Tag Archives: working practices

Wise owls: how do you save time when editing?

We asked our parliament of wise owls, all Advanced Professional Members, to share some of the things that have helped them to become faster, more efficient editors over the years. Answers ranged from macros, checklists and templates to a healthier work–life balance and the confidence gained from experience.

Sue Browning

My main tip for speedy editing is to slow down and take a breath before you dive in. I find it helpful to approach large projects in phases, doing basic analysis (headings/structure/style), clean-up and formatting first, followed by my main text editing pass, then a final consistency check and spellcheck. This is all driven by checklists (and sub-checklists). While trundling through the initial, somewhat mechanical, stages may feel like delaying the core task of editing, I find it settles me into each project in a series of familiar steps so that even a new or challenging job feels more under control by the time I start looking at the text.

Another more obvious timesaver is my stylesheet template with combo boxes that contain the most common alternatives for each style point, making setting up my initial sheet very quick. Thanks to Hazel Bird and her helpful blog post for bringing this useful technique to my attention.

Next is keyboard shortcuts, both for frequent operations, like switching between windows and desktops, all the usual Word commands, and for my many macros. I have a lot of keyboard shortcuts, but I learned them slowly, converting the often-used ones to muscle memory, making room in my brain for the next batch.

But probably my biggest practical timesaver is PhraseExpress, a text expander, which I use for emails, author queries/explanations, and any bits of text that I find myself typing repeatedly, including things that I frequently mistype, like my email sign-off. PhraseExpress’s web look-up function also saves me ages when checking references.

Finally, there is the confidence that comes with experience. I know my major clients’ style preferences pretty well (and have PerfectIt stylesheets to help), my grammar and punctuation are pretty sound, and I no longer angst over every comma (just some of them 😉).

Liz Dalby

I’d say that three things in particular have made me a more efficient copyeditor.

  1. Learning to do the language editing late in the process. When I started freelancing, my instinct was to sit down at the text and work through it from beginning to end, reading every word and working on everything that needed doing all at once, as I encountered it. Over the years I have learned – by trial and error, and also by discussing best practice with other editors – to work in a series of passes. Broadly speaking, I start by styling the headings, which gives me an overview of the structure. Then I focus on some of the basic cleaning up I can do, and applying global style decisions based on my own observations of the text, plus the brief and the house style (if there is one). Once the text is in better shape, only then do I start to read it from beginning to end, smoothing out the language as I go, and continuing to add to the style sheet. The language editing isn’t the final pass, because after that there will be a series of checks (depending on the brief and the budget). But it’s nowhere near the beginning! This has made my process massively more efficient – and accurate.
  1. Working within my limitations. Like (probably) all freelancers, my initial instinct was to work ALL the hours in order to establish my business and make a good living. Now I know that I do my best work when I only do about four or five hours of pure editing per day, and take breaks at weekends. I hate working in the evening, so I hardly ever do it. This all keeps me fresh, and able to work quickly. It took me a long time to figure this out. I should have listened harder to advice from more seasoned freelancers! But it is hard to put this into practice until you have built up a steady stream of well-paid work.
  1. I’m passionate about this last one: I approach a text asking myself what can stay the same, rather than what I can change. This can save unnecessary work, and it can also help to build a better relationship with the author, who can see that you’re not making change for change’s sake. However – it’s still important to recognise when fundamental changes are required, and do all of the work that’s needed. Judging this takes experience, and even then it’s possible to get it wrong.

Sue Littleford

Chatting with other editors, I’ve discovered that I’m not the only one who’s slowed down a bit over the years! We think it’s because we know better what we’re doing, where our weak spots are, and we don’t skip things because of inexperience. But, of course, I’ve had to fund that time by finding efficiency savings.

I’m wedded to checklists. They save time by making sure I cover all the steps I need for onboarding or handover and can tick off each requirement as I’ve done it. I also have checklists where I’m required to nudge the English one way or the other (US to UK, for instance), for handling collected volumes and, indeed, for any repeated sequence of tasks.

As anyone who has done the CIEP Efficient Editing course will know, another key is to do things only once, and in the right order – checklists are your friend for this.

A second go-to is PerfectIt – I always, always run it at the end of the job (making it a game between me and it), but I also run its Summary of Possible Errors report at the start, a quick way to give me a good view of the condition of the manuscript, and start thinking about style decisions without making premature changes (discount for CIEP members – you’ll need to be logged in). PerfectIt works best on PCs, but a limited functionality version is available for Macs. I have style sheets for each repeat client.

Finally, I use templates (for my checklists, my style sheets, my word lists and so on, tailored for each repeat client, and a generic version for new clients, which then becomes the tailored template), and a text expander for frequent emails (handover, for example) or author queries text. No reinventing the wheel for me!

Michael FaulknerMichael Faulkner

These are my top tips for speeding up the mechanics of the editing/proofreading process:

  • Buy the biggest monitor, with the highest resolution, you can manage. When I moved from a 27″ to a 32″ monitor, my work rate greatly accelerated.
  • Download two amazing free utilities: AquaSnap and TidyTabs. Using them in combination, you can access and organise all open programs/documents with no clutter. I keep the largest part of screen real estate for the document(s) I’m working on but have everything else off to the side, tabbed and ever ready.
  • Download a (free) text expander to add frequently used words or even large blocks of text with a couple of strokes. I use FastKeys. You can also use it to build macros.
  • Create a Word template for every kind of project you work on (I have half a dozen fiction templates and eight templates for different types of legal publication); populate each template with a Word style for every conceivable character or paragraph element you’re likely to need for that particular type of project; and add a keyboard shortcut for every style you might want to invoke more than a couple of times. Using styles in this way I can tame a 15K-word chapter, which contains only direct formatting and is full of displayed quotes, different heading styles, lots of levels of numbered subheads and the like, in 15 minutes.
  • This one is a question of do as I say, not as I do 😊. Use macros. I’m scared of macros because they have caused unwanted (and unnoticed) wholesale changes in the past that have got me in trouble – but when you master them they’re incredibly powerful.

Hazel Bird

When it comes to speeding up the editing process, one thing I’ve found indispensable is master documents. This is a feature of Microsoft Word that allows you to combine many documents together and work on them as if they were a single document. Master documents have a reputation as being tricky to handle and unpredictable, but in my experience only the first of those characterisations is true. If you ever need to work on multiple related documents at once (such as multiple chapters in a book), it’s worth taking a course on master documents or reading up on how they work. Once you’ve learned their quirks (the ‘tricky to handle’ bit), the seeming unpredictability mostly becomes clear and they open up a paradise of efficiency. It was a revelation to me when I first realised that I could do a PerfectIt run or fix a problematic phrase on five, ten or even a hundred related documents all at once. I’ve found master documents most powerful in my encyclopedia work, where they have allowed me to seamlessly edit and check millions of words at a time. And, of course, this can lead to quality improvements too, as it makes implementing consistency easier.

It’s worth saying that this way of working doesn’t suit everybody and there are other methods (such as Paul Beverley’s FREdit macro) of tackling repeated issues across multiple documents. Also, if you want to use master documents on very large numbers of files, you may find your computer limits what you can achieve. However, if like me you feel most comfortable in your editing when you have everything visible all in one place, then master documents are worth a look.

About the CIEP

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

Find out more about:

 

Photo credits: owl by Hoover Tung  on Pexels.

Posted by Harriet Power, CIEP information commissioning editor.

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

Dealing with the death of a client

In this post, Vanessa Wells reflects on what happened when one of her repeat indie clients died unexpectedly. The CIEP information team also give some practical tips for dealing with the death of a client.

Vanessa’s experience

I’ve been editing for a decade and last week had my first experience of the death of a client.

This fellow was a repeat client. He’d been nominated and shortlisted for awards for his excellent books. He was the type who paid literally within five minutes of receiving my invoice. He was thoughtful and appreciative of the editing process. In short, he was the ideal client.

I was going to edit his next novel shortly; he just wanted a few more weeks to tweak the manuscript. Meanwhile, I’d come down with Covid, and when I saw online the news of his death, I was gutted – perhaps made more emotional by feeling physically depleted but also because it was yet another good person gone: I’d lost a dear friend early on in the pandemic and a former student died by suicide this year. Aside from no longer having this great writer to work with, I started to wonder why his death hit me as it did.

The author–editor relationship

The longer I edit, the more I appreciate writers’ craft. I really am impressed with their abilities and, in those with perhaps less skill, their tenacity and courage. I don’t take lightly the idea that we are here to collaborate with authors, rather than rewrite their work as we see fit. What they produce deserves to be treated with respect, and how we interact with them and their text should be a safe space. Sometimes the vulnerability they reveal is shocking. There are projects where we are the first person to read what they have written. David Shannon wrote Howul while his wife thought he was watching footy every night in his den. So there can be a creative and intellectual intimacy with an editor that a writer doesn’t have with others. The more vulnerable the author, the more they are opening their heart to someone whose metaphorical red pen they fear. The trust they are placing in us to provide constructive suggestions can be immense.

Conversely, we might be the first person to validate their efforts. Perhaps their labour of love has been denigrated by others as just a hobby. We may be coaching someone who’s kept their desire to write a secret or an untried exercise for decades. The analogy to writers birthing their babies may be a bit hackneyed, but I’m very conscious of the midwifery role I play.

As a sensitive person, I know what it feels like to be corrected. I bear that in mind in the wording of my comments and suggested edits, regardless of whether my feedback is gently critical or laudatory (and usually it’s a delicate balance of the two). I often feel like I learned the dynamics of this from my twenty years of teaching, also moulded by my own student experience of both kind and mean teachers. We have the power to inspire or wound (be it as editors or just in everyday life), and sometimes we can discern something of our clients’ personalities from their first emails to us. A tentative little dance underlies their questions, which can make us feel sympathetic and perhaps already a little protective of them in the process they’re about to take on.

I think this special type of relationship is not common to many professions, and the resulting connection that is lost upon a client’s death can leave us feeling gutted.

Financial considerations and the future

A friend commented that my author’s death must have come as a financial blow, too – which it did. I hadn’t asked him for a non-refundable deposit as I knew how reliable and accommodating he was. (And, in fact, fate unexpectedly dropped a new indie client in my lap the same day.) But even if I had been more proactive about using my usual contractual practices with him, I certainly would never have kept the deposit. Perhaps if there were different circumstances with, say, a single author and an executor, I might consider pursuing my balance owing if I had (almost) finished an edit. But as an editor, I believe my business is as much about the writer as the text, and I would not be comfortable pursuing payment no holds barred.

I hope that one day my client’s wife will look me up in his email and offer to let me read his sequel. I appreciated him for his work, not the income. From what I’ve seen in social media posts about him since his death, he was widely admired for his character as much as his skill. I’m sorry to have lost him as a client, but I’m grateful for having had the opportunity to work on such excellent writing. Another loss during this difficult period, but another blessing to recognise in my career as an editor.

Blue skies, sir!

Pink blossom being blown from a tree in front of a blue sky

Practicalities: What to do if your client dies

If you are aware that your client has a terminal illness (you might, for example, be working on their memoirs), you should agree in writing the steps to take in the event of their death. This may cover who will contact you with news of their death, the proportion of the fee to be paid, and what to do with the manuscript.

You may, in fact, find it helpful to include such information in your contracts as a matter of course – and to include similar information for the client in the event of your own death or incapacity while you are working with them.

Be sensitive to the feelings of your client’s family and/or colleagues – and allow time for yourself to grieve, if necessary. Similarly, if you have only just found out that your client has died after chasing a response or asking for a new draft, try not to feel guilty if you think your approach seemed insensitive. You couldn’t be expected to know what had happened.

If you have completed the work and wish to be paid, you will need to be proactive. Again, try not to feel guilty – if you have completed the work and fulfilled your part of the contract, you have the right to be paid as part of the business transaction.

Corporate clients and publishers are likely to have accounts departments, which will be independent of your contact and have their own email address. Write to them, explaining the situation. They will use their internal processes to find out the status of your payment. For example, if your contact died before raising a purchase order, the accounts department should identify an appropriate colleague who can verify your work and raise the PO retrospectively.

For individual clients, such as self-publishing writers, the executor of their will is responsible for ensuring their debts are paid but this might take months or even years. You might feel it’s not worth pursuing and that it’s more prudent to write it off.

If you send out email newsletters or other forms of marketing, remove your client’s name from the mailing list immediately.

If your contact was a corporate or publishing client, and you wish to keep working for the organisation, find out who is covering their work or replacing them and politely introduce yourself. Outline some of the projects you’ve worked on for your client and the benefits your work brought. This is the same approach you might take if your contact had simply left the company.

About Vanessa Wells

Vanessa Wells is a fiction editor and an Advanced Professional Member of the CIEP. She lives in London.

 

 

About the CIEP

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

Find out more about:

 

Photo credits: clocks by Giallo, blossom by Recal Media, both on Pexels.

Posted by Harriet Power, CIEP information commissioning editor.

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

Systematising my working life

By Sue Browning

In all aspects of my life, I’m a great fan of systems that help me keep on top of stuff, as I find having a system frees my mind and memory for more important things. This applies to my work life too, of course; I always like to know where I am with project scheduling, prioritising work, timing, invoicing and record-keeping, and over the years I’ve explored a lot of tools for doing all these things. And, for me, all these systems have to be on the computer, as my handwriting has a half-life of approximately two hours.

Open diaryFor a long time, I used a mind map to keep a record of all my clients and projects, a Gantt chart to visualise my schedule, and a to-do list+time tracking program to keep track of what I have to do and by when and to record time spent, and I had a semi-automated system to generate invoices in Excel, saving them as pdfs to send to my clients. I’m also a demon for data, so I have 14 years’ worth of detailed information on income, clients, projects and timings, all in a set of interlinked spreadsheets, which also need to be kept in order.

However, I’m also a fan of not spending more time on admin than necessary, and none of these individual programs talked to any of the others, so there was always a certain amount of tedious (and error-prone) copying from one to another. I was therefore on the lookout for a way to automate more and to streamline my systems. I reviewed a lot of different software programs and online apps and found them too inflexible, too focused on the mechanics of invoicing, which is actually a very small part of my working efficiency. But, more crucially, they all lacked that visual scheduling element I was really looking for.

Then someone in one of the editing groups I frequent mentioned a web-based app called Cushion, and that seemed to fit the bill in that it appeared to provide a very flexible platform for visualising my long-term schedule, planning detailed workloads, tracking the time on each project and generating invoices – all in the same place. The free 30-day trial also reassured me that I could bend it to my will. The developers were also fabulously responsive to my questions, and this convinced me it was worth paying for, so at the start of my new financial year this April, I decided to give it a go.

After an initial time investment inputting client and project details and customising the various options, I have found it very easy to keep track of everything, and I have cut a significant amount of time from my various record-keeping activities.

A view from above

I particularly like the bird’s eye scheduling view as this shows at a glance how busy I am projected to be over the next few months (see the screenshot), so when I am offered a new project I can easily see when (or if) I can fit it in.

Sue's schedule in Cushion

Overview of my next few months’ work. The pale lines are projects I’m waiting to start, and the bright ones with a circle at each end are completed. Bright lines with arrows are ongoing, with the arrow head at ‘today’. Mousing over them pops up brief details and clicking takes me straight to the detailed project information page. The blue block shows the time I intended to take off over Christmas – ha ha!

To help further with organising and planning my work, below this chart is a client/project list that can be ordered in any way (I order it by due date), which I categorise into Active (projects I’m actually working on), Upcoming (where I’ve got the files but haven’t started), Planned (projects that are currently mere glints in their parent’s eyes but we have a target date, so they are lightly pencilled in), and Completed (categorisation is also customisable).

Time tracking

I’ve always kept a track of how long I take on each project, even when I’m not billing by the hour, as it helps in estimating fees, and I can do this easily in the timing area, where I can switch the timer on and off and assign it to a specific project/task. The timer shows green in the browser tab, too, which is a great reminder to switch it off, but the times can be easily edited if I do forget. As well as recording time, I can see how many hours I’ve worked on each project over the day or week, and I can also pull up overview reports according to client, project or time period. One of the fun things I like to do is label my timer with a particular task, so that at the end I can see how long I spent, say, checking references as a proportion of the whole project (typically about third, in case you’re wondering). (And yes, I do have an odd sense of fun.)

Work done – time to invoice

As well as the usual month-long, bill-at-the-end projects, I have a number of clients for whom I edit shortish pieces of work as and when they need them, and I send an itemised invoice at the end of each month. Before, I would track the time in my tracking app, transfer that and the task details to a client-specific spreadsheet, and then at the end of each month, I’d have to copy the details to my invoice. That was fine when I didn’t have many such clients, but now I have nearly a dozen, so my monthly invoicing run had become really quite time-consuming.

Now – at the click of a button – I simply pull the details (date, job name, rate and hours) from the Cushion timer into my invoice, download the pdf and send it to my client by email. (It is possible to send an invoice direct from the app – and reminders too, if you wish – but I don’t use this as it requires recipients to click a link, and some of my clients have automatic systems that need an actual attachment.)

Invoices appear in a list, sortable according to my whim, and they are displayed on a timeline too for a very quick overview (see screenshot).

Screenshot of invoices section of Cushion

My invoice timeline. Those with arrows at the end are awaiting payment, and it’s easy to see when they are due. Mousing over reveals a summary, and there’s a detailed list below. You can tell from this that I have a monthly invoicing round, and most of my clients pay really quickly.

Keeping organised and keeping records

All the data stored in the app can be downloaded as.csv files, openable in Excel, so as well as storing these as a backup, I have adapted my accounts spreadsheet, which records invoices and expenses each month and keeps a running total for the year, to extract the data from those files. And that feeds semi-automatically into that suite of historic spreadsheets I mentioned earlier.

Every Monday I receive an email with a list of outstanding invoices and active projects, which is a great way to start the week. And the system also sends me an email to tell me when an invoice is due.

Apart from the fact that the timeline displays make it very easy to visualise my schedule and workload, the best thing as far as I am concerned is that everything is interlinked, so I can click on a client’s name and it’ll take me to a page that shows me everything about that client – contact details, projects, invoices (paid and outstanding), total income from them this financial year, how long it takes them on average to pay me, and a lot more. All the features are easily edited, and it’s easy to find a way of looking at the data that suits my own way of thinking – helping me feel in control and better able to focus on the things that matter.

Sue Browning After a long and interesting career in speech technology research, Sue Browning turned to editorial work in 2005, finding another way to apply her interest in all things to do with language. Sue specialises in copy-editing linguistics and other humanities and social sciences for publishers and academic authors. When not prowling the halls of academia, she often finds herself walking on alien planets, wielding arcane magic and generally having fun with fantasy. When not editing, she likes to walk and cycle, and grow vegetables. Indoors, she likes reading (of course!) and word puzzles, especially cryptic crosswords.

 

Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

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