Category Archives: Freelance life

Information for freelancers.

Flying solo: Good communication is accessible

In this latest Flying solo post, Sue Littleford looks at the importance of accessibility in business communication.

Accessibility shouldn’t be an afterthought. You shouldn’t make a thing and then think, ooh, I guess I should make it accessible. Instead, build accessibility into the thing from the start.

We wordsmiths know that accessibility for every reader begins with the right words.

From an editorial point of view, that means clarity in your communication with clients and authors.

From a business point of view, that means clarity in your website text, your emails, your contracts and definitely in your small print. This is the angle I’ll be looking at.

Even if you have a law degree, your client may not

Just as one of the things we can easily spot is when an author has tried to reach for the big words, words that they’re not completely in command of, so it is with writing your T&Cs and anything vaguely legal, whether that’s in emails, on your website or in your contract.

Absolutely, ensure the necessary points are covered. Writing your T&Cs in straightforward language helps you to be clear about what you offer, and what you require from a client. It then helps your client understand what it is they’re signing up to, which is one of the key ways you can prevent problems from appearing later on.

So many problems with clients stem from a lack of mutual understanding of what’s being bought and what’s being sold.

I really rate Karin Cather and Dick Margulis’s book The Paper It’s Written On: Defining Your Relationship with an Editing Client (ISBN 9781726073295), and I recommend it in the Going Solo guide.

At the time of writing, the Kindle edition is £5.98 and the paperback £9.81 through Amazon – a modest price for such an incredibly helpful guide through the complexities of contracts, and priceless if it means you sidestep problems with a client.

Although the book is written by Americans, it’s not the legal jurisdiction that’s important in this little book (70 pages) so much as the explanations of the breadth and nature of the kinds of things you want to nail down.

Contracts – honest ones – are clear and unambiguous, and they spell out the responsibilities of each party to the contract. A good contract is, in short, accessible intellectually to all involved. A good contract will also include remedies if either you or your client fails to keep up their end of the bargain, and this will be worth its weight in gold to the other.

No weasel words, no wrapping things up in cod legalese that will confuse and may well backfire.

Emails are contracts, too

You may prefer to rely on an exchange of emails rather than a formal contract. That’s fine – the emails become the contract. So it’s essential that your emails contain everything you need the client to know about your transaction, in unambiguous terms. Bear this in mind when negotiating a job.

My confirmation emails rehearse the terms of the job, the terms of payment and so on, so that what is agreed is all in one place. Complete. Accessible.

Good accessible communication is honest

Be straight with your clients, even outside of a contract. Don’t confuse your potential clients with undefined technical terms – and if you’re having to define a lot of technical terms, shouldn’t you be using clearer language in the first place?

Do NOT promise perfection. You can’t deliver it, what with so much of English being subjective. I bore people senseless on this point, I know – but it is so important. Promising editorial perfection is, frankly, mis-selling.

Any editorial discussion on social media will show you the range of possible solutions to a drafting problem. Some you’ll doubtless discount as wrong for the context, but you will also find a range of perfectly sensible solutions, not just one sensible solution.

A client told to expect perfection may have preferred one of the other solutions, and a difference of opinion on the use of the serial comma, ending a sentence with a preposition, or just how essential ‘whom’ is these days may mean your edits are found wanting, despite being just fine for many other clients.

So be honest about what you bring to the job, and be clear that you can’t promise perfection, as perfection is in the eye of the beholder.

Accessible marketing

How accessible is your website? I’m not talking just about tech things like colour contrast, and alt text and aids for assisted reading.

Do you keep your paragraph-length short for easy reading on all sorts of devices?

Are your terms and conditions for the website as crystal clear as your contract for services?

If you maintain an email list, are your subscribers offered a genuine choice as to whether to join it? Can they unsubscribe readily? Do you make it clear in every mailout how to do that?

Sweat the small stuff

I recently had an email from a fellow editor and noticed in their email signature that they were still linking to their directory entry through the old sfep.org.uk address. Their LinkedIn URL was still using http://.

Both those addresses still work just fine for now – until they don’t. Your email signature is a great opportunity to reinforce your brand and marketing: is it clear, up to date and accurate?

The ultimate small stuff is, of course, small print – content that punches above its weight. How accessible is the small print for your cookie widget on your website? Your privacy notice for GDPR compliance?

What about your profiles on places like LinkedIn or, indeed, the CIEP Directory of Services? Do you speak plainly of what you offer? Will your target client actually understand what they’ll get when they approach you?

Accessibility is good customer service

All this boils down to good customer service – as always, I’m going exhort you to put yourself in your client’s (or potential client’s) shoes and bring them along with you, cooperatively. Avoid the hard sell wrapped up in unclear, weaselly contract terms, opaque jargon (jargon editor to editor is sensible shorthand; jargon editor to novice author is not accessible) and sneaky email address capture for marketing.

A good client relationship will be built on openness, clarity and honesty – in brief, on accessibility.


Sue started writing her Flying solo column at the beginning of 2021. She’s covered checklists, customer service, using business records to make decisions, useful UK tax resources and lessening the impact of our business on the environment.


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: lightbulbs by Dil; speech bubble by Volodymyr Hryshchenko, both on Unsplash.

Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

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

A week in the life of a sustainability proofreader

Proofreader Alex Mackenzie regularly works for a sustainability company. In this post, she explains what her week looks like.

I’ll come clean from the start – I am not a sustainability expert. My qualifications are in the arts and language-learning education, but a European sustainability company has contracted me as a proofreader, giving me regular paid work – which I absolutely love!

The job popped up through an email alert from a recruitment website. They put me through their timed test, which I passed, and then trained me. The quality control team are great people and support me with speedy feedback – I’m learning a lot.

A typical Monday morning (and often Tuesday and also many a Friday) looks like this:

  • Check the promised document has arrived in my inbox at 8am.
  • No? Get on with my preferred morning routine (tea, more tea, yoga and meditation, coffee, browse CIEP forums and our accountability group posts on Slack, answer emails, highlight deadlines on my wall calendar, fiddle with the bullet journal).
  • Continue with some fiction or English language teaching (ELT) editing – or write a blog post!
  • Coffee break and the document arrives – work for three to five hours in highly focused hour-long chunks.
  • Return the improved document to the consultant, with the office copied in.
  • Complete the company’s online tracking and feedback spreadsheet, listing the language and formatting issues I attempted to solve.

On accepting a work request, I know a little about it: the number of pages, the deadline, the choice of UK, US or Australian English, whether the document needs to be transferred to a company template or not.

Expected tasks:

  • Check the document type is as described (report, video storyboard, slide deck).
  • Check against the style guide and correct template (headings, logo, images).
  • Check spelling, punctuation and grammar (capitalisation choices, CO2, tCO2e).
  • Check captions for tables, photos and figures.
  • Check digits are UK English (1,500 not 1500; 0.08% not 0,08%).
  • Suggest rewording as necessary and add any queries.
  • Make final checks (test in PDF format, update table of contents, run slideshow).
  • Double-check final checks and go through comments.

On opening the document, I know much more: the region (most often Latin America, many times Southeast Asia, occasionally Africa and Australia, recently Greenland). I also soon discover the quality of the language and any formatting issues. The best bit is when I learn about the project itself (indigenous planting techniques in post-colonial cocoa farms, sustainable forestry and community gardens, green energy in garment factories, soil and water conservation in conflict zones).

The joys:

  • Seeing a night shot of a tapir in a Colombian forest.
  • Improving the readability of a table that stretches across multiple pages, describing carbon emission reduction in industry.
  • Persuading template headers to switch from portrait to landscape – and back again.
  • Breaking the template rules (once or twice) in the name of getting that table to fit, preserving the logo’s white space.
  • Wrestling a Spanglish sentence into plain English.
  • Being a small part in persuading governments or multinationals to change direction.

The consultant and their team often work in challenging conditions, so Google Docs is their easiest method for recording shared data and collaborating with teams in the field. The company’s quality control section (with me as one of their externals) filters the flow of information for these essential projects (through keen-eyed attention to the style guides and templates). The aim is that our documents are used for lobbying governments and encouraging corporate participation in worldwide initiatives that track and reward sustainable choices towards net zero.

The challenges:

  • Machine-translated documents confound my Spanish–English skills, but I get to read some delightful Spanglish images – ‘contemplating’ the soil type? Nice, but ‘considering’ would be better.
  • Google Slides are pleasing to work with, but Google Docs are an unreliable conduit to the company templates.
  • Handling specialised terminology across Englishes and in translation.
  • Editing multi-author documents with their internal inconsistencies.
  • Finding text that has been copied and pasted but tweaked – didn’t I just correct this?

Wrapping up

It is a privilege to bookend my week with paid work that takes me across the globe to the incredibly diverse projects protecting our planet and its Indigenous peoples, waterways, flora and fauna.

About Alex Mackenzie

Alex Mackenzie is a British copyeditor and proofreader living in Asturias, Spain. She moved into editing from a 30-year career in international schools across nine countries. Alex is a published ELT author with a Master’s degree in education. Areas of specialism are ELT, education, sustainability and meditation, adding creative non-fiction and fiction. She is a Professional Member of the CIEP.

 

About the CIEP

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

Find out more about:

 

Photo credits: cocoa farm by David Greenwood-Haigh; notebook and pens by Amanda Randolph, both on Pixabay.

Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

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

Meet our members: Leona Skene

We want you to meet our members, so we’ve asked some of them a few questions, and have found out how they started their editing career, and what they love about their work. In this post, Intermediate Member Leona Skene tells all.

Why did you choose an editorial career, and how did you get into it?

I’ve always known that I wanted to work with words and language. As a child, I was an enthusiastic reader, and I chose to study English & Scottish literature at university. I then went on to gain a certificate in Creative Writing.

It became apparent that I wasn’t ever going to become a famous novelist, and so I went on to work in unrelated fields for a number of years. After a career break to have my children, I realised that my strengths actually lay in editing and polishing other people’s work, not in creating my own.

I undertook training with the CIEP (then SfEP) in 2015. I then worked on ad hoc freelance projects, along with a regular gig as sub-editor of an events magazine, until January 2021, when I launched my own business, Intuitive Editing.

What training have you done to get your editorial career up and running?

I completed the CIEP’s Proofreading 1 and Copyediting 1 courses, and I’ve attended several useful webinars through ACES: The Society for Editing. I’m committed to further CPD through the CIEP: I completed Word for Practical Editing earlier this year, and am looking at Efficient Editing: Strategies and Tactics as my next step.

What work are you most proud of?

I take pride in all my editorial jobs, but I’ve worked on a few projects where I’ve been able to give specific advice on the Scots language, along with Scottish culture and identity. I do feel really proud of that.

What do you do if you’re struggling on a job?

I usually step back, have a bit of a breather, and try to regain perspective. I often ask for advice from colleagues in the Editors of Earth Facebook group; they’re a great bunch, with many CIEP members involved. And the editing community on Twitter is very helpful.

What does being a member of the CIEP mean to you?

Being a CIEP member is immensely important to me. Becoming a freelancer essentially means you’ve magicked up a career for yourself out of thin air – this can be wonderful, but the flip side is that it’s easy to let imposter syndrome get the better of you. There’s no line manager to provide feedback; nobody to tell you if your decisions are good ones or bad. The CIEP provides that all-important backbone of training, support and professional accreditation. I couldn’t have started my business without that.

Which editorial tasks do you enjoy the most, and why?

I love doing the first pass of an editorial job: getting the feel of the text, absorbing the author’s voice, making notes of any immediate issues that jump out. There’s a little thrill in entering the ‘world’ of a book for the first time and seeing the difference you can make to it.

Do you have any editorial pet hates?

Comma splices. My editing style is quite relaxed, but there’s something about those cheeky little baddies that rubs me up the wrong way. All comma splices are annihilated with extreme prejudice.

What has most surprised you about your editorial career?

The variety. As a relatively new editor, I’m still in the process of finding my niche and deciding which area to specialise in. I’ve been lucky enough to work on historical fiction, children’s fiction and YA, sci-fi and fantasy, and creative non-fiction. I’ve learned so much along the way, and I’m still learning!

What’s the best career advice you’ve received?

‘Under-promise and over-deliver.’ Don’t promise the world; be conservative and realistic about the service you can provide within a specific timeframe. It’s quite likely that you’ll deliver the project a little earlier than stated, which is always a nice thing for the client.

What advice do you have for people starting out on an editorial career?

I’d say that professional training is a must. It’s great to have a natural talent for spotting typos, but there’s stuff you just won’t learn unless you study it properly. Or possibly you will learn it, but it’ll take much longer.

I would recommend looking at the CIEP’s course directory or that of another recognised provider, such as the PTC. If you’re not at the stage where you want to commit to training, it’s worth joining a few Facebook or other social media-based editing groups – these can give you a general feel for the type of work editors do on a day-to-day basis. Another fantastic resource for newbie editors is Louise Harnby’s website – Louise has loads of information and how-to guides for both editors and writers.

Do you ever stop editing?

Absolutely never. I’m editing in my sleep at this point!

Finally, tell us one thing about you not related to editing

I lived in Italy for two years, and although my spoken Italian is now woeful, I still have strong feelings about pasta, pizza and the proper time of day to order a cappuccino. It’s a morning drink!


Want to meet more of our members? Head over to the Meet our members page.


About the CIEP

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

Find out more about:

 

Photo credits: open books by lil_foot_; Scotland by bummelhummel; cappuccino by gadost0, all on Pixabay.

Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

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

Flying solo: The environment – a matter of give and take

Sue Littleford, our Flying solo columnist, looks at what changes we can make – to the way we run our businesses and to our personal decisions – to lessen our impact on the environment.

The environment of the only planet we have. Precious, irreplaceable. Under tremendous threat.

Where do editors and proofreaders fit into this?

Well, we have the CIEP’s own Environmental and Energy Policy, and the Working Group behind it. But what about our own relationship with the environment, on our small, individual basis as small businesses and individual people?

It’s a matter of give and take between it – the planet – and each one of us.

Enjoy it while it lasts

Sounds a bit pessimistic, doesn’t it? But a bit of appreciation goes a long way in motivating people to do their bit and, as payback, you get to revel in the glories of nature. Even small-scale, urban nature, even window boxes or posters of luscious landscape, or a small bowl, handmade and using beautiful reclaimed sycamore, picked up five years ago at Dogmersfield Show in Hampshire (OK, maybe that’s just me). Or maybe a paperweight made of a sapphire geode to remind you of the riches of the Earth?

So when you can, get out and get some air in your lungs. If you’re mobile, walk and stretch out your legs. If you’re not, find somewhere sheltered to sit with a new vista, perhaps near scented plants, or be sure to be watching at the window for changes in the weather, sunrises and sunsets and full moons and – light pollution permitting – stars.

And when you are out – look around you and seek out the beauty. What’s happening in the gardens you pass, or the trees? Look – really look, and let your shoulders drop. Appreciation of the natural world is a well-known balm.

Tanya Gold started #stetwalk, the Twitter tag for editors to post pictures of what they’ve seen on their daily walk. Check the hashtag to see where other editors live; not just on Twitter but on other social media, too. And from #stetwalk came #stetrun, #stetswim and #stetcycle (with offshoots #stetbike and #stetride). Doubtless there are some hashtags I’ve missed – pop them in the comments, please, and let others find them!

(If you’re a dedicated runner, think about joining the CIEP Run On Group on Facebook.)

Make it last longer

Freelance editors and proofreaders (and in-house ones, this last year or two) often work at home. For some, that means heating the house during the day whereas pre-working-from-home, you weren’t running the boiler all day. More expense, more fuel used, much of it fossil.

So – thermals. Honestly. And fingerless gloves. And getting up and moving around briskly every so often. I’m not saying turn the heating off during the day and freeze, but I am saying don’t heat your house to tropical temperatures in January and sit in a T-shirt.

When you feel it’s Covid-safe, working somewhere else that’s already heated will give you a change of scene and your boiler some time off. Try cafés and coffee shops, libraries and co-working spaces.

When your printer finally needs replacing, look at getting one that prints double-sided. I would have said they’re getting cheaper all the time but pandemic price rises appear to have occurred: my Brother DCP-L2510D A4 mono laser printer cost £82 two years ago, for instance, and current models seem now to be in the very low three figures.

And although we do (don’t we?) try not to print things that don’t truly need printing (not with toner prices what they are, let alone the wasted paper), we do have to print stuff sometimes, so why not halve your paper use?

(Actually, being pedantic, you won’t halve it, but you’ll get close. If you’re printing an odd number of pages, there’ll always be one blank side – but at least that reduces the mounds of spare paper you make into little notepads of scratch paper and take years to use up.)

Recycle used paper, and dispose of printer cartridges via a recycling system. As I write this, I have a toner cartridge waiting to go to the post office to be returned to the manufacturer for recycling. Don’t put them in the general household waste.

Make this your mantra: reduce, reuse, reduce, recycle.

Be a part of the solution

Don’t let scale put you off

It’s true that people editing and proofreading have less scope than, say, a small manufacturing business or a driving school or, indeed, a publisher, to cut emissions. But everything that each of us does adds to everything that everyone else does and that’s how revolutions happen.

COP26 will be held in Glasgow, 1–12 November, and that will focus governments once more on the issue. They will – I fervently hope – finally start taking care of the big stuff. We can make our own contributions to the small stuff. Always remember the moral of the Starfish Story.

Get information and get involved

Small Business Britain has a campaign, Small Business Planet, ‘to engage small businesses in climate action and encourage them to commit to making their business “net zero” ’, and I encourage you to join it. There are blog posts, webinars, events, pledges and news stories helping small businesses to find out how they can make their own contribution which, in aggregate, will have a far greater impact than you can imagine – but only if lots of businesses take part. And that’s all of us who freelance or work in our own companies.

Save energy

Take a look around your office – what do you leave powered-up overnight that you could turn off? What do you do with your rubbish? How often do you print things out? If your office is also your home, widen your contemplation to your entire realm. Could you turn your thermostat down by 1°C? Would you really notice the difference? If you’re in a part of the world where aircon is essential, could you adjust the settings by a similar small margin?

A UK news story last year claims that 17 million UK households could save £80 a year by turning down thermostats by 1°C. But it’s not just the money saved, though we could all do with that, it’s the fuel left in the ground that matters.

Let trees live

If you’re someone who prefers ‘real books’ to ebooks, think again about reducing the number of trees that need to be cut down and – importantly – replanted. Young trees are ineffective as carbon sinks. Trees harvested to make paper are typically less than 15 years old. Planting new trees isn’t a quick answer, so contribute to reducing the demand. Planting more trees in the higher latitudes actually contributes to global warming by reducing the albedo. In addition, only mature forests are effective carbon sinks – those a hundred years old or more.

On a similar theme, what about your garden waste? Do you have a bonfire of dead leaves in the autumn, or do you put them on a compost heap or use a council recycling scheme?

When planting your window boxes or your little patch of ground, do plant flowers that are bee- and butterfly-friendly. But use a peat-free compost for planting – drying out the peat ready for bagging releases an awful lot of methane, a far worse greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. And, of course, the peat bogs that are such sinks for methane and other greenhouse gases are preserved. An old Guardian article from 2012 spells it out.

Avoid landfill

Need to replace some computer kit? What are you going to do with the old stuff? Thanks to Caroline Beattie for finding Restart to donate the old kit to be reconditioned and reused in community projects in your locality. Margaret Hunter identified the Turing Trust, which does the same kind of thing. Far, far better than landfill! If there’s no Restart project near you, and you want to keep things local, then just google ‘donate computer near me’ or ‘donate printer near me’ and see what you can find. Lots of charities will take your old kit, either to reuse or to recycle correctly.

Alternatively, you could sell on your old kit (having removed all your personal info, of course) on eBay, and if it’s being retired because it’s faulty, advertise it as ‘spares or repair’, so there’s no comeback when a dead laptop doesn’t boot up.

Keep your wallet closed

Do you thrive on retail therapy? Why not have a no-spend month (an idea I think I got from Nancy Boston – if it was someone else, apologies!) and buy only the absolute essentials (food and the like), aside from your regular bills?

Learn to appreciate and use what you already have. Take something from your TBR pile rather than buy another book. (If your TBR pile is shrinking and nothing appeals, think of the library.) Rediscover things in your wardrobe rather than buy something new. Use one of your stack of notebooks rather than buy yet another one. (Again, just me? I don’t think so!)

I put a recurring appointment in my online calendar for each day of a no-spend month that reminds me not to spend on stuff I truly don’t need. What you do with the cash saved is up to you – but you might consider building up your rainy-day cushion for your business, or giving some or all of those savings to an environmental charity, or using it as a way to reduce debt.

Don’t take all that saved money, though, and have a retail splurge at month’s end. That kinda makes the exercise pointless from a carbon-reduction point of view!

Put your money where your mouth is

Consider moving your current account, your savings and/or your investments to ethical products. Try Good with Money for a list of providers.

Do you really need to travel so much?

And what about the really big one – travel? You know the drill – public transport when you can, walk or cycle when you can, rather than jump in your car. Many people will doubtless be yearning to get on a plane as soon as they can for a long-delayed getaway, if they’ve not already grabbed an earlier opportunity. But really, is a holiday only a holiday if you leave your own country? Really??

Even a trip to the supermarket is best avoided – getting your groceries delivered is better for the planet with academics as well as the invested agreeing.

Shop smart

While I’m on the subject of groceries, don’t think that buying local to reduce food miles is always the best idea. This is a horrendously involved subject but, in brief, the environmental cost of local produce out of season can be far higher than shipping or flying it in from somewhere where it is in season.

By all means buy local produce, but do be sure to buy it in season, when it hasn’t cost the Earth to grow it, and ideally not from a supermarket, where it may have travelled through several depots before arriving back close to home.

And don’t overbuy – putting your food straight into your bin (even if that’s a food waste recycling bin) costs everyone and everything.

Don’t always buy new, either. Be willing to seek out preloved versions of cars, furniture, books – all sorts. One person’s junk is another’s treasure. If no one is buying the things that we’re busy sending out virtuously into the world for reuse, the whole idea will collapse.

Stay alert for green opportunities!

Martin Lewis, the Money Saving Expert, has a list of 25 ways to go green and watch the pennies at the same time, keeping what’s junk to you out of landfill, and has guides on green banking, utilities and travel in the pipeline, as at the time of writing.


We live on Planet A. There is, as former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon famously said in 2013, no Planet B.

If you’ve already been taking steps towards living and working in a sustainable way, thank you, thank you, thank you. If there’s anything else you think you can do, please do it. Add your ideas to the comments, so we can all get inspired!


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:

 

Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

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

Authenticity reading. Part 2: Becoming an authenticity reader

In Part 1 of this two-part series, Crystal Shelley explained what authenticity reading is and isn’t, why it’s important and how editors can help their clients by recommending it when relevant. In Part 2, she shares how professional editors can add authenticity reading to their services.

Here’s what will be discussed in this post:

  • Decisions to sort out first
  • The process of doing the job
  • Where to find clients

Offering authenticity reading as a service

If you’re passionate about assessing writing related to your identities or lived experiences, you may consider adding authenticity reading to your services. After all, many professional editors are in a prime position to do this because working with clients, assessing writing and crafting feedback are all muscles that are flexed daily. Let’s take a look at some of the key aspects to consider when deciding to become an authenticity reader.

Preliminary decisions

Before you dive right into calling yourself an authenticity reader, there are some considerations to work through first.

Topics

One of the first decisions you have to make is what topics you’ll read for. What social identities do you hold that writers might hire you to assess? What unique experiences have you had? Think about the representation you’ve read that’s made you angry because it was inaccurate or harmful based on what you know or have experienced. That might be a topic you can read for.

Training

There’s no formal training that qualifies you to become an authenticity reader. That said, resources exist to provide information on what you need to know to offer this service, such as a recorded webinar and booklet from the Editorial Freelancers Association. Before I started offering authenticity reading, I also scoured the internet for articles and discussions about it, especially from the perspectives of authenticity readers.

Pricing

As with editing, there are no set prices for authenticity reading, so you’ll have to decide what to charge. I’ve seen fees ranging from £0.004 to £0.015 per word. You won’t be making direct interventions to the text but will instead be leaving feedback, so your working pace will likely be faster than it is while editing. At the same time, consider what you’re being asked to do. There is often emotional labour involved in authenticity reading, and you may be reading text that is harmful or even traumatising.

Your limits

Know what you are and are not willing to read. Many of the topics that authenticity readers assess are related to personal identity or lived experience, and there’s a chance that the writing might include representations of hate, bias, microaggressions or past traumas. If there are certain topics you won’t read, screen potential clients for this type of content before you agree to a project. There’s nothing wrong with setting boundaries and taking care of yourself, especially when you’re often being asked to approach writing from a place of vulnerability.

Doing the job

Once you’ve worked through the preliminary decisions, you have to be prepared to do the job. Your task is to use your lived experience or expert knowledge to provide feedback to the client, but what does that actually look like? Every authenticity reader has their own process, but these are the steps I go through for each project:

Set expectations from the get-go

In Part 1 of this series on authenticity reading, I outlined several common misconceptions about authenticity reading. In the proposals I send to potential clients, I dispel these myths right away because I want the client to know what they can and should not expect from authenticity reading.

Clarify what the client wants you to focus on

Some clients will simply say that they want a general read, whereas others have specifics they’re concerned about. I always check if there are certain areas the client wants me to pay attention to, such as terminology, whether an experience is accurate, or if a character is stereotyped.

Read the manuscript

I read the entire manuscript once, and I make notes of what works well and what should be reconsidered.

Leave comments in the manuscript

As I’m reading, I also leave comments in the manuscript, as I would in an edit. I want the client to know my impressions, and I leave feedback on specific elements of the writing. I’ll write a comment if a word gets misused, if a character’s description is problematic, or if I have a positive or negative reaction to something specific.

Write a report summarising feedback

I turn the notes I took while reading through the manuscript into a report. Because I mainly work on fiction, my report is usually broken down into sections on plot, characterisation, dialogue and behaviours, cultural elements and settings, and conscious language. If I have resources to share that will reinforce my feedback, I’ll include those as well.

Answer the client’s questions and concerns

Once I deliver the marked manuscript and report, I’ll answer whatever questions or concerns the client has about my feedback. This is usually done through email, but I also do phone or video calls if requested.

Finding clients

Once you’re ready to do the job, it’s time to find clients. There are many avenues through which to reach potential clients, and these are a few ideas to try:

Business website

Add authenticity reading to your website as an offered service. Be sure to list which topic(s) you read for.

Social media

Talk about authenticity reading on social media so that your followers know that you’re offering the service. I’ve also seen tweets when indie authors or publishers are looking for readers – you never know what’ll pop up. You can also join the Binders Full of Sensitivity Readers group on Facebook. (Please note that this group is for readers of marginalised genders only.)

Directories and databases

If you’re an editor of colour, join the Editors of Color database and sign up for the job list. Add authenticity reading (or sensitivity reading) to your CIEP Directory entry so you’ll pop up when prospective clients do a keyword search.

Publishers

Many book publishers and presses hire authenticity readers and maintain databases of freelancers. Consider contacting publishers to let them know you offer this service and what topics you read for.

Final thoughts

Authenticity reading is an important and rewarding part of publishing that you may want to consider dipping your toe into. Even if editors don’t formally offer it as a separate service, we can still leave feedback for writers based on our identities and lived experiences – to help writers avoid doing unintentional harm, and to help readers see more authentic representations of themselves and their experiences in writing.

Are you interested in becoming an authenticity reader? Let us know in the comments!

 

About Crystal Shelley

Crystal Shelley is a licensed clinical social worker and the owner of Rabbit with a Red Pen, where she provides editing and authenticity reading services to fiction authors. She is the creator of the Conscious Language Toolkit for Editors and serves on the Executive Committee of ACES: The Society for Editing.

 

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: Hours of happiness by Jr Korpa; Read by Ishaq Robin, both on Unsplash.

Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

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

Authenticity reading. Part 1: What editors need to know

Authenticity reading, often called sensitivity reading, is a service that all editors should know about, because it plays a valuable role in the publishing process. In the first part of this two-part series, Crystal Shelley explains what authenticity reading is and isn’t, why it’s important and how editors can help their clients by recommending it when relevant.

Here’s what this post will cover:

  • Authenticity reading at a glance
  • Topics that authenticity readers assess
  • Common misconceptions
  • The value of authenticity reading
  • Recommending this service to clients

Authenticity reading at a glance

People want to see themselves, their identities and their experiences reflected accurately in media, but too often the representation on screen or in writing is problematic. One way in which writers can craft stories or text that’s accurate, respectful and validating to those being represented is to hire authenticity readers.

Authenticity readers, commonly called sensitivity readers, evaluate the way an identity or experience is portrayed in writing. They’re usually hired when a writer is writing about topics outside their lived experiences, where it’s easy to get things wrong.

For example, an author may write a story that features a character who has obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and if the author does not have OCD, then their portrayal may be inaccurate, stereotyped or harmful. They can work with an authenticity reader who has OCD to evaluate the story and characterisation, similar to how one might consult a subject-matter expert.

Topics that authenticity readers assess

Many people have the impression that authenticity reading is only used for assessing race and cultures, but there are a variety of topics that can be reviewed:

  • Social identities, such as race and ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, age, spirituality, disability, body size, socioeconomic status and neurodiversity. Authenticity reading is especially important when evaluating marginalised groups.
  • Experiences that are difficult to capture without having gone through them first-hand, such as being a family caregiver, going through the adoption process or working as a sex worker.
  • Subcultures that often require in-group knowledge to portray convincingly, such as military, gaming or fandom culture.

Common misconceptions

Those unfamiliar with authenticity reading often misunderstand what it is and what its intent is. Here are just a few of the common misconceptions I see:

Misconception #1: Authenticity readers seek to censor writers

This is by far the most widespread and damaging criticism of the service, and it’s also untrue. Authenticity readers provide feedback on representation, which allows writers to make informed decisions on how to proceed. A reader may recommend that the writer seriously reconsider elements of their story – or not tell it at all – but that’s out of concern for the harm that may result from the writing. Ultimately, writers aren’t forced to make a change, no matter how egregious their portrayals may be.

Misconception #2: One reader can represent everyone within a demographic

An authenticity reader can only critique based on their own opinions and experiences, and they do not act as a spokesperson for an entire group.

Misconception #3: Authenticity reading can serve as a shield from criticism

Some writers hire an authenticity reader in the belief that their work will become immune to negative reviews or publicity, which is not how it works. First, as mentioned, an authenticity reader does not represent everyone, so they can’t guarantee that another person won’t take issue with what’s written. Second, the writer doesn’t have to do anything with the authenticity reader’s feedback, so just because an authenticity reader has worked on a project doesn’t mean they approve of its contents. Writers should hire authenticity readers because they want to write respectful, accurate representation – not because they want a pass.

Misconception #4: Authenticity reading is used only for fiction

Authenticity reading can be useful for any type of writing, not just for fiction. Whenever a writer is writing about topics or experiences outside what they know, especially those that should be handled with nuance or sensitivity, an authenticity read may be beneficial. I’ve read textbook passages and non-fiction guides as an authenticity reader.

The value of authenticity reading

Developmental editing, copyediting, proofreading, formatting, indexing – all of these have their place in the publishing process. While they each serve a different function, they all work towards the same goal: giving readers the best experience possible. Authenticity reading also plays its part, and these are only a few reasons why it’s a valuable service:

When writers write outside what they know, there’s room for error

And when those errors result in misrepresenting, stereotyping or erasing the identities and experiences of communities – especially those that are marginalised – harm can result. Authenticity readers can help minimise that harm.

Research can only go so far

Even if writers do their due diligence by seeking resources to help them understand the unfamiliar, they may not be able to capture it accurately or authentically. Authenticity readers can help fill in writers’ knowledge-gaps and strengthen the work.

Harmful representation can lead to damaging consequences for writers

When representation is poor or harmful, readers might leave negative reviews, critics might blast writers on social media or publishers might cancel contracts. These can all lead to financial losses for writers. Authenticity readers can help writers avoid the mistakes that lead to outcry before publishing.

Recommending this service to clients

Editors are educators who talk with clients about various stages in the publishing process, such as developmental editing, proofreading, indexing and book design. Authenticity reading is a service that editors can talk with clients about too.

We are usually among the first people to read a piece of writing, so we’re often asked for our impressions of the text or the story. If we’re working on a project that we think may benefit from an authenticity read, we can check with the client about whether they plan to work with someone who has first-hand experience of the topics being covered.

If you want to recommend that a client hire an authenticity reader, here are a few options you can suggest for their search:

Wrapping up

Authenticity reading has been around for many years, and it’s only now becoming more understood – and used – as editors, writers and publishers witness the harm that can be done by inauthentic or problematic representation. Editors who recognise the value of this service and who know how to talk to clients about it can be part of the process of doing good. In part 2, I share what you need to know to become an authenticity reader.

About Crystal Shelley

Crystal Shelley is a licensed clinical social worker and the owner of Rabbit with a Red Pen, where she provides editing and authenticity reading services to fiction authors. She is the creator of the Conscious Language Toolkit for Editors and serves on the Executive Committee of ACES: The Society for Editing.

 

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: waves by Joshua Oluwagbemiga; book shelves by CHUTTERSNAP, both on Unsplash.

Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

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

When publishing contacts move on, and how to keep moving as a freelance editor

Leena Lane reflects on the importance of career moves and development – for freelance editors and for the people they work with – and focuses on thoughts regarding:

  • career paths
  • choosing freelance or in-house
  • networking
  • benefits of CIEP membership

I often take 15 minutes before starting work, especially on Mondays and Fridays, to scroll the news headlines across both current affairs and updates within the publishing world.

Posts which can make me both joyful and wistful at the same time are the ‘I’ve got news’ tweets. An individual who has been my main contact at a publishing house is making a career move to another company or is going freelance themselves. This has happened twice since COVID-19 hit and is no real surprise as people reflect on their lifestyle and commute, their career path, or just feel the need for change.

Despite working remotely as a freelancer, and having shared the stress of many deadlines and also those punch-the-air moments of success, I often come to regard these clients as ‘colleagues’ of a sort. When they move on, it stirs up conflicting thoughts and feelings.

Sadness

I’ll miss them! They’ve been great to work with and a friendly contact over many years. Sometimes I’ve known them start as the newbie enthusiastic/stressed editorial assistant, move up within the company to assistant editor, commissioning editor, and then move away to be editorial director.

Excitement

I’m genuinely pleased for the individual – their skills, character and contribution have been recognised and rewarded. They’ll be fabulous at their new position.

Trepidation

In the past, losing a personal contact has sometimes meant losing regular work with that company – how can I prevent that happening this time? How can I make contact with their replacement? How can I shine out from the pool or list of freelancers they’ll see on arrival, and how can I cultivate relationships with a wider team at the same company?

Opportunity

New doors to push? As they move on, might they be able to use my services within their new company, or introduce me to someone who will? Time to polish the website, Twitter profile, CIEP Directory entry, LinkedIn profile, etc, and prepare for some self-marketing.

Wistful reflection

After ‘slowing down’, even just for a year, in terms of career-focused work to start a family, it can be challenging to make it back to where you hoped to be. Relatively few publishers offer part-time or job-sharing as a serious option for key editorial roles.

Though many people appear to succeed and ‘do it all’, a long commute, high childcare costs and having no family locally made a full-time in-house position increasingly difficult for me. I started freelancing to bridge this phase of life until I could find the right in-house role again, but it has quietly turned into a more permanent path.

There have been many pros:

  • the rich variety of clients and projects
  • flexibility
  • focus groups in my own house (aka lots of bedtime stories, Middle Grade critiques and YA rejections)
  • focus groups in my community (aka being a primary school governor and seeing what parents, teachers and children are really reading, needing, thinking).

There have also been some negatives:

  • missing that buzz from being part of a regular team
  • lonely moments
  • erratic income at times
  • and a few regrets:
    • Should I have tried to get promoted one more level before having kids?
    • Should I have taken less parental leave?

Constructive reflection

As a freelancer, how have I still tried to progress in my career?

This is where the CIEP has been instrumental in keeping me on track and also in strengthening my resolve that being a freelancer can be just as fulfilling and valid for me as being an in-house editor.

Since joining, and upgrading twice, I’ve come to appreciate this group of editing professionals more each year: some on a similar path juggling career and family; some going freelance to provide variety they perhaps couldn’t find within just one publishing company; others continuing to work in-house − all striving to provide excellent editorial service within the industry.

One fantastic resource to guide career progression is the new CIEP Curriculum for Professional Development which details what editors and proofreaders need to know, and how they can acquire that knowledge.

In lockdown I’ve finally met up with my regional group, albeit on Zoom, and have bounced ideas around and received some really valuable tips and advice from both new and experienced members. The CIEP’s annual conference – online in 2020 and 2021 – is a wonderful opportunity to meet with editorial professionals, to learn and to laugh.

As I turn back from news-scrolling to my current project, I congratulate those moving on and progressing in their career in publishing, especially those who are, only now in 2021, finding chinks of fairer access and representation – there’s still so much more to be done. Within the community of the CIEP, I feel challenged to stay alert and fresh in my own career.

About Leena Lane

Leena Lane is a Professional Member of the CIEP  and is a member of its Berkshire local group and Run On. Leena provides editorial services to publishers and authors, specialising in children’s Middle Grade and Young Adult books. She’s committed to making stories more representative for all young readers.

 

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: signposts by Javier Allegue Barros; doors by Robert Anasch, both on Unsplash.

Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

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

Flying solo: Unlocking HMRC

In this post for her Flying Solo column, Sue Littleford highlights useful resources to help UK-based editors understand the country’s tax system.

This post is for people in the UK tax system, where Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (henceforth HMRC) is the government department that deals with collecting taxes and National Insurance. Self-employed editors must evaluate their own tax and National Insurance liabilities (‘self-assessment’) and will find plenty of help and resources on the HMRC website. This article looks at how to access the most relevant information.

Sorry, everyone else, but do explore your own tax authorities’ websites – you may be pleasantly surprised by what you find.

When you fill out your tax return, you’ll find context-sensitive help all over the form but, usually, the help means even less than you’d already intuited, if you’re anything at all like me. Please don’t be put off and think you can’t possibly deal with your tax return yourself. With all due respect to accountants, who are invaluable if your tax affairs are complicated, we have a self-assessment system that’s (meant to be) designed so that taxpayers can file their tax returns all by themselves.

And so HMRC, despite the terminology you see on the tax return, does a great deal to help you understand what you need to do, what you can and can’t do, when you need to do it by and so on. And as we start the increasingly rapid slide into Making Tax Digital (MTD; live April 2023 for the self-employed with a turnover (takings) of £10,000 pa or more), it’s best to get familiar now with the sources of information, so you can also start readying yourself for the demands of MTD.

I’ll now go through some of the sources of explainer videos and webinars, and guidance notes.

Personal tax account

A good place to start your journey of understanding is with your personal tax account, or PTA. To access this you’ll need to log in to HMRC (via Government Gateway or GOV.UK Verify, or create an account).

Here, you’ll find collected together PAYE and self-assessment tax, National Insurance, pensions, benefits such as tax credits, child benefit and marriage allowance, and your annual tax summary. The information on self-assessment is presented in a slightly more usable way than through your self-assessment account which, when I looked at it when I did my own tax return a few weeks ago, was – and I stress this is my personal opinion – still atrocious.

If HMRC emails you and says there’s a message for you, you can pick it up in the messages tab of your PTA.

Incidentally, these PTAs were introduced in April 2016 as long-lead preparation for MTD. No one can say we weren’t warned!

HMRC customer forum

HMRC has a customer forum or, rather, a list of forums where taxpayers can join the appropriate board to ask questions and read the advice already given or to give advice. Some answers will be given by other forum members, but HMRC Admin pops up from time to time, and will also post links to relevant new information on the main HMRC website.

Each top-level forum subdivides into topics, so it’s worth visiting and scrolling through just to see whether the coverage coincides with what you want to ask about.

HMRC help sheets

There is a whole slew of help sheets for self-assessment for the self-employed, and for all other categories of taxable situations.

HMRC webinars and other help

HMRC runs webinars throughout the year on a variety of topics, usually of an hour or less, and at different times of day to help people to attend. If you can’t attend a live delivery, then recordings are available.

If you’re new to self-assessment and filling out a tax return, start with the introductory webinar and the one on record-keeping, and with the guidance. If you’ve not completed your tax return for 2020/21 yet, then keep on scrolling down the same page for explainer videos on how to do it, and how to pay your tax and National Insurance. You’ll also find videos on allowable business expenses, the simplified expenses system and a host of other topics that may or may not apply to you. It’s a very long page, so do ensure you scroll right to the bottom to be sure of discovering all the help.

I strongly recommend you sign up for the email alerts. That will ensure you’re told about upcoming webinars, as you need to register to attend them, and things like due dates for your tax return and tax payments.

There are frequent live webinars on business expenses (ie which expenditure you can offset against your income to reduce your profits and thus reduce your income tax and National Insurance, and which you can’t). There are occasional webinars on MTD (and I expect they’ll get more frequent as we get closer to April 2023, to make sure people are making the necessary preparations). Live webinars come with downloadable documents with links to the help for that topic.

Although the recordings are great at demystifying the tax system, do attend the live webinars if you can, as via the chat function you can ask questions and get direct answers. They won’t deal with your individual tax record, but they’ll answer questions about the specifics of your situation and either answer directly or link to a place where you can read up on that topic. Some of the more common questions are answered by the presenters during the webinar, but all the time the backroom staff are busy typing away. And you can save the whole chat history, to see other people’s questions, and the answers they got, which can be great if there was something you meant to ask but didn’t. Maybe someone else asked it for you.

After attending a live webinar, you’re emailed a link to the replay and a list of links for the various help sheets.

YouTube channel

HMRC also runs a YouTube channel, with videos organised into playlists, such as self-assessment help and deadlines.

Making Tax Digital

MTD is already live for VAT (since April 2019), so much of the information available is around the VAT element. But there are listings there too for self-assessment folks, with videos and written guidance.

The HMRC business manual

You can also access the HMRC’s internal business manual on taxing income. This will tell you, in quite a formal way, everything you could possibly want to know, and you can’t get more from the horse’s mouth than this.


I’ve kept the resources here limited to self-assessment for the self-employed. For a much wider range of resources, browse ‘Money and Tax’, to find ‘Dealing with HMRC’, ‘Income Tax’, ‘National Insurance’, ‘Self-Assessment’, or ‘VAT’ among other topics, on GOV.UK.

One thing I’ve not been able to find, to my satisfaction, is a reasonable glossary of terms. The ones I’ve turned up are too narrow, too high-level, too old … If you know of one, please pop it in the comments! Thank you!

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: padlock and keyboard by FLY:D 🔶Art Photographer; Pay Your Tax Now Here! by The New York Public Library, both on Unsplash.

Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

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

A week in the life of a corporate editor

Books aren’t the only collections of words that need editing. Corporate editor Louise Marsters shares her experience of communications, brand and business publishing, including the types of projects that need an editorial eye.

People can get very excited when you say you’re an editor. They think: best-selling books! Glossy magazines! Influential newspapers! Their enthusiasm drains when you clarify: ‘corporate stuff – you know, like annual reports and accounts’. ‘Oh, right,’ they say.

Little do they realise the reputation-enhancing effects to a company or brand of a well-told story or clearly communicated strategy – and how visual identity can pull the words together.

Dry but fun

Let me come clean: I wanted to be a dentist. But school physics and chemistry required an application that I couldn’t muster. English, meanwhile, seemed to require no application at all. It just clicked.

A business degree in communications followed, as did junior marketing communications jobs at a couple of corporate law firms. The only aspect of the work that I genuinely loved, though, was the writing and editing: client newsletters, legal manuals, tender responses. Dry stuff – but if I, a non-lawyer, could make sense of the content, the clients stood a chance too.

One of those firms was big enough to have its own publishing team. Writing and editing was all they did – all day. And they needed another member. The dry stuff was supplemented with whizzy brochures, website and intranet content, annual reviews, pro bono reports and, the holiest of grails for me, a new style guide. Getting to grips with design, photography and branding was all part of the deal – and the fun.

Just do the words

Thinking some more study might help my career prospects, I did a master’s degree in communications and media, before packing a (very large) bag and leaving Australia for the UK.

Another law firm job ensued (sigh) but it wasn’t long before the expat bush telegraph in London spread word of a job at a multinational oil and gas company – in corporate reporting.

‘In what?’ I spluttered. ‘The annual report and accounts? But I’m not an accountant.’

‘No, you just do the words,’ they said.

‘Oh, okay. When do we start?’

‘September, for publication in April. About 180 pages. And you have to put together the annual review and the financial and operating information at the same time. And edit the notice of meeting. Then, in the summer, you can research our competitors’ annual reporting suites and project manage a big report about energy economics. Oh, and sort out the style guide.’

Gulp.

Mission control

‘Doing’ corporate reporting meant project managing, working with designers, writers, printers, typesetters, photographers and online gurus, not to mention senior executives, board members, the company secretary’s office, content providers, lawyers and accountants – across the UK and the US.

Everyone ‘in house’ was an author or an approver. And their opinions (down to how the name of a report should appear on its perfect-bound spine) were as varied as the audiences (aka stakeholders) for whom the financial reporting publications were destined: investors, analysts, regulators, auditors, employees, customers, journalists.

I was mission control, scheduling, cajoling, influencing and, alongside those more senior, diplomatically helping the company to agree a single, unified story for the year. Only then could I copyedit the content, collate changes, query, get sign-off and submit for typesetting.

Proofreading – what felt like the purest of the editing work – came for a week or two (or three) before ‘going on press’ for each project. We’d camp out in a meeting room for the duration, bulky A3 proofs methodically arranged across the table and floor, bulldog clips and red pens in plentiful supply. Bliss.

Words before politics

After six ‘seasons’ of corporate reporting, it was time to move countries again: this time Switzerland. Not speaking much of any of its four official languages meant that working in a communications or editing capacity was as likely as my becoming a champion skier. The answer? Freelancing.

The network I’d built up and the lessons I’d learned from 12 years of corporate life meant I had a valuable launch pad.

I worked first for people I knew and who knew how I could help them. Then, as they moved around, they’d seek me out again, or new clients would find me. Being able to focus on words, not politics, was an unexpected upside.

Joining the CIEP was another upside. Training, upgrading, being mentored – plus the famous directory – all helped professionalise me as an individual editor, when I didn’t have a company name or job title to offer instant credibility.

Reputation, reputation

Fundamental to editing for a business or brand is understanding that the quality of what they publish is essential to their reputation.

Clients worth working with can see that editing is a crucial quality-control tool in producing professional communications – communications that enhance credibility and inspire trust. And they needn’t be big companies. Niche consultancies and independent charities, for example, have the same reputational needs.

Now back in the UK, this corporate editor’s work recently took in:

  • proofreading brand and imagery guidelines for a global management consultancy
  • proofreading a review of past financial reporting for a FTSE 100 pharmaceutical company
  • proof-editing the ESG (environmental, sustainability and governance) section of an annual report for a FTSE 100 beverage company
  • proofreading and cross-checking the print and interactive website versions of an annual report for a global engineering and architecture firm
  • developing detailed writing and editorial style guidelines for a large independent charity aiming to professionalise its communications
  • copyediting (and partly copywriting) the content of the same charity’s annual report to create a consistent tone of voice

and even included:

  • proofreading – out loud, in a pair – the financial statements of an annual report for a FTSE 250 food ingredients company
  • filling in every single page number and cross reference of a 152-page annual report for a British fashion brand

… but not all in one week!

Lately I’ve also:

  • attended a webinar about how companies will soon be obliged to report against the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures
  • written a blog piece for the CIEP
  • agreed ongoing work with a niche investment pitch agency to edit business plans for start-up companies
  • cast an editorial eye over friends’ websites, flyers or articles, for respite.

Words in context

I often feel there’s been a perverse logic to my career. Having started in broad marketing communications roles, I’ve managed to narrow work down to the ‘bits’ I really like: words, grammar, tone, style. But it’s that broadness that gives you the context in which those bits sit – and allows you to deliver a meaningful edit. And, yes, I genuinely love that.

About Louise Marsters

Louise Marsters edits communications and business content for corporate clients. Working in-house in corporate and financial communications taught Louise to shift her brand from ‘perfectionist’ to ‘pragmatic perfectionist’. Her colleagues even developed a strapline: Has it been Louise-d? Louise is a Professional Member of the CIEP, and a member of the plain language organisation Clarity.

 

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: Louise’s headshot by Jeremy Mason; report by San Kaÿzn on Unsplash; lighting by Etienne Girardet on Unsplash.

Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Proof of life

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

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

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

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

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

A brief brief

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

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

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

It’s been … one week

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

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

A week can also include:

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

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

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

About Meredith Olson

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

 

About the CIEP

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

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

Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

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