Category Archives: Clients

Top tips for non-Word working

Editors may be most familiar with Microsoft Word and Adobe Acrobat but clients are increasingly publishing content on other platforms, such as Google Docs and content management systems (CMS). Hannah Sapunor-Davis demystifies some of these newer ways of working.

First, a bit of context: I don’t work on books, and I don’t work with typical publishers. I primarily work with designers, non-profits, business owners and digital publishing agencies. I find myself more often in Adobe, Google Docs, various content management systems (CMS) and product information management (PIM) systems than in Word.

So I wanted to share some insight into how working on non-Word platforms might change up your regular editing routines. I won’t go into detail about how the functionality and tools differ. There are lots of tutorials online for that, and it really depends on what platform you’re using, what updates have happened, and, maybe most importantly, how your client uses the platform.

But most of all, I’m here to tell you that stepping outside of the Word bubble is nothing to fear.

Real-time collaboration

Real-time collaboration is great when you need to put two heads together on a project. This can be especially helpful when you need to test functionality with a client, or when you are giving feedback in a live call. For some non-publishers, documenting changes and versions is not as important as the finished product. I found the real-time feature helpful when walking a client through edits to a webpage. We were able to come up with some new text and make changes together.

On the flip side, it can get messy quickly. A clear communication system is necessary to mitigate confusion about who should be doing what and when. In a CMS, this might be in the form of changing a status field from ‘Editing in progress’ to ‘Editing complete’, for example. For other platforms, like Google Docs, this might be communicated through an email or Slack message to the client to signal I have finished my review.

Working in the cloud

The obvious upside of working in the cloud is that you can work from most locations and most devices, as long as you have a stable WiFi connection. In the past, this has meant that I did not have to schlep my computer along with me on a trip because I knew I had access to a computer and WiFi at my destination. Even better, working in the cloud means I avoid having to store a lot of big files locally on my computer.

The other side of that coin is that if WiFi is not working properly, it can cause a major problem in your schedule. Likewise, I’ve had several instances where the platform I was supposed to work on suddenly had unscheduled maintenance. The client has always been understanding when system disruptions like this happen, but that doesn’t necessarily help when it causes a domino effect on the timelines of other clients’ projects. And I have also had it written into project agreements that I cannot work on the material on unsecured networks, which is something to be mindful of (and also good practice in general).

Different checklists

Most editors are used to creating checklists and using them in various projects. But checklists for non-Word platforms may go beyond the stylistic choices we typically navigate. For example, when editing a CMS:

  • In which order should you check all the parts when it’s not in a typical top-down, left-right order layout?
  • Are there any functionalities that need to be tested, such as clicking to open fields or sliding a navigation bar to the side?
  • Do you need to add any steps, such as clicking ‘Save’ periodically if the platform doesn’t save automatically?

Having this order of operations clarified helps develop a rhythm for catching all the parts in design-heavy material. For example, for one retail client, I have to check marketing copy against internal product information and photos. There are a lot of different fields to review, and I have developed my own visual pathway to reviewing all the crucial spots. The order looks like this, starting with 1:


Communication with clients

Here are a few extra questions that I recommend asking your client before getting started on a project:

  • Do I have all the permissions to view and edit what I need for the job? Sending screenshots or looking at your screen together with the client might help. You might not realise that a field is hidden from your view.
  • Is it possible to test the functionality of the platform without making changes to the system? This could be in the form of a draft, test user account or what is sometimes called a ‘sandbox environment’.
  • How will I know when I should start editing, and how will I let others know that I am done with my review? Deciding on one means of communication is key here.
  • What exactly needs to be reviewed? There may be parts that don’t need to be reviewed, such as certain text fields or formatting.
  • How should you save your work? The platform might save automatically or you might need to save it manually when finished.
  • Do you need to document your changes? The client might not care about seeing your changes. Or maybe you need to export the copy when you’ve finished editing to have a record of your ‘version’.
  • How should you send feedback? There might be a field where you can add comments and queries, or maybe you send them separately in a message.

Ready to branch out?

I didn’t follow any formal training for specific platforms. The training that I took at the CIEP and PTC covered most of what I needed to know for working with common non-Word platforms, such as Adobe and WordPress. For the rest, I learned by doing. (That’s my preferred way to learn anyway.) Each time I began using a new-to-me platform, clients understood that there was a learning curve and that certain editing functions that editors are used to, such as making global changes, might not be possible.

It doesn’t hurt to get familiar with basic HTML (HyperText Markup Language) coding. This has come in handy when I’ve noticed funky formatting, such as a word in bold that shouldn’t be or a missing paragraph break. In such cases, I can go to the HTML view and change that. And that’s one less query for the client to deal with. Of course, you should only do that if you have the permission to do so. Some clients might not want you to touch the formatting in any case. The good news is that basic HTML formatting looks very similar to the editing markup that most people learn in editing courses.

But in my experience, the skills needed for this type of work have less to do with technical know-how and more to do with a few specific soft skills. Beyond your foundational editing training and experience, you will do well if you:

  • adapt to different systems easily
  • learn relatively quickly
  • communicate precisely.

Having worked in a variety of programs and platforms has enabled me to feel confident about approaching businesses, especially those unrelated to the publishing industry. After all, the saying goes: Everyone needs an editor. And I would like to add to that: But not everyone uses Word.

About Hannah Sapunor-Davis

Hannah is a freelance editor in Germany, originally from Northern California. She has degrees in History/Art History and Arts Management and now loves helping individuals and small businesses write clear communication for their passionate audiences. In her free time, she likes to sew, swim, listen to podcasts or tramp through the nearby forest with her dog, Frida.

 

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: computer clocks by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay; bubbles by Willgard Krause from Pixabay.

Posted by Julia Sandford-Cooke, CIEP information commissioning editor.

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

Dealing with the death of a client

In this post, Vanessa Wells reflects on what happened when one of her repeat indie clients died unexpectedly. The CIEP information team also give some practical tips for dealing with the death of a client.

Vanessa’s experience

I’ve been editing for a decade and last week had my first experience of the death of a client.

This fellow was a repeat client. He’d been nominated and shortlisted for awards for his excellent books. He was the type who paid literally within five minutes of receiving my invoice. He was thoughtful and appreciative of the editing process. In short, he was the ideal client.

I was going to edit his next novel shortly; he just wanted a few more weeks to tweak the manuscript. Meanwhile, I’d come down with Covid, and when I saw online the news of his death, I was gutted – perhaps made more emotional by feeling physically depleted but also because it was yet another good person gone: I’d lost a dear friend early on in the pandemic and a former student died by suicide this year. Aside from no longer having this great writer to work with, I started to wonder why his death hit me as it did.

The author–editor relationship

The longer I edit, the more I appreciate writers’ craft. I really am impressed with their abilities and, in those with perhaps less skill, their tenacity and courage. I don’t take lightly the idea that we are here to collaborate with authors, rather than rewrite their work as we see fit. What they produce deserves to be treated with respect, and how we interact with them and their text should be a safe space. Sometimes the vulnerability they reveal is shocking. There are projects where we are the first person to read what they have written. David Shannon wrote Howul while his wife thought he was watching footy every night in his den. So there can be a creative and intellectual intimacy with an editor that a writer doesn’t have with others. The more vulnerable the author, the more they are opening their heart to someone whose metaphorical red pen they fear. The trust they are placing in us to provide constructive suggestions can be immense.

Conversely, we might be the first person to validate their efforts. Perhaps their labour of love has been denigrated by others as just a hobby. We may be coaching someone who’s kept their desire to write a secret or an untried exercise for decades. The analogy to writers birthing their babies may be a bit hackneyed, but I’m very conscious of the midwifery role I play.

As a sensitive person, I know what it feels like to be corrected. I bear that in mind in the wording of my comments and suggested edits, regardless of whether my feedback is gently critical or laudatory (and usually it’s a delicate balance of the two). I often feel like I learned the dynamics of this from my twenty years of teaching, also moulded by my own student experience of both kind and mean teachers. We have the power to inspire or wound (be it as editors or just in everyday life), and sometimes we can discern something of our clients’ personalities from their first emails to us. A tentative little dance underlies their questions, which can make us feel sympathetic and perhaps already a little protective of them in the process they’re about to take on.

I think this special type of relationship is not common to many professions, and the resulting connection that is lost upon a client’s death can leave us feeling gutted.

Financial considerations and the future

A friend commented that my author’s death must have come as a financial blow, too – which it did. I hadn’t asked him for a non-refundable deposit as I knew how reliable and accommodating he was. (And, in fact, fate unexpectedly dropped a new indie client in my lap the same day.) But even if I had been more proactive about using my usual contractual practices with him, I certainly would never have kept the deposit. Perhaps if there were different circumstances with, say, a single author and an executor, I might consider pursuing my balance owing if I had (almost) finished an edit. But as an editor, I believe my business is as much about the writer as the text, and I would not be comfortable pursuing payment no holds barred.

I hope that one day my client’s wife will look me up in his email and offer to let me read his sequel. I appreciated him for his work, not the income. From what I’ve seen in social media posts about him since his death, he was widely admired for his character as much as his skill. I’m sorry to have lost him as a client, but I’m grateful for having had the opportunity to work on such excellent writing. Another loss during this difficult period, but another blessing to recognise in my career as an editor.

Blue skies, sir!

Pink blossom being blown from a tree in front of a blue sky

Practicalities: What to do if your client dies

If you are aware that your client has a terminal illness (you might, for example, be working on their memoirs), you should agree in writing the steps to take in the event of their death. This may cover who will contact you with news of their death, the proportion of the fee to be paid, and what to do with the manuscript.

You may, in fact, find it helpful to include such information in your contracts as a matter of course – and to include similar information for the client in the event of your own death or incapacity while you are working with them.

Be sensitive to the feelings of your client’s family and/or colleagues – and allow time for yourself to grieve, if necessary. Similarly, if you have only just found out that your client has died after chasing a response or asking for a new draft, try not to feel guilty if you think your approach seemed insensitive. You couldn’t be expected to know what had happened.

If you have completed the work and wish to be paid, you will need to be proactive. Again, try not to feel guilty – if you have completed the work and fulfilled your part of the contract, you have the right to be paid as part of the business transaction.

Corporate clients and publishers are likely to have accounts departments, which will be independent of your contact and have their own email address. Write to them, explaining the situation. They will use their internal processes to find out the status of your payment. For example, if your contact died before raising a purchase order, the accounts department should identify an appropriate colleague who can verify your work and raise the PO retrospectively.

For individual clients, such as self-publishing writers, the executor of their will is responsible for ensuring their debts are paid but this might take months or even years. You might feel it’s not worth pursuing and that it’s more prudent to write it off.

If you send out email newsletters or other forms of marketing, remove your client’s name from the mailing list immediately.

If your contact was a corporate or publishing client, and you wish to keep working for the organisation, find out who is covering their work or replacing them and politely introduce yourself. Outline some of the projects you’ve worked on for your client and the benefits your work brought. This is the same approach you might take if your contact had simply left the company.

About Vanessa Wells

Vanessa Wells is a fiction editor and an Advanced Professional Member of the CIEP. She lives in London.

 

 

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: clocks by Giallo, blossom by Recal Media, both on Pexels.

Posted by Harriet Power, CIEP information commissioning editor.

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

An author’s experience of being edited

Aaron Wilkes is a prolific school textbook author. In this blog post, he talks about his experiences of being edited and shares the things that have made the editing process easier for him.

I’ve been in the ‘writing game’ for quite some time now, perhaps nearly 20 years, and I’ve been either the sole author, co-author or ‘series editor’ for over 80 student textbooks, revision guides and online resources, from Key Stages 1 to 4. I’m a history teacher by trade – it was my full-time job up to a few years ago – but, in my spare time, I’ve written for Stanley Thornes (that then became Nelson Thornes), Folens and, most recently (for the last ten years), Oxford University Press. Over the years, I’ve worked with lots of editors, both in-house and freelance, and thought I’d share my experiences of being edited and how some editors have really helped make the whole editing process easier (or in some cases, harder).

Friendly introductions

Firstly, it’s just really nice to get a friendly introductory email. I don’t expect War and Peace, but a simple ‘Hi, I’m … and I’ll be working on … etc, etc’ with a phone number is always appreciated. A quick chat over the phone can be lovely too. In fact, a quick chat is often worth its weight in gold because it gives me a chance to put a ‘voice’ to the comments and feedback I’ll get.

Now I completely understand that both writers and editors are really busy, but sometimes it can be helpful to just have a 10–15-minute conversation about things. I’m sure we’ve all received text messages that we’ve looked at and thought ‘I’m not sure how to take that’. It can be the same with feedback on manuscripts. Depending on the day I’m having, the feedback can sometimes be taken ‘wrongly’. This is where an initial chat on the phone can help, just so I feel more familiar with the editor and ‘get them’ a bit more. Writing is quite a lonely profession – you tend to sit on your own, in the quiet, for long periods of time – and when it comes to making revisions, the offer of a chat is sometimes really nice.

I’ve been working with an editor who is new to the team at OUP and she always signs off her emails by saying if you don’t want to spend lots of time answering via email, just give me a call and we’ll chat things through. Most of the time I respond by email, but sometimes it’s really nice to talk. Open lines of communication are a really important part of the process.

Woman talking on a mobile phone at her office desk

Solution-focused feedback

Another part of the process that I really value is the way I get my feedback. Personally, I don’t mind at all if an editor makes minor changes (though I still want Track Changes to show me what they are!). I write lots of words that make up lots of sentences, so will sometimes mess up the way I structure a sentence, or simply ‘overwrite’ something that can be expressed more succinctly. The editors I find easiest to work with simply fix these problems with minimal fuss. I like it when that happens – I trust the editor to get that right. And when I’ve had a conversation with the editor already, when I’ve chatted on the phone, it makes me value their changes more because I think that they understand me a little.

With slightly larger changes, in my opinion, the best editors are the ones that help you out! They throw me a bone when something reads a little ‘off’. I might have pored over the paragraph for over an hour, and in my eyes I’ve made it as good as it can be. If an editor thinks there should be a change to the ‘thrust’ or shape of the paragraph (or perhaps the whole spread itself), it is so incredibly helpful if they help out a little and shape it how they want to. It’s so nice when I read in the comments at the side of a Word document, ‘I think this might read a little better like this: [and then they construct, or part-construct the text] – have a look and let me know what you think.’ Most times I will just accept these changes.

Feedback that doesn’t overwhelm

When I get an edited manuscript back it’s usually accompanied by a load of mark-ups and comments via Track Changes. If there are loads of comments and changes – and the manuscript is awash with different coloured text where revisions have been made – it can be a little daunting (and demoralising). In recent years, I have asked my editors to clean it up a little before I get it back. Especially if the manuscript has gone to two or more people, and they’ve all made comments – do I really need to see the whole discussion? As I mentioned before, I’m happy for the changes to be made and sent back to me for a final ‘yes’ (it’s nearly always ‘yes’).

In a similar vein, feedback from OUP arrives in two forms – and I like it. The manuscript is edited and I get feedback via comments and Track Changes. All good. Then, at the next stage (when the first proof is ready), I get a ‘queries grid’, which is a Word document that acts as a conversation between reviewer, editor(s) and me. This is the part of the process that is sometimes done over the phone, and is where the quality of the relationship between editor and author is important. These grids are used to track decisions made together about queries.

Typewriter typing the text "rewrite... edit... rewrite... edit... rewrite"

Concrete examples

Another particularly powerful idea is to actually show an author the direction you want them to go in. I’ve just undertaken a new project in which the style of writing is a little different to what I’m used to. The editor simply exemplified what was required – she gave a WAGOLL. This is something that most teachers are familiar with – What A Good One Looks Like. I think this is key for getting the best out of an author – model what you want them to do.

I think this is especially important with new authors. I regard myself as a bit of an ‘old lag’ now. It’s never my first rodeo when I get a new book contract, but I know (because they’ve told me) that new authors find it really helpful to be shown what needs to be done. I’m not entirely sure that sending them a ten-page document covering what needs to be included is particularly helpful – it’s just a ‘wall of words’ – so in my experience the most productive new author meetings are the ones where you sit round a table (or on Teams) and have an experienced author come up with five, eight or ten top tips or ‘golden rules’ for writing spreads. I’ve done this several times with new author teams where I’ve sat with them and explained how a spread is formed and how the process works for me.


I enjoy and value working with editors, and have always embraced the process. I’ve become really friendly with several editors, and have even phoned them to pick their brains on little issues that have cropped up when working on other projects. To their credit, they have always been most helpful, and I have returned the favour several times when I’ve been contacted by editors who wanted a chat about something that they were struggling to get their head around. I realise that every editor–author relationship will be different, but I hope the things that have helped the editing process to go more smoothly for me might help other editors and writers out there too.

About Aaron Wilkes

Headshot of Aaron WilkesAaron Wilkes has over 20 years’ experience in teaching history and writing school textbooks. During this time he’s written or contributed to over 80 textbooks, revision guides and online resources. He leads the PGCE Secondary History course at the University of Warwick and is the co-creator and owner of the online history journal practicalhistories.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: pencils by Agence Olloweb on Unsplash, woman on phone by Vlada Karpovich, typewriter by Suzy Hazelwood, both on Pexels.

Posted by Harriet Power, CIEP information commissioning editor.

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

Flying Solo: Conscious language and the business-conscious editor or proofreader

In this latest Flying Solo post, Sue Littleford considers the importance of conscious language in marketing and selling your services as a freelance editor or proofreader.

Alienating possible clients is a business no-no. Sure, you don’t have to work with everyone who approaches you. There are folk who ask for a service you don’t provide, or are not happy to provide in the circumstances. Fine (as long as you’re not breaking anti-discrimination law).

Conscious language is a hot topic, rightly. We’re figuring out more and better ways to avoid making people feel prejudged, and to avoid raising barriers against their inclusion. As language professionals, we need to show we walk the walk.

There are two ways that conscious language and its close kin, discrimination, can affect our businesses – you choosing to reject a potentially rather profitable client because of your own beliefs about the world, based on first impressions; or potentially profitable clients rejecting you because of what you say in response to their query.

But aside from being bound by anti-discrimination legislation, it makes no business sense for us to discriminate, to any degree. You are, in effect, reducing your pool of potential clients, and the income you would earn from them, based on what’s going on in your own head, not what they are offering as work.

Incidentally: intent is irrelevant. If you hurt someone, it doesn’t matter whether you meant to or not. The pain is the same.

A word against generalising

Microaggressions accrete until they are a heavy burden that pierces your very being. You may not even notice handing out those tiny barbs, but you surely notice them when they’re directed at you, time after time after time.

Therefore: make it clear in your public writing – social media, blogs, website – that you encounter people as people, not as apparent members of a grouping about which you may have certain preconceived ideas. Those preconceptions may be rooted in a specific unpleasant experience, but when they become expanded from the particular to the general, that’s where microaggression rears its ugly head.

I’m a Manc. My ex-mother-in-law wasn’t my biggest fan. (OK, I admit, it was mutual.) When my then brother-in-law announced he was marrying a girl from Hull, my MIL exploded, ‘Not another bloody northerner!’

That’s an example of one particular beef being expanded to general prejudice. Hull is a good hundred miles from Manchester, yet my new sister-in-law was being branded the same as me, purely on the basis of the cities we were born in, decades earlier. Ridiculous, isn’t it?

Your communications

Many editors work with people for whom English is not their primary language, or it’s now their primary language, but they came to it later on in life, rather than being immersed in it from birth.

How do you refer to those authors in your marketing, when you say who you help? Are you assuming that all such authors have poor English, and will make the same kinds of errors? Do you even hint that’s what you have assumed, when you think you’re saying you’ll bend over backwards to help these poor folk who need all your skills to be able to string a sentence together? That’s a microaggression at the least.

Working in such a heavily online industry as ours, your opportunities to discriminate on grounds of looks alone are equally heavily limited. But what about people’s names? What assumptions do you make based on someone’s name about how much editing they might need, and how much it will cost? And what about the country extensions to the domain names of some email addresses? Do you have a knee-jerk reaction to those you find less desirable in a client? Are you already formulating your No, Thanks, email even as you open theirs?

It is very much good business sense, as well as kind, not to make assumptions based on a partial picture, but to gather evidence – get a sample of the writing, in very basic terms.

That old saying – you only get one chance to make a first impression – cuts both ways. Someone who emails you looking for editorial services may use an unusual (to you) form of greeting, or seem overly formal or overly casual. When you email someone back, indicating your assumptions ahead of the evidence about their writing, you are also making a first impression – and will probably be judged on it.

Be conscious of the lost opportunities that can result, and look closely and critically at your public communication: your website text, your social media, blog posts and profiles, and your responses to client approaches.

Encounter people on their own merits

I’ve already stressed apparent members of a particular group, because we all know what it’s like to be (mis)judged at first glance. I’d now add that membership of any particular group may well be temporary, and it is definitely partial.

Consider for a few moments all the groups that you yourself belong to: your nationality, your locality, your position in your family, your education, your career history, your personal appearance, your accent, your sexuality, your health status, your financial status, your outlook on life, your sleeping pattern, your taste in food and drink, your religion and how you practise it, your lack of religion and how you express it …

Every one of us is a temporary and partial member of a plethora of potential groupings. No one group completely describes us.

Who are we to judge a person’s worth – or value to us as a client – based on what we have just guessed about them, before they show us who they are?

What you perceive is not all there is.

What you show is not all you are.

The thing is, we all make judgements about people the moment we meet them, whether in person, on the phone, by email or on social media; it’s human nature – a visceral safety mechanism to sort strangers into friend or foe. But people in your inbox are at a safe distance, and you can afford to explore further. (OK, I’ll make an exception for scammers – always remain alert to those.)

Resolve to let people (scammers aside) show you who they are, before you make a decision about whether to work with them. This means opening up a dialogue with people enquiring about your services, rather than ‘sorry, too busy’ instant responses because you perceive, from their name or their email address, that they’re not for you.

We do have to protect ourselves from bad clients, of course we do. We want to work for reasonable people at a decent rate and be paid promptly. So by engaging more with potential clients, and getting them to show us who they are, we can have the double benefit of finding the diamond in the rough as well as discovering those folks who arrive fully clothed in red flags and should indeed be avoided. Making judgements prematurely means that you can lose out both ways.

Educate yourself

There are some excellent resources around to improve this part of your skills. My go-to is the marvellous Crystal Shelley, whom many of us have encountered. Her Conscious Language Toolkit for Editors is such a help when you’re stuck for an alternative word or phrase, and has many links to further resources. Just reading through the list of terms that need alternatives should set you thinking hard.

In February 2022, EFA launched a course on the same subject, written by Shelley, for which CIEP members get a discount. Shelley blogged about the launch.

There’s also Gregory Younging’s book Elements of Indigenous Style: A Guide for Writing By and About Indigenous Peoples (ISBN 978-1-55059-716-5).

There’s the free conscious language style sheet for PerfectIt created by Sofia Matias. That really helps you pick up things you may miss as you edit – or write.

Not least, there’s the website Conscious Style Guide, which we should all bookmark.

Pop your own recommended resources in the comments!

Your editing/proofreading

Now you’re being more conscious about your language when you write for your clients, or to your clients, you’re in a better position to help the clients you’re working with. This is also excellent business sense – clients are more likely to recommend you to others if you’ve helped them avoid conscious-language missteps.

Support your clients to use more neutral terms; use descriptions that the groups use for themselves – but good luck finding high degrees of agreement on what those descriptions are: groups are collections of individuals who have in common one element of their being, they’re not homogeneous monoliths! And people aren’t fungible.

So you’ll need to do your research and use your editorial judgement when editing or suggesting changes – such as whether person-first or condition-first is most appropriate when talking about people’s health. Hint: it’s not always person-first.

Get really practised and expert at this, and you can market a new service or make it a feature of your current offer – more good business sense.

As I write this, I have a chapter in mid-copyedit – it uses ‘manpower’ persistently. Those are changing to ‘staff’ or ‘personnel’ or ‘workforce’ as fast as I encounter them.

In sum

It’s sound business sense to educate yourself about conscious language; to encounter people on their own merits, without making assumptions; to make it clear in all your public-facing communications that you do that; and to help clients to avoid micro (and not-so-micro) aggressions in their writing.

About Sue Littleford

Sue 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: cactus by Ryan Schram, counters by Markus Spiske, both on Unsplash, welcome note by cottonbro on Pexels.

Posted by Harriet Power, CIEP information commissioning editor.

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

Freelancing from the publisher’s perspective

Jen Moore is an in-house editorial manager for the publisher Thames & Hudson. In this post she discusses what types of jobs they use freelance editors for, how they find new editors, how they determine fees, and what qualities turn a freelance editor into one of their trusted favourites.

Thames & Hudson is an independent publisher of illustrated books that publishes books on art, architecture, history and visual culture of all kinds. We have an expanding children’s list and a division producing textbooks for the American college market, but in the main our books are trade titles aimed at readers with a general personal or professional interest (but not necessarily a specialist academic background) in a particular subject area. In-house editors generally manage between four and six titles at once, which they will often – but not always – copyedit themselves. When they don’t, and for titles not managed in-house, we are reliant on freelancers.

When and why do we use freelance editors in favour of in-house staff?

The economics of publishing, and especially illustrated publishing, are getting tougher, and the number of full-time in-house editors has gradually declined over the past few years. But as a house we publish more books than ever (around 200 a year), and good books still need thorough editing, so it’s inevitable that we are using more freelance staff than before.

But it’s not just a question of in-house capacity. There are also positive arguments in favour of using freelance staff. For one, freelancing is an excellent way to keep a very clear handle on the costs of a project. Working with freelance editors means that someone has to prepare a brief and propose a fee, analysing the materials that the author has supplied very thoroughly and estimating how many hours it should reasonably take, and the appropriate budget. The efficiency savings of all that up-front thinking and planning can be considerable.

Some books are much better suited to freelancing than others. In some cases, the text, images and layout come together by an organic, interdependent process, and the different roles and stages in the production workflow cannot be clearly defined. These projects generally require close teamwork by a very hands-on, in-house team and are not suited to freelancers.

The most straightforward books to freelance are those where the author submits a complete manuscript; a picture researcher gathers images according to a pre-determined list; and these elements will be brought together into a layout by the designer. Usually we will copyedit the text in Word while the images are being assembled – in that case the editing is ideally suited to a freelancer. Some titles follow an opposite track: images are arranged in a layout, then the text is written to fit the space allowed. These titles are also straightforward to freelance, except that they have to be edited in layout, so we need editors with the skills and software to do that.

What tasks do we offer freelancers?

The most obvious one is copyediting, whether this is to be done in Word or in InDesign layouts. That may entail just a light review for consistency and typos, or it may involve extensive rephrasing, rewriting, abridging, fact-checking, plagiarism-checking and drafting captions. Generally, we prefer the copyeditor to liaise with the author directly to secure approval of the edits. This is more satisfying and gratifying for the editor; and it represents a big in-house time-saving. We also offer proofreading and indexing work to freelancers.

But actually, from our point of view, the copyediting is often the most straightforward part of the editorial job. All books also need an editorial project manager, someone to:

  • discuss and agree the layouts with the designer and author
  • chase up captions and any missing elements from the author
  • take in proof corrections
  • compile prelims
  • commission and edit the index
  • review picture proofs, final text pdfs and plotter proofs
  • write the jacket blurb and request an author biography and photo
  • check jacket proofs.

There are deadlines for all of these tasks, and they involve liaison with multiple in-house staff across various departments. If the freelance editor is only copyediting, then all of these tasks have to be undertaken by an in-house editor who may not actually know the book that well, and so may not make the best decisions or write the best copy. To do the full project-management job requires quite an advanced set of skills – at the very least confidence in dealing with authors, designers and so on, as well as proficiency in InDesign. By and large, it requires experience of working as an in-house editor on an illustrated list.

All of this may sound like a big ask, but we do expect to mentor freelancers to get them up and running in this role. For the right people, it’s well worth the investment of our time. And project management doesn’t have to be all or nothing – you don’t need InDesign, for example, to draft a blurb or edit captions. Freelancers who want to take on more than the copyediting or proofreading should initiate a discussion about what they can offer.

How we find our freelancers

We have a list of tried and tested people, of course, but they move on, they take jobs, they get booked up. So we’re always on the lookout for new editors, and if your skills are a good fit for our list, then we are glad to receive your CV! Naturally, we are looking for people with proven editorial experience and relevant subject knowledge gained in an educational or professional context. Beyond that, we seek individuals who are happy to take initiative and work autonomously, as well as being effective communicators who will keep their in-house point of contact informed – but not over-informed! – of their progress.

We have a short, sticky editorial test. But a test is not enough to tell me whether an editor:

  • is able to exercise judgement about how much to intervene
  • has the stamina and conscientiousness to apply consistent standards across a whole text
  • has sufficient general knowledge and awareness to know what they don’t know (without having to fact-check everything), and to flag problems around sensitivity or inclusivity
  • has the flexibility to work with differing styles of writing and different subject matter
  • has the confidence and courtesy to win the trust and respect of an author
  • and has an understanding of the legalities of publishing (if our in-house reviews have missed potentially libellous content, for example, we are reliant on the freelance editor to alert us to it).

When working with a new editor, I will ask for a sample edit while the job is still in its early stages, and keep a close eye/ear on that editor’s work and their reputation among my colleagues.

How fees are negotiated and paid

To enable us to keep a handle on freelance costs, we always aim to agree a fee up-front, at the point of handing the materials and brief over to the editor. If it’s a straight copyediting job, this will be calculated on:

  • the number of words
  • the degree of complexity or specialisation of the subject matter
  • the quality of the writing and level of intervention required
  • how tidily presented the text is
  • whether there is endmatter, and how well-compiled it is
  • whether there are extremely tight deadlines
  • whether the editor will liaise directly with the author.

Determining fees is not an exact science, and depends on both parties assessing the materials in detail and agreeing to the estimate of how much work is required. There is often room for negotiation, but if I don’t think the job is worth any more than I’ve put on the table, I won’t shift on the fee. I will, however, revisit an agreed fee if the project proves more complicated than could have been anticipated at the briefing stage. But it’s really important that the freelancer alerts their contact as soon as this is apparent. Our budgets are tight, and must cover many more elements than the edit.

Making the transition from trial to trusted freelancer

We’re looking for people who do an excellent, accurate, timely, thorough, professional job of the editing. Truly talented editors are rare. When we find them, we stay in touch. And if it’s been a while between jobs, I am very happy to receive an email reminding me that you are out there, or an updated CV letting me know what you have been up to!

About Jen Moore

Jen Moore is the Editorial Manager of the History & Archaeology list at Thames & Hudson. She studied Archaeology & Anthropology at the University of Cambridge, specialising in Egyptology, and has been working in publishing for eight years.

 

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: canvas by Steve Johnson, person working by Vlada Karpovich, books by Jonathan Borba, all on Pexels.

Posted by Harriet Power, CIEP information commissioning editor.

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

How to attract new clients by diversifying your editorial skills

Can you get more business by extending your offer beyond core proofreading and editing skills? Margaret Hunter knows this works, and she suggests ways to develop your own diversification plan.

Here’s what I’ll be looking at in this article:

  • Why some clients like working with multi-taskers
  • What sorts of skills and knowhow add value for clients
  • Working out what you can add to your business offer
  • How to use this to diversify your client base and grow your business

Why some clients like working with multi-taskers

They don’t want to be involved in the minutiae

I have two main types of clients who value that I can do more than ‘just’ edit for them: businesses/organisations and independent author-publishers. They don’t know all the ins and outs of the traditional publishing workflow – and they don’t particularly want to (or have the time to) manage different people doing the different tasks required. They want someone to trust that they can hand over their raw text to who will do what it takes to make it publishable.

It’s efficient and cost-effective

We’ve come a long way from the inefficiencies of paper-based editing, and content collaboration tools are evolving all the time. Why pay a graphic designer to rekey the amendments that the client has already paid a proofreader to mark up on a PDF if the proofreader could make the changes direct in the first place? If draft text doesn’t fit the page layout, the copyeditor is usually the best person to suggest a solution, so why not save time and money by giving an editor with the right skills access to the design file, rather than toing and froing with the designer?

But don’t take my word for it

Here’s what one of my clients says about why using a professional with multiple skills is an attractive offering for her.

Working with editors who are able to put documents into InDesign layouts as well as editing the content makes my life so much easier. Knowing that I can hand over this additional element means that one person can support a project from end to end. Familiarity with the copy means that editors can make informed decisions about layouts or provide advice working within branded InDesign templates to make sure that formatting and content work together.

Skills and knowhow that add value for clients

Clearly, what you can offer in the value-added line depends on both you and your client. You have to actually have the additional skills or knowhow and your client has to want them. That may mean doing some research on what your target clients publish and how they go about it. You could of course start by asking your existing clients whether there is anything else you could do for them to make the process more efficient.

Many businesses in particular already have streamlined content publishing processes that work for them, and asking your client to explain how they work may reveal somewhere else that you can get involved. On the other hand, some clients may be stuck using a process that would benefit from some fresh thinking or a different approach, so why not suggest one?

We editorial types know that publishing a text is not a simple, straight line from author to output, but a web of many ultimately ‘invisible’ tasks. If you can offer a number of those tasks, that makes you a better prospect for clients who are looking for the least complicated way to outsource their project.

What can you add to your business offer?

For me, my main value-added offerings are my skills in and knowledge of design, layout and formatting. I have secured some regular clients because they were specifically looking for experienced copyeditors who also knew their way around InDesign and could therefore be trusted to work directly in the layout files. In some cases they have already used another professional to set up their templates, leaving me free to ensure an efficient process by editing in Word then doing the final layout in the client’s template.

I also work with authors who are publishing independently. Typically this might be someone writing content to promote their business. They know their topic, but they may not have much idea of how to write about it or how to get it published well. Here again what’s attractive is that I can offer them more than one part of the process. I’ll edit the words, but I’ll also steer them through other aspects of the publishing process so they end up with the files they need to publish a professional book or document and an understanding of the ancillary tasks they need to do or manage. Possibly the most valuable thing I offer these clients is peace of mind that they’ll not be embarrassed by doing things in an unprofessional way.

I’ve developed my skills (and confidence) over the years so that I understand when to offer more than strict editing of what a client has written or to suggest something different from what they’ve asked for. That might be rewriting the bare bones of a text into a better voice for the intended readers, or suggesting a layout that breaks the information down into user-friendly chunks.

When you’re not familiar with the publishing process, you’re unsure of who does what, you don’t know where to look for help and you’re not entirely sure what your text needs anyway, having someone make sensible suggestions for the specifics of your project is immensely valuable.

What, then, could you offer? Perhaps you have experience of getting permissions for quoted works, or you’re skilled at writing marketing copy, or you were a graphic designer so can supply quality images. Or maybe you know a great book cover designer, ebook formatter or copyright lawyer and you could team up to offer a package service. Think sideways.

Diversify your client base, diversify your skills

To help you identify the added-value services you can offer, first have a think about your client base (or aspirations). It seems from what I read regularly on the CIEP forums that many people entering our profession (and some who have been around for a long time) are thinking too small. They associate editing and proofreading with publishers, with books.

If you shift your mindset and start from the base that anyone who writes words for public or organisational consumption (in any format) might need editorial support, the potential client world is your oyster. Of course, as with any oyster, you may have to work hard to find your pearl.

Once you start thinking outside the box about who your clients might be, then you are free to explore what they actually need and what bits of that you can do for them.

But start on solid ground

Before you get too far into diversification, check that your starting point is a solid one. If you’re offering any sort of editorial services professionally, make sure you’ve got a good grounding in the core skills of copyediting and/or proofreading, and have a plan in place to keep your skills up to date through regular continuing professional development (CPD). It’s not enough to have an interest in words and language, a degree in English Literature or be the go-to person in your office for spotting typos.

Think like an electrician or an accountant, or anyone else preparing to offer a trade service, and get the right training to justify taking people’s money and assure them you’re providing a professional service. That’s probably not going to be from a quick one-off course that offers you an easy route to a ‘qualification’ (who’s judging?) with the promise of earning loads of money working from home. It takes grind and reliable study material.

Even if you think you’ll never work with clients in the traditional publishing industry (I’m talking mainly books here), it will still serve you well to learn the basics of long-honed publishing practice and the art of editing from a solid course.

But if you’ve not completed your core skills training yet, you don’t have to wait until you’re finished to start thinking about how you can supplement your core skills and add value to the services you offer.

So, what’s your added value?

It’s over to you now to start thinking (and planning and learning). As with all good marketing approaches, start with your clients, not you. What tasks do they need done? Can you do them, or learn to?

If you’re stuck for ideas, why not take a look at the CIEP’s Curriculum for Professional Development? There are enough areas for CPD there to last an editorial lifetime. Perhaps one of those could turn out to be that special thing that makes you the go-to editorial professional for the added value you bring to a project.

About Margaret Hunter

Margaret Hunter has been diversifying her editorial services business since 2003 and trades as Daisy Editorial. She is an Advanced Professional Member of the CIEP and at the time of writing is the CIEP’s information director.

 

 

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: colourful flowers by Henry Lorenzatto; lightbulb by Riccardo Annandale,
both on Unsplash.

Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

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

What do authors really want from their editors?

By Kasia Trojanowska

What motivates you in your job? What’s the first thing that comes to your mind when you open a manuscript you’re about to start working on? When sparring with an author client over points of style or the order of chapters, who or what is at the forefront of your mind? Is it the reader? The text? Is it your professional ego (however unacknowledged)? Or is it, perhaps, the author?

I’m going to be bold here and submit that success of any professional in any job comes down to the success of the relationships they can build. ‘Know your clients’ is being drummed into us as the single most important rule of business. Who are those clients? And what do they really want from editors they invite into their creative process?

Not long ago, I met with one such client group – writers. I asked them about their expectations and worries around working with an editor and, very generously, they responded. There was a lot for me to digest, not least one biting comment from an author feeling like they were just ‘a mark for additional income on the side’. Ouch! I hope none of my clients ever said that about working with me, I thought.

So let’s look at the feedback in a bit more detail. Several themes came through particularly strongly: collaboration, expertise, empathy and trust. Of those, the majority aren’t easily quantifiable. It’s hard to know after just one email exchange what it’s going to be like to collaborate on a book edit, which can take months. But I believe it is worth trying. In the authors’ words: ‘I’ve always wanted a collaborative effort with somebody honest and enthusiastic’; ‘I would prefer to have an active part in all decisions regarding editing’; ‘I would expect a partner’.

An interesting insight for me was that, perhaps contrary to what myriad self-publishing services would have us believe, the traditional publishing route is still the goal for many authors, even those just entering the field. For that, they need to impress the gatekeepers – agents and commissioning editors: ‘Agents can be very picky.’ A helpful steer is what they’d seek from an editor: ‘I would like to work with a well-connected editor who can help me get published’, ‘I think the editor needs to have an in-depth understanding of what agents and publishers require’ and ‘I’d want someone with … an eye on the market to … give [my work] its best chance of publishing success’. This type of service can come in the form of agent introductions, collaborations with various publishers or providing well-researched, well-grounded market advice. What that would mean for an editor is cultivating relationships in the publishing world: networking, learning the ropes (by taking part in seminars, webinars, book launches, author meetings), going to conferences and being aware of the latest publishing trends. It can add another string to your bow and quite an exciting one at that.

Perhaps less surprisingly, authors are also interested in the more down-to-earth editing know-how: ‘guidance on structure and plot’, ‘help [me] polish the work’, ‘make sure that the work is structurally and grammatically correct’, ‘an informed point of view’. These are all skills we learn by taking part in CIEP courses and other editorial training.

Then, there are the concerns of putting their work into the hands of another. These to me centre around that most intangible of qualities, trust. ‘How to find a good editor?’ was a theme that came through a lot in the comments: ‘finding the right chemistry and a mutual respect’, ‘I worry that I might get the wrong editor who won’t see the book the way I do’, ‘[I’d worry] that the working relationship wouldn’t be strong’. I feel these come down to what the artist Louise Bourgeois called ‘the final achievement … communication with a person.’*

When I shared with her that I was working on this blog, writer Lauren McMenemy responded with an elegant reflection:

‘The relationship between author and editor is almost as important as that between the author and their story. The editor is the one that can get the piece polished – not perfected – and ready to set free, which is the author’s goal. The delicate balance between helpful and pushy is one the editor must carefully tread, but we as authors must also be in a mindset to trust our editor and know that we’re both working towards making the piece the best it can be.’

Taking the time to understand our client and their needs, having clear terms of service (so that both sides know what to expect) and making sure they feel they can trust our editorial expertise are all at the heart of a fulfilling relationship with our authors. If you can top that up with advice about what can get an agent interested and what can help an author get a foot in the door and win them a publishing deal, you’re guaranteed a host of satisfied clients. And your professional ego will thank you, too!


*Cited in Siri Hustvedt (2017) A Woman Looking at Men Looking at Women, London: Sceptre, 27.

I thank Sutton Writers, who hosted me at their meeting in January 2020 and provided invaluable insights which inspired this blog. Lauren McMenemy is one of the group’s coordinators.

Kasia TrojanowskaKasia Trojanowska is a copy-editor, proofreader and text designer, an Advanced Professional Member of CIEP. She’s incurably curious about the world of publishing and is always looking for ways to be more helpful to the editorial and writer communities.

 


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Photo credits: Cogs by Bill Oxford; pencils by Joanna Kosinska, both on Unsplash

Proofread by Andrew Macdonald Powney, Entry-Level Member.
Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

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

 

Customer service: a cautionary tale of red flags and safety nets

By Vanessa Plaister

In their recent contributions to the CIEP blog on customer service, Cathy Tingle and Sue Littleford focused on how editors can keep customers sweet and distinguish themselves professionally. Each offered insights into how to handle complaints: for Cathy, the key is ‘to really listen to your customer’; for Sue, ‘it’s all about imagination’.

So what might happen in practice should things turn sour?

Let me take a deep breath and reflect candidly on a recent experience, laying bare what I learned …

A tennis net.Customer service: setting up the safety nets

I’ve long known that one of the most effective safety nets an editor can set up is the sample.
By this, I don’t mean the sort of sample for which some authors ask before placing a project; rather, I mean early submission of an edited chapter or two, so that a client can check the level of intervention and feed back to an editor should their work not quite meet the brief.

For many clients, particularly in publishing, such a sample is a contractual requirement. This project was one of those instances and the production editor approved my samples, noting nothing more than that the work was ‘great’.

But what of the author?

Sometimes, a publisher will send the sample on to the author for their review. Others will ask the copy-editor to liaise directly with the author and specify nothing more about how they’re to do so.

Whatever the publisher’s preference and faced with ever-shorter schedules, I standardly practise a lean (vs linear) workflow. In other words, immediately after I’ve completed holistic work (general clean-up, formatting, house style, etc) and I’m engaging with the text at a substantive line level, I start to send edited chapters to the author(s) for their review and amendment. This allows us to explore at an early stage any editorial interventions with which the author(s) may be uncomfortable and these conversations can inform the ongoing edit.

In this way, I try to position myself at the outset as the author’s ally – sometimes even their advocate, should they vehemently and for good reason disagree with a matter of house style – and it allows me to build a solid professional relationship with both publisher and author that’s rooted in confidence and trust.

What’s more, not only does this protect me against the reputational risk of authors first encountering edits only at proof stage and perhaps being unhappy, but also it minimises likely amendment at proof stage, with all of the associated time and cost savings for the publisher.

So when the publisher told me that this author had said no, she would look at the edit only once I’d completed the whole (some 325,000 words), this was the red flag that should have stopped me in my tracks.

Customer service: reading the red flags

When I first contacted the author, then, it was not to deliver the first one or two chapters, but to deliver 15 files in one fell swoop.

I’ve been asking the publisher for some time when this would arrive, she replied. Had she known, she could have met our deadline, but it was now unlikely that she’d be able to find the time.

Some red flags are subtle.

When the files came back, they were unmarked other than to resolve direct queries. Had she read through at least two of the chapters in full, as I’d asked?

I didn’t, no.

And why would she, when she had imagined that my intervention could extend no further than correcting typos? When substantive amendments for reasons of stylistic consistency were simply the tail wagging the dog?

I warned the production editor immediately I suspected that the situation might escalate – and my fears were soon confirmed.

Caution: here be dragons …
Police hazard barrier tape. It is yellow with 'caution' written on it in black.

The complaint was presented to me, in the first instance, in general terms.

The author was alarmed.

The author had concerns.

We had to do anything to make the author comfortable.

I asked whether the author could deliver examples and committed to using that evidence to inform an action plan – and I tried to examine that evidence with eyes and heart open to the possibility that I might have got it wrong.

Editing isn’t a competition and, as an Advanced Professional Member of the CIEP, I don’t need to prove my credentials. I worked hard for that designation, and it’s indicative of both qualifications and experience, as well as my commitment to a rigorous Code of Practice.

So while I could tell you here that, of x examples given, I found only y of the challenges to be justified (which instances have been valuable reminders that querying the apparently obvious can, paradoxically, save time when working under pressure), I won’t. Because that doesn’t move us forward.

The most helpful thing I can tell you is that a good editor’s first reaction to an allegation of incompetence should not be defensive, but deferential.

What if I did mess up?

The schedule was tight. Super tight. And that meant working long hours.

Was there a chance that those long hours saw me miss more than a reasonable number of errors or ambiguities – or, worse, actually introduce errors?

It’s not easy, being willing to be wrong and when our professional identity is intertwined with our personal identity, a challenge to our work can feel like a personal attack …

Read that again.

When our professional identity is intertwined with our personal identity, a challenge to our work can feel like a personal attack.

While the best authors recognise their editors as their allies, the inexperienced – or perhaps insecure – author experiences editing as an attack. And, sadly, when an author – when anyone – feels under attack, there’s a good chance that trying to reassure them will end only in them doubling down on their defence, hearing not a conciliatory I know what I’m doing and I can help, but a competitive I know more than you.

So while an author and editor should be a collaborative team, working together to win–win, it quickly became clear that there was no win for me here.

Yes, the publisher had approved my work at the sample stage.

Yes, the author had rejected early involvement that would have precluded the stressful situation in which we all now found ourselves.

And yet I was faced with a stark choice:

  • agree to work back through the whole of the book, reversing every edit unless it met a narrow specification, all for a tiny budget uplift that worked out to less than minimum wage; or
  • refuse to bend, risk not being paid at all for that original work and risk losing a long-term client, as well as put my professional reputation in jeopardy.

Should I take a stand against demands I considered to be objectively unreasonable – or did it matter more that I got paid and that I did what I could to keep my client?

Customer service: taking a beat before breathing fire

A Dungeons and Dragons scene with a grey plastic knight battling a big red dragon.I’m not going to lie: did I shout at my screen as I worked through, reversing sensitive edits and taking in the author’s subsequent revisions and remarks, infuriated when she dismissed or denigrated standard practice or sound advice?

Of course I did.

But, for all that I may have high professional standards, it’s not my name on the book and if an author wants to retain an error or perpetuate ambiguity, whatever their reason, then that’s their prerogative.

And what of my client?

I remembered that when Sue spoke of ‘imagination’, I heard the word empathy, and what I tried very hard to remember is that my production editor was nothing more than the messenger.
I tried to take a beat before breathing fire – to keep my emotional response within these four walls, tempering my frustrations when emailing my client with my eye always on the prize: preserve that relationship.

Office politics aren’t fun and I don’t envy the in-house production editor the tightrope they tread.

We might imagine that employment gives an in-house editor income security and we might privilege our precarious position as freelancers above the risks involved in relying on any single-source income. And, yes, it’s worth reminding our clients that externalising a crisis has consequences for us that are different from the consequences it might have for them – but it’s equally worth us remembering the impact on the in-house editor should that crisis threaten their one job.

So while I don’t know yet what the long-term fallout of this experience will be, I do know that I did all I could to preserve my relationship with a client of 13 years’ standing and that the relationship I think – I hope – I’ve preserved with the production editor means that he’s promised to do all he can to mitigate the impact on my cash flow by expediting payment.

And, most crucially, I know that if any author ever again refuses to review a sample of my work ahead of the whole, I will be hitting pause on the project.

I’ll be hitting it hard.

 

Headshot of Vanessa Plaister. Vanessa Plaister is an Advanced Professional Member of the CIEP who accidentally became the CIEP’s community director in September 2018 and is working to bring equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) to the fore in all CIEP policy and procedure. She can commonly be found smothered by cats and surrounded by mugs of strong coffee or else risking whiplash at the front of a sweaty rock venue.


The CIEP upholds editorial excellence. All members sign up to the Code of Practice, which sets out best practice for everyone in editorial work, whether freelance or in-house, and their employers and clients.


Proofread by Victoria Hunt, Entry-Level Member.
Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

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

Customer service: it’s all about imagination

By Sue Littleford

Towards the end of April, Cathy Tingle wrote an excellent post here on customer service. A bit of chat on the CIEP forums resulted in Cathy suggesting I write a follow-up, so here we are!

A customer service scale for measuring customer satisfaction with an unhappy face (left), a neutral face (centre), and a happy face (right).

True story: I recently had to chase a client for payment. The due date was missed, so I emailed. I was told the same day that the project manager had emailed their manager and accountant to find out what was going on and to chase payment. Six days later I email again. That email is ignored. I wait five more days and email a third time, adding ‘3rd reminder’ to the subject line.
The manager hadn’t authorised my payment before going on a business trip to China, and his staff were having difficulty reaching him. Someone else in the company would now be responsible for pursuing this. Sorry. And that was it. I wasn’t told how long it would be before the manager was back in the UK, or at least in a country where they could expect to reach him. I wasn’t told how soon after the payment was authorised that I could expect the money to land in my bank account. It had taken nearly two weeks to get this far, which, as far as customer service goes, is pretty sucky (happy ending – I was paid three days later).

I’ve worked in customer service, one way or another, since I was 14 (and that’s a loooong time). I’ve handled complaints from the public, from colleagues, from MPs. I’ve held senior customer-facing posts in a major government department, and in the private sector. I’ve handled complaints face-to-face over a counter, in writing, by phone, in large meetings and by parliamentary question. And here’s what I’ve learned.

In a nutshell, good customer service comes down to an active imagination. Imagine – if I were the customer, what would I want? And then do that.

Easy? It can be, although some customers are just going to be a nightmare – keep those antennae attuned to your red flags and hope you sidestep all such folks. Assuming you’ve got a regular person for your customer, here are a few elements, unpacked.

1. Manage customer expectation

This is something my client signally failed to do. What does this mean? Put yourself in your customer’s shoes. Remember Kipling’s The Elephant’s Child? Set out your who, how, what, why, when and where. That should be in your contract, and it should be in your email or phone communication. Don’t be above issuing a gentle reminder on due dates, both yours and theirs, for things like sending out and getting back author queries. Talk to your client!

2. Make sure you’re on the same page as your client

Ensure they understand precisely what they’re paying for – what you won’t do as well as what you will. Make sure they understand how well you will do the work, when you’ll do it by, and how many rounds of editing that can involve for the price. Novice indie clients may need a lot more hand-holding with regard to the terminology of editing – we’ve all had people say they want a proofread when they need a developmental edit. On the other hand, publisher clients will occasionally call things by weird names. If in doubt, ask. Ensure you understand precisely what you’re being paid for.

3. Under promise and over deliver

But don’t be too far out of whack or your customer will think you’re either taking the mickey or are really, really bad at estimating.

Well, my client had managed to under promise by one definition, but that’s not what I mean. If they’d said ‘We’re so sorry about that; there was an internal breakdown in communication. But you’ll be paid by next Thursday’ and then paid me on Tuesday, that’s under promising and over delivering. There’s another aspect of this I’d like to sound a dire warning about: I just wish we could ban editorial folks from claiming to ‘perfect’ text. Some people even have it in their business name! With so much of English being subjective, how can you ever deliver perfection? Your perfect may not be your client’s perfect. But with some folks persisting in waving their ‘perfection’ banner, it makes clients think you’ve messed up even when you really, really haven’t.A lightbulb with lit decoration lights inside it, on the page of an open book.

If you do these three things, and the quality of your work is up to snuff, then you’re unlikely to get caught up in a complaint. But it can happen – maybe you messed up, maybe your client did (inaccurate or ambiguous brief, anyone?). Either way, your client isn’t happy with you or your work. What next?

1. Don’t ignore the complaint

Here be dragons. Pretending the complaint didn’t happen is truly awful customer service, and quite foolish since social media happened. Get a quick holding reply out – apologise without accepting responsibility (initially). ‘I’m so sorry to hear this. Let me take a look at it and get back to you. I hope to be able to do that [by when].’ That gives you time to check the brief/contract/your files and work out how valid the complaint is. If it is down to you, even in part, you’ll say so and apologise properly soon enough. A little tip – if the complaint comes in while you’re between jobs, and you have acres of time right now, still do the holding reply. Don’t rush your analysis of the complaint, and don’t rush your response. Complaints are emotional things, whether you’re in the right or in the wrong. Give yourself time to calm down.

2. Don’t reference satisfied customers as the norm

NEVER tell a customer that all your other customers are perfectly satisfied, even if it’s true, because if you’ve messed up for that client, your failure rate is 100% as far as they’re concerned. I’ve had this happen to me, and it just got my dander up. You don’t want to rile an already annoyed client. Don’t compare them with your other, perfectly content, customers – it can be read as a form of victim-blaming.

3. Put a lot of effort into responding to complaints

Make sure you’ve addressed each issue the customer has raised, even if you think it’s utter garbage; address each issue in full, anticipating as many rebuttals as you can; check and recheck and rerecheck your reply before sending it out. Again, use your imagination – put yourself in your customer’s position and craft the kind of response you’d want to receive; keep your zingers to yourself and don’t reply until you are perfectly calm. If you fail to do any of this, I can pretty much guarantee that the correspondence will continue to suck time out of your life, complaints will get escalated, perhaps to the CIEP complaints panel, and the complainant will tell all their friends that you are useless. Or they’ll use social media to tell the world that you’re useless.

4. Keep full records of the complaint and your response

Some complainants simply don’t know when to let something go, so you’ll want to have everything at your fingertips should they re-erupt. If your red-flag-o-meter didn’t go off and you have got a nightmare client, remember some people nurse their grudges and are quite happy to keep the complaint going as long as they can. That is taking up your working time, or your private time. Either way, the job is now earning you less and less per hour.

5. Know when enough’s enough

Some clients simply don’t know when to let go. If you’ve responded in detail to their complaint, and you consider you weren’t at fault, but the client keeps coming back, perhaps demanding a refund you know isn’t justified, there’ll come a time when you simply have to tell the client that you won’t engage in any further correspondence. Similarly, if you realise you were at fault, and you’ve rectified your mistake and/or made a partial refund, you may have a client who decides they want your work free of charge and keep nagging for a total refund. You’ll have to decide for yourself when the time has come to put an end to the exchanges. Nowadays, that does involve the risk of being attacked on social media, sadly, but you can’t be held hostage. This is why it’s more important than ever to ensure you and your client understand each other, and understand what each side’s responsibilities are in your transaction.


We’re all human, which means we all make mistakes. It’s how we deal with those mistakes that spells out the quality of our customer service. And how we avoid them in the first place.

I’ll finish up with a favourite quote from Henry Ford, who knew a thing or two about customer service. When checking the exact wording, I was delighted to see it included the I-word!

‘The man who will use his skill and constructive imagination to see how much he can give for a dollar, instead of how little he can give for a dollar, is bound to succeed.’

Headshot of Sue Littleford.Sue Littleford was a career civil servant before being forcibly outsourced. That was such fun she changed tack altogether and has been a freelance copy-editor since 2007, working mostly on postgraduate social sciences textbooks plus the occasional horseracing thriller. She is on Facebook and Twitter from time to time.

 


The CIEP upholds editorial excellence through high standards; all its members sign up to the Code of Practice.


Proofread by Joanne Heath, Entry-Level Member.
Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

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

 

 

 

Wise owls on working with non-publishers

Freelance copy-editors and proofreaders are not restricted to working with traditional publishers, and in the latest SfEP wise owls blog the parliament shares advice on how to gain work with non-publishers.

Margaret Hunter, Daisy Editorial

It continues to surprise me how many newbies to our profession lament the difficulty of getting their first paid jobs because they haven’t managed to secure work with traditional publishers. I guess that has something to do, perhaps, with a conventional notion of our profession as people busy putting red squiggly marks on books. But, if you think about it, the proofreader’s or editor’s oyster is anything that uses words. Perhaps it just needs some wider thinking?

In the real world, a great many members of the SfEP don’t spend all their time working on books, nor for traditional publishers. And the range of clients, things worked on and tasks paid for is wide indeed. Do an audit of your contacts, past employers and interests, and then list the types of things that get written, and you’ll already have a fair list of people to approach for potential work.

But to do this successfully you need to have the right mindset. What is it that you’re offering? What is it that your clients need? (Hint: they might not know!) What value can you add to your clients’ texts? Ah, now we’re getting somewhere.

Perhaps working for non-publishers won’t look the way you expected it to from your proofreading course or editing training. It’s not about taking a set of ‘rules’ or techniques you’ve learned and pushing your clients’ work into that shape. That would make our reading pretty boring and monochrome.

But the essence is the same. Our job is to help clients get their message across and to ‘smooth the reader’s path’ (see the SfEP FAQs).

In practice, that means you need to find clear, plain language ways of explaining what you do and how that can be of benefit to your clients. It means experimenting or being flexible with your working methods to find out what suits your particular niche.

And when you work out the value you are bringing to clients, you will realise that what you can bring to the table is immensely valuable, and should not be undersold.

Abi Saffrey

All but five months of my eight-year in-house career was spent working for ‘non-publishers’: business information providers and a non-governmental department body (quango). Each had its own (small) publishing team, and each followed editorial processes very similar to those used by traditional publishers. They may use terminology differently, and store and publish content in different ways, but the principles and the skills required are the same.

As a freelance, the main difference between working with non-publishers and working with publishers is the nature of the products you work on. There are rarely 100,000 words to deal with, but the publications are less likely to be one-offs: annual business reports, quarterly corporate magazines, weekly blog posts, press releases. Sometimes a cheerful, colourful staff magazine is just what’s needed to break up a dense academic social policy monograph.

To get work with non-publishers, you may need to market yourself differently – talking about what the outcome of your work is rather than the nitty-gritty details of what you do – but those companies do need your skills. They appreciate the value a knowledgeable and professional editor or proofreader can bring to their content, and to their brand.

Sue Browning

Working for non-publishers like businesses and charities, or even individuals, can be varied and interesting. Businesses often have deeper pockets than publishers, so the pay can be better too. In my experience, they usually pay promptly and with no need to chase (though with a bigger business you may have to accommodate their regular pay run). As to how to find them – I have found face-to-face networking to be the most common way to land business clients, and LinkedIn has also proved valuable – both of these have brought me work from small companies in my region, who often want to keep their spending local. More-distant clients tend to find me via my website. This is distinctly different from publishing clients, almost all of whom find me through the SfEP Directory.

Like indie authors, which we covered in an earlier post, non-publishers don’t necessarily know our editorial terms of art. In fact, they don’t care what it’s called, they just want their text to be correct, clear and professional. So it’s vital to establish the scope of the work. I’ve done everything from casting a quick eye over an email newsletter to what ended up being a complete rewrite (including research) of a large commemorative publication. It’s also essential to understand their brand voice (if they have one), but once you’ve established a good working relationship, they tend to give you pretty free rein, and they don’t want to be bothered with explanations or unnecessary questions, which means I can be quick and decisive.

I find it pays to be flexible in how you work. It happens that many of the individual jobs I receive are small (I’ve proofread text that was to appear on a mug), so I try to fit them in within a day. My payment model is different too, in that I usually charge by the hour rather than working out individual project fees, and I usually invoice monthly.

One of the potential downsides of working for larger businesses is that a document will often have many contributors, so you may find yourself working for too many ‘masters’ making last-minute and contradictory amendments. I try to solve this by insisting on being the last person to see the document, and not being lured into working on it in Google Docs at the same time as it is being written!

Margaret HunterAbi SaffreySue Browning

 

 

 

 

The parliament: Margaret Hunter, Abi Saffrey and Sue Browning