Tag Archives: freelance

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.

Problem solving

By Alison Shakspeare

This article is based on responses from clients asked to describe what problem an editor had solved for them. Given the multitude of clients who use editing services it is no surprise that the problems that need solving are as legion, but a common theme across them all is trust: ‘I do feel that for any problems to be solved the writer has to trust the editor’; ‘if they are lucky, editor and author will grow to trust each other, and even achieve a mutual admiration’.

‘We were up against a tight deadline’

Business clients are driven strongly by time constraints, so a freelance editor’s flexibility and the speed with which they can do a job (given their knowledge and their use of handy tools that speed up mundane tasks) help clients achieve ‘a very tight turnaround with limited time for our internal quality checks to be implemented’ (in this case a market research report that had to conform to the client’s style sheet).

Time pressures have a habit of cascading down the workstream, as acknowledged by a design company:

As such a significant part of our schedule is devoted to an ongoing series of projects which come either on a drip feed or as a gushing torrent, it can be problematic for us to manage the annual schedule. The ability of freelance editors to promptly react to changing circumstances and lack of warning on our part about upcoming projects is vital to the smooth running of our business.

Time can also chase more traditional academic tomes, particularly those with multiple authors:

Having an editor on board taking care of the copyediting not only ensured we met the deadline with a clean manuscript but it also created vital headspace for us to keep the overall intellectual project in sight, and spend time finessing.

Lumberjack or editor?

Business clients often have to deal with a logjam caused by a range of internal viewpoints. Access to a trusted freelancer ‘meant the job got done, when it otherwise would have just sat there until an entire team had the time to agree on what wording to use’ (where a company needed all their communications to be in plain English to help their clients understand the complexities of owning and leasing property).

But not all organisations are aware of how their language obfuscates their message (in a multinational world where English is the main common language, but in which many writers are not native English speakers, I might suggest using obscures). There is a trick to making a document ‘stand out, but yet be easily comprehensible to the target audience of people with English as a second language’. Many an EU department uses ‘a fresh, outsider’s look – not just at the use of words and their context but also at the layout’. This same client pointed out:

I suggest that often clients are not fully aware of how much an editor can do for them … A good editor working closely with their client can really add value – and at reasonable cost.

‘An editor carries a first-time author across the threshold from school-taught theory to book-form execution.’

This brings me to self-publishers, particularly first-time authors who discover that the main benefit of using a professional editor is clearing the fog of ignorance:

First-time authors, until then, have read as consumers, oblivious to the conventions of publishing. Who had noticed that the first paragraph of a chapter is not indented, or that century is not capitalised? Who knew the flexibilities of convention? What first-time author comes with a clear idea of their own style sheet?

An editor can be pretty useful quite early in the writing journey to help a writer see the wood through the forest of their plot:

The developmental edit helped me to grow the important characters and see how the whole story fitted together. This then led me to evolve the story and complete the jigsaw.

Even when the bones of the story have been fleshed out there is usually plenty for an editor to sort out so that the author can present as coherent and publication-ready a manuscript as possible.

Avoiding problems

A good editor also knows how to avoid problems through ‘diplomacy and tact’ by ‘inviting me to consider what might be expressed better and bringing sense to some of my more chaotic ideas’. And not only for first-time authors:

I’ve always believed that every book should benefit from a professional edit. Sadly, this isn’t a hard-and-fast rule in these times of self-publishing and print-on-demand.

Finally, proper preparation for self-publishing is another area where editors can help avoid problems, or present solutions:

solving all the finicky problems associated with formatting, design, registry, accounts, etc., that I am either too busy, too confused, or too lazy to do myself.

 

Alison Shakspeare came to editing after a career in arts marketing and research for leading national and regional organisations. Her client base has expanded as her skillset has grown from basic copy editing to offering design and layout services. She truly enjoys the CPD she gains from working with academics, business organisations and a growing number of self-publishing authors.

 


Proofread by Emma Easy, Entry-Level Member.
Posted by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator.

Photo credits: jigsaw – Gabriel Crismariu on Unsplash; trees – Sebastian Unrau on Unsplash.

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

 

Editors and social media: Facebook

In the fourth instalment of our series about how editors use social media for their businesses, Sarah Dronfield talks about what Facebook has brought to her editorial life.

Facebook logo

Why and when did you start?

When I started my editing and proofreading business in 2016, I already had a personal Facebook profile so, because it was easy (and free) to do, one of the first things I did was to set up a business page linked to that account. I didn’t know whether I would find clients via the page, and to be honest I’m not sure I ever have, but I do know that it drives traffic to my website.

I soon discovered, however, that Facebook could benefit my business in lots of other ways. Early on, I found out about a group called Editors’ Association of Earth (EAE): a place for ‘editors from anywhere to meet, have fun together, and talk about the issues and challenges that all editors share’. There and in similar groups, I learned a lot about editing in ways that aren’t possible from a book or a course. This was mostly from reading advice from or having conversations with people who have been editing for decades, but also from reading the many blog posts that were shared. In fact, there were so many great blog posts around, I thought it would be useful to have somewhere they could be ‘stored’ and easily found, so early in 2017 I suggested to the EAE admins that I start a weekly thread in the group, where the latest blog posts could be shared, with hashtags so that older threads could be found again quickly.

The idea for the weekly thread was partly inspired by an accountability thread in a closed EAE group – a place for editors to share what they’ve done that week to market their business or advance their professional development. When the person who was managing this thread said they wanted to step down in late 2017, I volunteered to take it on too.

I also set up a Facebook page (and Twitter account) for our SfEP local group back in 2016; I volunteered to do this at my very first local group meeting, and I’ve been managing the page ever since.

What do you share?

On my business page, I mostly share articles and blog posts I think will be of interest to potential and existing clients; I work mainly with Welsh authors of thrillers, historical fiction and children’s books. My pinned post is a glowing testimonial from happy co-author clients, and it’s the first thing new visitors to the page will see. And of course, when I write a blog post of my own (which isn’t often these days) then I share that too. I also share news of upgrades to my SfEP membership or about training courses I’ve taken, for example.

Facebook post on the Sarah Dronfield Proofreader page about booking tickets for the SfEP 2019 conference

On our local group page I share information about group meetings and things that may be of interest to potential clients (about writing and editing generally because between us we provide a wide range of services).

When do you share?

I try to share something to my business page at least once a month so visitors can see the page is active. I avoid posting too often because I don’t want to flood my followers’ news feeds, although I’m sure I could post more often than I do without annoying people.

Our local group page is really just there to send people to the South Wales Editors website, so I only post there very occasionally.

In the EAE groups, I share the blog post round-up every Monday and the accountability thread every Friday.

Why do you do it?

I came for the marketing, but I stayed for the advice, support and camaraderie. I may or may not have gained clients from my business page, but I have had work as a result of networking and making friends with other editors on Facebook.

What about other social media platforms?

In 2016, at the same time as I set up my Facebook business page, I also set up accounts on Twitter and LinkedIn. I rarely visit LinkedIn because I don’t like the platform and I don’t think it’s where my ideal clients are. I do like Twitter though, and I actually post there more often than I do on my Facebook page. But Facebook is definitely my favourite platform because I get so much more out of it. My business simply wouldn’t be where it is today without the huge amount of information, advice and support I have received from colleagues there over the last three years.

Any advice?

Explore the many Facebook groups for editors, spend time in them and find out which ones are most useful to you. There are all kinds of groups: for all things related to editing, groups specifically for academic or fiction editors, groups that focus on business or training, and many more. You can even start your own accountability group – find a few like-minded colleagues who are at a similar stage in their career and set up a secret Facebook group where you can share your problems and successes and help one another keep on top of your weekly tasks.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, never say anything on Facebook – or any social media platform – that you wouldn’t want a client to read, even in a closed group: remain professional at all times. I’m not saying you shouldn’t relax and have a laugh with your colleagues or ask advice on how to deal with a difficult client, but you should avoid criticising clients (or fellow editors) and try not to get into arguments – it’s not a good look. Even if your clients can’t see it (and sometimes they can), don’t forget that colleagues can send work your way too, and they will only do that if they feel you are someone who can be trusted to behave professionally.

Sarah DronfieldSarah Dronfield is an editor specialising in fiction and is based in South Wales. She is a Professional Member of the SfEP. She did many things before finally becoming an editor: office admin, archaeology, travelling. These days, when not editing, she can usually be found reading.

 


If you’re on Facebook, visit the SfEP’s page to keep informed about upcoming events, to discover interesting articles and for the occasional giggle-worthy cartoon.


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.

Editors and social media: Instagram

Continuing the series of posts about editors and social media, Tanya Gold takes us to the world of Instagram and tells us how she turns her working with words into striking pictorial snapshots.

Instagram logo

When and why did you start?

In 2015, I was chatting with some clients on Twitter and they were raving about this social media platform that was image-centric. It sounded like they were having a bunch of fun interacting with other writers there, so I decided to check it out.

I immediately loved how visual Instagram is and how you can use it to connect with new people on a variety of topics. Since I started posting about three and a half years ago, I’ve met all sorts of cool writers, photographers, illustrators, plastic dinosaur enthusiasts, and other creatives. I’ve even made some IRL friends and landed a few amazing clients.

What do you share?

I post about the books I’m reading, interesting things that I see around town or while travelling, literary activities, and my editing life (often illustrated by my editorial assistants). If I had to sum it up in a hashtag, it would be #editorlife.

I post about a lot of things, but I know that most of my followers come and stay for my editorial assistants. I get it. They throw the best office dance parties.

Toy dinosaurs, penguins, and sea creatures dancing on a desk. The text of the post is “It's Friday 🎉 It's absolutely lovely out 🎉 We hit our deadline and sent an edited memoir back home 🎉 @jessicacritcher's amazing and badass novel is back on our desk for more editorial love 🎉 You know what that means, right? 🎉🎉OFFICE DANCE PARTY 🎉🎉 🎶🎵🕺🐟🐙🎶🎼”

I work with a lot of authors who are active on social media. And I like to involve them in my posts – tagging them when I’m working on their projects (with their permission, and always keeping it very general and positive). This means that they get more people hearing about their books and gives them an opportunity to interact with more readers. I’ve had a number of clients ask for specific assistants to be featured in posts about their book or to be mentioned in a dance party.

It’s a lot of fun to interact with clients in this way. It also encourages them to share the images or to post about me, which puts my name in front of other writers and encourages word of mouth referrals.

A toy octopus and a T-rex standing in front of a pie, holding forks. The text of the post is “I've been working on @aliarosewrites's Sweet Enough for two weeks and I've already lost track of the number of pies I've made. Readers, this book will make you so hungry 🍴

When do you share?

I try to post photos at least a couple of times a week. If I’m travelling, about one picture a day. I try to limit myself to one photo a day. It’s about finding a balance. I don’t want to bombard people with photos and I want to stay present in their minds.

For other platforms, I schedule one post a week to make sure that I’m still active  even when life gets in the way. Instagram is the one platform where I don’t schedule anything. I want the images to reflect what is happening at that moment in my #editorlife.

Why do you do it?

What I love most about Instagram is that it’s about posting original content. Sometimes, I find it frustrating that I can’t share links and articles with my followers there, but that’s also part of its beauty. This limitation makes us share parts of ourselves, which can help to encourage more meaningful connections.

And I get to talk with people about books A LOT. It’s such a happy place.

What about other social media platforms?

Just like on Instagram, I like other social media platforms for the connections they allow me to make. I love Facebook for its editor groups, Twitter for its chats, Goodreads for all the books. All social media platforms offer different ways of interacting and forming communities. It’s a beautiful thing. It’s allowed me to make so many wonderful connections.

Any advice?

All social media is about interacting with people. Find your people. On Instagram, you can do this by looking up friends or by exploring what other people are posting.

Try out an Instagram #monthlychallenge if you want prompts to get you started. Take pictures of your #catsofinstagram. Post some #shelfies. Check out hashtags that are relevant to your interests. See what other people are posting on the same topic.

Interact with strangers. You never know what amazing people you might meet.

Tanya GoldTanya Gold is a book editor, writing coach, and literary omnivore based in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She’s been in publishing for about twenty years, and has worked on all kinds of cool books. These days, she edits fiction, creative nonfiction, and poetry. It’s been suggested that she reads too much for her own good. This might be true. Perhaps unsurprisingly, you can follow her on Instagram.

 

Posted by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator.

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

Working with an assistant: nuts and bolts

By Cathy Tingle

Steel structureIn a recent SfEP blog I talked about the benefits of working with an assistant, which really came down to three things: speed, safety and society. I complete more projects in the limited time I have; I feel that as a team we are more thorough than I could be alone (there really is no substitute for that extra pair of eyes); and, joyous or frustrating, we can chat about the work, which really helps.

So that’s the ‘why’. But how do we work together?

From batphone to batches

Once I get notice that a project is on its way, the first thing I’ll do is contact Helen via the batphone (which is what we call our DocEditor WhatsApp group). This is to book her time – I can fill her in on the details later.

Then I will look at the manuscript. This might involve a lie-of-the-land review (everyone does this differently but I do mine with the help of PerfectIt) or, because this is the way our biggest client works, I’ll edit a sample chapter to kick off the process. This gives me a sense of the issues so I can brief Helen, and it also means that she can see how I’ve approached things in the sample.
My brief can be anything from a short email to a longer Word document, but it has become snappier over the years as Helen has got to know what I’m after. What I should do is set up a version of a style sheet which not only contains information about the manuscript but also incorporates tick boxes for tasks. One fine day (perhaps when our respective kids have gone off to college) that may happen.

Then it’s over to Helen for a few days. Sometimes I get the project back in one go, but more often she sends it back in batches for me to start while she’s still working on it.

Sharing out tasks

I have asked Helen to undertake various editorial tasks while we’ve worked together, but over time I’ve realised that my needs can be crystallised into one request: ‘Help me focus on the text in front of me.’ To labour the already groaning ‘DocEditor’ extended metaphor that the branding of my business rests on, she’s a bit like a nurse handing me the equipment and information I need to fully concentrate on the presenting patient.

At a recent meeting of the Edinburgh SfEP local group, members talked about the joys of using a second, or even a third, screen so they can review different parts of a document at the same time. In a sense Helen does this job – making visible certain elements from elsewhere in a chapter or a manuscript, or from further afield. She checks:

  • citations against reference lists, to make sure they match;
  • proper nouns in an internet search – that spellings are correct, that any dates tally up, and then that those proper nouns and related facts are completely consistent within the manuscript;
  • weblinks, to make sure they work, and if they can be shortened/neatened in the text;
  • other internal cross-references – that descriptions of other sections or chapters are accurate, and that what’s in the text matches lists of contents, illustrations, abbreviations, cases or glossary terms;
  • that any numbering – of sections, or of illustrations, for example – runs chronologically.

If our clients asked for tagging/coding she could also do that, but there hasn’t been much call recently.

In the past, Helen has:

  • checked if quotations in body text are over the length which requires an indented extract;
  • checked if multiple citations are in chronological/alphabetical order as per house style;
  • changed hyphens to en dashes in number ranges;
  • changed double quotation marks to single (or vice versa);
  • executed basic style amendments – standardised ise/ize/yze endings, for example.

But these are things I can happily do as I review the text page by page, and so they’ve fallen away from her task list.

An obvious task for an assistant would be to format references. This is something that other editorial assistants (for there have been others, at various points) have done for me in the past. However, there’s something about a reference list that keeps you close to the heart of a text so I like to do it myself. And I just have this feeling that it’s not something Helen would enjoy.

TeapotThe nitty gritty

From all this I hope you’ll gather that every editor/assistant relationship is different. There are tasks that you want to keep for yourself, and tasks that you can’t wait to give away. There are particular talents that your assistant will display and that you will want to encourage, and tasks that won’t suit them. However, in terms of the nitty gritty of a project, the following tips should work for most teams editing documents in Word:

  • Always, always get your assistant to track changes, in case of slips of the keyboard or rogue deletions. Happens to the best of us.
  • Ask your assistant to post comments in the text (with Review/New Comment) to alert you to anything. Make sure they always begin a comment with a word that’s easily searchable – Helen addresses notes to me personally and at the end I run a search for ‘Cathy’ (there are precious few other ‘Cathy’s in the books we edit) to catch any strays.
  • It helps if your assistant can adopt an editorial assistant persona in their comments (they can do this in Word with Review/Tracking/Track Changes Options/Change User Name). I am ‘Cathy Tingle (DocEditor)’ but Helen is ‘DocEditor’, which means that I can adapt any notes she writes, perhaps to query a discrepancy between a citation and a long, complicated reference, with only a little retyping.
  • Make the most of highlighting. If your assistant has checked a fact/name/web address online or an internal cross-reference, get them to highlight the first letter (we use pink) to indicate it’s done and correct. If something is not correct, a comment can be left. You can use different colours for different purposes – a green for ‘Is this right?’, for example, if your assistant spots what they think might be a mistake in punctuation or grammar.
  • If you are asking your assistant to run checks but not to actually amend anything in the text, you could work with two versions of the manuscript. Simply go through the assistant’s version before you start your own edit. This might be a good method in the first few projects with an assistant, while you’re both getting used to the process.

And don’t forget

  • Always let clients know that you are using an assistant. All of mine have been delighted to have this extra pair of eyes on their work for no extra fee.
  • Create a non-disclosure agreement and ask your assistant to sign it. If you’re doing this for clients, your assistant will need to do this for you.
  • Your assistant deserves recognition. If it wasn’t for them, you might not have done such a thorough job within your deadline. I always include Helen’s name at the bottom of any handover notes that I write for the author so that if an acknowledgement is forthcoming she also gets a look in.
  • Make sure your assistant logs their hours – this helps you to understand how it’s all going, but it also means that if they want to join the SfEP, or upgrade, they can use this information as part of their application.
  • If you can, write a feedback document at the end of a project. I can’t say I have done this every time, but I’ve always been glad when I have. In taking a few minutes to review what your assistant has done this time, you can see how you can brief them better next, or streamline your processes in future. And it gives you a chance either to ask them to make doubly sure of a certain area of work in the next project or to praise them for specific achievements, which is more valuable than a vague ‘Great job!’
  • Buy your assistant a mug. Much tea or coffee is likely to be imbibed in the process of getting your projects done. Then, if you’re very lucky, when you’ve been working together for three years and your original mugs are getting chipped and faded, a lovely client might send you a smart new set.Gifts from clients

Cathy TingleCathy Tingle, an Advanced Professional Member, came to freelance copy-editing after a PhD, a decade in marketing communications and four years as editor of a popular Edinburgh parents’ guidebook. Her business, DocEditor, specialises in non-fiction, especially academic, copy-editing.

 

Posted by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator.

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

Inside Bloomsbury Publishing for Editors and Proofreaders

In a brand new event series, Inside Bloomsbury, Bloomsbury Publishing is opening up about how it creates and publishes its books by inviting key members of the Bloomsbury team to talk about what they do in more detail than ever before. In this second event of the series, a follow-up to ‘Inside Bloomsbury Publishing for Illustrators’, a panel of Bloomsbury editors discussed the skills needed to edit works that please authors, agents and publishers – in partnership with the SfEP. Andrew Macdonald Powney tells us more about the event on 25 October.

Door to Bloomsbury Publishing's offices on Bedford Square, London

Bloomsbury Publishing, Bedford Square, London.

Bloomsbury publishes 2,500 titles annually, 80% of which are non-fiction. Every seat at the Bloomsbury Institute was booked on 25 October for a discussion between three Bloomsbury editors: managing editor Marigold Atkey, senior editor Xa Shaw Stewart and special interest editor Jonathan Eyers. It was chaired by Abi Saffrey, an Advanced Professional Member of the SfEP.

Jonathan summed up the stages of the in-house process: a structural edit by the commissioning editor, then a copy-edit focused on clarity, next typesetting, and only then proofreading – with checking e-books coming last and paying least well, since by that stage most errors have been found. Bloomsbury wanted quick, thorough, accurate proofreaders. The firm tends not to recruit through the SfEP directory, but rather, according to their own intelligence and contacts, and through the constant stream of CVs dropping into their inboxes; Jonathan Eyers gave examples of proofreaders without previous experience whom he had employed because something particular made them stand out. Editors might well take note of training like SfEP and PTC courses, however.

Working with Bloomsbury

So how can proofreaders attract work – and repeat work – from Bloomsbury? As to breaking through in the first place, Jonathan returned a couple of times to saying that a letter looking for work plus a generic CV stands next to no chance in competition against a distinctive application from someone with specialist expertise. Editors are on the look-out for people who may know more than they do on a topic that might cross their desks. These get added to the contact list.

Once employed, a freelancer’s flexibility is important, and for tried-and-tested freelancers this can work both ways. Reliability and turnaround are essential. Timings might be 2 to 3 weeks for proofreading or 4 weeks for copy-editing a text of 80,000 to 100,000 words. It will pay the freelancer more in the long run to stick to the agreed fee. Failing to keep to the deadline is another great way to mark yourself out as a risky pick. A third classic error is forgetting to back up the text you have been sent, which you need in case of file corruption or queries over changes. Freelancers can also lose credibility by altering text when they should raise queries; changes to the text that turn up only at the proofreading stage mean alterations to the typeset text, and that is expensive. Both budgets and schedules are tight and margins for error will stretch only so far (Marigold has worked on 38 books to date this year).

Marigold Atkey, Xa Shaw Stewart, Jonathan Eyers and Abi Saffrey at the Bloomsbury Institute

Marigold Atkey, Xa Shaw Stewart, Jonathan Eyers and Abi Saffrey. Photo: Ruth Burns Warrens.

The same but different

In-house editors within the same firm may have different approaches. Marigold might line up a proofreader at the same time as the copy-editor, and she might look for an indexer or even a freelance map illustrator as well. Her brief with the Raven imprint brings in fantasy, and a recent book required a floor plan to go with the text. Xa’s work with cookbooks might lead her to seek out ghost writers or project editors (though Bloomsbury seldom has need of freelance project editors/managers). Jonathan’s team looks to commission and publish non-fiction texts for identified niche markets, which is why it is subject expertise in a proofreader that especially attracts him.

Publishers have slimmed down, but that increases the overall proportion of freelance work. Whereas a few years ago it seemed that a few conglomerates might buy up all the independents, another possible future for publishing may now be coming into view: many, small independents without physical offices, producing books through networks of freelancers in a world where almost no one is in-house.

Practicalities

The trend is towards electronic mark-up for copy-edits: though the vast majority of Bloomsbury’s proofreading is still on hard copy. Thus, the BSI marks remain indispensable because they are internationally understood. Editing using Track Changes in Word is pretty much the rule and the system, though Xa felt that working from a paper copy as well might still be most effective. Her particular titles create a premium on freelancers’ awareness of visuals and design. The passage from book to e-book is now practically seamless, requiring comparatively minor changes like the position of the copyright page, and there is little freelance work in this area. Encouragingly, though, outsourcing the process to cheaper markets has its limits, since Bloomsbury requires quality in production and editing, especially sensitivity to nuance and idiom. In cookbooks, not just “broil / grill” or “zucchini / courgette” but the density of flour (and therefore the amounts in a recipe) may vary between the US and the UK.

This early evening on Bedford Square saw the Bloomsbury Institute introduce trends present and future clearly and enjoyably to a large, varied, and interested audience. In a show of hands, only five or six attendees are based in-house. Perhaps those few will take back the idea of this event to other publishing houses too.

Andrew Macdonald PowneyAndrew Macdonald Powney is an Entry-Level Member of the SfEP. He taught Politics and RS in state and independent schools after taking degrees in History and Patristic Theology, and he is now based in Edinburgh. Andrew is interested in political, religious, theological, and educational texts, and Plain English. His own writing appeared most recently in The Tablet.

 

Posted by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator.

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

Wise owls: networking

Networking works in different ways for different people – the wise owls are back to share their experiences and preferences.

Metal owl ornaments huddled on a shelf

The parliament has also grown this month, with three new owls offering their maiden contributions: please welcome Louise Bolotin, Michael Faulkner and Nik Prowse, all Advanced Professional Members of the SfEP.

Louise BolotinLouise Bolotin

I’m not a fan of formalised networking. At business networking meetings, the chat to others often feels forced and you’re supposed to have a dinky little elevator speech – it can get quite competitive and if you’re not a slick business type it’s easy to feel your face doesn’t fit.

Most such meetings I’ve attended in the past have involved breakfast and as I don’t usually eat until after 11am and never talk to anyone until I’m fully caffeinated, I long ago stopped inflicting such events on myself.

If you’re not a morning person, find an evening networking event if you can as there is usually a glass of wine on offer and a little booze can be a useful lubricant if you’re hesitant to go up to strangers and introduce yourself.

I haven’t stopped networking, however. I just take a more informal sideswipe at it. And where do I network? Everywhere. Bus stops, trains, the corner shop, the lifts in my block of flats… I make a point of talking to anyone. Networking is much more about building personal relationships, than practising an elevator speech everyone will have forgotten within five minutes. So make it personal. Have a funky business card and spread it around liberally, even in places you wouldn’t think to.

And make yourself memorable. My tip is to say something about yourself that’s not work-related. “I’m Louise, I’m a freelance editor and when I’m off-duty I like going to gigs. Who’s your favourite band?” A bit of small talk and, then, if you think it might be fruitful go in for the kill – subtly. I prefer, however, to see networking as a long game as it takes time to get to know people and understand how you might be able to work together.

Michael FaulknerMichael Faulkner

If you are interested in proofreading dissertations and theses, scour your address book for academic types with contacts in the universities, talk to people who are at or who have recently left uni, and join the alumni family of your own institution (if appropriate) – all with the aim of building a list of current profs across all the disciplines with which you’re comfortable. Then research the institutions’ proofreading policy and make a direct approach by email to each person identified, offering your services with the usual caveats. For a supervisor with language-challenged students, a trusted proofreader who understands the parameters is a time-saving resource, and they will come back again and again and will pass your name around.

Always carry a card and practise a concise pitch, cleverly disguised as small talk, which you can wheel out at any gathering. It’s amazing how many people there are who haven’t a clue what editing is about but who can still offer you work. If you edit fiction, for example, be aware that in any group of people there may well be one or two who have a novel in them, or a friend who writes, or an exercise book of poems at the back of the cupboard.

During the life of any project, get to know your client and, without being a pain, make sure the experience is fun. This will lead to repeat business and a growing network through referrals.
Allocate time-limited slots for daily social networking. LinkedIn is invaluable for cold introductions (‘You don’t know me, but we’re Linked’). Facebook groups and online editors’ organisations are great for accumulating knowledge and widening your list of contacts (and have a look beyond editorial groups at those servicing your target market – an obvious example for a fiction editor is a writers’ organisation with a directory of services for writers).

Finally, I find lots of referrals are generated by constructive engagement on the Society’s forums. Conversations begun there can be carried on by email, and a list of trusted colleagues can be built up quite quickly to whom work can be referred – which of course is a two-way street.

Liz JonesLiz Jones

I find networking easier to stomach if I don’t actually think of it as networking. For me it’s more about having conversations that reveal shared interests or a personal connection, and they can happen anywhere – it doesn’t have to be in the context of a business breakfast at the local work hub, or some other kind of formal networking event.

Some of my most successful ‘networking’, in terms of commissions won and money in my business bank account, has taken place at SfEP conferences or local group meetings, over coffee. Other ‘networking’ has happened on Twitter, and the connections I’ve made there have tended to be people who might share a professional specialism, yet have responded to me for some of the more offbeat, non-editorial things I share. This goes to show that there’s scope to relax and be yourself. In fact, I would argue that it’s essential. Not everyone will ‘get’ you, but those who do will truly value what you have to offer.

Another source of interaction that might classify as ‘networking’ has been via my blog, which often veers away from the strictly informational, editorial type of post and into the personal – and conversations arise from that. Again, not everyone will like it, but many people appreciate the honesty and like knowing that there’s a real person behind my website, who will take proper human care over their work. A final thing about networking: the editorial world is surprisingly small. Be nice to everyone (or if you can’t be nice, keep quiet). Give it a few years, and that newbie editorial intern you were patient with could turn out to be the publishing director… and with luck, they’ll still be sending work your way, and suggesting that their staff do too.

Sue LittlefordSue Littleford

I am a very reluctant networker. Not for me attending functions and introducing myself to strangers. But I refuse to feel guilty that I take a more sotto voce approach. I may not get the wide visibility that the more active marketers achieve, but I’m okay with that.

There are, however, small things you can do. A couple of Christmases ago, I sent out cards to my contacts, as I usually do (most of my work is repeat business). At the last moment, I popped a business card in each envelope. Hey presto – two clients I’d not worked with for a few months promptly booked me in straight after Christmas (mentioning it was getting my card that made them contact me), and I’ve worked several more times for each one since.

I always have at least a couple of business cards on me when I leave the house. You simply never know who you’re going to bump into – at a reunion recently, a friend I’d not seen for ages wanted to pass on my details to someone she knew. Easily done with the card I gave her.
At an SfEP conference I got talking to one of the speakers, who duly asked for my card – which, fortunately, I had on me. That got me more than half a dozen books to copy-edit.
I do do social media – mostly Facebook and Twitter. I got very grumpy with the discussion groups on LinkedIn, but I do keep an inactive profile there that I remember to update once in a blue moon, and if I’ve had a good interaction with someone in a Facebook editors’ group, I’ll eventually get over to LinkedIn and offer to link with that person. I’ve not got any jobs from my social media (so far as I know), but for me it’s more about adding to my online presence to give prospective clients a feel for me as a copy-editor.

If you’re a happy active networker, great. If you’re not, don’t despair – small actions can work very well indeed.

Nik ProwseNik Prowse

There is more than one reason to network as an editorial freelance, and they serve different purposes. It’s not a case of ‘today I will do some networking’ but rather having an open mind about anyone you encounter in a business context. Part of this does involve actively seeking out a person with the aim of securing work, but it may just be a case of not turning your back on a working relationship that hasn’t always gone smoothly.

If you work with someone who you don’t get along with, not cutting your ties, not telling them what you think in a way that ends that relationship, may well serve you better in the long run than expressing your feelings in the present. You may decide that you don’t want to work with that particular person again, but keeping your bridges unburnt will keep the door open. The way a person comes across or acts can be the result of the organisation they are working within. In the future, that person may move to a different company with a different outlook. They may remember you and look you up, offering work. You might change your mind about perceived interpersonal difficulties if you find yourself short of work. Or the person may have a much more pleasant colleague whom they suggest you to, which could lead to a different, more fruitful relationship.

Keep doors open once a job is finished. I always aim to end a project on an upbeat note, perhaps with a cheery email to say how much I’ve enjoyed the work, wishing them good luck with the remainder of the production process and indicating my availability for the coming weeks. There are often projects in the pipeline. I work especially hard at this if it’s the first job for a new client, because repeat work is the Holy Grail in this instance. If your contact doesn’t have any work coming up, perhaps a colleague does? Often they will offer to circulate your name, or you could ask them to.

Maintaining links with people who work for your clients can sometimes be tricky: jobs change, roles merge (sadly, redundancies happen) and people move on. If I get a whiff of anyone moving on I always ask where to. They may be going to another company – read: potential client – with which you can forge a new connection. Freelancing is a lonely business, and having friendly personal contact with the people you work with (=for) can be rewarding. But it can also be good in terms of networking.

Finally, probably the most personally rewarding type of networking is the sort you do with freelance colleagues, the others at the coal face. This is one of the most valued aspects of my membership of the SfEP, with the local groups and the online community of the forums. This is where problems can be shared, solutions found, ideas started, and friendships made. Recently I made an effort to connect to a lot more editors on Twitter, and it’s made me feel part of a true community.

 

Posted by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator.

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

 

Talking Tech with BookMachine

By Anya Hastwell

“Find the thing that annoys you the most – and then try and fix it,”

says Sara O’Connor, Bibliocloud’s full stack developer at BookMachine’s recent Talking Tech event in London.

You’d be easily forgiven if your initial impression of an event encouraging publishing folk to learn tech is that that it will lure them away to pursue a more profitable career in another industry … but you’d be wrong. Sort of. (Touch wood.) What the event’s speakers want to encourage is for publishing folk to be inspired to learn more tech skills that can make their own working lives easier, as the publishing industry is – and has been for some years now – becoming more digital. A perfect example is that of educational publishing, where tech is making waves not only in making learning texts digital, but also with apps, online platforms and programs for homework tracking, online marking, assessment tracking, learning games, and others. But how can we make our tech and products more user-friendly?

Computer code

To answer this question and others, let’s go to the speakers on our all-women panel. Our host Emma Barnes, founder and CEO of Bibliocloud and MD of Snowbooks, starts things off. After being made redundant from a consultancy firm, Emma founded her own independent publisher, Snowbooks, before teaching herself to code and build systems within Excel to speed up the admin side of her business. (Yes, Excel really can be programming … ). She went on a coding boot camp via Code Bar, a charity that aims to make coding more accessible (she also recommends railstutorials.org). From having with no previous coding experience, Emma became a software engineer and went on to build Bibliocloud (now called Consonance), a publishing management software.

”Learn as much programming as you have the appetite for. It means you won’t be taken in by some flashy web developer, it gives you the agency to make good decisions. Tech is the new literacy … There is always a way to automate yourself out of misery.”

Next up is Lola Odelola, software engineer and founder of blackgirl.tech, an organisation that aims to help diversify the tech industry. Lola studied English literature and creative writing at university. While job hunting after graduation, she decided she wanted to build a website for herself to showcase her writing.

“After realising poets only make money when they’re dead, I set up a website for myself to try moving into journalism. I was jobless so I had a lot of time on my hands. I loved it, so then I did a bootcamp for 6 months.”

While seeing that there was some (gender) diversity in the tech industry – much like publishing – she saw there was still a long way to go before this stretched towards diversity in ethnicity: “Before I started coding I knew nothing about screen readers or accessibility, but I had friends who were getting tagged in photos by AI as apes. Tech should be making life easier for people on the margins.”

The importance of diversity within the tech teams creating our products is therefore vital for making publishing tech and other products more user-friendly and accessible, as such problems would be identified earlier and certainly caught before release to the wider public.
The coding language Ruby gets some extremely good press here tonight, which our next speaker Sara O’Connor recommends heartily. Sara started her career in children’s book publishing as an editorial assistant, and turned to tech to find better ways of doing boring and repetitive admin tasks, before working up the ranks to editorial director. She started off with no coding experience before doing a couple of week-long coding courses and then a three-month bootcamp, before returning to publishing with an array of new skills as Bibliocloud’s full stack developer.

“I’m a full stack developer building the software I wish I had when I was an editor. I advocate Ruby for publishing folks because it’s like a book. It’s an object-oriented language, and we’re already used to reading.”

The issue of diversity comes to the fore again as our last speaker, Janneke Niessen (entrepreneur, investor, board member, Improve Digital, Inspiring Fifty, Project Prep), reminds us that without diversity in tech, the future is not inclusive. “Algorithms are not neutral.” It seems that artificial intelligence stealing our jobs or killer robots are not the real danger, but our own bias, conscious or unconscious, is. Janneke proceeded to tell us a story of when she asked her son what he thought she did for a living. “A princess who dances!” was his reply. So she set about videoing herself while working, explaining what she was doing and why she was doing it to show him what she actually did at work. Janneke showed us some slides while giving us plenty to think about: some 65% of children in school today will have a job that does not yet exist; people’s ability to think differently, be different and challenge previous concepts of how things ‘should’ be done are valuable – people who can be flexible and mutable, and who do not necessarily fit in, are those who companies need to hire in order to change and keep up with the times.

Presentation slide about diversity and investment

This was quite possibly my favourite BookMachine event of those I’ve been to, and it did make me think about what we define as ‘coding’… Many among the SfEP’s ranks are either familiar with or swear by the use of Word macros (quite literally, sometimes). Very often, macros are the only way of being make certain projects achievable within a budget and timescale given by a publisher.

Whether you want to find some neat tricks in Excel to speed up your admin, start using some really clever Word macros that will do a lot of your editing dirty work for you, or update your CV with the kind of skills that could open doors to some really covetable workplaces and clients, there’s no doubt that the publishing industry needs people with a talent for tech, who can use it for an audience’s benefit.

How you want to apply these skills, and how far, is completely down to you. You’re still the one pressing the button.

Anya HastwellAnya Hastwell is an Advanced Professional Member of the SfEP as well as serving as its professional development director. After working in-house for several publishers for nearly 10 years she went freelance in 2014, and works on an enticing array of non-fiction material from medicine to history, ably distracted assisted by three feline helpers.

 

Posted by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator.

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

Wise owls: expect the unexpected

After an unusual British summer, the SfEP wise owls share their tips for expecting the unexpected – what kind of planning can a freelance editor or proofreader do to lessen the impact of illness, bereavement or other life events on their business and clients?

Ceramic owl on wet stone

Hazel Bird

Hazel BirdThere’s often a perception that being freelance means a life free of impositions by other people, and there are certainly elements of truth to that. It’s also true that many clients will be warmly understanding when unavoidable circumstances mean a deadline becomes tenuous. But the cold, hard reality is that sometimes a deadline just cannot be shifted. Sometimes the push might come from the client (they may have financial and scheduling commitments that mean your lateness will create havoc for them) but sometimes the push to knuckle down and hit the deadline no matter what can come from you (if, for example, getting behind on your current project would have an unmanageable knock-on effect on your scheduling of other future projects). The result is often that a freelancer will find themselves working when they really, really wish they didn’t have to.

There’s no magical solution when you find yourself in this situation. Obviously the first step is to talk to your client and find out whether there’s any leeway in the deadline (even a day or two may make all the difference) or whether, for example, you might be able to deliver the work in stages. If you then feel the work will be manageable, get it done while taking as much care of yourself as possible, perhaps varying your usual hours around when you feel more able to focus. Shutting down your email and giving yourself a break from ongoing non-urgent commitments (work and non-work) are other possibilities that might help. And, if you can, look ahead to your future projects and see whether they can be moved around to give you some recuperation time once you’ve finished your current task.

In some circumstances, though, no matter what you do, you won’t be able to hit the deadline your client needs. When this happens, one possibility, if your arrangement with your client allows, may be to subcontract the work to another freelancer whose work you trust. However, if that’s not possible (or desirable), the most important thing you can do for the sake of your relationship with your client is to let them know as soon as possible that you won’t be able to meet the deadline. Few things are more damaging to a business relationship than failing to keep the other party informed about circumstances that might affect their ability to manage their schedules and stakeholders. What happens after you’ve told your client will vary widely between clients, and of course the worst-case scenario is that you end up losing the current project or even future work. Sometimes this is just an inevitable part of being freelance: we’re only human and we don’t have bottomless resources. However, in my experience at least (both as the freelancer and as the client), when circumstances that are truly beyond the freelancer’s control are handled with professionalism and good communication, there is rarely a major loss of future work.

Liz Jones

Liz Jones

Needing to take time off work for illness can be tough for freelancers, and I admit it’s something I haven’t got quite right yet myself! Along with everyone else in the UK, earlier this year I had the winter lurgy and, while I was able to scale back my workload so I could rest, I didn’t feel able to take time off completely. Clients would most likely have been sympathetic, but putting off too much work would only have affected projects scheduled in afterwards, which I didn’t want to have to send elsewhere. I battled through it all, but it wasn’t easy at times. So based on my recent experience, which I didn’t handle perfectly, here are a few tips for mitigating the problem, if not entirely solving it.

  1. If some deadlines can be extended, negotiate this with clients as early as possible. They will usually be sympathetic, even if they can’t give you much extra time.
  2. Don’t try to push on with work if you’re feeling too ill – it won’t be of a high standard. Take a break, or a nap, and come back to it when you’re fresher.
  3. Even if work can’t grind to a halt, ask for and accept help in other areas of life to ease the pressure.
  4. With all projects, try to allow some contingency in the schedule. This helps if things don’t come at expected times, too.
  5. Stay vigilant when it comes to rates. It’s difficult to take any time off if you’re only just covering your costs at the best of times.
  6. Seek the support of colleagues. Freelancing is always demanding, and working through illness is just another aspect of this. A little sympathy can go a long way.

Abi Saffrey

Abi SaffreyI think there are two aspects to dealing with the unexpected: preparing for it, and dealing with it when it happens. Wise financial gurus tell us we should have three months’ income stashed away to cover our expenses if we’re not earning; there are income protection insurance policies that pay out when we can’t work due to illness and injury; the government pays Employment and Support Allowance if an illness or disability affects our ability to work (though if we have stashed away that three months’ income, we may not be entitled).

As well as thinking about the financial aspect of the unexpected, there’s the practical aspects of running a business too – who is going to contact clients if we are unable to? A great suggestion on the SfEP forums a couple of years ago about a disaster plan was turned into a blog post; knowing that everything is in order will mean one less thing to worry about if faced with long-term or terminal illness.

Even an absence of a few days has implications – good relationships with clients are going to be essential when asking for a deadline extension or having to return a project unfinished. The temptation is always there just to keep on going, but sometimes it’s best to be realistic, bite the bullet, take however many days off, and then come back ready for action. Working when unwell or grieving may do more damage – to our work and our health – than good.

Of course, this is all easier said than done – I need to get my disaster plan back to the top of my to-do list!

Sue Littleford

Sue LittlefordFreelancers with corporate experience may have come across disaster recovery planning before, and it’s something you need to take on in your own business – ideally ahead of needing to call on it! Think about all the ways you can come a cropper, and make plans. You may want to investigate income protection insurance and personal accident cover (as well as professional indemnity insurance, in case you blunder because you’re not on top form) so that if you’re unable to work because of ill health, you still have some income.

Your plans will vary according to the type of work you do. I work at book length almost all the time, so I build in wiggle room for my migraines and other contingencies (I usually allow at least four contingency days per project). If you’re whipping through short articles on a tight timescale, that’s harder to deal with, but it does mean you shouldn’t fill all your time with scheduled work – you need wiggle room, too, for everything from a bad cold to a broken computer.

If you can’t spend your time working – a child’s sick, you’ve broken your arm, you’ve been bereaved – then the first thing to do is NOT to pretend it’s not happening, but to communicate about it. Assess whether you’re safe to carry on working in terms of how well you’re still able to concentrate as well as perform physically, and how long you’re likely to be off work. Look at which of your clients are affected and contact them. They may be able to extend the deadline or split a big job with another of their freelances.

Organised freelancers have a buddy system, with a number of trusted colleagues they can refer work to, or who can pick up the pieces. One of the definitions of being a freelancer in the eyes of HMRC is that you can subcontract, so don’t be shy about doing it. But do, again, communicate with your client. And accept that you may lose a job that you can’t finish or can’t start on time – some things just can’t be fixed or worked around.

If you’re hospitalised, then you’ll need someone who can access your computer and contact your clients, perhaps sending them as much work as you’ve done so far. Ruth Thaler-Carter has updated her good piece on the An American Editor blog on planning for and dealing with the worst, which will give you plenty of food for thought, as will Laura Ripper and Luke Finley’s post (mentioned by Abi above). If your ill health is likely to be of some duration, or to impact your ability to work long term, you should explore whether you qualify for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) with the DWP.

Sometimes, though, the work simply can’t be done in time, so take a look at your contract now to make sure it covers clearly what happens in such cases, and doesn’t allow a corporate client to shift all their risk onto your shoulders. If you’ve taken any part of your fee upfront, how much of it do you refund? What happens to the work you’ve already done, if you’ve begun?

Mostly (judging by a quick poll of the Owls), it’s just a matter of gritting your teeth, propping your eyelids open, taking the painkillers or cold remedy and working long hours to catch up as soon as you’re able. Powering through is grim, but that may be your only solution.

Sue Browning

Sue BrowningThe first step is to recognise that when you are in the midst of a crisis you’re probably in no fit state to work, even if you can put in place arrangements to do so. Don’t try to struggle through. You won’t do your best work and, worse, you’ll do yourself no favours. Above all, look after yourself. It’s never going to be easy, but there are a few things you can do to prepare for a time when you need to put business concerns to one side for a while.

Preparation

You have to accept that you are likely to lose some business, even if it is just for the duration of your absence, but this will be a lot less stressful if you’ve got a buffer of money put aside. I aim to have about two months’ income in a savings account. I know that can be difficult, but start now, and save little and often. I know freelancers can get insurance to cover times when they can’t work, but policies are costly, you pay for their admin, and you don’t get it back if you don’t claim, which is money wasted. Besides, who needs the additional hassle of putting in an insurance claim? (Caveat: this is my opinion, specific to my circumstances, not financial advice! Your personal circumstances will be different and insurance might be a good option for you.)

Ask someone to be your designated actor (DA) and brief them as thoroughly as you can. In particular, tell them how to navigate your email and file system and find out what projects you are currently working on so they can contact your clients if you can’t. If you don’t already have a system that makes that information easily available (spreadsheet, Word doc –  mine’s a mind map), do that now, and keep it up to date. Your business will benefit from this overview, whether you need to use it as part of a contingency plan or not. I’m currently developing a file for my DA that contains information about where to find stuff and any necessary passwords, along with a prepared out-of-office email message and template messages for different clients. Whatever form this takes, it’s worth walking your DA through it if you can, and make sure they are clear on what they are expected to do, and not do.

I haven’t set up any contingency plans to have another editor take over my work. That’s my choice, with my particular customers. Again, your mileage may vary.

When crisis strikes

If you have time, tell your clients what is happening, starting with those who are expecting work from you and those who have already booked you in advance. You don’t need to go into details, just share as much as you feel comfortable with. In my experience, most people are understanding and supportive (one of my customers sent me flowers when my mum died) and will be there when you are ready to get back down to work again.

Again, if you have time, set up your email autoresponder so that incoming messages get a reply that tells them you will be out of action for a while. Then ignore your email. Don’t even look at it.

It’s trickier if your email client doesn’t have an autoresponse option, as I’m not comfortable with my incoming messages getting no reply at all, however cursory. It may therefore be worth monitoring your mail, say once every two days, if you have the capacity to do so. Set up some ‘out of office’ autotext (e.g. using TextExpander or PhraseExpress) so that with little effort on your part, messages at least receive a reply, but don’t be tempted to enter into a conversation – this is just so that you don’t seem rude.

If you can’t do these actions yourself, now’s the time to activate your DA. Have them alert your current and planned clients and set up your autoresponder or monitor your inbox and reply briefly on your behalf.

On your return

When you’re ready to take up the reins again, do take it easy at first. Some personal crises change your life forever, so don’t expect to be your usual self immediately, if ever. Be kind to yourself and be realistic about what you can achieve.

Contact any regular clients and let them know you are back and ready to receive work. Then work your way through any emails that have accumulated in your absence. Triage them quickly, without much thought, into messages that are worth following up and stuff that can be deleted. Delete a lot. The last thing you want is to clutter your inbox and your mind with might-have-beens. Other opportunities will come up. Trust me. That said, if an interesting offer has come in but you missed out, there’s no harm in a quick reply along the lines of ‘Sorry I couldn’t help you this time but I’d certainly be interested in any future projects.’

Don’t take on too much too quickly. Depending on the reason for your absence, and how long it was, you may find you tire more quickly or that concentration takes a while to come back. Listen to your body and mind, and adapt accordingly. You will find a way back… on your own terms.

 

Posted by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator.

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

Wise owls: freelance business goals for 2018

This month, the SfEP wise owls share their tips for setting realistic goals that match your individual ambitions, and consider how small changes can have a big impact on your career in 2018.

Being motivated to set goals to boost your career in the new year can be difficult. Many feel compelled to set over-ambitious resolutions to make this THE year they achieve a high-flying freelance career, regardless of their personal circumstances or goals. If you are feeling overwhelmed by the expectation of planning for the new year, don’t worry, the SfEP parliament is here to help.

Sue Browning

Sue Browning

Around the turn of any new year there’s always a plethora of advice on reviewing the year just past and setting goals for a brave new you in the year to come. And it’s always good to take stock and review what worked for you and what didn’t, what you enjoyed and would like to do more of, and what you never want to do again. It’s also good to review your fees, check out software and other tools, and look over your processes and see if they can be streamlined.

I’m going to say something heretical now. I’m not much of a one for setting goals and, with a few exceptions (CPD, holidays), I don’t make hard plans. Instead I try to make incremental changes in my behaviour that work towards increasing my overall efficiency and enjoyment of my job and life as a whole. The thing with incremental changes is that they are achievable and sustainable; the ambitious goals one tends to set under the influence of inspirational advice quite often turn out to be neither of these.

So why not resolve to learn some (more) keyboard short cuts – not just for Word, but for Windows/OS, your email client, Acrobat/PDF-XChange. Start with maybe one or two of the commands you use most frequently, learn or make short cuts and use them until they become second nature, then learn another one or two. Do the same with Find & Replace commands and maybe macros. Start simple and work up. If you do this regularly, you will soon accumulate a good arsenal of tools and techniques, you’ll be more efficient and your mouse-clicking finger will thank you.

Many of us will have just paid our tax bill, so it’s also a good time to start planning for the next one. If you can, consider setting a percentage of your earnings aside every month so next January (or July, if you’re in that bracket) isn’t such a worry. Put it in a high-interest account and try to forget about it. If you can afford it, also put some money aside longer term, to help tide you over those times when you are ill, or even as something for your retirement.

Hazel Bird

Hazel Bird

My suggestion for setting New Year business goals is to make this an opportunity to really focus on the one, two or perhaps three things you want to do with your business this year, or maybe improve on from last year. It’s all too tempting to look at all the interesting courses, self-development and business development ideas out there and want to do all of them. However, by spending some time thinking about what you want your business to look like by Christmas 2018, drilling down to find the key actions that are most likely to get you there, and then making sure you actually have time to carry out those actions, you’ll be more likely to see some real results from your efforts.

 

 Abi Saffrey

Abi Saffrey

Setting goals when you run your own business can be harder than doing it as an employee – there isn’t anyone else looking at the bigger picture for you. You’re the strategist, the business development manager, the marketing master, the holder of the purse strings and the person who has to make the results happen.

Whatever goals you set, consider how you are going to achieve them, by when and, just as importantly, why you want to achieve them. The hardest goals to meet will be the ones that are there just for the sake of having goals.

Break goals down into what you need to do to achieve them: your income won’t rise, your costs won’t fall, your skills won’t stay relevant, you won’t have a new service to market if you sit around waiting for some magical, mystical external force to make it happen.

Whatever goals and actions you decide on, there should be some training or CPD in there – it might be to learn a new skill, refresh or improve an existing one, or deepen relevant knowledge. You don’t know what you don’t know, and even training that revisits what you already know will keep you and your business on track.

Review your progress against your goals regularly – put reminders in your diary – and it’s okay to revise them, add to them or get rid of them if you realise they aren’t working for you or your priorities change. Keep records on progress or changes so that you can monitor your actions and decisions – and it’ll help you to keep the things out of your next set of goals that, it turned out, gave you nightmares.

Sue Littleford

Sue Littleford

Starting the year with a blank sheet of paper for your business new-year resolutions can be a bit daunting, but don’t overwhelm yourself with an impossible wishlist, or the feeling that this year you Must Be Perfect. Who needs that stress? Just aim to be better in some areas.

Review your financial records and decide on a training and development budget and an income goal, and think about what training you want to undertake. What do you need to upgrade? What do you need to fill in gaps in your knowledge or to consolidate what you already know and boost your confidence? What do you need to keep abreast of new developments in publishing or to add a new service to your offering? Must it be paid-for training with a certificate at the end, or are there YouTube tutorials you can do? Can you afford it this year, or can you at least save some money towards it, and do the training in 2019?

Think carefully about timing for best results. If you’re looking to expand your client base and one of your selling points is that you’re available throughout the summer, start cold-calling/writing two or three months before the main holiday period when many clients are wondering how they’re going to cope with their freelances taking time off.

Are there any clients you need to fire, who pay too little, or are more trouble than they’re worth? Make time to find and work for new, better clients.

Do you want to engage more fully with the SfEP? Do you have the capacity to volunteer? Or do you want to go to your local group meetings consistently? Perhaps your resolution will be to read all the SfEP emails and see what the Society is hoping its members will help with.

Maybe you have a hitlist of little niggles – procedures you want to nail down, documentation and templates you want to develop, a Word hack you want to find. Log them and tackle them.

Scatter your resolutions through the year – don’t try to start everything at once. And put review points in your diary when you’ll evaluate how much you’ve already achieved and decide the next steps. Resolutions are for life, not just for January.

John Espirian

For those new to the editorial profession, the best place to start is by taking good quality training. Without this, most people will lack the skill and confidence to do a good job for their clients. Thorough training should be a minimum requirement – so put that top of your agenda if you’re just starting out.

My goals for business success in 2018 are based on improving my marketing so that I can be better known in my space. That means continuing to post relevant and helpful content on my blog and looking for opportunities to enhance my profile via other streams.

One method I like is to appear as a guest on podcasts, as this is a quick and easy way to introduce yourself to new audiences. I’m aiming to make it on to 10 podcasts this year.

I’ve also decided to dedicate a little more time to in-person networking, so will be attending three conferences in 2018, including the SfEP’s annual conference at Lancaster University in September.

Liz Jones

I find it helps to have a clear understanding of where I’m at to see where I want to take things in the future. It’s worth spending some time analysing your business to find the answers to questions like ‘where does my income come from?’ (by client and by sector), ‘which clients pay best?’ (and worst) and ‘what do I spend most of my time doing?’. I did this last year, and the answers were illuminating – and in some cases quite surprising. Finding out what was really happening in my business enabled me to make some big decisions about who I wanted to keep working with, who I didn’t, and the type of work I wanted to spend most of my time doing. As a result I’ve streamlined the types of work I take on, but increased my income, and have also found time for creative pursuits on the side. Without taking the time to understand at a very detailed level what was happening in my business, I might not have felt able to make such changes for the better.

 

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