Category Archives: Professional development

How to guides to help with your professional development.

What editors need to know when asking authors questions

The Art of Querying, a new CIEP course, is on its way. Its creator, Gerard M-F Hill, gives
us a speedy tour through questions and queries, and what the course offers editors
and proofreaders.

Is the current King of France bald?

Questions are of many kinds, and not all of them are good questions – or even answerable.

Whatever you edit – advert, magazine, novel or research paper – you soon start asking yourself questions. What does this mean? Where did those come from? How am I supposed to know that? Is that all? Or even just: why? Of course queries should be clear and concise, but it’s good to be constructive too. What makes a good query?

Before you fire off a query, ask yourself what the problem is. You need to have a reason for asking, because the author may not think it is a problem at all. You first identify the problem by analysing what is bothering you. As a result, you will craft a better question and often you will identify an answer (or answers); then the author just needs to say yes (or no, not exactly … more like this).

Might I suggest?

As queries take up the author’s time (as well as yours), it is only common courtesy to keep them as few and as short as possible. So you need criteria to decide when to ask a question, and you also need a range of suitable formulas that you can adapt for each situation. Good questions will help to ensure that you get a usable answer.

Queries can be short, but they don’t have to be abrupt. It pays to be diplomatic. There are good ways to approach an author, to frame a question and to follow up an incomplete answer – and there are some even better ways.

Does it match the brief/blurb?

Who is this publication for? What will readers want to know? What will they expect to find? What are they expected to know already? Will they know all these facts, names, words, idioms, allusions or connections? Will they resent the presentation as either patronising or trivialising?

As an editor, you ask yourself such questions because they are a big part of the expertise that you offer and that your client is paying for. A publisher does not wish to hear of such defects from unimpressed reviewers or disenchanted readers.

Does it make sense?

What is the writer trying to say? Are they getting their message across? Does it make sense? Why is this different from that? You ask yourself such questions on behalf of the reader, who should not be left to wonder and has no way of asking the author to explain.

If it doesn’t make sense, if the plot or proposition doesn’t add up, if defective grammar is stuffed with malapropisms or other unsuitable words, the reader will soon drift off and never return. The editor aims to prevent any such crisis by smoothing the reader’s path so they can be informed, educated or entertained without being tripped up, distracted or misled.

Are you happy with this?

Where possible, make it easy for the author by presenting your query as a simple choice: A or B? This, that or the other? Would this [rewritten sentence] represent what you are saying?

Have forgotten something?

It’s easy to see that ‘you’ is missing in that sentence. It’s not so easy to spot when a whole topic or aspect of a piece, or the dénouement of a subplot, has been overlooked. The questioning editor keeps a lookout for content that the reader may be expecting, but which is not there.

Easy questions

Why is water wet? This penetrating question from a thoughtful child nonetheless demonstrates that ‘the greatest fool may ask more than the wisest man can answer’, though children are not fools. The saying is often attributed to King James I and VI.

In checking the reference (as all good authors should) I found to my surprise that the aphorism did not come from the wisest fool in Christendom, but from Charles Caleb Colton’s Lacon, published in 1820. In non-fiction, references – inadequate, unconvincing, mangled or missing – usually generate half your queries.

Here’s the answer!

Between 2010 and 2019 I regularly ran a session at the SfEP conference on The Art of Querying, and since then I have been expanding this workshop into an online course. It begins with the whole question of questions. For a start, what do you need to ask yourself? Can your author query be answered at all? Is there only one way to answer it? Could it be misinterpreted? Does the text assume the answer to an unspoken question?

The course next looks at questions to ask the project manager, with a checklist, and how and when to approach the author, with examples of how to do it and what not to do. This section discusses practicalities, from typefaces to time zones, alongside the principles and professional ethics that underlie all editorial queries. It Looks Funny examines your five options before you ask anything, followed by advice on formulating queries and notes, with six rules to help you.

Readers struggle with four major problems – inconsistency, ambiguity, omission and error – and each of these topics has a whole section of the course to itself. Different types of content have their own pitfalls, so there are sections devoted to prelims, narrative and argument, vocabulary and terminology, references, tables and artwork.

The Art of Querying is meant to be instructive, stimulating and enjoyable while extending your editing knowledge and skills, with lots of questions (and answers), well over a hundred real-life examples, copious but concise study notes and a variety of exercises to let you think through different solutions, along with a decision tool to determine whether and what to query, six rules you can follow and a dozen checklists for you to download and use. The Art of Querying is also (I hope) a good read and good fun!

Find out more about The Art of Querying

About Gerard M-F Hill

After several years teaching and 16 years driving heavy lorries, Gerard retrained as an indexer and copyeditor. Since 1990 he has worked on over 500 books and mentored over 100 proofreaders.

As a director of SfEP (2007–16) he devised the basic editorial test used by CIEP and as chartership adviser (2016–20) he worked with the chair, Sabine Citron, to obtain the institute’s Royal Charter.

 

About the CIEP

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

Find out more about:

 

Photo credits: question mark by Emily Morter; Answers 1km by Hadija Saidi, both on Unsplash.

Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

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

The CIEP Curriculum for Professional Development

The CIEP’s training director, Jane Moody, has been working closely with directors, tutors and the wider membership to create a curriculum for professional development. In this post, Jane explains:

  • why we need a curriculum
  • what that curriculum covers
  • how the curriculum works.

Do we need a curriculum?

Yes, we do! Most professional organisations have a set of skills and knowledge that you need to understand or at least know something about to call yourself a professional in their area. Some test their members on this set of skills (physiotherapists and accountants, for example) before they can call themselves members of their professional body. All expect their members to refresh their skills and learning against this skill set periodically. Continuing professional development, CPD, is expected of all members, no matter their status in the organisation, and this is true of copyeditors and proofreaders as well.

We, as editors and proofreaders, now also have a framework of study – the CIEP Curriculum for Professional Development.

What does it cover?

At first glance, you might think that you won’t need to know about everything in the curriculum. Have a closer look, though. Any publishing professional needs a basic grounding in publishing ethics and law – even if you only scratch the surface, you should at least know something about the moral rights of authors, plagiarism and copyright. If you work as a freelance editor/proofreader, you are running your own business, so you need to know something about keeping records, what HMRC needs to know about you, and how to work efficiently. You will have your own equipment, so a basic knowledge of how to manage your files and keep them secure is essential for your own and your clients’ peace of mind. That takes you to the end of Domain 1 of the curriculum: Working as a professional.

You may be working in-house in a company and, if so, there will be some aspects of business management and practice that may not be immediately relevant to you. The knowledge in this area will, however, be useful to most members working in our profession today.

Even if you never work for a ‘traditional’ publisher with an editorial department, a production department and a marketing department, you will need to understand the basics of a publishing workflow. There are good reasons why some tasks are done before or after others. The more you understand about the industry and its processes, the wider your client base can be and the more useful you can be to your clients.

Working with words means that you need a good knowledge of the English language and its mechanics, and how different people, groups and organisations use the language. You need to be able to judge whether something makes sense, is clear and appropriate for the audience, and to be able to raise queries with an author or client in a concise and sensitive manner.

How you work is critical to getting repeat business – do a good job and you may pick up a regular client; do what you think you need to without learning about how and why and you are not likely to be asked for a second date. The nuts and bolts of copyediting and proofreading processes have been refined over many decades and, no matter who you work for, understanding what you are doing, who for and why matters if you want to do the best job you can. And now you are at the end of Domain 2.

Not all editors/proofreaders will use all the skills and knowledge included in these two domains of the curriculum in their day-to-day work. Nevertheless, as you grow in skills and experience, you are likely to want to broaden your awareness of publishing processes and the breadth of publishing outside your initial comfort zone. Developing your knowledge and acquiring a broad range of skills are essential CPD.

Some people prefer to remain as ‘generalists’, working for many different clients in several genres and subject areas. If this is true for you, you may never need to consult Domain 3. Others like to specialise, some in traditional areas where there is a body of specialist publishing, such as medicine, music, fiction or the law. Each of these specialist areas has its own conventions, specialist knowledge and terminology. Domain 3 covers a few of these specialisms and others will be added – if there is a specialism that you think should be included, copy the template at the start of Domain 3 (page 28), fill it in and send it to the training director.

How it works

Each domain of the curriculum is set out in columns. The first column divides the domain into detailed topics. The second column shows the competencies, professional skills and attitudes expected of a professional copyeditor/proofreader for this topic, and the third lists some resources to support learning in this area. Eventually, there will be a fourth column, which will list the ways in which a copyeditor/proofreader can demonstrate their competency in this area – a test pass or other kind of assessment, perhaps. This is an aspiration for the future.

We hope that you will contribute to keeping the curriculum alive. Have you taken a course that helped to expand your knowledge and skills? Have you come across a book or other resource that is really useful to you in your practice? Do tell the training director about it.

Download the curriculum now

About Jane Moody

Jane has worked with books for all her working life (which is rather more years than she cares to admit), having started life as a librarian. She started a freelance editing business while at home with her two children, which she maintained for 15 years before going back into full-time employment as head of publishing for a medical Royal College.

Now retired, she has resurrected her editorial business, but has less time for work these days as she spends much time with her four grandchildren and in her garden.

 

About the CIEP

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

Find out more about:

 

Photo credits: book stacks by by Lysander Yuen on Unsplash; cogs by Gerd Altmann on Pixabay.

Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

Forum matters: The treasure in the CIEP forums and how to find it

There is precious metal in them thar forum messages, and sometimes you have to dig for it. So, before we highlight some of the gems, we’ll tell you how to use the unearthing tools. We cover:

  • How to mine the forums
  • Threads of pure gold
  • Daily updates
  • Occasional pupdates
  • Invaluable advice for fiction editors

How to mine the forums

First, fill a mug with your beverage of choice and relax in front of your screen. Select a forum to peruse, say SfEPLine, and click. You’ll see about 30 rows of alternating grey and white that highlight the separate posts. Top right above the rows is the forum page you are on (SfEPLine has 275 pages; Off topic has 89). You can click forwards and backwards to your heart’s content.

If there is a blue box on the left that says ‘New’, then it is a thread you haven’t read or posts have been added since you last opened it. If you click on the blue box you’ll be taken to the latest message you haven’t read while in the forums (although if you’ve been following a thread and receiving the emails, you will have).

Each row tells you the subject and the name of the original poster, and the date, time and name of the last person to add to the thread. Useful if you know that a particular person is always worth a read.

In the middle are two columns for Views and Posts. The former tells you how many folk have been attracted enough by the subject line to have a gander. The latter tells you how many have been sufficiently moved by the content to contribute a post. Once either of those numbers goes above a single digit you can bet it will be interesting; if it’s gone to three or more digits, then it is probably forum gold.

If you don’t feel like a thorough trawl to find subjects that pique your curiosity, then here are a few threads we think are fun.

Threads of pure gold

On 24 August 2017, Margaret Hunter thought it was time for ‘an invitation to get you [Lurkers] started with a (hopefully) non-threatening post’ to ‘Tell us how you first heard of the SfEP’. By 29 September the thread had attracted 66 posts and, to date, has had 1,170 views. The posts illustrate the diversity of our membership and the myriad routes there are to becoming an editing professional. ‘Lurkers – yes you – look in here.’

Also in August 2017, Sophie Playle had an invaluable idea: ‘Most newbies have a lot of the same questions, so I thought I’d collate some of the fantastic advice more established SfEP members have offered over the years. Here’s what I’ve come up with! I’m sure there’s much more to say on each topic, but hopefully this provides a good place to start.’ She then extracted some key posts on such topics as: how to find work; some good courses; and what to charge. The advice may be nearly four years old, but it is still sound – and useful – as confirmed by a thank you posted in February 2021. ‘Newbie FAQs and Collated Wisdom from SfEP Members’ has been made easy to find by being ‘stuck’ at the top of the Newbies forum, which explains its 3,896 views.

Daily updates

Two threads effortlessly gather new posts to stay on the first page of Off topic. The first is ‘Typo of the day’, a fount of hilarious examples of why our profession is justified, with 1,637 posts, umpteen attached files and nearly 18,000 views over the seven years since Michelle Bullock kicked it off with, ‘I thought it best to give him a wide birth’.

The second is ‘Wildlife distraction of the day’, which is a relative youngster, but a lovely breath of fresh air. Frances Cooper kicked it off in June 2020 with mention of a sparrowhawk, which attracted 206 posts and many pics for the over 2,000 readers.

Occasional pupdates

Pet lovers may want some time with gorgeous photos and general pet covetousness, in which case have a drool over ‘New puppy (for Wendy!)’. There are plenty of pics (dogs, cats, hedgehog and gecko) although only 31 posts, so perhaps it deserves more than its 192 views.

Invaluable advice for fiction editors

The specialist Fiction forum is a mineshaft full of nuggets for editors interested in the field. Perhaps one of the original 2016 posters on ‘How long does it take to edit a novel?’ might be surprised by their development, or otherwise, in terms of time versus income. Especially if they took the advice to start a spreadsheet.

Over to you to have a dig. If you find an old thread you think is still relevant and deserves reviving, then adding a post will bring it to the surface. We’ll all be enriched by the reminder.

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

About the CIEP

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

Find out more about:

 

Photo credits: Gold by Lucas Benjamin; pups by Bharathi Kannan, both on Unsplash.

Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

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

Should I volunteer when my business is established?

Many editors and proofreaders volunteer time and skills at the beginning of their careers to gain valuable experience that might lead to paid work. But once you’re established in your business, with a regular client base, what are the benefits of volunteering? We talked to some CIEP members to find out how volunteering works in a more settled career landscape. In a previous blog, we looked at volunteering when you’re just starting out, and covered the questions you need to ask yourself before giving away your valuable time.

In this article, we’ll cover:

  • Value-led volunteering
  • Making yourself useful
  • Helping colleagues out
  • Supporting the wider editorial community
  • Reaching across the earth
  • Giving back

Value-led volunteering

All volunteering is value-led to an extent, but for some of our members their values are the deciding factor in working out what volunteering work to take on.

CIEP Professional Member Ben Dare says: ‘I have offered voluntary proofreading to a number of organisations that I knew were either volunteer-led or had very restricted budgets. I thought that all of them were interesting or aligned with my values.’

In the end, some of this value-led voluntary work turned into value-led paid work:

  • One turned into a counter-offer of a few hours a week of paid work.
  • One connected Ben with a publisher’s editorial assistant, also volunteering, who connected him with their publisher. That turned into a number of proofreads, Ben’s first copyedits, and an ongoing relationship with the publisher.
  • One organisation incorporated Ben’s work into their funding applications so that they could start paying him for his work on their projects.
  • One remained a voluntary role, but it was fun and meaningful.
  • One remained voluntary with a paid project in the middle and the possibility of more in future.

Ben continues: ‘I also offered to do an unpaid proofread for a few charities when Covid was at its peak, knowing that finances were so uncertain, but also not expecting it to remain voluntary for future projects.’

  • One insisted they pay and sent a few projects Ben’s way.
  • One took a voluntary proofread and continues to follow up with paid projects, and referred Ben to another client.
  • One took a voluntary proofread and continues to follow up with paid projects.

Even with this impressive return, and a client base that increasingly reflects his values, Ben consistently offers a certain proportion of his hours for free. From his records, he has noticed that his percentage of voluntary hours has remained at around 10%. He says:

While I’d obviously have been better off had all those voluntary hours been paid, it’s not a big portion on paper. The important thing is that I only offered voluntary proofreading where I thought there was a need, and when I knew I would be satisfied doing the work, paid or not.

Making yourself useful

Some people volunteer long term for one organisation when there is absolutely no chance of ever being paid for it. Editing church or other faith-based magazines is a good example of this. CIEP Intermediate Member Annie Deakins has been volunteering for her monthly parish magazine since 2017. Her account of how this has benefited her, giving her skills that have helped her wider career, echoes the experiences of some of our newer members:

2017: I offered to proofread the monthly parish magazine for the local church. I was an Entry-Level member. I learnt how to use the PDF tools.

2018: The magazine editor retired, so she trained me to take over. I learnt about having a style sheet.

2019: A new church administrator was appointed. Her job role was tightened, so I took over invoicing the advertisers. I placed my own advert for proofreading services. I learnt about communication, diplomacy and tact. Very handy when querying.

2020: The vicar got promoted. She had done all the church social media. She taught me how to do it. I learnt how to market my own business.

There’s no denying that volunteering will push you towards skills and knowhow that you might not feel comfortable trialling in a paid role. However, for Annie, it’s also about offering a talent that’s genuinely useful to others:

I still volunteer with the Publicity Group at church because that is where my talents lie. I’m not happy doing catering, DIY or Finance. Therefore I do the church social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) and edit the church magazine.

During lockdown, when we weren’t sending the magazine to print, I still produced an online PDF version, accessible from the church website. Usually the magazine is printed in black and white with a colour cover. During lockdown, when it was online only, the illustrations on each page could be in colour, which made each issue cheerier and raised spirits. Even if they didn’t have the hard copy in their hands, I still felt that my volunteering was valued.

Helping colleagues out

Kath Kirk (Gecko Edit) and Christina Petrides (Last Glance), both Intermediate Members of the CIEP, trade their skills by editing each other’s blogs before publication. Working in different sectors – Kath edits fiction and educational materials while Christina focuses on academic and business editing – there’s rarely overlap in their blog material. Their informal barter arrangement benefits them both, and pushes them to dig into aspects of editing that they might not encounter in their usual work.

Sue Littleford, our columnist on business matters, explains how this arrangement works tax-wise:

If you swap proofreading services with a friend for your blogs or your websites, you need to enter the cash value of the services received and rendered in your accounts, too. If they balance, it’s ‘free’ in monetary terms (other than your time), as the tax liability will exactly offset the tax relief. But if you spend one hour on your friend’s blog and your friend spends two on yours, there’d be greater tax relief than the tax liability (and vice versa), which is why it has to go through your accounts.

Supporting the wider editorial community

As a non-profit organisation, the CIEP relies on voluntary help. Its directors give a certain number of hours voluntarily every month, for example. Our social media team (SMT) is made up of volunteers, too. Obviously we have to keep the names of these ninja-like communicators secret, but one comments:

I’ve learnt about tone of voice, and tweeting for the CIEP has sharpened my copywriting skills. Being a member of the team has thrown me together with CIEP members with similar interests, eg in content marketing and user design. I feel I better understand engagement, and I’ve learnt how to write for the different social media platforms. All really useful for my business. And when I was starting out, I learnt about loads of interesting organisations in the publishing world by seeing who the CIEP follows on Twitter etc.

Another says: ‘I think it’s contributed to my appreciation of the wider industry. This can be a solitary old existence, so the team itself is a benefit. In terms of specific skills: awareness of use of appropriate language (gender-neutral pronouns!) and improved skills with web platforms, Slack, SmarterQueue, which is all very useful.’

Louise Harnby, the CIEP’s social media director (at the time of writing), testifies to the value of her team:

I work with an exceptional team of volunteers who deliver every piece of content that engages with the wider publishing and editing community. That frees up my time to focus on strategy and scheduling content that promotes membership growth, training, blog content, and our Directory of Editorial Services.

A team approach ensures the CIEP’s social media strategy is framed in a way that reaches beyond the bubble of a single director. Instead, there’s a support group in which we can share ideas about how best to put the strategy into practice – whether that be the design of our branded templates or the timing of our posts. Plus, there’s more than one set of eyes on our social media feeds and the questions our followers are asking. That’s more enjoyable and more effective.

Being a member of the SMT requires being able to write pithy messages that are engaging but hold our brand tone of voice, understand the principles behind content and social media marketing, and evaluate a post’s relevance and its alignment with CIEP values. For that reason, our volunteer editors and proofreaders tend to have some experience when they come on board.

Over the past few years the size of the SMT has decreased. But what’s stayed the same is the value and expertise our volunteers bring to the table. I love working with them and learning from them. And I’m very thankful for them! Delivering our social media strategy would be impossible without them.

Reaching across the earth

CIEP Professional Member Sarah Dronfield has become known among editors worldwide for running weekly blog round-ups on the Editors’ Association of Earth Facebook Page. She became a member of the editing community on Facebook soon after starting her editing and proofreading business in 2016, and explains how she spotted a need:

Lots of editors were saying that they read blog posts or listened to podcasts as part of their continuing professional development. I knew it was possible to follow individual blogs, but I thought it would be handy for us to have all the latest posts in one place to dip in and out of during coffee breaks, so in 2017 I started a weekly blog round-up in the Editors’ Association of Earth (EAE) Facebook group.

Later that year I took over the running of the weekly accountability thread in another of the EAE groups. That thread is a place for editors to share what they’ve done that week to market their business or advance their professional development. Many editors form their own private accountability groups with others who are at a similar stage in their career or who work in the same field, and the thread is useful for those who are not part of such a group. Having said that, I know lots of editors (myself included) who are in a private accountability group but still like to participate in the weekly EAE thread!

Posting these weekly threads makes me feel like I’m giving something back to the community that helped me so much when I was starting out. It also gives me a routine and a sense of normality that is essential these days.

Giving back

So, why do they do it? At this point in these professionals’ careers, their motivation isn’t so much future employment but adding something to their working lives. Volunteering can lead to work, but often it’s something that runs regularly alongside work, taking up a fairly predictable amount of time. It’s a way of getting CPD and forming new contacts as well as gaining satisfaction from helping in a way that’s consistent with their values. They’re giving something back, which may in time encourage others to do the same.

Do you volunteer? What do you do, and why? Let us know in the comments below!

Written by the CIEP information team. With thanks to the CIEP members who generously shared their experiences.

About the CIEP information team

Abi Saffrey, Liz Jones, Margaret Hunter, Cathy Tingle

Liz Jones, Abi Saffrey and Cathy Tingle are the CIEP’s information commissioning editors. If there’s a topic that you would like to see covered in a blog post, fact sheet, focus paper or guide, drop the team a line at infoteam@ciep.uk.

 

 

About the CIEP

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

Find out more about:

 

Photo credits: tree by Brandon Green; Why Not? by Ian Dziuk; sprout by Sushobhan Badhai, all on Unsplash.

Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

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

The perfect partnership: the value of editing to an author

Working with an editor can be unlike any previous working relationship for a writer. In this article, Anna Cale explains how she has benefited from having her writing edited for magazines and a book.

As a freelance arts and culture writer, I think I am generally pretty good with words. But I also have to be professional. I always hit my word count, I submit my work to the agreed deadline and, importantly, I am open to feedback. Most of the time, anyway.

I am often too close to my work. I need someone else’s eye for detail, for spotting whether I have gone off track a little. I need a good editor. This is not something that comes easily, but I have always tried to remain open-minded and not too defensive. However, in my experience of writing articles, and then recently my first book, the role of an editor in the process has differed significantly.

Knowing your audience

When writing short-form articles for magazines, my interaction with an editor is quite limited. I pitch an idea in an email to the person who has the power (and budget) to commission. This is usually a hook that sums up the idea, with a short paragraph providing a little bit more detail of how the article would explore the idea. If the editor says yes, then we talk terms. Once the agreed article is written, it is sent to the editor for review, and you work together to form the final piece for publication.

You need to know the publication well before pitching an idea, identifying their style and what they usually commission, to have a chance of having your article idea accepted. It is a fast-paced and competitive environment, and there is some advantage to doing your research. This also really helps when it comes to the editing process, and hopefully shortens it considerably.

Sometimes you build a good working relationship with a particular commissioning editor, and that helps to make the process easier. You can start to second-guess what they want. But turnaround can often be quick, even for monthly magazines, and you don’t actually have much opportunity to build a connection. Both sides want the process to be as quick as possible.

Becoming a book author

When it came to writing my first book, however, the entire editing process was significantly different. My copyeditor was assigned to me by the publishers once I had submitted my final manuscript. I suspect this varies as each publishing company will work differently, but in my case that meant I had no interaction with an editor until that final stage, over a year after signing my contract to write 70,000 words.

I had done my research before putting together my original proposal for the publisher. Not just on the subject matter, but on the style of book the publishers usually release. I knew I would have to tailor my style a little to their audience, without compromising my own identity as a writer.

I was always going to be very protective of my book. It had been my baby for a long time. Friends had looked at drafts at various points, and my poor husband had read the entire thing twice. There was frustration along the way, as I realised just how much I use certain phrases (I’m looking at you, ‘of course’) or made the decision to alter sections significantly. I knew it was in a decent state at the point of submission, but I still didn’t feel prepared for editing and what that would entail. It was a complete mystery to me.

I was therefore rather apprehensive about the work involved in the editing process, but my editor guided me through it. Receiving a warm and friendly introductory email from her really helped, as she told me what the next steps would be. It felt like a fog had finally lifted. She was in control of the coordination of the various iterations of editing the manuscript, and I had confidence in her approach from the start. For me, as a debut writer, this feeling of trust was invaluable.

Working together

My experience of the editing process was a positive one. It felt like a constructive working relationship built on respect, with a balance of acceptance and compromise to reach a shared goal. We both had the same thing in mind – for me to produce the best book I possibly could.

It was about respecting each other’s knowledge. I was the subject matter expert on the topic, but my editor was the expert on how to present that idea for publication. Any spelling, punctuation, formatting or grammar changes she made were a given for me. I knew my editor would be bang on with that stuff, and I accepted those changes largely unchallenged. Anything more substantial was raised with questions or suggestions. I didn’t always accept those ideas, but did explore them within the context they were given to me.

It was a long process. We navigated the journey from rather long Word document to typeset PDF, with considered discussions over how best to present the appendices, the bibliography and filmography. The index was a pain, and I realised along the way that my grasp of the alphabet was not as hot as I had previously thought.

Respectful cooperation

For me, the main thing was consistent, open dialogue and communication. My editor clearly set out the process for me from the start, but I also felt empowered to approach her with questions or concerns. I finally had someone who was there to help me navigate this strange experience of writing a book when, during the previous months of researching and writing, that link had been sadly missing.

We had a shared willingness to understand each other. I did sometimes push back – our positive and understanding relationship gave me the confidence to do that. I did not feel uncomfortable or threatened by her input. I felt comfortable asking questions when I didn’t understand a comment, and equally, my editor seemed happy asking questions when she wasn’t sure about the subject matter or significance of something. We had respect for each other, the end result was something beautiful, and I feel we created it in partnership.

About Anna Cale

Anna Cale is an arts and culture writer who specialises in classic film and television. She has written for a number of publications and websites, including Little White Lies, Film Stories and the British Film Institute, and has also appeared on Radio 4.

Her writing subjects are wide-ranging, but she has an interest in British cinema of the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, and in particular, showcasing the role of strong female voices in film culture. Her first book, The Real Diana Dors, will be published on 30 July 2021 with White Owl, a Pen and Sword imprint.

 

About the CIEP

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

Find out more about:

 

Photo credits: writer’s desk by Nick Morrison; Together by Nick Fewings on Unsplash.

Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

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

Eight ways to optimise your CIEP membership upgrade

The CIEP’s Admissions Panel shares eight things that members can do to make their upgrade applications straightforward, and hopefully successful.

What the Admissions Panel needs from you

The CIEP’s membership structure, with its four grades, is one of our core member benefits. It’s designed to help you, our members – to enable you to show the world that you have verifiable experience and qualifications. It’s also designed to contribute to the stated purpose of our chartered Institute: to uphold and promote the highest of editorial standards.

The Admissions Panel, which assesses upgrading applications, may seem a rather shadowy entity. Except for the professional standards director, who chairs the Panel, not even the CIEP Council knows who its members are. Panel members never have direct contact with applicants – it is all done through the CIEP office – and the anonymity of applicants is rigorously upheld. If a Panel member thinks they might know who an applicant is, they withdraw from handling or discussing the application and it is dealt with by other Panel members.

The Panel has a dedicated forum where details of applications are discussed daily – for example, deciding how many training points to allocate to a course they have not encountered before. All upgrades that are refused must be discussed on the forum and the grounds for refusal agreed, and a second Panel member must check the application in detail.

The Admissions Panel is interested in core skills (copyediting and/or proofreading) – where and how you learned them, the experience you have in exercising them and (for the professional grades) what your clients thought of your work in using them. You should complete your application with this very much in mind. The detail on the website will guide you.

In the course of Panel discussions, certain issues arise repeatedly, and we’d like to clarify how you can help us with these, so that we can in turn help you. We so much appreciate it when you remember to do this or realise how helpful that is! Here are eight tips your Admissions Panel would like to share with you.

1. Approach the upgrade process as you would an editorial job

  • Understand the brief, do what’s asked and do it to a professional standard. This means you need to read the upgrade pages of the website carefully. That is your brief: all the instructions you need are there. It also means keeping your upgrade application confidential, just as you wouldn’t go on Twitter, for example, to discuss a job application.

2. Begin building your application early

  • You’ll have a much better chance of providing us with complete and accurate information if you add to your upgrade application as you proceed with your training and work experience, rather than trying to assemble all the information later on. Our system saves all the information as you enter it, and you can return to it, edit it and add to it as and when you like. Nobody will see your application until you decide it’s ready and submit it.
  • An important free toolkit to help you complete your upgrade is included in the members’ area. Under Going Solo Toolkit follow the business records link to find a suite of spreadsheets. As well as helping you to keep good records for your business, two of them in particular will keep you on the right lines when applying to upgrade, because they log the information the Panel needs. Fill in the work record and training and CPD spreadsheets, delete the green-headed columns that the Panel does not need to see, and upload them with your upgrade application. Sorted!

3. Know what the core skills are and make sure you have
them covered

  • Do you know the difference between the core skills and other editorial skills? The CIEP core skills are copyediting and proofreading, and they are fundamental to your upgrade. Look for the flagged courses in the list of examples of training courses in the members’ area of the website, under professional development.
  • If the course you want to know about is not on the examples list and you are unsure about points for particular training, contact the professional standards director to ask. They can also answer your queries about whether a client or employer is considered to be a publisher for the purposes of upgrading: that is, whether that client or employer can assess your work in terms of the editorial standards that the CIEP regards as essential.

4. Understand the requirements for your grade

  • All applications for the professional grades have to be supported by the three pillars of training, experience and reference(s). No one of these can make up for a shortfall in another, and if a pillar is missing your application will fall down.
  • For Intermediate membership, the importance the CIEP attaches to training as a basis for your career is reflected in the proportions of the minimum requirements: six training points to one experience point. At least four of these training points should be in the core skills.
  • For Professional membership, you need to show that you have a more extensive grounding in the core skills. You will probably also have done training in further editorial skills.
  • For Advanced Professional grade, you need to provide evidence of recent continuing professional development (CPD), in addition to your core skills training. To be considered for the topmost grade of CIEP membership you are expected to have had training that is more advanced. Continual acquisition of skills and knowledge is a mark of advanced professionalism. The Panel will take into consideration a variety of CPD, but it has to be recent – within the 36 months before the date of application.

5. List all your relevant training

  • Don’t assume that if you have listed extensive experience but little or no training the Panel will credit you with the necessary training points. You may have been trained on the job earlier in your career – if so, tell the Panel! The Panel can allocate training points to this if they have enough information about it. Who delivered it? When did it take place and how long did it go on? What did you learn? Did it involve being mentored? Was it assessed?
  • If you have gained a degree or diploma in publishing or journalism, or a related field, the Panel will be interested primarily in any editorial modules you have done, so do give details of what was covered in these modules.
  • Skills such as development editing, structural editing and editorial project management can be counted towards your upgrade, as long as you have enough evidence of the core skills too. Do list any training in these. If they form part of your work experience, indicate what proportion of your work was in these areas. The Panel will be able to allow a small proportion of the minimum hours for the grade to be from one of these activities.

6. Exclude irrelevant information

  • Any further information you give should be concise and relevant. Please don’t attach a discursive account of your career. If you need to give additional information, confine it to a paragraph or a list in the further information section of the form. Personal information is not relevant; if you include personal information, there is a danger it might identify you, which will hold up your upgrade as it will have to be transferred to another Panel member to assess.
  • Training or experience in translating, writing, teaching writing, teaching English, indexing, typesetting or marketing is not relevant to your upgrade so there is no point in listing details of these. Copyediting or proofreading your own work also cannot be counted.
  • Only training and work in copyediting and/or proofreading English (any variety) will count; training or work in other languages will not. This is because membership of the CIEP indicates to your prospective client or employer that you have attained a certain standard of competence in editing and/or proofreading English. If a training course is taught in a language other than English, the Panel cannot assess its content. And your experience of editing in a language other than English does not attest to your competence in editing English.

7. Present your upgrade documents well

  • It may seem a strange thing to have to say to editorial professionals – but do proofread your application! The Panel is often surprised at the errors and typos that come through on upgrade forms and uploaded documents. Remember that you can save your upgrade form and return to it as often as you like to check and edit it before you submit it. Remember, too, that your upgrade application is showcasing your professional competence.

8. The Panel will only ask for additional things from you if they
are necessary

  • If the office contacts you with a question from the Panel, it’s because they need to know the answer in order to give your upgrade the best chance to succeed.
  • If the Panel asks you to take the CIEP’s editorial test, it will be for a good reason. If you have an extensive work history for publishers but little or no formal training, you can demonstrate that you have a grasp of the core skills of copyediting and proofreading by passing the test. If you have worked only, or mainly, for organisations or individuals that
    are not considered to be publishers for the purposes of upgrading, you will be asked to take the test. The expertise of such clients or employers is not in copyediting or proofreading and they may not know what the professional standards are, but this work can still be
    counted for your upgrade if you can demonstrate – by passing the test – that you know
    what they are.
  • Of course, you don’t have to wait for the Panel to ask you to sit the test – you can do it before you apply and include the result on your form.

The professional approach and high standards that you bring to your work for your clients are equally relevant to your application to upgrade. Read all the information and instructions and use the tools provided to help you. Good luck!

If you’re preparing to upgrade your membership, don’t forget:

  1. Approach the upgrade process as you would an editorial job.
  2. Begin building your application early.
  3. Know what the core skills are and make sure you have them covered.
  4. Understand the requirements for your grade.
  5. List all your relevant training.
  6. Exclude irrelevant information.
  7. Present your upgrade documents well.
  8. The Panel will only ask for additional things from you if they are necessary.

Start your membership upgrade now

About the CIEP

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

Find out more about:

 

Photo credits: tiles by Andrew Ridley; Please stay on trail by Dan Gold, both on Unsplash.

Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

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

What is subediting?

Louise Bolotin stepped sideways from journalism to subediting, and starting copyediting 16 years ago. In this article, she looks at what subediting entails – and how it is similar to but different from copyediting.

Here’s what I’ll cover in this article:

  • The types of editors involved in periodicals
  • The speed and interventionist nature of subediting
  • Adding headlines and rewriting text
  • The importance of house style, facts and legalities
  • Working as a subeditor
  • Transferring skills and learning new ones
  • The jargon of subediting

I’m often asked what’s the difference between copyediting and subediting: ‘Isn’t it all just editing?’ Well, yes. But also no – there is an overlap between subediting and copyediting, but they’re not the same because they require different skillsets. For one thing, we have legal responsibilities that go far beyond what a book copyeditor may need to flag for a publisher – more on this below.

After ten years as a journalist who writes, I stepped sideways into subbing. The move was almost accidental, but I quickly discovered I’d found my niche. For over three decades I have subedited magazines and newspapers, often in newsrooms but these days largely remotely (even pre-Covid).

Types of editor

A periodical has many staff with the title of editor. The actual editor is the boss of the publication and will have a deputy editor. Commissioning editors don’t edit, but commission features. The picture editor is in charge of selecting images. The production editor oversees the production – page layouts, liaising with the printer, and so on. Subeditors edit the copy and, importantly, we are generally the last line of defence as there are no proofreaders to give everything the final check.

Fast and substantive changes

Subs generally work very fast because deadlines are always on our back. There is no time to dither over where to place a comma or muse on whether a particular paragraph should be moved. We make these decisions at lightning speed. What we do is substantive, but much more than what a copyeditor might consider to be substantive – it is directly interventionist.

Once a journalist has filed their copy, it is out of their hands. I might check with them to clarify something, but beyond that, they have no control over what we do with what they’ve written. They’ll already be busy writing their next piece anyway, but if you want to know what happens when a journalist gets precious about their copy, just google ‘Giles Coren subs’. Subbing can be a thankless task – make an error and you get it in the neck from all sides. Get it right and it’s the journalist who gets the praise, even though you saved their skin by polishing their dreadful prose.

Adding headlines and rewriting

As well as cleaning up spelling, grammar and punctuation, I will write a headline for each story, crossheads and captions if there are photographs, although, unusually, the last paper I worked for carried no standfirsts. Some subs work as layout subs, meaning they will edit within page layout software such as InDesign or QuarkXPress. Subs working on online publications will have a good knowledge of SEO for headlines.

Subbing can involve rewriting lacklustre copy so it has more oomph, and a lot of cutting to fit the allocated column centimetres on the page. I’m a big fan of cutting – I like a lean article in which every word earns its place on the page. I will freely move entire sections around as the opening paragraphs of any news story or feature must involve the five Ws – who, what, when, where and why (plus the occasional H for how).

If it turns out the most interesting angle of the story is three-quarters of the way down, I will renose it and write a new headline. In a newsroom, I may send a story back if it’s not up to scratch and instruct the reporter to redo it quickly.

House style, facts and legalities

I keep the house style guide in my head and only look at the printed copy when absolutely stuck – often it’s quicker to ask a suitable colleague. Fact-checking is a key part of the job – as well as asking the journalist to confirm something, I’ll spend time on the internet scouring Wikipedia or googling, or thumbing the local A-Z. If we receive collects, I check copyright by doing an image search on the internet, as you can’t publish photos lifted off Facebook, for example.

And then there is the legal stuff. Almost all periodicals are signed up to the regulator, the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) and its Editors’ Code. The Code covers issues such as accuracy and privacy, intrusion into grief, reporting suicide, reporting anything on children including sexual abuse, reporting crime and criminal trials, and the public interest.

Subeditors must ensure stories comply with the Code. For example, children in sexual abuse cases cannot be identified, so we will remove not only their name and age but anything else relevant, including factors identifying their abuser if those could identify the victim. With crime reporting, we ensure everything committed by a perpetrator is described as ‘alleged‘ and only alleged unless and until they are found guilty at trial. A sub will also have a good head for defamation issues and refer to McNae’s Essential Law for Journalists, our legal bible.

Working as a subeditor

Until recently I worked the freelance shift at a local weekly newspaper as the sole subeditor. My typical day, in an eight-hour shift that generally included a lunchbreak consisting of a sandwich at my desk while I kept working, looked something like this: The paper had four localised editions that carried unique content specific to those locations as well as content common to all editions. On my shift, I would edit four different splashes and four different back pages, around eight pages of local stories for each edition and eight or ten pages of stories for all editions. There were six pages of sports, six pages of readers’ letters and anything else, such as WI reports and church news. On an average shift, I’d edit around 70 pages.

Transferring and learning

When I made the partial switch to copyediting books 16 years ago, it was a steep learning curve. I was baffled by a lot of copyediting lingo and spent a lot of time looking up terms such as folio, running head and solidus (what subs call a slash).

Subediting is a highly transferable skill; many of us also work as copyeditors for corporate clients because the skillset is ideal. The bible for subeditors is Subediting and Production for Journalists (2nd edn) by Tim Holmes and a good starting place for copyeditors thinking of taking training in subediting.

Subs’ jargon

Byline – credit for the journalist who wrote the story

Collect – a photograph submitted by a reader or someone in the story, such as a crime victim

Crosshead – a sub-heading

Deck – the number of lines in a headline, rarely more than three

Flatplan – the page plan that shows where every article and advert will go

Go off stone – go to press, also known as putting the paper to bed

NIB – a one-paragraph story, short for news in brief

Overmatter – excess copy that has to be cut

Renosing – rewriting the story because you found a better angle lower down

Sells – very short article descriptions on a magazine cover

Spiked – when a story gets dropped

Splash – front page story

Standfirst – the paragraph under the headline that summarises the story in a longer sentence

Strap(line) – introductory words above the main headline

Summing up

The daily life of a subeditor has a different pace to that of a copyeditor, but requires similar skills, including decision-making and having the right knowledge (or being able to track it down) to make changes where appropriate. Have you moved from one kind of editing to another? Or from working one format to another? Tell us about your experiences in the comments below.

About Louise Bolotin

Louise BolotinLouise Bolotin has worked as a subeditor since the late 80s, for household name magazines as well as local newspapers and online publications. Last year she developed a webinar on the basics of subediting and has begun offering bespoke training to niche publications. She is an Advanced Professional Member of the CIEP and says there is no truth in the rumour that she trained at the Slash and Burn Academy of Subediting.

 

About the CIEP

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

Find out more about:

 

Photo credits: World Business by AbsolutVision on Unsplash; bundled newspapers by Pexels on Pixabay.

Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

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

Should I volunteer when I’m starting out?

Wherever you are in your editing or proofreading career, taking on voluntary work can benefit you and others. But, as many who have done it will tell you, it’s not without its snares and snags. With the help of some generous CIEP members who have shared their experiences, in this article we’ll look at how volunteering can work when you’re starting out. We’ll also suggest some questions that you should ask yourself before you start offering your valuable time for free. In a future CIEP blog, we’ll look at how volunteering works when you’re established in your editing or proofreading career.

Below we’ll cover:

  • Discovering a taste for what you enjoy
  • Learning with less pressure
  • Declaring yourself
  • Getting your foot in the door
  • Using voluntary work for membership upgrades
  • Four questions to ask yourself before you volunteer

Discovering a taste for what you enjoy

Unpaid work is the way that many proofreaders and editors start – in fact, it can be how they realise they have an aptitude and enthusiasm for what will later become their career. Perhaps a friend, knowing you’re good with words, asks you to check the grammar and punctuation in their thesis, and halfway through you think: ‘I’m really enjoying this!’

Learning with less pressure

Once you’ve done your basic training, volunteering can help you test your new editing or proofreading skills and learn a few more without the stresses that could come from being paid. One of our members described the voluntary jobs she had taken on since completing her CIEP Proofreading courses – proofreading two series of short stories, some poetry and three website articles – and the impressive set of new and improved skills she acquired in the process:

  • increasing her competence and confidence in using Track Changes and Find and Replace, and starting to explore Word Styles
  • learning how to save a web page as a PDF, and practising using the Adobe Comments tools
  • using PerfectIt and other macros for the first time
  • compiling a style sheet to use as a template
  • keeping a record of time spent and work carried out, which helped her calculate her average proofreading speeds.

This member has appreciated the time and space that volunteering allows for growing into a new career:

I am finding this period of focusing on voluntary work to be hugely beneficial. With each job I develop new skills or learn about new tools which I can incorporate into my practice. As an Entry-Level Member, I like not having the pressure of being paid – for now!

At the same time, however, she hasn’t lost sight of the ultimate plan – to get paid work:

I am also building up a little bank of testimonials which I can use on my website, and at least two of the clients have said they will recommend me to friends and colleagues.

Declaring yourself

Sometimes you might be volunteering in a different arena from editing and proofreading, but if you tell the people you meet what you usually do for a living, more relevant volunteering work could come your way. One member says:

My daughter is a pharmacy dispensing technician at a village medical centre near to us. During the summer of last year, they were looking for volunteers to step up and help manage visitors attending for their flu jab, along with those attending for other medical appointments and pharmacy collections. Always happy to help out, up went my hand, into which was promptly thrust a high-vis jacket.

When asked what I would normally be doing, I was happy to tell folks that I’m a novice proofreader and occasional copywriter. The next thing I knew, my lovely daughter came home from work with a bottle of red in one hand and the medical centre’s newly penned ‘Team Handbook’ in the other.

Always remember, though, that if you’re accepting ‘payment in kind’, such as wine, you need to declare yourself to the tax office, too. Sue Littleford, our columnist on business matters, explains:

Had the CIEP member’s bottle of red wine been handed over for some proofreading, it would have been a ‘payment in kind’ and yes, it’s taxable. He’d have had to put the cash value of the wine in his accounts.

Getting your foot in the door

Getting paid in wine, or cake/casseroles/bedding plants if any of those are more your thing, is great, but at some point you’ll need to get some paying clients. One member described how this happened for her:

When my youngest was a baby (2012), I was involved with my local NCT branch. I worked with the newsletter team, and somehow took on the role of getting 700+ printed copies of this booklet distributed to local members every quarter!

I carried on proofreading for the branch long after I’d left my NCT days behind. It was only about five hours’ work a quarter, but it was great experience and something regular to look forward to while I was starting out.

Then last year, someone I knew from that time contacted me through LinkedIn. She remembered what I’d done with the NCT newsletter and thought I’d be a perfect fit for a project she was leading on at work. I’ve now had 8–9 months of consultancy work through this company on two different projects, helping me towards my most profitable year by far!

It’s not going to work quite like that for everyone every time, and this won’t last forever for me. But I do think that doing those little jobs on a voluntary basis can sow the seeds in people’s minds, and you never know when they might need you for something different (and paid). It shows people what you can do and how you work, and they’ll remember that.

Another member says:

When I started my freelance proofreading business last July, I contacted many companies and charities offering my services for free in exchange for a testimonial, as I felt this was the best way to gain experience and also increase my exposure in the form of having recommendations to hand.

I had a few positive responses, one of which was from Kathy Bishop, the editor of the Catholic magazine The Faith Companion.

Kathy’s initial response was that she would be happy to help me out as everyone ‘needs a helping hand’, and that she would send me a couple of articles to work on for the next issue, but she wanted to make it clear that they weren’t looking to take anyone on. I replied saying that wasn’t a problem at all, I was just happy with the opportunity to gain some experience and increase my hours.

I now have The Faith Companion as a regular client for the foreseeable future, and I really don’t think this would have happened if I hadn’t originally offered my services on a voluntary basis.

Using voluntary work for membership upgrades

Can voluntary hours count towards a CIEP membership upgrade? They can, if you’re using certain core skills and applying for a certain level. Professional standards director Lucy Metzger says:

For someone seeking an Intermediate Member (IM) grade, it’s fine for some or all of their 100 hours of work experience to be voluntary, and we wouldn’t expect it to be done for a traditional publisher. Some paid proofreading or copyediting work would strengthen the IM application overall, but it’s not a requirement.

However, in order for volunteer work to be counted in an IM application, it still needs to be work using what we call our ‘core skills’ – proofreading and/or copyediting. If a person’s voluntary work has included non-editorial tasks, as well as some core skills work, we would count only the number of hours using the core skills.

For upgrading to Professional (PM) or Advanced Professional (APM), the core skills work experience needs to be for publishers who understand the standards we are looking for in the core skills. If the work is for another body whose core business isn’t publishing (a ‘non-publisher’) the applicant’s experience can be validated by passing the Institute’s editorial test. If a previous application for IM relied mostly on voluntary hours, those hours would most likely be for non-publishers, which would count in a later application for PM or APM only with a test pass, demonstrating that the applicant had the required level of expertise in the core skills.

Four questions to ask yourself before you volunteer

So far, so good, then. However, there are some important questions to ask yourself before you take the plunge and offer your services for free. These questions are taken from an archived blog about volunteering written by a previous blog coordinator, Tracey Roberts.

1. Who should you volunteer with?

Not all charities or non-profit organisations need free help, so do your homework: ‘many charities have healthy budgets’, as Tracey points out. You could follow your interests, and volunteer to proofread or edit something in the fields of gardening, poetry, politics, sport or history, for example. There may be a newsletter for a club or organisation you belong to that you could help with. Some of our members edit their local church magazine.

2. What will you get out of it?

‘This is important,’ says Tracey. ‘If the person or organisation you are volunteering for doesn’t know what’s required of a good editor or proofreader, how valuable will their testimonial really be?’ Tracey makes another very valid point which touches on an aspect that many editors and proofreaders have been burned by: ‘Working for a client (or especially a friend) who doesn’t understand the process (and while you are still learning yourself) could turn into a tricky or negative experience.’ So make sure you go in with open eyes.

3. What skills do you want to practise?

If you want to work in fiction editing, look for experience there. If your aim is to be a scientific editor, volunteer to proofread a PhD thesis in biology.

4. How much time are you happy to provide?

Tracey explains:

In the early stages of your freelance career you will be busy building your new business and need time to develop your marketing strategy, website etc. Any time spent volunteering must fit around the creation of your new freelance business, and other important personal commitments, to ensure a healthy work–life balance is maintained.

Remember too that if you work for a client for free, or even a reduced rate, it will be very difficult to start charging at full rate when asked to take on future projects.

So remember not to overwhelm yourself, and as time passes think carefully about the balance between your unpaid and paid work. As your career matures, however, there’s no reason why you should give up volunteering if it’s still benefiting you and your business. In our second related blog, we’ll look at what you can get out of volunteering when you’re more established.

Written by the CIEP information team. With thanks to the CIEP members who generously shared their experiences.

About the CIEP information team

Abi Saffrey, Liz Jones, Margaret Hunter, Cathy Tingle

Liz Jones, Abi Saffrey and Cathy Tingle are the CIEP’s information commissioning editors. If there’s a topic that you would like to see covered in a blog post, fact sheet, focus paper or guide, drop the team a line at infoteam@ciep.uk.

 

 

About the CIEP

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

Find out more about:

 

Photo credits: welcome by Andrew Neel; raise your paw by Camylla Battani, both on Unsplash.

Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

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

Flying solo: Customer service – being people-centric

This article by Sue Littleford, for our regular Flying Solo column in member newsletter The Edit, looks at a skill you need beyond editing in order to run a successful business: great customer service.

The article covers:

  • What is customer service?
  • Using the resources of the CIEP
  • Why does customer service go wrong?
  • Why you should demystify things for your client
  • Learning to communicate effectively
  • Getting the most out of contracts

For all we talk a lot about your editorial business being a business, it is a people-centric business. It’s not just indie authors – organisations are made up of people. You need people skills as well as word skills (and all the other skills).

Customer service isn’t just about doing a good job. It’s about how you do that job. You can be technically very good (nobody’s perfect, of which more anon) but you won’t get repeat clients if you’re a nightmare to deal with, or even just a bit prickly or offhand. On the other hand, you can be absolutely lovely, saying yes to everything, but fail to deliver on quality or timeliness.

Customer service comes up frequently for discussion. In 2019, Cathy Tingle, then I, then Vanessa Plaister all had something to say on the Institute’s blog. And shortly after I started the first draft of this piece, Cloud Club West started discussing the ethical side of dealing with clients (both clients’ ethics and ours), using the CIEP Code of Practice and Dignity Policy as a springboard. The same day, Hazel Bird published a great blog on being trustworthy. There was something in the air!

What is customer service?

We’ve all been customers ourselves, so it’s no mystery. I want to get what I meant to ask for, on time or a little earlier (so I’m not fretting down to the wire), at what I think of as a fair price. I want to be kept in touch with the process, but not feel I’m doing the job myself. I want to be alerted early of any difficulties. I want your technical competence.

Most of all, I want to feel secure in a safe pair of hands. And I want kindness – especially in a service like ours, where editorial comments and queries can be an endless stream of barbs puncturing the client’s feeling of pride in their work, and even their self-worth.

But if you’ve not been in a customer-facing role before, or not for a while, it can be easy to think about the job only from your own point of view: your own convenience, your own way of working, your own priorities, your own standards.

Remember: customer service is a two-way street, a conversation, an agreement between two parties, and those parties are people.

Using the resources of the CIEP

As ever, the Institute has already covered this ground in the Code of Practice and the model terms and conditions (T&Cs). Note that, at the time of writing, the T&Cs are being revised, but we’re talking principles here, not hard-and-fast wording.

If you’ve not been in a customer-facing role before, the Code of Practice section 3 and section 5 cover what’s required for freelancing copyeditors and proofreaders. If you offer project management, then you also need to read section 6. If you’re in-house, then you want section 4.

The Dignity Policy focuses on how members treat members, but there’s a reminder in the ‘Statement of expectations’ that there’s an overlap with section 3.1 and section 3.3 of the Code of Practice regarding what may be construed as unprofessional conduct.

Why does customer service go wrong?

My opinion is that it’s usually down to a mismatch of expectations. No, a proofread isn’t a development edit. No, a proof-edit isn’t a great way to save money getting your first draft published. No, I can’t rewrite your 10,000-word dissertation over the weekend for you, and I wouldn’t even if I could. No, my schedule isn’t all about you.

No, your first-time author doesn’t understand publishing inside out. No, your novice client doesn’t have a crystal ball to know all the assumptions you’ve made about their experience. No, your client probably has no idea that sending in a novel chapter by chapter is less than helpful, and demanding it back chapter by chapter so they can carry on changing stuff is even less so. Please no Google Docs! Please! You can’t edit or proofread while your impatient author watches you fillet their book, and keeps adding little tweaks while you’re doing that … And remember, your client may not be your ultimate client, especially if you’re working with business materials.

Many clients have no idea what it is they don’t know. You’re in a position of power, here, and you mustn’t misuse or abuse it.

Educating your client well (and nicely) is an opportunity for great customer service.

Why you should demystify things for your client

In my long-ago salaried days, when I moved from central government to the private sector (a move that very much felt like gamekeeper to poacher) one of the buzzwords my new employer used a lot was the need to make my erstwhile department an ‘intelligent customer’.

What that apparently rather insulting phrase actually means is educating your client to understand what’s sensible to ask for, what’s going to be ruinously expensive, how much time things are likely to take and that scope creep is a Bad Thing. I heard it most whenever contracts were being negotiated for new services, the kind of contracts that run into eight figures.

Starting to sound like a useful concept, once the prices are scaled down? Editors dealing with novice clients have to, or ought to, spend a fair bit of time educating those authors about the publishing process insofar as it applies to them.

The bottom line is that it’s worth the effort of ensuring both you and your client understand each other’s needs, wishes and expectations – unless you like tearing your hair out, giving refunds and worrying your reputation is going to be trashed online, of course.

Communicate, communicate, communicate

A year ago, Caroline Petherick was kind enough to share an information sheet that she sends to prospective clients, on the CIEP Forums (thanks to Christina Petrides for reminding me of this, and for finding the link).

Explore what the client wants. Find out what they actually mean by the words they use. We’ve all had a client ask for a ‘proofread’ when they mean a developmental edit and a copyedit or two first. Why should they already know the intricacies of our world?

Explain what you can and can’t do. If the client is a student, you also need to ensure the supervisor has approved outside help, and get hold of the institution’s guidance on what you’re allowed to do and, importantly, what you mustn’t do.

Ask questions – I often ask which draft number the client is on (too low a number and I know it’s not ready for a copyedit quite yet) – and if the client is surprised that the first draft isn’t the one that’s published, you know where you are in terms of what you need to teach the client, if you’re interested in taking on the job.

On the other hand, don’t bury your client under a tidal wave of interrogation that seems very one-way. It’s a conversation, remember.

Perfection, the impossible dream

Do not, under any circumstance, say you’ll make the text ‘perfect’. There is no such thing. Honestly, there isn’t. Language being what it is, how we express ourselves is an art rather than a science. Comma placement, for starters. Your perfect is my ‘I don’t like that’. My perfect is your ‘who on earth does it that way?’ Spelling, hyphenation, what’s italicised … whatever you’d put in a style sheet is a place for your client to say ‘I don’t like that’ or even ‘You’re wrong. When I was seven, Miss told me you do it this way.’

Promising the impossible is not good customer service, and it gives your client an enormous stick to beat you with, because the two of you will have different ideas of what perfection looks like.

Keep it real

Manage your client’s expectations. The standard advice is under-promise and over-deliver. I’d agree with that, but caution you not to take liberties in either direction.

Over-promising is a pretty daft thing to be doing. It may win you the job, but that’s about all – and the downside may just keep on giving. Don’t promise a standard you can’t deliver, a speed you can’t meet or a competence you don’t yet have.

But don’t go so far the other way that your performance overrides the service the client thought they’d agreed to. They may not believe your assertion that you really need four weeks the next time, and insist your deadline is in ten days, ‘because you did it before’. Wild over-delivering is also a pretty daft thing to be doing.

Use your contract for the heavy lifting

Your contract is another good place to start on the route to an intelligent customer, this time on the business aspects of your relationship. I’m happy to recommend Karin Cather and Dick Margulis’s book The Paper It’s Written On as, although the authors are American, the principles apply across jurisdictions. The book takes you through the type of content you may want to include as it sets out the basis of your working relationship with your client. What will you do? When will you do it? What are the client’s obligations to supply original material, on time, in no worse condition than the sample and of the length you quoted for?

What happens if something goes wrong, whether that’s illness, pandemic or some other crisis? Can you or will you be subcontracting the work? What if the client is unhappy with what you’ve done, or wants to cancel before you’ve started? What are the remedies? Anticipate, anticipate, anticipate!

When is it over?

One thing you need to be very clear about is when the job is finished. How many times, or how much later, can a client come back and say they found a missing apostrophe on p 327 and expect you to refund half your fee? When does the hand-holding stop?

This is where all your communication comes into play. From the outset, you must circumscribe the job. It must go in your contract and in your initial emails.

This is also a good defence against scope creep – just a new paragraph, just a new chapter, just this, just that. Remember the old adage: don’t set yourself on fire to keep somebody else warm.

So, what did Cloud Club West talk about?

A lot! (We always do, and I promised them namechecks.)

Key advice included:

Katherine Kirk reminded us that email etiquette is in the CIEP’s Code of Practice, and sent us to check out Malini Devadas’s podcast on maintaining boundaries.

Alice Yew has a boundary around working on shared documents, whether that’s Overleaf, Google Docs or what have you, but explains to potential clients the adverse impact of an author updating a file that’s being edited or proofread, so that they understand the reason.

Many people reported clients insisting on phone calls (which miraculously take up none of your time and are therefore free, as you aren’t actually editing or proofreading, are you? Katie Ellis reminded us of this recent forum thread on that point), or communicating via WhatsApp at unsocial times (or at all!).

Lisa Davis doesn’t publish her phone number anywhere; Janet MacMillan and several others have language in their contracts that stipulates communication must be by email only, so that both parties have a written record of what’s been said, asked for and agreed.

Laurie Duboucheix-Saunders and I told of technically challenged clients, unable to handle emails or Word documents. If you take on a client like this, your standard contract and up-front emails will need to reflect the different requirements, but be alert to the many ways that people can work around their difficulties with technology (including someone who printed out a PDF, hand-annotated it and sent back photographs of the pages) and make sure that you can either help your client to learn a better way of doing things, or that your contract enables you to increase your time and/or your fee if your client won’t or can’t follow the stipulated communication methods, although Christina Petrides reminded us to be flexible when we can.

Alex Peace’s contract sets out precisely how and in what format files will be exchanged. As she’s mostly an indexer, that’s critical to her.

Laurie Duboucheix-Saunders moved us on to the duty to respond to queries, even if you don’t want to take the job on, and Ayesha Chari advised telling students why you don’t want to take on a job, if their expectations are wide of the mark, and it’s not clear they have supervisor approval.

Sam Kelly reminded us of the importance of educating clients if they’re not yet comfortable with features like Track Changes. One of his rejected all the changes, thinking he’d accepted them, and the journal rejected the article as being in dire need of editorial attention. Cue much angst all round.

Helena Nowak-Smith has had too much experience with clients who don’t understand that they are not the only person in your life – expecting you to be there for them whenever they can get their text to you – and that late arrival impacts the delivery date; whereas Marieke Krijnen has encountered more plagiarism than she ever thought possible. Lots of advice followed from Cloud Club West members to include anti-plagiarism language on your website and in your contract as part of your intelligent customer efforts.

Conclusion

If you want your clients to be loyal and to keep coming back with more work, maintaining good customer service is part and parcel of the job. Some clients may forgive the occasional off day. Others won’t. Most won’t forgive multiple off days. Investing time in your clients and building those relationships, within healthy boundaries, is an investment in your business.

When my long-established freelancing brother heard I was throwing in the salaried towel and setting up for myself, too, this is what he drummed into me.

You. Are. Only. As. Good. As. Your. Last. Job.

I agree with him, but would add:

And. The. Way. You. Did. It.

Summing up

  • Customer service is essential.
  • Investing in relationship building is an investment in your business.
  • The standard of work you produce matters, but so does how you do it.

About Sue Littleford

Sue LittlefordSue Littleford is the author of the CIEP guide Going Solo, now in its second edition. She went solo with her own freelance copyediting business, Apt Words, in March 2007 and specialises in scholarly humanities and social sciences. Before that, she had been the payroll manager for a major government department for some 14 years.

Her whole career had been markedly numbers based – both in central government and in the private sector – even though she became the go-to wordsmith everywhere she worked. She eventually switched to words full-time, transferring her skills and experience to hone her business efficiency and effectiveness.

 

About the CIEP

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

Find out more about:

 

Photo credits: boundary by Jan Canty; We hear you by Jon Tyson, both on Unsplash.

Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

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

Exclamation marks: Taming my exclaiming

Do you overuse exclamation marks? Cathy Tingle does! In this article from the archives, she searches her past to discover where she acquired this habit, and consults some language books to learn how the exclamation mark should be used.

Sometimes in life you come to a sudden realisation about your influences – why you do things the way you do. At holiday time, with more opportunity to see your extended family, you might suddenly realise that a characteristic you’d fondly thought of as all your own is in fact your Great Aunt Lottie’s most irritating habit.

And if you’re a wordy type, occasionally you have a blinding flash about what you might call your ‘language heritage’.

From Madame Bovary to …

Although I used to think of my writing style as something sophisticated that emerged from my years as a student of the world’s literature, I recently discovered that there had been a stronger, and more primal, influence. I had flattered myself that my love of sentence fragments was edgy. I had thought that my use of ‘And’ at the beginning of paragraphs was subversive. I had believed that my attraction to parenthetical phrases was clever and, on occasion, witty. And, of course, that every last one of these writing tics was down to my very own style.

But no. It seems that I got them from somewhere else: the Mr Men books, to be precise. Revisiting the oeuvre for the first time since my childhood at my own children’s bedtime, I suddenly realised that all these years what I had been channelling was not Madame Bovary but, in fact, Mr Greedy.

One of the biggest things for which I can thank my unexpected muse, Roger Hargreaves, is a love of exclamation marks. Let’s take a look at these examples, from Mr Grumpy:

Mr Grumpy was at home.
Crosspatch Cottage!

and Mr Silly:

In Nonsenseland the dogs wear hats!
And, do you know how birds fly in Nonsenseland?
No, they don’t fly forwards.
They fly backwards!

Those exclamation marks, I would say, are necessary in the context of a Mr Men book. RL Trask, in the Penguin Guide to Punctuation (1997), advises that you can use an exclamation mark (which also, he notes interestingly, can be called a ‘bang’ or a ‘shriek’) ‘to show that a statement is very surprising’. That’s what’s happening in the Mr Silly example. In Mr Grumpy, Hargreaves is packing in much more energy and emotion (of the ‘Look! How apt!’ variety) than if he had simply written ‘It was called Crosspatch Cottage.’

Laughing at your own joke

I must say that over the years I have found what we might call the ‘Crosspatch Cottage!’ sentence fragment/exclamation mark combo a particularly seductive one. My mistake may have been to put it into copy intended for grown-ups. Not anything too formal, granted, but the sort of chirpy, chatty writing you might find in emails, blogs or social media posts. Copy that’s supposed to raise a smile.

David Marsh observes, ‘When a newspaper employs an exclamation mark in a headline, it invariably means: “Look, we’ve written something funny!”’ (For Who the Bell Tolls, Faber, 2013). David Crystal, in Making a Point (Profile, 2016), adds a quote attributed to F Scott Fitzgerald: including exclamation marks is ‘like laughing at your own joke’. Hm. I do that in real life, too.

Exclamation marks only for exclamations!

So, when should exclamation marks be used? Benjamin Dreyer (in Dreyer’s English, Random House, 2019), after counselling against their frequent use as ‘bossy, hectoring, and, ultimately, wearing’ (oh dear!), does also say:

It would be irresponsible not to properly convey with an exclamation mark the excitement of such as ‘Your hair is on fire!’ The person with the burning head might otherwise not believe you. And the likes of ‘What a lovely day!’ with a full stop rather than a bang, as some people like to call the exclamation point, might seem sarcastic. Or depressed.

So their use doesn’t need to be banned completely in writing for adults. Trask adds to Dreyer’s instinct about the ‘What a lovely day!’ statement by formalising it in a rule: ‘Use an exclamation mark after an exclamation, particularly after one beginning with what or how.’

And although I disagree with the first part of what David Marsh says here (for where would the Mr Men books be without their exclamation marks?), he does sum things up nicely:

Exclamation marks are seldom, if ever, obligatory. They can, however, be annoying! And make it look as if your work was written by a 12-year-old!!! So use sparingly.

The cure

But nothing cures a writing tic like recognising your writing style in another writer who irritates you. And in the last few years we’ve had a lot of exclamation marks chucked at us in tweets and newspaper articles, haven’t we? A lot of ‘bossy, hectoring, and, ultimately, wearing’ claims, counter-claims, denials, deflections.

As when witnessing Great Aunt Lottie’s annoying habit, you find yourself saying ‘Am I really like that?’ So there’s my cure, it turns out: the realisation that there’s already quite enough banging and shrieking going on in the world without my adding to the din.

This article was published in the September/October 2019 issue of Editing Matters.

About Cathy Tingle

Cathy TingleCathy Tingle is an Advanced Professional Member of the CIEP.

Her business, DocEditor, specialises in non-fiction, especially academic, copyediting.

 

 

About the CIEP

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

Find out more about:

 

Photo credits: lightning by Leon Contreras; laugh by Tim Mossholder, both on Unsplash.

Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

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