One of the most common questions asked at Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP) local groups and by those interested in pursuing a career in editing or proofreading is: ‘How did you get started?’.
SfEP professional member Abi Saffrey shares her story in this regular blog feature, which explores the many different career paths taken by SfEP members.
I’m not an unlikely editor: I’ve always had a passion and aptitude for language, adore the feel and smell of a book, and love to organise.
Achievements in French and English at school led to a degree in Languages and Linguistics. As a new graduate, I got an admin job at Dillons the Bookstore, which in many ways was heaven: organising money and paperwork for 30 per cent of my day; unpacking and sorting books for the other 70 per cent.
I left that job for a better-paid admin job elsewhere, but the books kept calling so I applied for graduate editing jobs, and I was offered an editorial assistant job with a small business-to-business publisher. The process wasn’t a standard book publishing one, and we certainly didn’t use BSI marks, but I learnt about various types of content quality control and enjoyed editing colleagues’ writing.
After taking a ‘career break’ (i.e. three months travelling the world), I landed a desk editor job at Continuum in London. I was thrown into the deep end, managing books from manuscript submission to final proofs.
I then went to a large US corporation’s UK office to edit the work of ten in-house economic analysts, and that’s where my subject specialism started to develop. I studied for an ‘A’ level in Economics, read the Economist every week, and attended seminars on shipping routes and trade terms. I managed a monthly publication (with contributions from 15 economists), and edited reports that were revised annually. I became responsible for improving the economists’ writing skills – they came from all over the globe, so I learnt a lot about the challenges that non-native English speakers face when trying to express complicated concepts in their second (third, fourth) language.
From there, I headed to Glasgow to work as a publishing project manager for an education quango. The production processes were very paper-based, so I introduced an electronic workflow and encouraged the use of freelances to lessen the load on in-house staff. My role developed into quality control manager, so by the time I left I was responsible for ensuring a 60,000-page website (and around 100 printed publications every year) met specific quality standards.
I was moving further and further away from the words I love, so in January 2009 I stepped off the precipice and joined the freelance community. I had joined the SfEP Glasgow group in 2007 and received advice, support and encouragement, and I had already done a couple of freelance projects alongside my full-time job, so I felt informed about, and prepared for, my leap.
I sent a lot of emails, and my first few jobs were for previous employers. In that first year a conversation with a friend (a university lecturer) evolved into working with a journalist to create a database of English writing examples and questions, to help university students (both native and non-native English speakers) improve their writing skills.
I kept emailing potential clients, and by the end of my first year I had worked with 11 different organisations (four of which I still work with). The variety is key for me: last year, I did a five-month stint editing an economics journal (with its editorial board based in Hamburg); this year, I’m attending the PTC’s Editorial Project Management course, in preparation for offering another service to my clients.
I’m always on the lookout for new opportunities – I carry a notebook with me so I can jot down the names of organisations I would like to work with. Then, every few months, I do a bit of online research and approach those organisations. On my current list are publishers included in the reference list of an article I’ve edited, a think-tank that featured in a TV documentary, and a research institute that someone mentioned at a birthday party.
Abi Saffrey is a professional member of the SfEP. She specialises in copy-editing and proofreading economics and social policy content, and anything within the wider social sciences realm. Abi is a social introvert with two young children, and slight addictions to bootcamps and tea.
Proofread by SfEP entry-level member Susan Walton.
The views expressed here do not necessarily represent those of the SfEP.