Monthly Archives: April 2015

The benefits of mentoring

SfEP logoWho doesn’t need an experienced and trusted adviser?

A year ago, I was new to this editing lark. I had completed the SfEP’s Introduction to Proofreading, Introduction to Copy-Editing, Proofreading 2 and On Screen Editing 1 and the PTC’s formidable proofreading by distance learning course. I now wanted to put my skills out there and charge for them. But did I really know what I was doing? How good was good enough?

If you are employed, you have someone checking your work at first. You have colleagues to compare yourself with. You get feedback from people who know what they are talking about. When you are trying to be self-employed in a new-to-you field, you do not have any of that.

What did I need? An experienced and trusted adviser. Guess what – that’s the Oxford Dictionary’s definition of a mentor. And guess what again – the SfEP has a scheme to provide mentors just like that to people just like me. I signed up.

I am sure that every SfEP mentor will do things differently, but in my case I received four pieces of work from my mentor and had a set period within which to complete each one. The idea was to treat my mentor as a client, getting practice in sending professional emails and sticking to deadlines. Once one assignment was finished and I had had the feedback, I could say when I wanted the next one, so there was no feeling of being over-committed and the training fitted in around whatever else I was doing.

The assignments were examples from the real world, and covered a section of a reference book on paper, a PDF leaflet, a reference list to be marked with track changes and a school textbook PDF. I laboured over them, sent them off to the deadlines and got my detailed feedback, which went through each assignment point by point.

I loved having someone who worked with me intensively for a short while, who knew what they were about and who was being paid to provide advice so that I did not feel bad about taking up their time.

What did I gain? Heaps of things, but here are a few. I learned:

  • to think about who the client is and what they are looking for;
  • not to panic if I did not find lots of mistakes (this is real life, not an artificial exercise designed for a training course);
  • to look very carefully at the fonts and the headings;
  • to make it clear in my mark-up what was an instruction to the typesetter and what was a suggestion/question to the client.

I gained a huge amount of knowledge and reassurance in a short space of time. It gave me the confidence that I could credibly look for paid work. Not only that, it gave me the final 10 points I needed to upgrade my SfEP membership and reassure potential clients that I was a professional. I was off on my new career.

To find out more about the SfEP’s mentoring scheme, including costs and entry requirements, visit the Mentoring section of the website.

JHI_4220bLiz Hunter (Humbie Editorial) specialises in copy-editing academic books and articles and proofreading theses. Her previous career was in the public sector and included being Director of Schools in the Scottish Government and a member of the Organising Committee for the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. She has recently combined her two careers by working some days on a freelance basis for the Official Report (Hansard) in the Scottish Parliament.

Proofread by SfEP entry-level member Karen Pickavance.

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

Specialist Q&A – working for business clients

Specialist Q&A graphicOur editorial industry is made up of people carrying out a huge range of tasks across many different sectors. Although we are bound by common aims – to make text consistent, accurate and clear – our chosen areas of work can differ in fascinating ways.

Kate Haigh (Kateproof) is a freelance proofreader and copy-editor. She has answered some questions on one of her specialisms: working for business clients.

1. Briefly, what’s your work background?

My CV is pretty varied but I have in-house editing and proofreading experience at a magazine publishing company (Govnet) and also for Datamonitor. I have also managed a team for a multinational corporate bank and have worked for the public sector.

2. How long have you specialised in this particular kind of editorial work, and how did you get started?

The first freelance client I got was almost five years ago and was pure serendipity: I went on a web writing course and got offered a lift home by a woman who worked for a local business. She took my card and passed it to her marketing department and the rest is history…

3. What specific knowledge, experience or qualifications do you need?

I find this is where working for business clients differs from working for publishers as I don’t think you need formal training, though confidence is key and I don’t know how confident I would feel if I didn’t have the training under my belt. Experience possibly counts for more as many business clients want to know that you understand their needs and their material. I work on a lot of annual reports, for example, and my experience in banking helps because I understand a lot of the terminology and the common elements that most reports include. One of my USPs is that I studied German at university so though I don’t offer translation services, I work for quite a few German companies as I understand some of the common issues German speakers encounter when writing in English.

4. How do you go about finding work in this area?

Nowadays, people find me through word of mouth and my website. However, when I was first starting out, I went to local networks and met lots of other local businesspeople from various industries. Clients and leads didn’t appear overnight but after about 6 months’ networking at various groups, I started to reap the rewards and continue to do so now even though I don’t currently attend any groups.

5. What do you most enjoy about the work and what are the particular challenges?

Not all business clients are the same. Working for design agencies or marketing teams within big companies often means I liaise with someone who understands the role of proofreading or editing and what I need to do, but lots of companies don’t have this and therefore need me to help them work through the process of getting the work proofread/edited and how best to deal with those changes. With design agencies, I find the work goes backwards and forwards through various iterations of the file as the client, the designers and I all make changes, and this can get quite complex.

Though some people may find the lack of a style guide or formal process less appealing, I like the fact I can influence the work and help a company achieve efficiencies.

Finally, I also have a lot of last-minute, urgent work requests and it can be quite tricky either finding time to fit them in or letting regular clients down. However, on the plus side, if I’m staring down the barrel of a workless week, that very rarely actually happens as something comes in and I go from twiddling thumbs to being very busy.

6. What’s the worst job you’ve had – and/or the best?

That’s really difficult to say purely because I’ve worked on such varied projects. I can’t deny that some of the reports have been very dry but I wouldn’t want to name and shame here. I also had one instance of bad scope creep and that definitely wasn’t enjoyable.

7. What tips would you give to someone wanting to work in this field?

Be confident! Many business clients don’t understand what the editing/proofreading job entails so you need to have the confidence to explain what you’re doing (and sometimes why) and also the confidence to make it clear if something isn’t in your remit.

8. What is the pay like – and are there any other perks?

I find the pay is better than what publishers pay but, for me, more importantly, I set my rates and can vary them depending on the client’s preference: hourly, day rate (common for agencies) or set fee.

9. What other opportunities do you think editorial work in this area might lead to?

I’ve been offered in-house work, and though I wouldn’t choose to return to that permanently, it can be enjoyable as a brief change of scene.



Answers written by Kate Haigh, a freelancer since 2010 working on a variety of projects for publishers, business clients, authors and academics.


Proofread by SfEP professional member Louise Lubke Cuss.

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

Experiences of the London Book Fair

London Book Fair logoTwo SfEP members have reported back on their experiences of the recent London Book Fair. They share how useful they found the day personally, along with some observations on the wider publishing industry.


Jane Hammett’s LBF experience

Last week I went to the London Book Fair for the first time. It had 1,500 exhibitors, split into various sections – trade, children’s publishing, and so on. The day I went, there were 70 seminars to attend on subjects covering all aspects of publishing. If you’re not careful, it’s easy to wander around for the day with your mouth open, amazed at all the publishers and areas of publishing you were never aware of, but not actually doing anything constructive, so here are some handy tips if you’re thinking about attending next year.

To get something worthwhile out of the day, you need to have a plan. Write down a list of things you’d like to achieve. My list included:

  1. Meet people for coffee and chat – I had arranged to meet a fellow SfEP member I had corresponded with but never met; a member of the Bedfordshire local group; an author whose book I had edited; and another editor friend.
  2. Look for, and approach, some potential publishers that I’d like to work for, and hand out business cards. (Note: you may need to practise your opening marketing chat first – in case, like me, selling yourself is not your best skill.)
  3. Attend some interesting seminars, either directly relating to my areas of work or to something completely new.

Objective 1: easily achieved. Tick!

Objective 2: less easily achieved. A lot of the publishers were there to discuss rights and new book deals, not editorial matters. I found it was better to approach smaller publishers, who I found were much more interested in me and the skills I had to offer.

Objective 3: done! I attended the session held in the English PEN Literary Salon between author Ali Smith and Claire Armitstead, book reviewer for the Guardian and the Observer. Ali Smith is the author of Artful, There but for the, Free Love, Like, Hotel World, Other and her most recent book, which was her main topic of conversation, How to be both.

It was fascinating to get an insight into the mind of a successful writer who really knows her craft. She was bright, witty and amusing. During the open question session after her talk, one audience member asked her: ‘Do you have any advice for writers who want to get published?’ Ali’s advice was to keep writing; never get disheartened but write as much as you can; keep redrafting your book and honing your skills. Also, read, read, read as much as you can: the sides of buses, as many genres of books as possible, cornflake packets. It was good to see her giving the same advice that I often give my self-publishing authors!

After this, I met an author whose YA novel I recently edited. She went to the book fair looking for tips on social media and how to market her book, as well as ways to find an agent and get published, and she found several of the seminars held in the Author HQ really useful. I found it interesting – and valuable – being able to follow the story of how she published her book after I had finished working on it.

Finally, one of my main reasons for attending was to sit in on a seminar chaired by Dr Alison Baverstock, Associate Professor of Publishing at Kingston University, titled ‘Why editors are invisible no longer’.

What I found remarkable was that, out of about two hundred seminars, only one was directly aimed at editors. Surely editors should play a more important – and visible – role in the industry?

Alongside Dr Baverstock, there were three other speakers: Wendy Toole, freelance editor and former chair of SfEP; Richard Duguid, senior editorial manager of Penguin Random House; and Helen Hart, publishing director of SilverWood Books, a company that ‘supports self-funding writers and helps them produce high quality professionally-designed books and ebooks’.

The talk concentrated on research Dr Baverstock carried out during 2013, into the ‘role, motivation and work pattern of independent editors’. Her results can be found in Learned Publishing (Volume 28, Number 1, January 2015, pp. 43–53).

The talk centred on editors’ lifestyles and work, and how these are changing with the recent huge increase in self-publishing authors. Editors’ answers revealed that many had shifted from working for traditional publishers to working for new types of clients, including self-publishing authors. Many editors felt that their relationships with traditional publishers were becoming increasingly strained and less satisfying – for a variety of reasons – and more editors claimed to receive higher satisfaction from working with self-publishers (especially experienced ones) rather than conventional publishers. A lot of Baverstock’s points resonated with me – and the editors I was with!

The sheer scale of the book fair and the enormous variety in the publishing and technology on offer made me think about my role as an editor and proofreader in the (much) wider world of publishing, and helped me to feel a renewed commitment to my work – and why I do it. It can be hard to remember the bigger picture when you spend most days at home working on your computer!

Would I go next year? I think I would – armed with a better idea of what to say to publishers to break the ice, and definitely again arranging some meetings – with editors, friends or authors – in advance.

jane hammett sfep blog figJane Hammett is an advanced professional member of the SfEP and has been freelance since 1998. She is also the local group coordinator for the SfEP Bedfordshire group. Jane specialises in fiction (for adults and children) and educational publishing. Visit her website for more information.



Charlotte Norman’s LBF experience

Undecided whether to visit the LBF this year, I was finally prompted to attend by an invitation to a publishing launch. I put together an agenda on the handy new LBF app and left home at 6am last Wednesday to be there for the first item on my list. The report on YALC 2014 turned out to be a huge draw, and I was lucky to have a seat (and a much-needed cup of coffee) by 9.50. The brainchild of Waterstones Children’s Laureate, Malorie Blackman, last year’s Young Adult Literature Convention was the inaugural major book event aimed specifically at teenagers and young adults, and was by any standards a roaring success. It quickly became evident that face-to-face meetings with authors still hold a special magic, even for young people living in a digital age. Hot Key generated a tremendous buzz around a US title whose author couldn’t attend (the wonderful and compelling We Were Liars by E. Lockhart) by making rubber stamps of mottoes from the book and stamping the backs of hands. In fact, it seems all manner of ‘stuff’ was greeted enthusiastically by this fandom-loving age group. We heard stories of success and lessons learned, and were given an array of impressive statistics, such as that 37% of those attending had never previously been to a book event of any kind and that 75% bought books while there (figures from memory).

For me, Ali Smith’s lunchtime interview with Claire Armitstead was worth the ticket price on its own. Discussing everything from surprises in fiction and the 3D nature of a novel to what inspired her to write her latest work (her tax demand), the award-winning author of How to be both was articulate and witty. She also explained how her publisher contrived to meet her need for a single print-run – with only one ISBN – of which half the books would read in one sequence and half the other way around: stop the printing process halfway through and swap the pages around!

The afternoon gave me an opportunity to socialise with editorial colleagues and pass some time watching the goings-on all around. I don’t like giving out business cards at the fair but prefer to visit publishers’ stands and look for lists and trends that conform with my work preferences, with a view to following up with phone calls or emails later.

Like Jane (Hammett), I was keen to attend Wendy Toole’s seminar, though having heard both Alison Baverstock and Helen Hart speak recently at the Bath Literature Festival, I thought there might be a lot of overlap. I needn’t have worried and the discussion, with input from Wendy Toole and Richard Duguid, was interesting. It seems clear that the number of in-house editors is diminishing and the financial pressures felt by publishers are increasingly being passed on to freelances. Dr Baverstock, the only academic currently studying the self-publishing industry, presented a number of encouraging findings, however, for editors and proofreaders who work with self-funded authors. The one that stayed with me is that 50% of self-published authors are in full-time work and are often willing to pay a fair rate for editorial services.

Whenever I attend the London Book Fair I am impressed by the attention to detail in the planning and organisation. The stewards are always helpful and the app was great for planning and quick searches, though I found the paper map essential for locating events. The Olympia venue was pleasingly airy and the galleries provided a great view of the hustle and bustle and book deals taking place, though I understand that there were rumblings of discontent from publishers whose first-floor stands missed out on valuable through-traffic. It was not as straightforward getting home from Olympia as from Earl’s Court (to a non-Londoner), but after the publisher’s launch and drinks party, where I handed over the only business card I had planned to, I was happy to totter off in the general direction of the Tube.

Charlotte Norman is a professional member of the SfEP. She has been a freelance proofreader since 2011 and has recently completed the PTC distance learning course in copy-editing. Her work has included translation and copywriting for the luxury goods sector, but she is happiest proofreading young adult fiction.

Proofread by SfEP entry-level member Karen Pickavance.

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

How are we doing? Freelance performance review

photoFor employees the annual appraisal can be a workplace evil or a career boost. Rosalind Davies weighs up the value of a DIY evaluation for the freelancer.

You’ve just made a purchase online or spoken to customer services on the phone and it’s not long before the feedback email appears in your inbox: “Your views are really important to us. They help us understand where we need to improve but also give us the opportunity to share your compliments with our staff. We would like you to tell us what we’ve done well and what we could have done better.”

What do you do with these requests? You might welcome the opportunity to get something off your chest or you may regard it as spam. Your response to such a follow-up may bear some scrutiny in the context of your own business practices. Do you regard feedback as important or would you rather move swiftly on without a backwards glance?

Many organisations are committed to the annual performance appraisal or review of their staff as a process for an individual employee to engage in a dialogue about their work. It is usually carried out by a line manager to assess recent performance and focus on future objectives, opportunities and resources needed.

For employees the performance review can be a source of anxiety or a chore that requires uncomfortable introspection. More positively, it should be an opportunity to discuss your development and the support that you need to carry out your role. At best it should be a dedicated time for reflection and constructive analysis. Acknowledgement of achievements and hard work that may go unsaid most of the time, will hopefully surface during an appraisal, and tensions around office politics or internal processes might be aired safely.

For the self-employed person these processes for reflection probably don’t exist. You might have happily ripped up the staff handbook and pushed your annual travelcard to the back of a drawer, but you will also have lost any mechanism to reflect on the work that you do, your objectives and weaknesses, and the access to someone else’s view of your skills and achievements.

The power of praise

“I wanted to acknowledge this year in particular how much I have admired what you have achieved,” was the opening line of a letter I was delighted to receive a few years ago. The writer went on to comment on my work ethic, self-motivation, determination and ability to multi-task. It sounds like an easy ego boost, but, unexpected and unasked for as it was, it meant a great deal to me that someone else had realised that without a line manager, compliments, let alone evaluations, were likely to be thin on the ground.

My considerate friend, a manager himself, set me to thinking about the importance of the appraisal process. The challenge, for a freelance worker, is how to build some reflection and review into your working year. You may be fortunate enough to have clients who take a holistic view of their working relationship with you, who take the time to thank you for a good job or give feedback on areas for development. If, however, your project managers or desk editors are entirely task-driven, simply feeding jobs to you and receiving them back again with little other communication, then you might find one of these DIY techniques for initiating a performance appraisal helpful.

Ask for feedback

If your only measure of success is repeat business, it may be time for you to ask for feedback. A long-standing relationship with a client is good news, but constructive feedback could hold so much more for personal and professional development. You could ask for a review at the end of a ‘probationary’ period or as an established supplier. If you have completed a one-off assignment, it’s good practice to ask for a testimonial. A request for “a couple of sentences about the quality of service I provided” could provide you with an opportunity for learning and development, as well as something for your CV or website. More importantly, if you’re feeling isolated, asking for feedback is a way of initiating a conversation about your service and skills.

Ask a friend

Invite someone close to you to go through an appraisal process with you. They may not know the details of your day-to-day work, but ask them to reflect on your motivation levels, perseverance or commitment to clients. In a corporate setting many employers use a questionnaire that both parties complete in advance of the review. This might be a good way to start for a freelancer, too. Include questions that push you to be specific in your analysis, such as:

  • Have I achieved my objectives this year? What have I done particularly well? What examples of my work demonstrate this?
  • What have I done that has been less successful or enjoyable this year? What examples of my work demonstrate this? Why has this area of work been less successful or enjoyable?
  • What are the main skill and knowledge development needs that I have? How could I fill my development gaps/learning needs?

Whatever you learn through this process – positive or negative – introducing a version of a performance review into your working life will help you to focus on the future and plan for the continued development of a portfolio of clients and projects.

Ros Davies


Rosalind Davies is a copy-editor and offers wider communications services as Ros Davies Communications. She is active on Facebook and tweets as @drRosDavies.



Proofread by SfEP entry-level member Patric Toms.

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

Elevator pitches for editors

Spring daffodils

Time for a bit of spring cleaning – tidy that desk and dust down your elevator pitch.

It’s that time of the year – at least in the UK – when the spring flowers are out, the birds are singing, there’s a fleeting glimmer of sunshine … and it’s the end of a tax year (or the start of a new one, depending on how you choose to look at it). Perhaps it’s time to tidy the desk, chuck out a few reams of paper and dust down the elevator pitch.

There’s much to recommend being able to tell people what you do in a way they can understand. Let’s face it – it can be an uphill struggle when it comes to justifying our existence. No, we don’t just check for spelling mistakes. And no, Word’s spellcheck function is definitely no substitute for the real thing. Yes, we might love words, but passion doesn’t pay the bills. Sure, an edit is not usually a life-or-death situation, although ‘mere’ typos can do serious damage to reputations and lives – and the work medical editors do, for example, carries a particular weight of responsibility. Good communication in any sector is vital, so there is genuine importance attached to our job, and it takes skill and experience to do it well.

An elevator pitch is typically a short and simple summary of your business offering, using language that anyone can understand. It says who you are, what you do and what you can offer a potential client. A good example will tell a story in miniature, rather than comprise a blurted-out list of bullet points. You need to captivate your listener – and you haven’t got long to do it; perhaps 30 seconds. (The tallest lift in my town only goes up one floor, so I’d have to be especially concise.)

If you’re trying to communicate your worth to so-called non-publishers, you might need to strip things right back to the basics; you could even use an analogy. About a year ago I wrote a description on my website likening the work of an editor to the craft of a sash window renovator. (It only occurred to me afterwards that I should have struck some kind of reciprocal deal with the window restorers, asking them to compare their work to that of a professional editor.) The point is, it can help to explain what we do if we make it more tangible.

Publishers may be easier – they already understand the difference between copy-editing and proofreading, for instance, and they know why they need us. But all publishers are different, and you may still need a very focused approach to make that particular publisher understand why they should hire you, and not the other twenty editors who have also cold-called them that month. What areas do you specialise in? What specific skills and qualifications do you have?

To write your elevator pitch, try putting everything down on paper (or screen) first – everything that differentiates you and your business. Stick to the positives – describe what you can do, not what you can’t. Then, when you have your description, do what you do best – edit it. Cut out all the extraneous material until you’re left with the pure message that you want to convey. Take your time. Tell that story. Nail it.

Now you have your perfect pitch, what can you do with it? One thing you could do is learn it by heart, and then take yourself off to some local networking events (or even an SfEP local group meeting) and actually use it. You might discover that you enjoy the process, and you could even pick up a new client or two. (Remember, contacts you make may not lead to immediate work; it’s often about the long game.)

However, the real beauty of this is that you don’t have to actually deliver the elevator pitch for it to be of real benefit. You’ve just spent quality time focusing on the positives of who you are and what you do. See how you’ve distilled the essence of your business so you understand exactly what you offer and why it’s worth something to others? Now you can use this knowledge of what makes your business brilliant (what I like to think of as your secret elevator pitch) to inform the way you sell it to others, in whatever way you choose.

Do you have an elevator pitch? Has it helped you market your business?

Liz Jones SfEP marketing and PR director


Liz Jones is the SfEP’s marketing and PR director.


Proofread by SfEP provisional intermediate member Gary Blogg.

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

7 questions to consider when naming your editorial business

photo (2)One of the most important decisions you’ll make when starting any new venture is what you should call your new business. Here are seven questions that will help you come up with the perfect name for your editorial business.

1. Should I use my own name?

If you are already well established in your editorial career, it can be helpful to use your own name in your business as it will help potential clients find you, particularly if they have worked with you previously. However, this doesn’t work if you have a more common name. If your moniker is along the lines of John Smith, you may prefer your business name to be a little more original.

2. Should I include details of what I do?

It can be helpful to outline your services as part of your business name, but be careful not to box yourself in. While ‘X Proofreading’ may be a perfect description of your business offering today, next year, after you’ve expanded into copy-editing or developmental editing, you may find that the proofreading part of your business name restricts you.

3. Is my proposed business name easy to pronounce and spell?

Picture the scene: You’ve met a really promising contact and exchanged business cards; a week later your new contact wants to get in touch. Unfortunately, they’ve mislaid your contact details, but that’s not a problem because they remember your business name. A simple internet search should yield your phone number or email address. Except when they type in what they remember as the name of your business, they spell it differently. Or maybe they have seen your business name written down and they are recommending you to a colleague, but they pronounce the name of your business as they remember hearing it, not as it is actually spelt, so they can’t find you. You’ve lost out on potentially valuable business. So keep your business name simple and avoid homonyms or puns that could confuse potential clients when they try to find you. Moreover, slightly odd spellings could be seen as detrimental when you are trading as someone who specialises in catching typos.

4. What is my story?

If you decide not to use your own name, don’t just think about the services you offer, think about your story. Is there a particularly original path you took that brought you to this career? Could your business name hint at your story? An added bonus is that this will give you something to talk about when you first introduce your business to prospective clients.

5. Is geography important to me?

Perhaps you have a local landmark or heritage that you’d like to reference in your name. Or would you rather not tie yourself to a particular region? Remember to think about the future as well as the present. If you are likely to relocate, would this impact on your business if your name is linked to a particular locale?

6. Are there any other businesses already using my proposed name?

You’ve come up with the perfect name; it’s so original no one else could have come up with it — never assume this is the case. Always search on the internet first. Google your ideal name and see what comes up. Then check the common domain name providers to see if the address is available. And don’t forget to search across social media platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter, to see if other organisations or individuals are already using your proposed name. The last thing you want is to buy your web address and then discover that someone is already using your business name on Twitter, particularly if they are in a less salubrious line of business!

7. What do friends and family think of my name?

Test out your proposed business name on friends, family, colleagues, or even the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP) forums. What does the name say to people? Is there anything about your business name they can spot that you didn’t notice? For example, do the initials spell out an unfortunate acronym?

Are there any hints or tips you would add to this list? How did you come up with your business name?

Joanna BoweryJoanna Bowery is the SfEP social media manager. As well as looking after the SfEP’s Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn accounts and the SfEP blog, she offers freelance marketing, PR, writing and proofreading services as Cosmic Frog. Jo is an entry-level member of the SfEP and a Chartered Marketer. She is active on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+.

Proofread by SfEP entry-level member Alex Matthews.

The views expressed here do not necessarily represent those of the SfEP.

Keeping things going

If you know where you want to take your business, you can decide how to get there.

Here on this blog we’ve recently had some interesting examples of how colleagues – from a range of backgrounds, and with different levels of editorial experience – got started. Next is to consider ways to keep the momentum going through the first few years, and take your business to the next level. As with getting started, there are as many different ways of building sustainability into an editorial business as there are editors, but here are some general tips.

Building a solid client base

When you start freelancing you may gradually build up your business with a handful of clients, and it can be all too easy to start depending on one or two favourite contacts who supply you with a stream of work. But this is a big mistake: no matter how valued you feel, or how well you get on with them, as a freelance you will never be anything other than expendable. The only way to counter this fact is to have a range of clients that you continue to add to over time, and this means ongoing attention to networking and marketing.

Many editors don’t like the thought of either, but they don’t have to mean delivering elevator pitches to rooms full of strangers, or blogging (if you don’t want to). The important thing is to find your own ways of keeping up with existing contacts and finding new ones, using the approaches and platforms that feel most natural to you.

Support networks and feedback

For some of us, one of the hardest aspects of long-term freelancing is the lack of contact with work colleagues. It’s not just about sharing water-cooler banter; it’s also about having people around to bounce ideas off, and to offer support when we suffer setbacks. It can be utterly galling to give a project your all, send it off into the ether and never hear anything about it again. In this situation, how do you know if you’re doing it right? How do you cope with the resounding silence?

You might ask your clients for feedback, but there’s no guarantee they’ll have the time to give it. Don’t despair – various editorial organisations (including the SfEP, of course) offer ways to interact with other editors in person at local group meetings, or online in the forums. And plenty of editors also use Facebook to link up with an international community of editors. You don’t need to feel alone.

Two traps to avoid, when you do make contact with other freelancers, are moaning about particular clients online (you never quite know who’ll end up reading what you write), and comparing yourself to others. Remember that every freelance business is unique.

Staying on message

Uniqueness is important. There are lots of editors out there, and more are appearing all the time. Although this tends to be a very supportive industry, you also need to be realistic about the fact that the only person who can keep your business going is you. To do this effectively, you need to be very clear about what you can offer clients that no one else can.

Now’s the time to develop your specialisms. Perhaps a particular interest (for example in biochemistry, or education, or erotic fiction, or step-by-step craft books) got you started. If you’ve proofread or edited a lot of material in a particular area (and you’d like to do more), you need to say so. The more you do, the more specific experience you will have and the better fit you will be for particular projects.

Think about finding your voice, too. As editors we are often invisible in our work (and that’s as it should be), but when we interact with colleagues or clients, our personality does count. Yes, if you do a good job, you are likely to get hired again. But the way we conduct ourselves in all sorts of other ways matters too. Does your website communicate what makes you the editor you are? Find a way to tell the clients you want to work for what you in particular can offer them.

Maintaining awareness

You need to look at the bigger picture as you progress, and track the projects you’re working on – not just so you can schedule them in and get them finished on time, but so you can analyse other aspects of the work you’re doing. Do you know which of your clients pays the best hourly rate, for example? Do you know which pays you most each year? And do you know who pays you quickest? All these things are easy to keep track of using various free or paid-for apps, or Excel. Find what works for you, and use it.

It’s not just about how the numbers stack up, either. Once your business is up and running you can start to focus on trying to secure more of the work you do want, and scaling back on anything that grinds you down.

Constant improvement

Keeping things going long term depends on a series of constant small improvements. Did something take you a long time to do on one project? Find a way to do it quicker next time; ask for advice if you need it. Are you unhappy with your average hourly rate? Use increased efficiency to improve things as far as you can, and seek out clients who pay better. Not good at negotiating? Take tips from those who are and give it a go – you have nothing to lose (and perhaps much to gain).

You may reach the point where everything’s come together and you’re drowning in work (yes, really). But be careful! Now’s the time to concentrate on working smarter, not harder. Stay organised, don’t feel you have to say yes to everything (whether individual projects or specific demands from clients), and try to develop a sense for the projects that will reward you creatively and financially, and the ones that will sap all your energy.

Keep abreast of industry trends, and don’t neglect your training. Try to make every job you do better than the last.

Planning for the future

This is not about retiring to your villa in the sun … though it’s obviously sensible to consider the more distant future. But an important part of staying motivated is maintaining your own interest in what you’re doing. Do you want to keep proofreading the same kind of material for the next twenty years? If you do, that’s fine (although bear in mind that particular clients may come and go, and work methods will evolve).

However, if you’d like to shake things up a bit, it helps to think about what you see yourself doing a few months or years from now. This links to the earlier advice about maintaining awareness, and using it to help you consider where to go next. Could you develop new skills? Might you be able to train or mentor new editors? Would you like to write about aspects of editorial practice? Perhaps you’d like to get more involved with your national editorial organisation? Maybe work for a different set of clients in a certain field? Or simply earn more and work less?

Once you know where you want to take your business, you can decide how to get there.

What tips do you have for keeping an editorial business thriving beyond the first few years?

Liz Jones SfEP marketing and PR director


Liz Jones is the SfEP’s marketing and PR director. She has also worked as an editor for 17 years, and has been freelance since 2008.


Proofread by SfEP entry-level member Anna Black.

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

The Judith Butcher Award: recognising our unsung volunteers

Judith ButcherNominations for the 2015 Judith Butcher Award are now open. So what is the Judith Butcher Award and why should you think about nominating someone to win it?

As with many organisations, much of the success of the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP) is down to the tireless work of volunteers behind the scenes. To recognise these efforts, the SfEP established the Judith Butcher Award in 2011 to ensure individuals who make a valuable difference to the SfEP and its membership are rewarded for their contributions.

Named after our serving president, the Judith Butcher Award was first presented at the SfEP 2012 annual general meeting and is awarded annually at our AGM and conference.

As well as being the SfEP’s first honorary president, Judith Butcher is the author of Butcher’s Copy-editing: The Cambridge Handbook for Editors, Copy-editors and Proofreaders.

The first winner of the Judith Butcher Award was Lesley Ward who was a member of the SfEP’s founding committee, served as the SfEP’s first treasurer and played a major role in developing its training programme.

Since then, the Judith Butcher Award honoured Helen Stevens in 2013 for ‘doing a huge amount of work to bring the SfEP right up to date on social media platforms, especially through the Facebook page’. Helen has previously served as the SfEP marketing and PR director.

Judith Butcher Award 2014Last year, Averill Buchanan received the Judith Butcher Award for being ‘the driving force behind the Northern Ireland SfEP local group’. She was particularly commended for her efforts in organising training courses in the region and promoting these through social media. Averill also set up the SfEP Twitter account and recruited a team of volunteers to help her manage the account and has volunteered as a moderator on the SfEP forum.

One of the best things about the Judith Butcher Award is that the criteria seek to recognise those who have made important, but less obvious, contributions to the organisation, as well as those who have made more visible differences. So have a think about who you have been in contact with over the past year and how they have impacted on you and your experience of the SfEP.

Nominations for the Judith Butcher Award are open until midday on Monday 20 April 2015 and all you need to do is email your own name and SfEP membership number and up to 150 words supporting your nomination to:

You can nominate anyone within the SfEP except yourself, serving council members, existing honorary members or anyone who was shortlisted for the award last year (so, sadly, that rules out Sarah Patey and John Woodruff).

The nominations are then considered by a Judith Butcher Award sub-committee, which is made up of honorary SfEP members and past winners of the Award, before a shortlist is announced in June and the winner decided in July.

Now it’s over to you to ensure our best asset, our members, are duly recognised and celebrated.

Email your nominations to by midday on Monday 20 April 2015.

Joanna BoweryJoanna Bowery is the SfEP social media manager. As well as looking after the SfEP’s Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn accounts and the SfEP blog, she offers freelance marketing, PR, writing and proofreading services as Cosmic Frog. Jo is an entry-level member of the SfEP and a Chartered Marketer. She is active on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+.

Proofread by SfEP entry-level member Susan Walton.

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