Tag Archives: book

How I got started – Graham Hughes

SfEP deskOne of the most common questions asked at Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP) local groups and by those interested in pursuing a career in editing or proofreading is: ‘How did you get started?’.

SfEP professional member Graham Hughes shares his story in this regular blog feature, which explores the many different career paths taken by SfEP members.

This really wasn’t part of the plan. From a ridiculously early age – around 14 – computing was the only career I could foresee for myself. I did the O Level, A Level and degree, and joined British Rail (yes, we’re going back a bit) as a programmer.

After about 15 years, several changes of role and a few changes of employer, I was in a rut. Fresh opportunities were limited by my old-fashioned technical skills, and the work was becoming mundane. I started looking for something else to do – first as a sideline, and maybe eventually as a career.

I saw an advert for the Writers Bureau’s Comprehensive Writing Course. This seemed like something I could do. I’d always felt comfortable working with documents, as well as programs. I did the course – most of it, anyway – and went on to have a sports history book, and some articles, published. Soon, though, I was struggling to produce ideas and convert them into paid work. After two years of not quite setting the world alight, my book was remaindered. The idea of making a living from writing seemed far-fetched.

So, what next? Another Writers Bureau course caught my eye: Proofreading and Copy Editing. It struck me that checking my material – rather than actually writing it – had probably been my main strength. How about checking other people’s material, and getting paid for it? Also, as Richard Hutchinson explains in his blog post on how he got started, there are parallels between programming and editorial work.

A plan came together: (1) do the course, (2) re-edit the book (yes, I now realise I probably should have used someone else), (3) self-publish it as an ebook, (4) look for work as a proofreader or editor. The last part was the tricky one.

My first job wasn’t quite what I’d had in mind. After I’d emailed the leader of a local writers’ group, one of its members asked me to type a short play script that he’d handwritten. He accepted my offer to edit it as well, so it felt like some kind of a start.

After that, finding work was very tough. With my full-time employment in IT, I couldn’t take on big jobs, or even smallish time-critical ones. I joined the SfEP, after dithering for several months, and started learning a lot about proofreading and editing, especially from the SfEP forums – but progress was snail-paced for the next year or so.

The big change came when my IT job ended, semi-voluntarily. Rather than looking for a new one, I decided (nervously) to focus on freelance editorial work. I did look for in-house editorial jobs close to home, but there seemed to be nothing available for someone with my limited credentials. The next few months were very challenging: a few small jobs, then nothing for nearly three months; but my progress with the Publishing Training Centre (PTC) Basic Proofreading course gave me some hope.

Then, suddenly, the work started coming – mostly from students, largely thanks to the Find a Proofreader website and a helpful, nearby SfEP member with an overflowing workload (thanks Helen). Around this time (spring 2014), I completed the PTC course, along with other training, and became an ordinary member of SfEP (now known as professional member), which helped to bring in more work. To shore up my finances, I downsized from a suburban semi-detached house to an urban flat (no great wrench), wiping out my mortgage.

Since then, things have been gradually coming together. I’ve been doing more work for business rather than students, also proofreading two books for a publisher. I’m now leaning more towards editing, to make use of the decent writing skills that I feel I have (though you might disagree, reading this). Technology and business have become my predominant subject areas. Via a long-winded route, I think I’ve ended up in my ideal job.

If you’re thinking of getting into editing and/or proofreading, I strongly recommend it, if you think it’s right for you and vice versa. Being a keen reader isn’t enough: you need a sound understanding of spelling, grammar and punctuation, a knack for paying attention to detail, a professional attitude and a willingness to stay positive and persistent as you build your business. If that’s you: good luck!

Graham HughesGraham Hughes still can’t quite get used to the idea of telling people he’s a proofreader and editor, rather than saying he’s ‘in IT’. He started doing part-time editorial work, and joined SfEP as an associate (now known as entry-level member), in 2012. He went full-time in 2013, before becoming an ordinary member (now known as professional member) of the SfEP – and an online forum administrator – the following year. To learn more about his background and services, please visit the GH Editorial website.

Proofread by SfEP entry-level member Susan Walton.

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

A day in my life: Lucy Metzger

IMG_2999What exactly do editors and proofreaders get up to every day? This is a question we will be exploring in a new, regular feature: A day in my life. We start off with an insight into the life of SfEP regional development director Lucy Metzger.

I’m at work the moment my feet hit the floor around 6.15 a.m., but I don’t start getting paid until about 9.00 a.m. In between I’m waking teenagers, making teas and coffees (I must add that later in the day my teenagers sometimes make ME a cuppa) and packed lunches, waking teenagers again, telling teenagers I don’t know the whereabouts of their headphones/maths jotters/black-cardigan-no-not-THAT-black-cardigan, waking teenagers again and finally ensuring that they all end up in school. I drive home on a wee stretch of country road to escape the school-run traffic. That little drive, listening to the tail end of the Today programme, eases my transition from Mother Lucy to Editor Lucy.

There are many things I miss about office life, and I don’t know what I’d do without my Glasgow group companions, but I do relish that solitude as I sit down at my computer to begin work. Ideally the tasks I do between 9.00 a.m. and 1.00 p.m. are those that require my best thinking, as far as that goes. What’s ‘best’? Creative, analytical, intuitive – different jobs require different kinds of thoughts, but my mind is definitely better in the morning. A lot of the time I’m copy-editing academic books and textbooks. I usually conceive of the editing as being in two phases: the bits-and-pieces and then the reading. The morning is my best time for the reading. It’s also when I mark mentoring assignments, which requires careful thought as each mentee raises new kinds of queries and issues; and the morning is good for any writing I’ve got to do, e.g. reports or proposals for the SfEP council, training materials, a note for Editing Matters, or even a blog post.

My lunch isn’t a single meal – I snack: a cracker with cheese, a bowl of muesli, some leftover rice, some fruit. If I’m starting a new book then I’ll typically begin it in the afternoon and do routine checks: chapter titles vs table of contents, numbering of illustrations, styling of headings and subheadings, checking references and notes, etc. These tasks are good for afternoon. I don’t want to give the impression that I become completely incompetent at that time (the jury’s still out on that one), but these activities don’t exert my mental muscles quite as much. Such checking almost always throws up a few things to ask the author about, and this makes an opportunity to establish communication by means of some relatively lightweight queries – ‘which version would you prefer for the title of Chapter 3?’ – rather than plunging straight into the nitty-gritty – ‘I wonder if you could clarify what you mean by “if the subject (the individual is individual) is determined, yet only as being undetermined, then that which determines the subject, i.e. the predicate (the particular), is taken to be in-determining any determination”?’ I’m not kidding. Anyway, that kind of query is a morning query and definitely belongs in the second or third email to the author, not the first.

For the last few years, I’ve used the school day to predict exactly how many hours I’d have between sitting down at my computer and the first ‘hello’ of one of my kids coming in the door (they walk home). This year, though, my oldest is in sixth form and so may turn up at any time. I don’t like pointless interruptions, but it’s lovely to be interrupted by that. We have a little chat and then when she starts wondering about food I turn her loose on the leftovers in the fridge. I then get back to work, and so, I can only suppose, does she. Then the other two come home, and on goes my Mother Lucy hat again, which feels really nice.

How does this compare with a typical day in your life? We’d love to hear about what you get up to. If you’d like to share your ‘day in the life’ story, please email smm@sfep.org.uk.

Lucy MetzgerLucy Metzger grew up in Illinois and began proofreading in 1987. She edited for Macmillan in London from 1990 to 1995; she then moved to Scotland and went freelance. She is based in Glasgow. Lucy works mostly on academic and educational materials. She has three children, is an amateur musician, likes cooking and taking walks, and is learning to crochet.

Proofread by SfEP associate Patric Toms.

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