What are queries, and how should an author respond?

Publishing can be a mysterious process to a first-time author. Philippa Tomlinson looks at what is expected of an author at the copyediting and proofreading stages of the editorial workflow: specifically, receiving and responding to queries.

    • What are author queries, and when are they raised?
    • What might a copyeditor/proofreader ask?
    • How should an author respond to queries?

*This post assumes there is a publisher, and that the copyeditor and proofreader are independent professionals commissioned by the publisher but familiar with the publisher’s house style etc. However, much the same will apply to an independent author employing a professional copyeditor
or proofreader.

What are author queries, and when are they raised?

Having submitted the final draft of their manuscript, a first-time author might think their work is done. But hold on, who are these new emails from and why all these questions? And what does AQ mean anyway?

Author queries (AQs) form an essential part of the editorial process and, as the name implies, require the active participation of the author. Yet it is a stage that often takes a first-time author by surprise.

The bulk of AQs will be raised at copyediting stage, but there will be another round at
proof stage.

The CIEP’s fact sheet on the publishing workflow explains where the copyediting and proofreading stages fit in.

Download The publishing workflow fact sheet

Queries at the copyediting stage

The copyeditor will be the first person to go through the manuscript in really close detail. They will be interrogating the text with a critical eye: not in the negative sense of finding fault or pointing out mistakes, but with the aim of making the text the best possible version of itself.

And this involves asking questions of the author – AQs or author queries – on anything the copyeditor can’t resolve themselves or on any changes they have made which need the author’s approval or confirmation.

A copyeditor will usually contact the author not long after they receive the manuscript, introducing themselves and explaining briefly what their role is. They may send a set of initial general queries. They will also give the author an idea of when to expect further detailed queries and when to send responses.

Queries at the proofreading stage

Once a text reaches proof stage, it’s looking pretty much like the final product. A first-time author might be tempted either to just admire the clean pages or, seeing their text in this new presentation, to embark on a series of changes.

But no, their role is to read and check, and to respond to another set of AQs, this time from the proofreader, who will be reading the proofs with a fresh and critical eye.

Again, the proofreader will make an initial contact with the author, introducing themselves, alerting the author to expect queries and giving a deadline for the author’s responses.

*Note that although we have assumed direct communication between the author and the copyeditor/proofreader, it may be that a project manager or desk editor is the point of contact between the parties during the editing and proofreading stages.

What might a copyeditor/proofreader ask?

Copyeditor

A copyeditor’s initial general queries may be establishing whether to refer to the main sections as chapters or units; asking the author to supply, say, missing concluding paragraphs to chapters X and Y; checking the author is happy for ‘data’ to be changed from singular (in the original manuscript) to plural (house style).

No two copyeditors will come up with the same list of queries on a given text. Typically, though, as they work through the text in more detail they will query if they:

  • think something needs more explanation
  • suspect something may be missing
  • consider the text may be assuming too much knowledge on the part of the reader
  • believe something could be better presented in a different way, such as a table or
    a diagram
  • genuinely don’t understand what the author is trying to say
  • spot inconsistencies or ambiguities
  • identify any inherent contradiction
  • want advice on preferred context if there is repetition.

All the time, the copyeditor will be putting themselves in the place of the reader,
anticipating anything that might diminish the usefulness, accuracy or enjoyment factor
of the published text.

The copyeditor will also decide what not to query and will use their skills and expertise to make small-scale, non-contentious changes or corrections to spelling, grammar, punctuation, facts such as dates and so on themselves – guided by the five ‘c’s of copyediting to make the text as clear, consistent, correct, concise and comprehensive as possible.

Here are some examples of a copyeditor’s AQs:

  • ‘Mouth movements’ and ‘Handwriting’ are now subheadings under ‘Movement’. Are you happy with this?
  • Robertson 2019 isn’t included in the references, but there is a Robertson 2018 listed. Please check dates/details and let me know any changes required.
  • The table isn’t mentioned in the text – where would it be appropriate to add ‘(see Table 1.1)’ (or similar)?
  • NICE guideline CG23 has been superseded by CG90 – please review and update this paragraph.
  • You use ‘mute’ here – do you mean ‘moot’?
  • ‘There are six variables taken into consideration’: only five variables are listed/explained. Please check/revise to include the sixth.

Proofreader

The proofreader will be picking up on anything that was missed at the copyediting stage (assuming there was one) or perhaps on some unforeseen knock-on effects of solutions to earlier AQs.

They may also be querying a puzzling cross-reference, a mismatch between the wording of a chapter heading on the contents page and at the top of the chapter opener page, or perhaps suggesting a solution to an awkward page break or an overlong page.

Here are some examples of AQs on a set of first proofs:

  • ‘More recent proposals to make divorce easier would also not be concerning to the New Right’ – is this as you intended? Why the ‘not’?
  • Please add in the AO marks breakdown as necessary (cf. Book 2).
  • Date of the presidential election was given as 1 November 2020. I’ve changed this to 3 November – please check/confirm.

How should an author respond to queries?

There is no set way or format for recording and responding to AQs. The copyeditor/proofreader will describe their (or the publisher’s) preferred system and set out clear instructions about how the author should log their responses. Authors are advised to follow those instructions closely!

The most usual systems are listed below, but as technology evolves so will new and possibly more refined and efficient systems emerge.

An author query in a Microsoft Word comment

  • AQs logged in Word’s Comments in the edited version of the manuscript.
  • AQs embedded in the edited version of the manuscript, formatted in a distinctive style/colour.
  • AQs logged in the Comments bar of a PDF, tagged ‘AQ:’ or ‘Author query:’.
  • Any of the above and a separate Word document with the AQs listed as a table.
  • AQs logged in a spreadsheet.

In each of the above, the author will add their responses as instructed. The author shouldn’t make any ‘silent’ changes to the edited manuscript itself.

Author queries in an Excel spreadsheet

Here is an extract from a table of copyeditor’s AQs, including the author’s response:

ReferenceQuery/SuggestionResponse
Sub-lexical sound–spelling correspondences‘Jolliffe, … agree’: Is this just Jolliffe? (Or ‘Jolliffe et al … agree’?)Could we change the whole line to: ‘Joliffe et al, in their guidance for teaching synthetic phonics in primary schools, agree:’

Here is an extract from a table of proofreader’s AQs, again with the author’s
responses included:

ReferenceQuery/SuggestionResponse
p35 – KTAdd ‘of identity’ after ‘aspects’?Agreed
p35 – summaryTranspose points 6 and 7 to reflect order of content in the main text?Agreed
p41 – topCan this be updated now?Done, on my notes
p43 – ‘Dual-heritage …’ / p24These refs to ‘intermarriage’ and ‘intermarry’ are fine, and tally with the answer to KC3. However, on p24 ‘intermarriage’ is used (I think) in the other (and opposing) sense of the word. This could be confusing. I suggest changing p24 to read ‘marriage within their class/social group’ or similar. Please advise.I agree, change the ref on p24, if anything it should be ‘intramarriage’, but I think your suggestion is clearer.

Authors need to be as clear as possible in their responses. They should also check, double-check and look for any knock-on effects before returning them. Follow-up queries on unclear or problematic responses can add time to what may be a very tight schedule. At proof stage, authors must also be aware of space implications. And, of course, keep to the deadline!

A final word

It can be daunting for an author to receive a list of questions on what they thought was a final version of their text, and especially so if the publisher did not inform them in advance about this stage of the editorial process.

Furthermore, the process of going through the queries one by one can be tedious in the extreme. It can also be time-consuming, so authors are advised to check their own schedules to allow for this.

That said, AQs can be the main form of communication between author and editor, the basis of a fruitful working relationship, and a useful record of decisions made for further down the line. And the end result will most certainly be a more polished version of that final manuscript.

Querying: CIEP resources for editors

About Philippa Tomlinson

Philippa worked in-house as a desk editor and a commissioning editor before going freelance. She has edited and proofread fiction, non-fiction, reference, travel writing and educational materials, now specialising almost exclusively in the latter. She has also worked as a bookseller, a library assistant and a teacher of English as a foreign language. Philippa is a Professional Member of the CIEP.

 

About the CIEP

The Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP) is a non-profit body promoting excellence in English language editing. We set and demonstrate editorial standards, and we are a community, training hub and support network for editorial professionals – the people who work to make text accurate, clear and fit for purpose.

Find out more about:

 

Photo credits: letter beads by Linh Pham on Unsplash; question marks by Gerd Altmann
on Pixabay.

Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CIEP.
 

 

What editors need to know when asking authors questions

The Art of Querying, a new CIEP course, is on its way. Its creator, Gerard M-F Hill, gives
us a speedy tour through questions and queries, and what the course offers editors
and proofreaders.

Is the current King of France bald?

Questions are of many kinds, and not all of them are good questions – or even answerable.

Whatever you edit – advert, magazine, novel or research paper – you soon start asking yourself questions. What does this mean? Where did those come from? How am I supposed to know that? Is that all? Or even just: why? Of course queries should be clear and concise, but it’s good to be constructive too. What makes a good query?

Before you fire off a query, ask yourself what the problem is. You need to have a reason for asking, because the author may not think it is a problem at all. You first identify the problem by analysing what is bothering you. As a result, you will craft a better question and often you will identify an answer (or answers); then the author just needs to say yes (or no, not exactly … more like this).

Might I suggest?

As queries take up the author’s time (as well as yours), it is only common courtesy to keep them as few and as short as possible. So you need criteria to decide when to ask a question, and you also need a range of suitable formulas that you can adapt for each situation. Good questions will help to ensure that you get a usable answer.

Queries can be short, but they don’t have to be abrupt. It pays to be diplomatic. There are good ways to approach an author, to frame a question and to follow up an incomplete answer – and there are some even better ways.

Does it match the brief/blurb?

Who is this publication for? What will readers want to know? What will they expect to find? What are they expected to know already? Will they know all these facts, names, words, idioms, allusions or connections? Will they resent the presentation as either patronising or trivialising?

As an editor, you ask yourself such questions because they are a big part of the expertise that you offer and that your client is paying for. A publisher does not wish to hear of such defects from unimpressed reviewers or disenchanted readers.

Does it make sense?

What is the writer trying to say? Are they getting their message across? Does it make sense? Why is this different from that? You ask yourself such questions on behalf of the reader, who should not be left to wonder and has no way of asking the author to explain.

If it doesn’t make sense, if the plot or proposition doesn’t add up, if defective grammar is stuffed with malapropisms or other unsuitable words, the reader will soon drift off and never return. The editor aims to prevent any such crisis by smoothing the reader’s path so they can be informed, educated or entertained without being tripped up, distracted or misled.

Are you happy with this?

Where possible, make it easy for the author by presenting your query as a simple choice: A or B? This, that or the other? Would this [rewritten sentence] represent what you are saying?

Have forgotten something?

It’s easy to see that ‘you’ is missing in that sentence. It’s not so easy to spot when a whole topic or aspect of a piece, or the dénouement of a subplot, has been overlooked. The questioning editor keeps a lookout for content that the reader may be expecting, but which is not there.

Easy questions

Why is water wet? This penetrating question from a thoughtful child nonetheless demonstrates that ‘the greatest fool may ask more than the wisest man can answer’, though children are not fools. The saying is often attributed to King James I and VI.

In checking the reference (as all good authors should) I found to my surprise that the aphorism did not come from the wisest fool in Christendom, but from Charles Caleb Colton’s Lacon, published in 1820. In non-fiction, references – inadequate, unconvincing, mangled or missing – usually generate half your queries.

Here’s the answer!

Between 2010 and 2019 I regularly ran a session at the SfEP conference on The Art of Querying, and since then I have been expanding this workshop into an online course. It begins with the whole question of questions. For a start, what do you need to ask yourself? Can your author query be answered at all? Is there only one way to answer it? Could it be misinterpreted? Does the text assume the answer to an unspoken question?

The course next looks at questions to ask the project manager, with a checklist, and how and when to approach the author, with examples of how to do it and what not to do. This section discusses practicalities, from typefaces to time zones, alongside the principles and professional ethics that underlie all editorial queries. It Looks Funny examines your five options before you ask anything, followed by advice on formulating queries and notes, with six rules to help you.

Readers struggle with four major problems – inconsistency, ambiguity, omission and error – and each of these topics has a whole section of the course to itself. Different types of content have their own pitfalls, so there are sections devoted to prelims, narrative and argument, vocabulary and terminology, references, tables and artwork.

The Art of Querying is meant to be instructive, stimulating and enjoyable while extending your editing knowledge and skills, with lots of questions (and answers), well over a hundred real-life examples, copious but concise study notes and a variety of exercises to let you think through different solutions, along with a decision tool to determine whether and what to query, six rules you can follow and a dozen checklists for you to download and use. The Art of Querying is also (I hope) a good read and good fun!

Find out more about The Art of Querying

About Gerard M-F Hill

After several years teaching and 16 years driving heavy lorries, Gerard retrained as an indexer and copyeditor. Since 1990 he has worked on over 500 books and mentored over 100 proofreaders.

As a director of SfEP (2007–16) he devised the basic editorial test used by CIEP and as chartership adviser (2016–20) he worked with the chair, Sabine Citron, to obtain the institute’s Royal Charter.

 

About the CIEP

The Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP) is a non-profit body promoting excellence in English language editing. We set and demonstrate editorial standards, and we are a community, training hub and support network for editorial professionals – the people who work to make text accurate, clear and fit for purpose.

Find out more about:

 

Photo credits: question mark by Emily Morter; Answers 1km by Hadija Saidi, both on Unsplash.

Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CIEP.

The CIEP Curriculum for Professional Development

The CIEP’s training director, Jane Moody, has been working closely with directors, tutors and the wider membership to create a curriculum for professional development. In this post, Jane explains:

  • why we need a curriculum
  • what that curriculum covers
  • how the curriculum works.

Do we need a curriculum?

Yes, we do! Most professional organisations have a set of skills and knowledge that you need to understand or at least know something about to call yourself a professional in their area. Some test their members on this set of skills (physiotherapists and accountants, for example) before they can call themselves members of their professional body. All expect their members to refresh their skills and learning against this skill set periodically. Continuing professional development, CPD, is expected of all members, no matter their status in the organisation, and this is true of copyeditors and proofreaders as well.

We, as editors and proofreaders, now also have a framework of study – the CIEP Curriculum for Professional Development.

What does it cover?

At first glance, you might think that you won’t need to know about everything in the curriculum. Have a closer look, though. Any publishing professional needs a basic grounding in publishing ethics and law – even if you only scratch the surface, you should at least know something about the moral rights of authors, plagiarism and copyright. If you work as a freelance editor/proofreader, you are running your own business, so you need to know something about keeping records, what HMRC needs to know about you, and how to work efficiently. You will have your own equipment, so a basic knowledge of how to manage your files and keep them secure is essential for your own and your clients’ peace of mind. That takes you to the end of Domain 1 of the curriculum: Working as a professional.

You may be working in-house in a company and, if so, there will be some aspects of business management and practice that may not be immediately relevant to you. The knowledge in this area will, however, be useful to most members working in our profession today.

Even if you never work for a ‘traditional’ publisher with an editorial department, a production department and a marketing department, you will need to understand the basics of a publishing workflow. There are good reasons why some tasks are done before or after others. The more you understand about the industry and its processes, the wider your client base can be and the more useful you can be to your clients.

Working with words means that you need a good knowledge of the English language and its mechanics, and how different people, groups and organisations use the language. You need to be able to judge whether something makes sense, is clear and appropriate for the audience, and to be able to raise queries with an author or client in a concise and sensitive manner.

How you work is critical to getting repeat business – do a good job and you may pick up a regular client; do what you think you need to without learning about how and why and you are not likely to be asked for a second date. The nuts and bolts of copyediting and proofreading processes have been refined over many decades and, no matter who you work for, understanding what you are doing, who for and why matters if you want to do the best job you can. And now you are at the end of Domain 2.

Not all editors/proofreaders will use all the skills and knowledge included in these two domains of the curriculum in their day-to-day work. Nevertheless, as you grow in skills and experience, you are likely to want to broaden your awareness of publishing processes and the breadth of publishing outside your initial comfort zone. Developing your knowledge and acquiring a broad range of skills are essential CPD.

Some people prefer to remain as ‘generalists’, working for many different clients in several genres and subject areas. If this is true for you, you may never need to consult Domain 3. Others like to specialise, some in traditional areas where there is a body of specialist publishing, such as medicine, music, fiction or the law. Each of these specialist areas has its own conventions, specialist knowledge and terminology. Domain 3 covers a few of these specialisms and others will be added – if there is a specialism that you think should be included, copy the template at the start of Domain 3 (page 28), fill it in and send it to the training director.

How it works

Each domain of the curriculum is set out in columns. The first column divides the domain into detailed topics. The second column shows the competencies, professional skills and attitudes expected of a professional copyeditor/proofreader for this topic, and the third lists some resources to support learning in this area. Eventually, there will be a fourth column, which will list the ways in which a copyeditor/proofreader can demonstrate their competency in this area – a test pass or other kind of assessment, perhaps. This is an aspiration for the future.

We hope that you will contribute to keeping the curriculum alive. Have you taken a course that helped to expand your knowledge and skills? Have you come across a book or other resource that is really useful to you in your practice? Do tell the training director about it.

Download the curriculum now

About Jane Moody

Jane has worked with books for all her working life (which is rather more years than she cares to admit), having started life as a librarian. She started a freelance editing business while at home with her two children, which she maintained for 15 years before going back into full-time employment as head of publishing for a medical Royal College.

Now retired, she has resurrected her editorial business, but has less time for work these days as she spends much time with her four grandchildren and in her garden.

 

About the CIEP

The Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP) is a non-profit body promoting excellence in English language editing. We set and demonstrate editorial standards, and we are a community, training hub and support network for editorial professionals – the people who work to make text accurate, clear and fit for purpose.

Find out more about:

 

Photo credits: book stacks by by Lysander Yuen on Unsplash; cogs by Gerd Altmann on Pixabay.

Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

What’s e-new? Open banking

This article by Andy Coulson, for the regular What’s e-new? column in members’ newsletter The Edit, looks at open banking, and how it can help with keeping track of personal and self-employed finances, and tax obligations.

Open banking is an innovation that aims to open up what has until now been a very conservative industry – banking. The UK regulation enabling this, the Payment Services Directive, came into law in 2018, but we are now seeing more services that use open banking becoming available. Originally the intention was to open up competition, particularly in personal banking, but it has led to some entrepreneurial companies offering new services to us based on how we spend our money.

A style guide for money?

The idea is to create an application programming interface (API) – which is a way of describing how two pieces of software communicate, kind of a combined dictionary and style guide – for the financial industry. This enables new companies to get involved with the finance industry, for example by creating an app that can bring together all your financial information in one place, so you can see multiple bank accounts and credit cards together. The API is run by a not-for-profit company called Open Banking Ltd and is regulated by the Competitions and Markets Authority and Information Commissioner’s Office.

Keeping it safe and secure

Most people’s first thought when they hear about this might be to run a mile, as security immediately springs to mind. The key to open banking is that the account holder has to give explicit approval (or not) to any data sharing. The sharing is done in such a way that your bank and you are the only places where your password is accessed. This means that the system should be at least as safe as your regular online banking. As a further check, all the providers of open banking services have to be regulated by the Competitions and Markets Authority, and there is a list of regulated providers here: openbanking.org.uk/customers/regulated-providers/. Set against this is the fact that more organisations have potential access to your data, so the potential points at which hackers could access things increases. So far security in the banking industry has been good, as it must be to keep our trust, so I personally don’t think this makes me significantly more vulnerable to hacking.

The best way to look at the advantages of the system are through some examples. I’ve picked three – Money Dashboard, Coconut and PledJar – that illustrate the range of services that are now on offer.

Money Dashboard

Money Dashboard is an example of a personal financial dashboard – an app or program that allows you to bring your finances together in one place, analyse your spending, and set and monitor goals. It uses open banking to connect the bank accounts, savings accounts and credit cards that you choose (over 40 are currently supported) to the app and share your transactions with it.

The app then allows you to look in detail at your finances. It will show you all of your regular outgoings in one place, so you can see your direct debits and standing orders, and based on that project through to your next payday, allowing you to see whether you have enough to get through. It will also try to categorise your payments, allowing you to analyse what you are spending on and informing your decisions. You can then also set budgets to help you manage those spend categories. This is all backed up with presentation features such as bar charts that make comparisons simpler.

Many banks are building similar features into their apps, and are increasingly enabling you to display transactions from other accounts in one place. There are other apps, for example Yolt, Spendee, OpenMoney, Moneyhub and Cake, that will do something similar. I would expect some of these to be bought out by traditional banks and incorporated into their apps over time, but I think this type of offering will be one of the most common applications.

Coconut

Like Money Dashboard, Coconut is a dashboard type of app. What sets it apart is that it is focused on the self-employed. It helps you to monitor your business performance by estimating tax, enabling you to set aside money for taxes, PAYE and savings; it also helps you to recognise your expenses and get your finances in better shape for your accountant, and send your invoices.

Coconut sells itself as a simple system for organising your business finances and simplifying tax returns. It doesn’t market itself as a bookkeeping system, but it has a lot in common with one. Open banking links also support a number of the online accounting systems such as QuickBooks, FreeAgent, Quickfile and Xero to add bank reconciliation and other features to a more traditional accounting package.

PledJar

PledJar markets itself as the digital alternative to collecting tins. It works by rounding up transactions to the nearest pound and then donating the difference to a charity of your choice. PledJar allows you to connect to a number of charities and, should you wish, make additional one-off donations. It will also allow you to register for Gift Aid through the app, so that that is applied to all your donations across several charities.

While PledJar is aimed at charity giving, it is illustrative of a type of application – one that helps you to save by using the idea of rounding up transactions. Beanstalk is another app that takes this approach to help you save for the future.

Other applications

There are a range of other applications too. There are many that focus on comparison of financial products – suggesting loans, savings products or credit cards based on how you earn and use your money. There are also several products that aim to make payments simpler and cheaper. Apps like Wise (formerly TransferWise) target specific areas such as foreign transactions. Credit score management is a further field this reaches into – whether this is an app like CreditLadder that helps tenants to improve their Experian score, or some of the comparison products that give you a better indication of what financial products might be most suitable.

The big banks are starting to incorporate this type of technology into their offerings, but some are adopting it quicker than others. It will be interesting to see how this develops over the next few years.

About Andy Coulson

Andy Coulson is a reformed engineer and primary teacher, and a Professional Member of CIEP. He is a copyeditor and proofreader specialising In STEM subjects and odd formats like LaTeX.

 

 

About the CIEP

The Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP) is a non-profit body promoting excellence in English language editing. We set and demonstrate editorial standards, and we are a community, training hub and support network for editorial professionals – the people who work to make text accurate, clear and fit for purpose.

Find out more about:

 

Photo credits: online banking by Austin Distel; coconut by Corentin Largeron, both on Unsplash.

Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CIEP.

A week in the life of an arts, culture and lifestyle editor

Meredith Olson is an arts, culture and lifestyle editor who works in both American English and British English. In this article, she shares how she started her editing career and how a typical week can pan out.

When people asked me what I wanted to do when I grew up, I did not know that the dream of ‘getting paid to read’ was even an option. The other thing I had hoped for, ‘getting paid to sleep’, has still not materialised, but we forge onward.

As a dual US/UK citizen, I work in both American English and British English – doing everything from copyediting and proofreading to copywriting and research – for publishers, websites, individuals and arts/heritage organisations.

The topics I encounter range from notorious serial killers to the world’s rarest plants, stopping to consider arts and crafts based on the music and life of Prince or behind-the-scenes military history along the way. I learn a lot, I get to read all day (albeit carefully and slowly) and with each successive project, I become a far more formidable pub-quiz contestant.

Proof of life

‘Everyone needs good copy.’ It was something I used to say to people at parties or networking events, when they asked about the ins and outs of copyediting, copywriting and proofreading. Banks, start-ups, arts institutions, brands, countless personal websites – someone had to create (and edit) that copy. Why shouldn’t it be error-free and well written, with an eye to marketing, search engine optimisation and the brand’s established tone of voice? I know I’m not the only one who, as a potential customer, went off a company once I’d seen their blatant website typos or redundant, unclever messaging. ‘Hire an editor,’ I used to say, emphatically (and will again, when I return to parties and networking).

In a now-overused line, then the pandemic hit. Suddenly, not everyone needed copy, especially not arts-, culture- and lifestyle-focused entities or publications. Gone were the discretionary budgets for improving the blog, checking the concert programmes or revamping the events guide. Many clients were not only not hiring freelancers, but they were also furloughing, laying off or offering voluntary redundancy to their permanent staff, often in shocking numbers.

Though this feels acutely personal to discuss, I know many people have experienced moments, especially during this pandemic, wherein their livelihood seemed out of their control. I suspect for many of us in the CIEP, the fact that our job is often inextricable from our passion and our skilled trade makes this even tougher.

For the first six weeks of the UK’s March 2020 lockdown, my previously scheduled projects went ahead. After that, the work almost entirely evaporated, along with my understanding of my professional purpose – I always knew I wasn’t curing cancer with my red pen and tracked changes, but I had always felt I was doing my bit to shear an author’s argument of clutter and improve people’s reading experiences. I believed I was bringing readers closer to the joy of the arts or history – or even recipes for homemade cleaning products.

In light of all the terrible things this pandemic had already wrought, it felt trite to worry about losing work. But after a month and a half of no real projects to speak of, panic had started to set in when I heard from one of my editors in non-fiction books. The publisher was seeing more demand but now had fewer staff members, so the editor suddenly had twice the amount of books in her care, meaning a steady schedule of manuscripts that needed a copyeditor or proofreader. I gratefully accepted this work, which kept me sane and financially afloat in some of the hardest moments of the pandemic. I’ve missed the challenge of bouncing from a newsletter to a website revamp to a book to a presentation deck, all with their own styles and demands, and look forward to tackling a variety of mediums once again.

A brief brief

When I graduated from university into the ongoing recession in 2009, publishers in New York City were almost all on a hiring freeze. Eventually, I landed at Condé Nast, working in a small team on special-interest publications that covered a wide swath of the company’s brands and content. Rather than only engaging with one type of content, as at a traditional magazine, I was able to work with, and around, fashion, art, cuisine, living, politics and anything else they decided to turn into a collector’s edition ‘bookazine’ (0/10 for this portmanteau, though).

As the only junior member of this newly established team, I pushed the boundaries of my role, learning on the job from editors, designers and writers who were some of the industry’s best, and had worked at every major publisher in NYC. I started lingering by the copy desk with a million questions on style, which were generously fielded by the patient copy chief. I brandished proofs – these had landed on my desk in what was probably just a nice gesture by the team to include me – that I had marked up in my spare time. The thrill of finding an error and ‘saving’ the proof before it went to print matched my burgeoning interest in the contrasting minutiae of house styles.

A few years later, I returned to London, where I was born, to get a master’s degree in Issues in Modern Culture. As my family had suspected I would, I stayed in the UK after my graduation and later decided to continue my freelance career here, but with more of a focus on copyediting.

It’s been … one week

A week’s work can vary wildly, as can the parameters of ‘a week’. I’m strict about work–life balance, but like many freelancers, I sometimes choose to work evenings or part of the weekend in order to be able to accept and deliver certain projects, and then I take other time off. This week+ involved:

  • copyediting three sets of AI-generated video subtitles for a branded media collaboration
  • working a multi-day contract as marketing editor for an arts centre
  • copyediting the first 20,000 words of a non-fiction book on the history of colours in fashion
  • copyediting an academic paper, about Jewish households in Europe in the 1500s and 1600s, by an author who is not fluent in English.

A week can also include:

  • Americanising a UK manuscript (and vice versa)
  • writing or editing copy for a website, with attendant style and tone-of-voice research
  • copyediting business or brand pitches/decks
  • professional development
  • everyone’s favourites: invoices (and subsequent chasing), upcoming contract paperwork, remittance-notice filing, scouting for new work.

Of course, somewhere in that week it’s likely I will wake at least once in the middle of the night, having copyedited in my sleep (for free!?) or having thought of the perfect word to supplant the slightly off one that’s been giving me trouble in a manuscript; I can also be enticed by larger style questions, endless comparisons of British English (BrE) and American English (AmE) and fact-checking wormholes (though I think I’ll cheekily class these as ‘professional development’).

As a freelancer, I get to dip into many worlds that I might not have been privy to otherwise, and it remains a privilege and delight not only to be continuously learning but also to be a guiding hand helping to get a message across clearly and concisely.

About Meredith Olson

Meredith Olson is a freelance editor and writer covering the arts, culture and lifestyle (and beyond). She is a Professional Member of the CIEP, and a dual US/UK citizen specialis(z)ing in gearing copy towards one or both of those audiences. More information, and a selection of her work, can be found at mereditholson.com.

 

About the CIEP

The Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP) is a non-profit body promoting excellence in English language editing. We set and demonstrate editorial standards, and we are a community, training hub and support network for editorial professionals – the people who work to make text accurate, clear and fit for purpose.

Find out more about:

 

Photo credits: open book by Jonas Jacobsson; origami colours by Ice Tea, both on Unsplash.

Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CIEP.

Flying solo: Using your records to price jobs and make business decisions

This article by Sue Littleford, for our regular Flying Solo column in member newsletter The Edit, looks at how to use Excel’s filter function to help you decide how much you’d like to be paid and how long you need to do the work. It also considers some other decisions you may want your records to help you with.

The Going Solo Toolkit contains a spreadsheet for you to record your work (available to CIEP members only). There’s an older, simpler work record available, and I daresay many people have devised their own record-keeping system.

Everything you could ever want to know about calculating a price for a job is covered by the CIEP guide Pricing a Project: How to prepare a professional quotation by Melanie Thompson. So, this article is going to look at how to extract the information from records to help you arrive at a decision on how much you’d want to be paid, and how long you need to do the work, and then take a look at some other decisions you may want your records to help you with.

You already know that you need to record the work you do for your tax return, and you already know that if you record – or calculate – the right detail you can use that record to inform your estimating and quotes for jobs, both in time and in money.

But I know that many people struggle a bit with using Excel, so how on earth do you get the information back out of the spreadsheet? The more data you have, the more useful your records should be, but the more data you have, the harder it can be to see at a glance what you want to find out.

The filter

I’m going to talk about just one tool in Excel: the filter. Once you get to grips with it – and that won’t take long – you can use that same tool over and over, layering it up, even, to get an analysis out of your records of whatever information you’re focused on.

You can, of course, sort your rows of data in order, just as you can in Word, but the filter doesn’t disturb the original order of your spreadsheet, and enables you to do what amounts to multiple sorting, so it’s more powerful and less bothersome, which is why I use it so much.

I’m going to make a big assumption and show examples based on the Work Record spreadsheet from the toolkit. The principles are exactly the same, as long as you keep your records in Excel. If you keep your records in Word or on paper, you won’t have access to these features. Perhaps this article will encourage you to give Excel a try!

The screenshots here are taken on a PC running Office 365. For simplicity’s sake, I’ve hidden a few columns.

If you use a Mac, the principles involved are still relevant to you, and I’ve linked at the end to some YouTube videos, and Microsoft articles, on filtering for both Macs and PCs.

Right, to business.

The filter is your best friend when it comes to interrogating your spreadsheet. It’s in the Editing group on the Home tab, and it looks like this: Click on it, and you’ll see this:

The filter lets you select all records in a column with a particular value, but you can be a bit fancy about the values you use.

Let’s keep it simple for now.

The handiest way is to make the filter available on every column in your spreadsheet. You can do it the really easy way, and just click at the top left corner where the row labels meet the column labels, where the little triangle is:

Then click on Sort and Filter, then Filter, as you can see in the first two screenshots. A little down arrow will appear at the top of each column (you can’t filter by rows), and they look like this:Click on any of those down arrows and you’ll see you get a list of the unique entries in that column – and if you’re looking at dates, you’ll get a family-tree-like menu with checkboxes, so you can select by year, by month or by day.

Now you’re cooking!

Select an item, and your spreadsheet will now show you only the rows that match that selection. So you can filter by client, by type of work, by fee earned, by imprint, by word count, by rate per hour …

Coming to a price – or evaluating a proffered fee

Suppose you’re asked to do a copyedit of 75,000 words. To get a feel for how long that takes you, and how much you’ll want to charge, you may decide to filter your records to jobs in the range 70,000–80,000 words.

This is the starting view of the spreadsheet I mocked up for this article:Clicking on the little down arrow at the head of the word count column will give you a list of the unique values in that column, sorted in ascending order:

Now you have a choice of how to proceed. You could simply uncheck the (Select All) box, then either click every value between 70,020 and 79,989 words, or you could click on the Number Filters option, just above it.

That gives you more options: above average, below average, Top 10 … but let’s keep to the immediate job in hand. You want to filter on the jobs you’ve already done, between 70,000 and 80,000 words. So click on the Greater Than option:type 70000 in the first box, keep the And radio button selected and then use the short drop-down box beneath to select ‘is less than’ and type in 80000:and click OK. The box will disappear and you’re left with a list of rows of data where the word count falls between those two values. As you can see, the original row order is preserved.You can stack up filters, so can filter down to just proofreading jobs or just copyediting jobs, or just developmental editing jobs, or what have you. Because I’m currently assessing a copyediting job, that’s what I’m going to pick.And that shrinks the list further, to:Now you can easily see what you’ve earned before doing copyediting for that kind of word count. You can see jobs ranging from 48 to 1,021 notes. What about the job you’re assessing? Where does it fall on this spectrum? You can see that jobs had few tables, but up to 52 figures, and you had a mixture of Harvard and short-title referencing. You can see how many days overall the project took, how many hours, what kind of speed you were achieving and whether you had a large number of authors or just one.

If you work in fiction, or in some trade nonfiction, you may have no notes, no references, and quite possibly no tables or figures. But you would still see your editing or proofreading speed, what you got paid and how complex the job was.

Whether you use just one filter, or whether you stack them, you do need to turn them all off once you’ve finished, or risk being really confused next time you open the spreadsheet, with a chunk of your data apparently missing (I speak from experience!). You can see which column(s) a filter is active on as it changes from the simple down arrow you’ve already seen to this, a down arrow alongside the filter symbol: 

You can see it in situ on the type of work and word count columns. Click on each active one and select the ‘Clear filter from …’ option, or to clear all the filters in one action, go back to the original Sort and Filter button and click on it, then either on Filter (to toggle it off) or on the option below, Clear.

Establishing a probable duration

Using these same principles, you can estimate how long the job is likely to take you. In the last screenshot of the filtered spreadsheet, you can see the words per hour range from 1,111 to 1,743. You still have the information about complexity – referencing, notes, artwork – so how does that stack up against the job you’re evaluating, or quoting on? Are you likely to be nearer the lower or upper end of this range?

When you’ve worked out how many hours you’ll probably need for the job, you can then see when and whether the job will fit in your schedule, assuming that the quality of the raw manuscript isn’t significantly different from the manuscripts you’ve already edited or proofread. That’s a big assumption, so think about that, too, when you’re looking at the sample to provide a quote, or the full manuscript to decide whether the fee being offered will be enough.

At the left-hand side of the spreadsheet, you have the number of elapsed days that the previous jobs took. That will also help you decide whether you can take the job on: how well does it fit in your schedule? And what else is happening at that time? Do you have some other commitments in your diary? Did you plan on taking some time off?

Incidentally, I’ve personalised my copy of the spreadsheet and include a column for days worked, too, that I take from the time-log for the job. I can then tell whether I was all-hands-to-the-pump or whether I was working at a more sedate pace. For the first job in the screenshot, 29 days elapsed from starting work to finishing it. But did I actually work 15 days, 20 days, 29 days of the 29? That will fine-tune the information and help me decide whether I can fit the proffered job in the timescale wanted.

I always give myself plenty of wiggle room when working for indie authors, particularly, and when necessary I negotiate with corporate clients on the deadline as well as the fee. Life happens, as the saying goes, so you want to have the time to do the work at a sensible and safe pace, and have some time in your back pocket for contingencies.

The information stored in your spreadsheet can support your quotations and evaluations, if you actively use it.

Who is my worst payer?

This is a question you should ask yourself at least once a year. And when you’ve found out who it is, in an ideal world you would fire them and make room for better-paying clients. You may have a sound reason to stick with a low-paying client, of course. Perhaps it’s work for a cause you want to support. Perhaps the work is really interesting, the deadlines are sensible and the client is a delight to work with. Then aim for the next worst-paying and fire them, instead! Don’t burn your bridges, though; just be ‘too busy’ the next time they ask so it’s open to you to accept work from them another time, if you need to or just want to.

Always take a look at the latest version of the CIEP’s suggested minimum rates, to inform your thinking.

But the first step is finding out who is your least-good payer.

The Work Record spreadsheet in the Going Solo Toolkit gives you two ways of looking at your earnings: per hour and per thousand words.

First, if you offer more than one service, you’ll want to filter by service: copyediting, developmental editing, project management or proofreading, for example. There’s no point comparing oranges with apples.

We’ve already seen that putting a filter on a column and then opening up the filter gives you the unique values in that column, listed in ascending order. That may be all you need. Select the lowest value – or two, or three or more – and see who those clients are. Or filter on numerical values, less than £x per hour, or less than £x per thousand words.

There’s an ultra-quick way of taking a look at how much your clients vary, though. Click on the top of the column to select it, and look in the status bar at the foot of the spreadsheet, towards the right side. If I select the £ per hour column in the spreadsheet I mocked up for this article, I see this:That shows me that my rate per hour runs on a spectrum from £21.98 to £38.11, via an average of £30.28. If you do this on a spreadsheet of your own, and don’t get these values showing up, then right-click on the status bar and start ticking some of the options in the pop-up box:The ones you want are in the third section from the bottom of this list, from ‘Average’ to ‘Sum’.

Am I happy to be earning £21.98 per hour? What’s the minimum I want to accept from now on? Let’s say £27.50 for the sake of demonstration.

So on the £ per hour column, I set the number filter to ‘less than 27.5’, in the same way as before, and I get this result:

I can see that the three clients who paid me less than £27.50 per hour are all different, and for only one job each. Two of the three worst payers per hour were for proofreading. But look at that difference in £ per 000 words: from £12.88 to £17.68, although the lowest rate per 000 words paid more per hour than the job below it. I can see that the good £ per 000 words job had a lot of references and notes, which would have slowed me down, and yes, that’s reflected in the words per hour column. Do I want to fire Barbara Seville? Let’s take another look at the data and filter just the jobs for that publisher, turning off the filter on the £ per 000 words column to get everything for that publisher:Now I can see that low fee in context. That low rate is looking like an anomaly, and all the other jobs I’ve done for them paid more than my line in the sand of £27.50 per hour. Maybe I’ll keep accepting work from Barbara Seville, but keep an eye on how the fees work out.

The worst payer of all was Barry Island Press, so let’s look at them in context. Clear the checkbox for Barbara Seville from the filter and tick Barry Island Press:I’ve only done two jobs for them, but I can see that their proofreading rate is a lot less than their copyediting rate, although it’s hovering just a few pennies above the suggested minimum hourly rate (as at the time of this writing). Maybe my decision will be to decline any proofreading from them, but keep on copyediting for them – or maybe I’ll decide to ask for an increased fee, if I otherwise like working for them, and see what happens.

Play around with the filters: in the numerical filters, the above average and below average are useful for deciding who you want to work for less, and who you want to work for more often. The Top Ten option allows you to pick a number other than ten, and the bottom as well as the top of the pile – you could easily find your top three earning jobs, your bottom three earning jobs, or ten jobs, actually up to 500 in either direction, but I suppose ‘Top Ten’ is snappier than the ‘Top or Bottom up to 500’.

Additional help

There are, as you may expect, YouTube videos and other resources on how filtering works. Here’s a small selection:

For PCs

  1. Microsoft’s instructions on how to apply filters: https://support.microsoft.com/en-us/office/filter-data-in-a-range-or-table-01832226-31b5-4568-8806-38c37dcc180e#ID0EAACAAA=Windows
  2. This video is by a Microsoft employee: youtube.com/watch?v=BtiVbY7lhqw
  3. Here’s another guide on filtering, which includes keyboard shortcuts if you prefer those to all-mouse: youtube.com/watch?v=wMlTDXPEjag
  4. And if you’re very new to spreadsheets, here’s a beginner’s YouTube video: youtube.com/watch?v=k1VUZEVuDJ8

For Macs

  1. Microsoft’s instructions on how to apply filters: https://support.microsoft.com/en-us/office/filter-a-list-of-data-8ec38534-e2f1-41d0-b8bb-e3f5fcad95a0?ui=en-US&rs=en-US&ad=US
  2. Some intermediate features, including filters, are covered in this video (if you want to skip to filters, they show up at 19:34): youtube.com/watch?v=Z9sKEjHaIm4
  3. And if you’re very new to spreadsheets, here’s a beginner’s YouTube video: youtube.com/watch?v=znqfM4ligew

About Sue Littleford

Sue LittlefordSue Littleford is the author of the CIEP guide Going Solo, now in its second edition. She went solo with her own freelance copyediting business, Apt Words, in March 2007 and specialises in scholarly humanities and social sciences.

 

 

About the CIEP

The Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP) is a non-profit body promoting excellence in English language editing. We set and demonstrate editorial standards, and we are a community, training hub and support network for editorial professionals – the people who work to make text accurate, clear and fit for purpose.

Find out more about:

 

Photo credits: numbers by Mika Baumeister on Unsplash.

Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CIEP.

CIEP social media round-up: April and May 2021

From spoof biographies to snacks, annual reports to fact sheets, conferences to quizzes, April and May 2021 combined fun, advice and endless opportunities to get engaged online. In this round-up, we cover:

  • Special days
  • Improving your business and working practices
  • Sharing CIEP resources
  • Conference excitement
  • Wordy chat
  • Quizzes and other fun stuff

Special days

Immediately as April started there was a special day to celebrate – April Fool’s Day. We posted an article about Grove Music Online’s Spoof Article Contest, which has been running now for 20 years. You can read the winning entry, plus the runners up, in the article. The judges commented: ‘It was hard to miss that the biographies took a turn for the macabre, perhaps inevitable as we begin year two of a pandemic. Whereas our 2016 contest saw a surprising number of flatulence artists among its biographees, this year we saw an unprecedented attention to the mode of death.’ What future world events may cause a resurgence in spoof flatulence-artist biographies, we wonder?

On 16 April we noted, in our pyjamas, that it was ‘Wear your pajamas to work day’, and on 26 April we were organised enough to note that it was ‘Get organized day’. Oh goodie! An opportunity to buy yet another notebook.

We celebrated the Oscars in late April by sharing a list of the books behind the nominated films and discovering what’s behind the term ‘red carpet’.

Improving your practice

Sharing advice and tips is a big part of what we do. Two of the articles we posted to help our followers improve their practice were written by CIEP members, and one of them is worth keeping in mind as you trawl through the many articles offering principles for a successful start-up or listing must-dos as a beginner. CIEP Advanced Professional Member Helen Stevens’s Take my advice – but also don’t lists ten pieces of advice where the opposite might also well be true. We continued this advice/anti-advice theme with two other curated articles: ‘Why procrastination can help fuel creativity’, which looked at the role of the unconscious mind in invention, and ‘The benefits of distraction’, based on a review of a session at the ACES 2021 conference, held in April.

One piece of advice that is unequivocally worth taking, however, especially as your freelance business grows, is CIEP Advanced Professional Member Hazel Bird’s suggestion to produce an annual report. This will give you a regular chance to assess where you’ve come from and where you’re going. ‘Use yours as a pathway to shed the aspects of your business that pull you down and achieve more of what you want’, she says.

Keeping up to date with technology is essential to running a successful editorial business so we took notice when Jane Friedman helpfully revealed how to turn a Microsoft Word document into an Ebook, and Crystal Shelley usefully reviewed Word Macros, giving our own Paul Beverley a mention.

Sharing our resources

Our focus papers and fact sheets continue to be popular on social media. Over the past two months, we’ve promoted the following recent additions to the CIEP resource library.

 

Conference excitement

Also well-received was the super PDF of the #CIEP2020 conference session write-ups. At the end of April, we promoted this free booklet to our members, followers and friends via social media. We hope you enjoyed this conference recap, and that you’ll join us for more fabulous online learning at #CIEP2021!

In May, we used Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter to promote a competition offering ten free #CIEP2021 conference places. Then, in early June, we spun an online Wheel of Names to randomly select the winners. The response was phenomenal – thank you to the hundreds who entered, and congratulations to our lucky ten!

Those of you who are members of the Society of Young Publishers might also have attended SYP Scotland’s #SYPRefresh conference. The CIEP sponsored one of the sessions and offered delegates a free copy of the Your House Style guide.

Wordy chat

As ever, tips, talk and debate about words formed a large part of our social media output, from the language of painting and decorating to the origin of haggis, from the history of ‘gilding the lily’ to the differences between ‘lead’ and ‘led’, ‘unsatisfied’ and ‘dissatisfied’, ‘use to’ and ‘used to’. We also learned about five words that don’t mean what you think they do when you look into their origins.

One word we had certainly never heard before, because it’s brand new, is ‘boffice’. Can you guess what it is? You may even have one of your own. Give up? OK, here’s the link.

Quizzes and other fun stuff

The CIEP offers its own fun quizzes, but we love other people’s quizzes too. There was a good crop during this period, including puzzlers about US v UK English, how certain words were coined, libraries and book titles based on their obscure subtitles.

Talking of obscurity and book titles, how about The Adventures of a Pin, Supposed to be Related by Himself, Herself or Itself (someone there could do with the singular ‘they’), Ducks; and How to Make them Pay, Cabbages and Crime, and Who’s Who in Cocker Spaniels? You can find all these wonders and 73 more in ‘77 strange, funny and magnificent book titles you’ve probably never heard of’.

Those among us who are parents of young children laughed long and hard at the twisteddoodles cartoon that one genius social media team member chose for the late May Bank Holiday Friday Funny, entitled ‘If going anywhere with small children was a magical fantasy novel’. This inspired 123 reactions on Facebook, with particular admiration given to Chapter Six, ‘The Snackening’. The last chapter is ‘The Vow to Never Go Anywhere Again’, with the title of Book Two, the sequel, revealed as ‘The Forgotten Vow’. Talking of which, we’ll see you again at the end of the long UK summer holidays. Have a lovely sunny time, and don’t forget the snacks.

Don’t miss a thing in editing and proofreading. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

About the CIEP

The Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP) is a non-profit body promoting excellence in English language editing. We set and demonstrate editorial standards, and we are a community, training hub and support network for editorial professionals – the people who work to make text accurate, clear and fit for purpose.

Find out more about:

 

Photo credits: notebooks by Kiy Turk on Unsplash.

Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CIEP.

Putting pensions in perspective for editors

It can be hard to know where to start with pensions, especially if you don’t have an employer to make some of the decisions for you. John Firth takes us through some pension essentials.

Pensions are a fairly simple idea (saving for the future) surrounded by baffling T&Cs. You don’t need to learn the detail so long as you clearly separate:

  • short-term needs and long-term saving
  • risk you can live with and risk to protect against
  • costs and benefits (protection costs but provides a benefit)
  • what advisers can offer and what you must do yourself.

I say a little about growth over time. Finally, when you want to draw on your savings you have options.

Most of this article comes down to ‘what do you want?’, ‘that all depends’ and ‘don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good’: rather like editing.

Saving is Good, and we Ought to Do It, but first, we must put food on the table and then some bills we must pay because, if we don’t, we could lose our home. Not everybody can save.

This article is focused on the UK; pension options and legislation will be different in other countries.

Short term and long term

If you can manage to put money aside, first plan for the short term (today, tomorrow, next week). The best way is to put money aside regularly (out of every invoice paid, say), but a good second-best is to put something aside today, no matter how small. Doing nothing till you can afford to save regularly is a bad idea: rainy days come, whether you’re ready or not.

That money needs to be somewhere easily accessible. Find a bank deposit or building society account paying some interest; some people keep a cushion in such an account, and the rest in vehicles that earn a bit more, but can’t be drawn on so easily: different kinds of ISA, say. How many balls are you happy to juggle at once?

The National Insurance pension gets a lot of undeserved criticism. You would struggle to live on your state pension alone, but it’s the cheapest way to make a real difference to your standard of living in retirement, because

  • it’s guaranteed, no matter what the markets do between now and when you retire, and
  • it’s inflation-proofed.

If there’s a gap in your NI record you can pay voluntary contributions to fill it (check at gov.uk/check-state-pension). I think doing that is more important than making private pension savings.

So, you’ve planned for the short term and made sure you’ll get the full state pension. Now you can start to think about the long term. Pensions offer tax relief on what you put in (the government pays roughly 20% of your contributions to your pension provider, more if you pay higher-rate tax); also, tax breaks on the interest or investment growth you earn. But once you are in a pension, it is difficult and expensive to pull your money out until you retire: so think about whether you can afford to lock money away.

What’s next?

If you can afford a private pension, think about risk. Would it worry you if your pot’s value went down this year? Decide your ‘risk appetite’, on a scale from 1 (‘it would keep me up at night’) to 10 (‘not at all’). What about timing? While you’re younger you might be happy to wait out a slump; however, you probably want to protect your savings if you plan to retire next year, and after you’ve started to live on them. A good adviser will suggest when one investment approach is likely to suit you better than another, and many fund managers offer investment switching options. Some packaged products offer ‘lifestyling’ (higher-risk investments when you’re young; safer ones after 50 or 55): the government’s NEST scheme, for example.

If a slump comes, don’t stop saving! If you think the market’s overvalued, don’t stop saving! The times you bought when investments were cheap will compensate for the times when you had to pay more for them. This ‘pound-cost averaging’ will save you money; moreover, would you be able to spot ‘the right moment to invest’? Consistently, over 20 or 30 years?

Next, when could you retire? If your family all live to be 100, you need to save for as long as possible; if your genes are not so kind, you might want to retire sooner. It all depends …

Hidden and visible costs

Remember risk? Investment guarantees are often provided by ‘smoothing’ returns: the investment manager holds on to some growth in good times, to protect the fund in bad times. You will pay something for this protection, but that cost is hidden.

Index or ‘tracker’ funds aim to ‘track’ a particular investment index, more or less (some funds ‘track’ closely, others within a band above and below the index). These offer some protection – you never get significantly less than the market average – at some cost – you never get significantly more, either.

You could invest ‘actively’, in stocks, shares and other things that can be valued. These go up and down, and your fund manager tries to limit risk by spreading across different types of investment. There are many kinds of specialised fund, including ‘ethical’ funds. Active investment managers usually state costs clearly: often they make separate charges for managing the fund and for new investments, and specialised funds may charge more.

You could do all the investment yourself: many providers market ‘self-investment personal pensions’ (SIPPs).

It’s good to know what you’re paying, but don’t let the tail wag the dog. If ‘active’ investments would keep you awake at night, they probably aren’t right for you; simply accept that you may have to pay a bit more for a safer approach.

Advisers

Advisers charge for their services, some by billing you, some by collecting from your fund’s manager. A good adviser will help you make all the decisions we’ve talked about, tell you whether you’re on track or need to pay more (in an annual report) and help you when you retire. You can expect high costs when everything’s being set up and when you start to draw your benefits, and lower costs in between. Some advisers offer ‘smoothed’ charges, which will probably cost more overall (because they gave you credit during the setting-up, and anticipate costs when you retire).

Most of us should find a good adviser and trust them, but ask lots of questions. The Financial Conduct Authority offers guidance on finding advisers and what to ask (fca.org.uk/consumers/finding-adviser), and a register that you can search for firms qualified to offer advice on pensions (register.fca.org.uk/s/); Unbiased.co.uk is also quite good. Ask friends and colleagues who they trust, and who they don’t – and why.

Doing the maths

Recently, you might have earned 30% in some years, and lost 15% in bad ones. Over time, the good and bad years average out. What matters is outpacing inflation. If your pot grows (on average) by 7% while inflation (on average) is 2%, you’re earning 5% in real terms (7 – 2 = 5). But future charges are probably going to average somewhere between 1% and 2% a year, so your net return may be 3% or 4%. A simple spreadsheet model focusing on the net return is a good way to work out how your savings might grow in real terms.

You should be able to earn a net 4% a year over shortish periods (five or ten years), but there will be bad years and could be bad decades (remember the 1970s?). Over longer periods you’re safer assuming low net returns (2% a year, say). You won’t mind if you do better than budgeted; although, budgeting for 4% and actually getting 2% would mean a big shortfall.

Drawing your savings

Retirement is more flexible than it used to be. You can start to draw benefits from 55 (that will shortly increase to 57), or you can wait: there is no upper age limit. You can even draw some benefits and carry on contributing, but then a tighter ‘annual allowance’ will limit what you can contribute.

Up to one-quarter of your pot can be drawn in cash, tax-free; in stages, if you like (the one-quarter limit applies to whatever is left, so if your pot grows, so will the cash you can draw tax-free).

You can draw the remaining three-quarters in cash, and if your pot is very small, this would be tax-free; however, above this ‘triviality’ limit, HMRC charges a special tax rate to claw back the tax relief you received.

So, most people will use that three-quarters to provide an income, which will be subject to income tax. If you make the necessary arrangements before you retire, you won’t need to buy an annuity with this money: you could leave it invested and ‘draw it down’ (monthly or whenever). Annuities (insurance policies that pay a guaranteed income for a guaranteed period – usually, the rest of your life) don’t deserve their bad reputation. While interest rates are low, and because many of us are living longer, they are expensive in our 60s; but they can be good value when we’re older, or if our health is bad (some insurers offer special rates for particular medical conditions). An option to consider is buying an annuity at (say) 75, to guarantee (say) half the income you want to draw, and continuing to draw down from your remaining pot.

I’ve just described what the law allows. However, your plan’s documents might contain tighter terms than this: ask your financial adviser. Don’t ask me: I’m not FCA-registered.

About John Firth

Long before he became an editor, John Firth worked in pensions. He suggests we need to see savings as different pots for different purposes.

 

 

About the CIEP

The Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP) is a non-profit body promoting excellence in English language editing. We set and demonstrate editorial standards, and we are a community, training hub and support network for editorial professionals – the people who work to make text accurate, clear and fit for purpose.

Find out more about:

 

Photo credits: Old Man of Storr by Matt Thornhill; calculator by recha oktaviani, both
on Unsplash.

Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CIEP.

 

How editors and proofreaders can make more money

Just as important as our ability to edit text to a high standard is our ability to run a successful business. Liz Jones looks at ways to maximise your earnings as a freelance editor.

  • Asking for more
  • Keeping emotions out of financial negotiations
  • Selling extra services
  • Explaining when a budget is insufficient
  • Fee structures
  • Charging for extras
  • Charging what you’re worth

The point of running an editorial business, apart from getting to read all day, is to make money. There’s no shame in this, but money can still be strangely difficult for editors to talk about. Perhaps because, by and large, we’re quite nice. Perhaps because, secretly, we can’t quite believe we deserve to be paid well for doing something so civilised.

We’ve all heard of editing gigs that pay less than minimum wage. Many of us have probably been offered them. But this is not the norm, and it’s not necessary to support it. It’s perfectly possible to earn a good living as an editor, working reasonable hours for pay that reflects our experience, skill and level of professionalism.

That doesn’t take away from the fact that it can be hard to be hard-nosed about money. Even after 13 years of hustling, I still sometimes have to psych myself up to charge what I know I’m worth, without apology or qualification. But it can be done. Here are seven tips for making more money from your editorial business, while keeping your clients happy, and without selling your soul.

1. Ask for more

I’m not going into whether you or your client should be setting the rate, here. I suspect that for many editors, a combination of approaches works for them. Sometimes you’ll be asked to quote for a job; sometimes the client will suggest a rate or fee. It’s the latter option I’m interested in here, and ‘suggest’ is the key word. The client is suggesting what they can pay you, not telling you. There’s always room to ask for more if you think the job warrants it. It’s quite likely that if you do ask for more, there will turn out to be some wiggle room in the budget to accommodate that.

2. Break the emotional link

When talking money with clients, be ice cold. (You can still be polite, don’t worry!) Remember that the price is simply about the work you can do for them, not your worth as a person. It’s also nothing more than a transaction: the client needs something doing, for which they will have to pay. It doesn’t matter how lovely they are to work with, or how amazing the project is, or if you feel you should help in some way. It’s business, pure and simple. Anything on top of that transaction is a bonus, but a bonus that is entirely separate from your need to be paid properly and on time for work completed in good faith.

3. Offer more yourself

Sometimes a client says they want a proofread, but you know a project really needs more development work. If you can show the client how they will benefit from commissioning you to do a larger job, even with the increased cost, this can be good for everyone. You’ll earn more, and the client will get a better result. A crucial part of successful freelancing is selling yourself – and not just making clients aware of your presence, but ensuring they fully understand the value you can bring to a project.

4. Say no and say why – because this can lead to yes

I sometimes see freelancers discussing ‘how to say no’ as if it were a dark art. It’s not, it’s just a word. I’m a nice person, and I care what people think about me too, sometimes too much, but still I have no trouble with saying a blunt no. If someone offers me work for a rate that is very far below what I find acceptable, I don’t want to waste either of our time. I’ll say a brief but polite no, but I’ll also say why. Not ‘I’m fully booked’, or ‘I don’t think I’m the right fit for this job’, but ‘I can’t do this because I would charge at least double what you’re offering’. Mostly, I never hear from the prospective client again. But sometimes, they genuinely didn’t realise how far off the mark their offer was – and they revise it accordingly. Then it becomes something I can consider – and we’ve both benefited.

5. Find a different way of charging, acceptable to both sides

Sometimes I’m offered an hourly rate for work that is far below the CIEP suggested minimum rate. However, if I ask to see the job in its entirety and provide the client with a fixed fee for what they need doing, it might be that I can provide a quote that is within their budget but that also results in a fee (and an hourly rate) that I’m happy with.

6. Don’t give work away for free

Here, I’m not talking about proofreading a whole book for ‘exposure’, which is obviously not a favourable proposition, but rather about the little extra aspects of a job that can seem insignificant, but which we should be charging for. Do I charge for meetings? Hell yes, and particularly if they involve preparation or travel. Even a friendly Zoom call has associated costs for the freelancer. You may choose to include these kinds of extras in the overall fee for a job, which is fine, but make sure you take them into account one way or another.

7. Be bold

This circles back to tip 1. Quite simply, if you don’t ask, you don’t get. Sometimes it pays to work out what you think you should charge, and then charge more. You will read advice that tells you to try doubling your rates. (I’ve never attempted this myself; perhaps one day I will. I recommend reading Cash Money Freelancing by Tom Albrighton for lots more ideas like this – you can follow @CashFreelancing on Twitter for regular tips.) But I have often worked out a good rate for something and then added a bit extra to my quote. Not just for contingency related to the project. But because of all the things we have to pay for ourselves as freelancers: time off, sick leave, pension and so on, as well as quality of life. In this instance, the worst anyone can say is no, and even then, all is not lost – you can still negotiate. The point is, no one is just going to hand you money for doing this wonderful job. You’re going to have to stand out, you’re going to have to earn it, and you’re going to have to ask for it. And that’s fine.

Summing up

This article has looked at ways to maximise your earnings, while providing an excellent service and, crucially, keeping your clients happy. It can be done – and it leads to better outcomes for everyone. For more information about pricing work, I recommend the CIEP guide Pricing a Project, by Melanie Thompson. It’s also worth checking the current CIEP suggested minimum rates, and directing clients there if they are offering less.

About Liz Jones

Liz Jones has been an editor since 1998, and freelance since 2008. She works on non-fiction projects of all kinds, for publishers, businesses and independent authors. She’s
also one of the commissioning editors on the CIEP information team.

 

About the CIEP

The Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP) is a non-profit body promoting excellence in English language editing. We set and demonstrate editorial standards, and we are a community, training hub and support network for editorial professionals – the people who work to make text accurate, clear and fit for purpose.

Find out more about:

 

Photo credits: currency by Jason Leung; Nope by Daniel Herron, both on Unsplash.

Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CIEP.

 

The CIEP: getting together again – in person and online

As restrictions around how CIEP members, staff and directors can meet face to face at work and at home shift – at different paces in different spaces around the world – the CIEP’s directors want to share some thoughts with you about getting together again, in person and online at the same time.

Meeting up: face to face vs online

Many of our members and editorial friends have reported how much they miss physical interaction with others, and how they’re desperate to experience in-person events once more – the annual conference, local group meetings, on-site training, professional development days.

‘Zoom, Skype, Teams … it’s not the same’, we say. And it’s not. It can be exhausting editing on screen for hours, knowing that effort will be punctuated by yet more online time with family, colleagues and trainers.

And online conversations are not the same as face-to-face ones. A casual butting-in doesn’t interrupt the flow of conversation in a room quite as catastrophically as it can on Zoom.

Yet in-person business meetings have their challenges too.

  • Emotional: eg time away from family and friends; managing carer responsibilities
  • Physical: eg time spent travelling long distances; managing spaces that don’t adequately serve those with disabilities
  • Psychological: eg being out of one’s comfort zone; managing mental health conditions
  • Financial: eg the cost of travel and accommodation
  • Business: eg more time diverted away from client work

Shifting our former in-person events to online has shown us how we can save time and money, and reduce stress despite the fatigue that comes as part of the online package.

It’s also highlighted what many of us love most about getting together physically – talking shop, hugging, shaking hands, eating and drinking at the same table.

In other words, there’s more than one way, particularly now that we’ve got better at doing digital.

How the editing world learned to do digital better

There was a time in the not-too-distant past when online spoken communication was probably not most editors’ first choice. But many of us embraced it anyway, and the more we did it, the better we got at it.

  • We got used to wearing headsets, putting a hand up and waiting our turn.
  • We began recording some of our meetings so that people who couldn’t attend could still access the content.
  • We created stronger agendas and learned how to stick to them (sometimes!).
  • We got ourselves organised and prepared supporting materials in shared spaces ahead of time.
  • We experimented with subtitles so that being effective was no longer about ‘audiovisual’. It could be ‘audio or visual or both’.
  • We introduced breakout rooms to special events, which helped larger groups function more effectively.
  • And we shifted from shop talk to social talk, switched on the funny-hat filters and zany backgrounds, and raised our glasses.

And now that we’re more confident online and understand why digital networking is different but valuable, it’s time to work out how to partner it with face-to-face events rather than abandoning it in favour of a return to the way things were.

Physical and digital communication both have their pros and cons. The question now is how we in the CIEP use the advantages of one to offset the challenges of the other. That means experimenting with synergy.

What we’ve got planned: synergy rather than side-lining

Given that physical and digital meetups each have their pros and cons, and that members’ circumstances, needs and preferences vary, the CIEP is committed to a strategy that involves a synergy of digital and physical solutions rather than a side-lining of one or the other.

So what does this mean in practice? Here’s what we’re going to be testing in 2021 and 2022.

Expanding reach with the CIEP annual conference

Our first-ever online conference in 2020 was a roaring success. We’re equally excited about the 2021 meeting, which will be bigger, better and also online while restrictions continue.

Book your place at #CIEP2021 now

And while many of us are eagerly anticipating the opportunity to share the same physical space with old friends once again, CIEP2020 taught us something important: yes, online learning is different, but it can be productive, convenient and rewarding in its own way.

It is also accessible. And since accessibility is one of our core values, in 2022 we’ll be asking speakers to consider doubling their offering by both presenting on site and livestreaming! We’re looking forward to hosting an in-person event at long last, but even if you can’t make it to the venue, as long as you have access to a computer you can come to a CIEP conference.

And while it was COVID that first forced us to explore a digital conference solution, exploring ways of developing that solution is now key to our strategy, virus or no virus.

A better way of working for the CIEP Council

The CIEP Council is run by a board of directors drawn from its membership. Those who join have a range of skills and experience but one shared desire: to work as part of a team dedicated to promoting and improving editorial standards, skills and community.

In the past this meant directors travelling from various places to attend meetings in London around six times a year. With the COVID restrictions, we’ve had to rethink that. We knew we couldn’t work to our best effect by replicating the all-day meeting model online (Zoom-ing gets tiring!). Instead, we’ve had shorter but more frequent meetings via Zoom, sometimes to focus on one or two particular issues or tasks.

And it’s a keeper. We get stuff done, and quickly, because we collectively decide what most needs our talking together attention. We’re not tired from travelling, and we know each meeting is not going to go on for too long.

Plus of course we continue the day-to-day work of running the Institute via our dedicated Council forum.

But we’ve also recognised that it’s important for us to get together sometimes, especially when we need to tackle the big strategic and policy issues. So, when we’re allowed and it’s safe, we’ll be having two-day in-person strategy meetings once or twice a year to really get down to business.

By embracing a synergy of the digital and physical, we’ve found a good way for us to be more productive.

Making local groups more accessible

We want to make our local groups more accessible too. Imagine a group with 20 members.

  • One person’s hearing is impaired.
  • Three people have carer responsibilities that mean they can’t leave their homes during daytime hours.
  • One has a fear of open spaces that makes leaving their home during any hour, day or night, challenging.
  • One temporarily moves to another part of the UK to care for a friend.
  • One uses a wheelchair and finds the venue accessible but inconvenient.

Having a mixture of in-person get-togethers and online meetings (with captions enabled) increases the opportunity for every member of the group to participate. That makes the group a richer, more interesting, more diverse space in which to learn, develop our editorial businesses and build friendships.

The importance of testing

Are the digital/physical solutions we’re planning the right ones, the best ones? We honestly don’t know. That’s why it’s important to test them out. Those experiments, and the feedback we receive from our members, will show us the way forward.

There will be hiccups certainly, because there always are when any of us embarks on something new. But these are to be embraced because through them we learn how to do things better the next time around.

Why a holistic approach is the way forward

Approaching our meetups with a holistic mindset – one that seeks to integrate the digital into physical spaces – is nothing but an opportunity.

The easier we make it for CIEP members, staff and directors to get together in ways that respect people’s different needs and preferences, the more voices we bring to the conversation. That expands our community.

The more voices in the conversation, the more we learn. And that expands our understanding.

There’s a lot of work to do, and some of it will involve jumping through some high technical hoops, but we hope you’re as excited about it as we are!

Tell us how we can do better

Do you have ideas about how we might integrate digital tools into in-person events? What would make your life easier? How can we improve things?

Please share your thoughts with us in the comments or by email. We’re listening.

About the CIEP Council

The CIEP Council comprises up to 12 directors, who stay in post for up to two years following their election by the membership.

Meet the directors

 

About the CIEP

The Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP) is a non-profit body promoting excellence in English language editing. We set and demonstrate editorial standards, and we are a community, training hub and support network for editorial professionals – the people who work to make text accurate, clear and fit for purpose.

Find out more about:

 

Photo credit: hello by Drew Beamer on Unsplash.

Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CIEP.