After gaining employment as an editorial assistant I investigated options for training and career development, and my research immediately led me to the SfEP. I was impressed by the range of training opportunities and advice available, and applied for membership straight away. I have benefited from the advice provided on the website (especially the forum and blog), and wanted to contribute something myself. But as I’m just starting out in my new career I have little editorial experience to share and I can be best described as a ‘newbie’.
The Cambridge English Dictionary defines a newbie as someone who has just started doing an activity, a job etc.
Starting a new career can be daunting. But being a newbie should be viewed positively as an opportunity to learn something new, and I have learnt so much during my first year of SfEP membership. I have completed the ’Proofreading 1’ and ‘Copy-editing 1’ courses via distance learning, and I would highly recommend them as a starting point for anyone considering a career in editing or proofreading. I’m currently studying ‘Proofreading 2: Progress’, where your work is assessed by your tutor (an unnerving prospect for this newbie). Signing up for the mentoring programme will be equally daunting. But progress requires constructive feedback and I am looking forward to what I will learn from these courses and what new opportunities they may bring.
I am also grateful for the networking opportunities that membership has provided, and I have benefited greatly from the knowledge and experience that has been shared by other members. A number of networking opportunities are available and, regardless of your circumstances, newbies can find a convenient way to meet other members. The SfEP has pages on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter, and those keen to meet in person can also join a local group (a Skype group is available for international members). I attended my first meeting with the East Midlands group, where experienced members shared valuable advice and made me feel very welcome. New members are also encouraged to attend the annual conference, although I appreciate that this can be a daunting prospect when you don’t know anyone yet (see recent blogs by Karen and Katherine).
To aid my professional development I applied for the position of SfEP blog coordinator and was thrilled when I was offered the role. We have a number of great blog pieces written by experienced editors which will be published over the coming months, and we would love to hear from anyone else who would like to write for us. The blog covers any topics relevant to editors including freelance business advice, editing tips, guidance on using new software, sharing insight into your specialist area and anything else you think may be of interest to members. See 10 tips for your first proofreading job by John Espirian which will be of interest to new members.
I would also like to invite other newbies to write for the blog and share their experiences as they progress in their new career. No one ever said that starting a new career would be easy, but training and sound advice goes a long way to making this experience easier. This is what membership of the SfEP provides. As the new blog coordinator I look forward to sharing the thoughts and experiences of other members, both long-standing and new.
If you are interested in writing for the blog or have any feedback please get in touch email@example.com.
Tracey Roberts recently graduated with an MSc in Neuroscience and is an Entry-Level member of the SfEP. She currently works as editorial assistant for the Cochrane Schizophrenia Group based in Nottingham and is the SfEP blog coordinator.
The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the SfEP.
Unsurprisingly, new members of the SfEP often have many questions about how to handle that first proofreading job. What are the tips and tricks to getting started with an initial piece of paid work? Are there any pitfalls to avoid? How much should you charge?
This post sets out 10 tips to help new proofreaders. Follow them and you’ll be much more confident when working for your first client.
Here’s what this post covers. Click a link to take you straight to that section:
Let’s start by creating a scenario for a typical proofreading job.
You’ve been contacted by a prospective client who wants you to proofread an article. It’s a 60,000-word document and you know something about the subject matter, but you’re not an expert. The client hasn’t worked with a proofreader before and would like to know how much the job will cost.
Now, let’s look at 10 tips to help you get through this first job. Ready?
Tip 1: Clarify the brief
The ‘brief’ is what the client has asked you to do – in this case, it’s proofreading their article, but you don’t yet have any further details about what ‘proofreading’ means to the client.
Clarifying the brief means you should ensure that your understanding of ‘proofreading’ matches the client’s, especially if the client isn’t a publishing professional or hasn’t paid for editorial services before.
Working to the brief is really important but even more important is understanding what the brief is in the first place. If your expectations don’t match the client’s, the end result isn’t going to be right. So you need to ensure that the requirements are crystal clear.
Here are a few questions you might want to ask:
Is there a style guide to work from?
Are there any references to deal with?
Is it just text or are there figures, tables and illustrations?
The brief is important because it helps you work out how much time the job is likely to take. This knowledge should help you quote a price that reflects the effort required to complete the work to an acceptable standard.
Let’s see the thoughts of a highly experienced SfEP colleague:
Find out the history of the work, e.g. has it been copy-edited to SfEP standard? Or are you the first professional to get their hands on it? If the client is not happy with previous work, find out what hasn’t worked for them.
Tip 2: Ask for a representative sample of the work
OK, you’ve clarified the brief and now know what the client wants. You might be able to do everything that’s required, but what if the source text needs a lot of work? You won’t know until the job starts, right? Wrong. You need to know what state the text is in before you start the job. But how can you find this out?
The answer is to ask for a representative sample of the work. In this case, you would want to see at least a few thousand words (aim for 5–10% of the total), ideally taken from somewhere in the middle of the content. Why? Because authors will often polish the start and end of their writing, so seeing these parts might not give you a proper flavour of the rest of the work.
Getting hold of a representative sample will give an indication of how much effort is required to do the job. Perhaps you’ll discover that the text isn’t even ready for proofreading. Although you’re understandably eager to get going with your first job, the sample may reveal that this particular piece of work isn’t right for you. Should that be the case, it’s best to tell the client straight away.
Tip 3: Get the quote right
Once you know what the client is expecting and you’ve assessed a sample of the text, it’s time to think about how much to charge. A lot of newbie proofreaders freeze at this point. They have moments of self-doubt, wondering whether they can really charge anything for their services. Perhaps it would be better to do the job for nothing?
Although some established professionals support the idea of early work being done at a very low rate (or even for free), most would advise new proofreaders to charge a normal, respectable figure. So, what is that figure?
We usually advise members to look at the suggested minimum rates published on the SfEP website. These hourly figures give an idea of a good minimum amount to aim for. But that then poses another question: how many hours will the job take?
The time required to do the job should have a bearing on what you charge. The exact amount to charge depends on a few factors. Consider these questions:
How long is the text?
How complex is the subject matter?
What’s the deadline?
The answers to these questions will give you an idea of how much effort is required and therefore how much you should charge.
Now, think again about the scenario involving the 60,000-word article. Imagine that you’ve seen a representative sample. It’s good news: the text is brilliantly written and the subject matter turns out not to be as complex as you first thought. You think you can read and correct the rest of the text pretty quickly. You guess that a pace of 4000 words per hour might be achievable. At that rate, you’d need to work for 15 hours to do the job.
Most proofreaders struggle to put in more than 6 hours of work per day. (Proofreading requires a lot of concentration and can be very tiring.) This means that the job would take the equivalent of 2.5 days. At the current suggested minimum rates for proofreading, this job might cost the client around £350. Remember, this is a minimum suggested figure for a piece of text that you’ve assessed as being in great shape already.
But what if the text is a real mess? Horror of horrors, the client hands over a sample that’s hard to understand and is full of mistakes and inconsistencies. Perhaps you’ll scarcely be able to wade through 1000 words of this per hour. Unlike your dream job above that would take a mere 15 hours, this scenario would have you labouring for close to 60 hours – effectively a full week plus overtime, equating to a quote around the £1300 mark. And yes, that’s a minimum suggested figure.
OK, there are two extremes here, but the point is that not all quotes are going to work out the same way. Assessing a sample of the text will let you produce a quote that is in the right part of the spectrum.
An aside on fighting the temptation of quoting low rates
So, what about the natural temptation to quote low just so you can get the experience of that first job or two? Let’s take a look at some advice from fellow SfEP members:
If the client is potentially going to give you more work, or recommend you to others, I would be wary of setting a low rate.
Quote a reasonable hourly rate, based on the time that would be expected of a more experienced editor, and then work the hours necessary for you to do a good job – yes, it’ll probably take a lot longer and therefore work out at a very poor rate, but that’s not relevant to the client. If you start at a low rate, you may end up working for that rate for a lot longer than you think. Also, quoting low does not necessarily mean you’ll land the job – it may well set off red flags in a client’s mind as to why you are so much lower than other quotes they’ve had.
Tip 4: Agree a reasonable deadline
Experienced editorial professionals are often able to take on rush jobs, and can sometimes charge a premium for doing so. This isn’t recommended for those who are starting out, so you need to be sure that you really will have the time to get through the job. As Tina says above, your time estimate might not be long enough, so pushing out the deadline as much as possible would be helpful.
Once you’ve agreed a deadline, do your best to stick to it. Should you realise that the agreed deadline is not achievable, inform the client as soon as possible.
Tip 5: Check all materials
You can’t start a job until you’ve got everything you need. More wise advice:
Check all files as soon as you receive them. Don’t wait until you want to start work, because by that time any problems, such as corrupted files or failed attachments, will wreck your schedule. And back up your work.
Tip 6: Create a checklist of jobs
Having done all of the above prep, you’re now ready to start the job proper. In all the excitement of taking on that first piece of work, you don’t want to forget any tasks. So, follow some simple steps to build a bit of order into your work:
Make yourself a checklist of jobs to do.
Add to it anything you think of as you’re going along.
Remember to check off against the checklist!
Tip 7: Break up the job
If you try to focus on every aspect of the text at the same time, you’ll almost certainly miss something. It’s far better to break up the job into separate passes, helping you focus on one thing at a time.
Here’s some expert advice on the subject:
One tip is not to try to do everything in one pass, especially if you are dealing with a typographically complex book with lots of illustrations, tables, lists, text boxes, etc. Make a checklist, as Katie suggests, then do some global passes to check items such as
Chapter headings vs contents list
Any numbered or alphabetised lists
Sequence of any numbered headings
Only when you have checked all these off on your list is it time to start reading.
Tip 8: Compile a style guide
As above, asking whether there’s an existing style guide should be something you do when assessing the job. But even if a style guide exists, it probably won’t cover everything you come across as you work on the job. Keep notes about decisions made during the job and then refer back to them. Naturally, this is even more important when there’s no style guide to start with.
Time for more advice from another SfEP member:
Regardless of whether or not the client provides a style guide, compile a style sheet for every single project you do. It will include choices related to spelling, capitalization, italics, etc., and if the client hasn’t provided you with a style guide, then the style sheet will include many more items, e.g. numbers, punctuation, reference styles. Not only will you be helping the client and showing that you’re a professional, you will be helping yourself because there is no way on earth that anyone can remember every spelling decision they make over the course of any project. Also, run PerfectIt (or your choice of macros) before you start. That will help you get your style sheet started before you begin the actual editing. (You can run PerfectIt again at the end, if you have time/want to check consistency.)
Tip 9: Group all queries
If you’ve clarified the brief well enough, you shouldn’t have too many queries at the start of the job. But questions will often crop up once the work gets going. Naturally, you’ll be eager to find out the answers but you should avoid peppering the client with lots of emails.
Yet more advice from another SfEP member:
Don’t be afraid to ask, but try and keep questions to a list in one email rather than panicking and sending them willy-nilly!
Remember that your questions should always be relevant to the current job.
Tip 10: Ask questions on SfEP forums
The SfEP’s online discussion forums, which are available only to members of the Society, are the best place to ask questions and hear the thoughts of other editorial professionals. The forums have hosted more than 100,000 posts since their release in late 2012 – a clear sign of a highly engaged community.
Taking on that first proofreading job can seem scary, but it needn’t be if you follow the tips above. Here’s a recap for new proofreaders:
Clarify the brief – make sure you know what the client wants.
Ask for a representative sample – assess the job by reviewing a chunk of the text.
Think about the complexity of the job – how much time and effort will be needed?
Agree a deadline – set a realistic timescale and do your best to stick to it.
Create a checklist – note all the jobs you need to do and check them off as you go.
Break up the job into separate passes – make sure you don’t miss any tasks.
Keep your own notes – supplement the style guide or create your own if one doesn’t exist.
Ask questions – group queries so that you don’t pepper the client with emails.
Use SfEP forums – ask for help from hundreds of experienced members.
Wow, that’s a lot of advice!
I hope these tips give you enough information to get started with confidence, and I wish you the best of luck with your editorial career. If you have any of your own newbie tips to share, please add a comment below.
John Espirian (@espirian) is the SfEP’s internet director and principal forum administrator.
Since entering the world of professional proofreading, writing and editing, I have thought a lot about how we use the English language.
Language as an academic subject is generally considered to be an art or a humanity. It is subjective. We can use it in different ways when communicating with different people. We can use it to paint pictures and arouse feeling. We can be creative with it.
I only have to listen to my children to find lots of examples of this creativity in motion. We were recently walking along and my three-year-old said to his big sister, ‘Oh no – you’ve unclupped my shoe!’ Now, ‘unclupped’ clearly isn’t a word, but we all knew what it meant: she had accidentally stepped on the back of his shoe and it had come off his heel. It was well and truly unclupped. He couldn’t find a word to describe what he meant, so he made one up. I hear this happening all the time, and some of them are great words!
My daughter is reading Roald Dahl’s The BFG at the moment. Now there’s creativity and colour for you. One of the most prolific children’s writers was brave enough to have a main character who, for the whole book, uses ‘is’ for any form of the verb ‘to be’. The Big Friendly Giant eats scrumdiddlyumptious snozzcumbers rather than school chiddlers like the other giants eat. The book is full of these seemingly nonsensical words, which somehow do still make sense to six-year-olds and adults alike.
The flipside of this is that language also has rules. Grammar can be approached scientifically or mathematically and there are still many aspects of language that can be considered objectively right or wrong.
Take, for instance, the commas in this sentence. I have used them parenthetically so they need to come as a pair. If you take one of them away, the sentence doesn’t work. If you take them both away, it is OK. For me, this echoes mathematical equations: symbols can cancel each other out and where the parentheses (or brackets in maths) sit can really alter the meaning (or answer) you get at the end.
Another example is the conjugation of verbs. The verb form is often different depending on who is doing the doing. Again, I think this reflects mathematical statements where certain numbers or parts of an equation are affected by a function, whereas other numbers stand up in their own right. In languages like German, where there are different genders for nouns, there is an even greater choice of conjugations for different cases. These can be taught in tables, so we can, for example, look up the correct form of the article for a masculine noun in the dative case.
We can also see maths in the way reading is currently taught in British schools. Children are taught to ‘chop and blend’ phonics in the same way as adding and subtracting numbers. They learn that c+a+t=cat just as 2+3=5. But at the same time, they learn the exceptions to the rules: the spelling and pronunciation of common but phonically irregular words like ‘the’ and ‘me’.
So, on balance, are we working with an art or a science? I think it’s both and, in that respect, what a great thing it is. Some of us will be sticklers for certain rules: I was taught to never split an infinitive but I understand many people will accept this now. There, I’ve done it – but it was only for effect, and I won’t do it again. But I will quite happily bend other ‘rules’ I once learned (like allowing myself to start a sentence with the word ‘but’). The Oxford English Dictionary paves the way in this evolution of language, with new words being added to each edition as they reach common usage. The June 2015 update has around 500 new words, phrases and senses, including ‘twerk’ and ‘yarn-bombing’. One day, someone made up these words and they caught on. Personally, I’m hoping to make a case for the verb ‘to unclup’ to be included in next year’s update.
Lisa Robertson set up Editwrite in April 2015, after working for a local authority for over 14 years in various children’s services planning and commissioning roles. She offers a range of editorial and writing services, including document writing consultancy. Her specialist areas are children’s services, the public sector and charities. She is an Entry-Level Member of SfEP. www.editwrite.co.uk
At an SfEP local group meeting the other day, someone asked the question “Do you read things more than once?” Several of us answered “No” without hesitation. Often, there is not the budget to allow for more than one full pass at the proofreading or copy-editing stage. However, as the conversation went on, that “no” was further qualified.
There’s no doubt that looking at something more than once is likely to provide a more accurate end result. So when, and in what ways, might it be appropriate to go over things again?
A way to get a quick overview is to check the contents carefully first against the main body of the book or document when proofreading. Check that chapter names are correct and numbered correctly, and check the running heads. As well as ensuring that the contents list is accurate, this provides a quick overview of the book’s structure and general content, so you know what’s coming – this may influence early proofreading decisions, potentially saving you time and angst later on.
One idea that was suggested was to make separate passes for different kinds of error – either those specific to the project, or errors we personally know we have a tendency to overlook. These weaknesses will vary from person to person; I know I have a blind spot when it comes to subheadings, for instance. Someone else mentioned en dashes in number ranges. There will be at least as many examples are there are editors.
We also agreed that the need for multiple readings might be dictated by the subject matter or the genre of the project. Fiction, for example, demands an in-depth understanding of plot and structure that may not be possible to grasp with a single read. Of course structure is important in a non-fiction book too, but often it will be more explicit and prescribed.
Some editors swear by printing things out and doing a separate read-through on hard copy. Again, the decision to do this, or not, will come down to personal preference and may well be influenced by the budget.
Most of us probably use some kind of end-of-project checklist to help us scan the text for particular things at the end of a job. This might be a standard checklist that we use for every project, or something more specific to the job (perhaps provided by the client), or a combination of the two approaches.
Finally, we all agreed that when starting out proofreading, multiple passes are probably necessary. Any proofread or edit involves looking for a range of types of error, and it takes time to learn to pick up all the little details, while also reading for meaning. Accuracy at speed comes with practice.
Do you read more than once? And do you do a detailed read, or do you have strategies to speed things up?
Posted by Liz Jones, SfEP marketing and PR director.
The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the SfEP.
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 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.
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 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.
Who doesn’t need an experienced and trusted adviser?
A year ago, I was new to this editing lark. I had completed the SfEP’s Introduction to Proofreading, Introduction to Copy-Editing, Proofreading 2 and On Screen Editing 1 and the PTC’s formidable proofreading by distance learning course. I now wanted to put my skills out there and charge for them. But did I really know what I was doing? How good was good enough?
If you are employed, you have someone checking your work at first. You have colleagues to compare yourself with. You get feedback from people who know what they are talking about. When you are trying to be self-employed in a new-to-you field, you do not have any of that.
What did I need? An experienced and trusted adviser. Guess what – that’s the Oxford Dictionary’s definition of a mentor. And guess what again – the SfEP has a scheme to provide mentors just like that to people just like me. I signed up.
I am sure that every SfEP mentor will do things differently, but in my case I received four pieces of work from my mentor and had a set period within which to complete each one. The idea was to treat my mentor as a client, getting practice in sending professional emails and sticking to deadlines. Once one assignment was finished and I had had the feedback, I could say when I wanted the next one, so there was no feeling of being over-committed and the training fitted in around whatever else I was doing.
The assignments were examples from the real world, and covered a section of a reference book on paper, a PDF leaflet, a reference list to be marked with track changes and a school textbook PDF. I laboured over them, sent them off to the deadlines and got my detailed feedback, which went through each assignment point by point.
I loved having someone who worked with me intensively for a short while, who knew what they were about and who was being paid to provide advice so that I did not feel bad about taking up their time.
What did I gain? Heaps of things, but here are a few. I learned:
to think about who the client is and what they are looking for;
not to panic if I did not find lots of mistakes (this is real life, not an artificial exercise designed for a training course);
to look very carefully at the fonts and the headings;
to make it clear in my mark-up what was an instruction to the typesetter and what was a suggestion/question to the client.
I gained a huge amount of knowledge and reassurance in a short space of time. It gave me the confidence that I could credibly look for paid work. Not only that, it gave me the final 10 points I needed to upgrade my SfEP membership and reassure potential clients that I was a professional. I was off on my new career.
To find out more about the SfEP’s mentoring scheme, including costs and entry requirements, visit the Mentoring section of the website.
Liz Hunter (Humbie Editorial) specialises in copy-editing academic books and articles and proofreading theses. Her previous career was in the public sector and included being Director of Schools in the Scottish Government and a member of the Organising Committee for the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. She has recently combined her two careers by working some days on a freelance basis for the Official Report (Hansard) in the Scottish Parliament.
Proofread by SfEP entry-level member Karen Pickavance.
The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the SfEP.
Time for a bit of spring cleaning – tidy that desk and dust down your elevator pitch.
It’s that time of the year – at least in the UK – when the spring flowers are out, the birds are singing, there’s a fleeting glimmer of sunshine … and it’s the end of a tax year (or the start of a new one, depending on how you choose to look at it). Perhaps it’s time to tidy the desk, chuck out a few reams of paper and dust down the elevator pitch.
There’s much to recommend being able to tell people what you do in a way they can understand. Let’s face it – it can be an uphill struggle when it comes to justifying our existence. No, we don’t just check for spelling mistakes. And no, Word’s spellcheck function is definitely no substitute for the real thing. Yes, we might love words, but passion doesn’t pay the bills. Sure, an edit is not usually a life-or-death situation, although ‘mere’ typos can do serious damage to reputations and lives – and the work medical editors do, for example, carries a particular weight of responsibility. Good communication in any sector is vital, so there is genuine importance attached to our job, and it takes skill and experience to do it well.
An elevator pitch is typically a short and simple summary of your business offering, using language that anyone can understand. It says who you are, what you do and what you can offer a potential client. A good example will tell a story in miniature, rather than comprise a blurted-out list of bullet points. You need to captivate your listener – and you haven’t got long to do it; perhaps 30 seconds. (The tallest lift in my town only goes up one floor, so I’d have to be especially concise.)
If you’re trying to communicate your worth to so-called non-publishers, you might need to strip things right back to the basics; you could even use an analogy. About a year ago I wrote a description on my website likening the work of an editor to the craft of a sash window renovator. (It only occurred to me afterwards that I should have struck some kind of reciprocal deal with the window restorers, asking them to compare their work to that of a professional editor.) The point is, it can help to explain what we do if we make it more tangible.
Publishers may be easier – they already understand the difference between copy-editing and proofreading, for instance, and they know why they need us. But all publishers are different, and you may still need a very focused approach to make that particular publisher understand why they should hire you, and not the other twenty editors who have also cold-called them that month. What areas do you specialise in? What specific skills and qualifications do you have?
To write your elevator pitch, try putting everything down on paper (or screen) first – everything that differentiates you and your business. Stick to the positives – describe what you can do, not what you can’t. Then, when you have your description, do what you do best – edit it. Cut out all the extraneous material until you’re left with the pure message that you want to convey. Take your time. Tell that story. Nail it.
Now you have your perfect pitch, what can you do with it? One thing you could do is learn it by heart, and then take yourself off to some local networking events (or even an SfEP local group meeting) and actually use it. You might discover that you enjoy the process, and you could even pick up a new client or two. (Remember, contacts you make may not lead to immediate work; it’s often about the long game.)
However, the real beauty of this is that you don’t have to actually deliver the elevator pitch for it to be of real benefit. You’ve just spent quality time focusing on the positives of who you are and what you do. See how you’ve distilled the essence of your business so you understand exactly what you offer and why it’s worth something to others? Now you can use this knowledge of what makes your business brilliant (what I like to think of as your secret elevator pitch) to inform the way you sell it to others, in whatever way you choose.
Do you have an elevator pitch? Has it helped you market your business?
Liz Jones is the SfEP’s marketing and PR director.
Proofread by SfEP provisional intermediate member Gary Blogg.
The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the SfEP.
One of the most important decisions you’ll make when starting any new venture is what you should call your new business. Here are seven questions that will help you come up with the perfect name for your editorial business.
1. Should I use my own name?
If you are already well established in your editorial career, it can be helpful to use your own name in your business as it will help potential clients find you, particularly if they have worked with you previously. However, this doesn’t work if you have a more common name. If your moniker is along the lines of John Smith, you may prefer your business name to be a little more original.
2. Should I include details of what I do?
It can be helpful to outline your services as part of your business name, but be careful not to box yourself in. While ‘X Proofreading’ may be a perfect description of your business offering today, next year, after you’ve expanded into copy-editing or developmental editing, you may find that the proofreading part of your business name restricts you.
3. Is my proposed business name easy to pronounce and spell?
Picture the scene: You’ve met a really promising contact and exchanged business cards; a week later your new contact wants to get in touch. Unfortunately, they’ve mislaid your contact details, but that’s not a problem because they remember your business name. A simple internet search should yield your phone number or email address. Except when they type in what they remember as the name of your business, they spell it differently. Or maybe they have seen your business name written down and they are recommending you to a colleague, but they pronounce the name of your business as they remember hearing it, not as it is actually spelt, so they can’t find you. You’ve lost out on potentially valuable business. So keep your business name simple and avoid homonyms or puns that could confuse potential clients when they try to find you. Moreover, slightly odd spellings could be seen as detrimental when you are trading as someone who specialises in catching typos.
4. What is my story?
If you decide not to use your own name, don’t just think about the services you offer, think about your story. Is there a particularly original path you took that brought you to this career? Could your business name hint at your story? An added bonus is that this will give you something to talk about when you first introduce your business to prospective clients.
5. Is geography important to me?
Perhaps you have a local landmark or heritage that you’d like to reference in your name. Or would you rather not tie yourself to a particular region? Remember to think about the future as well as the present. If you are likely to relocate, would this impact on your business if your name is linked to a particular locale?
6. Are there any other businesses already using my proposed name?
You’ve come up with the perfect name; it’s so original no one else could have come up with it — never assume this is the case. Always search on the internet first. Google your ideal name and see what comes up. Then check the common domain name providers to see if the address is available. And don’t forget to search across social media platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter, to see if other organisations or individuals are already using your proposed name. The last thing you want is to buy your web address and then discover that someone is already using your business name on Twitter, particularly if they are in a less salubrious line of business!
7. What do friends and family think of my name?
Test out your proposed business name on friends, family, colleagues, or even the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP) forums. What does the name say to people? Is there anything about your business name they can spot that you didn’t notice? For example, do the initials spell out an unfortunate acronym?
Are there any hints or tips you would add to this list? How did you come up with your business name?
If you know where you want to take your business, you can decide how to get there.
Here on this blog we’ve recently had some interesting examples of how colleagues – from a range of backgrounds, and with different levels of editorial experience – got started. Next is to consider ways to keep the momentum going through the first few years, and take your business to the next level. As with getting started, there are as many different ways of building sustainability into an editorial business as there are editors, but here are some general tips.
Building a solid client base
When you start freelancing you may gradually build up your business with a handful of clients, and it can be all too easy to start depending on one or two favourite contacts who supply you with a stream of work. But this is a big mistake: no matter how valued you feel, or how well you get on with them, as a freelance you will never be anything other than expendable. The only way to counter this fact is to have a range of clients that you continue to add to over time, and this means ongoing attention to networking and marketing.
Many editors don’t like the thought of either, but they don’t have to mean delivering elevator pitches to rooms full of strangers, or blogging (if you don’t want to). The important thing is to find your own ways of keeping up with existing contacts and finding new ones, using the approaches and platforms that feel most natural to you.
Support networks and feedback
For some of us, one of the hardest aspects of long-term freelancing is the lack of contact with work colleagues. It’s not just about sharing water-cooler banter; it’s also about having people around to bounce ideas off, and to offer support when we suffer setbacks. It can be utterly galling to give a project your all, send it off into the ether and never hear anything about it again. In this situation, how do you know if you’re doing it right? How do you cope with the resounding silence?
You might ask your clients for feedback, but there’s no guarantee they’ll have the time to give it. Don’t despair – various editorial organisations (including the SfEP, of course) offer ways to interact with other editors in person at local group meetings, or online in the forums. And plenty of editors also use Facebook to link up with an international community of editors. You don’t need to feel alone.
Two traps to avoid, when you do make contact with other freelancers, are moaning about particular clients online (you never quite know who’ll end up reading what you write), and comparing yourself to others. Remember that every freelance business is unique.
Staying on message
Uniqueness is important. There are lots of editors out there, and more are appearing all the time. Although this tends to be a very supportive industry, you also need to be realistic about the fact that the only person who can keep your business going is you. To do this effectively, you need to be very clear about what you can offer clients that no one else can.
Now’s the time to develop your specialisms. Perhaps a particular interest (for example in biochemistry, or education, or erotic fiction, or step-by-step craft books) got you started. If you’ve proofread or edited a lot of material in a particular area (and you’d like to do more), you need to say so. The more you do, the more specific experience you will have and the better fit you will be for particular projects.
Think about finding your voice, too. As editors we are often invisible in our work (and that’s as it should be), but when we interact with colleagues or clients, our personality does count. Yes, if you do a good job, you are likely to get hired again. But the way we conduct ourselves in all sorts of other ways matters too. Does your website communicate what makes you the editor you are? Find a way to tell the clients you want to work for what you in particular can offer them.
You need to look at the bigger picture as you progress, and track the projects you’re working on – not just so you can schedule them in and get them finished on time, but so you can analyse other aspects of the work you’re doing. Do you know which of your clients pays the best hourly rate, for example? Do you know which pays you most each year? And do you know who pays you quickest? All these things are easy to keep track of using various free or paid-for apps, or Excel. Find what works for you, and use it.
It’s not just about how the numbers stack up, either. Once your business is up and running you can start to focus on trying to secure more of the work you do want, and scaling back on anything that grinds you down.
Keeping things going long term depends on a series of constant small improvements. Did something take you a long time to do on one project? Find a way to do it quicker next time; ask for advice if you need it. Are you unhappy with your average hourly rate? Use increased efficiency to improve things as far as you can, and seek out clients who pay better. Not good at negotiating? Take tips from those who are and give it a go – you have nothing to lose (and perhaps much to gain).
You may reach the point where everything’s come together and you’re drowning in work (yes, really). But be careful! Now’s the time to concentrate on working smarter, not harder. Stay organised, don’t feel you have to say yes to everything (whether individual projects or specific demands from clients), and try to develop a sense for the projects that will reward you creatively and financially, and the ones that will sap all your energy.
Keep abreast of industry trends, and don’t neglect your training. Try to make every job you do better than the last.
Planning for the future
This is not about retiring to your villa in the sun … though it’s obviously sensible to consider the more distant future. But an important part of staying motivated is maintaining your own interest in what you’re doing. Do you want to keep proofreading the same kind of material for the next twenty years? If you do, that’s fine (although bear in mind that particular clients may come and go, and work methods will evolve).
However, if you’d like to shake things up a bit, it helps to think about what you see yourself doing a few months or years from now. This links to the earlier advice about maintaining awareness, and using it to help you consider where to go next. Could you develop new skills? Might you be able to train or mentor new editors? Would you like to write about aspects of editorial practice? Perhaps you’d like to get more involved with your national editorial organisation? Maybe work for a different set of clients in a certain field? Or simply earn more and work less?
Once you know where you want to take your business, you can decide how to get there.
What tips do you have for keeping an editorial business thriving beyond the first few years?
Liz Jones is the SfEP’s marketing and PR director. She has also worked as an editor for 17 years, and has been freelance since 2008.