Category Archives: Support

CIEP local groups: connecting and learning

The CIEP’s local groups enable members to share knowledge, hear from guest speakers, and gain new skills. Many groups meet monthly, and all have moved to online meetings since March. In this post, three members share what their groups have been up to.

Herts & Essex

By Antonia Maxwell

On 9 July the Herts & Essex CIEP local group welcomed Melody Dawes as guest speaker at its Zoom meeting. Melody is founder of Just Content (a specialist content services provider), and works closely with publishing clients to build teams of freelancers to meet their project needs.

Melody is ideally placed to offer advice and insight into the freelancer–client relationship. She highlighted the importance of scoping the project at the outset. This means establishing a brief, allocating the appropriate resources, and discussing the details of schedules, timing, pace of work – and of course fees. She emphasised the importance of two-way communication at this stage to avoid problems later on. Establishing expectations, hammering out a detailed brief and assessing the level of work are all areas where a freelancer – who may be the first person to delve into the detail of the project – needs to speak out and offer their expertise.

Melody was keen to explore CIEP members’ experiences of working with publishing clients. Project management was highlighted as a particularly thorny area when scoping a project – where clients may underestimate the level of work required. Offsetting quality of work against budget restrictions was discussed too – and again Melody stressed the need for clear communication and honest appraisal of the project.

The meeting concluded with Melody’s reflections on the future. She has noted a shift in emphasis in publishing towards digital products, but emphasised that the editorial skills required for these products remain broadly the same as for print. Freelancers shouldn’t be afraid of taking on digital work – everyone is learning – and as ever the importance of dialogue to establish the client’s requirements and any training needs was emphasised.

Melody talked about freelancers’ concerns for the future resulting from COVID-19 and lockdown. Although there is uncertainty, she felt that publishing seems to have adjusted to some extent during lockdown – for example, catering to the changing demands of the home school market and increased demand for digital output. Whether a lull in publishers commissioning new titles over the lockdown period will ultimately impact freelancers’ workflow remains to be seen.

Thanks to Melody for sharing her insights and spending time with the Herts & Essex Group!

West Yorkshire

By Helen Stevens

Many freelance editors and proofreaders don’t often need to speak in public. In fact, sometimes there’s little need to speak at all in the course of a working day.

So what on earth would possess a freelance editor to step outside their comfort zone and train in public speaking? Neuroscience editor Julia Slone-Murphy agreed to enlighten us.

Julia described situations in the past when she had been obliged to speak in public: the sleepless nights beforehand, the sweaty palms, the racing heart rate, the script delivered rapidly and without looking at the audience … Stepping several miles outside her comfort zone, Julia decided to tackle her fear by taking a public speaking course.

Perhaps not surprisingly, increased confidence in public speaking was the main benefit of training. But Julia also found she was more fluent and confident in verbal communication generally, whether in meetings, at events or on the phone. Similarly, she found she was more logical, coherent and eloquent in her written communications.

Julia gained a great sense of success in seeing herself improve in leaps and bounds, particularly in an activity she had previously struggled with.

Julia’s top tips

  1. Make it personal: Weave your own experiences into the message you’re conveying. Your audience will relate to your ‘story’, and your speech will be memorable and entertaining.
  2. Focus on the message: Don’t worry about being the centre of attention. Instead, focus on delivering a message your audience will find interesting. This moves the spotlight away from you and onto your audience.
  3. Keep practising: Find opportunities to carry on honing your skills, otherwise you’ll be back to square one!

David Crystal, the CIEP’s honorary president, makes it personal when speaking at the 2019 SfEP conference

Julia encouraged all editors and proofreaders to improve their public speaking skills, whether or not they’re planning to actually make a speech.

Goodbye, sweaty palms and racing heart rate; hello, logical thinking, eloquent delivery and sparkling social and business encounters!

NEW: Discovery

By Claire Handy

Thank goodness for the internet! Without it, the local group meetings would have been another casualty of the pandemic. However, since we’ve moved onto Zoom to stay in touch with our fellow editors, I have attended more meetings, and got to know more wonderful people, than I would normally have done.

For security reasons though, it has meant that only members have been able to attend these events. In normal times, those interested in learning more about the CIEP and proofreading/copyediting could usually attend up to three meetings before deciding whether to join the Institute, giving them a chance to ask questions about starting out, and learn more about what the CIEP can do for them. This isn’t possible at the moment, so Discovery meetings have been created to offer interested people the chance to find out more before a career change or joining the CIEP.

We had two trial meetings back in June before the idea grew into its current shape, and the first official Discovery meeting was held on 17 July – all to great success. Each meeting had a panel of amazing CIEP members who gave up their time to answer questions – questions that we all had when we started, which ranged from ‘What course should I do?’ to ‘How long until I get my first client?’ to ‘Does proofreading bring enough income in?’ to ‘What benefits does the CIEP offer me?’ and more. The meetings lasted just over an hour and all participants reported back afterwards that they were incredibly useful and packed full of information. There was so much excitement and anticipation in the feedback I received, which was lovely to read, and we now have new members joining our ranks.

The Discovery meetings will be continuing for future interested people; check out the Events calendar for dates and times if you know anyone who would like to attend.


Photo credit: video call and coffee – Chris Montgomery on Unsplash

Proofread by Lynne Baybut, Entry-Level Member.
Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

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

Forum matters: Efficacious, efficient, efficiently

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

We’re all on the lookout for ways to extend our skills and increase our income by working more quickly – and many members are happy to share their experiences on the forums.

Type ‘efficient’ into the forum search function and you get umpteen results, containing hundreds of posts. Try it! It’s a great example of how the CIEP forums offer editorial professionals an indispensable source of practical ideas, sound advice and general support on almost any topic.

Training pays dividends

The search found links to the Efficient Editing course. CIEP courses help you to develop good practices, to increase your knowledge and to improve your expertise. All this development helps you work more efficiently and more quickly, and your hourly earnings should go up. Did you know that if you can drum up the numbers then you can run a CIEP course just for your local group? One effect of the lockdown is that the CIEP is now running some of these courses, including Efficient Editing, via webinar.

Making the most of technology

Local groups – including the Cloud Clubs – often talk ‘efficient’ and share the benefits of specific macros or apps. Efficiency is also a big topic on SfEPLine, which is the best forum in which to discuss technological and practical approaches to some of the more mechanical aspects of proofreading in particular. Checking references is one such time-consuming task, and among the recommendations are Edifix and Recite, with much lamentation over the demise of ReferenceChecker. But contributors also share good suggestions for using more hands-on approaches to managing references, such as the ideal number of passes or the breakdown into single tasks (eg are all the full stops there/not there at the end of the line?). The consensus is that much depends on how your brain works and that therefore there is no ‘right answer’ – the most efficient approach is the one that works for you (the search term ‘references’ brings up over 1,300 posts).

Among the software recommended by forum members for improving editing efficiency are PerfectIt, the Editor’s Toolkit, ProWritingAid and text expanders. But they all come with the caveat that you do need to know what you are doing, or you could end up introducing many more errors – very inefficient, if not downright incompetent.

In praise of manuals

The world isn’t entirely technical, though, and manuals and dictionaries (hard copy and online) still have a role to play in upping your efficiency. Style manuals get a thumbs-up, particularly the Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS), although the first step is to get to grips with their highly organised layout so that you can find what you need without spending hours searching.

A false dawn?

Another hotbed of discussion is the impact on academic editing of project management companies. These sold themselves to publishers on the ‘efficiency equals cheapness’ premise by using pre-editing software that is supposed to give the copyeditor a head start by creating a manuscript that is consistent and formatted. They assume that the copyeditor will therefore need to spend less time editing, hence the job will be cheaper. The trouble is that algorithms aren’t (yet) language speakers, so copyeditors still need to check for sense and context. What has been sold as a time-efficient system can lead to increasing the work. Sometimes the manuscript can only be worked on using a project management company’s own software – and this sort of bespoke software may not work with a copyeditor’s treasured macros, which has the reverse effect on efficiency. There are a number of recent, and less recent, threads on working with project management companies.

Use your styles

A properly formatted manuscript is a diamond and indicates a skilful, professional producer. Too many writers don’t understand the impact of direct formatting on how the copy transfers from original manuscript to finished publication (direct formatting is, for example, when you turn a single word italic or bold using the symbols on the home page, or go through the laborious process of creating spacing with double paragraph returns or using tabs for indentations). Setting up and using properly defined styles benefits the whole production line – see ‘Losing italics from Word to PDF’. By stripping out direct formatting and applying correct styles, you are also increasing the typesetter’s efficiency.

Managing time, maintaining health

Social media is a cunning efficiency interrupter, and members are keen to share ways of avoiding information overload. This often comes down to time management, beginning with the simple task of spending the first few minutes of your day writing out a simple to-do list (and then sticking to it), to allocating specific time slots for looking at your social media, to signing up to time-tracking software or software that interrupts you every so often and tells you to move! One thread on ‘Difficulty concentrating’ drew out so many fantastic ideas on how to refresh your brain that it would be impossible to summarise them here.

Time to end with the oft-repeated mantra that it’s essential to maintain your health and wellbeing – and no amount of efficiency gain is worth compromising those (thanks, Sue Browning):

Last but by no means least, I find taking time to get some exercise, preferably in the fresh air, pays dividends in focus and productivity. Even when time is tight, a few minutes throwing a ball for the dog in the garden can refresh me for the next stint of work.


Photo credits: This must be the place – Tim Mossholder; dawn – M Mitchell; dog – Afra Ramió, all on Unsplash

Proofread by Mike Smith, Intermediate Member.
Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

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

Forum matters

This feature comes from the band of CIEP members who volunteer as forum moderators. Links to the forum threads will only work after you’ve registered for the forums and logged in.

If there is one place worth revisiting often, it’s the CIEP member forums. Some of us swear that access to the forums alone is worth the membership fee – and that’s only a slight exaggeration. In fact, about half the people who have joined the forums have never written a post, but I’m sure they’ve gained plenty from their lurking.

One member has written over 17,000 posts, but then they’ve been signed up for nine years and had plenty of official business to discuss. One per cent have contributed over 1,000 posts, but the majority contribute as and when the fancy takes them. And there’s plenty of variety to suit anybody’s fancy.

All CIEP members have the right to access the forums, but for the moment (until our new website is up and running) you do have to take the positive step of joining. It is a two-stage process, but simple. First you register via the main CIEP website, then your application is approved by a moderator (sometimes this happens in minutes, sometimes in hours; it depends whether the volunteer moderator is online at the time). This process ensures privacy on the forums, because this is a space to share and to vent as well as to pick up useful info. It’s the CIEP water cooler!

Frequent venting, constant support

Plenty of venting does go on: against low pay (Offer from [global company]); against rude clients (Rude email from publisher for asking MS to be in order); and against incomprehensible paperwork (HMRC self-assessment – reporting ‘foreign income’). But it is never allowed to get personal or vindictive. By all accounts, our forums are a much friendlier space than many online. If a thread looks as though it’s going that way, then any member can easily flag up their discomfort by emailing the moderators (forums@ciep.uk). Posts may be deleted, threads removed and, in the worst case, a member can have their access denied (temporarily or permanently). It does happen – but not often. Any vitriol is dealt with swiftly and fairly and in line with the CIEP Dignity Policy. But what usually happens is that a range of viewpoints emerges, putting things in perspective and offering a solution or two.

Many people use the word ‘supportive’ in relation to the forums. It goes without saying that much of that refers to sharing professional knowledge. Knowledge about words and their ‘correct’ use, knowledge about the business of editing/proofreading and acquiring clients, knowledge about hardware and software. But there is other, more nebulous, support that goes on throughout the forums.

On the forums during COVID-19

A case in point has been during the coronavirus lockdown, when the forums have come into their own. Discussions have ranged across:

Collective wisdom

One great virtue of the forums is that the threads automatically become a huge archive, a fount of collective wisdom. The extraordinary thing is how much of this knowledge remains useful year on year, which makes the role of lurker even more valid!

Many questions come up over and over again, particularly from newbies, so the best first step is to use the Search function. Like all search facilities you need to play with the term(s) you input; if, at first, nothing comes up, then try again with a longer or a different word (it needs to be at least four characters long). But please don’t moan if you find you’re sucked into a distracting vortex of posts and you lose an afternoon! We guarantee the forums will distract, entertain and educate you, and it’ll be time well spent.


Photo credit: Kindness by United Nations COVID-19 Response on Unsplash

Proofread by Emma Easy, Intermediate Member.

Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

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

CIEP social media round-up: April and May 2020

Two of the strangest months in memory, recorded through our social media accounts

Times such as these are tricky for a social media team whose focus is on publishing and freelancing. As with pretty much everything right now, long term we don’t know what COVID-19 might mean for publishing, the book industry, or editors and proofreaders. We entered April 2020 wondering what we could communicate to our audiences on a day-to-day basis. Too much doom would be unhelpful. Too much levity would be unwelcome. What to do? Like so many others, we took each day at a time.

Silver linings

But heartening developments emerged, at least where publishing was concerned: increased book buying during lockdown, and the appearance of online book festivals and other events, with the Hay Festival, from 18 to 31 May, presenting an impressive array of personalities including our own honorary president, David Crystal. (David also starred in Mark Allen’s new podcast, That Word Chat, on 11 May.) Online events, by their nature, could include many more people than would have attended physically. ACES, the society for editing in the US (@copyeditors), took its conference online with #ACES2020Online on 1 May, and we were promised great things by SENSE, the Society of English-language professionals in the Netherlands (@SENSEtheSociety), whose online conference was to take place in early June.

Revising our lexicon

We covered the updating of dictionaries that the coming of COVID-19 required, so that editors and proofreaders were informed about how to refer to the virus. We posted articles about new terms such as quarantini and coronacoaster, and terms that were gaining popularity such as infodemic, as well as whether we were using older terms differently now. We reminded our followers of the differences between similar terms we were now using a lot, such as hoard and horde (‘There are hordes of people hoarding toilet paper’, one Facebook follower observed).

Keeping up with tech

Video conferencing packages are now part of our lives in a way they never were before. We covered Zoom in various ways, from why Zoom makes you tired to sports commentator Andrew Cotter’s Zoom meeting with his two Labradors: a treat. Meanwhile, Cambridge Dictionaries introduced us to new video conferencing terms like zoombombing, zumping and teletherapy. Merriam-Webster noted the coining of two news-and-phone-related phrases: doomsurfing and doomscrolling.

Shelf isolation

More attention is being paid to bookshelves in these Zoom days (see ‘Bookcase Credibility’, @BCredibility, an account launched in April that comments on the bookshelves of various public figures). Of course, at CIEP we appreciate a good bookshelf (and a good book nook, a scene or figure that can be placed between shelved books). On 25 March we had proved ourselves ahead of the curve by asking our Twitter followers to #ShowUsYourShelves. To fill these shelves still further, during April and May there were a number of articles and postings about the books we could read in lockdown, to comfort us, return us to our childhoods, inspire, uplift or offer us escape, or simply to get us through. We enjoyed artist Phil Shaw’s ordering of books to tell a story with their titles, something that Orkney Library (@OrkneyLibrary), now temporarily closed, had often done for its 70K followers. And, remaining with libraries, the true story about the cleaner who rearranged the books in a library in size order – oh, horror! – inspired sympathy and hilarity in many.

Actors available

Suddenly, actors and other artists had time on their hands and were doing impromptu readings and recitals. Jennifer Ehle, Elizabeth Bennet in the famous BBC 1995 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, read the novel chapter by chapter, and we shared this on Twitter on 6 April. Andy Serkis read The Hobbit online for charity. @SirPatStew (Sir Patrick Stewart) read a Shakespeare sonnet every day until 22 May. Our post announcing this got 83 likes and 33 shares from our delighted Facebook followers.

Home comforts

Of course, we editors and proofreaders are, for the most part, well used to all aspects of working from home, from furry assistants to endless tea or coffee drinking. And, alas, with beverages occasionally comes spillage. One of our most popular posts on Twitter was about an artist who made coffee stains into illustrations of monsters. There were a lot of them. Boy, was he unlucky with his coffee.

Funnies, Friday or otherwise

If you’re a devotee of the CIEP Facebook page, you’ll know that there’s a Friday Funny at about 4pm every week to send everyone off into the weekend with a smile. These are often comic strips by book-appreciating illustrators such as John Atkinson or authors who understand the trials of working from home such as Adrienne Hedger. When we’re very lucky, the legendary Brian Bilston releases a poem. His ‘Comparative Guidance for Social Distancing’ got 160 likes and 105 shares on our Facebook page, and it wasn’t even posted on a Friday. Sometimes the stars align and there’s a cat-and-books story we can post at the end of the week. Such an event took place on 22 May, when we enjoyed Horatio, a cat who wears (or, really, bears) costumes to promote his local library. As one Facebook user commented, ‘That is a patient cat.’ Truth.

Lockdown LinkedIn

We only started posting our blog-based LinkedIn content regularly last June, and since we passed the 10,000 followers mark last August our followers have increased again by another 8,000. Since lockdown, engagement has reduced as many of our followers seem to be working parents who are grabbing opportunities to work while suddenly morphing into teacher mode. During April and May 2020, posts that proved popular included: Denise Cowle’s week in the life of an editor (more than 8% engagement rate and 45 likes), a post by Intermediate Member Hilary McGrath sharing tips for staying motivated when starting a course (more than 4% engagement rate and 38 likes) and, showing reading-related content is our bread and butter, Abi Saffrey’s post about evaluating her year in books (more than 5% engagement rate, 32 likes and 8 comments).

Rounding up the round-up

During April and May 2020 on the CIEP’s social media, the emphasis was on editors and proofreaders looking after themselves, diverting themselves, keeping informed and looking for light where it could be found. As ever, our social media was overwhelmingly about support. We got a new emoji on Facebook – ‘care’, the usual little yellow head hugging a heart. Gotta tell you, it’s coming in useful.

Don’t miss a thing in editing and proofreading. Follow us on: Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.


Photo credits: wall emojis by George Pagan III; cat by Andrii Ganzevych, both on Unsplash

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

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

Relative density: kids and coping in the time of COVID-19

By Cathy Tingle

It’s Tuesday. I was supposed to write this blog yesterday. According to our COVID-19 routine, on Mondays my husband runs ‘school’ for my two children, aged 7 and 9. But yesterday the kids were particularly restless. They didn’t want to do the tasks set by their teachers. The younger one kept interrupting me in my ‘office’ (bedroom). There was a lot of shrieking as they chased each other around the house. Add to that the summons to buy our possessions back at their ‘shop’ (I couldn’t miss that: there was an iPad going for 45p), a surprise Zoom meeting for my husband, and some complicated new logging-on process for online school followed by my son sending his friends excited greetings (which had to be typed, finger by finger, on my laptop), and my day was pretty much shot to pieces as far as writing was concerned.

Hello again, old routines

We parents are used to the feeling that our best-laid work plans are precarious. You might be halfway through editing a chapter and the school phones to say your daughter has a tummy ache and can she be collected. You could plan an evening of proofreading but your son decides now is the time to find getting to sleep difficult. It goes with the territory.

But this prolonged uncertainty about when we can work is new for most. Or, rather, it’s a revisiting of something many of us experienced when our kids were tiny. In a recent CIEP forum thread about parenting, members described a common pattern. As a newish parent, to find time to work you rely on nap times, evenings and weekends (the last if there’s a partner or other co-carer to share the load). A little way along the line you can then add the hours that playgroups and nurseries might give you (sometimes only a couple of mornings a week, but it’s something). CIEP members reported having to take laptops or study books on family holidays.

The long and winding quest for productivity

Then, one blessed day, they get to school. Once you’ve got over the surprise that a day at primary school isn’t actually as long as you thought, and realised your most productive times of the day are not during those six hours (one of our editors only really hits her stride at 2.30pm – she has to leave the house to fetch the kids at 3pm), you get the high school years. The kids can at least find their way to school and back, but transporting them to extracurricular activities might take time. And at home? ‘The younger one [14] does seem to feel the need to talk to me about random things when I’m trying to work’, one of our editors reported. Another, whose children have now left home, comments: ‘What I learnt was that a 5-second question requiring only yes or no would cost me 10 to 15 minutes’ work. That was how long it took before I had everything back in my head.’ Bear this in mind when you’re thinking, during these lockdown days, ‘My teenagers don’t require a lot of attention. Why on earth aren’t I more productive?’

So, while we’re required to use ‘school’ hours to educate our children ourselves, many of us are grabbing evening work, weekend work, first-thing-in-the-morning work, as we did in the early years, and as many of us still do in the school holidays. One CIEP member with three children starts working at 5.30am; another uses the hour before the family stirs to answer emails and prioritise her day’s work to avoid stress later. Sometimes there is a tag-team within the parent unit, with one parent covering mornings, the other afternoons, or, if the other parent lives somewhere else, with children going away for a couple of days or more each week. If all else fails, we’re sitting with everyone else with our laptops, snatching ten minutes here and there.

No answers, just a few tips

Many people choose to become freelance precisely because of the flexibility it offers when you have a family. But many editing and proofreading parents are finding lockdown difficult, and it’s not the bare fact of spending more time with our children that’s making us feel like this – of course not. We love them. It’s the pressure of balancing working and caring that’s the problem. If we get paid by the project and don’t have time to complete projects, or we’re paid by the hour and our hours are vastly reduced, how’s that going to work out? It’s worrying, and we don’t have any clear answers, apart from to investigate any government support for self-employed people during this crisis. But here are a few tips for negotiating work and life right now.

  • If you have work, make sure your clients know your situation. Many of them will be in the same boat and will understand, but at the very least it removes the terrifying feeling that you have absolutely no wiggle room on your projects. You might not need to ask for extra time, but knowing you could in an emergency helps everyone.
  • This isn’t the time to be aiming high, so don’t put pressure on yourself to be marketing or rebuilding your website. Don’t listen to those people who talk about achieving great things in lockdown. The achievement level you should be aiming for is ‘coping’.
  • Easier said than done, but if you can, separate work and caring for your children. We often feel we do neither very well, but trying to do them concurrently just confirms this feeling.
  • If you do get a quiet few moments while they’re doing their maths worksheet or drawing a flower, tackle those mundane tasks that might help your business. Personally, I’m deleting old emails. It’s something I’ve been meaning to do for forever and it will be useful once we’re all up and running again not to have (cough) 45,958 unread messages in my inbox.
  • Screens aren’t the enemy. From the BBC Bitesize educational programmes to the fantastic Horrible Histories and Operation Ouch!, telly can educate, entertain and buy you some valuable time, and there are a wealth of online museum tours, story readings, science demonstrations and language tutorials too. It doesn’t need to be highbrow – kids will find educational opportunities in most things. When I sought reassurance that there were educational benefits to the Captain Underpants Movie, another CIEP member testified that her son had gained three things from it: an enthusiasm for writing comic books; an introduction to classical music; and an ability to execute armpit farts. All of which will be invaluable when filling in his UCAS form, I’m sure you’ll agree.
  • Take that #StetWalk, as we say in the editing world. Get out for your daily exercise with your child(ren), whether you feel like it or not. It will do everyone good, and the break from work may mean you’re more productive this evening when things are quieter.
  • When you do try to work, don’t beat yourself up if you can’t concentrate very well. This is a completely natural reaction to everything going on in the world, and something that was reported by a number of CIEP members.
  • It might be that we can accomplish more together than apart right now. Reach out to others you could team up with. One member says that one of the lessons she has learned over many years is that ‘some of the most valuable things I do in my business are not done alone; they’re shared’.
  • Sneak off now and then. Not out of your front gate: to the kitchen, or the garden, or into your own choice of fiction, or a podcast. Too often I find myself retreating to Twitter, and that ends up being far from a moment of peace. Find other ways to escape, if you can.
  • As you’ll all be living under the same roof in these conditions for some time yet, try to focus on what matters. As one member says: ‘being extra kind is more important than ever, and remembering that it really, really doesn’t matter whether they learn their grammar or long division is helpful’. Another says: ‘Every single night that your little one goes to bed fed, warm, well, and loved is not failing, whatever else might be going on. Be kinder to yourself.’
  • Get them involved in what you’re doing, if you think it will interest them. My kids have helped me find the pictures for this blog, and for the first time ever they’re helping me lay the table for meals. They even seem to enjoy it.
  • Sometimes you’ve got to throw your plans up in the air and take the opportunities life presents. And if life is presenting you with a child who wants to sing ‘The Wheels on the Bus’ with you, cuddle up in front of a movie or have a chat about Instagram (or whatever young people talk about these days), just enjoy the moment and the chance to spend some time with them.

More than one of our members reported that home schooling had been their way of life even before COVID-19 struck. They’d been down a similar path to the one many of us are now treading, and had realised that, in one editor’s words, ‘what I’d feared would be strange and isolating and terrible turned out to be none of those things. My child has blossomed, found their own path, and taught me that there are many ways to live a life, to be a parent, to educate’. Some situations might not look ideal at first glance, but they end up being rewarding in ways we never anticipated.

And so, working-from-home parent, in the words of one CIEP member addressing the other parents on the forum, ‘hugs and solidarity vibes’ to you. We’ll get there, even if it’s by a different route to the one we were expecting.

Many thanks to the contributors to the CIEP forums, who so generously shared their experiences and their child-squeezed time.

Cathy Tingle is a CIEP Advanced Professional Member based in Edinburgh who specialises in copyediting. After trying and failing to work ‘alongside’ her children, she’s offering a reduced service until they go back to school. She’s terrible at baking.

 

 


The CIEP’s forums are a great place for members to connect with and support each other.

CIEP members shared their pandemic concerns and experiences with Liz Jones in April.


Photo credits: family with tablet by Alexander Dummer; child with heart by Anna Kolosyuk, both on Unsplash.

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

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

Accountability groups: What? Where? Why?

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

Eleanor Abraham

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

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

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

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

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

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

Erin Brenner

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

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

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

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

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

Michelle McFadden

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

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

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

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

Julia Sandford-CookeJulia Sandford-Cooke

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

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

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

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


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


Photo credit: Hilltop silhouette Chang Duong on Unsplash

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

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

Freelance editing and COVID-19

By Liz Jones

As editors, we’re used to seeing the big picture as well as the small details, moving effortlessly between the two states of looking in the course of a project, or within a single page, often from one minute to the next. Our editorial eye shifts and refocuses, shifts and refocuses, until the job is complete. We are sometimes mistaken for perfectionists, but in reality we are bound by schedules and budgets, depending on pragmatism to guide us in our interpretation of the brief. We can only do what we can do. As professionals with a strong urge to make everything right, still we must accept that not everything is within our control.

Editors have been discussing these limits to what they can and can’t control in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic in the CIEP forums. As business owners we are encouraged – we encourage each other – to believe that we have autonomy. This is why we are freelance: it gives us the theoretical freedom to shape our working lives. To those who argue that it’s hard to wait for a reliable workstream to build up, we answer ‘put yourself out there, do more marketing’. To those who cite the seeming avalanche of competition for high-quality work, we reply ‘train harder, make yourself stand out’. We revere proactivity – and usually, this is reasonable. One of the measures of a successful freelancer is an ability to keep going through difficult times: to bounce back, to persist, to prevail.

But perhaps there are some crises in the face of which no amount of imagination, energy or tenacity will enable a coherent or effective response. And perhaps the social, emotional and economic shock we’re currently enduring is one of them. When asked about the effects the pandemic was having on their businesses, editors duly reported on the relatively ‘small’ details: loss of work, financial uncertainty, effect on mental health, juggling childcare/schooling, support from industry contacts, the (UK) government’s support package for workers. These are all things we can observe and measure, if not necessarily control, and people were thoughtful and generous in the responses they shared.

Loss of work

Work lost so far varies between individuals and by sector – and as some pointed out, it depends on how much work particular editors had in the first place. Some members have reported a complete loss of all work. Most had noticed a slowdown in new enquiries, especially from businesses and individuals such as self-publishing authors or academics, and many reported that projects had been delayed or cancelled. Not everyone has lost work, however. Those working in medical editing have reported more work than usual relating to the current situation, along with those working in educational publishing, as the need for teaching resources surges. Some publishing clients have been open with their freelance editors about their schedules, especially where they remain unchanged for now. Others have gone very quiet, especially when pushed to pay outstanding invoices.

Financial uncertainty

Of course, freelance work entails living with financial uncertainty at the best of times. We’re always expendable, vulnerable to the changing fortunes of our clients. But editors discussed the expectation of needing to depend on savings and investments in the coming months, if they have them, or of having to rely on a partner’s salary for support – again, if they have one. Even for those continuing to take on work, there’s more concern than usual that invoices will not be paid. (This might be a good time to start invoicing for at least part of the work upfront, for all clients, where usually we might be happier to work to 30-day terms for publishers and similar organisations.) People reported some immediate hardship, and the threat of more the longer this situation goes on.

Mental health

Most editors who answered reported that their mental health was OK – for now. Some acknowledged that it could be fragile, though, and needed monitoring. People were finding it hard to be physically separated from friends and loved ones. In terms of managing mental health, a few alluded to the medicinal properties of wine, while conceding that this could be a false friend. They also mentioned continued physical exercise, exposure to the outside world where possible, music, yoga and meditation, and pets as being beneficial. Perhaps freelance editors have an advantage when it comes to dealing with relative isolation. We are already used to working alone for long periods, and finding ways to restore our sanity and feelings of connection. People thanked the CIEP for continuing to support meetings between groups of editors via Zoom – an option increasingly taken up by various local groups. It’s possible that the immediate flurry of trying to reorganise our lives around the sudden restrictions has distracted us to the point of deferring a collective mental health crisis, but it was good to read that people are coping so far and have strategies to fall back on.

Caring responsibilities and school closures

Many of the editors who responded had caring responsibilities, including for school-aged children currently at home (and in need of some sort of schooling). This was affecting people’s working hours and causing some stress as a result. Of course many of us are fortunate in that we have relatively flexible work – but the days still have the same number of hours … and trying to look after children, provide them with some form of ongoing education and get some meaningful work done is exhausting, especially for those with younger children. Again, the restrictions on what can be done with children outside the home make things extra difficult. It may prove impossible to do anything other than the bare minimum of work in these conditions, meaning that regular activities essential to the growth of a business, such as marketing, are sidelined. It’s early days, but these challenges are only likely to increase, with no fixed end in sight. A few editors commented on the effects of having a partner working from home (where this was not usual), which can disrupt routines and put extra pressure on space.

Help from the industry

It was generally agreed that industry contacts can best support freelancers in this situation by being as open as they can about the impact of the crisis on schedules and workflows; keeping lines of communication open. This should apply in less extreme circumstances, too, but it’s especially important now. And arranging to pay freelancers on time for their work, and early if possible, is crucial. Perhaps it should go without saying, but it bears reiterating, that project managers (in-house or freelance) should only commission editorial work they can be confident of having sufficient cashflow to pay for.

Government support

At the time of writing, the UK government had offered a support package to self-employed people which should enable them to receive a grant of 80% of their average income for the past three tax years – three months’ pay up to a maximum of £2500 per month, in one lump sum. This was broadly welcomed by those it would help (though the money is not likely to be available until at least June) but, as many pointed out, it does leave key groups of freelance editors without access to adequate support or compensation. People who operate limited companies are not covered, and it also neglects people who have only recently become self-employed. The offer of support has also been made in such a way as to entrench the widespread (and unhelpful) perception that self-employed people habitually pay less tax than employees.

That’s a brief overview of what editorial freelancing in the current climate looks like, for now – the detail of our working lives in lockdown. People remain as positive as they can, but I think we should acknowledge that it is scary, and certain things do look really grim. Global events continue to unfold at a speed we’ve never really witnessed; by next week this article could look quite quaint. And as for that bigger picture – the long-term outlook, the landscape we’ll all be navigating once the crisis has passed? That remains to be seen.

Liz Jones is one of the editors on the CIEP’s information team.


CIEP members can keep in touch on the forums.

Follow your government’s coronavirus guidance (the UK’s is here).

If you are self-employed and eligible for a grant from the UK government, HMRC will be in touch.

IPSE is providing regular updates on support for the self-employed and limited companies during the pandemic.


Photo credits: Stay home Mohammad Fahim; Child and dog on laptop – Charles Deluvio, both on Unsplash.

Proofread and posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

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

Scammy editors, cautious editors, and the clients in between

By Kia Thomas

Recently, I received an email from the client whose manuscript I was working on. It said: ‘Just touching base to see if we are still on track for delivery of my manuscript by xx?’

I had given the author no reason to believe we wouldn’t be, so I could have, were I the type to take things overly personally, bristled at the implied questioning of my professionalism. But I hadn’t been in contact for a while (she’d sent the manuscript well before Christmas, but I wasn’t due to start until January), and I knew the author was on a tight schedule, so I sent a quick message back to say yes, still on track, and if I got done a few days early I’d send it back immediately.

I received another email straight away: ‘Wonderful. Thanks for the update. With the last editor, I sent a similar message and never heard back. It was a relief to even just see your name pop up.’ Then I remembered – the reason this client came to me was because they had been horribly let down by another editor, who had just disappeared on them after taking payment.

Editors like this exist, unfortunately. Outright scammers, or just unreliable people who have no idea how to act in a professional manner. They can be found in every profession, and ours is no exception.

Most of the online editorial circles I move in are filled with people who would never dream of taking advantage of a client. They would be ashamed of doing a half-arsed job. They could never imagine ignoring a client for weeks on end. This kind of behaviour is so far from their own experience of being an editor that I think many of them don’t quite understand just how often this happens to unsuspecting authors, and how devastating it can be. So when they start working with a client who questions all their procedures and ways of working, or who bombards them with emails and requests for progress reports, those editors can see these things as signs of an overbearing client. To be fair, that’s sometimes exactly what they are. But sometimes they’re the sign of someone who’s been badly burned. Every editor, and every business owner, for that matter, should remember that not all clients are approaching the relationship with the same expectations and baggage.

I think that as editors we could sometimes do better when it comes to understanding our clients’ concerns. There are people out there doing great damage to the reputation of our profession, in the indie world at least, and there’s a lot we can do to undo some of that damage and restore our collective good name.

Freelancing is full of risk. Good business owners do what they can to protect themselves from those risks. But we need to be aware of the effect this might have on our potential clients. For example, you could ask the question ‘Should an author pay an editor in full before receiving the edited manuscript?’ in an editors’ group and a writers’ group, and you’d get two different sets of answers. Editors would lean towards ‘Always get payment first’, backed up with horror stories of being ripped off by clients. Authors would lean towards ‘Never pay first’, backed up with stories of being ripped off by editors. Both things happen. Both sets of concerns are legitimate.

The problem comes, then, when we start seeing the expression of these concerns as red flags, when they might be nothing of the sort. An editor might be the perfect person for an author’s work, but if both have been cheated with regard to payment in the past, and so the editor refuses to release the edits before payment, and the author refuses to pay before seeing the edits, they’re at an impasse. A potentially brilliant working relationship could be lost before it’s even begun.

I think the solution lies, as it so often does, in empathy, honesty and communication. Our clients are investing sometimes huge sums of money with us, and handing over a piece of work that could have taken them years. That’s a lot to trust a total stranger with, so we should respect that. Where we have developed practices to protect our businesses from risks, perhaps we could be better at explaining to clients why. We don’t have to, of course – we are entirely free to run our businesses as we see fit and only work with clients who accept that unquestioningly. But honesty and openness are generally good things, and we could be opening up great opportunities for ourselves by bringing more of those things into our interactions with potential clients.

And perhaps there is also room for compromise. Again, no one has to compromise on anything if they don’t want to. But are there ways we can protect ourselves while also allowing our clients to protect themselves? For example, I have recently decided to move to asking for payment before delivery of the full edited manuscript. But I recognise that this might make some new clients nervous, so I offer to send an edited chapter on request, any chapter of the client’s choosing, so they can be reassured I have actually done the work.

It can be a difficult thing, to give people the benefit of the doubt when the stakes are high. A non-paying client, or one who oversteps boundaries, can cause huge problems for an editor. But we aren’t the only party who has something to lose. I wrote once about editing with kindness. We can do business with kindness too.

 

Kia ThomasKia Thomas spent 11 years in the arts before becoming a freelance fiction editor at the beginning of 2016. She specialises in contemporary romance and is an Advanced Professional Member of the SfEP. Kia lives in South Tyneside, and she can often be found networking with her colleagues in online spaces (ie spending too much time on Twitter).

 

This article was originally published on Kia’s blog on 4 February 2020. Many thanks to Kia for granting permission to amend and republish it.


Photo credits: notebook Kiwihug, baggage – Waldemar Brandt, both on Unsplash

Posted by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator.

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

Our SfEP local group – the first decade: ten years, ten observations

By Helen Stevens

In March 2009, on a whim, I contacted a local proofreader I’d come across when nosing around on Yell.com. We met for coffee and chatted about the possibility of starting a local SfEP group, and a couple of months later the first meeting of the West/North Yorkshire SfEP local group took place. Around 20 people came along – an amazing number for an initial gathering!

Having met every three months over the intervening years, in June 2019 we held our 41st local group meeting. Our theme for the meeting was onscreen mark-up (Google Docs, PDFs and Word Track Changes) – not a particularly celebratory topic, perhaps. But a couple of weeks later we got together for an unofficial tenth anniversary social event, enjoying a traditional Yorkshire curry and some more relaxed conversation.

Here are ten things I’ve learned from running the West/North Yorkshire SfEP local group for ten years.

1. There’s always something to talk about

I don’t particularly enjoy face-to-face networking, and I’m no fan of small talk, but when you’re among editors and proofreaders that doesn’t seem to be a problem. Whether you’re a complete newbie or an old hand, you can always chat about training, different types of editing and proofreading work, business issues (particularly if you’re a freelancer), previous work experience, etc. And most people are also happy to answer your questions about such topics, which can add another dimension to your own research in books or on websites.

2. I *can* organise an event

Several years ago I helped to organise a couple of major local events for a client, and I vowed never to do it again (too stressful!). Our local group meetings are kept deliberately low-key, but still require me to book a room at a suitable venue (see below), send out invitations, make sure we have a theme, keep a check on the numbers attending, liaise with the venue and ‘chair’ the meeting. There’s also a little bit of background admin: adding people to my email list and removing them as appropriate (in line with GDPR), notifying the SfEP community director of the date/time of our meetings and so on. This is all well within my comfort zone – and it seems to have worked so far.

3. The venue can be the biggest headache

I’m not talking about the helpfulness of the staff, the quality of the coffee or the hardness of the chairs – although they are significant factors. More importantly, the venue needs to be reasonably accessible (in terms of both transport links and individual mobility), cheap or free to use and of a suitable size for the number of people attending. The acoustics of the place can also be an issue if you’re hoping to have any sort of group discussion.

Our first meeting was in the lovely diner at Salts Mill (very noisy). We’ve since met at a nearby local café (we stopped meeting there when they suddenly wanted a booking deposit), upstairs at a couple of other cafés (one closed down, one could no longer accommodate a large group) and now in a smaller café in Salts Mill that’s reserved for our meeting. I’m not sure there’s such a thing as a perfect venue – the trick is to find one that ticks as many boxes as possible.

4. There isn’t a time/day that will suit everyone

I have to hold my hand up and say that when I started the group, I chose a time (and, indeed, a location) that suited me, but I recognise that our meeting times won’t suit everyone. We’ve always met during the day, and of course some people who’d like to attend simply aren’t available then. Holding evening meetings would be an option, but that wouldn’t suit everyone either (and would mean finding a new venue – see above!). We do at least vary the days of our meetings, as some members of the group have firm commitments (work or otherwise) that mean they can’t come on particular days. But the search for that elusive ‘perfect time’ continues…

5. Something with a theme works best

For the first couple of years our meetings were simply a chance for general (professional/social) chat, and that seemed to work fine. When we moved our meetings to a room upstairs in a local café, we had the opportunity for more focused discussions, and I think that has worked well. New people have a chance to find out about a specific topic, and it gives more experienced editors and proofreaders more of a reason to come to the meeting and share their experience (and, indeed, learn something new). It can be a challenge to find themes that appeal to such a wide range of people. Several group members have led sessions: we’ve had talks on public speaking training, proofreading annual reports, and editing from a fiction author’s point of view, as well as a very successful session on grammar, spelling and punctuation niggles. And we usually end the year with an ‘editorial highs and lows’ session in December: most people have had a high or low of some kind, whatever their level of experience.

6. People will come and go

The people who come along to our meetings are a constantly changing group. Yes, there are those who’ve been attending regularly for years (and some of these even came to that very first gathering). But we also have people who have been to one or two meetings and then (for whatever reason) didn’t come again, as well as those who’ve attended regularly until they retired, moved away from the area or decided on a different career path. This ever-changing membership helps to keep our meetings fresh, while still allowing participants to get to know a few familiar faces.

7. People will travel great distances for meetings

I chose Saltaire for our meetings because it’s reasonably well served by public transport and road links (as well as being a lovely place that’s right on my doorstep). But I’ve been really surprised over the years at the distances people are willing to travel to come to our group. From the earliest days we had a couple of members who came all the way from the wilds of the Yorkshire Dales, and we regularly have participants from Leeds, Wakefield, Doncaster, Huddersfield, Hull – and even darkest Lancashire! At the other end of the spectrum, and from a personal point of view, it’s also been great for me to get to know editors and proofreaders who live within a mile or two of me.

8. People are very different

Anyone who’s spent any time at all around editors and proofreaders will realise that there’s no such thing as ‘typical’. Our group welcomes those who are just considering a career in editing or proofreading, those who’ve started their training, those who’ve been working in the profession for a while and those who might be termed ‘veterans’. Some of them work on fiction, some specialise in legal, corporate, scientific or academic fields, and some do a little bit of everything! Although it’s sometimes a challenge to cater for all these disparate interests, I definitely think our meetings benefit from this mix.

9. We all learn from each other

Linked to the previous point, I think we all have a lot to learn from each other, whatever our level of experience or area of interest. Someone who’s new to the profession might have a deep knowledge of the different training options available. In-house staff will have different perspectives from those who work as freelancers. And we can definitely all learn from each other when it comes to the technical side of our work, whether that’s software tools to help with the job, social media platforms for marketing our services, different methods of getting paid or tax requirements for sole traders.

10. Local groups are vital for the SfEP

A thriving local group is a great way in to the SfEP. The discussions we have at our meetings aren’t designed to promote the Society explicitly, but I do think being part of a local group gives people a sense of what the SfEP is about: mutual support, learning, sharing ideas and experience and meeting like-minded others. From the Society’s point of view, getting people involved in local groups can be great for member recruitment and retention. For example, two people who’ve been involved in the West/North Yorkshire group now run other local groups, strengthening their personal engagement with the SfEP. Such engagement can feed through to regional mini-conferences and to the main SfEP conference: it’s so much nicer to attend an event if you know there are going to be at least a few familiar faces.

I’ve learned a lot during the SfEP West/North Yorkshire local group’s first ten years. It was lovely to mark the occasion with a relaxed social event, and I’m looking forward to the next ten years (if only because it’ll be an excuse for another curry).

Helen Stevens has been a freelance proofreader, editor and copywriter for over 20 years, and now specialises in academic and non-fiction editing. She enjoys walking, reading, and playing Scrabble and mahjong, though not all at the same time.

 


There are SfEP local groups all over the UK – as well as in Toronto, Canada. There is also an international Cloud Club for those unable to attend meetings in person.


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

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


 

Customer service: it’s all about imagination

By Sue Littleford

Towards the end of April, Cathy Tingle wrote an excellent post here on customer service. A bit of chat on the SfEP forums resulted in Cathy suggesting I write a follow-up, so here we are!

True story: I recently had to chase a client for payment. The due date was missed, so I emailed. I was told the same day that the project manager had emailed their manager and accountant to find out what was going on and to chase payment. Six days later I email again. That email is ignored. I wait five more days and email a third time, adding ‘3rd reminder’ to the subject line.
The manager hadn’t authorised my payment before going on a business trip to China, and his staff were having difficulty reaching him. Someone else in the company would now be responsible for pursuing this. Sorry. And that was it. I wasn’t told how long it would be before the manager was back in the UK, or at least in a country where they could expect to reach him. I wasn’t told how soon after the payment was authorised that I could expect the money to land in my bank account. It had taken nearly two weeks to get this far, which, as far as customer service goes, is pretty sucky (happy ending – I was paid three days later).

I’ve worked in customer service, one way or another, since I was 14 (and that’s a loooong time). I’ve handled complaints from the public, from colleagues, from MPs. I’ve held senior customer-facing posts in a major government department, and in the private sector. I’ve handled complaints face-to-face over a counter, in writing, by phone, in large meetings and by parliamentary question. And here’s what I’ve learned.

In a nutshell, good customer service comes down to an active imagination. Imagine – if I were the customer, what would I want? And then do that.

Easy? It can be, although some customers are just going to be a nightmare – keep those antennae attuned to your red flags and hope you sidestep all such folks. Assuming you’ve got a regular person for your customer, here are a few elements, unpacked.

1. Manage customer expectation

This is something my client signally failed to do. What does this mean? Put yourself in your customer’s shoes. Remember Kipling’s The Elephant’s Child? Set out your who, how, what, why, when and where. That should be in your contract, and it should be in your email or phone communication. Don’t be above issuing a gentle reminder on due dates, both yours and theirs, for things like sending out and getting back author queries. Talk to your client!

2. Make sure you’re on the same page as your client

Ensure they understand precisely what they’re paying for – what you won’t do as well as what you will. Make sure they understand how well you will do the work, when you’ll do it by, and how many rounds of editing that can involve for the price. Novice indie clients may need a lot more hand-holding with regard to the terminology of editing – we’ve all had people say they want a proofread when they need a developmental edit. On the other hand, publisher clients will occasionally call things by weird names. If in doubt, ask. Ensure you understand precisely what you’re being paid for.

3. Under promise and over deliver

But don’t be too far out of whack or your customer will think you’re either taking the mickey or are really, really bad at estimating.

Well, my client had managed to under promise by one definition, but that’s not what I mean. If they’d said ‘We’re so sorry about that; there was an internal breakdown in communication. But you’ll be paid by next Thursday’ and then paid me on Tuesday, that’s under promising and over delivering. There’s another aspect of this I’d like to sound a dire warning about: I just wish we could ban editorial folks from claiming to ‘perfect’ text. Some people even have it in their business name! With so much of English being subjective, how can you ever deliver perfection? Your perfect may not be your client’s perfect. But with some folks persisting in waving their ‘perfection’ banner, it makes clients think you’ve messed up even when you really, really haven’t.

If you do these three things, and the quality of your work is up to snuff, then you’re unlikely to get caught up in a complaint. But it can happen – maybe you messed up, maybe your client did (inaccurate or ambiguous brief, anyone?). Either way, your client isn’t happy with you or your work. What next?

1. Don’t ignore the complaint

Here be dragons. Pretending the complaint didn’t happen is truly awful customer service, and quite foolish since social media happened. Get a quick holding reply out – apologise without accepting responsibility (initially). ‘I’m so sorry to hear this. Let me take a look at it and get back to you. I hope to be able to do that [by when].’ That gives you time to check the brief/contract/your files and work out how valid the complaint is. If it is down to you, even in part, you’ll say so and apologise properly soon enough. A little tip – if the complaint comes in while you’re between jobs, and you have acres of time right now, still do the holding reply. Don’t rush your analysis of the complaint, and don’t rush your response. Complaints are emotional things, whether you’re in the right or in the wrong. Give yourself time to calm down.

2. Don’t reference satisfied customers as the norm

NEVER tell a customer that all your other customers are perfectly satisfied, even if it’s true, because if you’ve messed up for that client, your failure rate is 100% as far as they’re concerned. I’ve had this happen to me, and it just got my dander up. You don’t want to rile an already annoyed client. Don’t compare them with your other, perfectly content, customers – it can be read as a form of victim-blaming.

3. Put a lot of effort into responding to complaints

Make sure you’ve addressed each issue the customer has raised, even if you think it’s utter garbage; address each issue in full, anticipating as many rebuttals as you can; check and recheck and rerecheck your reply before sending it out. Again, use your imagination – put yourself in your customer’s position and craft the kind of response you’d want to receive; keep your zingers to yourself and don’t reply until you are perfectly calm. If you fail to do any of this, I can pretty much guarantee that the correspondence will continue to suck time out of your life, complaints will get escalated, perhaps to the SfEP complaints panel, and the complainant will tell all their friends that you are useless. Or they’ll use social media to tell the world that you’re useless.

4. Keep full records of the complaint and your response

Some complainants simply don’t know when to let something go, so you’ll want to have everything at your fingertips should they re-erupt. If your red-flag-o-meter didn’t go off and you have got a nightmare client, remember some people nurse their grudges and are quite happy to keep the complaint going as long as they can. That is taking up your working time, or your private time. Either way, the job is now earning you less and less per hour.

5. Know when enough’s enough

Some clients simply don’t know when to let go. If you’ve responded in detail to their complaint, and you consider you weren’t at fault, but the client keeps coming back, perhaps demanding a refund you know isn’t justified, there’ll come a time when you simply have to tell the client that you won’t engage in any further correspondence. Similarly, if you realise you were at fault, and you’ve rectified your mistake and/or made a partial refund, you may have a client who decides they want your work free of charge and keep nagging for a total refund. You’ll have to decide for yourself when the time has come to put an end to the exchanges. Nowadays, that does involve the risk of being attacked on social media, sadly, but you can’t be held hostage. This is why it’s more important than ever to ensure you and your client understand each other, and understand what each side’s responsibilities are in your transaction.


We’re all human, which means we all make mistakes. It’s how we deal with those mistakes that spells out the quality of our customer service. And how we avoid them in the first place.

I’ll finish up with a favourite quote from Henry Ford, who knew a thing or two about customer service. When checking the exact wording, I was delighted to see it included the I-word!

‘The man who will use his skill and constructive imagination to see how much he can give for a dollar, instead of how little he can give for a dollar, is bound to succeed.’

Sue LittlefordSue Littleford was a career civil servant before being forcibly outsourced. That was such fun she changed tack altogether and has been a freelance copy-editor since 2007, working mostly on postgraduate social sciences textbooks plus the occasional horseracing thriller. She is on Facebook and Twitter from time to time.

 


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

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