Category Archives: Working practices

Home-working, coworking and me

Gemma Greenhalgh looks at the benefits for the self-employed home-worker of occasionally getting out of the house and using your local coworking space.

Cat asleep on desk

Up until 2008, I had only ever been out to work. By that I mean out of the house and situated elsewhere, mainly in an office. Nine to five. Idle chat around the water cooler. Nipping out for a sandwich at lunchtime. Actual shoes on my feet (instead of slippers). You catch my drift.

That year, 2008, introduced me to my first ‘home-based’ job. I was an Independent Living Adviser for a charity based in Nuneaton – visiting disabled people in their own homes to give advice about employing their own support staff. And I was working from my own home.

‘Get up and get dressed as though you’re going into the office’ one colleague advised. ‘I hate it; I get lonely and depressed’ someone else bemoaned. I was getting mixed messages from my new colleagues but was determined to keep an open mind.

Luckily my partner and I have a spare room so I set up my desk on one side of it. I liked it. Friends and family made constant reference to lie-ins, working in pyjamas and watching daytime TV. I laughed all this off – what a notion!

Fast forward nearly a decade and I am indeed writing this at 8.15 a.m. in my PJs. I do occasionally watch Three in a Bed at lunchtime. I might sleep in if the day before was particularly long or fraught. I have been known to work with a cat or chicken on my knee. I still get the job done. My working day doesn’t suffer.

A constant balancing act

The frontiers between ‘home life at home’ and ‘work life at home’ are a constant blur and balancing act. Family members ask me to run an errand for them because, ‘such and such can’t do it as they’re at work.’ Is this because they’ve heard about the daytime TV and assume my day is ‘informal’ and ‘unstructured’ so a small errand won’t hurt?

My retired neighbour recently knocked on my office window and wanted my opinion about her hand-knitted socks. I was frantically trying to meet a tight deadline and had to shoo her away. I texted her later to apologise. ‘I forget you work from home’ was the response.

How can I avoid or adapt to such things? Should I be more strict with my ‘relaxed’ approach so my nearest and dearest take my vocation more seriously? Can I not just benefit from the advantages of being home based without others taking advantage? Shall I just throw a strop, form a barricade around my office and insist I’m left in peace and quiet (until I want to watch the TV at lunchtime that is)?

Do not disturb sign

My stint as an employed and home-based Independent Living Adviser lasted for three years. So far, I have been a self-employed, home-based proofreader and copywriter for over four years. To help with the questions posed above I have been thinking about alternatives to the ‘office-in-the-spare-room’ scenario.

A break from the norm

I thought about the potential of local cafes and libraries. I then discovered a couple of Nottingham-based coworking spaces and decided to give them a try. What did I have to lose except my dressing gown? A friend who is also self-employed (and gets easily distracted by the washing-up) decided to join me. I’ve since discovered that she gets easily distracted by many things. Whoever thought of putting shops and eateries in the city centre? Anyway, that’s another story…

It turns out that coworking spaces are pretty good! You can do that thing where you actually talk to people. You can escape the cat. Dressing gowns are a thing of the past! Who knew?!

I tried not to think about my slippers getting cold and lonely in the hallway and got on with: chatting to real-life human beings; looking at different walls; gazing out of different windows; having a slightly longer than average lunch break; and not worrying about domestic irritants like a speck of dust on the sideboard. Oh, and I did get some work done too.

There are coworking spaces around the country and they charge around £15–£20 per day/£8–£10 per half day outside London (some charge by the day and others by the month), which generally includes Wi-Fi, drinks and snacks, a work/desk area, toilet facilities and plug points. Some also provide bookable meeting rooms, monitors, quiet zones, printing, business advice and more besides.

I live a good 30 minutes away from Nottingham (longer in rush hour) so it’s not something I want to take advantage of too often. There are libraries and cafes (but no coworking spaces!) much closer that offer a similar break from the norm.

It’s an alien feeling to get stuck in a traffic jam when you’d usually be making your jam on toast in the morning. However, coworking can offer many advantages to the home-worker and it’s worth considering if you’re hankering for a change of scene, human-that-isn’t-family interaction or a feeling of belonging to a self-employed community.

Coworking is flexible and gets you out of the house and meeting people

Dee Miller, owner of Minor Oak Nottingham Coworking, sums it up perfectly: ‘Coworking gets you out of the house, working at an office you choose, in a supportive and diverse community of real-world colleagues.’ Dee has written about the benefits of coworking on the Minor Oak website, and from reading her words you get a real sense of coworking as a saver of sanity, an incentive to get out of the house and a place to meet people and share ideas and experiences.

There are many coworking spaces across the UK, albeit predominantly in urban areas, and it is easy to research the good mix of local coworking opportunities online. It is handy to know about such spaces and make use of them as and when it suits you, your day and your workload.

Like many aspects of self-employment, coworking is flexible. It offers a modern solution to the isolation felt by many self-employed people and seems to bring the home office and the traditional office together in a new way.

Concluding aside:

The issue of the hyphenation or non-hyphenation of the word ‘coworking’ is contentious. Google ‘coworking and the hyphen’ and you’ll see what I mean!

Gemma GreenhalgGemma Greenhalgh has run GG Editorial Services since 2013 and is a professional member of the SfEP. She loves volunteering for numerous charities, including the British Hen Welfare Trust on their ex-commercial hen rescue days. Her favourite part is waving off the ‘spent’ hens, which were destined for slaughter, to their new free-range life. She is a massive fan of the Brontë siblings, particularly Emily. Wuthering Heights is her favourite book and Haworth is her spiritual home.

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

Beyond the proofreader’s remit?

By Liz Jones

When proofreading materials for book and journal publishers, we are not always presented with a thorough brief and there is often a tacit understanding of what the role of the proofreader includes … and what it does not include. The SfEP sets out some commonly understood responsibilities of the proofreader and the copy-editor in the traditional publishing process. However, it’s apparent that these roles are becoming increasingly fuzzy in the academic publishing world.

Recently a discussion arose in the SfEP forums on the thorny topic of whether a proofreader should check references in an academic book as a matter of course, and exactly what that checking should entail. The original poster referred to a proofreader being expected by a client (an academic publisher) to cross-check a reference list against the in-text citations. Many experienced editors weighed in on the debate, and gradually a consensus emerged. The general understanding was that such detailed checking of references should be part of the copy-editor’s role, not the proofreader’s. In an ideal world the proofreader would then simply need to read the reference list, checking for small inconsistencies of styling or typos. Several posters said they would perform spot-checks of a few citations during such a proofread to ensure that the reference list seems to be in accord with the main body of the text. It was also pointed out that it is certainly not the proofreader’s job to check the factual accuracy of references, or even that authors’ names are spelled correctly.

work stressThe problems start when a proofreader finds (perhaps through performing spot-checks) that the references have not been properly edited, or that other errors are present, perhaps as a result of formatting. In more extreme cases the proofreader may suspect that the text and associated references have not been copy-edited at all. In this case, the proofreader is presented with a difficult choice:

  1. They can carry out the proofread as briefed and within budget, but without doing any work that might be considered beyond the remit of the proofreader. The proofreader knows that some errors are likely to remain, but decides it is not their responsibility to make the text perfect, and is not willing to reduce their hourly rate to compensate for shortcomings earlier in the publishing process.
  2. They can go beyond the standard proofreader’s remit in order to bring the book up to a publishable standard. This means the proofreader carries out a proportion of what might be considered ‘higher-level’ copy-editing work, while being paid as a proofreader. It may also entail significantly more time being spent on the job, reducing the hourly rate still further.

Neither of these solutions is ideal. As editorial professionals we tend to be hard-wired to want to help the client produce excellent work … but at the same time, as business owners we don’t want to be taken advantage of.

What should make a proofreader wary?

Sara Peacock, former chair of the SfEP, provided examples of the problems she sometimes encounters as a proofreader:

  • None of the citations cross-checked against the references list.
  • References wildly inconsistently presented, with lots of missing information.
  • Bullet lists inconsistently presented, in terms of capitalisation and punctuation.
  • Figures not correlating to text in terms of style and sometimes content, or the text referring to coloured portions when the figures are reproduced monochrome.
  • Inconsistent capitalisation in headings.
  • Lists of what is to come in the text not corresponding with the text that actually follows.

These are clearly the responsibility of the copy-editor, but as a proofreader, we do not know the reasons behind problems we may find with copy-edited text.

Experienced editor, trainer and long-standing SfEP member Melanie Thompson made the point that errors might be ‘potentially down to problems of the files not being imported correctly (tracked changes carrying across by mistake) … Could the author have been given back the [copy-edited] file and undone a lot of the good work? And then of course there’s the possibility that the publisher/client never had the material copy-edited in the first place …’

Veteran editor and SfEP member Kathleen Lyle pointed out that ‘one problem is that things can happen to the references in the gap between copy-editing and proofreading – for example, an author may decide to add some new references to bring a chapter up to date. Depending on the publisher’s workflow this new material may be dealt with in-house and not be seen by the copy-editor; this could well cause discrepancies of style or content between text and list. As a proofreader I’d expect to pick up discrepancies of style in the text or list, and cross-check any strange-looking items.’

From these comments alone it is clear that text may appear badly edited for a number of reasons, including lack of time and budget, or technical glitches. There is also the possibility that the copy-editor lacked training, or tried to get away with providing substandard work due to other pressures. It is also a fact that many in-house editors and project managers are very pushed for time and may not be able to closely monitor and assess the work of all their suppliers on every job. (I say this as a former in-house editor.)

What can we do?

If we find ourselves presented with poorly edited text as a proofreader, there is a third way (beyond the stark dilemma presented above).

First, we can establish the brief. Gillian Clarke, trainer to many editors over several decades via the SfEP and the PTC, said simply that ‘it is hugely important to establish from the very beginning exactly what the client wants’. This can help at whatever stage in the process we are working. If the client hasn’t provided a clear brief, consider sending them your own checklist of tasks covered by proofreading (and not).

Assuming that the brief is clear, you can then try the following if presented with text from a publisher that needs a lot more attention than a straightforward proofread.

  • Assess the work: Does the budget cover what you need to do? Is it within your capabilities in the time allowed? If the answer to these questions is yes, and the job is fairly self-contained, you might decide in that case simply to get on with it and provide feedback for the publisher along with delivery of the completed work.
  • Raise the issue: If the budget and schedule do not allow for satisfactory completion of the job, or if you feel the work goes beyond what you are comfortable doing – in short, if there is any reason why you think a job is not possible within the given parameters – tell the client straight away, and wait for their response before proceeding. If they don’t answer first time, try again – this is important.
  • Ask for more money/time: If the client can offer more of either or both, the issue might be resolved in the short term, enabling you to complete the job.
  • Adopt a pragmatic attitude: If the client will not budge on money or the schedule, and you decide to proceed with the work, be strict with yourself about what you can and can’t do with the available resources, make sure the client is aware of this, do the job and move on.

However you deal with the job, you should make it clear in your handover notes to the client what the editorial shortcomings were when the project reached you, and what you had to do as a result. Be clear and matter-of-fact about the ways in which you needed to go above and beyond in order to complete your work, without making assumptions or personal attacks. You need to do this because the client might otherwise remain unaware of the issue. However, you don’t need to start telling them what to do with this information.

Questioning clients and (re)negotiating rates can be daunting, especially for newer proofreaders and editors. It’s also tempting for proofreaders just starting out to go above and beyond to try to impress new clients and secure future work. This is where discussion in the SfEP forums, on other online platforms or with your local group can help enormously.

Summary

This really all boils down to the simple question of whether the proofreader should have to compensate for inadequate copy-editing. It’s the client’s budget or yours – something has to give.

However, it also has wider implications for our industry, perhaps most pressingly in the academic publishing sector. A lack of investment in careful editing by trained professionals may help publishers balance the books in the short term, but the eventual outcome will surely be a drop in the overall quality of output, and a growing reluctance among the more experienced proofreaders to work for certain clients at all, which would surely be much more detrimental in the long term.

Next controversial topic: how far should a proofreader go in checking an index …?

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.

 

 

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

Top tips for healthy home working

By Lisa Robertson

This time last year, I had a desk-based job in a busy, open-plan office. Phones were ringing, people were chatting, and there was always somebody getting up to make a cuppa. I’d march up and down the office to go to meetings or to look for someone on the top floor of the next building. In fact, it’s amazing I actually got any real work done.

Since making a career change and going solo, I’ve been particularly obsessive about monitoring my working time. Of course, this is really important for paid projects. But I also keep track of time spent on reading, forums, training, marketing, admin, etc. If I get side-tracked or go and put the kettle on, the timer stops. I know that the time I record is now all ‘real work’, as opposed to the distraction-filled days I had in my previous working life.

But is this really a good thing? I only work a couple of days a week at the moment, so I try to cram a lot into that time. I find that I am now sometimes sitting at my desk for longer periods of time than I should be. My eyes struggle to adjust to the outside world when they stop focusing on the computer screen. My legs need a good oiling before I can get up again. So, although more of my time could now be counted as productive, that’s not necessarily the whole story. Taking those little walks at lunchtime or allowing myself to go and load the washing machine could be of benefit to my overall productivity as well as my health.

About a month ago, I worked some long hours on an intense project with a tight deadline. I knew I was doing myself damage, but it was only for a few days and I just had to get through it. I couldn’t take proper time out, so I decided to experiment with something: every time I got up to make a drink or to go to the loo, I jumped up and down 50 times to get the circulation going again. Needless to say, this was a ridiculous idea (especially if done on the way to the loo) but it got me thinking: I really need to factor in some distractions – particularly physical ones – as this no longer happens as naturally as it did in the open-plan office.

I put out a plea on an SfEP forum and there was a great response. Here is a summary of top tips from fellow SfEP members for healthy home working:Dog on rollerskates

  • Get a dog. This was overwhelmingly the most popular distraction people recommended on the forum. Dogs are friendly company, they take you on compulsory walks and (apparently) they can sit on your feet when you’re working in the winter. My cat is not quite so accommodating.
  • Work flexibly but be disciplined. Undoubtedly, one of the perks of self-employment is flexibility. But that flexibility needs control, so we must be disciplined about how we use it. If we are early risers and are able to get things done by lunchtime, great; but we must remember to take the afternoon off and not be tempted to log on again later. If we are tied into the school run at 3.30, we can spend a few quality hours with the children and maybe catch up later. It has to be each to their own, depending on workload, personal preferences and home circumstances, and we must each take the time to think about what works for us, ensuring we have sufficient downtime.
  • Get physical. Whether it’s a swim, a run, the gym or a walk with the dog, a physical break is the perfect contrast to all the hours we spend being sedentary. One member on the forum confessed to running up and down the stairs in her block of flats for a break, and now one of her neighbours has followed suit. Maybe my jumping up and down idea wasn’t totally ridiculous, after all.
  • Stay hydrated. This is one that I do abide by. Staying hydrated keeps me feeling alert and less lethargic. It also means I need to get up from my desk more frequently, either to make a drink or to go to the bathroom.
  • Look after your eyes. Timing and length of breaks away from computer screens is not set down in law, although it is certainly advised from a health and safety perspective. One SfEP member sets 90 minutes as a strict maximum; another uses an online tool (http://protectyourvision.org/), which badgers you every 20 minutes to take a break. The Health and Safety Executive (http://www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/indg36.pdf) advises to:
    • Stretch and change position.
    • Look into the distance from time to time, and blink often.
    • Change activity before you get tired, rather than to recover.
    • Take short, frequent breaks, rather than longer, infrequent ones.
  • Look after your back. Similarly, regular breaks will help you care for your back. The HSE (link above) also advises on desk setup, which will help with posture and alignment. Two forum respondents highly recommend the Alexander Technique (http://www.alexandertechnique.com/) to help ease the strains we put on our body by sitting down at a desk for long periods of time.

Maybe reading this has tempted you to head out to the gym or visit the local kennels. But if that’s not your thing, think about what is. Whether it’s baking, ironing, shopping, having a coffee with friends, or something else, make sure you look after yourself.

Thank you to everyone who contributed on the forum. The full thread can be viewed by SfEP members on the Off topic forum: https://forums.sfep.org.uk/read.php?13,81989

Lisa RobertsonLisa 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

 

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

Reference editing solutions for copy-editors

This is a guest post by Inera, who are hosting a workshop on their online reference editing tool Edifix at the SfEP/SI conference.

We’ve all been there. Eager to get started on a new project, you open the first document only to find yourself staring at a long list of poorly prepared references. You are now charged with the task of scrubbing the reference items clean so that they conform to a style (Chicago, AMA, etc.), and you begrudgingly come to terms with the inevitable long days and nights of work ahead before you even begin working on the text itself. Fingers crossed that the reference editing will go smoothly, you pull out the required style manual, take a deep breath, hunker down, and get to work.

Although many of us use time-saving macros to programmatically and quickly address some of the more routine reference editing tasks (see, e.g., the helpful tools offered by Editorium), it doesn’t take long to do some simple maths and come to the conclusion that even at your best, you will perhaps spend more time on reference editing than anything else pertaining to the manuscript. Further to this, if you are being paid a flat fee for the project, your hourly rate decreases dramatically the more time you spend on reference editing. You may find yourself wondering: ‘Aren’t my skills and attention better spent on polishing the author’s writing and correcting for grammar, spelling, and usage errors?’ The answer is yes, yes they are.

Fortunately, there is an online reference editing tool that successfully takes on the task of editing references – whatever their condition. Edifix, a cloud-based solution from Inera Inc., identifies the elements of a reference entry of any style, edits references to conform to the conventions of a selected editorial style, and corrects references with data retrieved from PubMed and CrossRef, automatically inserting PubMed IDs and CrossRef DOIs in the process.

The challenge of efficiently and accurately copy-editing a reference list or bibliography is not a new problem. For years both freelance and in-house copy-editors and managers have struggled with how best to structure a workflow that either reduces or removes entirely the process of reference editing from the copy-editor’s list of tasks. Various (good) online reference authoring tools are on the market (e.g., EasyBib and BibMe), and these have been reviewed on editorial blogs such as Copyediting. But these tools are only useful for the editor who is compiling a bibliography or reference list, and the results still need to be carefully reviewed and copy-edited. Further, these tools do not assist a copy-editor who needs to clean up an untidy reference list or, heaven forbid, transform references that were authored in one editorial style to another. Although there are some tools that assist in editing text content (see, e.g., PerfectIt), none address references/bibliographies.

Edifix allows you to simply copy and paste your unedited references into a web form, and with the click of your mouse retrieve those same references, edited to the style of your choice. The team responsible for Edifix includes not only software developers but also editors with decades of professional and freelance experience. The Edifix tools they’ve created are quick and user friendly, and the results not only save you time but also improve the accuracy of the reference data and your copy-edit.

Achieving accuracy in reference lists and bibliographies is no small challenge. For example, one study published in 2004 sampled three anatomy journals and found that of the references studied 27% contained errors, and of those 38% were major errors. By collecting PubMed and CrossRef data on the references processed, Edifix is able to quickly identify and correct errors in the source that may have been inadvertently inserted by the author.

Edifix gives you multiple options for viewing the results, which include a tracked layout so you can see exactly what Edifix corrected. Results can then be copied and pasted back into your Word document, or they can be exported to JATS XML or converted to RIS for integration with popular reference managers (such as EndNote).

Edifix

Dr Robin Dunford, of Inera Inc., will host an Edifix workshop on Saturday 5 September, at the SfEP/SI first joint conference. Be sure to sit in on this session to see how Edifix can help you save time and increase both your editing accuracy and bottom line! Also, join us on the SfEP Twitter feed to discuss your approach to editing bibliographies:

  1. Do your clients require that you perform fact checking to ensure the accuracy of reference/bibliography entries?
  2. What are the most time-consuming and challenging tasks related to reference/bibliography editing that you encounter in your daily work?
  3. What solutions have you developed or explored to ease the burdens of editing bibliographies?

Since 1992 Inera’s seasoned team of publishing and software professionals have pooled a unique set of skills to bring transformational change to the publishing industry. We develop and license the eXtyles family of Word-based editorial and XML tools, and the new Edifix online bibliographic reference solution. Learn more at: www.inera.com | www.edifix.com | @eXtyles | @edifix.

If you would like to join the discussion on editing bibliographies (in response to the questions above), please use the conference hashtag (#sisfep15) and tag @edifix. 

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.

Working at a treadmill desk

One of the benefits of being a freelancer and working from home is having more control over how I use my time. This presents numerous opportunities for optimising my work–life balance, and recently I started considering practical solutions to the problem of fitting regular exercise into my working day.

I wondered whether a treadmill desk could work for me: I loved the idea of getting exercise while working and not using my free time running or going to the gym (activities I don’t find particularly enjoyable), and was also keen to get away from a sedentary lifestyle slumped over a computer. I now finish each working day having walked around four miles, and it’s a great feeling to relax in the evening guilt-free knowing that I’ve already had a workout!

The first thing to consider is which type of treadmill is right for you: resistance (magnetic) or electronic. I decided that a resistance running machine would be the best option for me, as they are cheaper (my one cost around £90) and more robust (there is no motor so there is less to go wrong). It is also relatively small, and I can fold it away once work is over.

Resistance treadmills are not the typical choice. Stopping/starting and the speed you are walking is driven by you rather than the machine, and you need to steady yourself with at least one hand in order to maintain momentum, but I have found that it is ideal for copy-editing as so much time is spent reading.

While in motion I can do small interventions (a macro shortcut for example) and use a mouse, but for anything that requires two hands or more sustained attention (including drinking a cup of tea) I stop. Much like driving a car or riding a bike, after a while your brain is so used to the motion that you balance and walk quite naturally. A resistance treadmill desk also turns easily into a standing desk, although I find that (perhaps surprisingly) it’s actually more comfortable to walk than to stand for long periods.

If you do a lot of typing then an electronic treadmill might be more suitable. These are more expensive and have motors that eventually burn out, and you need to turn the machine off manually every time you want to stop walking. They are also a lot heavier and bulkier than resistance treadmills.

In setting up my workspace I simply pushed the treadmill up to my desk and raised the laptop, monitor, and mouse using whatever I had to hand. Using a high-resolution monitor and zooming in further than normal I can read just as well as before. If you like DIY then customising your desk more substantially shouldn’t be a problem, and there are plenty of online resources. You can also buy ready-made desks if money is no object.

As well as the obvious health benefits from regular cardiovascular exercise, once I got used to walking all day my posture and flexibility improved and shoulder and back pains abated. However, depending on how enthusiastic you are it can be quite tiring, and it’s advisable to wear loose-fitting clothes and running shoes – this is not the kind of thing you want to do in your slippers!

There is also evidence that treadmill desks help you to concentrate. I have certainly found this to be the case, and as the treadmill is fairly loud it works particularly well with another method I use to improve my productivity – listening to white noise (free noise generators are available online). The impact of low-level background noise is not always obvious, but it constantly (subconsciously) distracts your brain from the job in hand, and by blocking it out my concentration levels are much higher.

In summary, I won’t be going back to a sitting desk. Making this change has proved an effective antidote to the physical stagnation that freelancers working from home can feel – quite frankly it would look out of place in an office, so we are in the perfect position to give it a go!

11663890_10153381080045450_802605348_oDan Harding is a freelance copy-editor, proofreader and digital production specialist, and an Advanced Professional Member of SfEP. He works with authors, publishers, NGOs and professional societies on subjects across the humanities and social/political sciences – please visit the Spartan Eloquence website for more information.

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

Transferable skills and life lessons

It’s safe to say that all proofreaders and copy-editors did something before they started out. Here are a few of the things I learned that I still use every single day.

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Brownies and Guides

I was a Sixer and a Patrol Leader, so early on I was learning about teams, about working together for a common goal within my own team and in conjunction with others, yet not afraid to stick my neck out and do things off my own bat.

School deadlines!

Thou shalt have thy homework in on time! Show your workings. Quality output pleases people. I ended up a prefect, so more acceptance of additional responsibility.

Saturday job

(Four years in a pet shop.) Be nice to people and they’ll come back. Businesses are built on returning customers. Watch your wastage. The backroom parts of the job are important, too. Regular heavy lifting builds muscle – if it seems hard at first, it will get easier with practice.

University

Make sure you understand the brief, can carry it out independently and to a high standard. Look things up if you’re not sure, or even if you think you are – avoid dumb mistakes. Self-discipline and time management. The importance of research. The art of procrastination (sad, but true).

Psychology experiment subject

(Earning a bit of cash to help while studying.) Check your understanding of what’s required. Test your equipment. Concentrate.

Postgrad course choice

You can survive the most horrendous mistakes.

Proper job

(I joined the civil service as a direct entrant junior manager and took it from there for the next *cough, cough* years in central government, then outsourced to the private sector.) The value of precision work. Negotiation. Vigilance. Effective communication with customers of all kinds and temperaments. Running a budget. It’s easier to save a pound than earn a pound. Cash flow is king. Know where you and the work you do fit into the overall process. Under-promise and over-deliver, but don’t go crazy on either.

Look ahead and anticipate problems. Calculate task dependencies. Prioritise and plan. Keep people informed. Be realistic. If things look like going pear-shaped, take early action and warn people as soon as possible. Put yourself in your client’s shoes and act accordingly. Be reliable. Be flexible, but don’t be a doormat or a yes-man – it does no one any good and will quite often bite you on the bum. Seek out training. “We’ve always done it that way” is the wrong answer. When estimating, give yourself contingency time. Don’t work at 100% capacity as routine – if there’s a crisis, you’ve nothing else to give.

After every project think about what worked, what didn’t, what needs tweaking and what needs investigating further with a view to bigger changes – then act before the next project. Don’t get so wrapped up with the work in front of you on your desk that you don’t see what’s going on around you. Keep an eye on industry innovation.

Sue LittlefordSue Littleford was a career civil servant before being forcibly outsourced. That was such fun she changed tack altogether and has now been a freelance copy-editor for eight years, working mostly on postgraduate textbooks plus the occasional horseracing thriller. She is on Facebook and Twitter.

 

Proofread by SfEP member www.proofeditwrite.com.

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

Reading more than once

reading onceAt 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.reading again
  • 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?

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

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

 

Everyday CPD

photo (3)There’s nothing like going on a training course or attending a conference for an intense dose of CPD. But the rest of the time, CPD happens more by osmosis.

Learn from other editors

Many of us work alone, and it can seem that we work in isolation. But just in the last week I have had two very positive experiences of learning from other editors in the course of my everyday work. One job involved a second proofread, and I was sent my first proofread to check against. The first proof set now also included marks made by the senior commissioning editor, who is obviously intimately acquainted with the series (this was my first book for the client, and it had quite a complicated set of features). I learned so much from being able to see which of my original corrections the editor had let stand, and which she had modified or stetted for the typesetter. Any subsequent books I proofread or edit for the client should be easier and more accurate as a result.

The other positive experience involved copy-editing in Word using a template made by a fellow SfEP member, supplied to me by the client (an educational publisher). The template was set up in such a way that using it enabled me to see at a glance exactly how long each of the lessons in the book was running – again, there were various features such as boxes which complicated matters – and cut accordingly. This saved me time, and led to a greater degree of accuracy – hopefully there will be no need to cut text at the proof stage as a result.

Read around the subject

One of the best things about our work can be the variety of materials and subjects we work on. Many a time I have found myself happily distracted by the subject matter of a book, and reading around it in my own time. Although this is essentially a pleasurable exercise, it can also be of direct benefit in terms of your work – next time you edit a book on the same subject, you will be much better informed.

Work in house

This kind of opportunity doesn’t come up every day, but it might – and if it does, be open to it. Working in a client’s office is a golden opportunity to pick up work tips. You’ll see directly how people tackle the kind of work you need to do, and you’ll be able to ask questions in real time. You’ll also make new contacts and cement existing ones. And as well as being a CPD injection, who knows where the experience could lead in terms of future projects?

Move outside your comfort zone

I’m not suggesting you take on work that you’re really not ready for or trained to do – that would be irresponsible. But if you are offered a job for which you tick most of the boxes, but that goes just beyond what you’ve done or experienced before, don’t instinctively turn it down – taking it on can be the best way of learning. If you will need to pick up a new skill to complete the job, there are plenty of people you can ask for advice along the way. Carry out your own research, ask editorial friends and colleagues, or try the SfEP forums or any other online group you are part of.

A job that requires a new way of working may take longer than you expect the first time you do it. Think of learning how to do something properly as an investment, though. Next time you’ll be much quicker.

Learn a skill not connected to editing

Not everything we do has to be about editing. Work can be all-consuming, especially for freelances and small-business owners, and it’s healthy to switch off from it for a while. You might take up a sport, or a musical instrument, or study another language. Getting away from the desk is a great way to relax, think about something else and develop a new area of expertise in the process. However, a positive side-effect may be that when you return to your desk, you are able to see the solution to a niggling problem more easily. And in the longer term, it’s sometimes possible to turn a seemingly non-editorial hobby – such as cooking or gardening – into an editorial specialism.

Harnessing everyday CPD

Ultimately, most of the things mentioned above will simply happen in the course of everyday life – editorial and otherwise. The trick is to recognise and acknowledge what is happening in order to make the most of it.

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

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