Category Archives: Clients

SfEP wise owls: working with independent authors

Freelance editors work with a range of clients, including publishers and individuals looking to  publish their own work. This month, the SfEP parliament of wise owls provide advice on how to get the most from working with independent authors.

Liz Jones

Independent authors might not know as much about the ideal publishing process or typical editing workflows as some other clients. Be prepared to take more of a lead in helping them assess what they need, and explaining your services so they understand how you can help them and the value you offer. This can be interesting and rewarding work, but make sure you factor in the extra hand-holding time when you quote, and bear in mind that commonly understood labels for levels of editing won’t necessarily apply. You also have a responsibility: it’s fine to upsell your services, but make sure the author understands what you can actually provide as their editor – and what you can’t. Brilliant proofreading will never turn a badly written or boring book into a bestseller.

Hazel BirdHazel Bird

Carefully explain exactly what service you will provide and always, always get authors to sign a contract (or agree to a set of terms and conditions). Independent authors are likely to have varying degrees of familiarity with ‘standard’ working practices in publishing, so it’s important to be clear about the terms of the service you’re providing. It’s rare for relations between client and editor to sour such that legal action becomes a possibility, but a quick perusal of some of the major editing-related forums shows that it does happen, so it makes sense to take basic precautions. The SfEP has a set of model terms and conditions and there are various sample contracts available through other sites.

Margaret HunterMargaret Hunter

Working with independent authors can involve more hand-holding about the publishing process. Some will have done lots of research, joined supportive writers’ groups, become a member of ALLi, sussed out exactly which Amazon deal to go for and come to you knowing exactly what they need you to do. But more often than not (in my experience) they don’t. This is not necessarily a bad thing: they may have the makings of a pretty good book or document, but just not know how to get to the final output. It can be very rewarding helping an author through the various steps to publication.

Communication is crucial here. Authors may not ask for what their work actually needs (they usually ask for proofreading), so you need to be very clear from the start about what you can do, what you will do – and what you can’t or won’t. Some authors will keep coming back to you with lots of questions, not just about the text but about the publishing process itself. Do I need an ISBN for my ebook as well as the print one? Where can I find a cover designer? I’m listing my book on Amazon but it’s asking me about BISAC categories and DRM options – what do I put? It’s worth knowing the answers yourself or building up a bank of stock replies with useful links to where your authors can find out. Or, of course, pointing them to SfEP colleagues or the Directory for other services.

Set up good working practices that put you in control, with clear instructions on how the author can see your changes, accept them if required, make further edits or add text. Because there is no intermediary, the author must answer all queries and take all decisions. Inevitably there is a great temptation to keep on tinkering with the text. If you’re not careful, you may find yourself having to deal with changes made in different ways in different files. State clearly how much time is included in the fee for taking in amendments after you return the initial edit (from none to negotiating a further fee if it goes over X). And always cost in a second pass anyway.

Sue LittlefordSue Littleford

Novice independent authors are unlikely to be speaking the same language as you – so it’s absolutely essential to ensure that you understand each other. It’s not enough to agree a brief; you’ll need to make sure that your client actually understands what it means in practice. What do they mean by ‘proofreading’? Probably copy-editing, sometimes developmental editing. Sometimes proofreading! How will they take your critique or queries? As if you tortured and murdered their literary baby, or as help towards making that self-same baby ready to meet the world? Explain your process in lay terms and check your client has understood. A mismatch between their expectation and your actuality can be painful and time-consuming.

Sue BrowningSue Browning

When working with independent authors, the initial negotiations are key to establishing a mutual understanding of what will be involved because you can’t assume they will know the different terms we editors use and what they entail. I prefer to show as well as explain, and I usually edit a short sample so they know what to expect from me. How the person conducts themselves in these first interactions is also a clue to what they will be like to work with, and it’s sometimes possible to spot a red flag and steer away if need be.

Which brings me on to one potential downside of working with independent authors: it’s harder to verify an individual. If a publisher or a company contacts you, it is relatively easy to check them out to see if they are a legitimate enterprise and to form a judgement about whether it is ‘safe’ to work with them. This is more tricky with an independent author. They might have an author page or a Facebook profile, but many don’t, and there is really no way of assuring yourself that they are who they say they are and that you will be paid. To guard against this to some extent, I ask for a proportion of the total estimated fee in advance. In fact, I’ve found that, in any case, it’s good to be flexible about payment arrangements. An indie author may not have the funds to pay the whole fee at once, and offering payment in instalments helps ease the pain for them. All that said, in my experience, independent authors pay quickly and happily.

Indie authors have been a source of constant surprise and pleasure, chocolates, flowers, and personalised drawings, and even a few gardening tips. I love ’em!

Posted by Tracey Roberts, SfEP blog coordinator

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

 

SfEP wise owls: how to take (guilt-free) time off at Christmas

At the time of publication, there are only 48 days until Christmas. While everyone else is concerned with buying presents, spending time with relatives they don’t like, and how to avoid getting food poisoning from an undercooked turkey, freelancers also have to organise taking time off during the holidays. As an early Christmas present, the SfEP parliament has wrapped up their advice on how to take guilt-free time off over the Christmas period.

Owl Santa

Sue BrowningSue Browning

My advice? Banish the guilt! Isn’t freedom to work when we choose one of the reasons we go freelance? Why then do we burden ourselves with guilt when we do just that? The only thing we should worry about is making sure we do what we have promised to do by the time we promised to do it. Give yourself permission to reject a job if it will mean working when you don’t want to.

So, unless you actively choose to work over Christmas (and there are plenty of good reasons you might wish to do so), block the time off in your schedule and resolutely say no to taking on a project that would mean working over your holiday period. Close your office door, switch off your phone, and go and enjoy your family and friends, your food and wine, your Christmas walk (just me?), and your rest. Return to your work when you choose to, knowing you’ll be all the better at it for having relaxed and refreshed yourself. And banish that guilt!

Liz JonesLiz Jones

Remember that your time is as valuable as anyone else’s, and you have a right to take holidays. You can’t do your best work if you’re over-tired and feeling put-upon, so give yourself a break. Plan definite work-free time in advance – block it out as you would any other project, on your calendar or in your diary. Tell all the people you need to tell that you’re taking this time off, and stick to it as you would any other professional commitment. Christmas is easier than some other holiday periods because most offices either shut down completely or are very nearly empty, with little sense of urgency. If you waver in your resolve, just remember that most clients won’t expect you to be working flat out at this time anyway, and email traffic is likely to reduce. For a total break it can be wonderful to stay offline completely for a few days (no email, no social media) … if you have the self-control!

Abi SaffreyAbi Saffrey

Try to decide a few months in advance which days you are taking off work. Write HOLIDAY in your calendar in big letters so it takes thought and effort to cross it out. If you can, fit a few more projects, or better paying ones, into the months leading up to your break so you’re not worrying about earning when you should be taking time out. Tell your clients when you’ll be ‘away’ and that you won’t be responding to emails during that time. When your holiday finally comes around, don’t check your email, steer clear of social media, and if you think of something work related that needs doing, make a list, tuck it under your keyboard and walk away.

Taking a whole week or two off a couple of times a year is really important – especially in the dark winter months. You’ll come back refreshed and enthusiastic, keen to get back to your routine, and you’ll be more productive.

John EspirianJohn Espirian 

Plan the calendar well ahead. If you book up your work time in, say, two-week blocks, then book your Christmas time off three or more weeks ahead. That way, you won’t let work dominate the holidays. A general life lesson is to plan the fun stuff first and then the work to fit around it. That’s why most of us are freelancers, after all – freedom.

I always know I’m going to be doing the cooking, so can be sure that I won’t be working when I’m spending time in the kitchen. But I actually love that. If there are young kids around, plan to get them involved with the prep so that the whole thing doesn’t feel like a chore.

Send clients Christmas cards with a reminder of when you’ll be back at work. Could lead to more business! Always be top of mind.

Turn off phone notifications and even turn off delivery of emails.

Margaret HunterMargaret Hunter

Decide on something nice / creative / challenging you want to do during your time off. Get out that sewing project that’s been on hold; sort out your photo albums; plan an overnight long hike. Anything that’s going to make you feel good and less guilty about not working.

Hazel BirdHazel Bird

Theoretically, taking time off at Christmas is easy if you plan it in advance and tell those contacts who need to know. But, in practice, existing work can end up spilling into our well-earned down-time, or lucrative offers can tempt us back to our desks. To prevent work spilling over, consider taking on slightly less work just prior to your break so you can be sure you’ll get it done in time, even if it takes a bit longer than expected. As to being tempted to take on new work, plan in advance what you’d say if you received an offer and what rates you would charge to justify giving up your planned break. Maybe there’s no fee that would make it worth it – but even coming to that conclusion could help to fortify you against tempting offers.

Melanie ThompsonMelanie Thompson

Never, ever feel guilty about taking planned time off.

There are laws to protect the holiday rights of employees, but no equivalent for freelancers. That means you have to police yourself. Everyone needs a break. Plan yours well in advance; tell your clients you’ll be ‘out of the office from x to y’. (They don’t need to know why unless you want to tell them.)

The number one benefit of being a freelancer is the freedom to decide what is right for you.

Sue LittlefordSue Littleford

Downtime is essential for your health and well-being. No guilt required. To ensure you take time off, you need to commit, and commit early. Mark the time off in your planner. When offered a job with a due date on the far side of your break, double-check that the timescale is feasible. One client’s software regurgitates a due date based on word count, ignoring all bank holidays, so I get the date extended. Reject any job that has a due date during your planned break so you don’t try to squeeze it in and finish it early – if you fail, you end up working, stressed and resentful.

Posted by Tracey Roberts, SfEP blog coordinator.

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

 

 

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Publishers, pigeons and German knitting: musings on the London Book Fair

By Margaret Hunter

As many of you will know (at least avid forum readers), I recently ran an SfEP stand at the London Book Fair, ably assisted by a crack team of volunteer members. Was it worth it? Only time will tell in terms of actual new joiners and new clients using our services, but my overall impression is yes!

New members? New clients?

SfEP stand at London Book Fair 2016Being a publisher-focused event – and more than that, being a very sales-focused event – I feared we might have many visits from people who wanted to sell us their latest gizmo or whizzy program, or indeed bend our ears about their authorial masterpiece. We did get a couple of those visits, but thankfully not too many.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that most of our conversations were meaningful and productive. I was particularly pleased that we had a pretty even mix of visitors: people working as editors or proofreaders (or wanting to) who were looking for support, and also publishers and authors looking for good professional help. There is a need for us!

The in-person contact gave us the chance to talk through people’s questions about joining, upgrading and training, as well as show off the benefits of membership, including participation in the forums and local groups, and these were met with enthusiasm. Look out for potential new joiners visiting your local group to ‘try before they buy’!

Publishers and authors, as potential clients, were very pleased to hear of our directory and we showed lots of people how to use it. Many expressed appreciation of the fact that everyone in our directory has had to show certain levels of competence and experience to attain their grade of membership, which goes to show that it’s well worth upgrading as soon as you can. Clients are desperate to find a reliable source of good editors and proofreaders in the murky sea of internet listings.

So that’s what editors do

Of course, we had many interesting discussions on the value of proofreading and editing and how the process works. One self-publishing author asked whether it was really worth having his book edited as he’s already listed it on Amazon and it is selling. He went on to answer his own question by revealing that the reviews he has received so far are all along the lines of ‘Good book. Shame about the typos’.

It was enlightening for him to hear about what we editors actually do. When I mentioned that a lot of the job is about consistency checks his response went something like this: ‘Oh, so you take care of all of that? Wow! I could have done with that service for my last book.’ I asked him why. He explained that a friend had read his book and really liked it, then asked: ‘But what happened to the body in the park?’ One for the good fiction editor’s checklist, I think!

That can’t be Margaret!

Aptly named editors Sentance and Shakspeare

Shakspeare and Sentance

The Fair was also an opportunity to get to know some other SfEP members better, and I was able to share information about SfEP that some didn’t know. As well as those who helped to run the stand, other members popped by to say hello. At one point we had two very aptly named editors on hand.

It was great to hear about what other editors and proofreaders do in their businesses and to share their stories, instructive as well as funny. And you learn the most interesting things when you speak to editorial professionals. For example, I found out that there is a ‘German way’ of knitting that’s visibly noticeable to those in the know. That’s the sort of ‘useful fact’ that comes out in group and forum discussions that editors can tuck away in the hope that one day it will come in handy.

Meeting in person those so far encountered only virtually can, however, be a revelation. When I was deep in conversation with a stand visitor I was pointed out to one of our number. ‘But that can’t be Margaret!’ came the response. ‘I thought she was tall!’ [I’m not – you know who you are ;-)]

But what about the pigeon, I hear you ask. Well, I think she just came for the biscuits.

Visitng pigeon at LBF16Many thanks to our lovely members who gave time and enthusiasm to help run the stand: Josephine Bacon, Alex Boon, Piers Cardon, John Firth, Jane Hammett, Anya Hastwell, Mary Hobbins, Richard Hutchinson, Liz Jones, Jackie Mace, Rene Nel, Peter Norrington, Alison Shakspeare, Richard Sheehan, Wendy Toole, Jeremy Toynbee, Alison Walters.

Margaret HunterMargaret Hunter is a freelance copy-editor, proofreader and formatter and is the SfEP’s marketing and PR director.

daisyeditorial.co.uk | facebook.com/daisyeditorial | @daisyeditorial

sfep.org.uk/directory/daisy-editorial

 

Posted by Tracey Roberts, SfEP blog coordinator.

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

Taking editorial tests for clients

By Liz Jones

editing testsSometimes a prospective client will ask you to complete a test, either in competition with other editors for one ongoing editorial position, or for admission to their pool of regular freelance editors. Opinion is divided among editors about the usefulness and ethics of these tests. Should we be required to take them? Is it something of an insult if we can otherwise demonstrate that we have the necessary experience and skills? And is it a waste of our valuable time … or is there perhaps more to it than that?

Although I am rarely required to take tests for clients (most of my work is repeat business or comes via recommendations), I am sometimes asked to complete one if the client is completely unknown to me, or if the work requires particular skills that can only be seen in action.

For instance, I recently completed a test for a client I had approached about an ongoing copy-editing position. It turned out to be quite a palaver – the test itself was absolutely reasonable (in fact I thought it was a very good test), but to be able to complete it I had to install the latest version of InDesign (until that point I was deluded enough to believe that I had the latest version). This, it turned out, also entailed updating my entire operating system. I also needed to buy the Kindle edition of a well-known style guide, and do my best to absorb the relevant parts of it in the time available. Finally, I had to learn a few new ways of using my freshly updated software in order to complete the test.

Was it worth it? Well, I hope it secures me the work, but even if it doesn’t on this occasion, I don’t begrudge the time I spent. Here’s why.

Benefits of taking tests

As I hope I have just demonstrated, taking a test for a client can be a very useful form of CPD. I certainly learnt things, many of them about software that I have been using regularly for the last ten years, and I have a shiny new operating system. It was interesting to work on a particular type of material, some aspects of which were a departure for me. I also learnt aspects of a style guide that is new to me – though it reminded me very much of one that I already knew, which helped. Above all, the thought of someone looking critically at each and every editorial decision I made focused my mind on trying to get it just right. In an ideal world I would approach every job with this level of intensity.

Aside from the CPD aspect, editorial tests can be a great way in for new freelance editors. If people ask me about the best way to find work when starting out, I often recommend that they seek out clients who require them to do tests. If you get as far as taking the test, and pass it, this can negate the need to provide a long list of experience, which can obviously be a barrier for those new to the profession.

When to be wary

Personally, I wouldn’t be happy to take a test for every prospective client. I would rather know as far as possible that I definitely want to work for the client before putting in the time required to do a test properly. There’s also a limit to how long I am prepared to spend on a test. A length of a thousand or so words is OK. Ten thousand words is too long, in my opinion. I don’t think a reasonable client would ask me to take a test that took up more than an hour of my time.

Finally, I would want to be sure that the test is a genuine test. This has not happened to me (probably because of the nature of my client base), but I am aware that some editors have been sent a section of a longer work as a test … only to discover that others they know have been sent different sections. One suspects that some unethical authors might think it possible to get an entire work edited for free in this way.

How to approach a test

Not everyone likes tests, but there are ways to make them less painful. Take your time to read the instructions provided. It’s clear that if you ignore these, you won’t impress, but more than that – the instructions can provide valuable clues about what the client wants. Are there specific points of style mentioned? Do they want you to provide an idea of the time the test took to complete? Do they want you to quote for the work?

It helps to become as familiar as you can in a short space of time with the existing output of the client. Do they have similar material published on the web? If they do, this is incredibly useful in terms of understanding the tone to aim for when editing; it can also solve a few style riddles.

Finally, try to forget you are doing a test. Easier said than done, I know. But once you get into the rhythm of the work, try to enjoy it and just do the best job you can – as if you were editing for your favourite client, on a topic you find fascinating, at a fabulous hourly rate, on a really good day. You probably won’t achieve this state of being until the end of the extract (especially if it’s only a thousand words long).

For this reason, and others, do check over your work again at the end. And again. I don’t always read things multiple times when I edit in real life – it depends on the parameters of the job – but for a test, I certainly will. This is your one chance; try not to blow it. You’ll probably find that the first half of the test piece is not as good as the second, and can be tightened up no end with another pass.

What to take away?

Well, of course, you hope you get the gig. But whether you do or not, I hope I have shown that a test can be a positive and useful experience in various other ways, too.

Liz JonesLiz Jones (www.ljed.co.uk) has worked as an editor in the publishing industry since 1998, and has been freelance since 2008. She specialises in trade non-fiction and educational publishing, and is an Advanced Professional Member of the SfEP.

 

 

Proofread by SfEP Intermediate Member Sandra Rawlin.

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

Supporting sentences and each other

The other day, I was discussing the concept of bullet points with my six-year-old daughter.

‘Part of my job involves checking the punctuation of bullet lists,’ I told her.

She looked at me pityingly. ‘Sad job,’ she said.

She had a point of course. But, on the other hand, a commitment to consistency and clarity can in fact make for a very happy job, especially when you find others who feel the same way. And they’re certainly out there, especially online. Follow any thread on The Editors’ Association of Earth Facebook group, for example, and you’ll find eloquent international specialists eager to share their knowledge, united by their passion for the English language.

Lunching with like-mBlog post pubinded locals

Here’s another scenario. A group of professionals listens as a potential client describes her requirements for contractors. She explains the type of work she offers, the skills she’s looking for and the rates of pay on offer. Does her audience size each other up, ready to betray their competitors’ weaknesses, Apprentice-style, with a clever put-down or underhanded action?

Of course not. This is a group of editors and proofreaders, and, perhaps because we’re used to working alone, we find our strength in numbers.

The professionals in question were the Norfolk SfEP group on a tour of a local typesetter. In the pub afterwards (what better excuse for a rare business lunch?), veterans of the battle for clear prose offered advice to nervous newbies, and we all openly discussed what we thought of the rates on offer. They were on the low side – acceptable to those looking for a route into editorial work but less attractive to those with a larger network of contacts. There was no sense of rivalry; some of us were simply keener to work for the typesetter than others. Talk moved on to more typical pub chat – weddings, construction and the City of London Corporation.

I don’t get to local meetings as often as I’d like but, when I do, I’m always welcomed warmly and come home brimming with inspiration and motivation. The Norfolk group (or chapter, as I like to call it) is one of 39 local SfEP groups throughout the United Kingdom that give editors and proofreaders a welcome opportunity to discuss sentence structure, spelling and standing desks with others who care about such things. SfEP members further afield can join the international group or and even the Skype Club – there’s no reason to feel isolated even if you normally work by yourself.

The perils of going it alone

Here’s a third example, which I hope isn’t typical. I was telling a designer at a networking event about my strong editorial community – the friendly conferences, the funny Twitter chats, the engaging Facebook posts. He stared at me in amazement. ‘I don’t speak to other designers,’ he said. ‘They’d only steal my clients.’

‘So you always work in isolation?’

‘Yes,’ he said, ‘It’s the price you have to pay for being a freelance designer.’

Sad job, I thought.

TSO group and

Julia Sandford-Cooke of WordFire Communications (www.wordfire.co.uk) has more than 15 years’ experience of publishing and marketing. When she’s not hanging out with other editors (virtually or otherwise), she authors and edits textbooks, writes digital copy, proofreads anything that’s put in front of her, spends too much time on Twitter (@JuliaWordFire) and posts short book reviews on her blog, Ju’s Reviews.

Proofread by SfEP Entry-Level Member Susan Walton.

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

Different types of editing – do the labels matter?

pigeonholes

Sometimes what we do fits neatly into a category of editing … and sometimes it’s less clear.

Recently I’ve seen (and participated in) a few discussions about different types of editing – what they involve, how rates of pay work out for each, and the level of skill or knowledge required to undertake them.

In terms of ‘editing’ (from the perspective of many members of the SfEP), there are several commonly understood types or levels of editing:

  • structural or development editing
  • copy-editing
  • proofreading

The SfEP provides useful descriptions of what is meant by ‘copy-editing’ and ‘proofreading’ – tasks that occupy many of its members for much of their working time.

Then there is also a hybrid we sometimes talk about: proof-editing. This often seems to refer to a job described and commissioned by the client as a proofread, but that actually involves a greater degree of intervention than we might strictly expect of a proofread. There can be various reasons for this, not least of which is the possibility that only one editorial professional has ever laid eyes on the material about to be published – you.

Dialogue with clients

In terms of talking to each other, and to publisher clients, these labels (especially the first three) can be highly relevant and useful – they provide a kind of shorthand to help us understand the parameters of a particular job. Proofreading involves making essential corrections only; copy-editing involves a higher level of stylistic decisions but is still constrained by the client’s requirements and the need to respect the author’s voice, and so on. By using such labels, we have a good idea of what the client wants, and the client in turn knows what they are paying for, and what they should expect to get back from us.

However, being too fixated on these labels can cause problems when we work with people who are not familiar with the traditional book publishing process, which might include a huge range of clients: from self-publishing authors, to students wanting their theses proofread, to business clients, to government departments and various international organisations.

Labels as barriers

How do you deal with editorial work that resists categorisation? Should you try to make it conform by rigidly carrying out the tasks that you would associate with the level of work ostensibly being asked for? Should you reject it on the grounds that you have only been trained to proofread, but it actually looks more like a copy-edit? Or should you adapt to fit the needs of the client? It’s possible that by clinging on to very rigid notions of the prescribed nature of proofreading, or copy-editing, we will fail to provide the service that a client actually requires … and both sides can lose out.

A business client might, for instance, ask you to ‘proofread’ a document. However, it may not mean much to this client if you return the ‘proofread’ document marked up with perfectly executed BS 5261C: 2005, having made only very minimal interventions. It’s highly likely they were actually expecting you to perform major editorial surgery, and provide them with changes clearly set out in such a way that a layperson (not another editor or a typesetter) could understand.

This is where communication with the client is paramount; this applies whatever kind of client you are working for, but is especially important when it comes to assessing the type of work that is required for a ‘non-publishing’ client – you need to understand what they want you to do, and how far they want you to go … and they need to understand the service that you will be providing. As Kate Haigh said when she discussed working for business clients on this blog: ‘business clients want to know that you understand their needs and their material’.

Labels versus rates

The SfEP also suggests on its website minimum rates for the different types of editing, with proofreading seen as commanding a lower hourly rate than copy-editing, and development editing tending to be paid at a higher rate than copy-editing. Project management (which may or may not involve hands-on editing) is expected to command the highest rates. How these rates actually work out in practice is often the subject of hot debate. And many editors will choose to take the line that their time is their time, and should be paid for accordingly, no matter what specific editorial task is being performed.

In short, labels for the types of work we do can be helpful when we talk to other editorial professionals, when we communicate with publisher clients (although all publishers are different, and the exact requirements of a ‘proofread’, say, can vary), and when we assess for ourselves the level of work a job requires. Where the labels can be less helpful, or perhaps where we need to be prepared to be flexible, is when it comes to selling our services to a diverse range of clients, and when it comes to adapting our working methods to fit a client’s requirements – such important parts of winning business, and securing repeat commissions.

Photo on 28-05-2015 at 13.51 #2Posted by Liz Jones, SfEP marketing and PR director.

Proofread by SfEP Entry-Level Member Christine Layzell.

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

Know when to say no

NOWe’re in the business of saying yes … but just as important can be knowing when to say no – some projects may just be more trouble than they are worth. Here are some warning signs to look out for.

  • An unreasonably long test. You have to decide what you consider unreasonable, of course, and it may depend on how much you want the work, and how much work you stand to gain if you’re successful. Bear in mind too that taking a test can be a brilliant way in if you are starting out, as it effectively gets around the need for experience to prove yourself.
  • Refusal to stay within acceptable boundaries. Is the prospective client emailing you every half-hour with queries, or demanding instant answers? Do they telephone you outside normal working hours? This lack of regard for your time can signal a potentially problematic working relationship.
  • A large or complex project offered for a flat fee. We often hear that per-page or per-word rates are best because they reward efficient working practices. But be wary of taking on a long or very complicated job on this basis, unless you have worked on something similar for that client before. If you do proceed, aim to build in agreement from the start that the budget will need to be reviewed if the hours exceed a limit.
  • Unwillingness to discuss the budget. Refusal on the client’s part to commit to a figure, even when asked, is a bad sign. Negotiating can be difficult on both sides – but there still needs to be discussion and agreement about the cost before the job begins.
  • Refusal to agree project terms in writing. The contract for a project could take the form of an email or series of emails in which key details are agreed; it doesn’t have to be on paper, or even very formal. But you do need to have things pinned down; an agreement over the telephone or even in person won’t do, and you can’t refer back to it reliably.
  • Does the client fail to send the work on time, without warning or explanation? If so, don’t feel you have to accommodate this. You may choose to, of course – it’s not unusual for projects to run late, and being adaptable can work in your favour – but don’t be bullied into working to their schedule if they show no respect for yours.
  • A sense that the project, for whatever reason, is not right for you. Learn to trust your instincts – they are very often right.

It can take time to learn when to say no, and even after years as a freelance editor, it’s still possible to get it wrong sometimes. What factors would make you turn a project down?

Posted by Liz Jones, SfEP marketing and PR director.

Proofread by SfEP provisional intermediate member Gary Blogg.

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

A first-timer’s experience of conference

RHamar-Royal Holloway

Royal Holloway, University of London – venue for the 2014 SfEP conference

So, you’re thinking about going to conference, but you haven’t been before. It seems like a lot of money to justify, especially for a freelance, even more so if you are new to this business. Perhaps you are already established and would need to block out the time in your already full diary. Will you get enough out of it to justify the lost work, the time and the expense?

My answer is absolutely, wholeheartedly, yes.

I went to conference last year for the first time, two whole weeks into a new career as a freelance proofreader and editor. I had no background experience in editing, but have built up a raft of relevant skills in other jobs that I hoped would be enough to start me off. I planned to use the conference as a networking platform, to see how other people got started in the business, to find out what kind of training would be most useful and to make contacts with publishers.

I was rather apprehensive on first arriving: I loathe marketing, especially marketing myself, and am not particularly keen on meeting new people. I have, at times, seriously contemplated being a hermit. But the welcome was warm and relaxed: SfEP staff were there with ready smiles to help answer questions, and plenty of other conference attendees were happy to chat. It was clear that many were conference regulars, enjoying the chance to catch up on a year’s gossip with friends first hand.

Accommodation and food provision was good. We used student accommodation, individual ensuite rooms in small flats with a communal kitchen area. Far better than any accommodation I experienced as a student, the rooms were clean, fresh, very well located (right on site) and good value for money.

The conference programme is packed to the gunnels with things to keep you busy all day, every day, and you don’t need to sit quietly in a corner unless you want to.

The welcome event for conference newbies was a superb icebreaker. The members of the council were there as a first point of contact, and it was good to put faces to names from the website and the forums. I was interested to see many experienced editors who were conference newbies, so if you’ve already been in the business a while, you will find common ground with plenty of other attendees.

I had chosen seminars and workshops that I thought would be most appropriate to a newbie, but there were at least three places I would have liked to have been for each slot. Perhaps my only real niggle would be that I could not attend all the sessions I wanted to, as most ran only in one slot. But the SfEP have thought of everything: reports on all the seminars and workshops are available to all attendees after the event. Speaking to more experienced colleagues, the range and focus of the available seminars seemed to be well balanced, appealing to all stages of professional experience. Not everything is focused on traditional publishing: there were sessions on marketing, working with non-publishing clients, self-publishing and building your own website. Being a practical kind of person, I was pleased that there was at least one thing from each seminar that I could implement immediately, along with ideas for further consideration or development. The lightning talks were full of energy; the lectures well thought out and eloquently presented. And the after-dinner speaker for the gala dinner had the room in stitches. (No pressure this year, then?)

There was a limited number of trade stands to visit between seminars or during coffee breaks. If I am honest, I learned more about the products on display from the other attendees than from the stands, but it was a conversation starter. As for networking or making contact with publishers, there were several representatives from big publishers; I would consider this a matter of quality over quantity. I spoke to representatives from three publishers: they were all happy to talk to newbies and experienced professionals alike. There is always going to be a large element of luck as to whether or not your skills match a publisher’s current needs, but my experience was positive. The contacts I made at conference generated real paying work that more than covered my expenses: it was well worth my investment in time and money.

There are many motivations for coming to conference, but it is a superb place to mingle among friends, old and new, debate hyphen vs en-dash usage in fine detail with the cognoscenti (I exaggerate only slightly) and put the p and the d into your CPD. My advice? Come with a plan, so you know what you want to get out of each session you attend. Be open to new ideas and processes, as everyone has experience and opinions to share. And get stuck in! I’ve already booked my place at this year’s conference, so if you need to start somewhere, come and say hello. I’ll be the loud one on the introverts’ table.

 

Rachel Hamar - mugshot

Rachel Hamar started proofreading, editing and writing in 2014, after careers in engineering and teaching. She specialises in maths education, gardening, and patchwork and quilting. When she is not working, she is often found walking her dogs, weeding the garden or sewing: it depends on the weather.

www.hamar-hamar.com

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

Click here for more information, and to book a place at this year’s conference, from 5–7 September at the University of York. 

Tackling a complex brief

photo (2)You probably know the feeling: a long-anticipated project drops into your inbox – big enough to keep you busy for a while, which is good. But somehow you sense, without so much as opening the email, that the innocuous little paperclip graphic next to the subject line actually heralds a brief the size of a short novel.

Where do you start? To avoid getting overwhelmed before you’ve even begun, here are a few tips for wrestling with a complex brief – and emerging victorious.

  • See it as an intrinsic part of the job, not a separate and annoying task to be endured before the fun stuff. Make yourself a cup of coffee, take a deep breath and start reading. Don’t make the mistake of skimping on this stage; if you edit without understanding the brief, you might as well do it with your eyes closed.
  • Make peace with the fact that the first time you read the brief through, not all of it will make sense. You may find impenetrable acronyms, abbreviations, references to elements of page furniture with which you are not yet familiar … Take another deep breath and reassure yourself that it will be comprehensible in the end.
  • You might need to read the briefing materials more than once, and you will certainly need to refer to them as you get started on the work – and probably throughout the project. This is where having a second screen can be a great timesaver, as you won’t need to flick between documents.
  • Remember that an apparently labyrinthine brief is actually telling you how to do the job, often in minute detail, if you only read it carefully and follow it through logically. Time spent absorbing this material at the beginning of the work could save you many hours later on.
  • As you read the brief, see if you can use it to help you plan efficiencies in the way you work. Are there global changes that you can make before you begin, for example? How might you use find and replace or macros to speed things up?
  • For large projects, the deadline may be weeks or months in the future. Break the brief down into more manageable chunks, with landmarks to help you judge that you’re on course to hit that final date.
  • Make sure you know in advance if you will need to submit parts of the project along the way (this vital information might be hidden away in a single sentence in the middle of a paragraph about something else), or if you will need to deal with the author or multiple authors, and build these considerations into your schedule.
  • Allow time to read the brief again at the end of the project before you submit the work, just to check you’ve covered everything. It’s better to fix things now – even if it adds on a little time – rather than be asked to do so by your client later on.
  • Reassure yourself with the fact that if you do more work for the same client, the next brief will probably be easier to understand as a result of the groundwork you’ve put in now.

Following a brief well shows off your ability to be diligent and accurate, and maximises your chances of securing repeat business. Have you got any tips for tackling a complicated brief?

Liz Jones SfEP marketing and PR director

 

Liz Jones is the SfEP’s marketing and PR director, and has been an editor since 1998, specialising in general non-fiction and educational publishing.

 

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

Specialist Q&A – working for business clients

Specialist Q&A graphicOur editorial industry is made up of people carrying out a huge range of tasks across many different sectors. Although we are bound by common aims – to make text consistent, accurate and clear – our chosen areas of work can differ in fascinating ways.

Kate Haigh (Kateproof) is a freelance proofreader and copy-editor. She has answered some questions on one of her specialisms: working for business clients.

1. Briefly, what’s your work background?

My CV is pretty varied but I have in-house editing and proofreading experience at a magazine publishing company (Govnet) and also for Datamonitor. I have also managed a team for a multinational corporate bank and have worked for the public sector.

2. How long have you specialised in this particular kind of editorial work, and how did you get started?

The first freelance client I got was almost five years ago and was pure serendipity: I went on a web writing course and got offered a lift home by a woman who worked for a local business. She took my card and passed it to her marketing department and the rest is history…

3. What specific knowledge, experience or qualifications do you need?

I find this is where working for business clients differs from working for publishers as I don’t think you need formal training, though confidence is key and I don’t know how confident I would feel if I didn’t have the training under my belt. Experience possibly counts for more as many business clients want to know that you understand their needs and their material. I work on a lot of annual reports, for example, and my experience in banking helps because I understand a lot of the terminology and the common elements that most reports include. One of my USPs is that I studied German at university so though I don’t offer translation services, I work for quite a few German companies as I understand some of the common issues German speakers encounter when writing in English.

4. How do you go about finding work in this area?

Nowadays, people find me through word of mouth and my website. However, when I was first starting out, I went to local networks and met lots of other local businesspeople from various industries. Clients and leads didn’t appear overnight but after about 6 months’ networking at various groups, I started to reap the rewards and continue to do so now even though I don’t currently attend any groups.

5. What do you most enjoy about the work and what are the particular challenges?

Not all business clients are the same. Working for design agencies or marketing teams within big companies often means I liaise with someone who understands the role of proofreading or editing and what I need to do, but lots of companies don’t have this and therefore need me to help them work through the process of getting the work proofread/edited and how best to deal with those changes. With design agencies, I find the work goes backwards and forwards through various iterations of the file as the client, the designers and I all make changes, and this can get quite complex.

Though some people may find the lack of a style guide or formal process less appealing, I like the fact I can influence the work and help a company achieve efficiencies.

Finally, I also have a lot of last-minute, urgent work requests and it can be quite tricky either finding time to fit them in or letting regular clients down. However, on the plus side, if I’m staring down the barrel of a workless week, that very rarely actually happens as something comes in and I go from twiddling thumbs to being very busy.

6. What’s the worst job you’ve had – and/or the best?

That’s really difficult to say purely because I’ve worked on such varied projects. I can’t deny that some of the reports have been very dry but I wouldn’t want to name and shame here. I also had one instance of bad scope creep and that definitely wasn’t enjoyable.

7. What tips would you give to someone wanting to work in this field?

Be confident! Many business clients don’t understand what the editing/proofreading job entails so you need to have the confidence to explain what you’re doing (and sometimes why) and also the confidence to make it clear if something isn’t in your remit.

8. What is the pay like – and are there any other perks?

I find the pay is better than what publishers pay but, for me, more importantly, I set my rates and can vary them depending on the client’s preference: hourly, day rate (common for agencies) or set fee.

9. What other opportunities do you think editorial work in this area might lead to?

I’ve been offered in-house work, and though I wouldn’t choose to return to that permanently, it can be enjoyable as a brief change of scene.

kate2

 

Answers written by Kate Haigh, a freelancer since 2010 working on a variety of projects for publishers, business clients, authors and academics.

 

Proofread by SfEP professional member Louise Lubke Cuss.

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