Category Archives: Specialisms

Authenticity reading. Part 2: Becoming an authenticity reader

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

Here’s what will be discussed in this post:

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

Offering authenticity reading as a service

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

Preliminary decisions

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

Topics

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

Training

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

Pricing

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

Your limits

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

Doing the job

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

Set expectations from the get-go

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

Clarify what the client wants you to focus on

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

Read the manuscript

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

Leave comments in the manuscript

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

Write a report summarising feedback

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

Answer the client’s questions and concerns

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

Finding clients

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

Business website

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

Social media

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

Directories and databases

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

Publishers

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

Final thoughts

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

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

 

About Crystal Shelley

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

 

About the CIEP

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

Find out more about:

 

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

Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

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

Authenticity reading. Part 1: What editors need to know

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

Here’s what this post will cover:

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

Authenticity reading at a glance

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

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

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

Topics that authenticity readers assess

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

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

Common misconceptions

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

Misconception #1: Authenticity readers seek to censor writers

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

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

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

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

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

Misconception #4: Authenticity reading is used only for fiction

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

The value of authenticity reading

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

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

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

Research can only go so far

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

Harmful representation can lead to damaging consequences for writers

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

Recommending this service to clients

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

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

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

Wrapping up

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

About Crystal Shelley

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

 

About the CIEP

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

Find out more about:

 

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

Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

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

How to attract new clients by diversifying your editorial skills

Can you get more business by extending your offer beyond core proofreading and editing skills? Margaret Hunter knows this works, and she suggests ways to develop your own diversification plan.

Here’s what I’ll be looking at in this article:

  • Why some clients like working with multi-taskers
  • What sorts of skills and knowhow add value for clients
  • Working out what you can add to your business offer
  • How to use this to diversify your client base and grow your business

Why some clients like working with multi-taskers

They don’t want to be involved in the minutiae

I have two main types of clients who value that I can do more than ‘just’ edit for them: businesses/organisations and independent author-publishers. They don’t know all the ins and outs of the traditional publishing workflow – and they don’t particularly want to (or have the time to) manage different people doing the different tasks required. They want someone to trust that they can hand over their raw text to who will do what it takes to make it publishable.

It’s efficient and cost-effective

We’ve come a long way from the inefficiencies of paper-based editing, and content collaboration tools are evolving all the time. Why pay a graphic designer to rekey the amendments that the client has already paid a proofreader to mark up on a PDF if the proofreader could make the changes direct in the first place? If draft text doesn’t fit the page layout, the copyeditor is usually the best person to suggest a solution, so why not save time and money by giving an editor with the right skills access to the design file, rather than toing and froing with the designer?

But don’t take my word for it

Here’s what one of my clients says about why using a professional with multiple skills is an attractive offering for her.

Working with editors who are able to put documents into InDesign layouts as well as editing the content makes my life so much easier. Knowing that I can hand over this additional element means that one person can support a project from end to end. Familiarity with the copy means that editors can make informed decisions about layouts or provide advice working within branded InDesign templates to make sure that formatting and content work together.

Skills and knowhow that add value for clients

Clearly, what you can offer in the value-added line depends on both you and your client. You have to actually have the additional skills or knowhow and your client has to want them. That may mean doing some research on what your target clients publish and how they go about it. You could of course start by asking your existing clients whether there is anything else you could do for them to make the process more efficient.

Many businesses in particular already have streamlined content publishing processes that work for them, and asking your client to explain how they work may reveal somewhere else that you can get involved. On the other hand, some clients may be stuck using a process that would benefit from some fresh thinking or a different approach, so why not suggest one?

We editorial types know that publishing a text is not a simple, straight line from author to output, but a web of many ultimately ‘invisible’ tasks. If you can offer a number of those tasks, that makes you a better prospect for clients who are looking for the least complicated way to outsource their project.

What can you add to your business offer?

For me, my main value-added offerings are my skills in and knowledge of design, layout and formatting. I have secured some regular clients because they were specifically looking for experienced copyeditors who also knew their way around InDesign and could therefore be trusted to work directly in the layout files. In some cases they have already used another professional to set up their templates, leaving me free to ensure an efficient process by editing in Word then doing the final layout in the client’s template.

I also work with authors who are publishing independently. Typically this might be someone writing content to promote their business. They know their topic, but they may not have much idea of how to write about it or how to get it published well. Here again what’s attractive is that I can offer them more than one part of the process. I’ll edit the words, but I’ll also steer them through other aspects of the publishing process so they end up with the files they need to publish a professional book or document and an understanding of the ancillary tasks they need to do or manage. Possibly the most valuable thing I offer these clients is peace of mind that they’ll not be embarrassed by doing things in an unprofessional way.

I’ve developed my skills (and confidence) over the years so that I understand when to offer more than strict editing of what a client has written or to suggest something different from what they’ve asked for. That might be rewriting the bare bones of a text into a better voice for the intended readers, or suggesting a layout that breaks the information down into user-friendly chunks.

When you’re not familiar with the publishing process, you’re unsure of who does what, you don’t know where to look for help and you’re not entirely sure what your text needs anyway, having someone make sensible suggestions for the specifics of your project is immensely valuable.

What, then, could you offer? Perhaps you have experience of getting permissions for quoted works, or you’re skilled at writing marketing copy, or you were a graphic designer so can supply quality images. Or maybe you know a great book cover designer, ebook formatter or copyright lawyer and you could team up to offer a package service. Think sideways.

Diversify your client base, diversify your skills

To help you identify the added-value services you can offer, first have a think about your client base (or aspirations). It seems from what I read regularly on the CIEP forums that many people entering our profession (and some who have been around for a long time) are thinking too small. They associate editing and proofreading with publishers, with books.

If you shift your mindset and start from the base that anyone who writes words for public or organisational consumption (in any format) might need editorial support, the potential client world is your oyster. Of course, as with any oyster, you may have to work hard to find your pearl.

Once you start thinking outside the box about who your clients might be, then you are free to explore what they actually need and what bits of that you can do for them.

But start on solid ground

Before you get too far into diversification, check that your starting point is a solid one. If you’re offering any sort of editorial services professionally, make sure you’ve got a good grounding in the core skills of copyediting and/or proofreading, and have a plan in place to keep your skills up to date through regular continuing professional development (CPD). It’s not enough to have an interest in words and language, a degree in English Literature or be the go-to person in your office for spotting typos.

Think like an electrician or an accountant, or anyone else preparing to offer a trade service, and get the right training to justify taking people’s money and assure them you’re providing a professional service. That’s probably not going to be from a quick one-off course that offers you an easy route to a ‘qualification’ (who’s judging?) with the promise of earning loads of money working from home. It takes grind and reliable study material.

Even if you think you’ll never work with clients in the traditional publishing industry (I’m talking mainly books here), it will still serve you well to learn the basics of long-honed publishing practice and the art of editing from a solid course.

But if you’ve not completed your core skills training yet, you don’t have to wait until you’re finished to start thinking about how you can supplement your core skills and add value to the services you offer.

So, what’s your added value?

It’s over to you now to start thinking (and planning and learning). As with all good marketing approaches, start with your clients, not you. What tasks do they need done? Can you do them, or learn to?

If you’re stuck for ideas, why not take a look at the CIEP’s Curriculum for Professional Development? There are enough areas for CPD there to last an editorial lifetime. Perhaps one of those could turn out to be that special thing that makes you the go-to editorial professional for the added value you bring to a project.

About Margaret Hunter

Margaret Hunter has been diversifying her editorial services business since 2003 and trades as Daisy Editorial. She is an Advanced Professional Member of the CIEP and at the time of writing is the CIEP’s information director.

 

 

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: colourful flowers by Henry Lorenzatto; lightbulb by Riccardo Annandale,
both on Unsplash.

Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

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

I want to self-publish my business book. Why should I use an editor?

Should you use an editor before self-publishing your business book? Helen Jones explains how an editor can help get your book in better shape before you publish.

Here are the things an editor will look at:

  • Spelling, grammar and other details
  • Who is your reader?
  • Getting the facts right
  • Taking an overview
  • Keeping it simple
  • The self-publishing process

Spelling, grammar and other details

Writers often tell me, ‘I’ve run it through spellchecker.’ Spellcheckers in computer programmes such as Word have their place, especially if spelling is not your strong point, but they won’t pick up everything. Mine was blissfully ignorant, for instance, of the errors shown in the three cartoons below!

An editor will pick up on embarrassing typos like these, as well as words that are commonly used in the wrong context, eg alternate/alternative, complement/compliment and continual/continuous.

As well as checking the spelling, editors will look at:

  • Grammar – this covers everything from the tenses of verbs to deciding if a noun is singular or plural.
  • Sentence construction – for instance, changing passive sentences to active ones, reordering confusing sentences or cutting down long ones.
  • Punctuation – common errors include using a comma rather than a semicolon to join two clauses and putting apostrophes in the wrong place.
  • Consistency – in-house editors adopt the publisher’s house style but there’s no reason why your editor can’t create one for your book. House style covers things like variant spellings, eg learnt or learned, and whether to use text or figures for numbers. These are subtle differences but, when applied overall, they will make your book look more professional.

Who is your reader?

Sending your manuscript to friends or relatives is a good place to start, because you get a feel for people’s reactions to your book. However, because they know you, they are likely to be very flattering rather than look at it objectively.

An editor, on the other hand will:

  • Ask: Who is going to read this? Is the language level right for this readership? For instance, Ten Easy Steps to Growing your Business would be different in style from Advanced Business Strategies.
  • Check for unnecessary or confusing jargon and that the author has explained any technical terms.
  • Make suggestions on how to improve it.

Getting the facts right

No matter how many times you’ve read through your manuscript, there will always be things you miss.

An editor will act as a fresh pair of eyes and will check for the following:

  • Inconsistencies in information – for example do charts, graphs and diagrams tally up with what it says in the text?
  • Incorrect facts and figures or ambiguous statements.
  • Whether references are in a logical order (usually alphabetical).
  • Has the writer got permission, where necessary, to quote from other sources? Ideally, this needs to happen at an early stage, otherwise their book may be delayed.

Taking an overview

New writers can sometimes get so involved in the detail they forget to consider their book as a whole. As we’ve already pointed out, editors will check the detail. But they will also take an overview and consider the following:

  • Are the chapters in a logical order?
  • Does the book have a clear beginning, middle and end?
  • Is there a central theme that runs throughout the book and, if not, would it be strengthened by having one?
  • Is there anything missing that needs adding?
  • Is there anything that is irrelevant that needs taking out?

Keeping it simple

We can all wax lyrical when we get enthusiastic about our subject. And let’s face it, we want the reader to catch your enthusiasm! However, repetition, going off at a tangent, and long words and sentences can be off-putting.

Many CIEP members are experts in plain English, which essentially helps your reader to understand and apply what they have read. The International Plain Language Federation describes it like this:

A communication is in plain language if its wording, structure and design are so clear that the intended audience can easily find what they need, understand what they find, and use that information.

For more on plain English, go to iplfederation.org/plain-language.

The self-publishing process

Self-publishing can be a bit daunting for the novice. But getting some handy tips from someone who understands the process will go a long way towards making things easier for you.

An editor who has worked with self-published authors can help you answer the following questions:

  • Should I have printed copies or an ebook, or both?
  • Should my ebook be reflowable or fixed layout?
  • What’s the difference between publishing with Amazon KPD or another
    self-publishing provider?
  • Should I use a typesetter or will the Word file I’ve created be adequate?
  • Where can I get an ISBN and barcode?
  • What should I include in my prelim pages?

Wrapping up: How an editor can contribute to your book

An editor will:

  • Take an overview as well as checking the details.
  • Help you with checking the facts and ensure the language style is right for the audience.
  • Offer advice on the self-publishing process.

Overall, an editor can add that professional touch that will increase the chances of your book being a success.

So, what are you waiting for? To find a suitable editor for your business book,
go to ciep.uk/directory.

About Helen Jones

Helen Jones started her career in publishing setting ads for a crane magazine. Among other things, she now proofreads bids for lift contractors. She hopes this means she’s gone up in the world. Highlights of her career include interviewing Quentin Blake, writing children’s picture books and helping self-published authors get their books in print.

 

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:

 

Cartoons copyright ©Helen Jones

Photo credit: open book by Austin Distel 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.

A week in the life of a development editor

Harriet Power gives us an insight into her typical working week, with a focus on development editing.

This article covers:

  • what the job of a development editor involves
  • the typical process for a textbook
  • the typical process for a professional development book
  • marketing and professional development.

I began my editorial career in-house, and very much learned how to development edit on the job. I was never given any formal training; instead I learned through a mix of instinct and informal guidance over the course of eight years working for educational publishers like OUP and Pearson. My last in-house position was as a development editor for OUP, where I mainly developed GCSE humanities textbooks.

I went freelance in 2017. Since then most of my work has been for educational publishers, though I’ve also started to work on prescriptive non-fiction over the past year or so.

I really enjoy development editing. I love getting stuck into a manuscript to make sure it really works. I love that combination of creativity and logic needed to solve any problems. I love working closely with authors and feeling like I’ve made a real difference.

What my job involves

For non-fiction, development editing all comes down to the simple question of does this book deliver what the reader wants? In this way I think it’s actually quite objective.

I developed my first book a few months into my first job as an editorial assistant. (This was for a small publisher where editorial assistants basically did everything and you really had to hit the ground running.) I was given minimal guidance and hardly had a clue what I was doing … except instinct meant that I did. Because we all know what makes a good textbook, having relied on them over six or so years of schooling. So I started asking questions like, ‘Does this chapter give enough detail to answer an exam question on this?’, ‘Is this explanation too difficult for GCSE students to understand?’ and ‘Are these checkpoint questions unambiguous and answerable?’

It turns out these were the right sorts of questions to ask, and I still rely on them today.

When a textbook lands on my desk

When I’m asked to develop a textbook manuscript, it typically arrives with a whole host of extra documents: my brief, the author brief, the syllabus, a sample design, a sensitivity checklist, etc. So I spend a bit of time reading through all of this, trying to get the project clear in my head, and then make a list of things I need to check for each chapter (or even each double-page spread). The main purpose of this checklist is to make sure the author’s done what the author brief asks of them. (Which in turn implies the book delivers what the reader wants.)

The checklist might cover things like:

  • word count (is there too much material or not enough?)
  • spec match (does the book cover everything on the syllabus?)
  • features (has the author included the right number of features – like exam tips, discussion points, etc – and are they treated consistently?)
  • activity questions (are they answerable; have answers been provided, and do they actually answer the questions?)
  • artworks/images (are they appropriate, relevant, varied; are there the right number?).

Then I’ll work through each spread or chapter checking everything off. I might also do a fair bit of line editing, particularly where the text is unclear or unobjective. I’ll probably end up doing some fact-checking (even though it’s not an official part of the job), and I’ll keep an eye out for anything that could potentially cause offence and flag this up (even though there might also be a separate sensitivity review).

The development edits I do for publishers always include querying the author and taking in their revisions as part of the job. On some days, it feels like quite a lot of my time is spent wording diplomatic queries. Sometimes I have to ask an author to do a lot of work (without the publisher paying them any more for it), and they can’t simply say ‘no thank you I’d rather not’ in the same way an indie client can.

So even though it slows me down, I’m always careful in explaining why a major edit is important. I try to provide solutions/suggested rewrites, because I know the authors are busy (most of them are practising teachers). And the more help and direction I give, the more likely the author won’t go off-piste. That’s important when I have to take in their responses. I’ve found over the years that being really clear about what you want, and giving specific examples of what’s needed, helps to mean the revisions you get back are more likely to be on target.

One thing I really enjoy about development editing textbooks is trying to make sure controversial topics are covered in a balanced, objective way. This might mean being very careful over the wording of a spread on euthanasia, for example. So even though development editing is largely about ‘bigger picture’ stuff, I still have to focus on individual sentences or even words. For example, to make sure the wording of a list of arguments for and against euthanasia doesn’t accidentally make it look as if we’re favouring one side over the other.

When a professional development book lands on my desk

Another week, one of my publishers might hand me a professional development book where the brief is much less detailed (often amounting to little more than ‘can you edit this one please?’). This might easily turn into a combined development edit and copyedit. Basically, I’ll do a copyedit but if a manuscript has bigger issues then I’ll also point these out and help the author to fix them. So here I don’t have a prescribed checklist, as such, but I’ll ask questions like:

  • Is there enough detail to be able to take this advice away and act on it yourself? (One book I worked on almost doubled in size to make sure we’d answered that question.)
  • Does the book answer the question it sets out to solve? (One book ended up with a different title as a result.)
  • Does this book explain everything in a way that a beginner can understand?
  • Is the overall argument logical and persuasive?

I find development editing to be the most ‘thinky’ work that I do. You have to hold the whole book in your head in a way that isn’t so necessary with copyediting or proofreading. Edits can be more complex (and explaining why they’re so necessary can require careful thought). So I’m happy when I get weeks where I can switch it up with a bit of copyediting or proofreading or something else for light relief.

Marketing and professional development

Until the pandemic hit, I’m ashamed to say I put minimal effort into marketing and not much more into professional development. But that’s changed over the past six months or so. Now I try to set aside an hour a day for one or the other.

Last year I decided it might be a good idea to do some proper training in development editing (better late than never, right?). I couldn’t find much on offer but did sign up to EFA’s 8-week course on non-fiction development editing, which was really great. I also bought Scott Norton’s classic, Developmental Editing (which I still need to finish).

This year I’ve been working my way through a small pile of craft books on how to write non-fiction. I’d definitely recommend reading craft books if you want to get into development editing – they really help you to understand how good books work and what they should contain. Three I’d particularly recommend for non-fiction are:

  • Rob Fitzpatrick’s Write Useful Books. (This really changed my mindset on how to write great prescriptive non-fiction, and I’ve got quite evangelical about it.)
  • Ginny Carter’s Your Business, Your Book. (This’ll give you a really solid grounding in the elements that make up a strong professional development book.)
  • Susan Rabiner and Alfred Fortunato’s Thinking Like Your Editor. (Twenty years old but full of interesting, still relevant ‘insider’ advice on what publishers are looking for from ‘serious’ trade non-fiction.)

Summing up

This article has covered:

  • training and career paths to development editing
  • typical working processes
  • marketing and professional development for development editors.

About Harriet Power

Harriet Power is an education and non-fiction editor, a Professional Member of the CIEP, and co-author of four GCSE Religious Studies revision guides (this last one was a surprise even to her). She worked in-house for eight years before going freelance in 2017.

 

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: handdrawn lightbulb by Mark Fletcher-Brown; Together, we create! by “My Life Through A Lens”, both on Unsplash.

Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

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

A week in the life of a typesetter

By Andrew Chapman

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

A flexible approach

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

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

Changing technology

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

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

Varied work

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

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

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

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

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

Working together

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

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

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

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

 


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

Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

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

What can a picture researcher do for you?

By Lorraine Beck

What does a picture researcher do?

Many people express surprise when I tell them what I do for a living, perhaps because it’s now so easy for anyone to find a picture on the internet. Finding the picture is only part of my job: checking it can be used, negotiating a fee and licensing the image, checking proofs and writing captions and picture credits and keeping an accurate record of exactly what has been agreed are all equally important. Mostly I work for publishing companies (large and small), and I research audio and video clips too.

Why employ a picture researcher?

Working with image libraries so much, a picture researcher knows which libraries are best for images of faces/wildlife/food/scientific images – whatever is needed. We also know the specialist libraries where you can find historical maps, images of works of art, rare animals, vintage adverts – the list is endless. I have a network of contacts in image libraries and other organisations all over the country and they do not all necessarily have all their images online to search. Even for a fairly basic list of stock library images for a low-budget title, a professional picture researcher can find a selection of attractive images faster (and so probably more cheaply) than someone with little experience. Some libraries advertise rates online, but researchers know the going rates for image use and are in a strong negotiating position, not only to agree a low price, but to agree the best value price for any image or series of images (prices for image licensing will vary according to cover/inside usage, nature of the publication (academic/commercial), print run, licence term, territory, etc).

How to brief a picture researcher

As in-house staff are cut and training budgets eroded, freelance editors and project managers are being increasingly asked to take on additional roles. It may be you are asked to brief a picture researcher or even to do some picture research yourself. Here are a few pointers:

  • The basic brief is a list of images required. A page number, or artwork number, is helpful to identify images. Excel spreadsheets or Googlesheets are preferable to Word documents as they allow the researcher to easily add columns with their comments/queries and details of the images chosen.
  • If you have it, please send a copy of the typescript or, even better, a set of proofs. Often this will allow the researcher to resolve any queries as they come up without troubling you.
  • Details of the target market: is the book for a primary school/teenage/adult market? Will the book be published overseas – and if so, are there any cultural issues to be aware of?
  • Preferred suppliers: does the publisher have price deals in place with any image libraries? It’s worth checking this regularly as it’s a competitive market and rates change fairly quickly. Large publishers may also have their own online database of previously licensed images which are free to use – researchers will probably know their way around these already.
  • Design notes: will the book be printed in colour or black and white? Do you want images that are cutouts (on a white background) or not? If the budget is tight, or it’s a new textbook and you are looking for particularly fresh, modern images – let us know. Finally, if the image is to be used on the book cover, let the researcher know at the beginning so you only get images that are allowed to be licensed for this use.

The picture research process

  • The picture researcher will look through the brief to identify any potentially problematic images: certain images have particular restrictions on them or may need additional clearance. These include film or TV stills, photos of coins, banknotes, stamps, anything under Crown copyright, and brands and logos. An experienced researcher will be aware of these and also spot any other potentially tricky images (e.g. a photo of the Eiffel Tower lit up at night – the lighting design is under copyright and needs additional permission clearance) and raise any queries at this early stage.
  • Next, the picture researcher will usually supply a selection of low-res photos. Once you have made your selections, either add these to a folder or (preferably) note the image numbers on the brief.
  • The researcher will order the high-res images and once these have been checked on final proofs, prepare the caption and credits copy. (Credits may be supplied as a simple Word file, or for larger clients, details may be added to a spreadsheet that automatically generates the copy.) You already know how fiddly editing or making changes to picture credits can be – having an expert researcher who has supplied consistent copy will help.
  • Once final proofs are signed off, the researcher will license the images that were actually used. Larger publishing companies may have an automated system for doing this, or the researcher will email the image library with details of the image and how it is being used so that their invoice, which also usually forms the licence, can be raised for payment by the publisher.
  • At the end of the job, you should receive an updated version of the brief containing details of images used, credits, any special restrictions on usage, fees paid and licensing terms agreed.
  • Picture researchers may also just take on parts of this process; for example, if the author/designer has suggested images but you need someone to download high-res files, write credits and license the images, or for a new edition, to check which, if any, of the photos are still covered by the previous license and to relicense any that are not.
  • Fees for picture research may be on a fee per picture basis, an hourly/daily rate basis or a fee for the job basis. An allowance is usually made for researching cover photos, rebriefs and the extra clearances for works of art.

Key terminology

I am not a legal expert and so only offer a general introduction to some of the issues around image use – if in doubt about using an image, consult your client or their legal team about what is acceptable. Note that not all photos that appear on an image library website can/should necessarily be used in publications.

  • Model Releases and Property Releases: on a picture library website you may see the initials MR or PR with the other photo details. Model and Property Releases are signed legal documents confirming that people or property appearing in an image or clip have given permission for it to be used. None of my publishing clients will accept a photo (even of a crowd scene) if it contains a child and does not have an accompanying Model Release. Similarly, photos of the interiors of stately homes/museums may need a Property Release for them to be usable, and if these also contain works of art, these may need further permission from the artist or their estate if the work of art is still in copyright. Even with a MR or PR in place, using a photo in a context that is controversial, sensitive or defamatory may not be allowed.
  • Royalty Free (RF) images are generally licensed for a fixed, one-off fee covering all usages. Once purchased, they can be used any number of times, in any medium, for an indefinite period.
  • Rights Managed (RM) images are licensed for specific terms of usage, so you need to specify how, where and for how long you will use the image and in what territories. This will determine the fee. Any new use of an image will require a further licence and the licence will need to be renewed/extended once its term has expired. You may be able to request exclusive usage (for an increased fee!).
  • Other terms you may come across include commercial use/editorial use. Editorial use photos that do not have a MR or PR can sometimes be used in textbooks (but in my experience still never photos of children without a MR), but check with your client first if you are not sure, and only usually inside the book (not on the cover) and alongside text which discusses the image.

Summary

Hopefully I’ve shown that there’s a bit more to picture research than just Googling an image, right-clicking and downloading it. Should you decide on some DIY picture research, however, and especially if you are not using an established image library, the first question I suggest you ask is not Can I use this picture? but Who owns the copyright for this picture? Once you know that, you can ask for permission from the copyright owner, but if the person you are dealing with is unsure as to whether they own the copyright, there’s a good chance they don’t, so best to proceed with caution or employ a friendly picture researcher!

Resources

Picture Research Association – the society for image media professionals (the picture research equivalent of the CIEP): www.picture-research.org.uk.

Intellectual Property Office summary of UK government copyright information for digital images, photographs and the internet (note if using photos from outside the UK, you may need to consider copyright law in that country): https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/481194/c-notice-201401.pdf

Lorraine Beck is an experienced freelancer picture/clip researcher currently working on a variety of schools and ELT titles, but is happy to turn her hand to any subject. She’s a full member of the Picture Research Association and listed in the ELT Publishing Professionals Directory.

 


Photo credits: colourful rectangles by John Jennings,; photos on shelf by Annie Spratt, both on Unsplash.

Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

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

A week in the life of a virtual PA

By Sherona Treen-Coward of Treen Coward Associates

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

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

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

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

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

Stay professional

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

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

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

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

Stay connected

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

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

Plan your courses

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

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

Allow time for yourself

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

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

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


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


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

Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

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

 

26 tips for planning, writing and editing a glossary

By Hazel Bird

Glossaries are commonly found in a huge variety of publications, from textbooks to technical reports and from encyclopedias to essays. A good glossary can serve a number of purposes that benefit both writers and readers:

  • provide a quick reference to key concepts
  • avoid the need to duplicate definitions of key concepts in multiple locations
  • increase the accessibility of a text and thereby avoid alienating less knowledgeable readers
  • enhance the experience of more knowledgeable readers by avoiding cluttering a text with what may (to them) be basic definitions
  • help groups of co-authors to write consistently on a topic.

But a good glossary is too often an afterthought – thrown together at the end of the writing process with little consideration of how it can help to underpin a text and amplify its authority.

This post looks at how to plan, write and edit a glossary that will enhance a text and be helpful to readers. But first, a post on glossaries would be remiss if it didn’t include its own glossary:

DefinitionThe part of a glossary that tells readers what a term means.
EntryOften used to refer to a term and its associated definition as a whole.
GlossThe verb form of glossary. If you gloss a term, you provide a definition of it.
GlossaryA list of definitions of technical terms used in a text.
TermA word deemed to be of sufficient importance or complexity to require an entry in the glossary.
TextThe larger body of words of which the glossary is a part (eg a book).

It’s worth saying that although the stages below can be a helpful way of dividing up work on a glossary, it makes sense to keep all the stages in mind at all times. For example, it doesn’t hurt to decide your preference on capitalisation during the planning stage. And, equally, there’s no point developing a comprehensive plan if the writer(s) and editor(s) then ignore it!

Planning your glossary

A good glossary is based on a well-planned strategy. Questions to consider when planning a glossary include the following:

1. Why are you considering providing a glossary? Would the text genuinely benefit from a glossary as an added help to the reader? Or would the glossary primarily serve to cover up uneven, unclear or incomplete writing that would be better amended before seriously considering how a glossary would fit in?

2. What level(s) of knowledge do you expect your readers to have? Do you need to gloss basic terms or only the more advanced?

3. What level of detail do you want your definitions to have? It can help to set a nominal word or line limit.

4. If your text has multiple chapters, will you have one central glossary or chapter-specific glossaries? If you prefer a central glossary, do the chapters use the same terminology or will any revisions be required to standardise terms that will appear in the glossary?

5. If your text has multiple authors or topics, how will you ensure consistency between their glossaries? Would it be helpful to provide a few sample glossary entries (taking account of the suggestions for writing and editing below)?

6. Will the glossary be allowed to define abbreviations or will these appear in a separate list? For example, if your text talks about JSON, do you want to have (a) a glossary entry that provides the full form (JavaScript Object Notation) and then talks a bit about its use in software development, (b) an entry in a separate list of abbreviations that simply provides the full form or (c) both?

7. Will cross-referencing between glossary terms be allowed (or required)? For example, the glossary of glossaries at the start of this post uses italics to cross-reference to other entries. This lets readers know a term is explained elsewhere in the glossary (and often means you can be more economical in your definitions).

8. Where will the glossary appear and how will readers access it? Common schemes include: (a) simple standalone glossary with no links to the text, (b) standalone glossary with hyperlinks and/or special formatting (e.g. colour or bold) on glossary terms in the text and (c) glossary entries on the same pages as their associated terms (common in textbooks). Which would be most suitable for your text?

9. How will readers know your glossary exists? Will you put a note at the start of the text (or even at the start of each chapter or section, if your text has subdivisions)? What will be the best balance between making information easily accessible and avoiding clutter? You can’t assume that readers will understand that bold (for example) means that there is a glossary and that the bold word is glossed within it – you have to tell them what the bold means.

Writing your glossary

Once you have a solid plan to work from, you can actually start writing your glossary (or ask your contributors to submit entries to you). Following are some do’s and don’ts of glossary writing:

10. Do consider how your terms are actually used in the text. There’s no point having a glossary term for ‘information architecture’ if the text only ever refers to ‘architecture’.

11. Do use parallel structure. For example, will you start definitions with ‘X is an …’ or just ‘An …’? This issue is connected with presentation too: usually, the longer form is only necessary if you plan to run the glossary terms into the definitions. For example:

Agile  A method of software development that occurs in stages, with the product evolving as the project progresses. (Separated style)

Agile is a method of software development that occurs in stages, with the product evolving as the project progresses. (Run-on style)

12. Do think about the grammatical forms of words. For example, it might look inconsistent to have a definition for ‘coder’ (noun) alongside one for ‘developing’ (verb). Unless there’s a good reason, it might read better to choose either ‘coder’ and ‘developer’ or ‘coding’ and ‘developing’.

13. Don’t use the word in the definition – usually. Sometimes it works, where you decide to explicitly re-state the term in the definition for grammatical reasons (as I did above in my definition of ‘gloss’). But usually it’s bad practice as it assumes knowledge on the part of your readers that they might not have. For example, you might include the following definition:

software development  Using computer code to develop digital applications and infrastructure.

Here, you’d only really have glossed ‘software’ and you’d be assuming your readers know what ‘develop(ment)’ means in the context of computing.

14. Don’t make the definition so complicated that the reader has to look it up to understand it. (Or, if you need to use technical terms, consider defining them elsewhere within the glossary and including cross-references – see point 7 above.)

15. Don’t include Wikipedia content (or similar) – anyone can do an internet search for a generic Wikipedia definition. Glossaries add value for the reader by framing each term in a way that is nuanced to reflect the content of your text.

16. Don’t quote other sources in your definitions, unless they offer uniquely relevant perspectives or you have a special reason for doing so. This can reduce the sense of authoritativeness of your text.

17. Don’t repeat definitions from the text. Readers will be frustrated if they go to the glossary in search of further explanation and just find what they’ve already read.

Editing your glossary

Glossary editing often takes place over multiple stages. First, the person who wrote the glossary (or who is collating it from multiple contributors) checks that the content is suitable and that there are no glaring holes or inconsistencies of approach. Then, another person (often a copyeditor or proofreader) conducts a more zoomed-in check to sculpt the glossary into its final form. Each will likely need to look at the following points to some degree:

18. Does the glossary adhere to each point of the plan? If not, is the divergence acceptable (perhaps something has changed since you created the plan) or do you need to adjust the entries?

19. Is the coverage logical, consistent and comprehensive? For example, have all terms of the same type been included? (So, if you’ve glossed XML, you’ll probably want to gloss HTML too if your text uses both terms.) Are there any often-used terms that are not glossed but should be? If one of the glossary’s functions is to gloss little-used terms to avoid cluttering the text with explanations, have all of these been identified?

20. Will your alphabetisation be intuitive to readers? For example, will your readers expect to find a general explanation of the syntax used in computer coding under ‘language’ or ‘programming language’?

21. Do you need any ‘see’ entries? If readers might look for the same term under two different phrases, you could choose to include both. For example, you could have a definition of the term ‘language’ but also cross-reference to it further down as follows:

language  Words and other notation used according to a pre-defined structure to create computer programs.

programming language  see language

22. Is every term in the glossary actually used in the text? See also points 10 and 12.

23. Have the glossary terms been indicated in the text where applicable (see point 8)? And are you doing this on every occurrence of each term or only (for example) at first use in the text or chapter?

24. Is the punctuation consistent? For example, will your definitions end with a full stop? This may depend on the length of the definitions. Single-sentence glossaries can end with nothing, but multiple-sentence glossaries usually look best with full stops. If you have a mixture, it’s best to be consistent and include full stops for all of them.

25. Is the capitalisation consistent? Will you capitalise all of your glossary terms (eg ‘Debugging’ and ‘Python’) or only proper nouns (eg ‘debugging’, but ‘Python’)?

26. Does each definition read well and follow whatever spelling and other stylistic conventions have been used in the main text? When they think about what goes into editing a glossary, many people jump straight to this point. But, in reality, it’s just the last item in a long list of other considerations.

Planning, writing and editing a good glossary is a complex and time-consuming process. Throwing together a glossary at the last moment is a wasted opportunity and may even detract from the reader’s experience – for example, by raising expectations that are not met (eg because the glossary is of poor quality and isn’t tailored to the text) or creating frustration (eg if the glossary is difficult to access or navigate, or equivalent terms are not glossed).

Thinking about your glossary from the start of the creation process will make it an integrated and cohesive part of your text, and enhance the text’s value and authority for your readers.

Hazel Bird is a project manager, copyeditor and proofreader who has happily edited glossaries that followed all of these tips and others that followed none. She regularly works on computing books (hence the examples above) but also edits widely across business, public sector and academic publishing.

 


Have you seen our recent focus paper by David Crystal on why it’s worth using a professional editor? It’s one of CIEP’s many fact sheets and focus papers for editorial and publishing professionals.


Photo credits: Open book by by Jonas Jacobsson; Software development by Hack Capital, both on Unsplash

Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

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