Getting permission to reuse published content: PLSclear

By Lucy Metzger

PLSclear is a free service to help editors and authors get permissions to reuse content quickly. The PLSclear people contacted the SfEP Council and invited us to watch a webinar on it, which I’ve just done.

Here’s some information provided by PLSclear, and then I’ll let you know a little about the webinar.

PLSClear say …

PLS clear logoPublishers’ Licensing Services introduce their free service for authors and editors seeking permission to reuse content.

If you’re planning to reuse extracts of third-party content in your own work, whether the extract is from a book, journal, magazine or website, and you are uncertain how to go about getting that permission, Publishers’ Licensing Services (PLS) can help you. They have developed PLS PermissionsRequest, a free service which streamlines the process of requesting permission.

From the webinar

Making a permission request

PLS Clear user interface

If you’re seeking permission to reproduce published content – an image, a chapter, a poem, a table – PLSclear lets you search for the publication on their database, which contains the catalogues of participating publishers. You can search on title, author, keywords or ISBN/ISSN. When you’ve found the work, you go through a series of forms to specify what you want to use and how you want to use it. You’re asked about the content type, number of words if it’s text, and the nature and purpose of your own publication (the one in which you intend to reproduce the material).

These requests are free, and there is no limit on the number of requests you can make. If you’re looking to clear multiple permissions, you can set up a ‘project’ that retains details so that you don’t have to keep re-entering them.

Getting the request to the publisher

When you’ve entered all the details, PLSclear generates a request and sends it to the publisher’s inbox. The publisher-facing side of the software allows for various levels of automation. A publisher may choose to assess each request in person, as it were; or they can tell PLSclear to make an automated or semi-automated assessment of requests, based on rules given by the publisher.

The publisher’s response

The publisher may decide to issue a free licence. In that case PLSclear will generate the licence, with the necessary legal wording, and send it to you. No money changes hands, either on the publisher’s part or on yours.

If the publisher wants to charge you a fee, PLSclear will generate a quote containing terms and conditions and send it to you. If you choose to pay the fee requested, you can make payment through PLSclear and you’ll then be sent your licence; or if you want to negotiate, you can do so; or you can walk away. If you do pay a fee, a proportion of it goes to PLSclear and the rest goes to the publisher.

My view

I haven’t used PLSclear myself, but based on the webinar it looks straightforward and well-conceived. I certainly like the fact that it’s free for the requestor, and in many cases it will be far quicker than less automated methods of requesting permissions. It would be interesting to know how publishers and their authors like it.

Lucy Metzger Lucy Metzger is based in Glasgow. She copy-edits and proofreads, mostly academic books and textbooks, and is a mentor and trainer for the SfEP. She is an amateur cellist and singer. Her degree is in French. She is the external relations director for the SfEP.

 

 

Posted by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator.

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

Working with an assistant

By Cathy Tingle

When you’re editing, there are tasks for which you need your highest level of expertise – reading for sense, reviewing and amending grammar and punctuation, setting overall style – and tasks that require a different level of editing, such as checking, comparing, coding and formatting references.

Most editors work at both levels, and sometimes it is helpful to do tasks that are a bit less demanding, that we can tackle in the evening or when we’re listening to our Fleetwood Mac’s Greatest Hits album (although I suspect that may just be me).

I usually delegate this second set of tasks (apart from listening to Fleetwood Mac – she’s more of a George Ezra girl) to Helen, my editorial assistant. It’s difficult to remember quite when the lightbulb moment of ‘someone else could do these reference checks!’ struck me in my early freelance days, but it sprang from a combination of having a mountain of manuscripts to get through (having not yet realised that I could say ‘no’ to clients), the understanding that some publishers had technical editors or pre-editors, and the discovery that the SfEP had a system whereby surplus work could be delegated to Intermediate Members.

I was already friends with Helen because our kids went to the same nursery. I knew she had an English degree, that she was a voracious reader, and that she was incredibly organised. So I wrote some guidelines and gave her a project. From Helen’s point of view as a mum to young children she was after flexible work, but not too much of it; interesting work, but nothing overwhelmingly taxing. She set herself up as self-employed, which meant she could also take on work from other clients.

That was three years ago. This year we have received two author acknowledgements as a team, and a beautiful mug each from a satisfied client. Over the years we have identified the tasks that Helen is happiest doing: checking references and cross-references, internet fact checks, weblink checks, and so on. She is a wizard with cross-checking case titles in law books, something that, frankly, would make my head fall off. My editing mind feels less cluttered, knowing that basic checks are taken care of, although of course I double-check anything that sounds alarm bells as I go through the text. As well as reading the entire manuscript for sense and for correct English, I set style and perform any related checks and changes, and I always format references, citations and footnotes. This means that I do enough work on the technical stuff that I’m completely familiar with all the elements of the text.

Helen

Helen: On it

It might seem a bit belt and braces. It probably is. And of course it does mean losing some of my income – on average Helen will get around a third of my project fees. But being part of a two-person team works for me, because:

  • We can discuss things. It helps oil the wheels of a project to be able to talk about it, whether it’s the author’s referencing style or an interesting fact found in the work, or even a great word – in May, Helen encountered ‘boondoggling’ (spending time on wasteful or fraudulent projects), which caused us both a level of delight that I wouldn’t have experienced ploughing through a manuscript on my own.
  • We do at least one more pass than I would do alone. Helen will probably do two passes through a script; I do two to three. I feel that the work is more watertight this way. We recently got a comment from an author of a third edition: ‘I was very pleased with the work done by the language editor. Not just on a language basis, but also the fact checking. They even managed to catch quite a number of mistakes in the original text of the second edition!’
  • I get through more projects. Without the technical stuff dragging me down I complete projects at a faster rate – I probably take on at least a third more work, which is Helen’s fee covered, right there.
  • I think about Helen’s progress, which helps mine. Having to write guidelines, explain rules and share stylesheets helps my own progression as an editor. I encouraged Helen to do a copy-editing course early on, and she feels she has picked up a fair bit over the years, too: ‘I have learnt a lot about a process I realise I knew very little about.’
  • There’s someone to have my Christmas party with. It seems trivial, but having a colleague means having company – a catch-up coffee together every so often, and of course a Christmas do. Last year we had a scone at M&S Simply Food, this year we’re off for brunch in a café that does great vegan food. It’s not fancy, but it does warm the cockles.

This won’t last for ever. I’m prepared for the fact that I may lose Helen at any time. She may get a part-time job as her children grow, or she might decide to do more work for other clients. That’s fine and really to be encouraged. Being an editorial assistant should be a first step only – but for Helen and for me, it has been a massive help and comfort at this particularly busy time of our lives.

Cathy TingleCathy Tingle, an Advanced Professional Member, came to freelance copy-editing after a PhD, a decade in marketing communications and four years as editor of a popular Edinburgh parents’ guidebook. Her business, DocEditor, specialises in non-fiction, especially academic, copy-editing.

 

Posted by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator.

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

The joys and challenges of working with non-native English speakers

By Stephen Pigney

Who wouldn’t want a job that enables them to see the world? In the past few months my work has taken me to Germany, the Netherlands, Finland, Switzerland, Italy, Portugal, Cyprus, Turkey, Brazil, Colombia, the United States, Australia, China, Taiwan, South Korea, Japan, India, Pakistan, Israel, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Egypt and Libya – and all without moving more than ten metres from my desk. These are the editor’s travels: armed with the right guidebooks (a good English dictionary and an appropriate selection of style guides are sufficient), a means of transport (an internet connection) and the right amount of energy (enough to make several journeys from desk to kettle to reference books each day), and the whole world is opened up.

Globe on a desk

These virtual travels and encounters with people from every continent are among the great pleasures of my work. They also present challenges. Home comforts often yield to unfamiliar ways of doing things; and linguistic differences frequently create inconveniences and can sometimes appear to be barriers to understanding and communication. But the good traveller welcomes such challenges, for at the heart of why we travel is the desire to experience and learn from the new, to understand, and to communicate. And good editors are good travellers.

Respect and admire those who write in their non-native language

As my list of international ‘destinations’ indicates, I encounter many people whose first language is not English. I estimate that between 80 and 90 per cent of my clients are non-native English (NNE) speakers. The quality of the NNE texts I work on varies considerably: some are written in enviably pristine, clear and stylish prose; but usually they manifest grammatical, syntactical and stylistic problems that can be extensive. Often, I will spend an hour initially reviewing an NNE client’s document and still have little idea of what it is saying. The temptation then to despair and turn one’s attention to complaining about the global state of written English, or to sharing with colleagues the chronic inability of some clients to write intelligibly, is, perhaps, natural. The good editor should – and must – resist such a temptation.

To observe that some NNE texts present huge editorial challenges is one thing; but to complain about such texts (or, worse, to mock or belittle them) has no place in good editorial practice. As an English-speaking editor, I am forever thankful that English remains the predominant language of international academia and business, and that there are millions of NNE speakers the world over who are personally and professionally committed to writing and publishing in English. And, as someone who has a passable reading knowledge of some foreign languages but no competence whatsoever to write in them, I admire anyone who is able to put together a few thousand words in a second (or even third or fourth) language.

Patience, focus and familiarity

The difficult NNE text poses practical problems – solving those problems is the essence of editorial practice. My experience is that, with patience, focus and careful editor–client liaison, almost any NNE text can be shaped into a clear and linguistically coherent document that more than meets the client’s (or the publisher’s) stylistic requirements. The more NNE texts one works on, the more attuned one becomes to mistakes and quirks of syntax common to much NNE writing; and the more familiar one becomes with a client’s writing, the more the intention and meaning of the writing becomes clear. Often, the editorial work takes on the character of translation, and translation requires time and familiarity to do well. Immediately diving into the editing of a difficult NNE rarely works; usually it is better to spend time reading it (without editing it), thinking about it, and compiling a list of issues and questions to be discussed with the client. Then one can begin the methodical editorial work: tidying up the easy things, resolving the more straightforward issues, gradually chipping away at the problems, and enjoying how the text slowly takes shape as a clear, coherent document whose meaning increasingly begins to emerge.

Learning about language and practice

Successfully editing a problematic NNE text so that it will be accepted for English-language publication is immensely satisfying. Most of my NNE clients are polite (I have never had a rude or impolite NNE client), and many express profound gratitude at the editorial work – after all, their career advancement often depends on publishing in English, so they invest much hope in their editor. Many are also keen to learn how to write well in English, and the advice I pass on and the discussions I have are invariably fulfilling ways of reflecting on and sharpening my own understanding of how English works.

Pieter Bruegal the Elder: Tower of Babel

Pieter Bruegel the Elder, The Tower of Babel, c.1563. According to the myth narrated in the Book of Genesis, after the Great Flood humanity attempted to reach heaven by building a tower. To prevent them from succeeding, God confounded their language, so that they no longer spoke one tongue, and scattered them abroad. The story was long thought to explain why the world contains multiple languages.

However, editors are justified in feeling frustrated when there is a mismatch between, on the one hand, such involved and demanding editorial work and, on the other, the remuneration and time allowed for a project. This is by no means a problem unique to working with NNE clients; indeed, I find my NNE clients are frequently more understanding of the work involved and of what would be a realistic schedule and remuneration than are my native English-speaking clients. As with any project, it is the editor’s responsibility to explain the work involved and to agree to a mutually satisfactory working arrangement. That said, it takes experience (including more than a few tough experiences) to get a good sense of how much time is required for editing of NNE texts, and hence how to price such projects. Rather than complaining about NNE clients when one has a trying project, it is better to reflect on and learn from one’s own initial assessment of a project and communications with a client – or to complain about the unrealistic expectations of many editorial agencies who package out these projects.

With experience, the appropriate editorial skills, and a temperament suited to challenging projects, editors can find NNE clients to be a source of almost limitless, well-remunerated work. The pleasure of such work goes far beyond remuneration, however. In a world where the politics of borders and a suspicion of cultural and linguistic difference are on the rise, editing NNE texts is a reminder that communication is about transcending borders and bridging differences. What I see in my NNE editorial work is the desire all over the world to share ideas, to contribute to global knowledge, to learn from others, and simply to connect and engage in a spirit of friendship and mutual benefits. Some of my NNE clients are based in the UK, as students, academics or other professionals, and every one of their texts is a reminder of their immense and immeasurable contribution to the UK. And some of my NNE clients are based in their home countries, and I reflect on the important contribution my work makes to their countries. The linguistic and cultural differences of our world should be celebrated; but more than that, we should celebrate something that editors are doing all the time: productively transcending the differences, enhancing communication, and doing our bit to make the world a better and more interesting place for everyone.

Good editors are good travellers

Editorial work with NNE clients is a form of virtual travelling. To be a good traveller requires an open mind, a sensitivity to cultural difference, and a willingness to embrace, celebrate and learn from that difference – and the good traveller is rewarded with greater understanding and rich, liberating experiences. The same requirements and rewards apply to the NNE texts worked on by the good editor.

Stephen PigneyBased in London, Stephen Pigney is an editor who works with clients from all over the world. He started his editorial business in 2017, joining the SfEP at the same time; he is currently an Intermediate Member. With a background as a researcher and lecturer, he specialises in academic and general non-fiction writing on most subjects. He is trying to become a better non-native speaker of other languages.

Posted by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator.

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

 

The Book Trade Charity

By Gerard M-F Hill

Every year, members of SfEP do their bit to support The Book Trade Charity (BTBS). Why? What does it do?The Book Trade Charity (BTBS) logo

It helps anyone who is working or has worked in the book trade – editors, proofreaders, indexers, printers, publishers, binders and booksellers, for example – and is in difficulty.
Suppose you fall seriously ill, you have no family support and you can’t work for a while: how will you pay the bills? Imagine you are offered a job interview, or even a job! What will you do if you haven’t the train fare? Perhaps you want to retrain and can’t afford the course? What if you suddenly find yourself out on the street? Divorce, redundancy, a failed client leaving you unpaid, a partner’s terminal illness: any of these might exhaust your resources.

In such situations The Book Trade Charity gives welfare grants – very quickly in emergencies – but it also supports people needing help over a longer period, from those on benefits and pensioners on low incomes to young interns on even lower incomes. It can help with the deposit for a flat, repairs to a boiler or replacement of a fridge. As well as helping older people who have fallen on hard times, it is now giving more attention to young people at the start of their working life, with career guidance, financial help and accommodation.

Established in 1837, the Charity has attractive flats, bungalows and cottages available to rent. These began with John Dickinson, the paper manufacturer, who gave the land where in 1845 he built the first almshouses for “decaying booksellers assistants”. Following a merger with the Bookbinders Charitable Society (founded 1830), it now owns 59 properties – 22 at Bookbinders Cottages in north London and 37 at The Retreat in Kings Langley, Hertfordshire, some to wheelchair standard but all at affordable rents – and is building more.

The Retreat, Kings Langley

The Retreat, Kings Langley

How does it do all this? It receives annual grants from publishers and bibliophile charities, among them (thanks to T.S. and Valerie Eliot) Old Possum’s Practical Trust. But it also depends on the many smaller donations it receives. People organise fun runs, pub quizzes and all sorts of other events to raise money for the Charity, which also has guaranteed places in the London Marathon for anyone interested; and one person raised £4000 by doing a sponsored cycle ride. SfEP members gave £325 when renewing their subscriptions in 2017 and another £215 in 2018, and the SfEP Council has decided to add to that the £287 proceeds of the raffle at conference.

If you are anywhere near Kings Langley, you can benefit yourself while helping The Book Trade Charity. On certain Fridays and Saturdays throughout the year it runs book sales at The Retreat, where stock given by publishers is sold at very reasonable prices: fiction, non-fiction, children’s books, glossy tomes and more.

The next sales are 12.00–17.00 on 23 November and 10.00–14.00 on 24 and 26–30 November 2018. If you can’t get there, or even if you can, you might consider adding a donation to your subscription when you next renew your SfEP membership. After all, you never know when you might need the discreet, practical help of the Book Trade Charity. Visit www.btbs.org to find out more.

Gerard HillFor his third career, Gerard M-F Hill retrained in 1990 as an indexer and became an editorial freelance as much-better-text.com. He began mentoring for SfEP in 1999, joined the council in 2007 and was its first standards director; he stood down in 2016 to become chartership adviser. An advanced professional member of SfEP and SI, he lives on a hillside in breezy Cumberland.

 

Posted by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator.

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

Editors and social media: YouTube

In the second instalment of our ‘Editors and social media’ series, Denise Cowle explains why and how she uses YouTube for her business, and how that fits in with her use of other social media.

Screenshot of YouTube home page

Photo by Christian Wiediger on Unsplash.

When and why did you start?

In 2015 I went to a conference run by the Content Marketing Academy, where there was a workshop by Marcus Sheridan. It showed me that there was so much more I could be doing to promote my business online. I was full of enthusiasm and started blogging regularly and using social media to promote it and engage with lots of people, both editors and potential clients.
Since then I have embraced lots of new things, most recently taking part in a challenge which saw me produce one video each week for 13 weeks.

I’ve only been using video for a few months, but the results have been very positive so far.

What do you share?

I share my latest blog or video every week, plus I rotate through older content which still has value. Most of the stuff I create doesn’t date (it’s evergreen, to use a buzzword!) so it’s still relevant months or even years after it’s written or filmed. People aren’t necessarily going to find it directly from searching, so it’s good practice to put it out there at regular intervals to show what you have.

I don’t just share my own content – I read other blogs and websites, and there is a lot of really useful information worth sharing. I think if you share the good stuff it goes a little way towards pushing the useless stuff further down people’s newsfeeds!

When do you share?

Depending on the platform, I’ll share/post every day or several times a day, using a scheduling tool (Buffer) to automatically share my own content and other links that I’ve spotted but don’t necessarily want to share when I first see them. But I also spend a little time every day engaging with other people, liking, sharing and commenting on their posts as they appear in my timeline.

I find blogging quite time-intensive. It can take me four or five hours to write a blog, edit it, find or create the right images, and then do all the behind-the-scenes work for SEO, like adding links, meta-description, social share buttons and the sign-up buttons for my newsletter.

I’ve been surprised at how quickly I got into a rhythm for video production – it doesn’t take nearly as long to produce, as I can now film, edit and upload a five-minute video in around two hours, including all the SEO and techy things (like creating a custom thumbnail and choosing the right tags for that post) and the on-screen titles, cards and subtitles.


Screenshot of Denise's YouTube channel

Why do you do it?

It’s actually given me a lot of confidence – the first few videos I created were pretty dodgy, but I kept going and picked up advice on improving the technical aspect of it and the presentation skills needed for talking to my iPhone while it’s balanced on a pile of books on a stepladder (you can manage perfectly well without high-tech equipment!)

Generally, I keep motivated by the feedback I get from people who enjoy what I produce and share it. More importantly, when clients tell me they read my blog or saw my video, that tells me that I’m doing the right thing. Writing or creating videos about editing-related topics shows people I know what I’m doing, rather than me just telling them that!

The videos have been incredibly effective, particularly when I upload them natively to LinkedIn (natively means publishing the video directly on that platform, rather than posting a link to the video on my YouTube channel). I got several new clients directly as a result of them seeing my videos. One was a global publisher I hadn’t worked with until now, and another was an edtech company who asked me to reshoot one of my videos for them, so they could use it in one of their courses! Now THAT was something I didn’t see coming!

Getting concrete results like that is all the motivation I need!

What about other social media platforms?

Although my videos are created for my YouTube channel, that’s not primarily where people will go to look for them, so I upload them to LinkedIn, which has far and away been the most effective platform in terms of engagement and actual sales, and I share on Twitter and my Facebook page. It sounds like a lot but only takes a matter of minutes to do.

Any advice?

I would encourage anyone to have a go at video. If you have a decent phone and somewhere quiet to record, that’s enough to get started. I dipped my toe in the water with some Facebook Live broadcasts last year, just to get used to speaking to camera. I also watched quite a few online tutorials about getting started, which gave me lots of helpful tips, particularly about setting up my YouTube channel.

And it doesn’t have to be perfect – I’ve left bloopers in and made a feature of them. Video is a great way of showing your personality – you know you’re fabulous, and now your prospective clients can see that too!

Denise CowleDenise Cowle is an editor and proofreader based in Glasgow. She specialises in non-fiction, particularly education and business, and edits for a variety of global publishers, companies and organisations.

She has an interest in continuing professional development and content marketing, and when she’s got spare time she loiters on social media and writes her blog.

Denise is an Advanced Professional Member of the Society for Editors and Proofreaders and is also its Marketing and PR Director.

 

Posted by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator.

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

Inside Bloomsbury Publishing for Editors and Proofreaders

In a brand new event series, Inside Bloomsbury, Bloomsbury Publishing is opening up about how it creates and publishes its books by inviting key members of the Bloomsbury team to talk about what they do in more detail than ever before. In this second event of the series, a follow-up to ‘Inside Bloomsbury Publishing for Illustrators’, a panel of Bloomsbury editors discussed the skills needed to edit works that please authors, agents and publishers – in partnership with the SfEP. Andrew Macdonald Powney tells us more about the event on 25 October.

Door to Bloomsbury Publishing's offices on Bedford Square, London

Bloomsbury Publishing, Bedford Square, London.

Bloomsbury publishes 2,500 titles annually, 80% of which are non-fiction. Every seat at the Bloomsbury Institute was booked on 25 October for a discussion between three Bloomsbury editors: managing editor Marigold Atkey, senior editor Xa Shaw Stewart and special interest editor Jonathan Eyers. It was chaired by Abi Saffrey, an Advanced Professional Member of the SfEP.

Jonathan summed up the stages of the in-house process: a structural edit by the commissioning editor, then a copy-edit focused on clarity, next typesetting, and only then proofreading – with checking e-books coming last and paying least well, since by that stage most errors have been found. Bloomsbury wanted quick, thorough, accurate proofreaders. The firm tends not to recruit through the SfEP directory, but rather, according to their own intelligence and contacts, and through the constant stream of CVs dropping into their inboxes; Jonathan Eyers gave examples of proofreaders without previous experience whom he had employed because something particular made them stand out. Editors might well take note of training like SfEP and PTC courses, however.

Working with Bloomsbury

So how can proofreaders attract work – and repeat work – from Bloomsbury? As to breaking through in the first place, Jonathan returned a couple of times to saying that a letter looking for work plus a generic CV stands next to no chance in competition against a distinctive application from someone with specialist expertise. Editors are on the look-out for people who may know more than they do on a topic that might cross their desks. These get added to the contact list.

Once employed, a freelancer’s flexibility is important, and for tried-and-tested freelancers this can work both ways. Reliability and turnaround are essential. Timings might be 2 to 3 weeks for proofreading or 4 weeks for copy-editing a text of 80,000 to 100,000 words. It will pay the freelancer more in the long run to stick to the agreed fee. Failing to keep to the deadline is another great way to mark yourself out as a risky pick. A third classic error is forgetting to back up the text you have been sent, which you need in case of file corruption or queries over changes. Freelancers can also lose credibility by altering text when they should raise queries; changes to the text that turn up only at the proofreading stage mean alterations to the typeset text, and that is expensive. Both budgets and schedules are tight and margins for error will stretch only so far (Marigold has worked on 38 books to date this year).

Marigold Atkey, Xa Shaw Stewart, Jonathan Eyers and Abi Saffrey at the Bloomsbury Institute

Marigold Atkey, Xa Shaw Stewart, Jonathan Eyers and Abi Saffrey. Photo: Ruth Burns Warrens.

The same but different

In-house editors within the same firm may have different approaches. Marigold might line up a proofreader at the same time as the copy-editor, and she might look for an indexer or even a freelance map illustrator as well. Her brief with the Raven imprint brings in fantasy, and a recent book required a floor plan to go with the text. Xa’s work with cookbooks might lead her to seek out ghost writers or project editors (though Bloomsbury seldom has need of freelance project editors/managers). Jonathan’s team looks to commission and publish non-fiction texts for identified niche markets, which is why it is subject expertise in a proofreader that especially attracts him.

Publishers have slimmed down, but that increases the overall proportion of freelance work. Whereas a few years ago it seemed that a few conglomerates might buy up all the independents, another possible future for publishing may now be coming into view: many, small independents without physical offices, producing books through networks of freelancers in a world where almost no one is in-house.

Practicalities

The trend is towards electronic mark-up for copy-edits: though the vast majority of Bloomsbury’s proofreading is still on hard copy. Thus, the BSI marks remain indispensable because they are internationally understood. Editing using Track Changes in Word is pretty much the rule and the system, though Xa felt that working from a paper copy as well might still be most effective. Her particular titles create a premium on freelancers’ awareness of visuals and design. The passage from book to e-book is now practically seamless, requiring comparatively minor changes like the position of the copyright page, and there is little freelance work in this area. Encouragingly, though, outsourcing the process to cheaper markets has its limits, since Bloomsbury requires quality in production and editing, especially sensitivity to nuance and idiom. In cookbooks, not just “broil / grill” or “zucchini / courgette” but the density of flour (and therefore the amounts in a recipe) may vary between the US and the UK.

This early evening on Bedford Square saw the Bloomsbury Institute introduce trends present and future clearly and enjoyably to a large, varied, and interested audience. In a show of hands, only five or six attendees are based in-house. Perhaps those few will take back the idea of this event to other publishing houses too.

Andrew Macdonald PowneyAndrew Macdonald Powney is an Entry-Level Member of the SfEP. He taught Politics and RS in state and independent schools after taking degrees in History and Patristic Theology, and he is now based in Edinburgh. Andrew is interested in political, religious, theological, and educational texts, and Plain English. His own writing appeared most recently in The Tablet.

 

Posted by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator.

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

SfEP conference 2018: what they said

Places at this year’s conference at Lancaster University sold out quickly and the conference’s success has been blogged about by attendees since the event in September – here are the highlights.

SfEP directors and audience at the AGM

There was swearing

Kia Thomas’s session on editing sweary stuff was clearly a highlight for many members; it inspired Howard Walwyn to title his comprehensive conference review ‘#SfEP 2018 – Let’s Get F***in’ Serious‘.

Hannah McCall also enjoyed the session, and the Coco Pops option at breakfast; this was her first SfEP conference experience, and she talks about the warmth of strangers and support of her conference buddy in her summary.

Editors travelled from far and wide

Every year, more and more editors based outside the UK attend, and present at, the conference. Claire Wilkshire discusses British politeness in her post ‘Editors, sheep, conferencing‘.

Presenters push the boundaries of their comfort zones

The conference director approached Kia Thomas during her ‘Saying Yes’ kick, and Kia elegantly discusses the process of preparing and presenting at a conference in ‘Conferences, confidence and comfort zones‘.

There were indexers there too

The Society for Indexers’ conference was at the same venue at the same time this year, enabling sharing of some sessions and the gala dinner. Tanya Izzard is an indexer looking to develop her editing skills, and made the most of the opportunity to attend two conferences at once.

Attendees learnt stuff

Pamela Smith lists her main learning points from the two days in her conference report – AND she won a fabulous raffle prize so the learning can carry on.

The learning wasn’t just limited to the sessions – the quiz on the opening evening of the conference warmed up brain cells and revealed the vast amounts of random knowledge that editors carry around in their heads. Oh, and Kia Thomas was on the winning team.

But it’s all about…

As Stephen Cashmore reminds us, the conference is all about the people: those who plan, prepare and attend it.

Attendees at the 2018 SfEP Conference

There’s more coverage of this year’s sessions in the November/December edition of Editing Matters, the Society’s digital magazine for members.

Compiled by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator.

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

Coming up

Plain English: ‘Be short, be simple, be human’

By Laura Ripper and Luke Finley

Ever had to deal with text that makes you feel alienated, inadequate or frustrated? We’ve all had that experience – of struggling to make sense of writing that’s pretentious and showy, filled with jargon and buzzwords, or simply badly planned and confusing.

Sometimes you might long for the writing to be as poetic as Shakespeare, as gripping as Stephen King or as much fun to read as JK Rowling. But when you need information quickly, you just want it to tell you, without all the frills, what you need to know.

In other words, you want it in plain English.

Water ripples above book pagesWhat is plain English?

Plain English is about communicating with people in writing as clearly as possible.

George Orwell and Ernest Gowers, writing in the 1940s, were among the first to encourage writers to use plain English: ‘Be short, be simple, be human,’ wrote Gowers in his guide Plain Words. There’s no one accepted definition today, but the International Plain Language Federation sums it up nicely:

A communication is in plain language if its wording, structure and design are so clear that the intended audience can easily find what they need, understand what they find, and use that information. [our emphasis]

It’s about putting the reader’s needs first, even above the writer’s preferences, when it comes to deciding how to word and organise a text. This doesn’t ignore the writer’s priorities – quite the opposite! What’s your main aim as a writer, if not to communicate clearly with your readers?

What is it for?

You can use plain English to:

  • make information accessible to people who aren’t specialists in your area (whether that’s about health, money, research, government policy or something else)
  • share essential information (on safety or the law)
  • give people the chance to have a say on things that affect them, or to use services they’re entitled to
  • build a reputation for putting customers first
  • build a good relationship with readers
  • save time and money (on clarifying misunderstandings, reprinting documents).

So you can use it for ethical and economic reasons. By making letters, reports, policies, articles and application forms easier for people they affect to read and understand, you’re making a difference to those people. You’re also making savings for your organisation, and helping to achieve its marketing aims.

What can using plain English do for me?

Writing in plain English can help your organisation:

  • make the text more effective (informing, selling to or empowering the reader, or appealing to more readers)
  • market itself (by strengthening your reputation, building trust and loyalty, and attracting customers, staff and suppliers)
  • achieve its business aims (eg increasing profit by saving time and money)
  • fulfil its purpose (providing a public service, raising awareness of an important issue).

Open book with letters flying outHow can an editor help?

Editors offering plain English services can help by making text clearer and easier to read. Many of them can suggest ways to improve its structure and layout too.

According to the Oxford Guide to Plain English, the average UK adult has a reading age of just 13. They’re also busy – they don’t have time to read insurance policies for pleasure. So in a plain English edit, an editor aims to make the writing as easy as possible for the average person to read.

To do this, editors follow established guidelines, such as those in the Oxford Guide. ‘Translating’ a piece of writing into plain English isn’t a mechanical exercise, though – a trained editor considers the reader’s level of knowledge and what will be clearest for them.

Some editors can also help by:

  • giving training about using plain English
  • completely re-writing a document, or writing a plain English summary
  • designing templates and style guides that follow plain English principles.

What else can I do?

  • Keep the reader in mind when you’re planning, writing and designing the text – think about what will be clearest and most logical for them.
  • Make sure you’ve included all the information the reader needs – don’t assume they know as much about your subject as you do.
  • Learn about the principles of plain English (by doing training and using resources, such as those available from the National Adult Literacy Agency in Ireland).
  • Test the text on real readers to see if they understand it quickly and easily.
  • Get feedback from readers on documents you’ve already published and make improvements.

If you write in simple, direct language, readers are more likely to respect and value what you have to say. And this will make as much of a difference to you, and your priorities, as it will to your readers.

Laura RipperLaura Ripper began her career in 2004 at Plain English Campaign, where she translated all sorts of documents into plain language. In 2008 she moved to a wider editorial and communications role, which included raising awareness of the UK’s switch to digital TV. Laura set up her proofreading and editing business in 2012 to concentrate on the aspects of her job that she loves best. She still specialises in plain English, and has found these skills useful for every type of document – from journal articles to board game rules. She is an Advanced Professional Member of the SfEP. When she isn’t at her desk, Laura loves walking in the hills. She has two feline assistants.

Luke FinleyLuke Finley set up Luke Finley Editorial in 2013 and is an Advanced Professional Member of the SfEP. He briefly worked in publishing in the 1990s, but most of his working life has been spent in the voluntary and public sectors, in social policy development and implementation. His experience of local government gave him a keen interest in plain English and trying (sometimes in vain) to persuade people to communicate more clearly.  Luke will edit or proofread anything from academic books to charities’ annual reports to travel agents’ websites, but mostly works on social policy and politics texts.

Posted by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator.

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

Project fear: fiction editing

By Gale Winskill

With apologies to Jane Austen, ‘It is a truth universally acknowledged that most editors enjoy reading’. I say ‘most’, as there will undoubtedly be an exception somewhere – and when you find them, please let me know! Of those who read for pleasure, I would hazard a guess that the vast majority probably opt for some sort of fiction, although again, a small percentage will not.

Drawing of a book with a visualisation of a story coming from its pagesBut those who don’t will quite possibly enjoy memoirs or biographies that share many narrative traits with fiction, as ultimately they encompass a good ‘story’, and require pace and drama.
Fast-forward then to the surprising number of editors who recoil in horror at the thought of actually editing fiction, preferring the relative order of non-fiction subject specialities, academic guidelines and referencing systems over the perceived unwieldiness of fiction.

Spot the difference

And yet, is non-fiction/academic editing really so different from fiction editing?

We all pass an unconscious critical eye over our reading material, of whatever ilk – newspaper articles, web text, books… And how often have we come to the end of a novel only to wonder what happened to a particular character who inexplicably disappeared from view at some point, or to query why an author suddenly switched to American idiom for a protagonist previously noted for their ‘West Country vernacular’?

Is this really so different from spotting in a work of non-fiction that the Russian Revolution occurred momentarily in 1817 rather than 1917, or that Reggio Calabria had transformed into Reggio Emilia, which is at the opposite end of Italy? Leaving incorrect or inconsistent facts in any type of text can lead to unnecessary reader confusion.

But what about all that dialogue and jargon? How is an editor supposed to ensure conformity in a text written in teenage slang, for example? Well, for those of you with teenagers in the house, a quick question in this regard will not only engender a snort of derision, but will also provide the necessary clarification if required. Even if you don’t have direct access to this subspecies of the human race, there are wonderful online resources to keep you up to date, just as there are helpful organisations to keep you abreast of changing terminology and ethical considerations in other areas of your editing life.

‘But there are no rules to fiction,’ I hear you cry. Well, that’s not entirely true, is it? The basic conventions of grammar, punctuation, tense agreement, spelling and so on still apply … just not always with the same regularity as in other texts. The key is to find the pattern and then impose consistency. Think of it as a challenge, a puzzle to unravel. Patrick Ness’s phonetic transcription of language in his Chaos Walking trilogy isn’t unintelligible; it’s innovative, consistent and apt. It’s completely sensible to expect that a teenage protagonist with no formal education might write ‘station’ as ‘stayshun’. In non-fiction or academia, the word ‘anxiolytic’ might have more resonance for its target audience than the term ‘anxiety-reducing’. Ultimately, it’s a matter of context … and uniformity.

Genres, interest and expertise

But that still doesn’t address the elephant in the room – the huge array of genres: thrillers, young adult, erotica, crime, romance, fantasy, science fiction, children’s, and so on. How can an editor possibly deal with all of that?

Well, most fiction editors don’t. Generally, our editing specialities reflect our reading preferences, in the same way that many non-fiction editors focus on their own areas of general interest or academic expertise. We all have our comfort zones. After all, if you read a lot of crime fiction, you are more likely to spot a glaring narrative discrepancy in a similar work – especially if the ‘error’ concerns the plausibility of that one vital piece of information on which the entire plot hinges – than if you usually read magic realism.

And if erotica or science fiction are not your bag – as self-help, politics or Celtic religion might not be someone else’s – then why would you even consider working on them? It’s not compulsory. The beauty of fiction is that there is such a range to choose from that there really is something for everyone. And nowhere does it state that you have to edit fiction to the exclusion of other types of work.

Bookshelves with clouds and birds aboveNovel impact

At the recent 2018 SfEP conference, I attended two excellent sessions on very different aspects of fiction editing. Although some might think that I had little to learn, given that I have been editing fiction in one form or another for a very long time, I would beg to differ, as I always discover fresh ways of looking at old topics. The sessions brought together newbies and veterans, and each had as much to offer to the discussion as the other. One thing that emerged was that everyone could cite novels that had had an impact on them at some point, and were able to verbalise the reasons why. The same applied to their responses to the various exercise texts.

And if you can articulate your reaction to a piece of narrative prose, you can edit fiction!
Fiction is uniquely subjective and everyone has a different – and equally valid – opinion of what works and what doesn’t, and it is this existence of ‘no right answer’ that scares those who avoid it.

It is true that no two fiction editors will ever highlight exactly the same things in the same narrative, although there will be commonalities. Things that bother me may not bother you, and at the end of the day who’s to say that I’m right and you’re wrong, or vice versa? We can posit an opinion, but what the author does with that information is up to them – as with non-fiction editing.

Fiction editors provide authors with an invaluable service. Not only do they tidy up a text, and ensure that plot details tally, the text is reasonably clean, pace is maintained and the chosen spelling conventions are consistent, but they also stand in for the final reader – the book buyer! They let the author know what works and what doesn’t, and so help them to avoid those often minor, yet erroneous details mentioned above, which can ultimately detract from an otherwise great story.

And next…

So, if you are now thinking that fiction editing may not be quite as scary – or as alien – as you first thought and might like to give it a go, or if you have members of staff who would benefit from an overview of how to get started and what to consider, perhaps you should contemplate the SfEP’s online Introduction to Fiction Editing course.

Written by a variety of experienced fiction editors, it offers a broad overview of the basic things to look out for when copy-editing a work of fiction. There are no fixed ‘rules’ as such, but you will hopefully discover that fiction editing is not quite as lawless or ‘unquantifiable’ as you envisage.

Above all, the course provides ample reassurance that, as long as you can justify your opinion in the context of the novel, your very own ‘no right answer’ might actually be correct. But there’s only one way to know if I’m telling the truth, so why not confront your demons and learn how to kill those darlings?

Gale WinksillGale Winskill is an Advanced Professional Member of the SfEP who enjoys a challenge. She co-wrote the SfEP’s online Introduction to Fiction Editing course.

 

 

The SfEP also publishes a guide to Getting started in fiction editing, written by Kat Trail.

Posted by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator.

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

Inclusive language – and inclusive editing

By Sarah Grey

At the SfEP’s wonderful 2018 conference in Lancaster, I had the privilege of speaking with attendees about inclusive language. It’s strange, leaving the United States to talk about this topic at a time when inclusion and kindness seem to be very low on my country’s agenda – yet I am convinced that the stakes for inclusive and ethical editing are higher than ever.

Three people sat on bench in front of a wall of photo portraitsEditors have a long tradition of defending accuracy and fairness. We want to do right by our clients and by readers. We value inclusivity. We want to be on the right side of history. Almost all social justice movements, whatever their focus, take up questions of language as part of the struggle for equality and freedom. When that happens, language change, which is usually a very gradual process, becomes conscious, deliberate, and much, much faster. Language and politics are forever catching up to one another, pushing and pulling against one another. Our job as editors is to help language catch up.

There’s no one authority on inclusive language. We all have our own biases and knowledge gaps, and we can’t know what other people’s lives are like. People identify ways where language leaves them out or gets them wrong, and they speak up about it and start getting creative about alternatives and trying new things to see what catches on. It’s important for me to add here that there are debates about many of these things (such as people-first language in discussions of disability), so it’s important to stay up to speed on the debates that affect topics you edit.

Language changes because old words haven’t kept up with new realities, or realities that are newly being confronted. When you have the power of naming, you can frame how other people see you. You are literally setting the terms of the discussion. And that, in turn, allows you to put forward what you need in very material and tangible ways.

Etiquette

My grandmother always taught me that the goal of etiquette is to make sure every guest feels welcome and included. As editors it’s our job to see things from the reader’s point of view, not just our own or the author’s – and to welcome readers into the text and keep them reading. So editing for inclusive language is about understanding where language leaves some readers out and finding ways to invite them in.

But there’s a basic principle that underlies the idea of etiquette, of making people feel welcome, and it works very well when editing: treat people like they’re people. Don’t treat them like they’re lesser, like they’re unintelligent, like they don’t exist or don’t matter.

One way of doing this is othering: calling attention to someone’s differences from the unstated idea of ‘normal’: for example, referring to the Asian doctor or the trans librarian when ethnicity and gender aren’t relevant to the story, or dividing a catalogue page into ‘laptop bags’ and ‘women’s laptop bags’. This treats people from the othered group like a special exception whose identity has to revolve around their difference, or like they simply don’t exist, except perhaps in relation to someone more important.

For example, the Guardian recently tweeted the shortlist for the New Academy literary prize with the headline ‘Neil Gaiman and Haruki Muramaki up for alternative Nobel literature prize’. Only seven paragraphs in did the article mention that ‘the shortlist is completed with two female writers’, Maryse Condé and Kim Thúy.

Silhouttes of people standing, their reflections on the floorSo this is something we can watch for as we edit – is everyone identified equally? Do the women have names? Does the interview ask everyone about their child-care arrangements, or only the women? It’s also common to see men’s names given with a full title and women’s titles omitted, as well as surnames for men and first names for women.

Do these slights in themselves hurt anyone? Yes and no. Small instances that might seem innocuous enough pile up. If you’re labelled as other, these microaggressions, as they’re called, happen over and over, and in patterns and in partnership with more violent incidents. Experience that enough and you begin to see how one feeds into the other.

Ethics

That brings us to ethics – because the way we as editors use language has serious consequences in the real world.

Our decisions can influence what the boundaries of normal, legitimate discourse are. Granted, when someone like Donald Trump is in power, those boundaries are pushed further and further out into the realm of the bizarre, but here we are. The boundaries of legitimate discourse can, depending on where we as a society place them, contribute to or even provide justification for physical violence. And while our decisions can’t shape the course of language change, we do have some influence over how language changes. And in that respect, the decisions we make truly do matter.

In the news media it’s especially noticeable when different words are used to describe the same things done by different people. Words carry assumptions and judgements: Are you a protestor or a rioter? Are you assertive or abrasive? Is your government an administration or a regime? The specifics of these terms vary from place to place depending on who has power. They also function as ‘dog whistles’, political code. When these saturate the media and find their way into people’s worldviews, that can have real consequences, including violence.

There are always competing narratives about any conflict, so when you’re editing material that deals with one, whether it’s intended to be neutral or takes a specific stance, you need to do your research and understand which terms are used by whom and whether terms imply a specific stance or are relatively neutral.

The term illegal alien, for example, sounds like it should refer to Klingons or Time Lords, but it’s been used since the 1990s to describe people arriving at the US–Mexico border from Central and South America. It has largely fallen out of mainstream use over the last decade or two, as human rights activists have pointed out that it is blatantly dehumanising. The AP Stylebook, the New York Times, and the American Library Association dropped the term, with the latter noting that it is ‘increasingly associated with nativist and racist sentiments’. Avoiding such inflammatory terms isn’t euphemism; it’s accuracy.

But this July, the federal Department of Justice sent an email to all US attorneys’ offices instructing them never to use the term ‘undocumented immigrants’ and instead refer only to ‘illegal aliens’. In the context of thousands of immigrant children under the age of five being separated from their parents and detained literally in cages, the federal government is taking steps to ensure that only the most dehumanising possible term is used. That’s not a coincidence.Barbed wireWe see similar dehumanisation of migrants across Europe. Gerald Knaus of the European Stability Institute describes this as ‘a conscious policy to reintroduce language that was previously not acceptable in debate’. Obviously we can’t control what the politicians do, but we can push back when we see that sort of language being treated as normal discourse in the texts we edit.

Customer service

As editors, it’s our job to help our clients convey a message to an audience and to remove anything that gets in the way of that message, like unintended sexual connotations or grammatical mistakes. That includes protecting them from making gaffes or inadvertently causing offence. Often these mistakes come from ignorance or thoughtlessness.

There are also times where the author might not actually be flat-out wrong, but still manages to distract the reader. (This is why I advise writers to stay away from the word niggardly, even though its etymological origins have nothing to do with the racial slur.)

This doesn’t mean that you have to make your clients’ writing bland or inoffensive. Nor does it mean that you should shrug off or ignore or cover up writing that’s problematic. What it means is that if your author is going to offend anyone, you want that to be intentional. As an editor I’m a proxy for the reader, and if something causes a strong reaction in me, I want to be absolutely sure that it’s the reaction the author was going for.

We also have a responsibility to keep our authors up to date. Just as we would correct them if they used outdated tech terms, we can do the same when it comes to social issues. We’re not here to shame our authors or tell them they’re doing it all wrong. We’re here to make the finished product better, so a little tact can go a long way.

I try to assume the best of intentions on the author’s part and start from there. Most of the time it will end with the client thanking you.

Tools

If you’re writing about a specific community, check for style guides published by advocacy groups. If you find yourself working a lot on a specific issue, consider compiling your own stylesheet to help you keep things straight.

If you’re still not clear on certain terms or ideas, though, don’t just ignore them: make the effort to learn. Read books, articles and blogs by prominent members of the community you want to learn more about, consume their art, follow them on social media, or talk to them in person. If you do more listening than talking, you’ll pick up on a lot, not just about what terms people are using but also how people in that community are affected as human beings by language. And if you really need in-depth information you can’t find on your own, consider hiring one of the many people who offer consulting on these issues.

What if you screw up? Try not to get defensive or make it about yourself; listen and try to understand it from the reader’s perspective. Speaking up about oppressive language can be stressful, so the person taking the risk of pointing out your error is doing you a favour. Respect that, learn from it and try to do better. It gets easier with practice.

The bottom line is that if you’re editing only the words on the page, you’re not being thorough. We also have to read – and edit – what’s between the lines. That’s what inclusive editing is all about.

Sarah GreySarah Grey is a freelance editor and writer at Grey Editing LLC in Philadelphia, USA, and the 2016 recipient of the American Copy Editors Society’s Robinson Prize for Excellence in Copyediting. Before becoming a full-time freelancer, Sarah spent several years in the translation industry, where she learned the importance of cultural sensitivity and of understanding a text’s audience. She specialises in academic nonfiction, social justice, and food writing.

Posted by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator.

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