Category Archives: Professional development

How to guides to help with your professional development.

CPD: staying motivated

By Hilary McGrath

Have you ever tried to study but found it hard to stay focused? Am I alone in formulating a great plan, then abandoning my learning when the initial enthusiasm has waned? Continuing Professional Development is important but staying motivated can be hard.

Building on the study of language has always been particularly important for me as a translator and proofreader. Being able to write well and to correct errors was not enough though – I wanted to be able to properly name the troublesome parts of the texts I was working on. A dangling modifier? An attributive adjective? A predicative phrase? I needed to study the function and structure of English grammar, so I considered my options.

Take a course

I considered taking an in-house course. Having a fixed date and a valid reason to take some time off work is an advantage. But the need to travel and pay for accommodation makes this an expensive choice.

Another option was an online course – an efficient way to learn, especially for those who live far from big cities. Distance learning usually means there are start and end dates, deadlines and a certificate to show you have put in the work. The CIEP offers a Brush Up Your Grammar course, for example.

But I had to take cost into account. Unfortunately, I’d already dipped into my CPD budget, having recently attended a one-day workshop and completed an online course. How about self-study, then?

Buy a book

Buying a book and working through it slowly but surely was the next obvious thing to do. But, before I could even choose a book to buy, I knew my main problem would be staying motivated. How could I be sure I would stick with my learning plan?

Find a buddy (or several)

I made the fortunate discovery, through the CIEP forums, that other editors and proofreaders had the same idea as me. Together we selected a book – Grammar: A student’s guide by James R Hurford. Then, Slack was suggested as a communication tool for collaborative study. It was free, easy to join and very intuitive to use. It would become our virtual classroom.

Set some SMART goals

  • Specific – we chose a textbook that had exercises at the end of every section and answers to check at the end of the book.
  • Measurable – we studied the agreed section during the week, completed the exercises, checked the answers and discussed any difficulties or revelations once a week.
  • Attainable – the chosen textbook started with the basics but provided fuel for further discussion.
  • Relevant – as professionals working with language, building on our knowledge of English grammar was useful and important.
  • Time-bound – we would work through the book, literally from A to Z, on a weekly basis over a few months.

How did it work out?

As motivation was my key concern prior to starting, I was pleased that I was always able to find the time to join the weekly meetings. If I had been working on my own, I might have been less diligent. The whole exercise gave me a solid foundation in grammar and the desire to continue building on this in the future.

An unexpected outcome

This was a great way to get to know colleagues better. The group was small enough so that we could chat comfortably, but large enough to keep moving forward if one person couldn’t attend. There were so many advantages to working together like this – the most unexpected one was that the learning experience was so enjoyable.

Working alone but together

I found that this kind of learning suits me. I could work at my own pace during the week but use the regular meetings to keep on track. It was nice to know that I was not alone when I found something particularly hard to understand. And Slack was ideal for our purposes, giving us a dedicated space to work together.

What’s next?

For me, a combination of taught courses and self-study is perfect. But self-study is easier if you can find people with similar goals, whether in your personal life or through your professional networks. Then all you need is a book and a plan. Would I do this again? Absolutely! Anyone interested in joining me?

Hilary McGrath is a freelance proofreader and translator (French–English) living in the southwest of France. Find her on Twitter @hilary_mcgrath.

 

 


Photo credit: opened book by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Proofread by Victoria Hunt, Intermediate Member.
Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

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

Are you up for the challenge?

By Alison Gilbert

LinkedIn challenges are fun and interactive, and I use them to engage with my target audience. My background is in education, and I have spent years engaging with parents and getting them involved with their children’s learning. The best way I found was with a challenge – something they could do together with their child. So I adapted the same principle to my proofreading business.

Setting a challenge

To set a challenge, you need to know your audience. Who are you trying to engage with? What sort of challenge would they want to get involved in? Then make it relevant and topical. Keep up to date with recent hot topics, relevant to your line of business. People get more engaged if there is a reason or a discussion point, such as in my reading challenge.

I strongly believe that children should read every day, so I set the challenge for parents to read with their children every night for a week and at the end of the challenge share their child’s favourite story. My post was topical and people got involved and shared their love of stories. It appealed to authors, publishers and fellow proofreaders. It was my most successful post and trended on LinkedIn, receiving more than 1,000 views.

Challenges can also reflect national events and times of the year. During National Storytelling Week I set a storytelling challenge to create a story together. This appealed to my audience of authors and let them showcase their writing. However, this post was less successful. I was hoping to generate a complete story over the week. The first day went really well and I chose the start to the story. But unfortunately no one commented to complete the next part of the story. I tried posting it on different days, times and with different images – even the author of the start of the story re-shared it – but still no takers. People like the initial idea of a challenge, but maybe I was overoptimistic in attempting to build on my challenge every day. Possibly it was too time-consuming a task; so since then I’ve tried to keep each challenge manageable and easy to fit in with people’s daily lives.

On the Random Acts of Kindness Day I set a challenge to do an act of kindness. I felt it was a great opportunity to encourage people to think of others and to go above and beyond.

When creating a challenge, image choice is very important in attracting your audience to the post. I have found bold images have worked for me, and I type a clear message on top of them. Therefore, people don’t have to scroll through my text to see what my challenge is all about. I think of them as an advert containing all the basic information necessary to promote engagement.

For a bit of fun at Christmas, I set a Christmas homework challenge, to get everyone in the mood for a magical time. Life needs to be filled with moments of fun!

The Comms Creatives challenge

I love challenges so much that I undertook another company’s challenge. The 31 Days of Creativity Challenge was set up by Comms Creatives, a marketing company that runs courses to inspire creativity. Every day for the month of January, Helen Reynolds, the owner, sent me an email with a creative challenge to post on social media. I used the challenge to learn new skills, stretch myself and advertise my proofreading business.

The challenges included some outright fun and silly ones to get my creative brain in gear: creating words using spaghetti, making a picture with your meal (I created the Hungry Caterpillar using grapes and cucumbers), creating origami, choosing an uplifting song, inventing a sandwich for your hero (mine is Joey from Friends, who loves sandwiches) and writing your day in emojis. Some challenges were quizzes to find out your creative personality and what drives you. Turns out that I am a producer.

Quite a few of the challenges were to get participants thinking and talking about their inspirations. For example, creating a video about what advice you would give yourself if you could go back in time (mine were believe in yourself, everything happens for a reason and trust your instincts), writing about what inspires you, visualising your style and sharing what you believe in (I believe in a love of learning).

Part of the challenge really tested my creativity and put me out of my comfort zone, for example writing a limerick (see the image above for mine), drawing tasks (I hadn’t drawn since school), creating videos, creating a story using a plot generator, writing a poem using magnetic letters, creating a handwritten message, creating a calligram (I did a snowflake using words linked to proofreading) and creating a newspaper article using a generator.

Some of the challenges were about reminiscing about my life and these seemed the most popular of my social posts – I created a collage of photos of my life and did something from my childhood. My most successful post during the challenge was a video clip of the game ‘Mousetrap’, which trended on LinkedIn. People obviously like reminiscing about their lives too and seeing connections with others.

I really enjoyed completing the 31 Days of Creativity Challenge: I gained confidence to post regularly on social media. I learned new skills, such as how to create videos and newspaper articles, and stretched myself to be more creative. I made a lot of connections during the challenge with other people doing the challenge at the same time. It was great each day to see how everyone had undertaken the challenge and to comment on their progress. Comms Creatives regularly run the challenges and do some on other platforms too.

Why do the challenges?

Challenges are motivating to others and encourage interaction. They allow me to engage with my target audience by tuning in to what is important to them, relevant and purposeful. Hopefully, building relationships through engagement will lead to future work connections. The challenges stand out on social media as being different and fun, and people always like a challenge. They are a good way to test yourself, find out what you are capable of and learn new skills.

Have a go: I challenge you to set a challenge for your target audience. Are you up for the challenge?

Alison Gilbert is a freelance proofreader, qualified teacher and early years professional with a love of learning. She specialises in educational and mathematical proofreading. She is an Entry-Level Member of the CIEP based in Ramsbottom, Lancashire.

 


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Proofread by Victoria Hunt, Intermediate Member.
Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

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

Accountability groups: What? Where? Why?

Over the past few years, more and more accountability groups have been popping up some of them coordinated by organisations, others by individuals, with members from one industry, related fields, or a wider spectrum of professions. Four CIEP members have written about the what, where and why of their accountability groups, and show that no two groups are the same.

Eleanor Abraham

Last year, I invited three colleagues to join an accountability group. Why? I felt like I needed to be more ‘out there’ in terms of marketing but it’s scary doing it on your own. I liked the idea of having a small group to share ideas with.

We are all members of bigger groups, and getting invaluable advice from there, but I do like our smaller group. We don’t pressurise or nag. I hope we support and encourage each other… and console when things are tough.

There was no real criteria in asking them other than they are all lovely people, and, while three of us are editors, all four are writers (Shauna would make an excellent editor – hint, hint, Shauna), so we had that in common.

I thought we all had varied enough backgrounds and experience to enable us to share and teach each other some new tricks in publishing, marketing and so on. We usually communicate using Facebook Video. We keep it to one hour a month, and sometimes we have a topic but more often we just have a catch up.

I think I still have a lot to learn about running an accountability group and making the most of it, but we all have busy lives and extra pressure is not something we need. So we’re happy to keep it low-key for now.

I like that we can chat in confidence. It’s good to have other perspectives, but sometimes you don’t want 150 slightly different opinions, but rather the chance to talk things through with people you trust and respect. There are probably more dynamic accountability groups out there, but I do like knowing my colleagues are there and that they will understand and advise on my challenges.

Erin Brenner

Since we founded the Quad in 2015, we’ve helped each other in our editing businesses in several ways:

  • Ongoing chat thread. We talk about business and daily life.
  • Monthly goals check-in. We discuss how our previous month went and our goals for the coming one.
  • Occasional goal sprints and virtual retreats. We’ll take anywhere from a half-day to a week to work on individual projects, with periodic check-ins.
  • In-person retreats. We set up goals ahead of time, lead training sessions for each other, and work on projects throughout the week. We make time for touring and hosting special-guest dinners.

The purpose of any mastermind group is to grow your business while helping all the other group members grow theirs. You’re creating accountability for each other. And that’s been true for us. We’ll refer each other for work and collaborate on projects. Some of us have even partnered up for new business ventures, and we regularly discuss opportunities to do so.

The biggest thing we get out of the Quad, however, is the friendships. I don’t know if that happens in every mastermind group, because this is the only one I’ve been in. The ongoing chat has meant sharing daily ups and downs, both professional and personal. We cheer for each other, and we cry together. We help one another beyond business, and we love hanging out with each other. One of the struggles of our in-person retreats is making sure we get enough business done in between our play!

Editing as a career has changed enormously in the last 20 years. Employee positions are becoming increasingly hard to find, and finding one where senior editors will mentor you is even harder. More of us are freelancing and working by ourselves. Mastermind groups are a powerful way to keep editors connected and maintain that personal investment in another editor.

Michelle McFadden

I’ve spent my editing career bouncing between periods of freelance work and in-house employment. I appreciate that I may sound indecisive, but I love both ways of working equally and I am currently in a great in-house position.

One of the things I love about working in-house is the sense of collegiality. The chit-chat about what we all did at the weekend. The availability of another experienced editor to bounce ideas and questions off, not to mention the shared complaints about how the office dishwasher is on the blink – again. And the great sense of achievement we share when we’ve worked together on a massive project and get it over the line just in time. Obviously, working with other editors also means that the memes, gifs and puns are just that little bit funnier.

So how did I find that support and social interaction as a freelancer? I’d like to tell you that it was all part of a carefully constructed plan, but if you know me, you’ll laugh at that idea. I just happened to be fortunate enough to meet two fabulous, clever and chatty women at an SfEP (as it was then) conference. We shared many things including our sense of humour, a love of good food and maybe the odd trip to a spa hotel, too.

We also agreed to form an edibuddy accountability group to encourage each other. We swapped hints on potential jobs and supported each other through dips in confidence. And I honestly don’t think I would have ever completed the PTC training course – the one outstanding thing I needed to be able to upgrade my professional membership – without their encouragement. Life, family, country changes and work responsibilities have pushed their way in, but I will always be grateful for the experience of being part of that small accountability group.

Julia Sandford-CookeJulia Sandford-Cooke

What is the collective noun for a group of seven editors who share tips, goals, frustrations, successes, work leads, gossip, laughs and occasional tears? Well, to begin with, we were an accountability group. It all started a few years ago, when I was thrilled to be invited to join a Facebook group of other Advanced Professional Members with whom I was acquainted, to varying degrees, and who were all committed to continuing professional development. Our initial aim was to encourage each other to reach the targets we’d set ourselves – perhaps financial, perhaps subject-specific, perhaps training-related. The idea was to be accountable to the rest of the group for doing what we said we would do. After a few video conferences, I soon found that peer pressure has a particular way of focusing one’s mind.

Our second objective was to gather for a ‘retreat’. Inspired, I think, by a group of veteran North American editors who had blogged about the many benefits of taking time out to reflect on their career, we discussed the practicalities of getting together for a working weekend. Thus, we moved from Facebook to Slack and became the Retreat Group. With members around the country (one, in fact, in a different country), and children and partners to organise, this wasn’t as straightforward as it sounds – but one hot June weekend in 2017, we convened for an amazingly productive series of sessions around a rather posh Airbnb kitchen table, with the overseas member joining us via Skype. Wine, good food and silly games also played their part in cementing us as a unit. A further retreat, and several informal lunch meetings, have followed. We were planning another retreat this year, but dates, venues and stars struggled to align and then COVID-19 popped up – so hopefully 2021.

Having shared our experiences so profitably, we evolved, I suppose into a mastermind group. We’ve become confident about sharing embarrassing skills gaps (shockingly, some of us have never got to grips with macros), difficulties with clients or projects, and even personal issues. Collective wisdom often provides solutions to thorny problems, or at least lends an understanding ear. For me, the overwhelming benefit has been to know that, although I sit alone at my desk, there are others out there ready to listen and offer advice, or even just a stress-relieving chat.

What do you call this group of editors? I call them friends.


If you’d like to build your own accountability group, the CIEP’s forums and local groups are great ways to meet like-minded peers.


Photo credit: Hilltop silhouette Chang Duong on Unsplash

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

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

Know me, pay me

By Robin Black

Working in the shadows of nearly every project, editors could do with a bit more public understanding. ‘We don’t have much of a budget,’ invokes the client, though I wonder about companies that don’t have the budget to be good. Who sets a budget to be bad?

Show me a copy-editor and I’ll show you a living combination of robust general knowledge, an eye for detail that won’t quit, and a flair for the metaphysical. (You try rearranging the words so readers are visibly moved by the end.) Do you care that your editor detects that a particular adjective can make two appearances in a single chapter but not three or four? Either way, you should absorb the manuscript, whether it’s a white paper, a website or a manual, without tripping over such infelicities. In that sense, you should forget about us.

But not so much that we’re taken for granted when it comes time to employ our services. I’m uncomfortable about driving home the point, however: surely there’s scarcely a métier out there whose adherents don’t feel misunderstood and underappreciated from time to time? Lawyers, for example, lament that they could do more to help if only they were consulted before things go haywire. The stewards of the Southwark Household Reuse and Recycling Centre, where a maze of conveyor belts criss-cross in improbable fashion, aren’t asking you to rinse out your discarded materials for their health; it gums up the system, slowing down the work of nearly everyone on the premises. And in the face of a public that doesn’t listen, the distinct burdens of climate scientists weigh heavily: armed as they are with the science that impinges on you and you and you, they can scarcely daydream about escaping to New Zealand any more. (A desperately hungry populace tends not to care overly about property rights.)

It is with gentle misgivings about self-centredness, then, that I invite you to turn your attention expressly to editors, for whom the information imbalance translates into high demands for humble pay. I self-select out of some of the worst of it by rejecting low-paid jobs and seeking out the clients who feel as I do about a job really well done. And while quality is its own reward, equally, someone out there wants to pay for that quality, and my idealistic mind aims to keep finding them.

But then my sister called. Her website needed some tidying up, and she’s a pragmatist: ‘Let’s just do what we can in the time we’re given and get this crap out the door.’ So much for my idealistic mind, I thought. I demurred, and she rolled her eyes and politely dropped it.

Should I have just sidestepped my standards and been helpful? For the answer, I look to the guiding principle of 28th annual SfEP conference: ‘It depends.’ When newbies jump on the forum to ask for feedback on their websites, I may steel myself ahead of reading those threads because the general positivity of our members, which I laud and cherish, means the critiques veer towards the reliably panegyric instead of the helpfully critical.

I’m quite unsure whether that’s a bad thing, however, though I admit to a little frustration, and indirectly it has to do with money.

Ugh, money. I’m one of those people who is uncomfortable talking about it, likely to my own detriment, so let’s get this over with: the choice I make not to list my rates on my website – I never discuss fees until the client expresses an interest in hiring me – maps onto the editor and business person that I am. My approach is to psychologically leverage clients with my chat, my bearing and my materials, only to strike with a generous payment suggestion once the iron is hot. But such wiles could go awry in the absence of the rest of me – which is to say that my approach comes off naturally and therefore honestly from me, but grafting it onto you is iffy.

For me to insist that you should never publish your fees on your website is glib, and besides, look at all those lovely, experienced editors telling you something different. I throw up my hands in friendly defeat, satisfied that everyone is acting in good faith as they post disparate advice, and I stay quiet.

And yet. There is an assumption among our members, which I share, that we concentrate on doing a very good job while employers exploit us with low fees and outsized projects at capped rates. Leaving aside my contention that no one should be taking lower than the CIEP’s suggested minimum rates (Glib? But I stand by it), I put to you this question: why would a client pay you professional rates when you’ve got an amateur public face? When clients move forward with unedited or poorly edited materials, as is their wont, how long can you stay indignant when your own website is untouched by proper design and typography?

We prize words over images, but our Venn diagrams may or may not overlap with those of potential clients, so see it through their eyes, and subdue your inclination to tell them everything! that! you! do! well! As editors toil in the shadows and the public neglects to recognise the metaphysical power we wield boosting human connection through communication, nearly everyone appreciates a professionally rendered website. It makes budget holders relax.

Allow me to be mercenary for another moment: if you want to be paid properly as a professional editor, by clients with robust budgets, then hire a professional to craft your website. And for Heaven’s sake don’t talk them down in price if you want to be extended the same courtesy.

Look, the things I’m doing wrong with my own sole proprietorship are legion. In business, you can’t do it all; there’s always something more you should be doing. And that’s not advice; I’m trying to tell you it’s a trap. In his wisdom, Oliver Burkeman warns us that ‘getting it all done is an illusion. You’ll never get to the summit of that mountain because the climb goes on forever’. Consider the editors who do quite well, thank you, with no website at all or an online offering barely a step up from GeoCities chic.

Being a capable editor – doing the work well – is more important in my mind than having a professional website anyway. I view with mistrust careers that coast on marketing and talking instead of execution and elbow grease, but I would say that, wouldn’t I? Execution and elbow grease is what I know how to do! Persuading people to buy things they don’t initially want or fundamentally need embarrasses me, which means that my own self-marketing is lacklustre.
As for my sister’s website, months later I relented, agreeing to help if and only if we could start small, rendering good text and better design choices with a one-page website that tacitly communicates to visitors that they’ve landed where quality matters.

We should tell her story, I insisted, bringing her role out of the shadows … um, relaying the underlying, human aspects of her profession for clients … or something like that. Wait: What is it you do again, Stephanie?

Pfft. There goes the public again, scarcely taking the time to understand.

 

A financier and editor-who-does-it-for-love, Robin Black believes that no profession or livelihood will escape without integrating the climate crisis into its day-to-day, and he finds writing about himself even more embarrassing in an era of existential threat. Bravery is called for, however, so he manages it here.

 


Photo credits: For hire Clem Onojeghuo; All we have is words – Alexandra, both on Unsplash

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

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

Ten tips for your first copyediting job

By Liz Jones

If you’ve focused on proofreading until now, the idea of copyediting can seem daunting. For a start, you’ll probably be working on a Word document rather than a PDF or paper proofs, which means you’ve got far more freedom to make changes. But are you qualified to do the work? How sweeping should your changes be? And how can you tell the difference between what needs to be changed, and what can be left alone? Here are some tips for coping with that first job. 

1. Don’t panic!

First, take a deep breath. You’ve got this. Proofreading and copyediting are on the same continuum – it’s all editing, just at a different stage of the process and therefore with a different emphasis. Copyediting is about preparing the raw text for layout, rather than applying the final polish before publication. (That said, you want the copyedited text to be as clean as possible.) For copyediting, just as for proofreading, it can help to approach the work by considering what can stay the same, rather than what needs to change. The author’s preferences are a good place to start, and if you’re working for a publisher, their style sheet can offer useful guidance on many editorial decisions.

2. Read the brief.

This is your best clue to how much you need to intervene. What is the client expecting? A publisher might offer very clear instructions on the extent and scope of the work, and how much they would like you to change (or not). But what if there is no brief? If you’re working for a self-publisher or a non-publishing business client, the brief might be open-ended or even non-existent. In this case, you need to put yourself in the shoes of the reader. Your job as copyeditor is to remove barriers to understanding the text, and make it ready for publication. Consistency, clarity and accuracy are key. Take a look at the CIEP’s FAQs on copyediting for more tips.

3. Assess the work.

You wouldn’t start to build a house without a plan, would you? (Well, I hope you wouldn’t.) It’s probably a smaller job, but likewise you shouldn’t start a copyedit before you’ve assessed the scope of the work. When you quoted for the job, you will have looked at what it involves and should have a good idea of the time it will take. But before you start the edit look again, and more closely. Work out a plan of action. How will you order the necessary tasks? Can you figure out the most efficient way to complete the work to a high standard? (This is crucial if you’re being paid a flat fee.) It can be tempting to get stuck in right away, but a little forward planning can save a lot of time later on. You might also identify problems you need to discuss with the client, such as missing material or a heavier-than-expected level of editing.

A good way to get an overview of the whole document before you start editing in detail is to style the headings first. (It’s also all too easy to miss mistakes in headings when you’re immersed in the main text.)

4. Clean up the text.

Assessing the text (see tip 3) will have given you a good idea of the tasks that can be batched and automated. Lots of editors choose to run PerfectIt at the start of a job, for example, to highlight inconsistencies. Macros (such as those by CIEP member Paul Beverley) can also help you identify things that need editing, and make the necessary changes more efficiently. Cleaning up the text before you start the language editing can help you focus on flow and readability with fewer distractions.

5. Build a style sheet.

One of the key tasks of a copyeditor (aside from actually editing the text) is compiling a style sheet – either starting from scratch, or adding to the one supplied with the job. This helps you as you progress through the edit, providing a point of reference for all the editorial decisions you make. It also helps the client, and eventually the proofreader, so they can understand your working and hopefully won’t arbitrarily undo your editorial decisions.

6. Consider working on the references first.

If the document you’re editing has a lot of references (and it might not!), it can help to work on these first. There are several reasons for this. First, this is another way of gaining insight into the main text before you start to read and edit it in earnest. Second, the references need to be consistent, so editing them all together can be more effective than dealing with them as they arise in relation to the main text. Finally, they can take a surprisingly long time to sort out, especially if you need to check them for accuracy and tidy up formatting. If you’ve got them sorted before you start the main bulk of the editing, you don’t need to worry about spending an unexpectedly long time on them at the end of the job.

7. Work through the text in order.

Although I know plenty of copyeditors who adore references (!), for me this is the fun part. Read through the whole of the text, and make edits as you go to ensure it is consistent, clear and accurate – as in tip 2. It’s a skilful balance between knowing when to leave things alone, and when to tweak things to improve the flow of a sentence, or to help the author express themselves more effectively. Question (almost) everything – but don’t spend too long doing it.

Some questions arise: What is the copyeditor’s responsibility, and what is not? How many times should the copyeditor read the text? The answer is usually ‘it depends’ – on the brief, on the budget, and on the schedule. Keep track changes switched on (unless your client’s specified otherwise), and be careful not to change the meaning of the text. If something’s ambiguous, query it. If a change is unarguable, and can be justified, go for it with confidence. You’ve been hired for your expertise, and your ability to interpret the client’s needs.

8. Query sensibly and clearly.

How you present your queries might be specified in the brief. You might write them as comments on the Word document, or as a separate list, or both. However you present them, try to ensure they are worded clearly, and politely. It can be tricky knowing what to query, but generally you will want to defer to the author on matters of fact or content that you can’t easily check and verify. If a meaning isn’t clear, this will also need to be queried. You might also flag up editorial changes where they deviate from the author’s preferred style to explain why you did something (such as changing gendered pronouns in favour of singular they/their). For more about querying, see the CIEP’s fact sheet.

9. Carry out a final check for consistency.

Many editors run PerfectIt again at this stage, which can help you weed out straggling inconsistencies. But how many times should you actually read the text? If I’m being paid enough, I read everything twice. Once for the edit, then once to check over what I’ve done. I often find things to improve on this second pass. However, if there isn’t the time or the budget to support an entire second read, I would certainly check over all my corrections to make sure I haven’t introduced typos or other inaccuracies.

Also, check your queries. By the time you finish editing, you might find that some of the answers are clear and don’t need to be referred back to the author.

10. Return the edited document(s) with care.

Don’t rush the return: get things in order, check the brief again to make sure you’ve dealt with everything, and make sure your covering email is informative and clear. As well as the edited text, send your queries and style sheet. Let the client know they can ask you if they have any questions about what you’ve done. Once you’ve submitted everything, invoice promptly, put the kettle on and look forward to the next copyedit! All jobs are different, but your confidence and efficiency will increase with each one.

 

Liz Jones has been an editor since 1998, and freelance since 2008. She specialises in copyediting and proofreading non-fiction, specialising in architecture, art and other practical subjects, as well as highly technical material. She is one of the CIEP’s information team, and is also a mentor in proofreading and copyediting.

 


Photo credits: Getting ready – Johny vino; planning – Glenn Carstens-Peters, both on Unsplash

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

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

British Library Study Day: Fairy Tales

By Tor Hegedus

Once upon a time, on a not-so-Grimm Saturday in January, a group of fairy-tale enthusiasts gathered at the British Library for a sold-out study day. Thanks to a post on the SfEP forums highlighting the event, I was lucky enough to be among them.

I’ve always loved fairy tales – the magic, the feeling that anything could happen and the dark little corners found in even the most child-friendly retellings – so the library’s promise that I would ‘discover stories I’d never heard before’ was a temptation I couldn’t resist. Also, as a children’s specialist who has worked on numerous fairy-tale retellings and collections, I was curious to learn more about the history of these traditional tales and see if there were any takeaways to be found for editing them.

Arrival

Upon arrival, we were treated to tea, fancy biscuits and goody bags (!) containing a copy of the programme, as well as a beautiful British Library notebook and pencil. The programme had been updated at the last minute due to a dropout, but the replacement lecture by Dr Erica Gillingham sounded promising … if anything, I was more excited than before. And I didn’t have long to wait. Soon enough, we were invited to take our seats in the library’s Knowledge Centre Theatre for the morning session.

The morning session

The day was kicked off by Michelle Anya Anjirbag from the University of Cambridge. Michelle’s talk, ‘Unlocking the Cabinet of Stories: Fairy tales, subversion and representation’, touched upon our understanding of fairy tales – our expectations and the biases those expectations reveal. She also talked about the issues surrounding representation and diversity in fairy tales, both historically and in modern-day retellings.

Michelle was followed by Jane Suzanne Carroll from Trinity College, Dublin, who talked on the subject of landscape within fairy tales. Her lecture, ‘Into the Woods: Spaces and places in fairy tales’, explored the familiar spaces within European fairy tales and explained why the same spaces occur again and again. It also examined the ways that stories have become embedded in real landscapes, using Irish and Welsh examples.

The late addition to the programme, Dr Erica Gillingham, closed off the morning with her talk ‘Cinderella and the Huntress: A lesbian retelling of Cinderella in Malinda Lo’s Ash’ – a lecture that not only spoke to the twisting of tropes in Lo’s Ash, but also offered a wider perspective on LGBTQ+ representation in YA fairy tales.

The afternoon session

After lunch, the afternoon opened with a thrill – Lucy Evans, a British Library curator, took us on a fascinating journey through the library’s collection of fairy tales. We were able to see examples of printed materials from the archives – from theatre posters and chapbooks to beautifully illustrated fairy-tale collections and even original manuscripts!

Next was Gillian Lathey, an honorary senior research fellow at the University of Roehampton, with her talk, ‘The Princess and the Multiple Peas: The translation and transformation of fairy tales’. In this lecture, Gillian discussed how the choices and personal styles of translators (and editors!) have impacted familiar tales over time.

Finally, author and publisher Dr Tamara Pizzoli took the stage for her talk, ‘The Tooth Fairy is a Black Woman and Other True Tales: A modern griot’s quest to rewrite history one fairy tale at a time’. In this talk, Dr Pizzoli opened up about the founding of her publishing company, The English Schoolhouse, as well as her journey as an author and what inspires her to continue writing both diverse retellings of existing fairy tales (such as The Ghanaian Goldilocks) and original stories (like Tallulah the Tooth Fairy CEO).

Highlights

All of the speakers were engaging, knowledgeable and passionate about their chosen topic. With such a high-quality line-up, it’s no surprise that there were plenty of memorable moments throughout the day. Some of the most fascinating content for me included:

  • Michelle Anya Anjirbag discussing representation and diversity in Disney’s fairy tale adaptations – their history, the steps they’ve taken and the steps they still need to take.
  • Jane Suzanne Carroll presenting a map tracking the geographical origins of Irish selkie stories. During this segment, it was pointed out that certain Irish surnames hold links to selkie folklore … leaving one surprised audience member checking themselves for webbed toes during the break!
  • Lucy Evans sharing an image of Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber. (I’m not ashamed to say I let out a squeak of excitement – The Bloody Chamber is a long-loved favourite of mine!) Lucy also shared this – a chapbook with a subtitle I still can’t quite shake!
  • Gillian Lathey discussing the changes made in one translation in the story of ‘The Princess and the Pea’. The translator, who felt it unrealistic that a single pea would be felt under so many mattresses, took it upon themselves to add multiple peas – a change that can still be found in subsequent versions today.
  • Learning that in early instances, Goldilocks was not as we know her today. In fact, early versions of the story had her as an old woman with silver hair!

Into the sunset

With a hot chocolate and my notes to keep me company on the train home, I found myself reflecting on the day. Overall, it was a fantastic experience – well worth the price of admission. It would have been beneficial to have a few more breaks dotted about … the seats were comfortable, but two and a half hours is a long time to be sitting in one place without a break!

The only (VERY minor) disappointment I had related to additional materials provided after the day. While I did take my own notes, we were told we would receive additional materials from the speakers via email in the following week. I was looking forward to a more comprehensive memory jog from these, but for the most part they lacked the depth I was hoping for.

For anybody interested in attending a future event at the British Library, you can browse here to discover what’s on.

Tor Hegedus is a writer, editor and Professional Member of the SfEP. Formerly an in-house copyeditor at a well-known children’s publisher, Tor ditched the commute to fully embrace freelance life – pyjamas and all. When she’s not wrestling commas, she can be found slurping tea and reading picture books to her cats.

 

 


Photo credits: open book Natalia Y; woods – Donald Giannatti, both on Unsplash.

Proofread by Victoria Hunt, Intermediate Member.
Posted by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator.

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

 

From terrified to trainer

By Cathy Tingle

I never planned to be a trainer. I hate speaking in public. My voice is soft and I’m prone to saying ‘um’ and ‘er’ as I struggle to articulate my thoughts. When I get going, I trip over my words. I certainly don’t have what you would call the gift of the gab.

As part of my job, I’d run a couple of courses years ago, fuelled by youth and, I don’t know, luck. Since then, I’d been made redundant, moved city, had kids, and lost confidence the way you do when you’re at home all day interacting with small children and a screen.

So imagine my feelings when I received an email in August 2018 from Margaret Aherne suggesting I take over two of her copyediting courses.

If you’ve not been on one, Margaret’s courses are a treat. Her Publishing Scotland ‘Welcome to’ and ‘Further’ courses in copyediting and proofreading were exactly what I needed as I started out in editing in 2014. She was clearly an expert, vastly experienced, but hilarious with an endearing nerdy slant (keen on steam trains, bus shelters, that sort of thing). Her exercises were masterful – thought through and clever. I signed up for all her Edinburgh courses. Afterwards, we kept in touch by email, and I was secretly hoping she’d write a new course I could attend.

Taking up the mantle

But it wasn’t to be. Family and health stuff meant that Margaret couldn’t make the trip (always by her beloved train) from Bristol to Edinburgh any more. So, did I fancy taking on her Publishing Scotland copyediting courses? Denise Cowle would be running the proofreading ones.

Me? She must have confused me with someone else, or mistaken my shiny-eyed interest (I was a bit of a Margaret groupie) for training ability. But … what an opportunity. I replied with an update on my work and what training I’d run before, adding: ‘I do feel very green and inexperienced compared to you!’ It didn’t seem to put her off and we arranged a meeting.

In the meantime, I almost bottled it. One evening it became crystal clear. What I was I thinking? I could barely string a sentence together with my own family, let alone a set of delegates. I’d never manage Denise’s capable, clear and confident delivery (for I had checked her out on YouTube talking about semicolons). I’d email Margaret and tell her I couldn’t do it. And I did. She was incredibly understanding but gave me the night to think about it and the chance to confirm my decision in the morning.

In the morning, I felt … OK. Still a bit scared, but all right. So it was on again, and I met Margaret a few weeks later in Glasgow, where she talked me through the content of the course and assured me she’d give me advice and guidance whenever I needed it. I hugged her goodbye. It felt like I had been anointed.

Five steps

And so began the long countdown (of around six months) to delivering my first day-long course. What did I do to prepare? Here are my tips for going from terrified to trainer.

  1. Familiarise yourself with the content. Nothing makes you confident like knowing your stuff. So I made sure I was completely au fait with everything in the course. I looked out for extra examples and other material that could augment the learning points. Becoming familiar with the content also involves anticipating questions. The course included a section on grammar and punctuation. What if the delegates asked hard questions at that point? Time to raise my game. When the opportunity arose, I volunteered to take over ‘A Finer Point’ in Editing Matters from Luke Finley.
  2. Read a book. Sounds like a cop-out, doesn’t it? But it will give you a chance to get your thoughts in order. It will also make you realise that your situation is far from unique. I read How to Own the Room by Viv Groskop, which contains case studies of well-known women speaking in public. The book told me: ‘You can’t get around fear. You can only go through it. And the way to go through it is to speak in public and get more used to it.’ Argh. Was there no other way?
  3. Talk to an experienced trainer. I went to see someone my sister knew who had decades of training experience. He gave me some great ideas for icebreakers and tips for dealing with questions. He also pointed out that nerves are a bit of vanity, aren’t they? The day’s not about you. Above all, though, he listened to my concerns, was encouraging, and told me the story of when he found himself dry heaving from nerves in the toilets of No 10 Downing Street before running a training session. So.
  4. Practise. Viv Groskop said it. The best way to feel better about the whole thing was to do it, or a version of it. So I put myself on the rota of people that give the welcome and notices at church, to get used to being confronted with expectant faces and hearing the sound of my own voice. The most useful experience was when I didn’t realise I was down for one Sunday, turned up as the service started and was told: ‘Thank goodness you’re here! We didn’t think you were coming!’ So I had to get a lightning brief and just go out there and do it. My slightly breathless delivery, some of it on the verge of giggles, was complimented. Coming across as human obviously worked.
  5. Make the takeaways good. I wasn’t kidding myself that the delegates would hold on to my every word, and I wanted to relieve a little of the pressure on my performance, so I made sure that there was an exhaustive resources list and prepared a ‘keep in touch’ sheet so I could email everyone with the presentation. This would also be useful as a vehicle for answering any questions that completely stumped me. I could say, ‘I can’t answer that now, but I’ll look it up and let you all know’.

And that was all I could do in the time I had. I was still nervous on the day. I always am. I’ve done three training courses now – two whole days and a half (with Denise running the other half) – but the more training I do, the more I enjoy it. After coming home from the first day-long course I had to have a lie down; the second time I went out in the evening. So it must be getting easier. Comments from the delegates have been positive. One made me laugh: ‘Cathy is nice and quite funny’. Only ‘quite’! Looks like I still have a way to go before I’m a Margaret.

Cathy TingleCathy Tingle is an SfEP Advanced Professional Member, based in Edinburgh. Her business, DocEditor, specialises in non-fiction editing. She runs ‘Introduction to Copy-editing’ and the copyediting section of ‘Further Copy-editing and Proofreading’ for Publishing Scotland. Like Denise Cowle’s ‘Introduction to Proofreading’ course for Publishing Scotland, both courses attract three SfEP upgrade points and are offered at a discounted rate for SfEP members.


In March 2020, the SfEP will become the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP), and the CIEP’s first annual conference will take place at Kents Hill Park, a purpose-built conference and training centre in Milton Keynes, on 12–14 September.

The provisional programme will be released before booking opens in March, and will feature a mix of high-quality workshops and seminars on various aspects of editing and proofreading, as well as running your own business and developments in the publishing world. If you would like to suggest a topic or speaker (it could even be you!), contact the conference director as soon as possible (conference@sfep.org.uk).


Photo credits: laptop on table Patrick Robert Doyle; chairs and flipchart Kovah, both on Unsplash.

Proofread by Alice McBrearty, Entry-Level Member.
Posted by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator.

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

 

Coping with criticism

By Liz Jones

One of the most exciting things about freelancing, but also one of the hardest, is that feeling that the buck stops with you. You’re in control of the work you do, keeping the business going. You’re entirely responsible. On a good day, this can be exhilarating. It’s a buzz to win a new contract or client. There’s nothing quite like sending off a massive invoice for a job well done – a direct and tangible result of your efforts. And it’s a real kick to be praised for excellent work.

The flip side of this is that we also need to be prepared for feedback that isn’t so good. We’re all human, and sometimes we have off days, and we miss things, or misunderstand an aspect of a brief. Sometimes there’s a distance between what the client expects and what we think they want. Or maybe a document is just in such bad shape that it’s all we can do to make it better, and it’s still not going to be immaculate – at least, not in that timeframe, with that budget. Perfection is never a helpful aim.

How we deal with criticism of our work matters. Bad feedback can take a huge mental toll if we’re not careful. It’s not simply a question of avoiding it entirely, as it’s bound to happen sooner or later, no matter how careful we are. But there are strategies that can help us cope with it more effectively, and perhaps even turn it into a positive experience (eventually).

I tweeted about this recently: https://twitter.com/ljedit/status/1217800318932656129

My Twitter thread was in response to a client having commented on some things I’d missed in a proofread, some of which were debatable, but several of which were not – in an ideal world I would have caught them. My response to the client, after sleeping on it (and yes, after initially getting indignant and defensive, and stomping around the kitchen), was a succinct acknowledgement of the things I’d missed, while also drawing attention to the fact that it had been a heavily corrected set of proofs; no proofreader can catch everything. I also thanked them for their feedback. Later I received a positive response from the client, and more work. I think as a result of our exchange both sides felt heard, and also reassured that our good working relationship was intact.

Professional resolution

I shared the experience on Twitter because receiving bad feedback can be such a lonely experience, but probably a fairly universal one in our profession. It received quite a few likes and shares, and some responses indicating that I wasn’t alone. So, based on my own experiences of responding to criticism in the past 12 years (let’s just say I’ve improved over time), plus conversations with colleagues, here are some tips for managing in this situation.

  • Dissociate yourself. It can be incredibly painful to have work criticised. It may even feel like a personal attack – but it (generally) isn’t. Remember that you are not your work. Even if it’s fallen short in some way, it doesn’t mean you have.
  • Don’t panic! Your first reaction might be to assume that you’ve messed things up completely and lost a valuable client. But feedback, even if it’s negative, is generally a good sign. It means the client is interested in an ongoing working relationship and building a dialogue with you. They don’t want to lose you, they just want to keep lines of communication open so you understand better what they need in future.
  • Give yourself time. Your instinct might be to write back immediately, to try to sort everything out right away. However, my advice would be to give yourself as much time to reply as you reasonably can. Sleep on it if possible. The more quickly you write back, the more defensive you’re likely to be, and the situation won’t be helped by heaping it under a load of excuses.
  • Assess the criticism. As I said, criticism is painful, and it’s even more painful to look it directly in the eye. But this is important: you need to understand what you did wrong. This means acknowledging to yourself as well as the client that you made silly mistakes, or were distracted for some reason, or were trying to do too many things at once.
  • You need to address the criticism, of course. It’s good to deal with all the points raised, even if only to say ‘yes, I should have caught that’. Own your mistakes; apologise briefly if necessary. Try to avoid lengthy justifications. Do stick up for yourself if you feel the client is being unfair, but don’t bang on about it, or retaliate with accusations about unreasonable expectations. This is not the point at which to try to renegotiate the contract.
  • If you honestly didn’t know how to do something before, don’t just stumble on in ignorance, hoping you’ll get away with it again in future. Take the opportunity to plug the gaps in your knowledge.

How far should you go to fix things?

This can be tricky. It might be your instinct, because you’re a nice person, to ask for the files back to go over them again. You might want to make the new corrections yourself. You might even think you should charge the client less than agreed. But don’t be too hasty; the client probably isn’t expecting any of this. Don’t over-compensate for something fairly minor. Reassure the client that you will look out for the points they’ve raised in future work, and make sure you don’t make the same mistake(s) again.

Red flags and abusive relationships

Although I wrote that criticism of work is not generally a personal attack, it’s worth remembering that on rare occasions, it is. I’ve been in situations, and I know many other editors have too, where criticism is not warranted, or is out of all proportion to the supposed misdemeanour. Most clients are entirely professional in their dealings, but a tiny minority are unscrupulous, even abusive. If you reach a point where everything you do for a client is criticised, and your professionalism is being called into question (even after you’ve conducted an honest appraisal of your work), or you’re made to put in more work than you’re being paid for to ‘atone’ for a string of supposed infractions, then it’s time to walk away.

As freelancers who often work alone, we can be vulnerable to a particular kind of toxic power struggle where we are made to feel useful, needed, part of a team – and as a result end up giving a client far more than they are paying us for. This can happen quite insidiously, so we should be vigilant in our setting and maintaining of boundaries in working relationships.

 

Liz Jones has been an editor since 1998, freelance since 2008. She works for a number of non-fiction publishers, agencies and individuals, and specialises in highly illustrated books on architecture, art and culture, as well as tech and electronics.

 

 


Editor and Client: building a professional relationship is an SfEP guide that aims to help freelancers understand the needs of their clients, and to give clients a clear awareness of freelancers’ requirements to do a good professional job.


Picture credits: Girl with head in hands – Caleb Woods; And breathe – Max van den Oetelaar,  both on Unsplash

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

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

Face-to-face CPD in 2020

CPD is a critical part of every editor and proofreader’s year. There is now a vast array of online courses available, but there really is nothing like being in a room, talking with and learning from peers and experts. Here are some possible face-to-face CPD (and networking) events that you could invest in in 2020.

Conferences

SfEP CIEP 2020

The SfEP conference has been a mainstay of many editors’ calendars for years – this year will be the first ever Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading conference, which is bound to be packed full of informative and challenging sessions and learning opportunities, just like the 30 SfEP conferences that preceded it. Booking will open in March.

www.sfep.org.uk/networking/conferences/
Dates: 12–14 September 2020
Location: Kents Hill Park, Milton Keynes

ACES 2020

The 24th annual national conference of ACES, the Society for Editing, has sessions on developing a quality editorial process, the gift of imperfection, editing memoir, diverse content, thinking like a linguist, and editor health and self-care (including a mile-long #StetWalk!). Registration is open now, and spaces are filling up.

https://aceseditors.org/conference/2020
Dates: 30 April–2 May 2020
Location: Hilton Salt Lake City Center Hotel, Salt Lake City, UT

EDITORS20 / RÉVISEURS20 / CORRECTORES20

Editors Canada hosts the International Editors Conference this year, which offers three days of seminars, workshops and keynotes on the theme of ‘From Papyrus to Pixels: International Editing Trends’. Registration is open now, with earlybird rates in place until April.

www.editors.ca/professional-development/conference/international-editors-conference-2020
Dates: 19–21 June 2020
Location: Le Centre Sheraton Montreal, Montreal, QC

METM20

The Mediterranean Editors and Translators Meeting (METM) offers three days of presentations and keynote speeches, workshops and ‘Off-METM’ events for editors, translators, interpreters and other providers of English-language support services, this year on the theme of ‘The Style Issue’. Registration begins in late spring, and is open to members a week ahead of everyone else.

www.metmeetings.org/en/presentation:1265
Dates: 15–17 October 2020
Location: Olarain University Hall of Residence, Donostia/San Sebastián, Spain

IPEd Conference 2021

Okay, yes, this one isn’t until 2021 (as IPEd holds its conference every two years), but if you don’t live in Australia, you’re going to need that extra bit of time to save your pennies! The theme is ‘Editing on the Edges’, inspired by Hobart’s geographic location and the fact that editors are always dealing with edges, whether they be geographic, demographic, technological or ethical.

https://iped2021.org.au/
Dates: 28–30 June 2021
Location: Hobart Grand Chancellor, Hobart, TAS

Book fairs

London Book Fair

This year’s London Book Fair has over 200 sessions planned covering 11 dedicated seminar streams, including Authors: Central to our Business, and People Development: Re-skilling our Industry. Hundreds of publishers – and of course the CIEP – will be in the exhibitors hall. Tickets available now.

www.londonbookfair.co.uk/
Dates: 10–12 March 2020
Location: Olympia London, Kensington, London

Frankfurter Buchmesse

2019’s Frankfurt Book Fair was the biggest ever with nearly 7,500 exhibitors – we’ve got to assume that 2020’s fair is going to be larger yet. There isn’t much information about the 2020 event available at the time of writing, but it looks like a great place ‘to exchange ideas, be inspired, try out new technologies and cultivate contacts’. Tickets on sale from April (private visitors) and June (trade visitors).

www.buchmesse.de/en
Dates: 14–18 October 2020
Location: Messegelände, Frankfurt am Main

Workshops and courses

In the UK, the SfEP continues to offer its Introductions to Proofreading and Copyediting as one-day workshops, and usually hosts a different one-day workshop on the day before its conference starts. Local SfEP groups can work together with the SfEP office to organise workshops on other topics. The Society also offers bespoke in-house courses for companies and organisations.

The Publishing Training Centre has 21 classroom-based courses in its schedule for 2020, covering core publishing skills, project planning and management , strategy and list building, professional development and marketing.

SfEP local groups

And no summary of face-to-face CPD would be complete without a mention of the SfEP’s local groups – meetings offer a great way to share knowledge and experience (and often also tasty food and beverages).


Photo credits – all SfEP, taken at the 2019 SfEP annual conference.

Proofread by Victoria Hunt, Intermediate Member.
Compiled and posted by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator.

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

Not just fun and games: the CPD of escape rooms

By Julia Sandford-Cooke

You might think I’m just a meek and unassuming editor, but I have a secret identity. When I’m not correcting content, I may be stealing diamonds, exploring Egyptian tombs, solving crimes or perhaps even saving the world (twice from a renegade sheep). Despite my reputation for remaining calm under pressure, I have been known to scream, ‘Why are you just standing there? We only have three minutes to defuse the bomb!’

Yes, I’m an escape room enthusiast. Bear with me because the link to continuing professional development (CPD) isn’t as tenuous as you might think. After 20 years as an editor, I’m still committed to learning but I’ve completed most relevant courses at least once, so have begun to seek out new ways to build and apply my skills. After all, we editorial professionals don’t just spend our days correcting grammar and swearing at Microsoft Word – we also practise problem solving, time management, team working and lateral thinking. And all these skills are tested and strengthened in escape rooms.

What is an escape room?

Basically, you and your team of two to about seven people enter a room to solve puzzles relating to a particular theme or story within a set amount time (usually an hour but, increasingly, 90 minutes). In fact, ‘escape room’ is rather a misleading term. It’s really more about escapism than escaping. Although you may need to find a way out of a setting like a prison or cabin within the time limit, instead you could solve a crime, find a relic, save a pirate ship or pass all your wizarding exams. Sometimes the challenge is just collecting as many toy cats as you can. You won’t actually be locked in (I believe that’s illegal) and, in fact, many rooms allow you to leave at any time – but what would be the fun of that? I won’t spoil your future games by describing the puzzles you’ll encounter in detail but they may involve matching words, spotting inconsistences, identifying patterns, remembering sequences, cracking codes, finding pieces of a jigsaw and completing it, or something more physical, such as shooting foam bullets at a target. Typically, you’ll need to identify a numeric sequence or locate a key for a padlock. It’s seen as bad form to require external general knowledge (that’s what pub quizzes are for) so, as long as you know simple maths and the alphabet, you’ll be able to make a start. If you get stuck, your games master, who monitors you on CCTV, can provide a hint.

Most escape rooms are aimed at adults but switched-on kids aged over eight or so often excel as part of a grown-up team, as long as the theme isn’t too scary – my 11-year-old escape room veteran refuses to do any rooms relating to Egyptian mummies, zombies or school detentions. As for the rooms themselves, some are charmingly homemade, some are slickly mechanised and some have amazing movie-quality sets but all require players to accept the scenario in which they find themselves and work together to achieve a mutually beneficial outcome. Can you see the parallels with publishing yet?

Julia and her husband test a virtual reality game at ERIC. Photo by Guy Wah Photography.

Take my nearest venue, Fakenham Escape Rooms. In this game, we have been employed by the International Rescue Corps to complete the work of a missing professor who had been working on new technology that predicts the time and location of natural disasters. Our mission is to find his research and coordinate our findings to discover where and when the next disaster will be. It’s a fun, immersive room and, as it happens, we were top of the leader board for six months until some professional escapologists (pah!) completed it slightly quicker. It’s the taking part that counts – but beating other teams does motivate competitive players like me. The owners subsequently asked us to test their new room before it officially opened, and listened to our constructive feedback on the experience, a bit like a physical version of proofreading.

It’s all about teamwork

So, what makes a good escape room team? Well, I’ve edited enough business books to be intimately acquainted with the Belbin team roles, and have played enough escape rooms to know that combining people with different skills is going to get the job done quicker and better. For example, my daughter has a mind like a trap and is good at finding hidden items. My programmer husband can apply logic to any situation, and I delegate all the maths puzzles to him. Some of the friends I’ve played with are efficient, organised and focused. Others are highly creative or have an in-depth knowledge of binary. As for me, when I asked for feedback on my performance, Team-mate 1 (my daughter) said I’m quick to make connections between different elements and Team-mate 2 (my husband), after some thought, said I’m better at reading than he is. Our greatest triumphs have been a result of focusing on the goal, clear communication and mutual respect for each other’s abilities. All of which are ingredients for successfully managing any project.

Benefiting more than just me

I’ve attended two excellent conferences this year. One was (naturally) the SfEP conference at Aston University. The other was the amusingly named ERIC – the Escape Room Industry Conference in glamorous Dagenham. Covering everything from game theory to marketing, with a little acting thrown in, it was the most enjoyable small-business foundation course that you can imagine. I came home brimming with ideas for developing my own editing business (‘escape rooms’ now features as a key word in my SfEP Directory entry – puzzle tester for hire). As a textbook specialist, I’d love to look at ways of engaging learners via puzzles and for improving testing methods such as those tricky multiple-choice questions that authors always struggle to perfect.

What’s more, while I’m not quite ready to open my own escape room (watch this space), I made a contact at ERIC which has resulted in another exciting new project. I’ve joined forces with my local library to coordinate a treasure trail for teams of Key Stage 2 pupils (9 to 11 year olds) in which they have to use the library facilities to tackle puzzles and act out a narrative – hopefully developing their literacy and problem-solving skills, and their enthusiasm for libraries, in the process.

Try it for yourself

There are now about 1,500 escape rooms in the UK, and maybe 20,000 in the world, so there’s likely to be at least one near you. Some are inevitably better than others – read reviews before you go to gain an idea of quality because it’s admittedly not a cheap hobby. The typical cost is around £20 per person, and it can be even more expensive if (as a purely hypothetical example, of course) you choose to celebrate 20 years with your husband by travelling to Margate to play five games over two days (Kent being the unlikely escape-room capital of the UK). It’s still cheaper than formal training as well as fun, educational and a welcome break from those ubiquitous screens.

Excuse me, I’m just off to Google ‘Milton Keynes escape rooms’. If you want to join my team for some extra escapist CPD while we’re in town for the 2020 CIEP conference, let me know!

Julia Sandford-CookeJulia Sandford-Cooke of WordFire Communications has 20 years’ experience of publishing and marketing. She has written and edited numerous textbooks, specialising in vocational education, media studies, construction, health and safety, and travel. In her spare time, she’s a pirate, spy and astronaut.

 


Thinking about your CPD plans for 2020? The SfEP offers a wide variety of courses, and more informal CPD is available through its members’ forums and local groups.


Photo credits: Sheep Jonathan Poncelet, Escape Rooms sign – Zachary Keimig, both on Unsplash; Julia and her husband testing a virtual reality game at ERIC Guy Wah Photography.

Proofread by Emma Easy, Entry-Level Member.
Posted by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator.

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