Tag Archives: publisher

How I got started – Abi Saffrey

SfEP logoOne 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 Abi Saffrey shares her story in this regular blog feature, which explores the many different career paths taken by SfEP members.

I’m not an unlikely editor: I’ve always had a passion and aptitude for language, adore the feel and smell of a book, and love to organise.

Achievements in French and English at school led to a degree in Languages and Linguistics. As a new graduate, I got an admin job at Dillons the Bookstore, which in many ways was heaven: organising money and paperwork for 30 per cent of my day; unpacking and sorting books for the other 70 per cent.

I left that job for a better-paid admin job elsewhere, but the books kept calling so I applied for graduate editing jobs, and I was offered an editorial assistant job with a small business-to-business publisher. The process wasn’t a standard book publishing one, and we certainly didn’t use BSI marks, but I learnt about various types of content quality control and enjoyed editing colleagues’ writing.

After taking a ‘career break’ (i.e. three months travelling the world), I landed a desk editor job at Continuum in London. I was thrown into the deep end, managing books from manuscript submission to final proofs.

I then went to a large US corporation’s UK office to edit the work of ten in-house economic analysts, and that’s where my subject specialism started to develop. I studied for an ‘A’ level in Economics, read the Economist every week, and attended seminars on shipping routes and trade terms. I managed a monthly publication (with contributions from 15 economists), and edited reports that were revised annually. I became responsible for improving the economists’ writing skills – they came from all over the globe, so I learnt a lot about the challenges that non-native English speakers face when trying to express complicated concepts in their second (third, fourth) language.

From there, I headed to Glasgow to work as a publishing project manager for an education quango. The production processes were very paper-based, so I introduced an electronic workflow and encouraged the use of freelances to lessen the load on in-house staff. My role developed into quality control manager, so by the time I left I was responsible for ensuring a 60,000-page website (and around 100 printed publications every year) met specific quality standards.

I was moving further and further away from the words I love, so in January 2009 I stepped off the precipice and joined the freelance community. I had joined the SfEP Glasgow group in 2007 and received advice, support and encouragement, and I had already done a couple of freelance projects alongside my full-time job, so I felt informed about, and prepared for, my leap.

I sent a lot of emails, and my first few jobs were for previous employers. In that first year a conversation with a friend (a university lecturer) evolved into working with a journalist to create a database of English writing examples and questions, to help university students (both native and non-native English speakers) improve their writing skills.

I kept emailing potential clients, and by the end of my first year I had worked with 11 different organisations (four of which I still work with). The variety is key for me: last year, I did a five-month stint editing an economics journal (with its editorial board based in Hamburg); this year, I’m attending the PTC’s Editorial Project Management course, in preparation for offering another service to my clients.

I’m always on the lookout for new opportunities – I carry a notebook with me so I can jot down the names of organisations I would like to work with. Then, every few months, I do a bit of online research and approach those organisations. On my current list are publishers included in the reference list of an article I’ve edited, a think-tank that featured in a TV documentary, and a research institute that someone mentioned at a birthday party.

Abi SaffreyAbi Saffrey is a professional member of the SfEP. She specialises in copy-editing and proofreading economics and social policy content, and anything within the wider social sciences realm. Abi is a social introvert with two young children, and slight addictions to bootcamps and tea.

Proofread by SfEP entry-level member Susan Walton.

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

The internet and the democratisation of English. Part 2: Tear up the rule book?

Sue Littleford, an advanced member of the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP), has written a series of four blog posts exploring how the internet has contributed to the democratisation of the English language. Here is part two:

Tear up the rule bookIn part one, I talked about the changes I envisage the internet bringing to the range of Englishes currently spoken around the world. I was brought up with the mantra ‘Might Isn’t Right’. But as the internet leads to the blurring of the boundaries between all the world’s Englishes, might is most definitely right.

While we undergo this particular phase of language development, though, it will become harder and harder to teach ‘proper’ English; it will become harder and harder to justify changes when editing and proofreading, too. We are already careering towards a more global English, when the habits of one variety will bleed into the others. We are in the privileged position of watching it happen as no other generation has been able to do before. Its speed is breathtaking. Sometimes our stomachs flip. Sometimes it hurts our eyes. Sometimes you just want a few solid rules to cling onto, as they gave their shape to the English we knew growing up.

Evolution of the language didn’t stop when I was at school. It’s not stopped yet. It won’t ever. For now, it’s speeding up, fuelled by people communicating with each other in numbers never seen before, and displayed for all to see on the platform of the internet.

I remember an English lesson when I was aged ten or so, in which the wonderful Mr Harwood told us that the plural of hoof is hooves or hoofs, and that the plural of roof is roofs or rooves; that neither was wrong but that hooves and roofs were more commonly used. Well, that’s settled down in the last half-century. I don’t think I’ve ever seen rooves since. But I’ve also not yet come across anyone else who was taught that there are varieties of ‘correct’ and that weight of numbers matters in language (might actually becomes right in the end).

We’ve all seen evolution in action – consider E-mail to e-mail to email; on line to on-line to online. The new edition of the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary brought out in 2007 took out 16,000 hyphens. Evolution is accompanied by mass extinction events, after all.

Even experienced editors, who know all this stuff, sometimes betray themselves with a ‘Well, I was taught….’ or a ‘Which is correct…?’ Language is moving too fast, now. It’s always been a numbers game. ‘Aks’ for ask is around a thousand years old in Britain. So is singular ‘they’, plural ‘none’ and a host of other usages the reactionaries lambast as Wrong. Thousand-year-old mistakes perpetuated by the hoi polloi, or thousand-year-old valid alternatives? Who decides?

What’s hard to accept, perhaps particularly for those who really paid attention at school (but who weren’t lucky enough to have Mr Harwood) and have stuck to what they were taught ever since, despite the evidence all around them, is that there is no outside authority dictating these ‘rules’ or arbitrating disputes about them. There is just opinion: informed, uninformed and not yet formed. And there is time. And there are users of English. There is not necessarily consensus. Mash those up together, then you’ll find the prescriptivists are fighting a losing battle.

So – what’s to be done? We editors and proofreaders need to know our stuff, and to be able to defend our edits. How can we do this against a background where language is turning to quicksand? Two words: style guide.

The style guide will, I think, become the touchstone. It will be the standard for that publisher, that government, that company as now, but I can see that copy-editors will need to be far more proactive in producing style guides for clients. I suspect that more and more organisations will be publishing theirs, as The Economist, the Guardian, the BBC and the UK government have done. We will need to be aware of what free-standing style guides are available and talk to clients about choosing the one that best fits them, with or without a degree of personalisation.

The rule book isn’t dead – it never really lived. But style guides? They’ll go on forever.

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 seven years, working mostly on postgraduate textbooks plus the occasional horseracing thriller. She is on Facebook and Twitter.

Proofread by SfEP associate Sandra Rawlin.

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