language, character, and authenticity. In this article, she discusses everything you need to know about being an editor.

What is your process when editing?

I usually edit in context. Well before the writers begin writing, I have strategic conversations with the founder to understand what we want our next set of books to demonstrate.

These conversations guide my thoughts on the characters, their personalities, their talents, and the cultures we want to learn from them. Therefore, when the writers begin writing, we both have an expectation of what the books should be.

Sometimes you find the characters are more colorful in either of our minds before it gets to the reading table. So then, we are either discovering a character or affirming their identity.

If the character is not convincing enough, I engage the writer in readjusting the writing to communicate better. Therefore, my editing process goes well beyond grammar and punctuation.

When you write good quality content for an underrepresented community, the results will speak for themselves Click To Tweet

What do you look for when you are copy editing a story?


Authenticity, quality in the tone of its writing, and quality of grammar and punctuation use need to be factored into every story. Each of these is equally important for our target readers to take away from the story.

Showcasing the story’s authenticity in an honest way is important for readers so that they do not leave with any misconceptions of the culture. As a result, how the story is written is very powerful and really guides me on what to look for in a piece of writing.

As for choosing a topic, it often depends on the strategic vision of the company. We all have an array of groups we want to reach and we have to think about how and when to engage them.


How do you measure the success of a content/story? 

In the editing process, the success of a story depends on how well it reflects a particular culture without coming off as either over-bearing or inauthentic. Post-publishing success really depends on how well the characters and stories are received.

People tend to get excited about a particular culture because they can relate in one way or another. Ultimately though, the joy we see people have with the various characters and their support of the books through sales is the measure of success.

So far, we have launched A (How to Arrange Your Azonto- Ghana), B (How to Beat the Bongos- Cuba), C (How to Crunch on a Cannoli- Italy), and D (How to Don a Dashiki- West Africa) and we will continue releasing two new letters every month.

The response has been overwhelmingly positive thus far. I think when you write good quality content for an underrepresented community, the results will speak for themselves because this is not just something our community wants, it is something we need.

What are the developmental concepts behind the AZ collection? 

After we launched our first collection, Girl to the World, we wanted to create a collection that would highlight as many cultures as possible. With “AZ, and Things in Between”, we were able to create a 26-storybook collection that celebrates 26 cultural phenomena in 26 different parts of the world.

A-Z Collection is special because it quite literally teaches the reader how to do something from that culture.

Our first book, How to Arrange Your Azonto, is a fun tutorial on the dance, but in showcasing the dance, we also showcase other elements of Ghanaian culture.


How do you craft the mission of each collection and ensure the writing/illustration matches the mission?

We identify needs within the field and tackle the ones we can fill. For the AZ Collection, we wanted to create something simple so that parents and educators could start introducing these cultural concepts to children as early as possible.

For our activity books, we wanted to create something that would allow our readers to do the creating because we believed that there was a need for that.

There is a specific style of illustration for each collection and we try to have the complexity match the age group and the depth of the story itself. The Girl to World series, for example, was illustrated in a very detailed manner because we wanted our readers to be fully transported to other countries.

For the AZ collection, we created simple illustrations that focus on one piece of the culture throughout the book and make it easier for a toddler to grasp.

Tell us how you design the books, the characters, and its aesthetic?

We look at pictures, watch videos, and speak to people from that culture. We sketch ideas with our illustrators until we arrive at something that is representative enough of the people and the country that we are trying to depict.

When we design the books, we just play around with the colors and fonts that match the illustrations and the mood of the story.

What will kids take-away from the AZ Collection?

I hope the AZ collection creates curiosity among toddlers. I hope they become curious about color and the ultimately begin to relate the excitement they get from the pictures with the excitement that comes with experiencing culture authentically.

 As an editor, I interface with my writers frequently - Olayinka Lawal Click To Tweet

What are your strengths and weaknesses as an editor, and how do you turn your weaknesses into strengths?

As an editor, I interface with my writers frequently (some of who are friends). It is easy for things to become awkward if the writing is not very good or is not what we had in mind.

However, one of my strengths is my people skills. I relate well with all of my writers without ever making them feel like subordinates.

Ultimately, we are all here to learn and grow and produce the best work and so I always give feedback from that perspective.

Truthfully, organization can be a weakness for me. Juggling a full-time job as a Management Consultant with managing deadlines and giving feedback is not always easy. My schedule at Idunnu is fortunately quite flexible.

I work around the writing seasons our different actors have. Essentially, I outline a schedule for the writers and set deadlines for their work. As a result, I can predict when my busy periods will be and re-adjust my schedule accordingly.

So far, I will say the best strategy for my building this weakness into strengths is to outline deadlines well in advance for everyone rather than only providing deadlines as each milestone is accomplished. It helps me and the writers plan better how to effectively manage our time for the next iteration.

Have you considered making editing a fulltime job?

Not fully but I am open to the idea. While I enjoy reading the stories and contributing the vision to the story-line where necessary, I still have a passion for developing professional skill sets that would improve the functions of various institutions.

Consulting provides this for me comfortably.

The best strategy for my building this weakness into strengths is to outline deadlines in advance - Olayinka Lawal Click To Tweet

What are some of the current editors’ trends and techniques?

Because we focus on children’s books, I watch a lot of cartoons and read through my little nephew’s books whenever I can. It is really exciting to observe how children learn and the things that spark their creativity and interest.

This has been very helpful in my role as an editor. Whenever a language is not right, I know right away because it does not sound like what children would say or grab when reading a book.

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