Tag Archives: editors

The hidden art of editing – the 2016 Whitcombe lecture

By Susan Greenberg

When I was first invited to give the keynote Whitcombe lecture at this year’s SfEP conference, they told me about the theme for this year – ‘Let’s talk about text’ – and explained: ‘Our members’ work is very varied, but we are all in the business of improving text.’

I feel a deep affinity with this approach. I have spent the greater part of my life thinking about what it means to improve texts; first as a practitioner, then as an academic.

When I started a PhD to go with this new career, about 10 years ago, I wanted to choose a subject that connected these two different lives. And I chose editing in particular because – like other behind-the-scenes work – it is mostly invisible; a hidden art. It would be interesting to bring it more fully into view.

Right from the start, my instinct was to look at the subject in the round. The analysis had to be comparative; it had to take the long view, and it had to include the insights of practitioners. The comparative aspect is crucial, because we already know how the different kinds of editorial work are different; why not ask how they might be similar?

Z_EditorsCoverSo far, one book has already come out of this research, and work on a second is advanced. In the first book, a set of interviews, we get to hear conversations on a human level about what people do when they are editing and what they think about it. This does three main things:

  1. It teases out the shared concerns of different kinds of editors.
  2. It gives a rough shape of a possible ‘best practice’.
  3. It underlines the extent to which good communication is hard; and so the extent to which people need help.

The second book is based on the idea that to bring this invisible practice into full view, we need not just description and definition, but also a really good theory.

We think of ‘theory’ as something high-minded and abstract, but it can and does affect everyday life. Compared to other cultural practices, publishing is very under-theorised. And this can end up undermining its value or status. The reason is that people need a framework in which they can fit random discoveries; otherwise the things they encounter are not fully noticed or remembered.

So, one needs a theory, but the type of theory makes a difference to visibility as well. Until now, the theorisation of editing often comes under the heading of ‘social constructivism’ and often uses the language of ‘gatekeeping’. This is a useful metaphor, but it can struggle to fit all sizes. And it sometimes makes too many assumptions about its subject. The assumption in the case of editing is usually that the ‘gatekeeper’ is always bad, and is always found only in whatever part of the media that the researcher does not like.

That is why I feel there is a need to define principles for textual work that make more allowances for the messiness of human practice.

Dr Susan Greenberg

Dr Susan Greenberg

Dr Susan L. Greenberg is Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing at the University of Roehampton [1], following a long career as journalist and editor. She teaches and offers doctoral supervision in her specialist areas of narrative nonfiction, and publishing. Susan is also the Publisher of the department’s in-house imprint, Fincham Press [2]. Publications include Editors talk about editing: insights for readers, writers and publishers (Peter Lang, 2015) [3]. Visit her blog at Oddfish [4] or follow her on Twitter at @sgediting. [5]

Publishers, pigeons and German knitting: musings on the London Book Fair

By Margaret Hunter

As many of you will know (at least avid forum readers), I recently ran an SfEP stand at the London Book Fair, ably assisted by a crack team of volunteer members. Was it worth it? Only time will tell in terms of actual new joiners and new clients using our services, but my overall impression is yes!

New members? New clients?

SfEP stand at London Book Fair 2016Being a publisher-focused event – and more than that, being a very sales-focused event – I feared we might have many visits from people who wanted to sell us their latest gizmo or whizzy program, or indeed bend our ears about their authorial masterpiece. We did get a couple of those visits, but thankfully not too many.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that most of our conversations were meaningful and productive. I was particularly pleased that we had a pretty even mix of visitors: people working as editors or proofreaders (or wanting to) who were looking for support, and also publishers and authors looking for good professional help. There is a need for us!

The in-person contact gave us the chance to talk through people’s questions about joining, upgrading and training, as well as show off the benefits of membership, including participation in the forums and local groups, and these were met with enthusiasm. Look out for potential new joiners visiting your local group to ‘try before they buy’!

Publishers and authors, as potential clients, were very pleased to hear of our directory and we showed lots of people how to use it. Many expressed appreciation of the fact that everyone in our directory has had to show certain levels of competence and experience to attain their grade of membership, which goes to show that it’s well worth upgrading as soon as you can. Clients are desperate to find a reliable source of good editors and proofreaders in the murky sea of internet listings.

So that’s what editors do

Of course, we had many interesting discussions on the value of proofreading and editing and how the process works. One self-publishing author asked whether it was really worth having his book edited as he’s already listed it on Amazon and it is selling. He went on to answer his own question by revealing that the reviews he has received so far are all along the lines of ‘Good book. Shame about the typos’.

It was enlightening for him to hear about what we editors actually do. When I mentioned that a lot of the job is about consistency checks his response went something like this: ‘Oh, so you take care of all of that? Wow! I could have done with that service for my last book.’ I asked him why. He explained that a friend had read his book and really liked it, then asked: ‘But what happened to the body in the park?’ One for the good fiction editor’s checklist, I think!

That can’t be Margaret!

Aptly named editors Sentance and Shakspeare

Shakspeare and Sentance

The Fair was also an opportunity to get to know some other SfEP members better, and I was able to share information about SfEP that some didn’t know. As well as those who helped to run the stand, other members popped by to say hello. At one point we had two very aptly named editors on hand.

It was great to hear about what other editors and proofreaders do in their businesses and to share their stories, instructive as well as funny. And you learn the most interesting things when you speak to editorial professionals. For example, I found out that there is a ‘German way’ of knitting that’s visibly noticeable to those in the know. That’s the sort of ‘useful fact’ that comes out in group and forum discussions that editors can tuck away in the hope that one day it will come in handy.

Meeting in person those so far encountered only virtually can, however, be a revelation. When I was deep in conversation with a stand visitor I was pointed out to one of our number. ‘But that can’t be Margaret!’ came the response. ‘I thought she was tall!’ [I’m not – you know who you are ;-)]

But what about the pigeon, I hear you ask. Well, I think she just came for the biscuits.

Visitng pigeon at LBF16Many thanks to our lovely members who gave time and enthusiasm to help run the stand: Josephine Bacon, Alex Boon, Piers Cardon, John Firth, Jane Hammett, Anya Hastwell, Mary Hobbins, Richard Hutchinson, Liz Jones, Jackie Mace, Rene Nel, Peter Norrington, Alison Shakspeare, Richard Sheehan, Wendy Toole, Jeremy Toynbee, Alison Walters.

Margaret HunterMargaret Hunter is a freelance copy-editor, proofreader and formatter and is the SfEP’s marketing and PR director.

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Posted by Tracey Roberts, SfEP blog coordinator.

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

The Judith Butcher Award: recognising our unsung volunteers

Judith ButcherNominations for the 2015 Judith Butcher Award are now open. So what is the Judith Butcher Award and why should you think about nominating someone to win it?

As with many organisations, much of the success of the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP) is down to the tireless work of volunteers behind the scenes. To recognise these efforts, the SfEP established the Judith Butcher Award in 2011 to ensure individuals who make a valuable difference to the SfEP and its membership are rewarded for their contributions.

Named after our serving president, the Judith Butcher Award was first presented at the SfEP 2012 annual general meeting and is awarded annually at our AGM and conference.

As well as being the SfEP’s first honorary president, Judith Butcher is the author of Butcher’s Copy-editing: The Cambridge Handbook for Editors, Copy-editors and Proofreaders.

The first winner of the Judith Butcher Award was Lesley Ward who was a member of the SfEP’s founding committee, served as the SfEP’s first treasurer and played a major role in developing its training programme.

Since then, the Judith Butcher Award honoured Helen Stevens in 2013 for ‘doing a huge amount of work to bring the SfEP right up to date on social media platforms, especially through the Facebook page’. Helen has previously served as the SfEP marketing and PR director.

Judith Butcher Award 2014Last year, Averill Buchanan received the Judith Butcher Award for being ‘the driving force behind the Northern Ireland SfEP local group’. She was particularly commended for her efforts in organising training courses in the region and promoting these through social media. Averill also set up the SfEP Twitter account and recruited a team of volunteers to help her manage the account and has volunteered as a moderator on the SfEP forum.

One of the best things about the Judith Butcher Award is that the criteria seek to recognise those who have made important, but less obvious, contributions to the organisation, as well as those who have made more visible differences. So have a think about who you have been in contact with over the past year and how they have impacted on you and your experience of the SfEP.

Nominations for the Judith Butcher Award are open until midday on Monday 20 April 2015 and all you need to do is email your own name and SfEP membership number and up to 150 words supporting your nomination to: jba@sfep.org.uk.

You can nominate anyone within the SfEP except yourself, serving council members, existing honorary members or anyone who was shortlisted for the award last year (so, sadly, that rules out Sarah Patey and John Woodruff).

The nominations are then considered by a Judith Butcher Award sub-committee, which is made up of honorary SfEP members and past winners of the Award, before a shortlist is announced in June and the winner decided in July.

Now it’s over to you to ensure our best asset, our members, are duly recognised and celebrated.

Email your nominations to jba@sfep.org.uk by midday on Monday 20 April 2015.

Joanna BoweryJoanna Bowery is the SfEP social media manager. As well as looking after the SfEP’s Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn accounts and the SfEP blog, she offers freelance marketing, PR, writing and proofreading services as Cosmic Frog. Jo is an entry-level member of the SfEP and a Chartered Marketer. She is active on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+.

Proofread by SfEP entry-level member Susan Walton.

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

Working with self-publishing authors – Part 2: expectations and implementation

Self-PublishingIn Part 1: An industry of opportunity, SfEP ordinary member Sophie Playle explored who self-publishes, why and how self-publishing has developed over the years, and what this means for editorial freelances. In this post, she’ll be looking at the more practical elements of working with self-publishing authors.

Note: This post has been written with editorial professionals in mind. As with any type of client, it goes without saying that it’s important your skills are fit for purpose. This post doesn’t go into the foundations of training and finding clients, but instead looks at what an editor might consider when working directly with self-publishing authors.

1. Assessing the project for the right service

The number one thing to remember about self-publishing authors is that most of them do not know much about the editing industry. Their main job is to write, after all. They’re often aware that they need editorial help to self-publish professionally, but are not sure exactly what this entails.

Many writers will think they just need a quick proofread to catch any typos when the reality is that most would benefit from a development edit and a copy-edit first. These terms are often unfamiliar to writers, and since there are so many editors offering slightly different variations of the same service (which is also often called something slightly different), a little confusion can only be expected.

Communication is key with self-publishing clients. (Well, all clients, really!)

Ask what the client wants to achieve, and what they expect from your service. Take a look at a sample of the work – this is crucially important. Remember: there are no gatekeepers here, so the quality of work will vary greatly.

If you believe the client’s expectations don’t quite match what the project needs, open a discussion on why you think this, and how you can help.

Alternatively, if you can’t help – for example, if the client really needs a development edit but you specialise in proofreading – decline the work and point them in the right direction, whether that’s to an editorial friend who offers a different service, or to the SfEP directory of editorial services, or some other resource.

2. Assessing the project for compatibility of style

This might be most relevant to fiction writers, but in my experience many self-publishing authors are looking for an editor who ‘gets them’. They want to feel that the project that they’ve poured their heart and soul into, possibly over the course of several years, is in safe hands and that the editor isn’t going to mess it up.

An independent author doesn’t have the assurance of a publishing house that you’re going to do the best job. They only have their own assessment of you and your editing skills – based on recommendations and what they’ve gleaned from your public professional presence. They want to know they’ve made the right choice.

In fact, the client’s freedom to choose a compatible editor with whom to work is a benefit traditionally published authors often don’t get.

It’s in the editorial professional’s best interest, too, to work with compatible clients. For development editors, this might mean working with an author in your genre of interest. For a copy-editor, this might mean working with an author whose style you understand. There’s nothing more horrifying to a writer than to receive an edited manuscript in which the editor has stripped out all nuances of their voice.

Working with compatible clients means you can do your best work, and your client will feel they are in good hands.

How do you assess for compatibility? You might want to offer a sample edit – paid or free, that’s up to you. You might want to get to know your client and find out more details about their project through email or phone conversation before you commit to working with them.

There are lots of ways to go about this. The result should be that both you and your client feel confident that you understand each other.

3. Setting boundaries and looking after your client’s emotional needs

Self-publishing authors often require a little more reassurance and communication from their editors. They usually don’t have an agent or a publisher to answer their questions – they rely on you for your professional knowledge of the industry.

You’re often their main professional contact, and this means they have one burning question they want to ask you: ‘Is my work any good?’

I’ve heard varying opinions from freelance editorial professionals on whether or not we should pass judgement on a self-publisher’s work. Do we refuse projects if we think they are of unpublishable quality? Or should we simply do the job we’re being paid to do?

On the one hand, we are not gatekeepers. And whatever we say in response to this question would be purely opinion. (If I’d been asked whether 50 Shades of Grey would have been a success, I’m confident I would have said no!) We’re being paid to conduct a service, and so that’s what we should do. The rest is out of our control.

On the other hand, if a self-publisher asks for our thoughts or hires us for our professional skills, don’t we have an obligation to pass on our professional opinion? Isn’t that what they’re paying for? (Or should they only expect this if they’re paying for a critique?)

It’s a conundrum. There’s no right answer. My one tip? Make sure you communicate with your author. Don’t offer unwanted criticism (or unwanted mollycoddling), and let your author know your stance on the issue before you begin working together.

Be clear on your professional boundaries from the outset. You’ll be working directly with the creator, and this person will be emotionally invested in the project and possibly not have much experience of navigating the publishing world as a professional business owner (a hat self-publishers must decide to wear if they want to be successful). Clear terms and conditions are key. Look after yourself, as well as your client.

In summary, self-publishing clients have slightly different needs to other kinds of clients, and these should be taken into consideration. The main things to think about are whether they are commissioning the best service for their project, whether your editing style is best matched to their writing needs, and the emotional and professional boundaries you will address in the working relationship.

When it comes down to it, these are all issues of consideration and communication. I hope these pointers will help you and your self-publishing clients get the most out of your work together.

Sophie Playle profile photographSophie Playle, of Liminal Pages, is a freelance editor who specialises in fiction and often works directly with writers. For brownie points, connect with her on Twitter and LinkedIn. (Please note: No real brownies or points will be awarded.)

Proofread by SfEP ordinary member Samantha Stalion.
Photo credit: kodomut

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

A day in my life: Lucy Metzger

IMG_2999What exactly do editors and proofreaders get up to every day? This is a question we will be exploring in a new, regular feature: A day in my life. We start off with an insight into the life of SfEP regional development director Lucy Metzger.

I’m at work the moment my feet hit the floor around 6.15 a.m., but I don’t start getting paid until about 9.00 a.m. In between I’m waking teenagers, making teas and coffees (I must add that later in the day my teenagers sometimes make ME a cuppa) and packed lunches, waking teenagers again, telling teenagers I don’t know the whereabouts of their headphones/maths jotters/black-cardigan-no-not-THAT-black-cardigan, waking teenagers again and finally ensuring that they all end up in school. I drive home on a wee stretch of country road to escape the school-run traffic. That little drive, listening to the tail end of the Today programme, eases my transition from Mother Lucy to Editor Lucy.

There are many things I miss about office life, and I don’t know what I’d do without my Glasgow group companions, but I do relish that solitude as I sit down at my computer to begin work. Ideally the tasks I do between 9.00 a.m. and 1.00 p.m. are those that require my best thinking, as far as that goes. What’s ‘best’? Creative, analytical, intuitive – different jobs require different kinds of thoughts, but my mind is definitely better in the morning. A lot of the time I’m copy-editing academic books and textbooks. I usually conceive of the editing as being in two phases: the bits-and-pieces and then the reading. The morning is my best time for the reading. It’s also when I mark mentoring assignments, which requires careful thought as each mentee raises new kinds of queries and issues; and the morning is good for any writing I’ve got to do, e.g. reports or proposals for the SfEP council, training materials, a note for Editing Matters, or even a blog post.

My lunch isn’t a single meal – I snack: a cracker with cheese, a bowl of muesli, some leftover rice, some fruit. If I’m starting a new book then I’ll typically begin it in the afternoon and do routine checks: chapter titles vs table of contents, numbering of illustrations, styling of headings and subheadings, checking references and notes, etc. These tasks are good for afternoon. I don’t want to give the impression that I become completely incompetent at that time (the jury’s still out on that one), but these activities don’t exert my mental muscles quite as much. Such checking almost always throws up a few things to ask the author about, and this makes an opportunity to establish communication by means of some relatively lightweight queries – ‘which version would you prefer for the title of Chapter 3?’ – rather than plunging straight into the nitty-gritty – ‘I wonder if you could clarify what you mean by “if the subject (the individual is individual) is determined, yet only as being undetermined, then that which determines the subject, i.e. the predicate (the particular), is taken to be in-determining any determination”?’ I’m not kidding. Anyway, that kind of query is a morning query and definitely belongs in the second or third email to the author, not the first.

For the last few years, I’ve used the school day to predict exactly how many hours I’d have between sitting down at my computer and the first ‘hello’ of one of my kids coming in the door (they walk home). This year, though, my oldest is in sixth form and so may turn up at any time. I don’t like pointless interruptions, but it’s lovely to be interrupted by that. We have a little chat and then when she starts wondering about food I turn her loose on the leftovers in the fridge. I then get back to work, and so, I can only suppose, does she. Then the other two come home, and on goes my Mother Lucy hat again, which feels really nice.

How does this compare with a typical day in your life? We’d love to hear about what you get up to. If you’d like to share your ‘day in the life’ story, please email smm@sfep.org.uk.

Lucy MetzgerLucy Metzger grew up in Illinois and began proofreading in 1987. She edited for Macmillan in London from 1990 to 1995; she then moved to Scotland and went freelance. She is based in Glasgow. Lucy works mostly on academic and educational materials. She has three children, is an amateur musician, likes cooking and taking walks, and is learning to crochet.

Proofread by SfEP associate Patric Toms.

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

Working with self-publishing authors – Part 1: an industry of opportunity

Self-Publishing

SfEP ordinary member Sophie Playle explores the opportunities available for editors and proofreaders to work with self-publishing authors.

The self-publishing boom has happened and it’s here to stay. Options are increasing for writers choosing to take ownership of the publication of their books, and so are opportunities for editors.

Who self-publishes?

Many self-publishers are writers who have not managed to seduce the necessary gatekeepers stationed along the traditional publishing route – not necessarily because their writing is not of publishable quality, but because the publishers don’t believe in their potential to make money in the market. Fair enough – publishers are businesses, after all.

Now, though, writers can choose to take their own risks.

Many writers decide to self-publish simply for the freedom of it all. Some even decide to leave their publishing houses and go it alone because they see it as the better option. (Hello, 70% royalty …)

Rising quality, rising numbers

No longer seen as a practice in vanity, many self-publishers are now fully aware of the challenges they face, and how best to overcome these challenges. As a result, there is a new breed of independent (indie) authors: they are both literary creatives and publishing entrepreneurs.

Did you know …?

  • Self-published books’ share of the UK market grew by 79 per cent in 2013*
  • 18m self-published books were bought by UK readers last year, worth £59m*
  • The Big Five traditional publishers now account for only 16 per cent of the e-books on Amazon’s bestseller lists**

* The Guardian, ‘Self-publishing boom lifts sales by 79% in a year’, Jun 2014
** Author Earnings report, Jul 2014

According to an article posted on Publishing Perspectives (Oct, 2014), literary agent Andrew Lownie believes that in 5–10 years, 75 per cent of books will be self-published, 20 per cent assisted by agents, and only 5 per cent traditionally published. Whether he’s right or wrong is another matter, but it just goes to show how much of an impact the independent author is having on the publishing world.

A wealth of resources

Technology is the catalyst for these opportunities. The e-book format and print-on-demand (POD) services like Smashwords and Lulu provide affordable production. Companies like Amazon, Apple and Barnes & Noble provide the marketplaces. Every service in between, from editing to cover design, can be found online, and through new marketplace websites, too, such as Reedsy.

And with the Internet, indie authors have a wealth of information at their fingertips. Not sure how to get your book on the shelves at Waterstones? Or perhaps not sure whether you need to buy an ISBN (or that you know what to do with it)? Never fear, Google is here.

A digital revolution

The Internet is a big deal. I mean, it’s a serious game-changer – in so many ways, but especially for the publishing industry. (Truth be told, I don’t think traditional publishing houses have quite caught up yet.)

At the click of a button, people can access the specific information, entertainment or inspiration they’re looking for. This means that businesses no longer have to go hunting for punters in the old, traditional ways (posters, flyers, radio adverts), because those clients are actively seeking them out.

Instead of a scattergun approach to marketing (least effective), businesses can use targeted pull-marketing (most effective).

What does this mean for the independent author? Well, instead of spending all their time writing alone in their studies, they are now able to connect to their readerships online – through social media, blogs and websites.

Remember the publishing house that was concerned there wasn’t a market for that book? Doesn’t matter, because the indie writer can build their readership from the ground up. That’s the power of the Internet.

What does this mean for editors?

In a word: opportunity.

Self-publishers used to have a bad name. Some still do – but it’s no longer a sweeping generalisation. In the end, poor-quality books will sink and good-quality books will rise. Indie authors are cottoning on to that – and they understand they need to invest in their own quality control.

That’s where we come in.

Sophie Playle profile photograph

Sophie Playle, of Liminal Pages, is a freelance editor who specialises in fiction and often works directly with writers. She has an MA in creative writing and has just had her SfEP membership upgraded to ordinary (soon to be professional) member. You can follow her on Twitter.

Proofread by SfEP associate Ravinder Dhindsa.
Photo credit: kodomut

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

The internet and the democratisation of English. Part 2: Tear up the rule book?

Sue Littleford, an advanced member of the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP), has written a series of four blog posts exploring how the internet has contributed to the democratisation of the English language. Here is part two:

Tear up the rule bookIn part one, I talked about the changes I envisage the internet bringing to the range of Englishes currently spoken around the world. I was brought up with the mantra ‘Might Isn’t Right’. But as the internet leads to the blurring of the boundaries between all the world’s Englishes, might is most definitely right.

While we undergo this particular phase of language development, though, it will become harder and harder to teach ‘proper’ English; it will become harder and harder to justify changes when editing and proofreading, too. We are already careering towards a more global English, when the habits of one variety will bleed into the others. We are in the privileged position of watching it happen as no other generation has been able to do before. Its speed is breathtaking. Sometimes our stomachs flip. Sometimes it hurts our eyes. Sometimes you just want a few solid rules to cling onto, as they gave their shape to the English we knew growing up.

Evolution of the language didn’t stop when I was at school. It’s not stopped yet. It won’t ever. For now, it’s speeding up, fuelled by people communicating with each other in numbers never seen before, and displayed for all to see on the platform of the internet.

I remember an English lesson when I was aged ten or so, in which the wonderful Mr Harwood told us that the plural of hoof is hooves or hoofs, and that the plural of roof is roofs or rooves; that neither was wrong but that hooves and roofs were more commonly used. Well, that’s settled down in the last half-century. I don’t think I’ve ever seen rooves since. But I’ve also not yet come across anyone else who was taught that there are varieties of ‘correct’ and that weight of numbers matters in language (might actually becomes right in the end).

We’ve all seen evolution in action – consider E-mail to e-mail to email; on line to on-line to online. The new edition of the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary brought out in 2007 took out 16,000 hyphens. Evolution is accompanied by mass extinction events, after all.

Even experienced editors, who know all this stuff, sometimes betray themselves with a ‘Well, I was taught….’ or a ‘Which is correct…?’ Language is moving too fast, now. It’s always been a numbers game. ‘Aks’ for ask is around a thousand years old in Britain. So is singular ‘they’, plural ‘none’ and a host of other usages the reactionaries lambast as Wrong. Thousand-year-old mistakes perpetuated by the hoi polloi, or thousand-year-old valid alternatives? Who decides?

What’s hard to accept, perhaps particularly for those who really paid attention at school (but who weren’t lucky enough to have Mr Harwood) and have stuck to what they were taught ever since, despite the evidence all around them, is that there is no outside authority dictating these ‘rules’ or arbitrating disputes about them. There is just opinion: informed, uninformed and not yet formed. And there is time. And there are users of English. There is not necessarily consensus. Mash those up together, then you’ll find the prescriptivists are fighting a losing battle.

So – what’s to be done? We editors and proofreaders need to know our stuff, and to be able to defend our edits. How can we do this against a background where language is turning to quicksand? Two words: style guide.

The style guide will, I think, become the touchstone. It will be the standard for that publisher, that government, that company as now, but I can see that copy-editors will need to be far more proactive in producing style guides for clients. I suspect that more and more organisations will be publishing theirs, as The Economist, the Guardian, the BBC and the UK government have done. We will need to be aware of what free-standing style guides are available and talk to clients about choosing the one that best fits them, with or without a degree of personalisation.

The rule book isn’t dead – it never really lived. But style guides? They’ll go on forever.

Sue LittlefordSue Littleford was a career civil servant before being forcibly outsourced. That was such fun she changed tack altogether and has now been a freelance copy-editor for seven years, working mostly on postgraduate textbooks plus the occasional horseracing thriller. She is on Facebook and Twitter.

Proofread by SfEP associate Sandra Rawlin.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect 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.

A copy of Martin Chuzzlewit before being restored by Exeter Bookbinders

SfEP Devon group discovers the beauty of bookbinding

Chaim Ebanks from Exeter Bookbinders demonstrates bookbinding to the Devon SfEP group

Chaim Ebanks from Exeter Bookbinders

The beauty of a good piece of writing is in its content and style, which is what the editor and proofreader will tend to focus on. But hard-copy books are about more than cleverly written prose – they can often be works of art in their own right. Books can engage all our senses: the heady smell when you enter a bookshop; the sound of the paper as you turn a page; the salt you can almost taste on your lips as you read a scene depicting a windswept beach; and the pleasure that courses through your veins as you caress that dog-eared copy of your favourite novel.

Sadly, despite lots of TLC, our most treasured books can become more than a bit dog-eared. And that’s where expert bookbinders can come to the rescue, restoring our special books to their former glory.

After a fascinating session on bookbinding at last year’s SfEP conference, the SfEP Devon group recently invited Chaim Ebanks from Exeter Bookbinders to speak at one of its regular meetings in Exeter. Armed with a bone folder, needle and waxed thread, goatskin, and two Marmite jars containing mysterious ingredients (definitely not what was on the label), Chaim set about demonstrating the ancient art of bookbinding.

The session began with a brief history of writing systems covering soft clay tablets, the introduction of scrolls, the advent of paper and the use of wax tablets.

Chaim then set about demonstrating how to bind a book. The process involves sewing signatures – the folded papers that will become sections of pages – together with waxed thread before adding open-weave calico tapes to cover the sewing and strengthen the spine. The spine is then glued with polyvinyl acetate (one of the mysterious concoctions in Ebanks’s Marmite jars). Once the glue has dried, endpapers are added to the front and back and the book is covered with goatskin. The book is then placed in a clamp overnight to exclude any excess air and ensure a tight finish. The bone folder (made of whalebone) is used throughout the process to eliminate any creases or baggy edges.

Having demonstrated how to bind a book, Chaim then set to work adapting the process to restore a rather worn-out hardback copy of Dickens’s Martin Chuzzlewit. The book had definitely seen better days and its cover was completely detached.

A copy of Martin Chuzzlewit before being restored by Exeter Bookbinders

Before

However, after gently dismantling the cover and spine, Chaim added a new cover and endpapers before applying liberal amounts of bookbinders’ paste (the other mysterious concoction in his Marmite jars) to reveal a miraculously rejuvenated book.

 

The restored volume of Martin Chuzzlewit after Chaim Ebanks of Exeter Bookbinders rebound the book.

After

It still has the character of an old book, its pages marked with foxing (browned due to the ferrous oxidisation of the acid in the paper), but now has a polished cover and gleaming name plate. The book is ready to be cherished for many years to come.

 

As with many SfEP local groups, the session ended with a chance to enjoy tea and cake and chat to other proofreaders and editors in the area. The Devon SfEP group are grateful to Alison Shakspeare and Rosalind Davies for organising the event and to Chaim Ebanks for taking the time to share his knowledge and expertise with them. Chaim and his colleagues at Exeter Bookbinders are happy to speak at events; you can contact them via the Exeter Bookbinders website.

There are many local SfEP groups throughout the UK and beyond – there is even an international group. Meetings vary from informal gatherings over tea or dinner to organised events such as the bookbinding talk. To find out more about what’s going on near you, visit the local groups page on the SfEP website.

Joanna Bowery social media manager at the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP)

Joanna Bowery

Joanna Bowery is the SfEP social media manager and a member of the Devon SfEP group. As well as looking after the SfEP’s Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn accounts and the SfEP blog, she is a freelance marketing and PR consultant operating as Cosmic Frog. Jo is an associate of the SfEP and a Chartered Marketer. In her spare time, Jo enjoys rugby (although she has retired from playing) and running.

 

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