Monthly Archives: October 2018

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.

Is medical editing for you?

By Catherine Booth

Who can be a medical editor?

Medical editors need all of the usual editorial skills of proofreading and copyediting, combined with some knowledge of medicine, research or biology and an ability to work to tight deadlines. While medical editors come from all walks of life, a scientific degree or practical experience in medicine – perhaps as a nurse, pharmacist or research scientist – is a must.

Although some scientific or medical knowledge is important for a medical editor, it isn’t necessary to be a subject-matter expert. While it is often useful to have a background in the specific area at hand (eg cardiology), this isn’t always practical; as a medical editor, you might be asked to work on a journal article about diabetes one day and another on spinal surgery the next. But you are not writing the material – that is the job of the author, who should be a true subject-matter expert. You are the editor.

Pile of medical booksSo what is medical editing?

Medical editing involves applying standard editorial skills to medical subject matter, but also has some characteristics of its own. Medical editing projects often involve multiple authors, complex sign-off procedures, tight deadlines, exacting house style guides, many (often complex) figures and tables, and heavy referencing.

It is common to work with authors who have English as a second language. Medical editors should feel confident in asking authors for clarification, while acknowledging their expertise. You work as a team with the author: He or she is the expert in the medical subject matter, while you are the expert at getting across a particular message with clarity and accuracy.

Where could I find work?

Various people and businesses employ medical editors. Individual authors will often approach a medical editor to ‘polish’ their manuscript before submitting it to a journal, while bigger employers can include universities, publishers, medical or scientific societies, research institutions, government departments, medical communication agencies, pharmaceutical companies and patient-support or research-based charities.

All of these organisations have different characteristics, and the materials you will be asked to work on will vary according to the client. Journal publishers will ask you to proof PDFs or edit manuscripts in Word, for example, while medical communication agencies will often ask you to proof conference posters or to edit slide decks in PowerPoint.

With this in mind, you need to have a variety of skills in your toolbox and to be happy with working with a range of programs. In each case, one thing that it is important to understand as a medical editor is the audience for the materials you are working on; the acceptable level of complexity and medical terminology will vary depending on whether the material is aimed at researchers and clinicians or the general public.

What next?

Perhaps you’re already a competent editor with some kind of background in health and/or science and becoming a medical editor sounds like a great idea. Or you’re working within medical publishing and feel that you could do with a bit of training to formalise what you’re doing every day.

The SfEP’s online Medical Editing course aims to give you a general overview of the specialism of medical editing, and the chance to practise some of the key skills that you will need. It includes exercises to hone your skills, plus model answers to check you’re on the right track. You will also have support from an online tutor, so there’s someone available to answer your questions and give advice on next steps.

Could you be a medical editor? The SfEP’s Medical Editing course gives you one way to find out.

Shelf of medical books

Catherine Booth has been a freelance medical editor for more than 15 years, and works with a range of publishers and medcomms agencies. She is an Advanced Professional Member of the SfEP and the writer of the organisation’s Medical Editing course.

Posted by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator.

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

Editors and social media: Twitter

In the first of a new series looking at how editors use social media platforms, Kia Thomas talks about her Twitter motivations and habits.Twitter logoMy name’s Kia, and I’m a Twitterholic.

When and why did you start?

I find it very hard to believe that once there was a time I didn’t really understand Twitter. Why would you go on it? What was the point of telling strangers things in (then) 140-character bursts? And then one day in 2012, I decided to give it a go, and I was hooked. A bit too hooked – I lost many, many hours staring into my phone, and a couple of years later I decided to take a break. But when I started my editorial business in early 2016, I knew it was time to flex my Twitter muscles once more.

I went back to Twitter because my former experience had shown me it was – in amongst the political squabbling, Nicki Minaj GIFs, and cat pictures – a powerful tool for connecting with people. It’s a wonderful way to keep up to date with trends, issues and events in your industry – as a newcomer to publishing, this was invaluable to me. And there is, or at least there can be, a real sense of community on Twitter, if you can find the corner of it where your tribe hang out. Editing Twitter is definitely one of those corners – we chat, we laugh, we debate about all things word- and book-related (and food. There’s a lot of food in Editing Twitter).

What do you share?

I try to keep my Twitter posts mostly related to what I do, so at least vaguely connected to words and books and editing, but sometimes I veer off and post things that are more personal, such as tweets about my kids, especially if they’ve been particularly cute/enraging that day. One of the good things about Twitter is it’s easy to stay active even when you’re only popping on quickly – you can share other people’s tweets and content, or take part in whatever meme/game is currently doing the rounds, so If I’m busy and don’t want to spend too much time on Twitter, I do that.

When I do post more of my own content, my main concern is to keep it funny. I go on Twitter for business reasons, but as a reader/viewer/consumer, I want to be entertained, so that’s what I want to do for other people too. Sometimes I’m pretty sure I’m only amusing myself, but some of my original content gives other people a giggle too – a recent thread I wrote outlining a DEFINITELY REAL AND ACCURATE (spoiler: not so much) approach to editorial pricing seemed to go down pretty well. It garnered lots of retweets and several cry-laugh emojis, anyway. I also use Twitter to share my blog posts, and grumble about Microsoft Word (don’t we all?).

Twitter thread by Kia Thomas

When do you share?

I try to tweet most days, but less frequently if I’m trying to stay away from Twitter for time-saving purposes. I spend barely any time composing most of my tweets, because I am naturally spontaneously hilarious, interesting and wise. But If I’m tweeting something designed to be more engaging, such as my #TheDailySwear tweets (last year, I tweeted one compound swearword every day, with my personal preference on how it should be styled), or a blog post, that obviously takes me longer. My ‘comedy’ threads don’t take me all that long, because they’re pretty much just me opening my brain and letting some silliness fall out. The most time-consuming part is arranging the text so the tweets don’t go over the character limit!

Why do you do it?

Well firstly, because it’s fun, especially when I get to be silly. Some people might baulk at that as a marketing strategy, but it works for me and my personality (humour is all I have, dammit! And swearing. Don’t forget the swearing). But I also love Twitter because working at home on your own can be really lonely. Twitter and other social media are like my virtual office, providing me with colleagues to chat to and connect with. It gives me a sense of belonging to a community, and that can be invaluable in fighting isolation. It provides networking opportunities – I have definitely had work and other professional opportunities that I can trace to Twitter. For example, this year I gave a session on swearing at the SfEP conference, which came about because of a blog post I wrote that was based on my Daily Swear tweets.

What about other social media platforms?

Twitter is the social media platform I find the most interesting and easy to use. I do also have Facebook, but I post very little on there outside of the groups, and my poor business page is horribly neglected. I recently signed up to Instagram, despite the fact that I’m absolutely terrible at taking pictures, and I have my Instagram account linked to my Twitter, so it’s a good, quick way of sharing more visual content on Twitter.

Any advice?

Twitter can be an amazing place to network with colleagues and potential clients and can lead to work. But it’s important not to approach it solely as a marketing opportunity. It’s easy to think you can go on Twitter, say ‘Hire me, I’m awesome’ and wait for the offers to roll in, but in reality it doesn’t work like that. Relentless self-promotion is boring, both to the person doing it and those reading it. Social media networking is like all networking – it works best when you are sincere. Be interested and interesting, help as much as you ask for help, and you’ll find the experience so much more rewarding. I use Twitter to build my online presence in the hope it will help my business be successful, sure, but I’m also building real connections that benefit me in so many more ways than just the prospect of work.

There’s a dark side to Twitter – there are some terrible people on there, there’s an awful lot of news that can make you angry, and it can be an astonishing time-suck – so take steps to protect your time, energy and mental health. Take breaks when you feel overwhelmed by it, realise you don’t have to read or respond to everything, set up filters so you don’t see things that distract you – whatever you need to do to manage your experience and set boundaries. But if you can get the balance right, there’s a wonderful community there just waiting to welcome you with open digital arms. And cat pictures.

Kia ThomasKia Thomas spent 12 years in the arts before becoming a freelance fiction editor at the beginning of 2016. She specialises in contemporary romance and is an Intermediate Member of the SfEP. Kia lives in South Tyneside, and she can often be found networking with her colleagues in online spaces (i.e. spending too much time on Twitter).

 

Posted by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator.

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

 

Wise owls: networking

Networking works in different ways for different people – the wise owls are back to share their experiences and preferences.

Metal owl ornaments huddled on a shelf

The parliament has also grown this month, with three new owls offering their maiden contributions: please welcome Louise Bolotin, Michael Faulkner and Nik Prowse, all Advanced Professional Members of the SfEP.

Louise BolotinLouise Bolotin

I’m not a fan of formalised networking. At business networking meetings, the chat to others often feels forced and you’re supposed to have a dinky little elevator speech – it can get quite competitive and if you’re not a slick business type it’s easy to feel your face doesn’t fit.

Most such meetings I’ve attended in the past have involved breakfast and as I don’t usually eat until after 11am and never talk to anyone until I’m fully caffeinated, I long ago stopped inflicting such events on myself.

If you’re not a morning person, find an evening networking event if you can as there is usually a glass of wine on offer and a little booze can be a useful lubricant if you’re hesitant to go up to strangers and introduce yourself.

I haven’t stopped networking, however. I just take a more informal sideswipe at it. And where do I network? Everywhere. Bus stops, trains, the corner shop, the lifts in my block of flats… I make a point of talking to anyone. Networking is much more about building personal relationships, than practising an elevator speech everyone will have forgotten within five minutes. So make it personal. Have a funky business card and spread it around liberally, even in places you wouldn’t think to.

And make yourself memorable. My tip is to say something about yourself that’s not work-related. “I’m Louise, I’m a freelance editor and when I’m off-duty I like going to gigs. Who’s your favourite band?” A bit of small talk and, then, if you think it might be fruitful go in for the kill – subtly. I prefer, however, to see networking as a long game as it takes time to get to know people and understand how you might be able to work together.

Michael FaulknerMichael Faulkner

If you are interested in proofreading dissertations and theses, scour your address book for academic types with contacts in the universities, talk to people who are at or who have recently left uni, and join the alumni family of your own institution (if appropriate) – all with the aim of building a list of current profs across all the disciplines with which you’re comfortable. Then research the institutions’ proofreading policy and make a direct approach by email to each person identified, offering your services with the usual caveats. For a supervisor with language-challenged students, a trusted proofreader who understands the parameters is a time-saving resource, and they will come back again and again and will pass your name around.

Always carry a card and practise a concise pitch, cleverly disguised as small talk, which you can wheel out at any gathering. It’s amazing how many people there are who haven’t a clue what editing is about but who can still offer you work. If you edit fiction, for example, be aware that in any group of people there may well be one or two who have a novel in them, or a friend who writes, or an exercise book of poems at the back of the cupboard.

During the life of any project, get to know your client and, without being a pain, make sure the experience is fun. This will lead to repeat business and a growing network through referrals.
Allocate time-limited slots for daily social networking. LinkedIn is invaluable for cold introductions (‘You don’t know me, but we’re Linked’). Facebook groups and online editors’ organisations are great for accumulating knowledge and widening your list of contacts (and have a look beyond editorial groups at those servicing your target market – an obvious example for a fiction editor is a writers’ organisation with a directory of services for writers).

Finally, I find lots of referrals are generated by constructive engagement on the Society’s forums. Conversations begun there can be carried on by email, and a list of trusted colleagues can be built up quite quickly to whom work can be referred – which of course is a two-way street.

Liz JonesLiz Jones

I find networking easier to stomach if I don’t actually think of it as networking. For me it’s more about having conversations that reveal shared interests or a personal connection, and they can happen anywhere – it doesn’t have to be in the context of a business breakfast at the local work hub, or some other kind of formal networking event.

Some of my most successful ‘networking’, in terms of commissions won and money in my business bank account, has taken place at SfEP conferences or local group meetings, over coffee. Other ‘networking’ has happened on Twitter, and the connections I’ve made there have tended to be people who might share a professional specialism, yet have responded to me for some of the more offbeat, non-editorial things I share. This goes to show that there’s scope to relax and be yourself. In fact, I would argue that it’s essential. Not everyone will ‘get’ you, but those who do will truly value what you have to offer.

Another source of interaction that might classify as ‘networking’ has been via my blog, which often veers away from the strictly informational, editorial type of post and into the personal – and conversations arise from that. Again, not everyone will like it, but many people appreciate the honesty and like knowing that there’s a real person behind my website, who will take proper human care over their work. A final thing about networking: the editorial world is surprisingly small. Be nice to everyone (or if you can’t be nice, keep quiet). Give it a few years, and that newbie editorial intern you were patient with could turn out to be the publishing director… and with luck, they’ll still be sending work your way, and suggesting that their staff do too.

Sue LittlefordSue Littleford

I am a very reluctant networker. Not for me attending functions and introducing myself to strangers. But I refuse to feel guilty that I take a more sotto voce approach. I may not get the wide visibility that the more active marketers achieve, but I’m okay with that.

There are, however, small things you can do. A couple of Christmases ago, I sent out cards to my contacts, as I usually do (most of my work is repeat business). At the last moment, I popped a business card in each envelope. Hey presto – two clients I’d not worked with for a few months promptly booked me in straight after Christmas (mentioning it was getting my card that made them contact me), and I’ve worked several more times for each one since.

I always have at least a couple of business cards on me when I leave the house. You simply never know who you’re going to bump into – at a reunion recently, a friend I’d not seen for ages wanted to pass on my details to someone she knew. Easily done with the card I gave her.
At an SfEP conference I got talking to one of the speakers, who duly asked for my card – which, fortunately, I had on me. That got me more than half a dozen books to copy-edit.
I do do social media – mostly Facebook and Twitter. I got very grumpy with the discussion groups on LinkedIn, but I do keep an inactive profile there that I remember to update once in a blue moon, and if I’ve had a good interaction with someone in a Facebook editors’ group, I’ll eventually get over to LinkedIn and offer to link with that person. I’ve not got any jobs from my social media (so far as I know), but for me it’s more about adding to my online presence to give prospective clients a feel for me as a copy-editor.

If you’re a happy active networker, great. If you’re not, don’t despair – small actions can work very well indeed.

Nik ProwseNik Prowse

There is more than one reason to network as an editorial freelance, and they serve different purposes. It’s not a case of ‘today I will do some networking’ but rather having an open mind about anyone you encounter in a business context. Part of this does involve actively seeking out a person with the aim of securing work, but it may just be a case of not turning your back on a working relationship that hasn’t always gone smoothly.

If you work with someone who you don’t get along with, not cutting your ties, not telling them what you think in a way that ends that relationship, may well serve you better in the long run than expressing your feelings in the present. You may decide that you don’t want to work with that particular person again, but keeping your bridges unburnt will keep the door open. The way a person comes across or acts can be the result of the organisation they are working within. In the future, that person may move to a different company with a different outlook. They may remember you and look you up, offering work. You might change your mind about perceived interpersonal difficulties if you find yourself short of work. Or the person may have a much more pleasant colleague whom they suggest you to, which could lead to a different, more fruitful relationship.

Keep doors open once a job is finished. I always aim to end a project on an upbeat note, perhaps with a cheery email to say how much I’ve enjoyed the work, wishing them good luck with the remainder of the production process and indicating my availability for the coming weeks. There are often projects in the pipeline. I work especially hard at this if it’s the first job for a new client, because repeat work is the Holy Grail in this instance. If your contact doesn’t have any work coming up, perhaps a colleague does? Often they will offer to circulate your name, or you could ask them to.

Maintaining links with people who work for your clients can sometimes be tricky: jobs change, roles merge (sadly, redundancies happen) and people move on. If I get a whiff of anyone moving on I always ask where to. They may be going to another company – read: potential client – with which you can forge a new connection. Freelancing is a lonely business, and having friendly personal contact with the people you work with (=for) can be rewarding. But it can also be good in terms of networking.

Finally, probably the most personally rewarding type of networking is the sort you do with freelance colleagues, the others at the coal face. This is one of the most valued aspects of my membership of the SfEP, with the local groups and the online community of the forums. This is where problems can be shared, solutions found, ideas started, and friendships made. Recently I made an effort to connect to a lot more editors on Twitter, and it’s made me feel part of a true community.

 

Posted by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator.

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

 

Talking Tech with BookMachine

By Anya Hastwell

“Find the thing that annoys you the most – and then try and fix it,”

says Sara O’Connor, Bibliocloud’s full stack developer at BookMachine’s recent Talking Tech event in London.

You’d be easily forgiven if your initial impression of an event encouraging publishing folk to learn tech is that that it will lure them away to pursue a more profitable career in another industry … but you’d be wrong. Sort of. (Touch wood.) What the event’s speakers want to encourage is for publishing folk to be inspired to learn more tech skills that can make their own working lives easier, as the publishing industry is – and has been for some years now – becoming more digital. A perfect example is that of educational publishing, where tech is making waves not only in making learning texts digital, but also with apps, online platforms and programs for homework tracking, online marking, assessment tracking, learning games, and others. But how can we make our tech and products more user-friendly?

Computer code

To answer this question and others, let’s go to the speakers on our all-women panel. Our host Emma Barnes, founder and CEO of Bibliocloud and MD of Snowbooks, starts things off. After being made redundant from a consultancy firm, Emma founded her own independent publisher, Snowbooks, before teaching herself to code and build systems within Excel to speed up the admin side of her business. (Yes, Excel really can be programming … ). She went on a coding boot camp via Code Bar, a charity that aims to make coding more accessible (she also recommends railstutorials.org). From having with no previous coding experience, Emma became a software engineer and went on to build Bibliocloud (now called Consonance), a publishing management software.

”Learn as much programming as you have the appetite for. It means you won’t be taken in by some flashy web developer, it gives you the agency to make good decisions. Tech is the new literacy … There is always a way to automate yourself out of misery.”

Next up is Lola Odelola, software engineer and founder of blackgirl.tech, an organisation that aims to help diversify the tech industry. Lola studied English literature and creative writing at university. While job hunting after graduation, she decided she wanted to build a website for herself to showcase her writing.

“After realising poets only make money when they’re dead, I set up a website for myself to try moving into journalism. I was jobless so I had a lot of time on my hands. I loved it, so then I did a bootcamp for 6 months.”

While seeing that there was some (gender) diversity in the tech industry – much like publishing – she saw there was still a long way to go before this stretched towards diversity in ethnicity: “Before I started coding I knew nothing about screen readers or accessibility, but I had friends who were getting tagged in photos by AI as apes. Tech should be making life easier for people on the margins.”

The importance of diversity within the tech teams creating our products is therefore vital for making publishing tech and other products more user-friendly and accessible, as such problems would be identified earlier and certainly caught before release to the wider public.
The coding language Ruby gets some extremely good press here tonight, which our next speaker Sara O’Connor recommends heartily. Sara started her career in children’s book publishing as an editorial assistant, and turned to tech to find better ways of doing boring and repetitive admin tasks, before working up the ranks to editorial director. She started off with no coding experience before doing a couple of week-long coding courses and then a three-month bootcamp, before returning to publishing with an array of new skills as Bibliocloud’s full stack developer.

“I’m a full stack developer building the software I wish I had when I was an editor. I advocate Ruby for publishing folks because it’s like a book. It’s an object-oriented language, and we’re already used to reading.”

The issue of diversity comes to the fore again as our last speaker, Janneke Niessen (entrepreneur, investor, board member, Improve Digital, Inspiring Fifty, Project Prep), reminds us that without diversity in tech, the future is not inclusive. “Algorithms are not neutral.” It seems that artificial intelligence stealing our jobs or killer robots are not the real danger, but our own bias, conscious or unconscious, is. Janneke proceeded to tell us a story of when she asked her son what he thought she did for a living. “A princess who dances!” was his reply. So she set about videoing herself while working, explaining what she was doing and why she was doing it to show him what she actually did at work. Janneke showed us some slides while giving us plenty to think about: some 65% of children in school today will have a job that does not yet exist; people’s ability to think differently, be different and challenge previous concepts of how things ‘should’ be done are valuable – people who can be flexible and mutable, and who do not necessarily fit in, are those who companies need to hire in order to change and keep up with the times.

Presentation slide about diversity and investment

This was quite possibly my favourite BookMachine event of those I’ve been to, and it did make me think about what we define as ‘coding’… Many among the SfEP’s ranks are either familiar with or swear by the use of Word macros (quite literally, sometimes). Very often, macros are the only way of being make certain projects achievable within a budget and timescale given by a publisher.

Whether you want to find some neat tricks in Excel to speed up your admin, start using some really clever Word macros that will do a lot of your editing dirty work for you, or update your CV with the kind of skills that could open doors to some really covetable workplaces and clients, there’s no doubt that the publishing industry needs people with a talent for tech, who can use it for an audience’s benefit.

How you want to apply these skills, and how far, is completely down to you. You’re still the one pressing the button.

Anya HastwellAnya Hastwell is an Advanced Professional Member of the SfEP as well as serving as its professional development director. After working in-house for several publishers for nearly 10 years she went freelance in 2014, and works on an enticing array of non-fiction material from medicine to history, ably distracted assisted by three feline helpers.

 

Posted by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator.

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