Tag Archives: business

How I got started – Graham Hughes

SfEP deskOne of the most common questions asked at Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP) local groups and by those interested in pursuing a career in editing or proofreading is: ‘How did you get started?’.

SfEP professional member Graham Hughes shares his story in this regular blog feature, which explores the many different career paths taken by SfEP members.

This really wasn’t part of the plan. From a ridiculously early age – around 14 – computing was the only career I could foresee for myself. I did the O Level, A Level and degree, and joined British Rail (yes, we’re going back a bit) as a programmer.

After about 15 years, several changes of role and a few changes of employer, I was in a rut. Fresh opportunities were limited by my old-fashioned technical skills, and the work was becoming mundane. I started looking for something else to do – first as a sideline, and maybe eventually as a career.

I saw an advert for the Writers Bureau’s Comprehensive Writing Course. This seemed like something I could do. I’d always felt comfortable working with documents, as well as programs. I did the course – most of it, anyway – and went on to have a sports history book, and some articles, published. Soon, though, I was struggling to produce ideas and convert them into paid work. After two years of not quite setting the world alight, my book was remaindered. The idea of making a living from writing seemed far-fetched.

So, what next? Another Writers Bureau course caught my eye: Proofreading and Copy Editing. It struck me that checking my material – rather than actually writing it – had probably been my main strength. How about checking other people’s material, and getting paid for it? Also, as Richard Hutchinson explains in his blog post on how he got started, there are parallels between programming and editorial work.

A plan came together: (1) do the course, (2) re-edit the book (yes, I now realise I probably should have used someone else), (3) self-publish it as an ebook, (4) look for work as a proofreader or editor. The last part was the tricky one.

My first job wasn’t quite what I’d had in mind. After I’d emailed the leader of a local writers’ group, one of its members asked me to type a short play script that he’d handwritten. He accepted my offer to edit it as well, so it felt like some kind of a start.

After that, finding work was very tough. With my full-time employment in IT, I couldn’t take on big jobs, or even smallish time-critical ones. I joined the SfEP, after dithering for several months, and started learning a lot about proofreading and editing, especially from the SfEP forums – but progress was snail-paced for the next year or so.

The big change came when my IT job ended, semi-voluntarily. Rather than looking for a new one, I decided (nervously) to focus on freelance editorial work. I did look for in-house editorial jobs close to home, but there seemed to be nothing available for someone with my limited credentials. The next few months were very challenging: a few small jobs, then nothing for nearly three months; but my progress with the Publishing Training Centre (PTC) Basic Proofreading course gave me some hope.

Then, suddenly, the work started coming – mostly from students, largely thanks to the Find a Proofreader website and a helpful, nearby SfEP member with an overflowing workload (thanks Helen). Around this time (spring 2014), I completed the PTC course, along with other training, and became an ordinary member of SfEP (now known as professional member), which helped to bring in more work. To shore up my finances, I downsized from a suburban semi-detached house to an urban flat (no great wrench), wiping out my mortgage.

Since then, things have been gradually coming together. I’ve been doing more work for business rather than students, also proofreading two books for a publisher. I’m now leaning more towards editing, to make use of the decent writing skills that I feel I have (though you might disagree, reading this). Technology and business have become my predominant subject areas. Via a long-winded route, I think I’ve ended up in my ideal job.

If you’re thinking of getting into editing and/or proofreading, I strongly recommend it, if you think it’s right for you and vice versa. Being a keen reader isn’t enough: you need a sound understanding of spelling, grammar and punctuation, a knack for paying attention to detail, a professional attitude and a willingness to stay positive and persistent as you build your business. If that’s you: good luck!

Graham HughesGraham Hughes still can’t quite get used to the idea of telling people he’s a proofreader and editor, rather than saying he’s ‘in IT’. He started doing part-time editorial work, and joined SfEP as an associate (now known as entry-level member), in 2012. He went full-time in 2013, before becoming an ordinary member (now known as professional member) of the SfEP – and an online forum administrator – the following year. To learn more about his background and services, please visit the GH Editorial website.

Proofread by SfEP entry-level member Susan Walton.

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

Keeping it real

SfEP ordinary member Dr Rosalind Davies explores what editors and proofreaders, who operate in a largely virtual space, can learn from businesses that function in a more ‘real’ physical environment.

The Chamber of Commerce in Rochester, Michigan, recently welcomed a writing and editing service to the local business community. The new company, So It Is Written, was officially opened with a ribbon-cutting ceremony at 4 p.m. on 12 September 2014.

I smiled as I imagined a similar ceremony in my home office – local business leaders making their way up the stairs to my spare room and crowding in the doorway to watch the unveiling of the computer, telephone, photocopier and coffee mug. Although I found it easy to laugh at what seemed to be an over-formal rigmarole, I quickly had second thoughts. Doesn’t the ribbon-cutting ceremony in Rochester symbolise a new way of looking at the business of editing and writing – at my business?

So It Is Written is an editing business that has laid claim to the same presence and credibility as any other business – a restaurant, art gallery or meat production plant. I stopped laughing about the ribbon-cutting when I realised that this opening ceremony represented a grounding of editorial skills, calling them down from the clouds and marking out a physical space for them.

The Good Copy

The same principle is expressed in another new start-up, The Good Copy, which occupies a large building on a street in Melbourne, Australia. ‘Episode 1’ of the promotional video on The Good Copy’s homepage begins in the dust and debris of the building’s conversion into a ‘newsagent for writers’. We watch as builders drink from polystyrene cups and hammer nails into shelves.

Like the Rochester editing business, The Good Copy’s mission is to bring editors, writers and publishers together and to give them real retail space in which to interact. What is usually, for most editorial freelances, an electronic exchange between supplier and client here takes on flesh and blood in the Melbourne suburb. The Good Copy also aims to populate my own empty-looking work space with a tool kit – what it calls ‘hardcore resources’ – trade magazines, notebooks, style guides and dictionaries, and it believes that my skills could be part of a face-to-face market exchange that takes place as I drink coffee with people who are looking for someone to ‘write stuff for them’.

For some in our profession, the act of editing and writing is beginning to take up real space and retail space, and I, for one, love the idea that I could create a tangible presence for work that is mostly solitary and electronic. Even if this is too ambitious, even if the mechanisms for the way I work do not change, there are things that I can do – new attitudes to adopt – that will make a difference to the way I talk about my work and the way that other people perceive it. The business/communal mindset evidenced by the ribbon-cutting in Rochester and the shopfront in Melbourne should help me to revamp my PR skills and fuel my determination to say ‘I’m doing something here. I’m making something. This is the place I do it in.’

It’s a challenge for the editorial professional to communicate real-world skills and the value that they will add to the presentation, effectiveness and clarity of online or printed content. While we celebrate the connectedness and speed of our access to a global market and its clients, it’s a mistake to forget the reality of the local business community. We must find our way into it, to explore new sources of work, to enjoy a sense of belonging and to make space for the real products that are words and messages.

Ros DaviesRosalind Davies is a copy-editor, writer and communications consultant and the coordinator of the Devon SfEP group. You can find out more about projects she is involved in on her Facebook page. You can also follow her on Twitter. She is available, free of charge, for ribbon-cutting ceremonies.

Proofread by SfEP associate Susan Walton.

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