Category Archives: Freelance life

Information for freelancers.

How to take care of yourself when you’re your own boss

Even when there isn’t a pandemic, if we run our own business we all need ways to take care of ourselves – mentally, physically and emotionally. In this post, Abi Saffrey brings together some suggestions that have been shared on the CIEP member forums.

CIEP members’ self-care ideas fall into these general categories:

  • time and taking breaks
  • meditation and expressing gratitude
  • food
  • hobbies
  • music
  • friends and partners
  • being outside
  • lockdown clichés

Time and taking breaks

My first thought when it comes to spending the right amount of time on the right things is ‘work–life balance’. I have several issues with that phrase: should there be the same amount of work as life? Surely work is part of life, not opposed to it? (I’m not a fan of the phrase ‘me time’ either.) Anyway, a key element in getting the day-to-day mix of activities ‘right’ is considering time. There is no magic formula, but we can learn by trial and error what works for us.

During the first pandemic lockdown, when my children weren’t able to go to school, I would get up earlier than my family and spend an hour in my office getting to grips with what I needed to do that day so that I could be more focused in the limited working time I would have later on in the day. It also gave me an hour on my own, which turned out to be incredibly important over those three or so months.

Taking regular breaks from work is good for our focus and our eyes, but it’s often easier said than done. One member has alarms set at particular points during the day to remind them to take a 20-minute break; others use the Pomodoro technique.

I force myself to walk away from my desk in the mid-afternoon and read a physical novel for 30 minutes or so for a bit of fun and to give my eyes a break from the screen.

Alarms can be used to force an end to the work day – it’s all too easy to think ‘oh just one more page/section/chapter’. Self-employed editors were well aware of the blurring of the work/home boundary before the pandemic changed office workers’ patterns.

Meditation and expressing gratitude

Several members have mentioned the benefits of meditation and mindfulness to replenish their stores of energy, focus and patience. Some use timers, some apps and others simple breathwork techniques.

One member mentioned spending 15 minutes at the end of the day talking about something positive from the day: it breaks the endless cycle of gloom that comes from the news and ends the day on a high note.

The thing I’ve been doing that has had a huge impact on my positivity is expressing gratitude  … for everything, really: blue skies or rain (we need it!), delicious morning coffee, the roof over our heads, the internet, clean water piped into our homes, electricity, central heating  … the list goes on and on. Even the worst of days has good things in it; you might have to look a little harder. I’ve got very good at finding the silver lining.

Food

Making a meal or baking something can provide focus and pride in the result, as well as the opportunity to share something with others.

Whenever I bake something (which isn’t often), I always give some of it to my elderly neighbour. Gives me an excuse to check in with her, and I always feel so happy that she enjoys my sweet treats!

Planning meals ahead can lessen the daily workload, but can also provide something to look forward to. My family created a four-week rolling menu, which took away the weekly stress of thinking of meals, but with a ‘wildcard’ entry each week there was potential for trying out new recipes (or getting a takeaway).

Under the first lockdown, my husband and I invented a lockdown cooking competition – every weekend we each challenge the other to cook something new and out of our comfort zone. It’s been a great way to actually use each of our collections of cookbooks instead of just admiring the lovely photos. We have a whole routine that has become incredibly important for my sanity because it is structured and focused, and gives me something to look forward to as well as be a challenge not just to cook but also source ingredients.

I batch-cook at the weekend so that, no matter how busy things get during the week, I have nice lunches to look forward to.

Hobbies

The pandemic lockdowns have enabled some people to start new hobbies, or spend more time on existing ones.

For the most part of our lockdown we weren’t permitted to travel more than 5 km from home. Some birders on Twitter had the idea of keeping a #Stage4LockdownList. I started noting every species I saw in my 5 km radius. It encouraged me to get exercise, to be in nature, to be mindful and to appreciate things in my local area that I had taken for granted. I hope this is a new habit that I’ll take with me. (I ended up with 27 birds on my list – not bad for a beginner.)

My regular activity is crochet. Almost daily! You could say I’m hooked  … Fortunately, my yarn stash is well stocked. Sometimes my cat tries to ‘help’, but his company is a delight and a guarantee of daily smiles and chortles.

I have enjoyed patchworking for the past few years but thought I would attempt to learn to crochet … I managed one evening of tying my fingers in knots before returning to my craft comfort zone.

Music

Listening and dancing to music can be a great stress reliever and soul lifter. Several members talked about missing live gigs or singing with their choir. I’ve invested in a pair of noise-cancelling headphones so I can get completely absorbed in what I’m listening to.

Music is always part of my day. I actually feel a bit unwell any day I don’t make music – or listen to someone else making music. Covid-19 has put the kibosh on lots of my musical activities. (Who knew that chamber music would become more dangerous than adventure sports?!) So I make sure to listen to great music. Here’s Thelonious Monk playing ‘Tea for Two’. I’ve listened to this four times today. And every time I do, it feels like an act of self-care.

I also find dancing and seeing live music a great stress release, so have missed those a lot. During lockdown, I’ve been going to an online disco on Friday nights (via Zoom) and watching a live DJ on Twitch every lunchtime. (I’ve even put it in my work calendar – although with a cryptic title, just in case I accidentally share it with a client one day!) It has really helped to feel part of those communities, and the music has helped me to process and release lockdown emotions.

Friends and partners

Seeing our friends and family is so important, and that’s been taken away from many of us over the past year. We’ve found new ways of communicating, and made the most of the times when we have been able to go for walks or coffees together.

I’ve been doing a fortnightly quiz with a group of friends. I don’t think we’ve ever seen so much of each other, actually, as we’re so scattered across the country.

Directly messaging particular friends can bring about that personal connection, in a very different way to posting more widely (and more generically) on social media platforms.

I’ve rekindled a friendship with an old friend. We now send each other silly, or supportive, WhatsApp messages almost every day. If either of us has a low moment, or needs to vent, we can reach out and share. We now also occasionally send each other surprise gifts by post (‘I saw this and thought of you’).

Being outside

From birdwatching to long walks, to tending the garden, to looking at the sky – time spent outside is never wasted when it comes to self-care. Even a walk in the pouring rain can bring with it joy (and the delight of dry, warm clothes afterwards).

I love walking anyway but I’ve made a conscious effort when I’m out now to notice something new or curious on each walk. It could be some particularly splendid fungi, or the birds, or a gnarly tree, or going down a different path for a change and seeing where I end up. Some walks have taken rather longer than planned to get me back to my starting point  …

Movement generally is good for our mental and physical health, so adding in the fresh air and maybe even some vitamin D from the sunshine makes getting outside a win–win when trying to look after ourselves. For several years, I have gone to outside bootcamps every week – when restrictions stopped these, the instructor moved online and I took my laptop into the garden (though the Wi-Fi issues and light glare made some sessions more tense than was ideal …)

I live at the bottom of a hill, and the newsagent is at the top. I force myself to walk up there every day to pick up the paper, then I spend half an hour reading it with a cup of coffee before I get back to work.

I check the forecast every morning to work out when the weather looks best, then intentionally structure my day around that. The rain radar is also useful – even on really bad days, there’s generally a break in the weather at some point. I always feel much brighter (and more productive) afterwards, even on the days when I really don’t want to go outside.

Lockdown clichés

I’ve turned into a complete lockdown cliché, having taken up sourdough and running!

It’s hardly a solution for everyone, but I can totally recommend getting a puppy.

We have two golden retrievers and we try to walk them every day. It’s great to get out into the fresh air and, c’mon, golden retrievers. They’re good for the soul. Doctors should write prescriptions for people to spend time with golden retrievers.

I’m also spending a lot of time growing my hair. I’m trying for an A C Grayling look, but most people think it’s more Doc Brown (from Back to the Future, not the rapper).

I’m also a bit of a lockdown cliché, as it’s walking and breadmaking for me.

Getting it right

There is no one right way of looking after ourselves that works for everyone. This post only covers the most popular themes that members have shared on the CIEP forums. How do you look after your wellbeing? Has it changed over the past year? Let us know in the comments below.

About Abi Saffrey

Abi Saffrey is an Advanced Professional Member of the CIEP. A member of the CIEP’s information team, she coordinates this blog and edits Editorial Excellence, the Institute’s external newsletter.

Now she’s finished writing this blog post, she’s off for a walk.

 

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: crocuses by Aaron Burden; long-tailed tit by Andy Holmes, both on Unsplash.

Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

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

Is proofreading a good side hustle?

Proofreading has long been touted online as a good way to supplement a regular income – the side hustle. This post by Louise Harnby examines the notion, and explores the challenges.

In this post, we’ll look at the following:

  • What is a side hustle?
  • The problem with the terminology
  • Proofreading as a side hustle – popular but problematic
  • Do I need training?
  • Who am I competing with?
  • Who hires professional proofreaders?
  • How will I find work?
  • Additional considerations

What is a side hustle?

A side hustle is the term used to describe part-time work that’s done alongside a person’s regular job. Side hustles can be long-term or short-term gigs, and they’re popular because they allow people to dip their toes in the proverbial water rather than fully committing to a career change.

For some, they’re essential, either because their day jobs aren’t generating enough income to meet their costs of living or because their day jobs don’t come with an income at all – for example, those bringing up children or caring for dependants.

The problem with the terminology

In the editorial world, there’s resistance to the terminology owing to the negative connotations of hustle.

Editorial work is about attention to detail, about respecting a client’s voice and brand, about shaping and smoothing text rather than butchering it.

And editors and proofreaders do love their dictionaries. Which doesn’t help matters given hustle’s lexical association with pushiness, pressurised selling, prostitution, and worst of all, fraud.

Since professional self-employed editors and proofreaders spend a chunk of their time trying to build trust with clients searching for editorial support in what is essentially an unregulated global market, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that mention of a hustle makes them twitchy!

Proofreading as a side hustle – popular but problematic

Let’s put the terminology to one side. Can proofreading work be done on the side? Yes. Can a proofreading business be set up overnight? In name, certainly. However, the reality is that unless you already have clients waiting in the wings, you’re going to have to do what every self-employed business owner does – find them, or enable them to find you. Which means marketing.

Furthermore, you’re going to have to find those that you’re a good fit for, and that means skilling up.

Training takes time to complete and marketing takes time to bear fruit. For that reason, if you’re looking to earn extra income quickly, proofreading makes for a poor side hustle.

Do I need training?

Side hustlers in the making might be wondering if training is necessary. Put yourself in a potential client’s shoes. Even if you’re a mega marketer, such that you get in front of your clients quickly, persuading them to hire you requires them trusting you to do a great job.

Trust can be earned in more than one way, but training’s part of the equation. When the tap starts dripping or a plug starts sparking, I don’t want someone messing around with my plumbing and electrics if they haven’t made the effort to ensure they know what they’re doing.

Clients who want help with their words feel the same way about having their text polished. And so they should. The work we do will cost them tens, hundreds, perhaps even thousands of pounds. Proofreaders charging for their services owe it to their clients to be qualified to do a great job.

Plus, we don’t know what we don’t know. Prior to carrying out editorial training, I had no clue what a publisher expected from a proofreader. Training solved that problem. One thing I learned is this: a good command of spelling and grammar is just the tip of the editorial iceberg.

Here’s just a smidgen of the skills my publisher clients expect from a proofreader – issues that once read like gibberish to my untrained eye.

  • Marking up page proofs with BSI proof-correction symbols
  • What to do with overmatter
  • How to manage orphans and widows
  • How to check running heads
  • Handling stacked hyphens on rectos
  • Checking that references are styled according to APA or Harvard

 

Who am I competing with?

Something else the side hustler should consider is the competition. This is not a barren marketplace, alas. There are tens of thousands of editorial professionals out there already, many of whom run their businesses as full-time enterprises. They:

  • are highly trained, often with specialist skills and knowledge
  • are very experienced and have portfolios to prove it, and
  • have been around for a while so know how to be found and where to get work.

That said, there is always room for new proofreaders and editors because most of the work these days is done digitally, which means the market is global. And just as people join the profession, so others leave it.

However, it would be a mistake to think that competing in the proofreading market is just about supply and demand. It’s a digital world, which means the name of the game is visibility.

Who hires professional proofreaders?

First, the good news. Anyone who works with words and cares about their meaning and readability will be interested in hiring a proofreader. This short list of potential clients only scratches the surface.

  • Academics
  • Business owners
  • Educators
  • Independent authors
  • Marketing and communications agencies
  • Packagers and project management agencies
  • Publishers
  • Students

That’s the easy bit. The harder bit is that not all clients know what kind of editorial help they need. And so, even if they ask for something called ‘proofreading’, and that’s what you’re offering as a side hustle, it might be the last thing they need. Literally.

In fact, they might need specialist structural or stylistic help that doesn’t fall under the scope of proofreading at all. Proofreading is a final quality-control check after other rounds of editing.

So if you’re thinking about offering this service as a side gig, make sure you and anyone you work with understand the precise scope of the work you’re offering.

Failure to do so could lead to disappointment, complaints and requests for refunds, thereby turning your side hustle into an upfront hassle.

How will I find work?

Getting work means being visible. Either the client has to find you or you have to find them, meaning anyone looking to earn an income from proofreading needs to have marketing skills as well as proofreading skills.

That’s a necessary time-sucker that any independent editorial pro needs to wrap their head around from the get-go.

There are lots of ways to be visible, some better than others, depending on what types of clients you want to proofread for.

  • Emails, letters and phone calls are good options if you want to get on the radar of publishers and packagers.
  • Content marketing is a slow but powerful burn for those wanting to be found on Google and social media by authors, students and academics.
  • Freelance directories can be a good source of work, though are often the first port of call for clients looking for cheap and fast.
  • Many professional editorial associations such as the CIEP have editorial directories that can be good lead generators for appropriately qualified proofreaders.

Proofreading might seem like your ideal side hustle but you must factor in regular time to get the work in the first place. There’s too much competition not to do so.

Additional considerations

Finally, don’t forget the additional business-critical responsibilities that come with the job, even if it is on the side.

  • Will you need indemnity insurance to protect yourself?
  • Will the income you earn need to be declared to the relevant authorities? Will there be tax implications? Might your additional income affect any state benefits you receive?
  • Do you have funds in place for training and marketing? Both have costs to them.
  • Do you have access to an environment that will allow you to concentrate and work without interruption?
  • Do you have industry-standard hardware and software, and know how to use it?
  • How many hours a day do you have available, and will you be able to meet clients’ deadlines? High-quality proofreading is labour-intensive work. Even experienced full-time proofreaders will need at least a week to proofread a novel. Being realistic about the time required is essential.

Summing up

Proofreading can be used to supplement income from another job. Many full-time professional proofreaders started their editorial journey by doing it on the side.

Don’t forget that being a proofreader means becoming one first – via training. And making your side hustle viable means being found by those who need your services – via marketing.

It can be done – just not overnight.

Want to become a proofreader?

The CIEP has loads of support and information to help you get started.

And Louise Harnby has a selection of books and courses to help you on your journey.

About Louise Harnby

Louise Harnby

Louise Harnby is a professional fiction editor with 30 years’ publishing experience, and specialises in working with independent crime, thriller and mystery writers.

She is an Advanced Professional Member of the CIEP and co-hosts The Editing Podcast with Denise Cowle.

 

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:

 

What do editors and proofreaders think of taking tests?

We asked our freelance members for their opinions about editing and proofreading tests: tests set by a potential client to assess the freelancer’s suitability for the job. Here, four CIEP members share their thoughts on the topic.

Alex Mackenzie

This was a timed proofread I’d been asked to do as part of a job application. The email said they’d send me a document at 10am; I was to proofread it and return it an hour and a half later. Heart racing, I began, wide-eyed and focused. Ninety-one minutes later, of course, reassessing my sent work, I spotted a mistake! The test had been simple enough, basically a simulation of the company’s typical report: one table (misaligned and missing information), one graphic (valuable seconds lost trying to edit that insert), logos and company branding (creative capitalisation), finishing with a wordy biography (university degrees and excessive work experience). But that ticking clock, I thought, was an unnecessary pressure. And my obvious mistake wouldn’t have escaped a re-read or a PerfectIt scan. Oh well, I huffed – I’ll put that down to experience. Three months later I was hired – they’re now a regular client, paying CIEP suggested minimum rates!

Other than that, I’ve completed test edits for academic proofreading agencies. I remember Janet MacMillan’s words in one of my early Cloud Club meetings: give it an hour, there’s nothing to lose. True. This approach has landed me two more jobs, meaning (low-paid) editing work pops into my inbox weekly. I consider it all training!

Laurie Duboucheix-Saunders

In the best of all possible worlds, editors with a proven record of training and experience should not have to take editorial tests.

However, personally, I have found that such tests have opened doors for me that would otherwise have remained closed. English is not my first language and my degrees in English Lit from the Sorbonne and the fact that I have been an Advanced Professional Member of the CIEP since 2016 are not enough to stop people from asking whether I can, or even should, edit or proofread an English text because I am not a native speaker.

I use that term even though it has become controversial in more enlightened editorial circles – where multilingual is preferred – because those editorial tests have allowed me to get work based on my abilities and expertise alone, regardless of where I come from. As with exams that are marked blind, they are an objective assessment of a candidate’s skills and knowledge.

As I write this, I worry that my argument could be used to support the use of editorial tests specifically for non-native editors. This is a million miles away from what I’m trying to say. A strong CV and proven training in editing English material should be enough for people like me to get the job. As it’s not the case yet, I’d rather take a test than be ruled out systematically simply because I am not originally from an anglophone country.

Louise Bolotin

Louise Bolotin

I’m not opposed to sitting editing tests, but I’m not wild about them. I believe my many years of experience and my Advanced Professional Member status in the CIEP should speak for themselves and indicate my competence. My CIEP directory entry, my website and LinkedIn profile are all places a prospective client can look at my CV, a sample client list and client testimonials. On that basis, I won’t take a test for a small company or a private individual such as an independent author. However, I might – if the job looks really interesting and I really want it – offer to do a free one-page sample. No more, and beyond that I’m happy to agree to a week’s (paid) trial or some such, to see how we work together. I do sit editing tests if required where it involves a major rolling contract. I recently took one for a government inspectorate, where passing the test was a prerequisite for joining the freelance pool. I’ve also taken tests for publishing companies for the same reason, but these tests should never be more than a couple of pages and should never take more than around 90 minutes to complete. If they are any longer, you should be paid for your time.

Caroline Petherick

While it’s reasonable for a client to want to have some indication of competence in a freelance editor or proofreader they’re thinking of hiring, the idea of testing a qualified and experienced editor is, in my view, not just out of date but near enough insulting.

As I understand it, the concept arose in the publishing industry in the mid-20th century, an era when many publishing houses were getting rid of their in-house editors in favour of freelance editors and proofreaders, who required less commitment, both financial and pastoral. That was (and still is) seen as an important move in this cut-throat industry.

Until the mid-20th century, copyeditors and proofreaders were quite likely to have been wives of publishers – and unpaid. That view of the profession lingered long in the publishing industry, to its financial advantage. Throughout the 20th century (and in some cases into the 21st), it clearly suited the publishing houses to continue to perceive the proofreader and copyeditor as lowly individuals at the bottom end of the status ladder.

But with the new freelance system, how could a publisher establish editorial competence? A test designed to include the classic traps was obviously deemed appropriate.

Now that we editors and proofreaders have made our mark as independent professionals, due to the formation of the SfEP – now the CIEP, a chartered organisation with registered members and clear status – it is clear that a potential client asking a CIEP member to take a test would be as incongruous a request as, for example, asking a qualified lawyer, designer or accountant – or even a Gas Safe engineer! – to do so. (To be fair, though, it’s probably only a few publishing houses who might still ask for a test. The myriad of other types of clients are highly unlikely to do so.)

The balance of power has changed. And not before time.

A sample edit is, however, as I see it, crucially important. And here, editorial professionals have an advantage over lawyers, designers, accountants and plumbers in their dealings with clients. In working on a sample, a CIEP member will not only be showing the client what work they’d carry out, but they will be assessing the text and, to some degree, the client. And then, having seen what the client produces, they’ll also be able to quote a fair price for the work. All part of the professional package.

Wrapping up: editing tests

This post has presented the opinions of four CIEP members on editing tests, and it shows the breadth of views there are on the topic.

Have you taken an editing or proofreading test? Or have you set one as a way to assess a freelancer’s abilities? Tell us more in the comments.

Ayesha Chari has written about her experiences of editing tests.

READ AYESHA’S ARTICLE

About the CIEP

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

Find out more about:

 
Photo credit: clock by Samantha Gades on Unsplash 

Editing tests, clients and the editor

We asked our freelance members for their opinions about editing and proofreading tests: tests set by a potential client to assess the freelancer’s suitability for the job. Here, Ayesha Chari shares what she sees as the pros and cons of editing tests.

You know that butterfly-in-the-stomach feeling? The dreadful one before your first big school exam or right before that driving test. Or the tingly one on the quick descent of the Ferris wheel, maybe even while going up and down those weightless lifts to floor infinity. I love the thrilling flutter as much as I hate the panicky one.

It does come as a surprise then that my academic and non-fiction editing career has been built almost solely on voluntarily subjecting myself to the anxiety of editing tests. The first one, for an in-house copyediting role and my first job straight out of university, I’ll never forget: ‘edit this in 1 hour’ was the instruction. This was a 30-page, two-column, single line-spaced, printed article on geospatial satellites gobbledygook. I had no idea whether ‘edit’ meant to correct spelling and grammar or make sense of content or something else. I also had no idea what any of what I was reading meant or where/how I was supposed to write in the thumb-width margins. I got the job.

Since then, particularly as self-employed, I’ve taken every editing test that has come my way, more often seeking them out from publishers and other organisations, definitely too many to keep count. Some with a vague one-line brief, others with a 50-page style guide and dozens of accompanying files and instructions. Some where I’ve set the deadline and the client has agreed, others that have invaded my browser and set running counters. Some that I’ve flunked, several others where I’ve come out on top. Why? Because the pros far outweigh the cons.

Pros

Taking editing tests for potential clients can help to:

  • quickly demonstrate expertise, training and professionalism to the client/employer
  • plant the seed for a relationship of trust with a new client/employer
  • self-assess skills objectively, whether you have formal editorial training and are starting out or are experienced and need to be kept on your toes.
  • build self-confidence (no pain, no gain, plus who doesn’t like a random ego boost?!)
  • identify areas that need to be strengthened or updated, subject/genre-wise or in technical expertise
  • acquire new knowledge or reinforce previous learning, both useful professionally regardless of performance on the test
  • improve time management and organisational abilities (e.g. following instructions of the test brief, editing to style specified, labelling files as asked, meeting deadline agreed or completing the test in the set time)
  • account for some unconscious bias in recruitment processes, very useful if you fit any non-traditional/non-dominant label as an individual but also as a language user (you can have multiple first languages and choose to use only one of them in your editing career – the test eliminates having to justify ‘otherness’)
  • find (and get!) the next big gig or dream editing job
  • lay the ground for negotiating your next big raise or up your freelance fees.

Cons

Taking editing tests for potential clients does not:

  • guarantee work, particularly if passing the test is a route to getting on a freelance list of editors (catch-22 situation: those more experienced on the list will invariably get offered work more often/first; without getting on the list and getting work, you can’t become more experienced)
  • give the whole picture of your expertise or transferable abilities to the client (I picked the wrong file topic on a timed test once, and everything went downhill from there)
  • help imposter syndrome on a bad hair test day (we’ve all been there)
  • save time when you already have little to spare (test results can take a few days, weeks, or months even, a contract several more, and a first assignment even longer)
  • account for all bias, unconscious or otherwise (so you may not bag the job even if you do well on the test)
  • alleviate fear of failure.

I’m unlikely to overcome the panic of taking a test any time soon, especially those rotten timed ones. But for the joy of a flutter, I highly recommend taking them. You might just get hooked (and make a career as I have)!

Wrapping up: editing tests

Tests are used by organisations to assess a potential freelancer’s or employee’s editing or proofreading abilities. They can:

  • build self-confidence
  • highlight development needs
  • reduce the influence of unconscious bias
  • form the foundation of a successful business relationship.

Have you taken an editing or proofreading test? Or have you set one as a way to assess a freelancer’s abilities? Tell us more in the comments.

We’ll be sharing more members’ opinions in a future post.

About Ayesha Chari

Ayesha Chari is a sensitive academic and non-fiction editor, who (much to the amusement of both the driving instructor and her partner) was once terrified of taking a test for a UK driving licence despite having driven in India for a decade, but who passed both the theory and practical tests on the first attempt.

 

 

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: butterfly by Patrick Lockley; ferris wheel by Michael Parulava, both on Unsplash.

Forum matters: Spring-cleaning refreshers

This feature comes from the band of CIEP members who volunteer as forum moderators. You will only be able to access links to posts if you’re a forum user and logged in. Find out how to register.

Any mention of spring cleaning immediately brings to mind the opening to Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows:

The Mole had been working very hard all the morning, spring-cleaning his little home … till he had dust in his throat and eyes, and splashes of whitewash all over his black fur, and an aching back and weary arms … It was small wonder, then, that he suddenly flung down his brush on the floor, said … “Hang spring-cleaning!” and bolted out of the house …, and he found himself rolling in the warm grass of a great meadow.

You know you have to think about CPD, updating websites and social media, and tightening up your business information, but it can make you feel a bit Mole-like, all dusty and achy. Thankfully, the great, green meadow of the CIEP forums is there to roll in and refresh yourself!

In ‘Structuring the Dayʼ members share helpful approaches to brushing up yourself and your business that look at time management, preventing the making of lists taking over from the doing of what’s on them, making sure you take account of you, helpful ways to prioritise – along with the usual smattering of technical tips.

Many an inner Mole is revealed across the forums, including in the supportive local groups, as members urge each other to go outside. One of the most enjoyable threads is in the Off topic forum. ‘Wildlife distraction of the dayʼ shares sightings and photos of birds, insects, reptiles and even of ‘cereal-eating, wifi-connected, human-like creatures’. Springwatch, eat your heart out.

Refreshing your business

Once you’ve decided to burrow away, then a quick search of the forums (using five-plus letters!) yields some helpful dustpans, brushes and dusters.

In ‘Free article limit for online newspapersʼ several editors shared workarounds to keep searching for online articles from the same publication when checking an author’s citations.

Has LinkedIn messaging gone premium?ʼ revealed how many members had received a ‘problem’ message on trying to message a new contact, but had then re-enabled messaging those connections on LinkedIn – without going Premium.

For the independently minded, ‘Callout boxesʼ talked about recolouring your proofreading comments in Adobe Acrobat – at the same time reminding members of forum protocol that discourages discussion of course exercises outside official areas.

For those who work on client websites, there are a few thoughts on accessing a client’s WordPress website admin pages as a warning to the uninitiated. Nice that the client sorted it out pretty quickly. Also on the website theme, there are some motivational pointers to help you polish up your SEO.

Refreshing yourself

Of course, spring cleaning is about putting the sparkle back on what you already have, not necessarily about replacing with the new, which is where the forum archives can be a great resource. So keep seeing the shine using tips from ‘Eye strain – new setup needed?ʼ It might be an old thread (2015) but the suggestions are still good:

  • from Janet MacMillan’s emphatic advice to get your eyes checked – ‘an editor pal of mine was experiencing eye strain and eyesight issues and by going to the ophthalmologist forthwith, she saved her sight, and probably her life’
  • through Lisa Cordaro’s thoughts on lens coatings, ambient lighting, frequent screen breaks, ‘And finally, don’t do long days at your VDU. Bad for the eyes and general health!’
  • and very much in the spring-cleaning vein, Ceri Warner’s ‘have you tried adjusting the lighting in the room where you are working? I’ve got my monitor with its back to a window, which I found was very tiring for my eyes, so at the moment I’ve got thin curtains across the window but I do need to rearrange the room when I get a chance.’

The topic was revisited in 2020 in ‘How do you protect your eyes?ʼ and ‘Question about visual migrainesʼ.

CIEP members are great at highlighting helpful links that take you outside the forums – for instance, to John Espirian’s contribution on Louise Harnby’s blog following some chat about using two screens.

If you need to refresh your work interface because of RSI, then ‘Hands-free editing?ʼ offers some thoughts on speech recognition software as a new approach.

The forum moderators hope that, like Mole, you’ll be ‘bewitched, entranced, fascinated’ by the flow of forum threads and that they will help to keep you happy and motivated at spring-cleaning time.

 

Photo credits: mole by Tabble on Pixabay; crocuses by Aaron Burden 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 typesetter

By Andrew Chapman

I’ll have to begin with a disclaimer: a lot of each ‘week in my life’ is currently spent as a (very) amateur home-based teacher of my two children, something I’m sure many CIEP members in the middle years of life can relate to; so this blog post instead reflects some of the variety of my work. ‘Typesetting in times of change’, perhaps!

A flexible approach

It was luck that brought me to my slightly unusual career, mixing editorial and writing work with the design side of publishing. Early in my career, I got a job as a staff writer on a computer magazine – remember the Amstrad PCW word processors? That technology was already obsolescent in the mid-1990s, but in a sense this helped me out: the magazine had a small team, so learning fast on the job, and being able to pick up how to use QuarkXPress, was an asset. A later stint on a weekly newspaper, again requiring a flexible approach, cemented my combination of editing and typesetting skills, which has kept me fed as a freelancer for more than 20 years now.

I’d say the two things that have changed the most in that time have been the software and the route to publication, which are inevitably intertwined. Quark is often forgotten these days, as most publishers use Adobe InDesign – though actually I still prefer Quark myself, and its current version is a worthy competitor once again. In practice I use both most days – although editing work is still done in Word.

Changing technology

The advent of self-publishing has had a major influence on the technology – all routes for print lead to a press-ready PDF, but ebooks have very different constraints and attributes. The holy grail of publishing is a system which is flexible, easy to use and accommodates these very different forms of output from a single source file. Both Quark and InDesign can produce ebooks, but I find they are not always very good – it depends on the book. And now there are various solutions in the mix which can sometimes make all this a simpler business – I’m thinking of Vellum (a Mac-only program which is very clever, but limited in its typesetting features), Pressbooks and other tools created by marketplaces such as Reedsy and Amazon. A new player in the print-and-ebook space is Hederis – too pricey for my taste, but one to watch.

The point of this trip down software’s memory lane is really that one has to keep up with these trends, and expect to use a variety of tools for the job – the varied nature of books and magazines means that no single tool cracks every nut. But the one thing that is guaranteed to have any typesetter in tears is a file in Microsoft Publisher format!

Varied work

Much of my career has been spent in magazines, but over the last few years I have shifted the balance of my business to books – sadly magazines seem to be in serious decline, apart from a niche market for attractive indie magazines, often marketed online. Inevitably shop closures during the pandemic have accelerated the decline of the newsstand, although the more serious enemy really is the vast range of free content online. Thankfully, books seem to be thriving, and in the lockdown months I’ve noticed a lot of authors seem to be finishing their books and looking for help in getting them out.

Being an editor who typesets, or a typesetter who edits – my sense of which I am varies day to day – means I can often be involved through more of a book’s production, which I find very rewarding. I find the two activities occupy very different parts of my ‘headspace’, too: for editing, I have to be working in absolute silence, but I can work on paper or a laptop if need be; whereas for typesetting, I typically have Radio 4 burbling in the background – I have two large screens in front of me, and now can’t remember how I ever managed with one.

I love the variety of projects which freelancing enables me to take on – although the scheduling can of course be a headache, especially when books get delayed or all suddenly come in at once. One recent project which I enjoyed being involved with was a lockdown cookery book by a Michelin-starred chef, whose son grew the vegetables the chef cooked with – so it was an interesting mix of father-and-son bonding and mouth-watering recipes, accompanied by amazing photos by a professional food photographer.

I’m something of a generalist by nature – hence the two sides to my career, I suppose – so I also enjoy not knowing what’s next: my most recent editing projects have been a historical novel, a thesis about forensics in detective fiction and a book about understanding canine psychology; and on the design side there have been business books, a short story collection and a trio of books by an established author dipping her toe in the world of self-publishing for the first time.

If there’s one subject area I particularly enjoy, however, it’s history – I’ve been the editor of a family and social history magazine for the last decade, and these days I typeset it too (of course, sometimes budgetary constraints lurk behind these decisions). And in December, I launched a related side project of my own – a weekly email newsletter presenting first-hand accounts from history, partly because I feel history publishing needs more ‘ordinary’ voices from the past rather than just famous names and royalty. I’m not really sure why I’ve forced more constraints on my complicated week – but I suppose if there’s one thing my erratic career has shown, it’s that I like a challenge.

Working together

Maybe being an editor/typesetter combined is ultimately my real specialism – hopefully I’ve got enough years under the belt now to have some insight into how the two work best together, and I’ll try to suppress the lingering spectre of imposter syndrome that whispers ‘jack of all trades, master of none …’ in my ear.

From a typesetter’s point of view, perhaps a few words of advice might be of help to other editors and the authors they work with:

  • Please don’t embed images in your Word document – or, at least, only do so for reference. Word has a habit of chewing up image files, and in any case, the typesetting process, regardless of the software used, needs images as separate files. (This isn’t necessarily the editor’s responsibility, of course, but they should always be high resolution, ie at least 300dpi.)
  • It’s fine – and indeed helpful – to mark up a Word file with styles, for example for body text and different levels of headings, though try to avoid vast numbers of them; and don’t assume that what falls in a certain way in the Word file will end up looking quite the same in the typeset file.
  • Don’t bother ‘laying out’ a book in Word, with running headers and footers, indents or paragraph spacing, and so on: all this will be lost or changed anyway. When a Word file is imported into InDesign, say, the distinctions between styles can be preserved as well as formatting such as bold and italics, but most other things are likely to change. Ultimately the key thing is that the file distinguishes things semantically: the content is sacred, but the form will change.

Andrew Chapman is a Professional Member of the CIEP, as well as a member of the Publishers Association, the Alliance of Independent Authors, the Society of Authors and the Independent Publishers Guild. When not joining associations, he runs Prepare to Publish with the help of some fellow freelancers. His latest side project, the Histories newsletter, can be found at www.gethistories.com

 


Photo credits: letters by Amador Loureiro; spinach by Sigmund, both on Unsplash

Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

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

Wise owls: should you make your prices public?

The CIEP’s wise owls are all Advanced Professional Members, with well over 100 years of editing and proofreading experience between them. We asked them whether they publish their prices on their website.

Sue LittlefordSue Littleford

I debated this with myself for quite a while, and decided that I kinda would make price information public. My website links to the Institute’s suggested minimum rates as a starting point for negotiation, and explains that the actual price will depend on the condition of the text, what work is wanted and at what speed. One of my pet hates when browsing for services is having no idea whether I can afford a particular provider, or whether they’re overpriced (or suspiciously underpriced) for what they offer. I don’t want to have to give up my email address just to find the whole thing is a non-starter. Indicating the lowest prices also weeds out the people who want 100k words done for a tenner. And giving an external authority for the lowest possible price cuts down arguments (I believe, anyway!). I always pitch in at rather higher than those minimums though, ‘because I’m an APM and those are the lowest rates that should be entertained by anyone’, and I find that people accept that rationale pretty easily. Whether it’s the kind of clients I work for (my red-flag radar is highly active), or whether the website is working its magic, I don’t get people trying to drive down the price much at all. Well, not for private clients – we all know that some publishers and packagers have their own ideas of a ‘sensible’ budget!

Nik Prowse

I have never made my prices public, for several reasons:

  • One size does not fit all: if I made widgets, then I would sell each one for the same price. But editing jobs are all different: you have to weigh up size, complexity, subject matter and state of the manuscript, among other factors. All affect the price.
  • Clients differ: some pay per 1,000 words, some per hour; some offer a fixed fee. Some will negotiate (asking our rate), some won’t (offering a fee). For those who ask we can assess the job (see above) and for those who offer we can decide whether the fee is worth taking.
  • Urgency affects your fee: deadline is an additional consideration. A job that arrives at 4pm on Friday with a deadline of Monday morning commands a higher fee than the same job offered over two weeks.
  • Our reasons for taking work vary: we have clients we aspire to work for, we have those who pay the bills. We may accept low-paid work from a client who calls once a month. But we may decide to establish a better standard of pay with a new client with whom we want to build a long-term relationship.

My starting point is usually CIEP-suggested minimum rates of pay, but for the above reasons I would never advertise a set price for a job.

Liz Jones

I can see the argument in favour of publishing prices, but I choose not to. This is because I work with a range of clients in different sectors, and the way I agree pricing with all of them is different. For most, I agree a rate per project (either for the whole project, or per thousand words, or per page), but sometimes I agree an hourly rate. All of this tends to work out for me within a rate range I find favourable, while also working with my clients’ budgets. I don’t discuss with clients what the others pay me, just as I don’t discuss any other aspects of our agreements and contracts. However, I do find it helpful to share some pricing information privately, with colleagues. This helps me with quoting for new work, and can help them too.

Louise BolotinLouise Bolotin

I don’t publish my prices for one very simple reason: no two jobs are ever the same. As a result, my rates vary. I do a wide variety of work that can range from proofreading a doctoral PhD thesis to editing a company’s white paper, to project-managing a team of writers or doing a ‘proof/edit’ on a self-publisher’s novel. I normally charge by the hour, but when I work with PhD students or self-publishers I’m more likely to negotiate a fixed fee. For some clients I may agree to a day rate. Mostly, but not always, my rates are somewhat above the CIEP’s suggested rates because as an Advanced Professional Member my higher rates reflect that my experience matches my membership status. But I once charged ‘mates’ rates’ to a colleague who asked me to work on his first novel because he is also a close friend (that was also the only occasion I worked with a friend – I’m usually strict about separating work and my private life to avoid complications). And on another occasion, I charged triple my usual rate as I worked on a project for a client that had a multimillion-pound turnover: if I’d not charged what they expected, as such companies expect suppliers to be expensive, they’d have wondered why I was so cheap, perhaps imagining I wasn’t that experienced, and I doubt I’d have got the job.

I don’t find publishing rates is helpful. For example, a potential client could look at them, think I was too expensive and go elsewhere, whereas if they don’t know my rates in advance they will at least contact me and we can have a discussion. If their budget is tight, I can offer a more limited job for the amount they can afford. It also means I can avoid tricky conversations if I estimate the cost of a project for a potential client and they respond with ‘But your website says £XX for proofreading, not £YY’. In my experience, businesses often ask for proofreading when they actually mean copy-editing. So I’d rather have a chat about fees once I know exactly what they want and need. I have seen arguments for publishing one’s rates, but I’m unlikely ever to be convinced of the merit.

Sue Browning

I don’t put my prices on my website or other promo material. The main reason for this is that it is very easy to be ‘held to ransom’ over the sorts of ballpark figures one is compelled to quote ‘blind’ to cover all possible eventualities. If, for instance, I were to say ‘My rates range from X to Y’, it’s very hard to then quote more than Y once I’ve seen a sample, as the message the potential client takes from that is that their work is terrible. And that’s never a good way to start a relationship. Either that or X and Y represent such a huge range as to be unhelpful in the first place.

However, I can quite see how quoting rates might reassure potential customers and also dissuade people who are not willing to pay what I want to charge. So I don’t completely ignore the rates issue on my site. Instead I explain that I tailor what I do to each person’s specific requirements and offer a free short sample edit. This seems to work for me in that I attract the types of client I want to attract. But it’s a decision I review from time to time, as I do most of my business practices.

Michael FaulknerMike Faulkner

I fudge the pricing issue on my website, which I often think looks a bit unhelpful, but there are three reasons.

First, I worry that putting my hourly rate out there will reduce the number of enquiries, and I won’t have the opportunity to justify my rate in ‘conversation’. Secondly, my work is extremely varied and therefore price-elusive, ranging from serious law books to literary fiction to children’s illustrated. And thirdly, while I could publish an hourly rate, I would find it impossible to give an idea how that translates into what the client will actually pay, because my words-per-hour rate of progress varies so dramatically depending on the nature of the material, and how clean it is.

My calculation for quoting purposes almost invariably depends on the rate of progress through a (free) sample. Assuming I know the final word count, I divide that by the words per hour achieved in the sample, and multiply the result by my hourly rate – and of course every project is different (unless it’s a regular client, in which case no need for all this malarkey and I can go straight to the price).

So, my publicly stated rate can be summarised in the editor’s two favourite words: it depends!


The revised second edition of the CIEP’s guide Going Solo: Creating your editorial business is now available – it’s a great place to start if you’re considering becoming a self-employed editor or proofreader.


Photo credits: owl by Kevin Noble on Unsplash

Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

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

Reviving my editing business

By Louise Bolotin

Like many freelancers, I was hit hard by the pandemic. 2020 started well enough, including a huge two-month project for a Commission. But in the week before we went into lockdown last March, I ran into deep trouble. First, as businesses battened down their financial hatches, all the projects I’d had booked in up to mid-June were cancelled by my clients. And then the local weekly newspaper where I’d worked as their subeditor for several years rang to say they were laying me off. In the space of a few days, I lost 100% of my work. Utter despair and panic set in because after the final week of that lucrative Commission job, I had nothing – for the first time in 15 years of working for myself.

Normally I’d never admit this, but I was not alone. I heard countless similar tales from other freelancers. For a few weeks I seriously contemplated getting a supermarket job. I had bills to pay, after all. I even got as far as half-heartedly filling out some of an application form for one supermarket. But I reminded myself that I still wanted to be my own boss, rather than someone’s employee. So as the public clamoured to ‘build back better’, I resolved to do the same, as there was no point dwelling on what I’d lost.

Once the shock had settled, it was time to roll up my sleeves. Under lockdown, I had plenty of time to review what I needed to do to bring work back to me – I’d let a few things slide for a while because when you are busy you’re often too busy to do marketing essentials. I also thought about what I didn’t want so I could make the big decisions. One thing I definitely didn’t want was to commute again. I’d worked at the newspaper one day a week, sometimes two, but the prospect of sitting on a train for 45 minutes each way in the middle of a pandemic was now unthinkable.

Despite the prospect of no income for goodness knows how long, I pledged to do a minimum two things every day that might generate work, and I also felt I could afford to spend a bit to earn a bit as I qualified for the government’s SEISS grant.

First, it was time to invest in a new website and logo. My then website was 10 years old and looked dated and unprofessional. Within a few weeks of launching my new look, my site analytics were showing increased visits and enquiries.

Next, it was time to up my CPD. First in my sights was the CIEP’s Medical Editing course, something I’d planned to do for a while but not got round to. Under lockdown I had time to get cracking. I completed the course in October and then paid for a freelance directory entry on a specialist network with the aim of finding medcomms work. That is starting to pay off.

As a member of the National Union of Journalists I have access to a huge suite of free courses run by the Federation of Entertainment Unions. In April I joined their webinars on Cash Flow Planning and Freelance Finance to get a quick grip on loss of income. These helped ease some of the financial stress I was experiencing. I also did the FEU’s Grow Your Business via Email Marketing webinar in August – it was both useful and inspiring. Within days I’d opened a Mailchimp account and am now sending a monthly newsletter to my clients. Late last year, I attended the FEU’s course on goal-setting. I’d never done this before, but I set two goals for this year and I’m reviewing them every month. One was to find three new long-term contracts – two of them found me in December.

There were other things – signing up to some paid-for freelancing newsletters that signpost work opportunities and yet more webinars, and joining a Slack community for journalists that was hugely valuable in providing camaraderie and support for lockdown stress and mental health.

Among my ‘two things a day’ pledge, this was a good time to update my various directory entries, including my CIEP one. I polished my CV and opted to spend more time on LinkedIn engaging with colleagues. I scoured job sites most days to look for freelance work. I got commissioned by a national newspaper to write a feature on being separated from my husband under lockdown. My NUJ branch also hired me to update my training courses on the business of freelancing and run them for branch members on Zoom.

The hard labour paid off and work has come back – in November I was fully booked for the first time since lockdown. And I learned the following:

Resilience matters: I’ve always been strong, and have bounced back from some of my life’s most challenging situations. I drew on that in 2020 to rebuild my business, bank balance and sanity. Never underestimate the power of keeping going – you’ll get to where you want to be eventually.

Envy is pointless: I felt irrationally furious at some colleagues who were still busy. Why them? Why not me? Especially the ones who’d only just started freelancing. But who knew what trouble they too might be in? For all I knew, just because they seemed busy, it didn’t mean they too weren’t struggling. I felt better when I let go of the envy and focused on building back.

It’s OK to ask for help: I’m not great at this, but I did. I was honest on social media, in the forums of my professional bodies and to friends offline about being in a hole and needing work. This helped keep my spirits up and some CIEP colleagues were kind enough to put work my way. I have since given interviews on how freelancers were hit and what I did to get back on my feet. I hope that helped others.

Louise BolotinLouise Bolotin began her career in journalism, turning her attention to the editorial side after a decade. She still writes occasionally, but has been a freelance editor since 2005 and is an Advanced Professional Member of the CIEP. She specialises in working with companies on business documents, alongside copyediting a few books every year. An NUJ trainer on the business aspects of freelancing, she took her own advice when the pandemic struck.


Photo credits: empty train by Carl Nenzen Loven; small business fighting for survival by Gene Gallin 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 fiction editor and writer

By Rachel Rowlands

I’ve been a freelance fiction editor for about three and a half years now. I love what I do, and aside from getting to immerse myself in fiction every day, being able to be flexible is a big perk of the job. This is because I’m also a writer.

I studied English and Creative Writing at university, and I always wanted to be an author. But working in book publishing was another ambition of mine – and becoming a freelance editor was the only way I could do that, given that London living costs are ridiculous. Plus, I grew up in the north, and I’m a homebody!

Editing and writing go hand in hand for me – I can pass on knowledge I’ve gained as a writer to my clients. I’ve been able to advise my authors by drawing on my own experiences of exploring traditional publishing.

A typical week

My day-to-day tends to be similar. I’m flexible about the hours I work, but I try to stick to office hours and be done by 5 or 6pm. A typical week involves working on one or two of the following projects:

  • a manuscript assessment or beta read
  • a copy or line edit
  • a proofread.

I usually work on manuscript assessments and beta reads alongside a copy/line edit or a proofread, because I enjoy the variety, and it breaks up the day. I’ll spend the morning doing the more intensive job – say, a heavy copy/line edit or a complicated proofread – and the afternoon reading a manuscript on my Kindle and making developmental notes. I mainly work at my desk, but sometimes I move to an armchair downstairs by the window, with a view of the greenery outside.

There are other tasks involved in my work, depending on what’s going on in a given week. I don’t have a dedicated admin day, though. I’ll do these tasks as and when needed, either first thing in the morning or when I’ve wrapped up a chunk of work for the day:

  • answering emails from clients
  • responding to enquiries
  • responding to requests from publishers
  • invoicing
  • sending out contracts
  • booking in new and repeat clients
  • accounting
  • marketing (anything from writing a blog post to networking)
  • visiting Twitter (I use it to keep up with the book industry, although it’s easy to procrastinate – I use SelfControl for Mac when I need to focus).

How I fit writing into my day

I don’t have a set writing routine. Writing comes in stages. Sometimes I’m drawing a map of a fictional world, or outlining, or writing pitches to send to my agent; other times I’m knee-deep in a draft.

If I’m up early, I’ll write in bed with a cup of coffee before moving to my desk to do client work. Other days, when I really need to crack on with editorial work (and that comes first because it pays the bills), the writing will happen later in the evening.

I might email my agent with pitches or to discuss ideas. It’s great to have someone supportive on your side, and I think that’s part of what I find rewarding about being an editor.

How writing helps me be a better editor

I’ve been learning about and studying writing craft for a long time – since before I became an editor. This gave me a huge advantage when I set up as a freelancer. Things I learned at university, or by digging into books, attending writing groups, or through trial and error and critique, I can pass on to my clients to help them grow.

Being a fiction writer myself, I can spot issues in other people’s stories, such as world-building problems, exposition, hollow dialogue and characterisation issues. But my writing experience allows me to do other things more focused on the industry and cheerleading for my clients:

  • helping authors with query letters
  • advising on submitting to agents
  • explaining the pros and cons of traditional publishing versus self-publishing
  • empathising with my authors
  • discussing rejection honestly – it happens to everyone, and I often tell my clients about my own experience of racking up rejection letters
  • having frank conversations about the likelihood of being able to make money as a writer
  • pinpointing the market/target audience of a project – for example, I’ve worked on some MG (Middle Grade) projects that focused on grown-ups, which would be a hard sell.

Some might feel it’s a conflict of interest, being both a writer and an editor of fiction, but most of my authors appreciate my knowledge and that I can relate to their struggles. I’ve walked in their shoes, and they can trust me to be honest about what their work needs. I try not to impose my personal preferences, but instead frame things in a way that can help develop their own vision in line with their goals.

Professional development

I try to fit some professional development into my week, if I’m not too slammed. This can be anything from making progress on a course I’m taking, watching a webinar, to reading a reference book. This week, it was catching up on the CIEP’s conference recordings because I was too busy to participate in real-time.

I count reading books in the genres I edit as professional development, so I always fit leisure reading into my day (recently I’ve finished and loved The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix). Sometimes my leisure reading will be related to a writing project I’m working on. I’m currently reading some HP Lovecraft stories and Arthur Conan Doyle’s Eerie Tales, since I’m writing a historical/gothic fantasy.

Leisure time

When my mind’s been occupied by editing and writing all day, I need a breather! I’ll do something light-hearted, like watching an anime with my husband, or playing Animal Crossing. Working with words can be tiring, so I like to start off my downtime with something unrelated to books. Yoga helps me stretch out after a long day at a desk!

I always try to squeeze in an hour of leisure reading before bed. Even though I read all day, it’s my favourite way to unwind.

And that’s what my work week usually looks like. I take weekends off from editing, but I do some writing then, too, because I have more free time. Like other writers, it’s a balance to fit everything in, but I love what I do!

Rachel Rowlands is an editor, writer and Professional Member of the CIEP. She has a degree in English and Creative Writing and specialises in adult, YA and MG fiction, including fantasy, sci-fi, horror, romance and crime/thriller. She also edits general commercial non-fiction. You can find her at www.racheljrowlands.com or on Twitter.

 

 


Photo credits: books by Ed Robertson; writing by Green Chameleon 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 virtual PA

By Sherona Treen-Coward of Treen Coward Associates

I began my self-employment journey in 2014; having spent 16 years in industry, I felt it was time for a new challenge. I had worked in the legal sector and the NHS, mainly in administrative and managerial roles. I wanted to put my skills to good use, and the concept of the virtual PA was emerging. I also wanted to futureproof my work, and I felt this was a business I could build upon.

In 2017, as the team grew and our services expanded, we decided to rebrand. I now have two employees and a specialist contractor on board, as we continue to grow and evolve the business to suit the ever-changing needs of the professional service industries. As such, we can offer a variety of services, such as virtual PA, virtual administrator, note-taking for meetings, social media management, bookkeeping and call answering.

Like many self-employed individuals, I often cite the variety in my work as a huge benefit. I work with service-based professionals from a variety of industries; however, the principles of good business administration remain the same.

I work traditional office hours: Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm. Typical daily work for me will include chasing documentation over the phone, appointment setting, diary and email management, CRM management, document formatting, invoicing, answering calls and dealing with queries, drafting content for various purposes, and audio typing. I will also note-take at board and other business meetings, and compile action lists and associated papers as well as ensuring they are circulated well in advance of the meeting.

I am also involved in a variety of projects where we agree a process, and I ensure this is adhered to as well as carrying out any tasks that may be assigned to me. I particularly enjoy project-related work, as evaluating or managing processes has always been part of my managerial administrative background.

Stay professional

Pre-pandemic I would often attend many meetings each week which involved travel. All my meetings have since moved online, and I always qualify the purpose of a meeting before agreeing to any requests. I think that has become more important than ever, as demands on our time have not necessarily decreased, but they have changed. One thing I am always conscious of is working productively and adding value rather than being busy. Like many, I am now working from home but have set up my home office to ensure I separate work from non-work. I do miss the travel associated with my work, but it is more important to be safe at this time.

Being a virtual PA and business manager is not just about getting appointments in the diary. We are often the first point of contact for many organisations and professionals, the face or voice of someone else’s business, and their professional reputation can start and end with us. Even though all our meetings have now moved online, I still observe office attire when facing clients or attending a business meeting.

When I first started out and was working from home, I had to deal with assumptions that I wasn’t doing much all day and had lots of free time, but that is not the case. Our clients work traditional office hours and we support them during that time and deadlines are there to be met. While a benefit of self-employment is managing one’s own diary, discipline is essential if you want to stay in business.

Aside from working in the business, I also set time aside to work on the business. Like every business, we need to undertake accounting and marketing activities among other things. I block time out each week to plan our social media, write blogs, and check over our accounting system. I also check in with my colleagues, our clients, and meet with my business mentor, whose support has been invaluable to me and my business.

Stay connected

Part of our marketing strategy involves networking, which I do regularly, and I am a member of a weekly networking event that now meets online. It is also part of a larger network where I can attend other meetings and catch up with other members. Networking is a really important part of my work, and one of the most enjoyable bits too. Meeting with like-minded business owners helps develop a business mindset, and it’s a great way to keep up to date with news from various industries. I always recommend networking to other business owners, regardless of their line of work: it is a great way to meet other professionals, build your professional relationships and create opportunities for potential work. I always enjoyed running the SfEP [now the CIEP] annual conference speed networking events and getting to know the members.

Similarly, I have been able to source professional suppliers based on reputation and trust by asking my network. But it’s not all work, work, work – there are social aspects to networking, which are equally important to us as human beings. When I first started, it was easy to get through almost the whole day without speaking to anyone, as I was so focused on building my business, but through networking, I realised that to build my business I needed to build relationships too.

Plan your courses

Another important part of my working life is CPD [Continuing Professional Development]. As an employee, I was required to attend training courses, and often delivered training too, but being self-employed meant I now had complete control over my CPD plan. I have taken various courses over the years, from introductory to post-grad level; they may relate specifically to my work, but also general business-ownership matters such as marketing or leadership. I am currently completing the ILM Level 5 in Leadership and Management as I want to undertake more project management and process improvement work, and this is taking up quite a bit of my working week as the course comes to an end.

Some courses have been free, others require a financial investment. I have a CPD plan that I review regularly to ensure the courses I attend add value to my work and ultimately my clients. CPD comes in many forms, such as general reading, listening to podcasts, or undertaking self-directed research. That said, I also recently attended a short online art course, which forced me to slow down and make time to observe – traits which I’m sure will benefit all aspects of my life.

Allow time for yourself

It may not seem that there’s much time left after all that, but as my grandparents often reminded me, all work and no play … As difficult as it can be, I always try to do one thing for myself each day. It can be something really small like walking the dog, a five-minute exercise while waiting for the kettle to boil, or calling a family member or friend. I try to do it before I start work so I feel energised for the day ahead; sometimes it’s not possible, and there may be days when it doesn’t happen, but it’s important to factor in some time for yourself to keep a healthy mind and body, and to maintain your relationships in and out of work.

At the end of the week, I always take a moment to look at what I have achieved and celebrate those wins! Again, they may be big or small, but ending the working week positively with a glass of something sparkly is important to me. I’m fortunate to live within reach of two cities and several beaches, and at the weekend I like to spend lots of time outdoors, walking or kayaking. The contrast to my working life really helps me to achieve some kind of work-life balance.

Sherona Treen-Coward is a Virtual PA and business manager with over 20 years’ experience working with lawyers, doctors and service-based professionals within the UK. After starting her own business in 2014, one of Sherona’s first self-employed contracts was supporting the SfEP conference director, drafting and sending correspondence on behalf of the SfEP. Five SfEP conferences later (and imposter syndrome very rarely permitting) she thought perhaps she wasn’t that bad a writer after all, and finally started writing her own stuff.


Check out the other posts in our ‘Week in the life’ series: discover what a picture researcher, senior editorial project manager and a book indexer do.


Photo credits: Desk by Nathan Riley on Unsplash; video conference by Alexandra_Koch on Pixabay.

Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

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