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Wise owls: dialects

There are many different Englishes – and there are Englishes within Englishes. The wise owls have turned their thoughts to their favourite features of dialects of England.

Louise BolotinLouise Bolotin

I’ve been a sucker for a flat northern vowel ever since I watched Coronation Street as a kid (long ousted for EastEnders, whose mockney lacks the same appeal). I’m a southerner by birth so when I moved to Leeds in the 1980s I was thrilled to be called ‘duck’ by the Loiners and hear them rhyme bath with math(s). I have an unconscious tendency to mimic other people’s accents, so it wasn’t long before I started flattening my own vowels when in the company of northerners. I quickly added owt, nowt and summat to my verbal repertoire, and have been using them ever since because, well, they are just so much more succinct.

What I also love about northern dialects is the rich vocabulary – I’ve been in Manchester for more than 12 years now and I’m still learning the lingo. Words like bobbins (rubbish) and brew (a cup of tea) roll off my tongue as easily as fookin’ hell (no one swears quite as awesomely northernly as Liam Gallagher), often shortened to ‘kinell. However, I doubt my stepson would approve if I called him ‘our kid’. My absolute favourite is ‘out out’, as in ‘Are we going out, or out out?’ This is Mancunian for deciding how dressed up you ought to be for a night on the tiles.

Obviously, I still get confused when Mancunians say dinner when they clearly mean lunch; I’ve had some awkward attempts to diarise meetings thanks to that. But when I turn up for lunch/dinner, I’m as likely to greet my companion with ‘Yallright?’ as I am to say hi. I’ve lived far longer in the north of England, or Oop North, as I call it, than I have anywhere else, so the accents and vocabulary have left a bigger imprint on my brain than those of all the other
cities and countries I’ve lived in. And that’s not bobbins. Maybe one day I’ll be taken to be proper Manc.

Hazel Bird

A variant of dialects that I find interesting is idiolects, which are
uses or coinages of words particular to individuals or small groups (such as friendship groups or families). They tend to grow organically out of day-to-day interactions, and unlike dialects they can be
cross-regional.

For example, I have just looked up the term ‘hoon’ in the Oxford English Dictionary and learned that it is an Aussie/Kiwi term for ‘behav[ing] in a loutish or irresponsible way; spec. to drive fast or recklessly’. However, by way of a link with rally car culture, my family has come to use it to refer to ruminant animals’ prancing across a landscape. Our definition is quite precise: sheep can hoon; cows, horses and such cannot.

We also use the word ‘puggle’ to refer to (1) the act of moving foodstuffs around a cooking pan to prevent them from adhering to the bottom or (2) fussing a cat. The OED has the meaning ‘to poke out’, which bears passing resemblance to (1) but not to (2). How we came to adopt these meanings is a mystery.

Another oddity is the spelling ‘baout’ (pronounced with extreme emphasis on each vowel) for ‘boat’. A baout can be a water-worthy object of any description, with the word denoting a sense of longing. However, like many dialect and idiolect words, it has a shared significance that is hard to put into words.

I often encounter dialect and idiolect words in my creative non-fiction editing work. When
used well, their effect can be powerful, conveying intimacy, alienation or a little of both.
They can make the reader the author’s closest confidante or deliberately shock them into
a new perspective.

Melanie Thompson reading the SfEP guide 'Pricing your project'Melanie Thompson

Nah then, mardy bum! There are often discussions in the CIEP forum about whether it’s permissible to quote song lyrics, but in this case the famous line is part of my childhood vernacular, and if you tell me I can’t write it, I’ll get a reyt face on.

One of the biggest thrills of my life was to hear that line sung at full throttle by the passengers on the crammed tram conveying myself and my (then) teenage son to hear Arctic Monkeys play in their (and my) home town: Sheffield.

Unlike the next-most-famous city band (the Human League) who adopted the ubiquitous
1980s musicians’ twang, Arctic Monkeys are proper tykes who know how to pronounce Beauchief (Beechiff) and will know that they need to pack their brollies if someone tells them
it’s silin’ it dahn.

Lots of people think they can ‘do’ a Yorkshire accent by splatterin’ apostrophes awl o’er t’ro-ad but Sheffieldish doesn’t work quite like that. Indeed, there are regional variations even within the city boundaries depending on whether the speaker hails from the northern or southern side – and it’s nothing to do with whether they support the Owls or the Blades.*

TV and radio programmes often fail to do the Sheffield accent justice: not all shows can afford Sean Bean (sadly!). But to hear a bit of authentic Sheffield banter, try Tom Wrigglesworth
and ‘family’
on BBC Radio 4. Every time I hear Tom’s fictitious dad answer the phone with ‘Sheffield 973629’ I am transported 150 miles north! (Why do my older northern relatives recite their number?)

I had the full force of my Sheffield accent elocutioned out of me, as a teenager, but my dad is an aficionado. This has been known to cause major confusion among his southern careworkers, but the fuss is usually somert and nowt, such as a mix-up between putting something o’r’ere or o’r theer.

To me, dialects are not just about words and pronunciation, but a way of life – some of which is sadly now dwindling.

Back in the day, my nannan used to gerron t’bus to go shoppin’ dah’n’t’cliff armed wi’a bag o’spice to share with the other passengers! She’d gerroff and buy some breadcakes, peys, a pound of tripe and a bottle of Hendo’s, then reverse the journey to be home in time for dinner.**

As I set off out to play, my mum might have told me not to get my clo’e’s loppy from scrawmin’ around in’t’ gennel; and if a friend later called round for me, the response would be ‘She in’t-in’.

Dialects can be problematic in formal writing and speaking, but they are a matter of great local pride and shouldn’t be regarded as a lesser form of English, in the right context. Nuff said?

Ah’ll si’thi’!

* Sheffield Wednesday and Sheffield United football teams

** My grandmother would get on the bus to go shopping at Attercliffe, carrying a bag of sweets … to purchase bread, peas, tripe and the local delicacy Henderson’s Relish [try it on pie!], and return in time for lunch.

Sue LittlefordSue Littleford

It is my abiding regret that I wasn’t born in my grandmothers’ generation so far as dialect goes, to hear their grandmothers speak. Alas, I am a child of the Fifties, by which time dialect was fading rapidly, and almost gone from my little corner of Hyde, a Pennine foothills mill town eight miles east of Manchester. We were in that select group of people that says scoan, not sconn (much smaller geographically than I ever imagined), and we had ginnels (though not as generally defined – ours were always covered). A buffet (pronounce that T!) was a broad, low wooden stool, an exceedingly useful article, especially for a tiny kid as, if you turned it upside down, you could sit on the underside, surrounded by rather solid framework, and pretend it was a rowing boat. I’m delighted to find it in Oxford Dictionaries at definition 3 (sans boat) and the etymology appears to be Old French into Middle English 600 years ago.

Mum kept an odd bit of grammar going well into the present century. She’d say ‘When I’m waken’ for ‘When I awoke’. And I distinctly recall a small schoolfriend (we must only have been six or seven) tell someone to ‘Stop thy skrikin’ ’ – a term that wasn’t  used in my house, a couple of hundred yards away (not metres, back then), but was easy enough to figure out (‘Cease that noisy crying, forthwith!’) and if you couldn’t, well, it’s in Collins. Its etymology is harder to find, but it looks like being Old Norse for, not very excitingly, to scream or cry. We were just within the Danelaw, back in the day, so that sounds about right. Of course, the people around me didn’t speak a dialect, just as we didn’t have an accent – we just spoke how we spoke, but we knew it wasn’t like those posh folk on the wireless or telly – unless it was for comic effect and Marriott Edgar was being recited (I gave this monologue at a school show, and that was accent, really, not dialect). I’ve been living away for too long now to retain any strong linguistic links to home, and though I do still rhyme grass with crass, and bath with math, I no longer rhyme book with souk. Thanks for a lovely nostalgia trip!


The wise owls pop up on the blog every couple of months to reflect on their experiences on various topics. All are Advanced Professional Members of the CIEP.


Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator (who is quite a fan of bishy barnabees).

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

Wise owls: pandemic preparation

We’ve all been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. We asked our parliament of wise owls what they wish they had known or done – in a business context – before the pandemic and the ensuing lockdown hit.

Melanie Thompson reading the SfEP guide 'Pricing your project'Melanie Thompson

For various reasons, in December/January I didn’t send out my usual ‘Season’s greetings’ newsletter to my clients and colleagues. Then in the first couple of months of 2020 I was too busy to do it (catching up from the things that had delayed me in late 2019). At the end of February I finally had time to write a blog post about my recent situation (it’s up on my website, with a rather unfortunate title, given what has happened since) and left it there for a few days while I put together a short ‘Belated greetings’ newsletter in Mailchimp to send to my contacts list.

But I was keeping a close eye on the news and, as some of my clients were in the countries that went into lockdown before we did, I never sent it.

It doesn’t seem right to send it now, so I’m going to have to wait a few more months and instead of sending a round robin, I think I will send something more individual to each person, especially as some of the recipients may no longer be working. Now is definitely not the time for cheery ‘I’m still here’ emails, I feel.

Moral of the story: don’t leave your marketing to chance!

Liz Jones

When the pandemic hit I’d managed to build up some savings, which are partly ringfenced for tax, but as the payment on account due in July can be deferred this gives me a bit of a buffer if I need it. Even more savings would have been better, however, and I plan to continue to spend less after the lockdown eases, and put away more contingency money in future. I would always advise not being dependent on one particular client for your income, to spread the risk (and it can also jeopardise self-employed status) – and having clients in different sectors is also a good idea, if possible. My tendency is always to fear the worst and try to plan far in advance to mitigate things. I had sleepless nights over the possible impact of the virus on my business back in January, so I wasn’t surprised by the severity of what’s happened or is still happening now. I do have less work than usual, but after a period of coming to terms with things I’m now actively seeking out new work and also investing in training. Despite all this advice, I think it’s important to acknowledge that this is beyond what many of us can plan for in many ways – and in my opinion, part of dealing with it is accepting that.

Sue LittlefordSue Littleford

In most ways, the pandemic has affected me little. I have no dependents, no home-schooling to do, no elderly to fret about. I’m used to living alone, and working from home. I already shopped online for all my groceries. I have a spread of clients that still want to engage me. So I’ve been able to continue with work uninterrupted, it would seem. But no! Lesson one: don’t rely on any one client for an undue portion of your income. One exceptionally well-paying, solid-as-a-rock client is now hit so hard by COVID-19 that, for the first time in nearly 40 years, they’re not going to be producing their flagship annual report. A salutary reminder not to let my client base become unbalanced. Lesson two: unusual times have unusual impacts. Although I’m fine about isolation, I’m not used to having to be isolated. My mood is generally fine, but my ability to concentrate has taken a real hit. Clearly I don’t like being told what to do! I have days when I. Just. Can’t. Even. I know enough to take it gently, put it down to the zeitgeist and crack on when I can focus again. But I thought I’d be immune to that, and it’s an eyeopener to find out I can’t think myself out of how I feel. I’m meeting deadlines, but I have learned that I really need to ensure I take good care of me in order to take care of my business.

Louise BolotinLouise Bolotin

I don’t have a crystal ball and I don’t think I could ever have foreseen such a massive upheaval to my business, and my life generally. Most of my planning for interruption is geared around a savings cushion and backing up my files regularly so I don’t lose anything. And I’d assumed personal illness would be the most likely disruptor rather than a pandemic (although I’ve not yet had COVID-19, as far as I can tell). I could never have predicted that within the space of five days my clients would have cancelled every single booking I had through to June, and I’m not alone in losing so much business. Do I wish I had bought a business disruption insurance policy? Not really. It seems many insurers are refusing to pay out on the grounds that the COVID-19 pandemic counts as force majeure or some other convenient interpretation of the small print, so I’m glad I saved the cost of the premiums.

I’ve used the downtime to invest in some CPD, but I wish I’d done it 18 months ago when I first decided I should do the course – it would have given me a broader client base and possibly kept me in work for those first critical weeks. I also wish I was already the owner of a webcam – as work-related stuff moved online, such as networking meetings, I was at a huge disadvantage. Webcams had sold out everywhere and it took me a month to obtain an affordable one. And I wish I already owned a set of hair clippers – lockdown hair on Zoom is not a good look and I’ve still not managed to buy any because, guess what, they too are sold out! Work is slowly starting to return to me, but if I’ve learned one thing it is that no matter how well you might think you have prepared for disruption it is unlikely ever to be enough if a pandemic strikes. But you can use this one to prepare for the next one. Because there will be a next one.

Hazel Bird

To an extent, for me COVID-19 has just amplified or accelerated issues I was already facing in my business. I decided a while back that I was relying too much on one big client, so I’ve spent the past few years deliberately diversifying my client base. I’m glad to have made that effort, because different sectors seem to have been affected differently by the crisis. Whereas most of my work for charities has been put on indefinite hold and a medical book is delayed while its authors focus on rather more important frontline work, business and academic clients have been more fruitful. It seems likely that things will continue to be volatile for some time, so it can help to have as many potential sources of work as possible.

One thing I do wish I’d put in place before the crisis is a pot of money specifically dedicated to training – a sort of ‘in emergency break here’ fund. I’d already determined that I’d do at least two major pieces of CPD this year – the CIEP conference and the PRINCE2 exams – but had assumed I’d have cashflow ready to pay for them when the time came. The conference is no longer going ahead,* but the prospect of a reduced workload seems to make PRINCE2 all the more logical as a target for this year. I still hope to do the exams, but a ringfenced fund might have taken some pressure off.

Mike FaulknerMichael Faulkner

Life in lockdown hasn’t been all that different, either professionally or personally. In the case of the former, I suppose this is because most of us work in our little bunkers from home in any case; and the latter, because we live in a fairly remote part of Argyll and feel somewhat isolated – we tell people we have been self-isolating for five years …

However, there is one weakness in terms of my work portfolio that the COVID-19 crisis has brought to light. A large part of my work is for either law publishers or independent novelists, and because the rate for the independents is a little higher, I have tended to refuse or pass on more of the legal stuff in the past. This has worked well but in common with a few others who do a lot of fiction, I found, rather counter-intuitively, that enquiries from self-publishers went down rather than up during lockdown. I’d be interested to hear from others why they think this should be – perhaps there will be a tsunami of enquiries a month or two down the line when the fruits of all these ghettoed scribblers’ labours see the light of day.

Whatever, I am going to make a conscious effort to maintain a more even balance in the future!


* We hope that there will be a virtual CIEP conference this year.

The wise owls pop up on the blog every couple of months to reflect on their experiences on various topics. All are Advanced Professional Members of the CIEP.


Photo credit: wrupcich on Pixabay.

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.

Wise owls: how I found my first client

All freelance careers start with tracking down that first client. Even the wise owls were chicks once (though probably still wise even then), and their experiences show that there isn’t just one way to go about getting that first paid project.

Sue LittlefordSue Littleford

I’ll talk about my early career, as my first clients came to me via a now-defunct route. It’s a long time since eBay had classified ads! I also picked up a couple of jobs through Gumtree. Two of my first actions on hanging out my shingle were joining SfEP and getting my website up and out there. My website brought in a few more clients who had found me courtesy of Mr Google – including a novelist I still work for some 12 years later. I also picked up a couple of jobs from what is now IM Available. But my big break was from answering an Announce that went to the whole of the membership (most go to just Advanced Professional and/or Professional Members) – I picked up my first packager client and that broadened my horizons and my experience hugely (which I promptly reflected in my CV). In the early days I also had an (expensive) ad in Yellow Pages, which I cancelled after two years as it was ineffective. But a few days before it was due to come off Yell’s website, a packager looking to hire only editors within the county found me (phew!). We did lots of work together over the ensuing years. I’d certainly advise not putting all your marketing eggs in one basket.

Liz Jones

My first client was the employer I’d just left – a non-fiction book packager. For a while I combined freelance project management (essentially continuing my old job) with working on small editorial jobs for them, alongside another major client (an educational publisher) secured via a former colleague. This all sounds too easy – and it was: it only deferred the inevitable need to find a range of clients, to mitigate the risk of working freelance. At first I suffered many sleepless nights: how would I pay my bills if the packager stopped using me? I realised I needed to take control, and worked hard to gain new work streams – in related areas via old colleagues, and also by ‘cold-emailing’ publishers and other potential clients. It took a couple of years, but I was so glad I put in the effort to market myself at that point. I felt more in charge of my career, and expanded into new areas of work. These days I still work for my first client, but only very occasionally, and I try never to be in the position of worrying about a single client dropping me. (Of course I still do all I can to retain my favourites!)

Nik ProwseNik Prowse

I was forced to find my first client, because I was staring down the barrel of a 3-month redundancy notice. At the time I was working at home, but as an employee, as a staff editor for a science publisher. I needed a change, and redundancy (I realised later) was an opportunity. After deciding to go freelance I made a list of every science publisher I could think of and emailed my CV to commissioning editors, desk editors and managing editors, with the promise of following up by phone a few days later. Most approaches fell on deaf ears. A few turned into paid work in the long term. But two came up with immediate work. One was a European journal publisher offering a very low rate but frequent work. The other was a major university press. The person I’d emailed had a book to place, on molecular biology, and I could start on Monday 16 February 2004. Which was good timing, as I became redundant on Friday 13 February 2004 (very apt). So I finished the working week as an employee and started the next as a freelancer. It made me realise that many freelance opportunities are down to luck, but that you can make your own luck.

Hazel BirdHazel Bird

My first ever piece of work as a freelancer paid £19.03 and took me six hours to complete, so I earned a princely £3.17 per hour. This was back in 2009. I was working full time as an in-house project manager for Elsevier, but I was also in the process of completing the Publishing Training Centre’s distance learning course in proofreading, and I wanted to take on some actual proofreading to keep my future options open.

The client was one of those agencies that arranges proofreading for students and academics. I believe I found them through a Google search for proofreading companies. I know that I completed a test, and I was then added to their list and offered work according to when I was available.

I worked for the agency for around eight months (I stopped after I left my job and began freelancing for my old employer). I worked up to completing around 2–4 articles per week, and by the end of the eight months I was regularly earning over £15 per hour, which I considered a good rate for someone of my experience. There were aspects of the work that weren’t ideal (such as having no contact with the authors and very little feedback), but it gave me a lot of relevant experience to help me upgrade my SfEP membership.

Louise BolotinLouise Bolotin

My first job came from another, now retired, SfEP member. I had joined the society less than a fortnight earlier, but just in time to put my credentials in the next issue of the old Associates Available. My benefactor lived in my area and quickly got in touch to say she’d had an email from a marketing and comms company based somewhere between our two locations. They needed someone to work in-house for half a day to proofread some web copy. Did I want the job? Well, yes – of course! She passed my details to her contact at the company and the following week I found myself on a train to mid-Cheshire, where I spent several frustrating hours working for the comms company. Yup, it turned out to be a nightmare job and getting paid was also a hassle. But the point is, never underestimate the power of networking and getting your info in front of other people’s eyeballs. Despite plenty of experience, I’d only just returned to the UK after 13 years abroad and I had no contacts. I was very grateful for that first gig. Associates Available has been replaced by IM Available but is as useful as ever for picking up those early jobs that can help you start to build experience and a portfolio.

Michael FaulknerMike Faulkner

This is how I found, not just my first, but my first dozen jobs – so I recommend it as a useful approach for all newbie proofreaders! The only qualification is that you need to be up for academic proofing.

There were three stages:

  1. I worked up a good understanding of the (quite strict) parameters for academic proofreading – in this context I mean dissertations and theses by undergraduates and post-grads, not papers by academics for publication.
  2. I went through my contacts – and my family’s and friends’ contacts – for anyone with any connection, even tangential, to university lecturers in any area with which I was comfortable (I concentrated on arts and particularly law), whether academics, journalists, current students or fairly recent graduates. I was interested in the names of lecturers/profs/supervisors who I might approach, and armed with those names and the courses they taught I got the relevant contact details from their institutions.
  3. I wrote a short, practical, helpful email to each person on the longlist, explaining my qualifications/training; my understanding of what is and is not acceptable in an academic context; how I might hopefully make their life easier (obviously you can’t say this last directly but it has to be implied, possibly with humour); and how swiftly I was able to turn work around.

My first job, for a Saudi student at Kings College London, came almost immediately and I have since worked on many papers by students of the same supervisor. Same for a number of other professors, so for work on which I was able to cut my teeth this approach was pretty successful.


SfEP Members can find out more about IM Available by visiting the Members’ Area on the SfEP website.


Photo credit: owl Alexas_Fotos from Pixabay

Posted by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator.

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

 

 

 

Wise owls: the best thing about the SfEP conference

It’s SfEP conference week, and attendees are starting to get excited and/or nervous! The wise owls are here to let first timers know what they’ve got to look forward to, and to remind old hands why they keep going back.

Melanie ThompsonMelanie Thompson

What’s the best thing about the SfEP conference? I didn’t need to spend any time at all thinking how to answer that question: it’s the people!

I’ve been to many other work-related conferences, and none are so friendly or welcoming. The first conference I attended was in Edinburgh (in the early 2000s). A meal was arranged for the first evening, and a Council member said hello and introduced me to some other people and I haven’t looked back. I still chat regularly to some of those I met on that first evening and, as I often say in answer to similar questions, I wouldn’t have been able to stay freelance for almost 20 years without the supportive and helpful people in this Society. You’re all bloomin’ marvellous!

Oh, and the opportunity to take part in concentrated, high-quality CPD is, of course, very valuable.

Sue LittlefordSue Littleford

The absolute best thing about the SfEP conference is getting outside your own work bubble. Quite aside from the risk of isolation for those who work freelance from home, for those of us who have never worked in-house (and we are legion), it’s easy to develop your own ways of doing things, not really knowing how you compare on the standard of your work itself and what is best (or at least better) practice in how you handle your clients and approach your workload. If you’re in-house, but have had only one publisher employer, it’s so easy to believe that their way is the only way, or certainly the best way, of working. The conference gives you the chance to go to sessions that will enhance your appreciation of your position within Editor Land – and even if all you get from a particular workshop is validation of your own routine (comforting and confidence-building as that is), then a comment your neighbour makes during an exercise, or a question someone raises, or answers, may be like a lightning bolt. That’s happened to me several times, to my immediate benefit (and that of my clients).

And once you’ve been to enough conferences that you’ve covered all the core skills from several angles, there’s always more. Go to a session that you normally wouldn’t think of (to my regret, I keep missing the bookbinding events. One day … !) or one of the panel discussions and step into the wider editorial world.

Liz Jones

Yes, there’s the CPD aspect, the cooked breakfast, the lockable door on a room of one’s own, the challenging campus map, the possibilities for fruitful networking. But the best thing of all about the SfEP conference – and I say this as a confirmed introvert who is easily exhausted by too much time in the company of others – is the people. Forty-eight whole hours among kindred spirits: collectively some of the most welcoming, humble, skilled, interesting, humorous and supportive people I’ve ever encountered. I’ve been attending the conference since 2013, with one year off, and it’s one of the highlights of my year. I talk (and listen) enough during those two days to last me for the remaining 12 months, and it makes me very happy.

Louise BolotinLouise Bolotin

Is there anything that is not a best thing about the conference? That’s not a rhetorical question – there is so much that is good, nay brilliant, about our annual gathering that it’s hard to decide what deserves the title of ‘best’. The workshops and seminars are invariably informative, useful and enlightening. Sometimes even career-changing. Last year, my big takeaway was the decision to do the SfEP course on medical editing after attending Julia Slone-Murphy’s introductory workshop. I’d been toying with a move into this kind of editing for a while, and the workshop confirmed I should do so. A year later, I’ve yet to sign up for training – I’ve been too busy with work and a family crisis – but I’ve earmarked time for this autumn to get started. I also found the workshop on growing your business packed with simple and free ideas that I’d never even thought of before, let alone considered. It is these kinds of sessions that are a major attraction for me – the chance to learn something new and apply it to how I earn my living.

Then there’s the lectures – as entertaining as they are educational. The opportunity to hear experts on the future of our industry, or expounding on some language issue or other, is something all delegates should get out of bed for in time! Last year’s lecture on US v UK English by Lynne Murphy was a classic – buttock-clenchingly hilarious, but also with serious points to make on the nuances of editing. (Ditto the mini lecture on dealing with the sweary stuff – which was educative, informative and a full-on side splitter.)

In the end, it’s the people who make it what it is. The chance to put names to forum avatars, catch up and have a good gossip with long-standing colleagues, meet the directors, and basically just hang out. The conference is work, but it’s also a break from work and hanging out with other editors really is one of the best bits. Just don’t do what I did and rush up to someone you’ve been dying to meet for a decade just as they’re entering a toilet cubicle …

Hazel BirdHazel Bird

For me, the best thing about the SfEP conference is its ability to shake me out of my tree. Don’t get me wrong, I peer out from between the branches regularly by attending local groups, following editorial discussions online, and generally expanding my awareness of editorial techniques and perspectives. However, at the SfEP conference, the sheer volume of information that you get – and the unexpected, serendipitous, surprising nature of it all – is unbeatable.

I’ve been to five conferences in the past and have returned from each one re-energised and refocused. Sometimes the snippets I’ve picked up are more directly editorially relevant and sometimes the link is more tangential. For example, at the 2017 conference I was finally persuaded to try TextExpander, which has sped up the repetitive aspects of my communications with authors considerably. However, at the same conference, Julia Sandford-Cooke mentioned the podcast How I Built This, which is a series of interviews with world-famous entrepreneurs. The scale and nature of their ventures are a million miles away from mine, but the show has become one of my staples for its ability to make me think about how I run my business and relate to my clients. Other times at conferences, sessions have simply boosted my confidence in a skill I already had or given me a shot of enthusiasm to try something new.

I thoroughly recommend the SfEP conference for its ability to support us all in being informed, educated and enthusiastic editorial professionals.


This year’s SfEP conference runs from 14 to 16 September, at Aston University, Birmingham. Follow what’s happening on Twitter (and other social media platforms): the hashtag is #sfep2019


Proofread by Alice McBrearty, Entry-Level Member.
Posted by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator.

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

 

Wise owls: the best CPD I’ve ever done

The wise owls are soaring into summer with some reflections on the best continuous professional development (CPD) they have undertaken.

Melanie Thompson reading the SfEP guide 'Pricing your project'Melanie Thompson

About 25 years ago my employer sent me on a three-day training course called ‘Selling for non-sales staff’ (or some such title). The underlying ethos of the course was that people buy from people and that it’s best to engage potential clients in conversations to try to find out their aims and needs rather than to deluge them with a list of your (your company’s/product’s) ‘features and benefits’. It all seems rather obvious, once you pause to think of it, and it’s something I’ve tried to remember ever since.

But I learned a much more important lesson during the role play (two words that fill many freelancers with dread); namely that it’s important to ask open questions. At that point, with only a few years’ work experience under my belt I’d never even heard of the concept of ‘open’ and ‘closed’ questions. That was one of the most valuable lessons I have ever been given – of benefit for both business and personal interactions.

Sue LittlefordSue Littleford

I’ve done plenty of CPD as a copy-editor, but the best was probably a one-day business finance course I did yonks ago. From that course I picked up two nuggets, both of which I’m apt to trot out at the least provocation: (1) it’s easier to save money than to make money (as I said last time) and (2) cashflow is even more important than profit.

Cashflow is simply having enough money coming in to cover your commitments: enough to pay your mortgage or rent, fuel and power, tax bill and internet connection, and still put food on the table. But freelancing doesn’t lend itself particularly easily to smooth cashflow. This is why budgeting is so important – you need to understand how much money you need to make and when your invoices are likely to be paid, follow up late payment quickly and often, and price your work correctly. It’s also vital to do all you can to build up a cushion to tide you over the lean months. With many business clients paying on a 30-, 45- or even 60-day cycle, you can find yourself with loads of cash one month and almost nothing the next, even if you’ve been working steadily. Calculate what you need and make it a priority to save enough in the bank so that you can still pay your bills – and replenish what you spend. Then squirrel away a bit more to help you should a client suddenly go bust. After that, you can go and whoop it up in the fat months!

Liz Jones

I’ve undertaken plenty of CPD in the decade I’ve been freelance, including attending various SfEP courses and five conferences. They’ve all helped me a lot in terms of teaching me new things, giving me more confidence to run my business, and helping me access a wonderful international community of editorial professionals. Perhaps the thing that has been best for my own learning, though, has been teaching other editors via the SfEP’s mentoring programme.

Helping others learn how to do things has compelled me to examine my own practice, and improve it. It’s been necessary for me to find out more about how to do things myself to be able to explain to others how to do them. I’ve been amazed by the high standard of many of the people I have mentored over the years, in copy-editing and proofreading – and inspired to up my game as a result.

Nik ProwseNik Prowse

I was lucky when I started in publishing that I found an employer willing to train me, fresh from my PhD, in copy-editing and proofreading. Those classroom courses at Book House in London – three days of copy-editing and one of proofreading, run by the Publishing Training Centre – were the most valuable of my career as they set me up in what I was going to do, every day, working in-house. The experience I gained on the job after that had a firm bedrock on which it could be built. But is that CPD? I’d only just started so it was more like IPD – initial professional development.

But since being freelance it’s harder to point to any one day or piece of CPD and say ‘yes, that’s the best bit’ because CPD builds you incrementally into the publishing professional you are at any point. Once you have done the basic training the continuation and building of a career is less about huge leaps in knowledge and more about little nuggets of information and wisdom that change one’s practice and allow you to make small improvements in the services that you provide. On reflection, in recent years my most inspiring piece of CPD in terms of the renewed enthusiasm that it gave me was the SfEP’s Education Day in London in early 2018. It featured a day of speakers who weren’t so much teaching as giving a state of the industry, a snapshot of the state of affairs for editors. After that event I wanted to improve the service I give to educational publishers, as it’s an aspect of my work that I hugely enjoy but which is also challenging too, at times. That day was less about learning something new and more about garnering a new resolve for the work that I do.

Margaret HunterMargaret Hunter

The best CPD I’ve ever done is undoubtedly all the opportunities I’ve had for learning on the job. I love how pondering the different writing styles (and quirks) of different authors makes me question my assumptions. If something’s not written the way I would do it, is it wrong, or do I need to broaden my editorial horizons?

I’ve been editing for a long time but I still get stopped in my tracks and have to look things up, and I think that’s no bad thing. It also makes me think about how much (or how little) to change and how to let the author’s style through, rather than my own preferences. (But I do love a job where the author doesn’t care and is happy for me to preference away!)

Sometimes an author does something ‘odd’ so consistently that I begin to doubt myself, and often the more I look at it the more odd it looks! It’s a great opportunity to look up various style guides, consult the reference books or ask on the SfEP forum. It’s great revision, or it’s a great revelation. In any event, it’s great CPD.

LLouise Bolotinouise Bolotin

Back in 2001, I joined the editorial team at a large investment bank in the Netherlands where I worked on a huge range of equity analysis reports. I had only a lay knowledge of stocks, shares and the markets when I took the job. My boss sent me to London for a week to learn how to analyse and value a company. I didn’t quite manage to complete the final tasks on the last day – they required too much algebra, but I learned so much anyway. I’d never thought myself very numerate, despite being able to tot up Scrabble scores in my head and check a restaurant bill is correct. The course proved otherwise – I am. And I can read balance sheets, profit and loss accounts and more like a pro. I can skim a financial report and instantly understand the underlying issues. I can scan financial tables and errors leap out at me. Best of all, I gained confidence in my ability to handle figures. And while I still edit financial materials of all sorts, I can apply what I learned on the course to all kinds of other things I edit (annual reports a speciality). So thank you, Frans!


The SfEP’s parliament of wise owls started sharing wisdom and experiences back in 2016. All of the wise owls are Advanced Professional Members, with many years of experience and thousands of hours of CPD between them.


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

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

 

Wise owls: a nugget of wisdom

The SfEP’s wise owls are back – and have been thinking about what little nugget of wisdom they would love to have been able to tell their newbie selves…


Two stone owl ornaments, on a log in front of a flourishing garden

Sue LittlefordSue Littleford

Find out what you need before buying

Start small, and don’t anticipate your needs, which translates into Think Before You Spend. As a rookie (copy-editing is my second career, and I had no prior experience in, nor even links to, publishing), I was keen to set everything up ‘properly’ – even before I had a business to speak of. I’d talked to freelancers I knew in a different field and they recommended setting up as a limited company from the get-go. All that money wasted when I was just setting up and every penny counted. Ouch! Turns out, in EditorLand at least, being a limited company is almost always something you grow into – and may never need. Then there were all those books. So many books! I never need an excuse to buy books – and I suspect neither do you. Hold back. Some were essential once I’d got myself some clients, but most were outclassed by the internet. (The internet can be fickle, so I’d recommend having your most heavily used resources in hard copy too, if they exist.) Amazon was already well established when I was starting out – I could get books the next day if I wanted. So that’s my nugget of wisdom – find out what you need, then buy it. Don’t buy anything and everything vaguely to do with editing and writing to see if you actually will use it. New business owners, repeat after me: it’s easier to save money than to make money. (But do invest in training!)

Melanie ThompsonMelanie Thompson reading the SfEP guide 'Pricing a project'

Take time off if you’re faced with a family crisis

It’s easy to think you can power through problems, or use work as a ‘distraction’, but you can’t be sure your concentration will be sufficient to keep all the plates spinning, and your clients won’t thank you for a rushed or below-par job.

Michael FaulknerMike Faulkner

Know your limitations

I began my freelance career with proofreading, and my biggest challenge from the start was to stick to the parameters, my course tutor Gillian Clarke’s admonition ringing in my ears: ‘Leave well enough alone!’ It’s excellent advice and I did try, but I found myself adding more and more marginal comments to the proofs until eventually I was reframing with gay abandon.

My lightbulb moment came several years later, when I finally admitted to myself that I was not temperamentally equipped to be a proofreader. I didn’t have the self-discipline. Gillian had been right in her assessment that I was too inclined to intervene, and by then I was really pushing the boundaries, encouraged by a law publisher from whom I was getting a lot of work (still am) and whose senior editor said she ‘appreciated proofers who approach everything with an elegant scepticism’. When I made the switch to copy-editing I was much more comfortable.
So, my advice to my freshman freelance self would be, ‘Know your limitations!’.

Liz JonesLiz Jones

Learn to chill out

It always feels good to push yourself hard, to please a client, to go the extra mile, to bask in praise for all your hours of hard work and extraordinary diligence. But remember to look after yourself too, and establish boundaries. So, learn to recognise unreasonable requests, and then learn to say no to them. Learn to give yourself time off. Learn to question whether it really needs to be done by last thing on a Friday, or if Monday morning would be just as good. Learn to look hard at what the client is offering and assess whether it’s as good a deal for you as it is for them. Learn to say no as well as yes. Learn to ask for what you need to do a job well, and to have a life outside of work. Learn to chill out.

Hazel BirdHazel Bird

Have confidence, and prioritise

This year, my editorial business turned ten. In those ten years I’ve vastly expanded both my skillset (from being nervous of any copy-editing at all to managing and co-editing multi-million-word works) and my subject specialisms (who knew this English literature graduate would end up copy-editing postgraduate-level psychology?).

The nugget of wisdom I’d give to my 2009 self has two parts. The first would be to have confidence in exploring the aforementioned skillset and specialisms. As long as it is done mindfully, incrementally and with due diligence, expanding into new and varied realms can be one of the most rewarding aspects of editorial work.

The second part would be to prioritise finding a time-planning system capable of forming a solid foundation for this expansion. I have pretty much never missed a deadline, but sometimes that has been to the detriment of my work–life balance. I wouldn’t tell 2009 me never to take jobs that would involve working crazy hours (such opportunities can pay off exorbitantly in terms of job satisfaction and stability). However, I would encourage her to put more energy, earlier on, into finding a system that quantified the crazy, so as to be able to make better-informed choices about what an opportunity would cost in terms of time.

 

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.

Wise owls: 2019


Multi-coloured metal owl sculpture
It’s 2019! The SfEP’s wise owls are hatching plans for the year ahead.

Nik ProwseNik Prowse

I aim to grow and develop my business every year, to be able to look back a year on and identify what’s different – and better – than it was 12 months previously. I don’t always know what direction that change will take me at the outset, as it may be based on chance encounters. But I am open-minded about change, and make it work for me and my business when opportunities arise.

This year my focus is on developmental editing. It’s a challenging task, and every job is different. The recent SfEP Education Publishing Update in London sparked this notion. Of note was a talk on the changing nature of relationships in publishing, including packager clients. And Astrid deRidder’s closing session was empowering in the way it told us to make all our skills known to clients, because they’re often crying out for them (who’d have thought syllabus mapping was such a sought-after skill?).

On a personal note my eldest is going to university this year, so there will be big changes at home, and in June I shall be seeing Metallica live for the fifth time (and the first in 20 years), no doubt reminiscing about when I first saw them as a spotty teenager in a field in Derbyshire in 1990…

Sue LittlefordSue Littleford

I’m hoping 2019 will mean finishing off all those things I started in 2018 – primarily training, but also uncovering my desk. The PTC Adobe tools for editors course, Hilary Cadman’s PerfectIt duo and a MOOC on humanism all languish either just started or not-started-but-still-paid-for. The latter part of 2018 kinda got away from me, so my resolution this year is to catch up! If I can get into the routine of scheduling (and sticking to) time to spend on training courses that require self-starting rather than leaving the house and showing up (which is much easier to prioritise – at home, there’s always paid work that gets preferential treatment, or lazing around doing nothing, dressed up as R&R), I’m hoping to continue with some of the newest PTC online courses – Copyright Essentials, Editing Illustrations and the Copy-Editor’s Guide to Working with Typesetters all look juicy. (I really feel I should point out that I’ve already done all the SfEP courses that are relevant to me!) Looks like I’ll need to get the garbage off my desk soon. Of course, there are other things I want to achieve in 2019. I’m toying with the idea of rebranding, for one (something else carried over from last year). And I want to get a proper disaster recovery plan implemented and maintained. Too much head-in-the-sandiness and mindless optimism could bite back, there, so that really needs to be tackled.

Mike FaulknerMichael Faulkner

2018 was challenging, so for the first time in years I made some New Year’s resolutions aimed at finding a more sensible work–life balance:

  1. Introduce some predictability into regular work, ha ha. Much of my bread and butter work is copyediting and proofing law books, which I enjoy – but these projects come randomly and often with tight deadlines, so I’m asking clients to book further ahead. Also exploring the idea of a retainer for one or two publisher clients, which I know works for some colleagues. It would be lovely to put some structure into 2019!
  2. Put Pomodoro to work. I have been trying to take five minutes away from the desk every forty-five minutes, and it really does help with productivity, but when the pressure is on I ignore my little pop-up reminder. This must stop – the regime is even more important when the pressure is on!
  3. Exercise every day, twenty minutes minimum.
  4. Make time to write. My last (non-fiction) book was published in December 2013 and I resolved then to write a novel; five years on, NY’s resolution #4 is to … write a novel.
  5. Try to carry New Year’s resolutions into February and beyond. So far so good, at least with nos 1–3.

Wishing everyone a productive and enjoyable 2019!

Liz JonesLiz Jones

2018 was quite a challenging year for me personally, so work had to take something of a back seat. I’ve learned a lot about working through a crisis, and people have been incredibly understanding. I needed to continue to support myself and my family, so carried on working throughout at more or less my usual rate, but I had to withdraw somewhat from ‘extra-curricular activities’ such as online networking, and I also scaled back my regular marketing activities and took more time off than usual. Work ticked over, with regular clients keeping me supplied with things to do, which was a huge relief. Now, however, I’m planning to get proactive again, and return to the editorial fray with a vengeance in 2019 – getting stuck in online, seeking out new work opportunities, investigating ways I can push my business forward and also exploring collaborative work with a group of editor friends. I’m also continuing the work I began last year on the SfEP’s outward-facing newsletter, Editorial Excellence. I’m excited to see what this year brings!

Hazel BirdHazel Bird

It’s a cliché but I never like the feeling of standing still in my business. In some cases I’ve been working with the same clients on the same kind of work for many years, but I always like to feel I’m moving forward – whether I’m finding better ways to work in sync with my clients’ needs, seeking new efficiencies to improve my hourly rate or simply finding more things to enjoy about what I do.

I’ve always kept a lot of data about my projects and how long individual tasks take, but one of my goals for this year is to put that data to better use. It’s all very well knowing approximately how long a project will take based on my experience of similar work in the past. However, it can be difficult to accurately assess whether I’ll have time for all the myriad individual stages of that project when it’s spread over a year or more and interwoven with many other jobs. By making my time planning much more granular, I hope to minimise the workload lumps and bumps that can disrupt work–life balance.

 

Posted by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator.

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

 

 

 

Wise owls: office companions

Christmas cuddly owlIn the last SfEP blog post of 2018, the Wise Owls are out in force to share their appreciation for that must-have item for every freelance editor or proofreader: an office companion.

Darcy (Hazel Bird's dog)Hazel Bird

Since she arrived in 2015, my furry editorial assistant (Darcy) has been mostly unassistive in her contributions to our joint workspace. She is excellent at identifying the correct use of words such as ‘biscuit’, ‘frisbee’, ‘lunch’ and (slightly more unusually) ‘teeth’. However, she is less good at tasks such as fixing problems with commas or chasing authors’ corrections. She excels at carrying out requests to find the human editorial assistant (generally in his office at the other end of the house). However, she is less adept at conveying any useful information to him or bringing him back with her, if required.

She has many admirable qualities to make up for these professional deficiencies, however. Although she will happily abandon me if there may be food on offer elsewhere, she is generally stalwart, usually being found in a bed next to my desk. Being a cockapoo and thus only slightly less energetic than a tornado, she also requires regular walks – a huge benefit for someone who otherwise has a tendency to become absorbed in her work and forget to move for hours on end.

Overall, during her three years of employment as chief editorial assistant, Darcy has done little to fulfil her job description. She has also probably destroyed more resources than she has generated for the business, having a talent for rendering almost any toy unsafe within an hour or so of receiving it. However, on balance, her positive qualities do outweigh her lack of editorial acumen, so she will likely stay in her role for the foreseeable future.

Louise Bolotin's Spotify playlistLouise Bolotin

For many years, my faithful office companion was Nelson, a pedigree British shorthair with blue tabby fur like velvet and huge green eyes. He was cute, adorable and largely quiet, which was a blessing when I needed to be deep in thought. Since his passing two years ago, I have two office companions. One is silence, the other noise. I must have silence when concentrating on the trickiest of edits. But I also must have music – I’ve been listening to music all my life and it’s as essential as eating for me.

You could say my go-to office companion now is Spotify. Much as I love to sing along to tracks, I find lyrics a massive distraction when working, so anything I play must be instrumental. I have some classical favourites – Smetana’s Ma Vlast and Rodrigo’s Concerto de Aranjuez are regularly on my virtual decks, for example. But my true love is reggae and I turn to the heaviest of heavy dub for satisfaction without vocals. It’s rhythmic and soothing, not too fast and typically has
60–90 beats per minute, perfectly matching a healthy heart rate. I’ve been listening to Joe Gibbs’ African Reggae since the late 70s and it never fails for me. Other dub albums are available, as they say.

Margaret Hunter's monkeyMargaret Hunter

I wasn’t going to contribute to this Wise Owls offering. I don’t need office companions, I thought. In fact, I love working on my own, able to get on with things just as I want, whenever I want, without people interfering or chatting or just generally being there.

But then I realised I’m not a total recluse. Freelance editors’ social media pages regularly feature office companions of the furry, purring, woofing (farting??) kind, but I don’t have a pet. I have Monkey (yes, I know he’s not…). He’s not great at conversation though; but he is there if I want a friendly ear to rant at.

And then there are the birds outside my window, who seem to get through seed as fast as I’m daft enough to keep filling it up. Yes… I need a window onto the natural world, and the birds, well, they make me happy.

But really my true companions are my SfEP colleagues. Maybe we rarely say the words out loud, but we’re having conversations all the time on the forums, on social media and via email. And just sometimes we meet in person.

So, I do have companions, human and otherwise. Without them this freelance editing lark would definitely be a much harder and lonelier slog.

Matty (Melanie Thompson's dog)Melanie Thompson

I literally would not be here without my Office Assistant, Matty. When I say ‘here’ I mean, in the village where I live – because a major reason for moving here was the fantastic local (dog-)walking. When I say ‘here’ I also mean ‘being a freelance editor’ – because if I hadn’t needed to stay at home to keep him company I may well have been tempted to take an office job a few years ago. And when I say ‘here’ I also mean ‘at my desk’ – because now he is an old dog and has very set habits. If I don’t say ‘let’s go to work’ and unlock my office door in the morning he looks very confused.

Having an office companion is a joy, but it’s also a job. Being a pet’s ‘parent’ brings responsibilities – and expense. So the yellow Dogs Trust stickers are absolutely right: a pet is for life, not just for Christmas. If you’re thinking of getting a pet, my top tips are: get good ‘lifetime’ pet insurance (Direct Line have been brilliant for us), and find local friends or professionals who can pet sit when needed.Matty in a field, in the sun

Matty often features on my Facebook page and in my annual newsletter to clients. He’s about to notch up his 13th Christmas in his role as Office Assistant. He’ll be getting an annual bonus (extra fish-skin treats). He has certainly earned it: all those hours of waiting patiently while I’m tapping on a keyboard; the twice-daily compulsory walks that often help me think through knotty editing problems; and helping me to get to know so many of my neighbours and all the local delivery people!

As I type, he’s starting the ‘4:30 whine-up’ … it’s nearly dinner time. Long may his daily commute continue.

Mike Faulkner's Pine MartenMike Faulkner

My office/shed is in the woods in deepest Argyll, so I am spoiled for choice when it comes to local fauna for company – regular passers-Mike Faulkner's red squirrelby are roe deer, pine martens and red squirrels. I haven’t managed to get a pic of one of the deer, but these two chaps come almost every day.

We live in fear that one day Piñon the pine marten is going to catch Squirl the squirrel (I know …), but so far Squirl has been way too fast and agile – hMike Faulkner's dog Eddiee can reach parts of the tree that are beyond Piñon’s wildest dreams, and he doesn’t seem put out by the odd stand-off.

Eddie watches them through the window when he isn’t on LinkedIn.

 

Nik Prowse

I don’t have any pets, although sometimes I think it would be nice to own a dog to warm my feet in winter. But when I think about what keeps me company in the office it’s invariably music.

I can’t edit to music – I just can’t concentrate on copy-editing with any background noise. But running an editorial business, and even working through the necessary tasks required to get a book manuscript back to the publisher, involves far more than just copy-editing. For the extra tasks, especially the mundane ones, I find background music helps my concentration hugely.
In the main, if I need music for concentration I choose ambient electronica. Ambient music often eschews normal song structure to create tracks that vary in length, sound and atmosphere a great deal. Once you get away from the idea that songs need words or instruments … or even a discernible structure … there’s a lot to discover! I find ambient music incredibly good for the concentration (except while editing, as I’ve said). Often referred to in a derogatory way as ‘wallpaper music’, for my purposes this is the point: it’s meant to be unobtrusive and in the background.

One of my current worktime favourites is by Carbon Based Lifeforms. Derelicts takes me back to the sounds of Vangelis or Jean Michel Jarre in the early 80s, and it’s a very soothing soundtrack for those more mundane office tasks.

Sue Littleford's bearsSue Littleford

Hurrah for arctophilia! Much as I miss my darling cats, they did have a habit of sitting on the keyboard at awkward moments, or sticking their butts in my face and walloping me with their tails: endearing out-of-hours but not so much on deadline. Teddies are much better behaved. My tribe is divided into bedroom bears and office bears and currently stands fifteen strong. The ten office bears stand (well, sit) guard and (over)fill my partner’s desk, as there’s no room on mine, but just for you, I had a bit of a tidy-up and you can see my guys (and one gal) in all their office-duty glory. The gal – Genevieve from Geneva – is a genuine work bear as she came home with me from a visit to a client.

Sue Littleford's bearsThe office bears are a very supportive bunch – they agree with all my decisions, commiserate when a manuscript turns out to be a bit of a ’mare, cheer when an invoice goes out and cheer even more when the invoice is paid. Decorative and decorous (no teddy butts in my face), each one is a delight. My bear from babyhood, Pinky, is retired (being more grey than pink, these days). You can see them all looking forward to a crisp winter! Season’s greetings from Pinky (he claimed seniority so must come first in the list), Arthur, Basil, Genevieve, Gerald, Hank, Harry, Kristoff, Little Binky, Marius, Robin, Rodney, Rudy, Siggy and Snowball.

Pip (Sue Browning's dog) Sue Browning

This is Pip, my office companion or, perhaps more accurately, my out-of-office companion, as she rarely ventures into my office (it’s tiny), only sheltering here when there’s serious bike fixing going on downstairs, involving Many Bad Words.

She was a rescue dog, and very timid. When she came to us, aged 5 months, she was afraid of people, dogs, cats, horses, cows, fireworks, gunshots, loud noises in general, and plastic bags. Now, after nearly 11 years of careful and loving nurture, I’m delighted to say she is no longer afraid of plastic bags.

She may not be my in-office companion, but she plays a vital role in my working life, making sure I get exercise and fresh air every day. I love her dearly, and wouldn’t be without her.

 

Posted by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator, Gaston, Abi Saffrey's catand Gaston, supreme office overlord.

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.

 

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.