Monthly Archives: November 2018

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.

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