Imagine that you’ve recently completed some solid training in proofreading and/or copy-editing, and you’re looking forward to your new existence as a fully fledged editorial professional. But wait! How can you be sure you’re correctly applying all that you’ve learned?
One of the best places to learn is on the job, but this can be particularly stressful when you’re starting out. You want to be sure you’re doing the best work you can for a paying client – not only to offer them a good service for the money, but also to secure repeat business.
Here are some tips for getting valuable proofreading or copy-editing practice when you’re starting out, or if you’re expanding into new areas – without risking your reputation on a live job.
Once you’ve undertaken enough basic training, one further training route that the SfEP offers its members is mentoring (as do some other editorial organisations, such as EAC). You can be mentored in general proofreading or copy-editing, and there is now also the option of specialist mentoring in areas such as fiction, biomedical journals, law and music. Your mentor will send you exercises to work on (usually extracts from material they have edited previously) and will then provide you with detailed feedback and guidance on your strengths, as well as where you need to improve, over the course of several months. On successful completion of mentoring you will be awarded points that can be used towards upgrading your SfEP membership.
Those of us who work freelance can lack opportunities to simply lean over and ask a more experienced colleague for help if we get stuck, or if we don’t know where to turn to support an editorial decision. One ever-reliable source of information on best practice is the SfEP forums. You can ask your own question as it arises, or search the extensive archives to see if the topic has been discussed before. (Often, it has!) Alternatively, read the forums regularly and see what others are asking. Sometimes the battle when trying to improve as an editor is not finding the answer to a particular question – it’s finding out what questions it’s necessary to ask.
The SfEP forums aren’t the only places to go for advice. Other online forums, such as the Editors’ Association of Earth Facebook group, are also invaluable and easily accessed sources of advice and support, and can provide a slightly different perspective.
Critical appreciation of others’ work
This is one method that does require a live job and a dash of good fortune, but sometimes as a proofreader you will be lucky enough to see the work of an editorial professional employed earlier in the process, such as the copy-editor or the development/commissioning editor, as part of your proofreading or copy-editing job. Even a small insight into how someone else – perhaps someone considerably more experienced – works can be illuminating. Don’t simply collate what’s there, or skip over it – try to understand why editorial decisions have been taken, and what the implications are for you and the wider publishing process.
If you are able to attend a local SfEP group, this could provide an ideal opportunity to pick colleagues’ brains about best approaches to work. Perhaps you could suggest sharing examples of how group members have tackled real-life jobs, or short extracts from them … NDAs and client confidentiality permitting, of course.
Read, read, read
It sounds obvious, but it can be easy to overlook the need to read voraciously, outside of actual work. If you specialise in particular types of editing work, and most of us probably do, it’s obviously important to read widely in these areas – but really, almost any kind of reading will help to train your eye and help you to know what good writing looks like (and what it doesn’t). And let’s face it, it’s not as if more reading is a chore for most editors!
This might sound obvious, but you can’t ever have too much practice. It’s possible to get up to speed with the basics of editing fairly quickly, but it can take years to get really good. You never stop learning, even over the course of decades – technology and software move on, and editorial fashions and tastes change. Keeping up to date with innovations and reflecting on your practice never stop being important.
By Liz Jones has been an editor since 1998, and full-time freelance since 2008; she is an Advanced Professional Member of the SfEP. She specialises in trade non-fiction, fiction and educational publishing, but also works with a range of business clients and individuals. When not editing she writes fiction, and also blogs about editing and freelancing at Eat Sleep Edit Repeat.
Posted by Tracey Roberts, SfEP blog coordinator.
The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the SfEP
One of the biggest benefits of being a Professional or Advanced Professional Member of the SfEP is free entry in the Society’s Directory of Editorial Services. This online resource lists more than 600 members of the Society – the ideal place for clients to search for editors and proofreaders with a huge array of skills and specialisms.
Since releasing the new version of the SfEP website at the end of 2015, we’ve been busy enhancing the Directory. In this post, I’m going to cover some new features that we think you’ll like.
Directory entries now support the display of a small, square profile photo. These appear to the left of the membership grade badge, at 128×128 pixels. Here are a couple of examples:
You can supply a larger image if that’s more convenient – we’ll handle the scaling for you.
If you want a certain part of your entry to stand out, just ask for it to be your featured section. We’ll apply a separate style to that part of the entry. Featured content is usually best placed at the top of the entry.
You can make your entry stand out by including recommendations from your clients. We now have a new style for displaying testimonials. Just send us the text and the name of the client, and we’ll do the rest.
The Directory now supports videos, so you can display content from YouTube, Vimeo and any other video-sharing service. All we need from you is the iframe embed code.
On YouTube, the iframe code can be found by clicking Share and then Embed.
On Vimeo, the Share button leads directly to the iframe code.
Videos are a great way to promote your services. I’ve blogged about this in another post: The rise of video in promoting editorial services.
Search engine visibility
By default, we allow search engines to index Directory entries. A Google search for your name should mean your entry appears in the search results. For most members, that’s good news.
But some members have told us that they’d prefer not to have their details indexed by search engines. So, we’ve added an option to hide individual entries from the bots that crawl the internet.
If you want to hide your Directory entry from search engines, just let us know.
We’re usually able to apply all changes within one working day. Just tell us which changes to make, and we’ll handle the details.
Want to be listed in the Directory?
If you’re a Professional or Advanced Professional Member, you can request a Directory listing via the SfEP Members’ area.
If you’re an Entry-Level or Intermediate Member, take a look at what you need to do to upgrade your membership. Many members listed in the Directory cite it as one of their main sources of income.
If you’re not part of the membership yet, perhaps you’ll consider joining the SfEP.
The future of the Directory
I hope you’ll agree that these new features are a good start. But we want the SfEP Directory to be even better.
We’re working hard behind the scenes so that you can update your own entry directly. We’ll let you know as soon as this feature is ready. But remember: you can request an update to your entry at any time – just email firstname.lastname@example.org to let us know.
Over to you
OK, that’s it for now. What do you think of the new-look Directory? Let us know by leaving a comment. We’d love to hear from you.
John Espirian (@espirian) is the SfEP’s internet director and principal forum administrator.
Booking for our 2016 conference, ‘Let’s Talk About Text’, closes on Friday 8 July. At the time of writing there are only a handful of non-resident places left, so if you don’t want to miss out, book now!
I’ve been invited to present in a ‘Speed start-up: what newbies need to know’ session at the SfEP conference in September on the subject of pricing work, alongside Sue Littleford (Numbers for word people) and Louise Harnby (Banishing the marketing heebie-jeebies). Here’s a taster of my section of the session.
Pricing editorial work comes up time and again in discussion between editors. In the session I’m going to look at the basic process of quoting for work, which can be applied across a range of situations. The same principles can also be used to work out if a fixed fee offered by a client is fair.
Assess the information provided about the work
The client should provide you with the project parameters, including extent or word count, schedule, level of editing required, and so on. They might suggest a price, or they might ask you to quote.
Ask for more information if you need it
You can’t accurately price work without adequate information and a sample of the text. If the client will not provide the information you need to price the work, proceed with caution!
Work out what your work is worth
To work out a price for the work, you can take the hourly rate you need/want to earn, multiply it by the length of time you estimate the job will take, and add on contingency to arrive at a total fee. Alternatively you can quote what you think the work is worth to the client. Other factors can influence the figure, such as the particular market, or the time frame allowed for the work.
Use data from previous projects/colleagues to help you
To enable you to estimate how long a job will take, it is essential to keep records of work you do. If you are asked to quote for work unlike anything you have done, you can ask colleagues for advice – for example, in the SfEP forums.
Prepare a quote, making clear what it covers
When you provide a price, you should also indicate what this price includes. For many publishers, this will be fairly straightforward, as they are likely to be commissioning you for a commonly understood part of the process such as copy-editing or proofreading. For a non-publisher, you will need to ensure they know precisely what they are getting for their money, and importantly what is not included.
Prepare to negotiate
If your client suggests a price, don’t be afraid to ask for more if you think the work warrants it; equally, if you suggest a price, be prepared for the client trying to negotiate down.
Agree terms with the client, and start work
Make sure you have the agreed price and the scope of work in writing before you start work. If anything changes that might affect the price, raise this with your client as soon as possible.
In the session I’ll be looking in more detail at each of the stages – with particular focus on working out what the job is worth – and taking questions. There will also be a handout with further information and links to resources to help you at each stage of the process.
Sue, Louise and I will be presenting on Monday, 12 September 2016, between 1.30 and 2.30 p.m. I hope to see you there!
Liz Jones has been an editor since 1998, and full-time freelance since 2008; she is an Advanced Professional Member of the SfEP. She specialises in trade non-fiction, fiction and educational publishing, but also works with a range of business clients and individuals. When not editing she writes fiction, and also blogs about editing and freelancing at Eat Sleep Edit Repeat.
Posted by Tracey Roberts, SfEP blog coordinator
The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the SfEP
The speed start-up session at the 2016 conference (on Monday 12th at 1:30) will begin with a segment on finance (followed by Liz Jones on pricing and Louise Harnby on marketing – it’s going to be a busy hour!). Editors and proofreaders are by nature word people, so many of us can find it hard to get to grips with the money end of running our businesses. But you’re not just a proofreader or an editor, you’re a business owner, too, so you do need to understand what your statutory obligations are (keeping records, including the right information on your invoices, making a timely and accurate tax return and paying your tax and national insurance by the deadline). HMRC puts a huge amount of effort into making it easy for you to get your tax return right, and all the things that revolve around it, like understanding what business expenses are allowable (i.e. what expenditure you can offset against your profits to reduce your tax bill) and what aren’t.
You also need to know how to budget for the things you need to buy (equipment, reference materials, memberships) and money you need to spend (tax and national insurance, plus perhaps pension contributions), and how much you need to put by to tide you over times of not working, whether for planned holidays, periods of illness, or those times when work just won’t land in your inbox no matter what you do.
Understand the importance of cash flow – more businesses have come unstuck because of a lack of ready cash to cover their commitments than from a lack of overall profitability – and translate that understanding into actions for invoicing promptly and chasing overdue invoices.
I see a lot of comments from people in editors’ groups right across social media saying that invoicing and requiring payment on time makes them cringe – they feel pushy and mercenary. Well, the only thing I can say to that is – don’t! You’re a business owner, not a doormat. Contracts have two halves – what you’ll do and what you’ll be paid for doing it. You did your bit, so now it’s time for your client to fulfil their part of the contract.
Sadly, but unsurprisingly, clients usually have their focus elsewhere than on your finances, so you need to be the one to remind them, and to remind them again, if need be. Keep it polite, keep it businesslike and don’t apologise. But just in case, be aware that you have rights to claim interest and penalties on late payments from clients who are also businesses.
As there’s such a lot to get through, there’ll be a handout bursting with links to plenty more detailed information. There’ll be time for a few questions, too. To get you started, a huge amount of information on running the financial end of a business can be found at www.gov.uk. Start with the two options Business and self-employed and Money and tax.
Sue Littleford, an Advanced Professional Member of the SfEP, was a career civil servant, before being forcibly outsourced, and spent 14 years as payroll manager for what is now the Ministry of Justice. Then she changed tack altogether and has now been a freelance copy-editor since 2007, working mostly on postgraduate textbooks in the humanities and social sciences, plus the occasional horseracing thriller.
If you’re a new entrant to the field of editorial freelancing, and you’re attending this year’s SfEP conference in Aston, I hope you’ll join me and my co-presenters Liz Jones and Sue Littleford at our speed start-up session: Things newbies need to know. Together, we’ll be rattling through some top tips to help you with three pillars of editorial business building: finance, pricing editorial work, and marketing. I’ll be handling the marketing section.
I know that business promotion gives many newbies the heebie-jeebies, and so, with that in mind, I’ve based the presentation around the questions that I’ve been asked most frequently by anxious marketers-to-be. In this way, I hope the session will be as much about what I think you should know as what you think you want to know!
I want the session to be as accessible as possible, so I’m throwing in a couple of promises, too – there’ll be no marketing jargon and you needn’t have any prior experience of business promotion whatsoever. It’ll just be me talking to you – one editorial freelancer to another. If you hear me utter words such as ‘utility’, ‘drill down’, ‘marginal’ or ‘basis of segmentation’, you have permission to throw things at me!
So what are those frequently asked questions?
What is marketing? I don’t have a clue where to start!
What do I say? How do I structure my marketing message?
What promotional tools or activities work best?
How do I get noticed and stand out from the crowd?
Should I promote myself as a generalist or a specialist?
How do I combat my marketing nerves?
Using those questions as my guide, I’ll provide you with one definition and five frameworks to banish those heebie-jeebies and provide you with a structured way of developing your editorial marketing strategy with confidence and even, I hope, a little excitement.
There’ll be a handout, too, that includes a summary of what’s been discussed and a list of useful additional resources to help you on your editorial marketing journey, including the latest combined edition of my business books, Omnibus: Editorial Business Planning & Marketing Plus (all conference attendees will be entitled to a one-off 20% discount voucher for use against a purchase of the PDF).
Liz, Sue and I will be presenting on Monday, 12 September 2016, between 1.30 and 2.30 p.m. We look forward to seeing you there. [There are a limited number of conference places left if you haven’t booked yet, but do it soon!]
After gaining employment as an editorial assistant I investigated options for training and career development, and my research immediately led me to the SfEP. I was impressed by the range of training opportunities and advice available, and applied for membership straight away. I have benefited from the advice provided on the website (especially the forum and blog), and wanted to contribute something myself. But as I’m just starting out in my new career I have little editorial experience to share and I can be best described as a ‘newbie’.
The Cambridge English Dictionary defines a newbie as someone who has just started doing an activity, a job etc.
Starting a new career can be daunting. But being a newbie should be viewed positively as an opportunity to learn something new, and I have learnt so much during my first year of SfEP membership. I have completed the ’Proofreading 1’ and ‘Copy-editing 1’ courses via distance learning, and I would highly recommend them as a starting point for anyone considering a career in editing or proofreading. I’m currently studying ‘Proofreading 2: Progress’, where your work is assessed by your tutor (an unnerving prospect for this newbie). Signing up for the mentoring programme will be equally daunting. But progress requires constructive feedback and I am looking forward to what I will learn from these courses and what new opportunities they may bring.
I am also grateful for the networking opportunities that membership has provided, and I have benefited greatly from the knowledge and experience that has been shared by other members. A number of networking opportunities are available and, regardless of your circumstances, newbies can find a convenient way to meet other members. The SfEP has pages on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter, and those keen to meet in person can also join a local group (a Skype group is available for international members). I attended my first meeting with the East Midlands group, where experienced members shared valuable advice and made me feel very welcome. New members are also encouraged to attend the annual conference, although I appreciate that this can be a daunting prospect when you don’t know anyone yet (see recent blogs by Karen and Katherine).
To aid my professional development I applied for the position of SfEP blog coordinator and was thrilled when I was offered the role. We have a number of great blog pieces written by experienced editors which will be published over the coming months, and we would love to hear from anyone else who would like to write for us. The blog covers any topics relevant to editors including freelance business advice, editing tips, guidance on using new software, sharing insight into your specialist area and anything else you think may be of interest to members. See 10 tips for your first proofreading job by John Espirian which will be of interest to new members.
I would also like to invite other newbies to write for the blog and share their experiences as they progress in their new career. No one ever said that starting a new career would be easy, but training and sound advice goes a long way to making this experience easier. This is what membership of the SfEP provides. As the new blog coordinator I look forward to sharing the thoughts and experiences of other members, both long-standing and new.
If you are interested in writing for the blog or have any feedback please get in touch email@example.com.
Tracey Roberts recently graduated with an MSc in Neuroscience and is an Entry-Level member of the SfEP. She currently works as editorial assistant for the Cochrane Schizophrenia Group based in Nottingham and is the SfEP blog coordinator.
The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the SfEP.
Unsurprisingly, new members of the SfEP often have many questions about how to handle that first proofreading job. What are the tips and tricks to getting started with an initial piece of paid work? Are there any pitfalls to avoid? How much should you charge?
This post sets out 10 tips to help new proofreaders. Follow them and you’ll be much more confident when working for your first client.
Here’s what this post covers. Click a link to take you straight to that section:
Let’s start by creating a scenario for a typical proofreading job.
You’ve been contacted by a prospective client who wants you to proofread an article. It’s a 60,000-word document and you know something about the subject matter, but you’re not an expert. The client hasn’t worked with a proofreader before and would like to know how much the job will cost.
Now, let’s look at 10 tips to help you get through this first job. Ready?
Tip 1: Clarify the brief
The ‘brief’ is what the client has asked you to do – in this case, it’s proofreading their article, but you don’t yet have any further details about what ‘proofreading’ means to the client.
Clarifying the brief means you should ensure that your understanding of ‘proofreading’ matches the client’s, especially if the client isn’t a publishing professional or hasn’t paid for editorial services before.
Working to the brief is really important but even more important is understanding what the brief is in the first place. If your expectations don’t match the client’s, the end result isn’t going to be right. So you need to ensure that the requirements are crystal clear.
Here are a few questions you might want to ask:
Is there a style guide to work from?
Are there any references to deal with?
Is it just text or are there figures, tables and illustrations?
The brief is important because it helps you work out how much time the job is likely to take. This knowledge should help you quote a price that reflects the effort required to complete the work to an acceptable standard.
Let’s see the thoughts of a highly experienced SfEP colleague:
Find out the history of the work, e.g. has it been copy-edited to SfEP standard? Or are you the first professional to get their hands on it? If the client is not happy with previous work, find out what hasn’t worked for them.
Tip 2: Ask for a representative sample of the work
OK, you’ve clarified the brief and now know what the client wants. You might be able to do everything that’s required, but what if the source text needs a lot of work? You won’t know until the job starts, right? Wrong. You need to know what state the text is in before you start the job. But how can you find this out?
The answer is to ask for a representative sample of the work. In this case, you would want to see at least a few thousand words (aim for 5–10% of the total), ideally taken from somewhere in the middle of the content. Why? Because authors will often polish the start and end of their writing, so seeing these parts might not give you a proper flavour of the rest of the work.
Getting hold of a representative sample will give an indication of how much effort is required to do the job. Perhaps you’ll discover that the text isn’t even ready for proofreading. Although you’re understandably eager to get going with your first job, the sample may reveal that this particular piece of work isn’t right for you. Should that be the case, it’s best to tell the client straight away.
Tip 3: Get the quote right
Once you know what the client is expecting and you’ve assessed a sample of the text, it’s time to think about how much to charge. A lot of newbie proofreaders freeze at this point. They have moments of self-doubt, wondering whether they can really charge anything for their services. Perhaps it would be better to do the job for nothing?
Although some established professionals support the idea of early work being done at a very low rate (or even for free), most would advise new proofreaders to charge a normal, respectable figure. So, what is that figure?
We usually advise members to look at the suggested minimum rates published on the SfEP website. These hourly figures give an idea of a good minimum amount to aim for. But that then poses another question: how many hours will the job take?
The time required to do the job should have a bearing on what you charge. The exact amount to charge depends on a few factors. Consider these questions:
How long is the text?
How complex is the subject matter?
What’s the deadline?
The answers to these questions will give you an idea of how much effort is required and therefore how much you should charge.
Now, think again about the scenario involving the 60,000-word article. Imagine that you’ve seen a representative sample. It’s good news: the text is brilliantly written and the subject matter turns out not to be as complex as you first thought. You think you can read and correct the rest of the text pretty quickly. You guess that a pace of 4000 words per hour might be achievable. At that rate, you’d need to work for 15 hours to do the job.
Most proofreaders struggle to put in more than 6 hours of work per day. (Proofreading requires a lot of concentration and can be very tiring.) This means that the job would take the equivalent of 2.5 days. At the current suggested minimum rates for proofreading, this job might cost the client around £350. Remember, this is a minimum suggested figure for a piece of text that you’ve assessed as being in great shape already.
But what if the text is a real mess? Horror of horrors, the client hands over a sample that’s hard to understand and is full of mistakes and inconsistencies. Perhaps you’ll scarcely be able to wade through 1000 words of this per hour. Unlike your dream job above that would take a mere 15 hours, this scenario would have you labouring for close to 60 hours – effectively a full week plus overtime, equating to a quote around the £1300 mark. And yes, that’s a minimum suggested figure.
OK, there are two extremes here, but the point is that not all quotes are going to work out the same way. Assessing a sample of the text will let you produce a quote that is in the right part of the spectrum.
An aside on fighting the temptation of quoting low rates
So, what about the natural temptation to quote low just so you can get the experience of that first job or two? Let’s take a look at some advice from fellow SfEP members:
If the client is potentially going to give you more work, or recommend you to others, I would be wary of setting a low rate.
Quote a reasonable hourly rate, based on the time that would be expected of a more experienced editor, and then work the hours necessary for you to do a good job – yes, it’ll probably take a lot longer and therefore work out at a very poor rate, but that’s not relevant to the client. If you start at a low rate, you may end up working for that rate for a lot longer than you think. Also, quoting low does not necessarily mean you’ll land the job – it may well set off red flags in a client’s mind as to why you are so much lower than other quotes they’ve had.
Tip 4: Agree a reasonable deadline
Experienced editorial professionals are often able to take on rush jobs, and can sometimes charge a premium for doing so. This isn’t recommended for those who are starting out, so you need to be sure that you really will have the time to get through the job. As Tina says above, your time estimate might not be long enough, so pushing out the deadline as much as possible would be helpful.
Once you’ve agreed a deadline, do your best to stick to it. Should you realise that the agreed deadline is not achievable, inform the client as soon as possible.
Tip 5: Check all materials
You can’t start a job until you’ve got everything you need. More wise advice:
Check all files as soon as you receive them. Don’t wait until you want to start work, because by that time any problems, such as corrupted files or failed attachments, will wreck your schedule. And back up your work.
Tip 6: Create a checklist of jobs
Having done all of the above prep, you’re now ready to start the job proper. In all the excitement of taking on that first piece of work, you don’t want to forget any tasks. So, follow some simple steps to build a bit of order into your work:
Make yourself a checklist of jobs to do.
Add to it anything you think of as you’re going along.
Remember to check off against the checklist!
Tip 7: Break up the job
If you try to focus on every aspect of the text at the same time, you’ll almost certainly miss something. It’s far better to break up the job into separate passes, helping you focus on one thing at a time.
Here’s some expert advice on the subject:
One tip is not to try to do everything in one pass, especially if you are dealing with a typographically complex book with lots of illustrations, tables, lists, text boxes, etc. Make a checklist, as Katie suggests, then do some global passes to check items such as
Chapter headings vs contents list
Any numbered or alphabetised lists
Sequence of any numbered headings
Only when you have checked all these off on your list is it time to start reading.
Tip 8: Compile a style guide
As above, asking whether there’s an existing style guide should be something you do when assessing the job. But even if a style guide exists, it probably won’t cover everything you come across as you work on the job. Keep notes about decisions made during the job and then refer back to them. Naturally, this is even more important when there’s no style guide to start with.
Time for more advice from another SfEP member:
Regardless of whether or not the client provides a style guide, compile a style sheet for every single project you do. It will include choices related to spelling, capitalization, italics, etc., and if the client hasn’t provided you with a style guide, then the style sheet will include many more items, e.g. numbers, punctuation, reference styles. Not only will you be helping the client and showing that you’re a professional, you will be helping yourself because there is no way on earth that anyone can remember every spelling decision they make over the course of any project. Also, run PerfectIt (or your choice of macros) before you start. That will help you get your style sheet started before you begin the actual editing. (You can run PerfectIt again at the end, if you have time/want to check consistency.)
Tip 9: Group all queries
If you’ve clarified the brief well enough, you shouldn’t have too many queries at the start of the job. But questions will often crop up once the work gets going. Naturally, you’ll be eager to find out the answers but you should avoid peppering the client with lots of emails.
Yet more advice from another SfEP member:
Don’t be afraid to ask, but try and keep questions to a list in one email rather than panicking and sending them willy-nilly!
Remember that your questions should always be relevant to the current job.
Tip 10: Ask questions on SfEP forums
The SfEP’s online discussion forums, which are available only to members of the Society, are the best place to ask questions and hear the thoughts of other editorial professionals. The forums have hosted more than 100,000 posts since their release in late 2012 – a clear sign of a highly engaged community.
Taking on that first proofreading job can seem scary, but it needn’t be if you follow the tips above. Here’s a recap for new proofreaders:
Clarify the brief – make sure you know what the client wants.
Ask for a representative sample – assess the job by reviewing a chunk of the text.
Think about the complexity of the job – how much time and effort will be needed?
Agree a deadline – set a realistic timescale and do your best to stick to it.
Create a checklist – note all the jobs you need to do and check them off as you go.
Break up the job into separate passes – make sure you don’t miss any tasks.
Keep your own notes – supplement the style guide or create your own if one doesn’t exist.
Ask questions – group queries so that you don’t pepper the client with emails.
Use SfEP forums – ask for help from hundreds of experienced members.
Wow, that’s a lot of advice!
I hope these tips give you enough information to get started with confidence, and I wish you the best of luck with your editorial career. If you have any of your own newbie tips to share, please add a comment below.
John Espirian (@espirian) is the SfEP’s internet director and principal forum administrator.
Since entering the world of professional proofreading, writing and editing, I have thought a lot about how we use the English language.
Language as an academic subject is generally considered to be an art or a humanity. It is subjective. We can use it in different ways when communicating with different people. We can use it to paint pictures and arouse feeling. We can be creative with it.
I only have to listen to my children to find lots of examples of this creativity in motion. We were recently walking along and my three-year-old said to his big sister, ‘Oh no – you’ve unclupped my shoe!’ Now, ‘unclupped’ clearly isn’t a word, but we all knew what it meant: she had accidentally stepped on the back of his shoe and it had come off his heel. It was well and truly unclupped. He couldn’t find a word to describe what he meant, so he made one up. I hear this happening all the time, and some of them are great words!
My daughter is reading Roald Dahl’s The BFG at the moment. Now there’s creativity and colour for you. One of the most prolific children’s writers was brave enough to have a main character who, for the whole book, uses ‘is’ for any form of the verb ‘to be’. The Big Friendly Giant eats scrumdiddlyumptious snozzcumbers rather than school chiddlers like the other giants eat. The book is full of these seemingly nonsensical words, which somehow do still make sense to six-year-olds and adults alike.
The flipside of this is that language also has rules. Grammar can be approached scientifically or mathematically and there are still many aspects of language that can be considered objectively right or wrong.
Take, for instance, the commas in this sentence. I have used them parenthetically so they need to come as a pair. If you take one of them away, the sentence doesn’t work. If you take them both away, it is OK. For me, this echoes mathematical equations: symbols can cancel each other out and where the parentheses (or brackets in maths) sit can really alter the meaning (or answer) you get at the end.
Another example is the conjugation of verbs. The verb form is often different depending on who is doing the doing. Again, I think this reflects mathematical statements where certain numbers or parts of an equation are affected by a function, whereas other numbers stand up in their own right. In languages like German, where there are different genders for nouns, there is an even greater choice of conjugations for different cases. These can be taught in tables, so we can, for example, look up the correct form of the article for a masculine noun in the dative case.
We can also see maths in the way reading is currently taught in British schools. Children are taught to ‘chop and blend’ phonics in the same way as adding and subtracting numbers. They learn that c+a+t=cat just as 2+3=5. But at the same time, they learn the exceptions to the rules: the spelling and pronunciation of common but phonically irregular words like ‘the’ and ‘me’.
So, on balance, are we working with an art or a science? I think it’s both and, in that respect, what a great thing it is. Some of us will be sticklers for certain rules: I was taught to never split an infinitive but I understand many people will accept this now. There, I’ve done it – but it was only for effect, and I won’t do it again. But I will quite happily bend other ‘rules’ I once learned (like allowing myself to start a sentence with the word ‘but’). The Oxford English Dictionary paves the way in this evolution of language, with new words being added to each edition as they reach common usage. The June 2015 update has around 500 new words, phrases and senses, including ‘twerk’ and ‘yarn-bombing’. One day, someone made up these words and they caught on. Personally, I’m hoping to make a case for the verb ‘to unclup’ to be included in next year’s update.
Lisa Robertson set up Editwrite in April 2015, after working for a local authority for over 14 years in various children’s services planning and commissioning roles. She offers a range of editorial and writing services, including document writing consultancy. Her specialist areas are children’s services, the public sector and charities. She is an Entry-Level Member of SfEP. www.editwrite.co.uk
At an SfEP local group meeting the other day, someone asked the question “Do you read things more than once?” Several of us answered “No” without hesitation. Often, there is not the budget to allow for more than one full pass at the proofreading or copy-editing stage. However, as the conversation went on, that “no” was further qualified.
There’s no doubt that looking at something more than once is likely to provide a more accurate end result. So when, and in what ways, might it be appropriate to go over things again?
A way to get a quick overview is to check the contents carefully first against the main body of the book or document when proofreading. Check that chapter names are correct and numbered correctly, and check the running heads. As well as ensuring that the contents list is accurate, this provides a quick overview of the book’s structure and general content, so you know what’s coming – this may influence early proofreading decisions, potentially saving you time and angst later on.
One idea that was suggested was to make separate passes for different kinds of error – either those specific to the project, or errors we personally know we have a tendency to overlook. These weaknesses will vary from person to person; I know I have a blind spot when it comes to subheadings, for instance. Someone else mentioned en dashes in number ranges. There will be at least as many examples are there are editors.
We also agreed that the need for multiple readings might be dictated by the subject matter or the genre of the project. Fiction, for example, demands an in-depth understanding of plot and structure that may not be possible to grasp with a single read. Of course structure is important in a non-fiction book too, but often it will be more explicit and prescribed.
Some editors swear by printing things out and doing a separate read-through on hard copy. Again, the decision to do this, or not, will come down to personal preference and may well be influenced by the budget.
Most of us probably use some kind of end-of-project checklist to help us scan the text for particular things at the end of a job. This might be a standard checklist that we use for every project, or something more specific to the job (perhaps provided by the client), or a combination of the two approaches.
Finally, we all agreed that when starting out proofreading, multiple passes are probably necessary. Any proofread or edit involves looking for a range of types of error, and it takes time to learn to pick up all the little details, while also reading for meaning. Accuracy at speed comes with practice.
Do you read more than once? And do you do a detailed read, or do you have strategies to speed things up?
Posted by Liz Jones, SfEP marketing and PR director.
The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the SfEP.
Royal Holloway, University of London – venue for the 2014 SfEP conference
So, you’re thinking about going to conference, but you haven’t been before. It seems like a lot of money to justify, especially for a freelance, even more so if you are new to this business. Perhaps you are already established and would need to block out the time in your already full diary. Will you get enough out of it to justify the lost work, the time and the expense?
My answer is absolutely, wholeheartedly, yes.
I went to conference last year for the first time, two whole weeks into a new career as a freelance proofreader and editor. I had no background experience in editing, but have built up a raft of relevant skills in other jobs that I hoped would be enough to start me off. I planned to use the conference as a networking platform, to see how other people got started in the business, to find out what kind of training would be most useful and to make contacts with publishers.
I was rather apprehensive on first arriving: I loathe marketing, especially marketing myself, and am not particularly keen on meeting new people. I have, at times, seriously contemplated being a hermit. But the welcome was warm and relaxed: SfEP staff were there with ready smiles to help answer questions, and plenty of other conference attendees were happy to chat. It was clear that many were conference regulars, enjoying the chance to catch up on a year’s gossip with friends first hand.
Accommodation and food provision was good. We used student accommodation, individual ensuite rooms in small flats with a communal kitchen area. Far better than any accommodation I experienced as a student, the rooms were clean, fresh, very well located (right on site) and good value for money.
The conference programme is packed to the gunnels with things to keep you busy all day, every day, and you don’t need to sit quietly in a corner unless you want to.
The welcome event for conference newbies was a superb icebreaker. The members of the council were there as a first point of contact, and it was good to put faces to names from the website and the forums. I was interested to see many experienced editors who were conference newbies, so if you’ve already been in the business a while, you will find common ground with plenty of other attendees.
I had chosen seminars and workshops that I thought would be most appropriate to a newbie, but there were at least three places I would have liked to have been for each slot. Perhaps my only real niggle would be that I could not attend all the sessions I wanted to, as most ran only in one slot. But the SfEP have thought of everything: reports on all the seminars and workshops are available to all attendees after the event. Speaking to more experienced colleagues, the range and focus of the available seminars seemed to be well balanced, appealing to all stages of professional experience. Not everything is focused on traditional publishing: there were sessions on marketing, working with non-publishing clients, self-publishing and building your own website. Being a practical kind of person, I was pleased that there was at least one thing from each seminar that I could implement immediately, along with ideas for further consideration or development. The lightning talks were full of energy; the lectures well thought out and eloquently presented. And the after-dinner speaker for the gala dinner had the room in stitches. (No pressure this year, then?)
There was a limited number of trade stands to visit between seminars or during coffee breaks. If I am honest, I learned more about the products on display from the other attendees than from the stands, but it was a conversation starter. As for networking or making contact with publishers, there were several representatives from big publishers; I would consider this a matter of quality over quantity. I spoke to representatives from three publishers: they were all happy to talk to newbies and experienced professionals alike. There is always going to be a large element of luck as to whether or not your skills match a publisher’s current needs, but my experience was positive. The contacts I made at conference generated real paying work that more than covered my expenses: it was well worth my investment in time and money.
There are many motivations for coming to conference, but it is a superb place to mingle among friends, old and new, debate hyphen vs en-dash usage in fine detail with the cognoscenti (I exaggerate only slightly) and put the p and the d into your CPD. My advice? Come with a plan, so you know what you want to get out of each session you attend. Be open to new ideas and processes, as everyone has experience and opinions to share. And get stuck in! I’ve already booked my place at this year’s conference, so if you need to start somewhere, come and say hello. I’ll be the loud one on the introverts’ table.
Rachel Hamar started proofreading, editing and writing in 2014, after careers in engineering and teaching. She specialises in maths education, gardening, and patchwork and quilting. When she is not working, she is often found walking her dogs, weeding the garden or sewing: it depends on the weather.
The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the SfEP.
Click here for more information, and to book a place at this year’s conference, from 5–7 September at the University of York.