Tag Archives: proofreader

What are queries, and how should an author respond?

Publishing can be a mysterious process to a first-time author. Philippa Tomlinson looks at what is expected of an author at the copyediting and proofreading stages of the editorial workflow: specifically, receiving and responding to queries.

    • What are author queries, and when are they raised?
    • What might a copyeditor/proofreader ask?
    • How should an author respond to queries?

*This post assumes there is a publisher, and that the copyeditor and proofreader are independent professionals commissioned by the publisher but familiar with the publisher’s house style etc. However, much the same will apply to an independent author employing a professional copyeditor
or proofreader.

What are author queries, and when are they raised?

Having submitted the final draft of their manuscript, a first-time author might think their work is done. But hold on, who are these new emails from and why all these questions? And what does AQ mean anyway?

Author queries (AQs) form an essential part of the editorial process and, as the name implies, require the active participation of the author. Yet it is a stage that often takes a first-time author by surprise.

The bulk of AQs will be raised at copyediting stage, but there will be another round at
proof stage.

The CIEP’s fact sheet on the publishing workflow explains where the copyediting and proofreading stages fit in.

Download The publishing workflow fact sheet

Queries at the copyediting stage

The copyeditor will be the first person to go through the manuscript in really close detail. They will be interrogating the text with a critical eye: not in the negative sense of finding fault or pointing out mistakes, but with the aim of making the text the best possible version of itself.

And this involves asking questions of the author – AQs or author queries – on anything the copyeditor can’t resolve themselves or on any changes they have made which need the author’s approval or confirmation.

A copyeditor will usually contact the author not long after they receive the manuscript, introducing themselves and explaining briefly what their role is. They may send a set of initial general queries. They will also give the author an idea of when to expect further detailed queries and when to send responses.

Queries at the proofreading stage

Once a text reaches proof stage, it’s looking pretty much like the final product. A first-time author might be tempted either to just admire the clean pages or, seeing their text in this new presentation, to embark on a series of changes.

But no, their role is to read and check, and to respond to another set of AQs, this time from the proofreader, who will be reading the proofs with a fresh and critical eye.

Again, the proofreader will make an initial contact with the author, introducing themselves, alerting the author to expect queries and giving a deadline for the author’s responses.

*Note that although we have assumed direct communication between the author and the copyeditor/proofreader, it may be that a project manager or desk editor is the point of contact between the parties during the editing and proofreading stages.

What might a copyeditor/proofreader ask?

Copyeditor

A copyeditor’s initial general queries may be establishing whether to refer to the main sections as chapters or units; asking the author to supply, say, missing concluding paragraphs to chapters X and Y; checking the author is happy for ‘data’ to be changed from singular (in the original manuscript) to plural (house style).

No two copyeditors will come up with the same list of queries on a given text. Typically, though, as they work through the text in more detail they will query if they:

  • think something needs more explanation
  • suspect something may be missing
  • consider the text may be assuming too much knowledge on the part of the reader
  • believe something could be better presented in a different way, such as a table or
    a diagram
  • genuinely don’t understand what the author is trying to say
  • spot inconsistencies or ambiguities
  • identify any inherent contradiction
  • want advice on preferred context if there is repetition.

All the time, the copyeditor will be putting themselves in the place of the reader,
anticipating anything that might diminish the usefulness, accuracy or enjoyment factor
of the published text.

The copyeditor will also decide what not to query and will use their skills and expertise to make small-scale, non-contentious changes or corrections to spelling, grammar, punctuation, facts such as dates and so on themselves – guided by the five ‘c’s of copyediting to make the text as clear, consistent, correct, concise and comprehensive as possible.

Here are some examples of a copyeditor’s AQs:

  • ‘Mouth movements’ and ‘Handwriting’ are now subheadings under ‘Movement’. Are you happy with this?
  • Robertson 2019 isn’t included in the references, but there is a Robertson 2018 listed. Please check dates/details and let me know any changes required.
  • The table isn’t mentioned in the text – where would it be appropriate to add ‘(see Table 1.1)’ (or similar)?
  • NICE guideline CG23 has been superseded by CG90 – please review and update this paragraph.
  • You use ‘mute’ here – do you mean ‘moot’?
  • ‘There are six variables taken into consideration’: only five variables are listed/explained. Please check/revise to include the sixth.

Proofreader

The proofreader will be picking up on anything that was missed at the copyediting stage (assuming there was one) or perhaps on some unforeseen knock-on effects of solutions to earlier AQs.

They may also be querying a puzzling cross-reference, a mismatch between the wording of a chapter heading on the contents page and at the top of the chapter opener page, or perhaps suggesting a solution to an awkward page break or an overlong page.

Here are some examples of AQs on a set of first proofs:

  • ‘More recent proposals to make divorce easier would also not be concerning to the New Right’ – is this as you intended? Why the ‘not’?
  • Please add in the AO marks breakdown as necessary (cf. Book 2).
  • Date of the presidential election was given as 1 November 2020. I’ve changed this to 3 November – please check/confirm.

How should an author respond to queries?

There is no set way or format for recording and responding to AQs. The copyeditor/proofreader will describe their (or the publisher’s) preferred system and set out clear instructions about how the author should log their responses. Authors are advised to follow those instructions closely!

The most usual systems are listed below, but as technology evolves so will new and possibly more refined and efficient systems emerge.

An author query in a Microsoft Word comment

  • AQs logged in Word’s Comments in the edited version of the manuscript.
  • AQs embedded in the edited version of the manuscript, formatted in a distinctive style/colour.
  • AQs logged in the Comments bar of a PDF, tagged ‘AQ:’ or ‘Author query:’.
  • Any of the above and a separate Word document with the AQs listed as a table.
  • AQs logged in a spreadsheet.

In each of the above, the author will add their responses as instructed. The author shouldn’t make any ‘silent’ changes to the edited manuscript itself.

Author queries in an Excel spreadsheet

Here is an extract from a table of copyeditor’s AQs, including the author’s response:

ReferenceQuery/SuggestionResponse
Sub-lexical sound–spelling correspondences‘Jolliffe, … agree’: Is this just Jolliffe? (Or ‘Jolliffe et al … agree’?)Could we change the whole line to: ‘Joliffe et al, in their guidance for teaching synthetic phonics in primary schools, agree:’

Here is an extract from a table of proofreader’s AQs, again with the author’s
responses included:

ReferenceQuery/SuggestionResponse
p35 – KTAdd ‘of identity’ after ‘aspects’?Agreed
p35 – summaryTranspose points 6 and 7 to reflect order of content in the main text?Agreed
p41 – topCan this be updated now?Done, on my notes
p43 – ‘Dual-heritage …’ / p24These refs to ‘intermarriage’ and ‘intermarry’ are fine, and tally with the answer to KC3. However, on p24 ‘intermarriage’ is used (I think) in the other (and opposing) sense of the word. This could be confusing. I suggest changing p24 to read ‘marriage within their class/social group’ or similar. Please advise.I agree, change the ref on p24, if anything it should be ‘intramarriage’, but I think your suggestion is clearer.

Authors need to be as clear as possible in their responses. They should also check, double-check and look for any knock-on effects before returning them. Follow-up queries on unclear or problematic responses can add time to what may be a very tight schedule. At proof stage, authors must also be aware of space implications. And, of course, keep to the deadline!

A final word

It can be daunting for an author to receive a list of questions on what they thought was a final version of their text, and especially so if the publisher did not inform them in advance about this stage of the editorial process.

Furthermore, the process of going through the queries one by one can be tedious in the extreme. It can also be time-consuming, so authors are advised to check their own schedules to allow for this.

That said, AQs can be the main form of communication between author and editor, the basis of a fruitful working relationship, and a useful record of decisions made for further down the line. And the end result will most certainly be a more polished version of that final manuscript.

Querying: CIEP resources for editors

About Philippa Tomlinson

Philippa worked in-house as a desk editor and a commissioning editor before going freelance. She has edited and proofread fiction, non-fiction, reference, travel writing and educational materials, now specialising almost exclusively in the latter. She has also worked as a bookseller, a library assistant and a teacher of English as a foreign language. Philippa is a Professional Member of the CIEP.

 

About the CIEP

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

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Photo credits: letter beads by Linh Pham on Unsplash; question marks by Gerd Altmann
on Pixabay.

Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

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

 

‘You spend all day reading?’ Why we need the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading

All events in this blog post are based on true experiences, as reported by editorial professionals. However, details have been changed to protect the identities of not only the editors but also their friends, family and contacts. Thanks to everyone who volunteered their stories.


It’s 8.30am on a typical Wednesday morning. I’ve been up for two hours and, after hanging out all the laundry and getting the kids up and off to school, I finally sit down at my desk and check my To Do list. Today, I have a specialist journal article and its references to edit, six people’s comments and corrections to collate on a textbook’s second proofs and a weekly catchup meeting with an in-house project manager. I smile to myself. I love my job and I’m still basking in the happy news that soon the SfEP will become the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading.

I check the 15 emails I’ve received overnight. The author of the article has sent a new version with 2,000 extra words and 15 new references but hasn’t used Track Changes so I can’t immediately tell what’s different. One of the consultants on the textbook has asked for the chapters to be reordered. I settle down to work.

9am: An email arrives from a marketing agency. ‘Here’s a PDF of our latest brochure. It just needs a final proofread by lunchtime.’ Apparently, by ‘final proofread’, they mean complete restructure using different words. I respond explaining, as I did last time they made the same request, that the level of changes required means it would have been quicker and cheaper for everyone if I’d have been able to edit the text in Word before it was set in InDesign. They ask how much this would cost. I give them my standard copyediting rate, which reflects my years of continuing professional development and experience. They reply that their budget doesn’t stretch to more than half that amount for such a simple task – after all, they haven’t spotted any typos in the leaflet. I politely decline the job so that I can maintain my professional integrity (and, by extension, that of the SfEP).

9.30am: The email reminds me that I used to do a lot of work for another agency, so I call my contact there. He apologetically tells me that all editing and proofreading is now handled in-house to save money. The new boss had questioned why external editors were charging twice for doing one job. My contact had tried to explain that copyediting and proofreading were two different aspects of a thorough editorial approach but the boss now gives all the ‘checking’ to a marketing assistant with an English degree. My contact confides that they’ve made a few mistakes in their marketing material recently that have ‘negatively impacted their brand perception key indicators’.

11am: My edit is interrupted by the phone. I consider not answering but it’s my mother and there might be a family emergency.

Mum: ‘Hello! I was going to phone your sister about this, but I don’t like ringing her when she’s at work. Are you working?’
Me: ‘Yes, Mum. I’m always working at this time.’
Mum: ‘Ha ha, yes, you work too hard! I do wish you’d start actually using your qualifications, though, after you spent all that time studying. What job do you say you do again? You’re a word processor or something?’
Me: ‘I’m a copyeditor.’
Mum: ‘When are you going to become a real editor? Anyway, I called to tell you …’ [Long story of exactly zero importance or urgency ensues about some relative I don’t know.]
Me: ‘Mmm … uh huh … really? … Oh dear … yes … I mean no, that’s terrible!’ [Trying to sound interested and maintain work mode.]
Mum: ‘Are you listening to me?’
Me: ‘Well, actually, I’ve got this deadline …’
Mum: ‘Well, why didn’t you say so?’

12.30pm: The doorbell rings. I think it’s the postie needing me to sign for a contract I’m expecting by registered post so I answer the door. It turns out to be a friend holding a homemade cake.

Friend: ‘Hi! I was just passing and I knew you’d be at home so I thought I’d pop in for a quick coffee.’
Me: ‘Er, it’s nice to see you but I actually have a deadline today.’
Friend: ‘Oh, I’ll only be half an hour. It’s lunchtime! Time for a break!’

She walks in and casts a critical eye on the unwashed breakfast dishes.

Friend: ‘Oh, I could never work from home! I’d get too distracted by the housework!’
Me: [Ahem, clearly that’s not my problem …] ‘If I spent all day doing the housework, I wouldn’t get paid.’
Friend: ‘Oh, come on, your husband has a good job. You don’t need to work!’
Me: ‘Editing is my career. It’s taken me years to get to where I am now.’ [To gain the skills, experience and contacts to get a steady stream of work and become an Advanced Professional Member of the SfEP.]
Friend: ‘So which book are you reviewing at the moment?’
Me: ‘I’ve told you before, I’m not a reviewer, I’m an editor. I don’t comment on it, I fix it. Reviewing and editing are different jobs.’
Friend: ‘Oh, so you just run spellchecks all day? Beats a real job! Right, no more time to chat – I’m off to my Pilates class.’

I’d been planning on a walk round the block but I don’t have time now so I get back to work.

3pm: I go to pick up the kids from school. A mother I’ve never spoken to corners me.

Her: ‘You’re a proofreader aren’t you?’
Me (warily): ‘Well, I’m mainly an editor but yes, I do proofread …’
Her: ‘I’ve decided to become a proofreader too. I’m always spotting mistakes in books. There was a typo in the crime novel I’m reading. If you’ve got any overspill work, let me know!’
Me: ‘I don’t suppose you’ve got half a day to edit 1,500 references into Chicago style and cross-check them against the citations?’
Her: ‘Um.’

A father has been listening in.

Him: ‘You’re a proofreader? I didn’t know that was still a thing. Do they actually employ people just to do that stuff? Isn’t there software for that?’
Me: ‘Yes, my brain.’
A nearby childminder looks scandalised: ‘You spend all day reading? Flipping through books? Nice for some – the rest of us have work to do!’

With perfect timing, my youngest child rushes out of the classroom and announces that he got 100% in his English comprehension test. The adults are suddenly silent.

3.30pm: As I get home, a neighbour comes over to chat. I ask how her husband is after his recent operation.

Neighbour: ‘I think he’s all right but I’ve not been able to get over to see him in hospital today. I was hoping Roger opposite would give me a lift – he works from home like you, you know, but he’s a man. He’s not got to ferry his kids around all day like you do.’
Me: ‘Perhaps he’s contracted to work certain hours. If he’s self-employed, he might even work longer hours than people with office jobs.’
Neighbour: ‘But he’s got time to walk his dog! Oh, by the way, here’s your copy of the charity cookery book you helped with.’

Inside the house, I eagerly look at the book. I’d voluntarily spent hours laying out pages, sourcing illustrations and explaining how to pay for them, warning them of copyright infringement and copyediting the recipes. The acknowledgements merely thank me for sorting out the author’s grammar.

4.30pm: An email arrives from a graduate student, for whom English is a second language. ‘I have just finished writing my MSc dissertation and need some urgent editing and academic proofreading work done. It’s about 70,000 words. This may be the final proofreading I do before submission this week by Friday.’ I politely decline.

5pm: I’ve put my focusing skills to use today and made quite a bit of progress, despite everything. I take a quick look at Facebook. A friend is starting up a small business and asks about GDPR and how tax is handled by sole traders. I send her a copy of my GDPR policy and a quick outline of the HMRC self-assessment process. She’s grateful for my help and messages back, ‘You’re wasted as a proofreader! I didn’t know you knew about this sort of thing! I thought you were just a language pedant. Is that how you spell pedant? I’m scared you’re going to correct me!’ I respond, ‘Don’t worry, if you’re not paying me, I won’t correct you.’ She replies, ‘Oh, I was going to ask you to check my new web text but I’ll ask my English-teacher friend if you want paying for it.’

5.30pm: I’ve still got a few hours’ work to do, after all today’s interruptions. Just before I return to the endless references, I remind myself of the SfEP’s original rationale for chartership:

‘We want to see greater appreciation of the value of good editing (in its widest sense), based on recognised qualifications, high standards and an understanding of what editorial professionals do, with a commensurate rise in their status and pay.’ (www.sfep.org.uk/about/governance/aim-of-chartership)

It seems that, as a member of the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading, I’ll soon be taking another step in my ongoing public relations journey.


Photo credits: Man on sofa – Austin Distel on Unsplash; Head in book Siora Photography on Unsplash

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

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

My first steps into proofreading made me fit!

By Carolyn Clarke

Yes, it’s true, but allow me to start at the beginning.

I wanted to use another of my hobbies as a way of making a living. Two of my loves are plants and words. The former I had transformed into a successful gardening business over the last seven years. The latter started when I was a child, spending my pocket money in the local bookshop.

I love my gardening work but as a 50-something I realised that this amount of physical hard work could not go on for ever.

Enter my love of words. I was aware that I spotted mistakes easily. I liked consistency, tidiness and balance: proofreading was the way to go. And I knew that the outdoor physical could dovetail nicely with the indoor cerebral – Yin and Yang.

Getting started

With this no-brainer decision now made, I bought a new laptop and enrolled on an online proofreading course. It was a toss-up between the two reputable providers, the then SfEP (now the CIEP) and the PTC. I chose the latter’s Basic Proofreading: Editorial Skills One, which took me nearly a year to complete. Before I did the course, I wondered if it was even necessary (I can already spell can’t I?!) but soon realised that, yes, it was very necessary. I didn’t know how much I didn’t know until I started the course.

I enjoyed the course immensely although it was a little biased towards working on paper with BSI marks and less focused on working digitally with Word or PDFs.

From the essential books that a proofreader needs I bought the New Oxford Spelling Dictionary, because it shows word breaks, and Trask’s Penguin Guide to Punctuation. I intended to buy New Hart’s Rules: The Oxford Style Guide and the New Oxford Dictionary for Writers and Editors but realised I could access these online with my library card. Excellent.

I wrote a profile about myself and was proudly listed as a proofreader on the PTC Directory. Competition is tough though, so I knew it was no use just sitting around waiting for possible work to come in: I had to be proactive, but how?

I was allowed to attend three local CIEP group meetings before I joined so I went to two different groups. Arriving early at the first, I was greeted by the one other early CIEP member and received my first gems of advice: read everything by CIEP gurus Louise Harnby and John Espirian, and have you joined findaproofreader.com yet?

I started to read lots online. Everything I read suggested something else that I needed to write or do; I had entered a very enjoyable internet black hole and was rapidly list-making in order to prioritise my tasks.

I created a logo for myself and set up various social media pages on LinkedIn, Facebook, Aboutme and FreeIndex knowing I could always add to them as I gained more experience, work and, importantly, good reviews.

Getting work

Approaching one of my long-time gardening clients, I offered to proofread their business website at a reduced rate. No, they said, we will pay you CIEP rates. I was jumping with joy and raring to go; I could now use my logo-emblazoned invoice created from a Word template. A couple of real clangers stood out: ‘Sometimes a simple and sort video can cut though the fog of technology’, and ‘Sign up our newsletter’. Hilarious. Armed with a review and some experience I logged back on to my social media platforms…

My enthusiasm boosted, I trawled sites online and found a theatre website that was littered with schoolboy (and girl) errors (‘thrown’ instead of ‘throne’, [groan]) and yes, he would be happy for me to proofread it in exchange for some theatre tickets and a review of my work.

Getting fit

I was now spending hours glued to my laptop. Sitting is alien to a gardener so I started to sandwich my computer work with activity: a five-minute plank and ab workout, ten minutes of yoga, a fifteen-minute run/walk and, believe it or not, skipping with a rope! (It is astonishing how tiring it is now compared to when I was a child!) For a longer break, I walk for at least an hour.

I practised working with Word and using Find and Replace to make searching a text quicker. I had read about using Templates and Styles and added them to my To Do list. Macros were new to me but I downloaded Paul Beverley’s Macros for Editors and installed the Macro Starter Pack which I knew at some time in the future would make my proofreading much, much quicker. When I found that Louise Harnby had made a set of BSI stamps available free to use with PDFs, I immediately downloaded a set and had a go; I wanted to practise using the marks I’d spent months learning before I forgot them.

Ten-minute run break…

I had now joined the CIEP and so began my descent into another internet black hole: the CIEP forums. These are online discussions where members can post questions and read about anything to do with proofreading or editing, whether it be a grammar question, finding work or dealing with clients. It is a hugely supportive network of experienced professionals. Another valuable asset is the archive of Editing Matters, the SfEP’s bimonthly magazine. [Since April 2020, CIEP members have received a bi-monthly e-newsletter, The Edit.]

Yoga mat aside, I thought about the need for finding a niche. My specialisms are gardening and horticulture but I am also a trained primary teacher so educational books may be a good way to go. From the library I borrowed the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook and noted the contact details of educational publishers and publishers that produce books about horticulture. There is also a section on book packagers, another possible tack that is new to me. My To Do list continues to get longer.

I reach for my skipping rope in between the emailing…

Carolyn Clarke is a bookworm with a sharp eye! She is a freelance proofreader who specialises in horticulture and primary education but will happily proofread a range of fiction and non-fiction. Connect with Carolyn on LinkedIn.

 

 


A longer version of this post is available in the May/June 2019 issue of Editing Matters.

The CIEP has a wide range of courses for new and experienced proofreaders and editors, and CIEP membership benefits include discounts on the ‘must-have’ resources and software.


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

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

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.

Briefs


Susie Dent's Wonderful Words

All editors rely on a good ‘brief’, a word that has come a long way since it first crossed into English from French in the Middle Ages. An editor’s brief today is a short summary of what is required for a particular job.

‘Short’ is key here, for ‘brief’ is rooted ultimately in the Latin word brevis, for ‘short’. A breve, for the Romans, was a short summary of an official document, and, by extension, an official note or dispatch, the classical equivalent perhaps of a message by telegram. From then on, whether we’re talking underpants, the musical note ‘breve’, or the process of abbreviation, ‘shortness’ and ‘brief’ have gone together.

Different kinds of underwear hanging on a washing line

In the course of this lifetime, and before landing firmly on the editorial desk, ‘brief’ came to embrace a whole host of meanings. They included a royal mandate or a letter from the Pope on matters of discipline (less ample and solemn than a bull), and a letter of credentials given to mendicant friars. This is to say nothing of its cameo stints as a pawnbroker’s ticket, a cabbie’s licence, and a policeman’s warrant card.

In law, a brief can mean two things: the summary of the facts of a case, or the lawyer conducting that case. When it comes to humour of course, it can also mean a third. Barristers once traditionally carried a bag of green cloth in which to ‘carry their briefs’. Today’s members of the Bar are a little tired of the inevitable joke, though one slang dictionary from the 18th century does note that ‘These gentlement carry their clients’ deeds in a green bag; and, it is said, when they have no deeds to carry, frequently fill them with an old pair of breeches … to give themselves the appearance of business’.

Knickers and pawnbrokers, cabbies and criminals: for the most prosaic of words, ‘briefs’ have had a surprisingly adventurous ride.

Susie Dent, honorary vice-president of the Society for Editors and ProofreadersWonderful Words is a regular feature by Susie Dent, honorary vice-president of the SfEP. Susie is a writer and broadcaster on language. She is perhaps best known as the resident word expert on C4’s Countdown.

 

 

Posted by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator.

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

So, what is editorial excellence…? We asked visitors to London Book Fair 2017 to tell us.

The whirlwind that is London Book Fair is over for another year. We are very grateful to LBF for again giving us the opportunity to exhibit at the fair. We wanted not only to spread the word about the SfEP in general, but also to push our message that editing does matter. Which raises the question of what good editing looks like.

We ran a competition* inviting fair attendees to tell us what ‘editorial excellence’ means to them. We had a mixed bag of responses, but with some common themes. Here are some of them:

Do you agree with them all? It’s interesting to note that entries from some of the publishing students and those newer to the profession have a common theme of ‘going above and beyond’ and producing error-free work, whereas those from more experienced hands focus on retaining the author’s voice and balancing the demands of the process.

Perhaps that experience is telling. Learning how to be a good editor takes time. It very much involves acquiring and nourishing our sense of what and when not to change. As editors and proofreaders, we all want our work to be error-free (and cringe when we let through a blooper), but what would ‘perfection’ look like? Often one person’s notion of what is ‘right’ is quite different from another’s. Our job, perhaps, is not to impose our picture of perfection but to get to know what our client’s picture looks like.

Ian Howe presented a seminar for us called ‘Editing matters – doesn’t it?’ This was met with great enthusiasm by a packed room. He gave us some good examples of when not to change, proving that there’s more to editing and proofreading than just knowing the ‘rules’ of grammar and being able to spot typos. To apostrophe or not to apostrophe, that was the question. (The answer is yes if it’s King’s Cross, but no if it’s Barons Court. You just have to know that. Or know when to look something up.)

It’s a tricky business this editing malarkey, isn’t it? It’s just these sorts of questions that we’ll be exploring further at our annual conference from 16–18 September, Context is key: Why the answer to most questions is ‘It depends’. Booking is open now, and there’s an early-bird rate until 28 April. But don’t ponder too long – our conference places usually sell out fast!

*Congratulations to Sophie Eminson, whose name was drawn as the winner from our competition entries. She wins a complete set of SfEP guides.

Margaret HunterMargaret Hunter is the marketing and PR director of the SfEP. She works as an editor and proofreader as Daisy Editorial, and particularly likes helping independent authors with business guides, memoirs and general non-fiction. She loves taming Word’s styles and templates.

 

5 marketing tips for the freelance editor or proofreader

marketing - promoting and selling, research and advertising

Marketing tips

By Mary McCauley

I studied services marketing in college and before my studies began I had a perception of marketing as a complicated and theory-based business system practised by big US multinational corporations. By the time I finished my degree, this view had changed: for me, services marketing boils down to a simple ‘Which customers do you want to serve and how can you persuade them to buy your service?’ So, in relation to a freelance editorial business, my top five ‘marketing’ tips are very straightforward: be nice (provide excellent customer service); be focused (which specific customers do you want to buy your service?); be professional (build your reputation and protect it); be online (establish a professional online presence); and be generous (network).

1. Be nice

As an editorial professional you are a service provider. You may have the keenest editorial brain in the world and a long list of top academic qualifications but unless you realise that in providing a service to customers you must look after those customers as best you can, then your freelance business will not be all it can be. You are an intangible part of the service your client is purchasing and the client has to want to work with you. As Steve Baron and Kim Harris write, ‘customers often use the appearance and manner of service employees as a first point of reference when deciding whether or not to make a purchase’. In every aspect of your service to clients – be they an independent author, a publishing house, an academic or a corporation – be friendly, helpful, genuine and, most importantly, customer-driven. Use every opportunity to put your client at ease, make it easy for them to work with you, and make them want to work with you again. As retired Irish retailer Fergal Quinn puts it, ‘Think of the main task as being to bring the customer back.’ It sounds simple, right? But so many service providers fail to understand the importance of this concept. Think about it for a minute: are there certain people/shops you won’t buy from, no matter how low their prices, simply because they or their staff are rude and unhelpful?

2. Be focused

Don’t try to be all things to all people: identify your editorial speciality and then actively target those clients who seek this specific area of expertise. According to proofreader and author Louise Harnby, ‘Your educational and career backgrounds will help you to identify core client groups.’ A good way to start thinking about this is to imagine someone you’ve just met asks you what you do. Can you define it in approximately ten words? For example, my response would be: ‘I am a freelance copy-editor and proofreader providing editorial services to fiction authors and corporate clients.’

3. Be professional

Clients are paying you (hopefully) good money to provide them with a service. They want to know that their money is well spent. If they haven’t worked with you before then from their point of view they are taking a risk by contracting your service. You can help minimise their perception of that risk by behaving in a professional manner. This is especially the case if you are starting out as freelance editor and have minimal testimonials or no portfolio. Behaving professionally extends to all aspects of your business. Meet project deadlines or alert the client as soon as possible if there will be a delay; issue formal quotations, project agreements, invoices and receipts; acknowledge client correspondence promptly; treat a client’s project with confidentiality; and so on. If you are a member of an editorial professional body, act in accordance with their code of practice.

4. Be online

Again, it’s very simple: if potential clients don’t know you exist how can they hire you? If they search online for editorial services will they find you? A business website is an excellent opportunity for you to control the message you give to potential customers. WordPress, Weebly and About Me offer free, easy options to create and maintain a website. You can list your services, portfolio, client testimonials, qualifications and, most importantly, your contact details! Ensure the content of your website accurately reflects your values and professional approach. Social media (Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, etc.) provide effective means to interact with potential clients. For example, if your target market includes independent authors join one of LinkedIn’s writers’ group forums. Help potential clients find you by listing your services in online directories, such as the CIEP Directory of Editorial Services.

5. Be generous

The more you give the more you receive, and what goes around comes around. They may be clichés but also good mottos for life – and for business! Network not only with colleagues (online through social media, and in person at editor meetings, conferences, courses, etc.) but also with members of your target market. Don’t focus solely on yourself when networking; few like to converse with someone who drones on about ‘me, me, me’. Think about ways you can be helpful: perhaps if your work schedule is booked up and you cannot take on an author’s project you could refer the author to a trusted colleague and thus be helpful to both; share a colleague’s interesting and informative article/blog post with your network of colleagues, friends and clients; or introduce a client to someone who can add value to their project further down the production process, such as an illustrator or typesetter. Genuine goodwill and generosity will come back to you tenfold.

What’s your top tip for marketing your freelance editorial business? Which marketing activity has worked best for you and which have you found the most difficult?

References

Baron, S and Harris, K (1995) Services Marketing: Text and Cases. Macmillan, London

Harnby, L. (2014) Marketing Your Editing & Proofreading Business: Being Interesting and Discoverable. Louise Harnby, in association with The Publishing Training Centre

Quinn, F. (1990) Crowning the Customer: How to Become Customer-Driven. The O’Brien Press, Dublin

Mary McCauley

Mary McCauley

Based in Wexford, Ireland, Mary McCauley is a freelance proofreader and copy-editor working with corporate clients and independent fiction authors. She is a member of both the CIEPand the Association of Freelance Editors, Proofreaders and Indexers (AFEPI) in Ireland. She helps run the AFEPI Twitter account and also blogs sporadically at Letters from an Irish Editor. Around the time she started her editorial business she took up running – not only to keep fit but also to help maintain her sanity. One of these goals has been achieved. Say hello to Mary on TwitterFacebook or Google+.

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

 

Originally published May 2014; updated June 2021.