Tag Archives: support

Freelance editing and COVID-19

By Liz Jones

As editors, we’re used to seeing the big picture as well as the small details, moving effortlessly between the two states of looking in the course of a project, or within a single page, often from one minute to the next. Our editorial eye shifts and refocuses, shifts and refocuses, until the job is complete. We are sometimes mistaken for perfectionists, but in reality we are bound by schedules and budgets, depending on pragmatism to guide us in our interpretation of the brief. We can only do what we can do. As professionals with a strong urge to make everything right, still we must accept that not everything is within our control.

Editors have been discussing these limits to what they can and can’t control in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic in the CIEP forums. As business owners we are encouraged – we encourage each other – to believe that we have autonomy. This is why we are freelance: it gives us the theoretical freedom to shape our working lives. To those who argue that it’s hard to wait for a reliable workstream to build up, we answer ‘put yourself out there, do more marketing’. To those who cite the seeming avalanche of competition for high-quality work, we reply ‘train harder, make yourself stand out’. We revere proactivity – and usually, this is reasonable. One of the measures of a successful freelancer is an ability to keep going through difficult times: to bounce back, to persist, to prevail.

But perhaps there are some crises in the face of which no amount of imagination, energy or tenacity will enable a coherent or effective response. And perhaps the social, emotional and economic shock we’re currently enduring is one of them. When asked about the effects the pandemic was having on their businesses, editors duly reported on the relatively ‘small’ details: loss of work, financial uncertainty, effect on mental health, juggling childcare/schooling, support from industry contacts, the (UK) government’s support package for workers. These are all things we can observe and measure, if not necessarily control, and people were thoughtful and generous in the responses they shared.

Loss of work

Work lost so far varies between individuals and by sector – and as some pointed out, it depends on how much work particular editors had in the first place. Some members have reported a complete loss of all work. Most had noticed a slowdown in new enquiries, especially from businesses and individuals such as self-publishing authors or academics, and many reported that projects had been delayed or cancelled. Not everyone has lost work, however. Those working in medical editing have reported more work than usual relating to the current situation, along with those working in educational publishing, as the need for teaching resources surges. Some publishing clients have been open with their freelance editors about their schedules, especially where they remain unchanged for now. Others have gone very quiet, especially when pushed to pay outstanding invoices.

Financial uncertainty

Of course, freelance work entails living with financial uncertainty at the best of times. We’re always expendable, vulnerable to the changing fortunes of our clients. But editors discussed the expectation of needing to depend on savings and investments in the coming months, if they have them, or of having to rely on a partner’s salary for support – again, if they have one. Even for those continuing to take on work, there’s more concern than usual that invoices will not be paid. (This might be a good time to start invoicing for at least part of the work upfront, for all clients, where usually we might be happier to work to 30-day terms for publishers and similar organisations.) People reported some immediate hardship, and the threat of more the longer this situation goes on.

Mental health

Most editors who answered reported that their mental health was OK – for now. Some acknowledged that it could be fragile, though, and needed monitoring. People were finding it hard to be physically separated from friends and loved ones. In terms of managing mental health, a few alluded to the medicinal properties of wine, while conceding that this could be a false friend. They also mentioned continued physical exercise, exposure to the outside world where possible, music, yoga and meditation, and pets as being beneficial. Perhaps freelance editors have an advantage when it comes to dealing with relative isolation. We are already used to working alone for long periods, and finding ways to restore our sanity and feelings of connection. People thanked the CIEP for continuing to support meetings between groups of editors via Zoom – an option increasingly taken up by various local groups. It’s possible that the immediate flurry of trying to reorganise our lives around the sudden restrictions has distracted us to the point of deferring a collective mental health crisis, but it was good to read that people are coping so far and have strategies to fall back on.

Caring responsibilities and school closures

Many of the editors who responded had caring responsibilities, including for school-aged children currently at home (and in need of some sort of schooling). This was affecting people’s working hours and causing some stress as a result. Of course many of us are fortunate in that we have relatively flexible work – but the days still have the same number of hours … and trying to look after children, provide them with some form of ongoing education and get some meaningful work done is exhausting, especially for those with younger children. Again, the restrictions on what can be done with children outside the home make things extra difficult. It may prove impossible to do anything other than the bare minimum of work in these conditions, meaning that regular activities essential to the growth of a business, such as marketing, are sidelined. It’s early days, but these challenges are only likely to increase, with no fixed end in sight. A few editors commented on the effects of having a partner working from home (where this was not usual), which can disrupt routines and put extra pressure on space.

Help from the industry

It was generally agreed that industry contacts can best support freelancers in this situation by being as open as they can about the impact of the crisis on schedules and workflows; keeping lines of communication open. This should apply in less extreme circumstances, too, but it’s especially important now. And arranging to pay freelancers on time for their work, and early if possible, is crucial. Perhaps it should go without saying, but it bears reiterating, that project managers (in-house or freelance) should only commission editorial work they can be confident of having sufficient cashflow to pay for.

Government support

At the time of writing, the UK government had offered a support package to self-employed people which should enable them to receive a grant of 80% of their average income for the past three tax years – three months’ pay up to a maximum of £2500 per month, in one lump sum. This was broadly welcomed by those it would help (though the money is not likely to be available until at least June) but, as many pointed out, it does leave key groups of freelance editors without access to adequate support or compensation. People who operate limited companies are not covered, and it also neglects people who have only recently become self-employed. The offer of support has also been made in such a way as to entrench the widespread (and unhelpful) perception that self-employed people habitually pay less tax than employees.

That’s a brief overview of what editorial freelancing in the current climate looks like, for now – the detail of our working lives in lockdown. People remain as positive as they can, but I think we should acknowledge that it is scary, and certain things do look really grim. Global events continue to unfold at a speed we’ve never really witnessed; by next week this article could look quite quaint. And as for that bigger picture – the long-term outlook, the landscape we’ll all be navigating once the crisis has passed? That remains to be seen.

Liz Jones is one of the editors on the CIEP’s information team.


CIEP members can keep in touch on the forums.

Follow your government’s coronavirus guidance (the UK’s is here).

If you are self-employed and eligible for a grant from the UK government, HMRC will be in touch.

IPSE is providing regular updates on support for the self-employed and limited companies during the pandemic.


Photo credits: Stay home Mohammad Fahim; Child and dog on laptop – Charles Deluvio, both on Unsplash.

Proofread and posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

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

The Book Trade Charity

By Gerard M-F Hill

Every year, members of SfEP do their bit to support The Book Trade Charity (BTBS). Why? What does it do?The Book Trade Charity (BTBS) logo

It helps anyone who is working or has worked in the book trade – editors, proofreaders, indexers, printers, publishers, binders and booksellers, for example – and is in difficulty.
Suppose you fall seriously ill, you have no family support and you can’t work for a while: how will you pay the bills? Imagine you are offered a job interview, or even a job! What will you do if you haven’t the train fare? Perhaps you want to retrain and can’t afford the course? What if you suddenly find yourself out on the street? Divorce, redundancy, a failed client leaving you unpaid, a partner’s terminal illness: any of these might exhaust your resources.

In such situations The Book Trade Charity gives welfare grants – very quickly in emergencies – but it also supports people needing help over a longer period, from those on benefits and pensioners on low incomes to young interns on even lower incomes. It can help with the deposit for a flat, repairs to a boiler or replacement of a fridge. As well as helping older people who have fallen on hard times, it is now giving more attention to young people at the start of their working life, with career guidance, financial help and accommodation.

Established in 1837, the Charity has attractive flats, bungalows and cottages available to rent. These began with John Dickinson, the paper manufacturer, who gave the land where in 1845 he built the first almshouses for “decaying booksellers assistants”. Following a merger with the Bookbinders Charitable Society (founded 1830), it now owns 59 properties – 22 at Bookbinders Cottages in north London and 37 at The Retreat in Kings Langley, Hertfordshire, some to wheelchair standard but all at affordable rents – and is building more.

The Retreat, Kings Langley

The Retreat, Kings Langley

How does it do all this? It receives annual grants from publishers and bibliophile charities, among them (thanks to T.S. and Valerie Eliot) Old Possum’s Practical Trust. But it also depends on the many smaller donations it receives. People organise fun runs, pub quizzes and all sorts of other events to raise money for the Charity, which also has guaranteed places in the London Marathon for anyone interested; and one person raised £4000 by doing a sponsored cycle ride. SfEP members gave £325 when renewing their subscriptions in 2017 and another £215 in 2018, and the SfEP Council has decided to add to that the £287 proceeds of the raffle at conference.

If you are anywhere near Kings Langley, you can benefit yourself while helping The Book Trade Charity. On certain Fridays and Saturdays throughout the year it runs book sales at The Retreat, where stock given by publishers is sold at very reasonable prices: fiction, non-fiction, children’s books, glossy tomes and more.

The next sales are 12.00–17.00 on 23 November and 10.00–14.00 on 24 and 26–30 November 2018. If you can’t get there, or even if you can, you might consider adding a donation to your subscription when you next renew your SfEP membership. After all, you never know when you might need the discreet, practical help of the Book Trade Charity. Visit www.btbs.org to find out more.

Gerard HillFor his third career, Gerard M-F Hill retrained in 1990 as an indexer and became an editorial freelance as much-better-text.com. He began mentoring for SfEP in 1999, joined the council in 2007 and was its first standards director; he stood down in 2016 to become chartership adviser. An advanced professional member of SfEP and SI, he lives on a hillside in breezy Cumberland.

 

Posted by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator.

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

Leather sofas and cakes – my first experience of the SfEP local groups

The SfEP has 39 local and regional networking groups where editorial professionals come together for support, knowledge sharing, visits to places of bookish interest… and quite often eating cake or having a glass or two of wine! David Smith has just attended his first SfEP group meeting in Glasgow and shares his experience with us here.

cakes at Glasgow SfEP local group

Photo © David Smith

Leather sofas, real coffee, home baking and an inviting ambient atmosphere all created an ideal setting for my first local SfEP meeting. This was the Glasgow group’s first meeting in its new location, the Singl-end café and bakehouse (@thesinglend).

I didn’t attend the old venue, but I would be surprised if it was as good as this one.

The 16 attendees sat on the sumptuous leather in a small room off the main area. The meeting was opened with introductions to welcome the newer members.

This was followed by an informative and entertaining report of a recent course on gaining work from non-publishers. The members who gave the report had travelled from Edinburgh, highlighting how the groups generously help each other.

Next up for discussion was how to make the monthly meeting more accessible to more members. A survey will be distributed to gauge preferences regarding times and location.

The majority are freelance and are more able to rearrange work to attend during the week; however, for employees, like me, the midweek daytime schedule prevents regular attendance.

An evening meeting would cause problems for those with childcare concerns, and the evenings are not always the best after a busy day at work. It is always a difficult balance to get right. It must suit those who shoulder the organisational burden, as without those heroes the meetings may not happen at all.

Next a member raised a question she had about a work issue. This prompted plenty of advice from those who knew, and added to the knowledge of those who didn’t.

There seemed to be a vast range of expertise in the group, and all were helpful in offering advice where required. The benefits of such a group are legion. From expertise on a variety of work-related problems to simple networking with your peers.

This point cannot be overstated for those in a predominately solitary profession. It is good to get out and to practise your social skills, and if those you practise with also understand your predicament, so much the better. It can be all too easy to suffer in isolation, but there is no reason to when you have an active local SfEP group like the Glasgow one.

I was made to feel very welcome, and the two hours passed far too quickly. It would be a regular date for me if I could manage it, but I may have to keep in touch via the second best option, the forum.

The meetings are thoroughly recommended, and if you are able to attend it is well worth the effort.

David SmithDavid Smith is currently employed as a technical author and works as a copy-editor, proofreader and article writer. He likes being outdoors, but dislikes British winters.

If you are not yet a member of the SfEP but would like to find out more by attending your local group (sfep.org.uk/networking/local/groups), you may go along to three meetings as a non-member. We hope you’ll be so impressed that you’ll sign up for membership straight away!

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

Reasons to be cheerful about freelance home working

By Lesley Ellen

Sitting at the computer in my home office and looking out the window on this wildly wet and windy morning, I can’t help reflecting on how lucky I am to be able to work from home as a freelance editor.

When I recently took voluntary redundancy after working in local government – for, well, let’s just say more than 20 years – I knew I didn’t want to return to the commuter treadmill, trundling into an office every day to work fixed hours under the watchful eyes of a boss – a boss who wasn’t me. Having done a fair bit of writing and editing throughout my career, the world of proofreading and copy-editing appealed to me, and two years on with some training and work under my belt (but still a great deal to learn), I can say that I haven’t regretted for a single minute taking this up as a second career.

Earlier this year, I was lured back to the corporate world to work two days a week to help out with a maternity cover. The work has been interesting, my colleagues are lovely and the organisation is located in stunning parkland in one of Edinburgh’s most beautiful, hidden areas, where lunchtime walks amongst this year’s especially glorious autumn trees made me very grateful to be outdoors and away from either of my desks. But now that the weather has turned and with my contract ending in just a few days, I can’t wait to huddle down indoors and focus full-time on my editing career.

Never again the early morning bus ride in the dark, followed by the return journey also in the dark – commuting in Scotland in the winter months is invariably in the dark. Just as I do on the days I’m currently at home, I’ll be able to get up at a time that suits my own schedule and cast a sympathetic glance at neighbours scurrying out to work while I put the kettle on and settle down in my cosy study.

freedom to work outsideWith my son living away at university and my husband out at work, the house is my domain and, being my own boss, I can fit my schedule to suit looming deadlines and other necessary tasks. If I need to, I can work five or six hours, or even more (with the appropriate health breaks of course) to meet a deadline. I can take time off to clean the bathroom (I have to be working on a particularly dull project for that task to appeal). Or, instead of furtively looking at live results on my phone, I can take time out to watch a tennis match on TV (something that does appeal, at least until we get into the long drawn-out torture of the typical Andy Murray match). If I want to make that time up by working later at night, then that’s my choice. In the summer, I can break up my working day with an hour pottering in the garden or just eating my lunch outside – weather permitting naturally.

I don’t need to ask for time off for holidays. As long as I let my regular clients know that I’m going to be away and don’t take on any extra projects, I can take my holidays whenever I want; no more agonising over whose turn it is to staff the office during the Christmas/New Year period. I don’t need to worry about how to fill the hours on a slow day in the office or about getting stressed that I didn’t manage to do everything I needed to because I kept getting interrupted by colleagues and phone calls. (That’s not to say I don’t get stressed when up against a looming deadline at home, but I’d say it’s a different kind of stress.) And of course, I don’t need to get involved in any office politics.

Getting support from ‘virtual colleagues’

Sure, there can be downsides to working from home. Some people can find it isolating and you do have to take care of your health and ensure that you don’t sit at that screen all day long without regular breaks. You might miss the chat at the coffee machine, and something I do miss from time to time is the opportunity to stick my head above my computer and say to a colleague: ‘You know when you’re trying to format a document and Word won’t let you … How do you fix it?’ Or, ‘In a sentence like this, can you say …?’ But the fix for this, as a member of the SfEP, is to log in to the SfEP forums where you can ask these questions, even if you do feel a bit stupid sometimes, and you’ll get a sensible reply, usually within minutes. It never fails to amaze me just how generous members are with their time and their advice. And using the forums does make you feel like you are part of a community.

Access to the forums is one of the major benefits of being an SfEP member, but for me the biggest benefit is being a member of the local SfEP group. Our group has only been running for just over a year, but I already count members of it as friends and colleagues with whom it’s wonderful to share experiences and information. I have learned and continue to learn so much from them, both longstanding SfEP members and newer entrants. Our group seems to be going from strength to strength and we have much to look forward to in the year ahead.

So, as Christmas and the end of the year approach, I’m thankful for the working opportunities I’ve had this year, both as a part-time employee and as a freelance editor, but I’m gearing up for a new year of opportunities and relishing the chance to be my own boss, fully focused on my editing career and working from home.

Lesley EllenLesley Ellen (www.elleneditorial.com) is a Professional Member of the SfEP and coordinator of the SfEP’s local Edinburgh group. She has a background in modern languages and previously worked in local government where she wrote and edited all manner of business documents and communications. As a freelance editor, Lesley specialises in academic copy-editing and editing for non-publishers.

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