Beginning a new career can be daunting, and ‘newbie’ editors may make numerous mistakes while they learn their new trade. Thankfully, the SfEP forums provide a great opportunity for new members to ask more experienced editors for their guidance on a wide range of issues which they have faced previously during their careers in proofreading and copy-editing. But if asked, what would be the one piece of advice that these editorial wise owls think new members need to know? To answer this question, a number of SfEP Professional and Advanced Professional members have been asked to provide the one piece of advice they would share with new proofreaders and copy-editors, which will be published in a series of wise owl blog posts over the coming months.
Liz Jones (Liz Jones Editorial Services)
Learn to manage your time realistically. When you’re starting out, it is tempting to say yes to everything, and to some extent you have to be prepared to do this. It’s so exciting when the freelance work starts coming in! However, do be careful not to overcommit. It is much, much better to say ‘no’ to a client, however counter-intuitive it might seem, than to agree to take on work that you will not be able to complete within schedule to a high standard. Taking on too much work and doing a shoddy job (or worse, failing to complete the job at all) is a sure-fire way to lose a client for good, and potentially do wider damage to your reputation. In the long run it is also not good for your morale to overwork yourself on a regular basis.
Sue Littleford (Apt Words)
Get a brief from your client and make sure you understand it. Go back for clarification if things are omitted or ambiguous, but don’t fire off lots of individual queries. Your client or project manager will be grateful if you organise yourself and group queries together. Use email if at all possible, as then the answers are recorded for later reference, but if you must discuss things over the phone, send an email very soon afterwards, summarising the decisions made. It gives your client a chance to rectify any misunderstandings and you have a record of what was agreed should there be difficulties later.
(Sue has written the SfEP guide Going Solo: Creating your freelance editorial business which is now available to purchase on the SfEP website.)
John Espirian (espirian)
Don’t undersell the value of your time and the benefit you can bring to a piece of work. If your work improves a piece of text by say 5%, what effect could that have on the success of the writing in terms of its commercial success or its influence? How much might that be worth to the author?
Also see John’s blog post 10 tips for handling your first proofreading job.
Hazel Bird (Wordstitch Editorial Services)
Many new editors and proofreaders start out thinking that their role involves hunting down errors and making ‘wrong’ things ‘right’. This is true to an extent, but what is ‘wrong’ is always dependent on the context. Something that appears ‘wrong’ may actually be fine, or even a desired quirk of the project. Sensitivity to context comes with experience, but it’s wise to start out (and go on) asking questions whenever you’re unsure what your client wants, and assessing the big picture rather than diving in to correct each ‘error’ as soon as you spot it.
Collated and posted by Tracey Roberts, SfEP blog coordinator.
Proofread by SfEP Entry-Level Member Christine Layzell.
The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the SfEP