Author Archives: Abi Saffrey

Wise owls: a nugget of wisdom

The SfEP’s wise owls are back – and have been thinking about what little nugget of wisdom they would love to have been able to tell their newbie selves…


Two stone owl ornaments, on a log in front of a flourishing garden

Sue LittlefordSue Littleford

Find out what you need before buying

Start small, and don’t anticipate your needs, which translates into Think Before You Spend. As a rookie (copy-editing is my second career, and I had no prior experience in, nor even links to, publishing), I was keen to set everything up ‘properly’ – even before I had a business to speak of. I’d talked to freelancers I knew in a different field and they recommended setting up as a limited company from the get-go. All that money wasted when I was just setting up and every penny counted. Ouch! Turns out, in EditorLand at least, being a limited company is almost always something you grow into – and may never need. Then there were all those books. So many books! I never need an excuse to buy books – and I suspect neither do you. Hold back. Some were essential once I’d got myself some clients, but most were outclassed by the internet. (The internet can be fickle, so I’d recommend having your most heavily used resources in hard copy too, if they exist.) Amazon was already well established when I was starting out – I could get books the next day if I wanted. So that’s my nugget of wisdom – find out what you need, then buy it. Don’t buy anything and everything vaguely to do with editing and writing to see if you actually will use it. New business owners, repeat after me: it’s easier to save money than to make money. (But do invest in training!)

Melanie ThompsonMelanie Thompson reading the SfEP guide 'Pricing a project'

Take time off if you’re faced with a family crisis

It’s easy to think you can power through problems, or use work as a ‘distraction’, but you can’t be sure your concentration will be sufficient to keep all the plates spinning, and your clients won’t thank you for a rushed or below-par job.

Michael FaulknerMike Faulkner

Know your limitations

I began my freelance career with proofreading, and my biggest challenge from the start was to stick to the parameters, my course tutor Gillian Clarke’s admonition ringing in my ears: ‘Leave well enough alone!’ It’s excellent advice and I did try, but I found myself adding more and more marginal comments to the proofs until eventually I was reframing with gay abandon.

My lightbulb moment came several years later, when I finally admitted to myself that I was not temperamentally equipped to be a proofreader. I didn’t have the self-discipline. Gillian had been right in her assessment that I was too inclined to intervene, and by then I was really pushing the boundaries, encouraged by a law publisher from whom I was getting a lot of work (still am) and whose senior editor said she ‘appreciated proofers who approach everything with an elegant scepticism’. When I made the switch to copy-editing I was much more comfortable.
So, my advice to my freshman freelance self would be, ‘Know your limitations!’.

Liz JonesLiz Jones

Learn to chill out

It always feels good to push yourself hard, to please a client, to go the extra mile, to bask in praise for all your hours of hard work and extraordinary diligence. But remember to look after yourself too, and establish boundaries. So, learn to recognise unreasonable requests, and then learn to say no to them. Learn to give yourself time off. Learn to question whether it really needs to be done by last thing on a Friday, or if Monday morning would be just as good. Learn to look hard at what the client is offering and assess whether it’s as good a deal for you as it is for them. Learn to say no as well as yes. Learn to ask for what you need to do a job well, and to have a life outside of work. Learn to chill out.

Hazel BirdHazel Bird

Have confidence, and prioritise

This year, my editorial business turned ten. In those ten years I’ve vastly expanded both my skillset (from being nervous of any copy-editing at all to managing and co-editing multi-million-word works) and my subject specialisms (who knew this English literature graduate would end up copy-editing postgraduate-level psychology?).

The nugget of wisdom I’d give to my 2009 self has two parts. The first would be to have confidence in exploring the aforementioned skillset and specialisms. As long as it is done mindfully, incrementally and with due diligence, expanding into new and varied realms can be one of the most rewarding aspects of editorial work.

The second part would be to prioritise finding a time-planning system capable of forming a solid foundation for this expansion. I have pretty much never missed a deadline, but sometimes that has been to the detriment of my work–life balance. I wouldn’t tell 2009 me never to take jobs that would involve working crazy hours (such opportunities can pay off exorbitantly in terms of job satisfaction and stability). However, I would encourage her to put more energy, earlier on, into finding a system that quantified the crazy, so as to be able to make better-informed choices about what an opportunity would cost in terms of time.

 

Proofread by Joanne Heath, Entry-Level Member.

Posted by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator.

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

Editing across time zones

By Janet MacMillan

Earth from space, one half in sunlight, one in darkness

There’s no doubt now that editing is a global profession. Not only are there a significant number of international members of the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP), an even greater number of us have clients all over the world.

Editing in a variety of Englishes – for example, British, Canadian, American, Australian, New Zealand – doesn’t faze many of us these days. Our love of language and communication, to say nothing of the ability to travel widely, be it virtually in online groups (which include the SfEP’s active forums) or in real life, has led a large number of us to embrace the world as global editors.

Getting to grips with time zones

Time zones are often the international editor’s best friend, once the editor does the mental gymnastics to figure out what time 9am in Singapore (or anywhere else around the world) is when they are in Toronto (which is my hometown and where I spend a good deal of my time). Can the editor in Toronto, who receives a 3,000-word document for an international organisation at 5pm local time, meet the deadline of 9am the next morning in Singapore? Can the editor in Hampshire, who gets a request at 9pm to edit a 6,000-word document with a deadline of 9pm Pacific Time that day, meet the deadline? And can the editor in Shanghai who wakes up to a request to edit a 10,000-word document by 10am Eastern Time that day take on the job?

The answer for all three editors is yes. A resounding yes. The editor in Toronto will work out that 9am the next day in Singapore is actually 9pm that day for them, so with four hours in hand, the job can be done, delivered to the client, leaving time for dinner and a glass of wine once the job is done.

Four clocks on a wall: one showing the time in London, one New York, one Tokyo and one Moscow

As to the editor in Shanghai, they’re laughing. They have so much time in hand – at least 14 hours, depending on when they check their emails in the morning – they can join their friend for coffee that morning, then do the edit, returning it to their client so it’s there hours in advance.

At first glance, the editor in Hampshire seems to have a problem. They know that the eight-hour time difference means they’d have to get the job done by 5am GMT, which would mean more than burning the midnight oil. And they’ve already enjoyed dinner and a drink. But that editor’s reality is that all is far from lost. They belong to an international collective of editors who are, in effect, able to provide a seamless service pretty well around the clock; and the request has come from a very regular client that all of their colleagues – wherever they are located – can and do undertake work for. So, they check that one of their colleagues in Toronto can fit in the work; and as the Toronto editor has eight hours to do the job, all is well. Happy client, happy editorial professionals. What’s not to like?!

The reader doesn’t need to be Einstein to work out that in this tale, I’m the editor in Toronto (though it could just as easily be either of the other two collective members who are in Toronto). With collective members in various time zones, we’re able to take on work with short timelines, and often that work is a largish document that arrives late in the day, wherever the editor is.

Global colleagues and opportunities

Sometimes people think time zones make working for global organisations difficult. While I suppose for some it might, for those who are up for a challenge, and who like a huge variety of work from an equally huge array of clients, time zones are wonderful. And clients can often take advantage of time zones to have urgent, time-sensitive documents efficiently edited (or proofread), especially when editorial professionals work in a team.

Not all that long ago, my colleagues and I were asked to proof-edit a 35,000-word document for a global professional services firm. The request came in at 5pm Toronto time (Eastern Time), with a deadline of 8am Eastern Time the next day. A daunting prospect, but we knew it could be done. One of us set to a couple of hours later, doing certain tasks on the document, then downed tools before their head was drooping, and a colleague in Aberdeen took over, finished the document and returned it with a bit of time to spare. Again, happy client, happy editorial professionals. And time zones were our friend, enabling us to work efficiently and effectively.

However, I do need to admit that working across all the time zones in the world is not for the faint of heart, but it is hugely interesting and equally invigorating. Getting to know clients and cultures and different ways of doing things around the world is a joy. It does require very efficient methods of working, a high degree of flexibility and, preferably, a team of trusted colleagues, be those colleagues a more formal grouping, as my colleagues and I are, or a more informal, ad hoc arrangement.

 

Janet MacMillanJanet MacMillan is an Advanced Professional Member of the SfEP specialising in law, international development, politics and all the social sciences, who, along with her Editing Globally colleagues, provides editorial services to everyone, everywhere. Following a successful career as a lawyer, mostly in the UK and Europe, Janet’s main base is now in Toronto with her Best Dog in the World, but she spends periods of time each year in rural Suffolk. Janet is the coordinator of the SfEP Cloud Club (a monthly in-real-time ‘local’ group for international members, and others), a co-coordinator of the lively and expanding Toronto SfEP group, and attends both the Norfolk and Cambridge SfEP groups when she can. She likes time zones, and this article was written while she crossed five of them.

 

Proofread by Joanne Heath, Entry-Level Member.

Posted by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator.

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

Excellence


Susie Dent's Wonderful Words

English revels in the bad, sad, seamy side of life – any slang thesaurus, for example, will provide far more words for misery and failure than for happiness and success. Which means synonyms for ‘excellence’, as in the title of the SfEP’s newsletter Editorial Excellence, should be particularly cherished.

The Oxford English Dictionary provides a number of historical superlatives well worth resurrecting. We’ve sadly lost, for example, ‘lollapalooza’, a gem from the US for anything outstanding in its field. It sits alongside the equally expressive ‘humdinger’, another US term for something so good it positively zings.

Something may be such hot stuff it’s ‘mustard’, a 19th-century term of approbation implying piquancy and zest, best known in the expression ‘cut the mustard’ (‘cut’ here works in the same way as ‘she cuts a fine figure’).

Close up of yellow mustard flowers, with a yellow field of mustard flowers behindA person of brilliant attainments, meanwhile, might be a ‘diamond’ – a glittering example in their field. Or they may be ‘peachy’, a simple play on something sweet and juicy. Their brilliance might even have once led to the epithet ‘carbuncle’, rarely associated with positivity these days but originally described as a precious stone (rather than a swelling) of blazing, fiery red.

More obviously wonderful is a ‘corker’ – something so fizzy it pops – and a ‘ripsnorter’ – anything remarkable in terms of size, vigour or appearance. Alternatively, you might describe something first-rate as a ‘spanker’, ‘tip-topper’, ‘phoenicle’ (a little phoenix), ‘bobby-dazzler’, ‘beaut’, ‘pippin’, ‘bosker’ or ‘killer-diller’. Or possibly a ‘screamer’, too, once another name for the exclamation mark. All of which are ‘bonzer’, a classic Australian adjective that’s an alteration of ‘bonanza’ and comes ultimately from the Spanish for ‘fair weather’.

Finally, let’s not forget the fanciful phrases we’ve come to love for any acme of excellence or pinnacle of success. Joining the ‘bee’s knees’, back in the 1920s, were the ‘kipper’s knickers’, the ‘caterpillar’s kimono’, and the ‘elephant’s adenoids’. These, of course, were born out of our love of fanciful word play, but there is another favourite in the list that once enjoyed a very different life before joining the lexicon of distinction. ‘The dog’s bollocks’ was first recorded among printers, who used it to refer to the typographical colon-dash :-, thanks to its shape.

Excellence: something to strive for, if not always easy to achieve. At least we’ll have plenty of ways to describe it once we get there.

Susie Dent, honorary vice-president of the Society for Editors and ProofreadersWonderful Words is a regular feature by Susie Dent, honorary vice-president of the SfEP. Susie is a writer and broadcaster on language. She is perhaps best known as the resident word expert on C4’s Countdown.

 

 

Proofread by Joanne Heath, Entry-Level Member.

Posted by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator.

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

Editing translated or non-native English

By Allison Turner
Large, flat stone with an engraving that says 'A translation from one language to another'

I like to think of editing as bridging the gap between what the writer wants to communicate and what the reader actually understands. If the writing has been translated or written in a language other than the writer’s native one, that gap is typically wider. That’s why an editor of translated or non-native English has a few extra points technical and stylistic to look out for.

The first aspects to be aware of are the technical ones arising from the differences between the source language of the translation or the writer’s best language, as the case may be, and English. An obvious example is false friends – words that look very similar in the two languages but have different meanings. For example, several European languages have a word similar to ‘eventually’ that, instead of meaning ‘at some point in the distant future’, means ‘possibly’.

At the next level up, the sentence level, it helps to know how the grammar of the writer’s language differs from English grammar. For example, Italian rarely uses subject pronouns and Russian has no articles, so writers from those language backgrounds may have trouble with these issues. I have an Italian client whose English is great, but she occasionally misses the ‘there’ in a sentence like ‘There are many reasons.’ Not surprising, since its purpose is purely grammatical rather than meaningful – but it can be confusing if you don’t expect it (especially when the sentence is more complicated than that).

I see this type of editing as a kind of word puzzle, especially if I know the writer’s native language at least a little. ‘What word could they have mistranslated into this one?’ or ‘How would this sentence likely have been written?’ German – which I can confidently say I know at least a little – is particularly fun for this, as it has some word order rules entirely different from English ones.

Scattered Scrabble letter tiles

A professional translator will know how to avoid these technical traps, but there are stylistic issues to be aware of that apply to translations as well as non-native writing. One of these is words that are not so much false friends as fair-weather friends. These have quite similar denotations but a different connotation or tone. For example, a Portuguese speaker might use ‘foment’ to describe creating something positive, but that would sound odd to English ears. Or a French speaker may use a word that is more recherché than the tone of the text calls for, because the French cognate is much less obscure.

It’s a good idea to clarify the connotations are correct. For example, I might say ‘This sounds harsh (or flippant, or negative) – is it meant to?’ Of course this is true of all editing, but I think it’s more likely that a non-native writer will not realise how they are coming across.

On a more general level, different languages have different ideas of style. My grammar teacher put it this way: ‘English likes verbs, French likes nouns.’ So a sentence that sounds good in French could sound quite stuffy in English, simply because it has too many abstract nouns that could easily have been verbs. Or a writer who speaks Arabic, which tends to be more flowery than English, might in English come across as excessively wordy.

The last thing to think about – and arguably the most important – is the author’s voice. If the author’s English isn’t great or is non-existent, what we want is not quite their own voice, but more like an idealised version of it. I speak French and German regularly, but I know I’m not as smart in French or as funny in German as I am in English. I don’t edit fiction, and I’m sure there are additional considerations for those who do, but every piece of writing expresses something about the writer – whether they want to show themselves to be knowledgeable, or approachable, or empathic, or witty, or all of the above. A good editor can help with this.

I need to conclude by admitting that sometimes I really don’t know what the writer means. In such a case, I still almost always offer one or more suggestions. Even if I’m way off, in most cases the user can tell from my guess what went wrong, and eventually (in the English sense!) together we come to the best way of expressing it. One of my favourite clients said it best: ‘You think with and for me.’

Allison TurnerAllison Turner is a textual healer and a Professional Member of the SfEP. A Canadian who lives in Switzerland and a former ESL teacher, she edits almost exclusively non-native and translated English, mainly for academics and entrepreneurs.

 

 

Proofread by Joanne Heath, Entry-Level Member.

Posted by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator.

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

The SfEP: a timeline

Society of Editors and Proofreaders Newsletter, May 1996

The Society for Editors and Proofreaders has come a long way since it was established over 30 years ago – here’s a summary of the key events and developments.

November 1988
Editorial professionals need a professional body and a way to reduce isolation, and Norma Whitcombe recognises that need. Norma calls a meeting, which 60 people attend, and the Society of Freelance Copy-Editors and Proofreaders is founded.

1989
The first training courses are developed and delivered.

1990
The Society’s first conference takes place. The directory of members’ services is published for the first time.

1995
The Society’s formal mentorship programme begins. The first version of the Code of Practice is issued.

1997
The directory of members’ services is made available online, as well as in print.

1999
SfEPLine, an online mailing list for members, is established.

2001
The organisation becomes the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP), and in-house staff are welcomed as members. Membership grades are implemented for the first time.

2003
The SfEP is incorporated, with a board of 12 directors and offices in London. Some staff members have worked for the Society since its incorporation.

2004
The newsletter CopyRight becomes the magazine Editing Matters.

A table covered with copies of leaflets about what the SfEP does and can offer2006
The first of a range of guides about being an editorial professional is published. The directory of members’ services becomes online only.

2012
SfEPLine becomes an online forum, and other forums join it.

2014
The basic editorial test, based on the SfEP editorial syllabus, is introduced. Online training is launched. The first mini-conference, organised by SfEP’s local groups in Scotland, is held in Edinburgh.

2015
Grades of membership are revised to give four grades – Entry Level, Intermediate, Professional and Advanced Professional – alongside Corporate Subscribers and Friends.

2016
The Society declares its aim to become a chartered institution.

2018
The Society’s membership reaches 2,700, including freelance members, in-house members and members across the globe. The first international mini-conference takes place in Toronto in November.

Lynne Murphy talking to a lecture hall full of editors at the 2018 SfEP Conference

For more details, see the edited history of the SfEP.

Proofread by Joanne Heath, Entry-Level Member.

Posted by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator.

 

BookMachine: three benefits for editors and proofreaders

By Laura Summers

I run BookMachine, a thriving community for publishing professionals. We have been running for nearly nine years now and we pride ourselves on our ability to connect the people who actually make publishing happen. If you are looking to work on new projects and be at the forefront of the industry, then BookMachine is for you.

BookMachine logo

Here are three ways we can help you.

1. Access to book fairs

Traditionally, book fairs were the land of rights and editorial professionals – those negotiating over the finer points of a book sale. Starting at 8am, and often finishing in the early evening, fairs were a time to discuss upcoming titles for sale and meet potential partners from all over the world.

This is still at the heart of a book fair; however, there is a lot happening these days that can also benefit the rest of us – and that includes copy-editors and proofreaders. Over 25,000 publishing professionals will attend the London Book Fair next week and it is free to attend for BookMachine members. There is a packed seminar programme designed to provide knowledge, tools and insight for everyone working in the industry; and a host of opportunities to meet interesting industry professionals.

BookMachine always organise an informal event on the Wednesday afternoon – an opportunity for professionals to meet each other and relax after a day of meetings or seminars.

In the evening, we work in partnership with the London Book Fair team and host the Global Gathering, the goal of which is to help international visitors and UK publishers to meet and mingle, again in an informal setting.

2. Industry knowledge from your desk

If alongside your work, you crave knowledge, ideas and personal development, then you can access our knowledge base for free.

Like the SfEP blog, we aim to enhance the lives of our community. Unlike the SfEP blog, we don’t write exclusively for editors and proofreaders. The site collates articles divided into six channels – tech, design, editorial, marketing, business and audio. If you work in editorial, please don’t just read the editorial channel. The idea is to encourage people in different departments to work together. All the blog posts have been designed to help us do this.

We have been curating industry insights on the blog for such a long time that, whatever you are interested in finding out, we should have the answers for you. However, as an editor, if you can’t find a question answered, or think you have a better angle on one of our ideas – please let us know. We are an industry site, and although our expert Editorial Board keep us informed, there are always going to be niche areas we could all learn more about.

3. Industry knowledge on a night out

Early on in our own publishing careers we identified that many events for publishers are really quite formal and expensive. Unless an employer or client offers to pay for this, it can be quite prohibitive. We knew so many people wanting to learn more – but on their own terms, from their own pocket and in order to boost their own careers. This drove us to create events which are accessible to everyone (although we know we need to venture out of London more).

People gathered at a BookMachine event, in front of a neon sign saying 'Shhh.... it's a library'

Since 2010 we have hosted over 100 events for these people who actually make publishing happen, and in 2019 our event series BookMachine Unplugged is back to offer even more insight. There will be six informal events, each of which will zoom in on a vital area of the publishing industry and feature three expert speakers. Each evening has been programmed by an Editorial Board member and has been designed to inspire you with real insights into what is working in publishing right now. The events aren’t expensive to attend (£10 or free for BookMachine members) and we guarantee that editors and proofreaders will learn something interesting and meet someone new.

 

Laura SummersLaura Summers co-founded BookMachine in 2010, initially as an informal way for publishers to meet each other at events, and then as a popular site for anyone building a publishing career. The team have now organised over 100 events. In 2017 she launched BookMachine Works, a creative events and marketing agency, specialising in the publishing industry. Laura has spoken about events and publishing at the Frankfurt Book Fair, the London Book Fair, IPG Digital Quarterly, the Galley Club, BIC battles, Women in Publishing and the SYP conference.

Posted by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator.

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

The benefits of young editors

By Rachel Rowlands

Older man sat among piles of books, reading

I was browsing social media recently and came across a comment from an experienced editor who was worrying about the future of language because of younger editors and how they work. It got me thinking about ageism in publishing – as well as those that think someone can be too young to edit, there was an article floating around not too long ago about whether or not people can be too old to edit.

I started my freelance business when I was 26. I’ve grappled with being taken seriously as a ‘younger professional’ – and I put that in quotes because I’m closer to 30 now. I’ve always looked a lot younger than I am, and I’m aware that many editors (and writers) have years on me, and much more experience and knowledge behind them from lengthy publishing careers, or other careers entirely.

Young adult sat on red chair, reading a red book

Different experience and knowledge

People often overlook that, although younger editors might not have 20 or 30 years of experience, they might have other experience that forms a solid foundation for building a career. Internships, work with student newspapers, years of reading certain types of books, degrees in specialist subjects.

Younger editors and publishing professionals have a lot to give. Language is constantly evolving, and younger professionals are often more clued up on newer slang terms, including internet and entertainment slang, or slang among young people. Fandom vocabulary, anyone? It’s not about destroying the future of the English language, either; it’s about keeping up with it as it changes. That’s just what happens with language.

Every editor, no matter their age, can bring something to the table, and will know things another editor won’t. The generation someone comes from plays a huge part in the types of knowledge they’ll have and the language they’re familiar with.

This brings me to my next point: editing specialisms. One of the reasons I edit and write young adult/children’s fiction and fantasy today is that it was booming when I was growing up, and I devoured tons of these books. There are plenty of specialisms a younger editor can bring to the table in this way. It’s unfair to suggest someone is lacking in knowledge because they’re a certain age, or because they have don’t have ten years of office work behind them. They might have different types of knowledge – something that they studied at degree level, or from a hobby or personal experience that they’ve spent years working on in their free time.

Young girl sat on a sofa, reading a book

Same skills, same battles

Aside from all that, we’re living in tough times, meaning most of us have to fight tooth and nail to succeed – perhaps more so than in recent decades. And that’s a positive. Determination, a willingness to learn and grow, the ability to bounce back. These are all important, especially for editors who want to freelance, because we have to be business-minded and constantly learning.

Editors can’t know everything – whether young or more seasoned. We shouldn’t judge those who are less experienced, because we all have to start somewhere. We shouldn’t undermine the intelligence of younger editors. Age doesn’t dictate ability.

 

Rachel RowlandsRachel Rowlands is an editor, author and professional member of the SfEP. She has a degree in English and Creative Writing and specialises in fiction, especially YA/children’s, fantasy and sci-fi, romance, and thrillers. She also edits general commercial non-fiction. You can find her at www.racheljrowlands.com or on Twitter.

 

Posted by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator.

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

Turn networking into training: how to be a selfish and very wise newbie

By Ally Oakes

You’ve just ventured to your first SfEP local group meeting. Nice, but a bit nerve-racking! You daren’t open up too much yet, because that might make you reveal those GAPS that sometimes make you break out into a cold sweat. Surely you’re the only person who still doesn’t know XYZ? It’s hard enough trying to remember the names of all those nice people.

Now, while it’s still ever so slightly painful, turn this on its head. Instead of ‘What will they think of me next time?’, go for ‘What do I want?’ Think of one particular GAP IN YOUR KNOWLEDGE. Then think of someone in the group you like, or who strikes you as super-knowledgeable. Preferably both. Let’s call this person *star*.

Be direct. Try asking *star* this: ‘Is it ok if I email you with a couple of questions about XYZ in my current training/work project?’ (A couple, huh? Start small.) Or ‘Could I please phone you sometime about XYZ? It would be easier for me if I have it there on the screen in front of me while I talk about it.’ There. You haven’t even had to confess to *star* that you actually have no real idea at all about XYZ – you’ve simply given a good, positive impression that you’d like to improve your skills or knowledge.

That’s level one. You may well understand it all completely now. Read on for the next level.

Take it up a level

If this GAP IN YOUR KNOWLEDGE seems pretty big and scary, then ask *star* for a coaching session.

  • Explain that you absolutely intend to pay *star* for one or two hours, at their normal hourly rate.
  • Decide where to meet – it may be at their house, or it may be at a coffee shop or library halfway between you.
  • If you’re driving, use your satnav! Even if you entirely abhor its existence and feel that it is there in your car simply to leech away your own excellent map-reading abilities. The alternative is the ‘Help, I’m lost!’ phone call five minutes before you’re due to arrive. This won’t do much for the impression of assured willingness to learn that you intend to give to *star*, now will it? Believe me.
  • Take a small gift.
  • Ask loads of questions – make the absolute most of your own personalised tuition session. *Star* wants to help you just as much as you want to be helped.
  • Make tons of notes.
  • Ask how they want to be paid, pay promptly and ask for a receipt.
  • Review your new knowledge and practise your new skills over the next couple of days.

If you and *star* do agree to meet in their home, you might be lucky enough also to gain: a peek at someone else’s working environment; a chance to discuss office furniture and reference books with someone who has similar aims in their working life, but a different journey; a view of their beautiful, super-stylish, all-white-flowering garden; a feel of their luxurious underfloor heating; and maybe a scrummy lunch. Oh, and do make sure that you leave promptly: you’re both working people.

Then, a month or two down the line, you’ll realise how often you’re making use of their knowledge – which is now your new knowledge – far more than if you’d simply googled the questions. (You’d done that anyway, but hadn’t understood the answers.) You’ll be further on professionally because of them. You’ll have paid *star* and made them feel what they are – knowledgeable and wise, and a little bit richer. And you may well both have made a new friend.

 

Ally OakesPrecision, punctuality and a passion for clients’ words. These are all in the pot that is Oak Proofreading. Add many spoonfuls of focus, a large tub of knowledge from training and experience, and an overflowing ladle of SfEP wisdom-sharing. Season generously with great client communication – and there’s a pot of Ally Oakes’ proofreading curry.

 

Posted by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator.

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

Linguistic prejudice: time to check our unconscious biases

By Erin CarrieFour yellow balls with faces drawn in black ink: one sad, one happy, one angry and one uneasy

An introduction to linguistic prejudice

We all have preferences when it comes to language – things we like and dislike. There are accents that we find friendly, catchy words that we pick up, and grammatical forms that we consider to be correct. But that means that there are also accents that we find ugly and unattractive, words that we think are silly or offensive, and grammatical forms that we – often quite adamantly – think are just plain wrong.

This is perfectly normal human behaviour. We have a natural tendency to organise our realities in this way, sorting things according to dualities such as good vs bad, right vs wrong, etc. But it does beg the following questions… What are these evaluations of language actually based on? Who decides what is good and bad, or even right and wrong, when it comes to language? And at what point do these preferences become prejudices?

Sociolinguists like myself would argue that there is nothing inherently good, bad or – dare I say – ugly about any aspect of language. These are social meanings that we have attached to language through convention. And it’s perhaps no surprise that the language that we consider to be correct tends to be the language of the elites within our societies.

Within the vastly variable and changing landscape of the English language, there is a tendency to think that dictionaries, grammars, style guides, etc, based on the linguistic norms of the South East of England have the greatest authority and prestige. More often than not, these norms become the standards that editors and proofreaders live and work by, whether explicitly or implicitly.

But what happens when the work being edited or proofread is written by someone using features of regional or second-language varieties of English? Should their writing conform to the aforementioned norms? At what cost? Perhaps it’s time to reflect on the extent to which the profession privileges some voices over others and, in doing so, turns these preferences into prejudices.

The roles of editors and proofreaders

When editing and proofreading, there is inevitably a need to tread the line between (1) suggesting changes that will help the author communicate their message more effectively and (2) ensuring that the style and voice of the author is retained. Editors and proofreaders spend their time working with language and, though they may refer to style guides and implement language ‘rules’ consistently, they are also aware of the fact that language rules are abstract, ambiguous and, quite often, not applicable – there are always exceptions. This makes their roles more difficult to define – they have to use their own judgement and experience when reshaping the author’s message and mediating the relationship between writer and reader.

Every editor and proofreader should reflect on their role and consider the extent to which they are applying rules or asserting preferences, and enforcing so-called ‘standards’ or facilitating diverse voices in communicating their own messages in their own ways. Of course, some degree of conformity to agreed linguistic norms is essential for effective communication but these norms can be redefined and, even, subverted where appropriate. It wouldn’t make sense for everyone’s writing to conform to Standard British English rules when this doesn’t represent the language used by the majority of writers and readers.


Hand turning the pages of a dictionary
Problematic discourse within the editing and proofreading profession

My work on linguistic prejudice to date has focused on speech and, specifically, negative attitudes towards accents and their speakers. One example of the impact of such attitudes is the discrimination experienced by Kasha, shared in this video (Listen to Britain 2017), who moved to the UK from Poland in 1990. The hostile reactions that she has received, based on how she speaks, have made her question her Polish identity and have driven her to seek expert help for reducing and modifying her accent.

Kasha has clearly internalised the social bias against her accent, as she describes her pronunciation as ‘incorrect’ and talks about her accent as a ‘problem’. Disappointingly, her accent reduction coach also engages in this sort of negative discourse, saying that she’ll help Kasha ‘get rid of’ and ‘eradicate’ her accent and will help her to use more ‘elegant’ vowel sounds. Given the differential status of a Standard Southern British English accent and Polish-accented English, it is no surprise that Kasha claims to feel ‘empowered’ after these coaching sessions.

The reason I mention Kasha’s story, although it focuses on spoken rather than written language, is that this is exactly the same type of discourse that we encounter elsewhere and is, in fact, as prevalent within the editing and proofreading profession as in the accent reduction industry. It is not uncommon to come across the following terms in editing and proofreading discourse:

  • ‘standard’ and ‘colloquial’
  • ‘right’ and ‘wrong’
  • ‘good’ and ‘bad’
  • ‘better’ and ‘worse’
  • ‘normal’ and ‘neutral’
  • ‘uncommon’ and ‘unusual’
  • ‘clear’, ‘pristine’ and ‘impeccable’
  • ‘mistakes’, ‘errors’ and ‘problems’
  • ‘correcting’, ‘fixing’, ‘tidying up’ and ‘resolving’.

All of these evaluations of language are based on social, rather than linguistic, norms. Where linguists merely observe differences, society has a tendency to impose hierarchies whereby (1) some linguistic choices are viewed favourably and others aren’t, (2) some are viewed as unmarked and others as marked, and (3) some are considered to be pure and others to be somewhat tainted. All of this implies to writers that they should strive not just to communicate but to communicate perfectly. But, again, who decides what is perfect when it comes to language use? By enforcing the norms of the powerful elite, aren’t we simply perpetuating a system that favours some voices over others?

Erin CarrieErin Carrie is a Senior Lecturer in Linguistics at Manchester Metropolitan University. She works at the interface between Sociolinguistics and the Social Psychology of Language, with a particular interest in language variation and change, language attitudes, and folk perceptions of varieties of English. She promotes consciousness-raising activities around language-based bias, prejudice and discrimination. Follow Erin on Twitter.


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Posted by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator.

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

The SfEP mini-conference goes international: Toronto 2018

Over the past few years, local SfEP groups have arranged mini-conferences – day-long CPD and networking events. In November 2018, the Toronto local group hosted its first mini-conference: in this post, two attendees tell us about their experience.

Toronto City Hall

An editor’s homecoming

By Maya Berger

To be an expat is to always feel like a piece of you is far away. To be an expat who has returned home can feel even more fragmenting.

I left Canada for the UK right after I finished my undergraduate degree, and until I moved back to Toronto a year ago all my editorial training, employment, and professional affiliations were British. My links to SfEP have been an anchor for me in a year of big life changes, and the recent SfEP Toronto mini-conference allowed me to bring my British editorial past into my Canadian future. This conference felt like coming full circle for me since the co-organisers, Janelle Bowman, Kelly Lamb and Janet MacMillan, and several of the attendees (including my roommate here in Toronto, Rachel Small) were all people I’d met in the UK through SfEP.

The Toronto mini-conference was an absolute delight. Delegates and speakers came from all over Canada and from the United Kingdom and the United States. There was a fascinating range of backgrounds, career paths, and experience levels among the delegates, and the conference programme delivered impressively on its promise of ‘Something for Everyone’.

Unfamiliar as I was with the Canadian editing community, which of course includes a growing number of SfEP members, the conference introduced me to editor rock stars Virginia Durksen, Jennifer Glossop and Adrienne Montgomerie. Their sessions on grammar, editorauthor relations, and marking up PDFs, respectively, reflected their wealth of expertise and were delivered in a friendly and accessible way. The full roster of speakers and panellists also included fellow Canadians Jeanne McKane, Vanessa Wells and conference co-organiser Janet MacMillan, Americans Erin Brenner and Laura Poole, and Brit Louise Harnby, and it was truly inspiring to learn from their collective wisdom.

Since I didn’t train as an editor in Canada, I was unaware of all the opportunities for professional development that exist across the country for editors and proofreaders. I was pleased to learn that three of the conference’s sponsors, The G. Raymond Chang School of Continuing Education at Ryerson University, Queen’s University Professional Studies, and Simon Fraser University Continuing Studies, offer courses in editing and publishing-sector skills.
In many ways Toronto is an ideal location for hosting an international conference of editorial professionals. Because Canada’s language and culture have been strongly influenced by both the UK and the US, speakers and delegates from both of those countries, as well as the many Canadians in attendance, found the conference relevant to them. It also didn’t hurt that Toronto itself is a cosmopolitan city with great transport links and lots of attractions.

I have to give huge thanks and kudos to Janelle, Kelly and Janet for organising such a great day. I’m thrilled that Toronto now has its own mini-conference for editors and proofreaders, and there is already talk of making it an annual event. Between this event, the monthly Toronto SfEP group meetings and all my editor friends in the city, Toronto feels like a great place for this editor to call home.

Toronto skyline at nightBeyond editing: finding my people

By Rachel Small

I love working from home. And my idea of a great night involves a good book, a mug of tea and my couch. That said, I’m not completely anti-social, and as a freelance editor I know the importance of community in battling the isolation that tends to come with the job.

In the Society for Editors and Proofreaders, I’ve found ‘my people’.

I was first introduced to the SfEP by my friend and colleague (and often guru) Janet MacMillan, while I was living in the UK. Introvert that I am, I was a bit shy about meeting Janet in the first place, but she immediately welcomed me into her home and reassured me that I would find a supportive network and fantastic professional resources in the SfEP. And she was right.

I started attending the London meetings regularly, and at one such meeting I was pleasantly surprised to hear another Canadian accent. I introduced myself to Maya Berger that evening, and now she’s not only a fellow Toronto-based SfEP enthusiast but also my roommate! Talk about finding my people.

On 7 November 2018, the Toronto group held its first mini-conference, co-organised by Janelle Bowman, Kelly Lamb and Janet MacMillan. While the day’s sessions were top-notch (I feel as though I need a year to integrate all of the tips gleaned from the presenters into my business), what really stood out to me was the camaraderie. Friends, colleagues and strangers alike shared stories and battle scars. We laughed, we groaned, we commiserated.

As I looked around the beautiful venue, I couldn’t quite believe it. I was in the same room as so many of my editing heroes, and treated as a peer. It was humbling and inspiring. I found it equally wonderful meeting so many other people who called themselves introverts. We acknowledged how the intense socialising was outside of our norm but incredibly valuable. The conversations lit a fire under me, and I resolved to get out a little more.

After the full-day conference and subsequent night at the pub, where more lively discussions ensued, I was exhausted – but in the best possible way. Within that exhaustion, I felt rejuvenated. I’d created a memory I could tap into when I needed a boost of energy and motivation. And now, on those days when working from home is just too isolating, I know I have an incredible network of people here in Toronto and also across Canada, the UK, and the US to reach out to. My editing people.

I’m already eagerly anticipating the next conference in Toronto, and I also hope to attend the main SfEP annual conference in Birmingham in 2019.

Tonight, though? I’m curling up with a book.

Cup of tea next to an open book

 

Maya BergerMaya Berger is a copy-editor and proofreader specialising in academic texts, sci fi and fantasy, YA fiction, and romantic and erotic fiction. She is currently a Professional Member of the SfEP. She has degrees in English Literature, Philosophy and Children’s Literature, and she worked as an editorial manager for a higher education specialist publisher in London before going freelance in 2016. Having spent 13 years in the UK, Maya returned to her native Canada in October 2017 and is now a member of the Toronto local SfEP group.

Rachel SmallRachel Small is an editor based in Toronto, Canada, and is an Advanced Professional Member of the SfEP. She works with independent authors, small publishers, and businesses of all shapes and sizes. Her specialties are women’s fiction, memoirs, and material meant to move and inspire audiences. She always loves a good travel story, both on and off the page.

 

Posted by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator.

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