Category Archives: Clients

Customer service: a cautionary tale of red flags and safety nets

By Vanessa Plaister

In their recent contributions to the SfEP blog, Cathy Tingle and Sue Littleford focused on how editors can keep customers sweet and distinguish themselves professionally. Each offered insights into how to handle complaints: for Cathy, the key is ‘to really listen to your customer’; for Sue, ‘it’s all about imagination’.

So what might happen in practice should things turn sour?

Let me take a deep breath and reflect candidly on a recent experience, laying bare what I learned …

Setting up the safety nets

I’ve long known that one of the most effective safety nets an editor can set up is the sample.
By this, I don’t mean the sort of sample for which some authors ask before placing a project; rather, I mean early submission of an edited chapter or two, so that a client can check the level of intervention and feed back to an editor should their work not quite meet the brief.

For many clients, particularly in publishing, such a sample is a contractual requirement. This project was one of those instances and the production editor approved my samples, noting nothing more than that the work was ‘great’.

But what of the author?

Sometimes, a publisher will send the sample on to the author for their review. Others will ask the copy-editor to liaise directly with the author and specify nothing more about how they’re to do so.

Whatever the publisher’s preference and faced with ever-shorter schedules, I standardly practise a lean (vs linear) workflow. In other words, immediately I’ve completed holistic work (general clean-up, formatting, house style, etc) and I’m engaging with the text at a substantive line level, I start to send edited chapters to the author(s) for their review and amendment. This allows us to explore at an early stage any editorial interventions with which the author(s) may be uncomfortable and these conversations can inform the ongoing edit.

In this way, I try to position myself at the outset as the author’s ally – sometimes even their advocate, should they vehemently and for good reason disagree with a matter of house style – and it allows me to build a solid professional relationship with both publisher and author that’s rooted in confidence and trust.

What’s more, not only does this protect me against the reputational risk of authors first encountering edits only at proof stage and perhaps being unhappy, but also it minimises likely amendment at proof stage, with all of the associated time and cost savings for the publisher.

So when the publisher told me that this author had said no, she would look at the edit only once I’d completed the whole (some 325,000 words), this was the red flag that should have stopped me in my tracks.

Reading the red flags

When I first contacted the author, then, it was not to deliver the first one or two chapters, but to deliver 15 files in one fell swoop.

I’ve been asking the publisher for some time when this would arrive, she replied. Had she known, she could have met our deadline, but it was now unlikely that she’d be able to find the time.

Some red flags are subtle.

When the files came back, they were unmarked other than to resolve direct queries. Had she read through at least two of the chapters in full, as I’d asked?

I didn’t, no.

And why would she, when she had imagined that my intervention could extend no further than correcting typos? When substantive amendments for reasons of stylistic consistency were simply the tail wagging the dog?

I warned the production editor immediately I suspected that the situation might escalate – and my fears were soon confirmed.

Caution: here be dragons …

The complaint was presented to me, in the first instance, in general terms.

The author was alarmed.

The author had concerns.

We had to do anything to make the author comfortable.

I asked whether the author could deliver examples and committed to using that evidence to inform an action plan – and I tried to examine that evidence with eyes and heart open to the possibility that I might have got it wrong.

Editing isn’t a competition and, as an Advanced Professional Member of the SfEP, I don’t need to prove my credentials. I worked hard for that designation, and it’s indicative of both qualifications and experience, as well as my commitment to a rigorous Code of Practice.

So while I could tell you here that, of x examples given, I found only y of the challenges to be justified (which instances have been valuable reminders that querying the apparently obvious can, paradoxically, save time when working under pressure), I won’t. Because that doesn’t move us forward.

The most helpful thing I can tell you is that a good editor’s first reaction to an allegation of incompetence should not be defensive, but deferential.

What if I did mess up?

The schedule was tight. Super tight. And that meant working long hours.

Was there a chance that those long hours saw me miss more than a reasonable number of errors or ambiguities – or, worse, actually introduce errors?

It’s not easy, being willing to be wrong and when our professional identity is intertwined with our personal identity, a challenge to our work can feel like a personal attack …

Read that again.

When our professional identity is intertwined with our personal identity, a challenge to our work can feel like a personal attack.

While the best authors recognise their editors as their allies, the inexperienced – or perhaps insecure – author experiences editing as an attack. And, sadly, when an author – when anyone – feels under attack, there’s a good chance that trying to reassure them will end only in them doubling down on their defence, hearing not a conciliatory I know what I’m doing and I can help, but a competitive I know more than you.

So while an author and editor should be a collaborative team, working together to win–win, it quickly became clear that there was no win for me here.

Yes, the publisher had approved my work at the sample stage.

Yes, the author had rejected early involvement that would have precluded the stressful situation in which we all now found ourselves.

And yet I was faced with a stark choice:

  • agree to work back through the whole of the book, reversing every edit unless it met a narrow specification, all for a tiny budget uplift that worked out to less than minimum wage; or
  • refuse to bend, risk not being paid at all for that original work and risk losing a long-term client, as well as put my professional reputation in jeopardy.

Should I take a stand against demands I considered to be objectively unreasonable – or did it matter more that I got paid and that I did what I could to keep my client?

Taking a beat before breathing fire

I’m not going to lie: did I shout at my screen as I worked through, reversing sensitive edits and taking in the author’s subsequent revisions and remarks, infuriated when she dismissed or denigrated standard practice or sound advice?

Of course I did.

But, for all that I may have high professional standards, it’s not my name on the book and if an author wants to retain an error or perpetuate ambiguity, whatever their reason, then that’s their prerogative.

And what of my client?

I remembered that when Sue spoke of ‘imagination’, I heard the word empathy, and what I tried very hard to remember is that my production editor was nothing more than the messenger.
I tried to take a beat before breathing fire – to keep my emotional response within these four walls, tempering my frustrations when emailing my client with my eye always on the prize: preserve that relationship.

Office politics aren’t fun and I don’t envy the in-house production editor the tightrope they tread.

We might imagine that employment gives an in-house editor income security and we might privilege our precarious position as freelancers above the risks involved in relying on any single-source income. And, yes, it’s worth reminding our clients that externalising a crisis has consequences for us that are different from the consequences it might have for them – but it’s equally worth us remembering the impact on the in-house editor should that crisis threaten their one job.

So while I don’t know yet what the long-term fallout of this experience will be, I do know that I did all I could to preserve my relationship with a client of 13 years’ standing and that the relationship I think – I hope – I’ve preserved with the production editor means that he’s promised to do all he can to mitigate the impact on my cash flow by expediting payment.

And, most crucially, I know that if any author ever again refuses to review a sample of my work ahead of the whole, I will be hitting pause on the project.

I’ll be hitting it hard.

 

 Vanessa Plaister is an Advanced Professional Member of the SfEP who accidentally became the SfEP’s community director in September 2018 and is working to bring equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) to the fore in all SfEP policy and procedure. She can commonly be found smothered by cats and surrounded by mugs of strong coffee or else risking whiplash at the front of a sweaty rock venue.


The SfEP upholds editorial excellence. All members sign up to the Code of Practice, which sets out best practice for everyone in editorial work, whether freelance or in-house, and their employers and clients.


Proofread by Victoria Hunt, Entry-Level Member.
Posted by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator.

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

Customer service: it’s all about imagination

By Sue Littleford

Towards the end of April, Cathy Tingle wrote an excellent post here on customer service. A bit of chat on the SfEP forums resulted in Cathy suggesting I write a follow-up, so here we are!

True story: I recently had to chase a client for payment. The due date was missed, so I emailed. I was told the same day that the project manager had emailed their manager and accountant to find out what was going on and to chase payment. Six days later I email again. That email is ignored. I wait five more days and email a third time, adding ‘3rd reminder’ to the subject line.
The manager hadn’t authorised my payment before going on a business trip to China, and his staff were having difficulty reaching him. Someone else in the company would now be responsible for pursuing this. Sorry. And that was it. I wasn’t told how long it would be before the manager was back in the UK, or at least in a country where they could expect to reach him. I wasn’t told how soon after the payment was authorised that I could expect the money to land in my bank account. It had taken nearly two weeks to get this far, which, as far as customer service goes, is pretty sucky (happy ending – I was paid three days later).

I’ve worked in customer service, one way or another, since I was 14 (and that’s a loooong time). I’ve handled complaints from the public, from colleagues, from MPs. I’ve held senior customer-facing posts in a major government department, and in the private sector. I’ve handled complaints face-to-face over a counter, in writing, by phone, in large meetings and by parliamentary question. And here’s what I’ve learned.

In a nutshell, good customer service comes down to an active imagination. Imagine – if I were the customer, what would I want? And then do that.

Easy? It can be, although some customers are just going to be a nightmare – keep those antennae attuned to your red flags and hope you sidestep all such folks. Assuming you’ve got a regular person for your customer, here are a few elements, unpacked.

1. Manage customer expectation

This is something my client signally failed to do. What does this mean? Put yourself in your customer’s shoes. Remember Kipling’s The Elephant’s Child? Set out your who, how, what, why, when and where. That should be in your contract, and it should be in your email or phone communication. Don’t be above issuing a gentle reminder on due dates, both yours and theirs, for things like sending out and getting back author queries. Talk to your client!

2. Make sure you’re on the same page as your client

Ensure they understand precisely what they’re paying for – what you won’t do as well as what you will. Make sure they understand how well you will do the work, when you’ll do it by, and how many rounds of editing that can involve for the price. Novice indie clients may need a lot more hand-holding with regard to the terminology of editing – we’ve all had people say they want a proofread when they need a developmental edit. On the other hand, publisher clients will occasionally call things by weird names. If in doubt, ask. Ensure you understand precisely what you’re being paid for.

3. Under promise and over deliver

But don’t be too far out of whack or your customer will think you’re either taking the mickey or are really, really bad at estimating.

Well, my client had managed to under promise by one definition, but that’s not what I mean. If they’d said ‘We’re so sorry about that; there was an internal breakdown in communication. But you’ll be paid by next Thursday’ and then paid me on Tuesday, that’s under promising and over delivering. There’s another aspect of this I’d like to sound a dire warning about: I just wish we could ban editorial folks from claiming to ‘perfect’ text. Some people even have it in their business name! With so much of English being subjective, how can you ever deliver perfection? Your perfect may not be your client’s perfect. But with some folks persisting in waving their ‘perfection’ banner, it makes clients think you’ve messed up even when you really, really haven’t.

If you do these three things, and the quality of your work is up to snuff, then you’re unlikely to get caught up in a complaint. But it can happen – maybe you messed up, maybe your client did (inaccurate or ambiguous brief, anyone?). Either way, your client isn’t happy with you or your work. What next?

1. Don’t ignore the complaint

Here be dragons. Pretending the complaint didn’t happen is truly awful customer service, and quite foolish since social media happened. Get a quick holding reply out – apologise without accepting responsibility (initially). ‘I’m so sorry to hear this. Let me take a look at it and get back to you. I hope to be able to do that [by when].’ That gives you time to check the brief/contract/your files and work out how valid the complaint is. If it is down to you, even in part, you’ll say so and apologise properly soon enough. A little tip – if the complaint comes in while you’re between jobs, and you have acres of time right now, still do the holding reply. Don’t rush your analysis of the complaint, and don’t rush your response. Complaints are emotional things, whether you’re in the right or in the wrong. Give yourself time to calm down.

2. Don’t reference satisfied customers as the norm

NEVER tell a customer that all your other customers are perfectly satisfied, even if it’s true, because if you’ve messed up for that client, your failure rate is 100% as far as they’re concerned. I’ve had this happen to me, and it just got my dander up. You don’t want to rile an already annoyed client. Don’t compare them with your other, perfectly content, customers – it can be read as a form of victim-blaming.

3. Put a lot of effort into responding to complaints

Make sure you’ve addressed each issue the customer has raised, even if you think it’s utter garbage; address each issue in full, anticipating as many rebuttals as you can; check and recheck and rerecheck your reply before sending it out. Again, use your imagination – put yourself in your customer’s position and craft the kind of response you’d want to receive; keep your zingers to yourself and don’t reply until you are perfectly calm. If you fail to do any of this, I can pretty much guarantee that the correspondence will continue to suck time out of your life, complaints will get escalated, perhaps to the SfEP complaints panel, and the complainant will tell all their friends that you are useless. Or they’ll use social media to tell the world that you’re useless.

4. Keep full records of the complaint and your response

Some complainants simply don’t know when to let something go, so you’ll want to have everything at your fingertips should they re-erupt. If your red-flag-o-meter didn’t go off and you have got a nightmare client, remember some people nurse their grudges and are quite happy to keep the complaint going as long as they can. That is taking up your working time, or your private time. Either way, the job is now earning you less and less per hour.

5. Know when enough’s enough

Some clients simply don’t know when to let go. If you’ve responded in detail to their complaint, and you consider you weren’t at fault, but the client keeps coming back, perhaps demanding a refund you know isn’t justified, there’ll come a time when you simply have to tell the client that you won’t engage in any further correspondence. Similarly, if you realise you were at fault, and you’ve rectified your mistake and/or made a partial refund, you may have a client who decides they want your work free of charge and keep nagging for a total refund. You’ll have to decide for yourself when the time has come to put an end to the exchanges. Nowadays, that does involve the risk of being attacked on social media, sadly, but you can’t be held hostage. This is why it’s more important than ever to ensure you and your client understand each other, and understand what each side’s responsibilities are in your transaction.


We’re all human, which means we all make mistakes. It’s how we deal with those mistakes that spells out the quality of our customer service. And how we avoid them in the first place.

I’ll finish up with a favourite quote from Henry Ford, who knew a thing or two about customer service. When checking the exact wording, I was delighted to see it included the I-word!

‘The man who will use his skill and constructive imagination to see how much he can give for a dollar, instead of how little he can give for a dollar, is bound to succeed.’

Sue LittlefordSue Littleford was a career civil servant before being forcibly outsourced. That was such fun she changed tack altogether and has been a freelance copy-editor since 2007, working mostly on postgraduate social sciences textbooks plus the occasional horseracing thriller. She is on Facebook and Twitter from time to time.

 


The SfEP upholds editorial excellence through high standards; all its members sign up to the Code of Practice.


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.

 

 

 

Find a professional proofreader or editor using the SfEP Directory

Search the SfEP Directory for a proofreader or editor

If you’re looking for a professional proofreader, editor or editorial project manager, or to build a team of editorial professionals, the SfEP Directory of Editorial Services provides details of the skills, subjects and services offered by around 700 SfEP members, a non-profit professional association.

Only Professional and Advanced Professional Members can advertise in the Directory – our top two tiers of membership – so you can be sure they have attained a certain level of competence and experience.

Here are some ways you can direct your search, using keywords:

  • Search all members – members are listed alphabetically by first name.
  • Search for either Professional or Advanced Professional Members only – again, members are listed alphabetically.
  • Search geographically – most editors are happy to work remotely, but this could be helpful if you would like to find editors in your area, for example if you need them to work on site.
  • Search by industry sector – for example fiction, academic, trade, charity, government, business …
  • Search by subject specialism – anything from gardening, to finance, to science, to cookery; members often list broad subject areas, and some surprisingly specific ones!
  • Search by software – almost all editors use Word and Adobe Reader or another PDF mark-up app, but many also have expertise in other editing, CMS and layout programs.
  • Search for other skills – as well as proofreading and copy-editing, many of our members offer services such as project management, indexing, copyright clearance, research, localisation, translation …
  • Search by client – many members list their recent clients, which can help you assess the fields they work in.

Did you find a good editor via the Directory? Do let us know!

The SfEP encourages companies and other organisations to add a link to the SfEP Directory on their intranets and websites. To make this as easy as possible, we’ve supplied the code to add to your site. See Linking to the SfEP Directory of Editorial Services.

 

Wise owls on working with non-publishers

Freelance copy-editors and proofreaders are not restricted to working with traditional publishers, and in the latest SfEP wise owls blog the parliament shares advice on how to gain work with non-publishers.

Margaret Hunter, Daisy Editorial

It continues to surprise me how many newbies to our profession lament the difficulty of getting their first paid jobs because they haven’t managed to secure work with traditional publishers. I guess that has something to do, perhaps, with a conventional notion of our profession as people busy putting red squiggly marks on books. But, if you think about it, the proofreader’s or editor’s oyster is anything that uses words. Perhaps it just needs some wider thinking?

In the real world, a great many members of the SfEP don’t spend all their time working on books, nor for traditional publishers. And the range of clients, things worked on and tasks paid for is wide indeed. Do an audit of your contacts, past employers and interests, and then list the types of things that get written, and you’ll already have a fair list of people to approach for potential work.

But to do this successfully you need to have the right mindset. What is it that you’re offering? What is it that your clients need? (Hint: they might not know!) What value can you add to your clients’ texts? Ah, now we’re getting somewhere.

Perhaps working for non-publishers won’t look the way you expected it to from your proofreading course or editing training. It’s not about taking a set of ‘rules’ or techniques you’ve learned and pushing your clients’ work into that shape. That would make our reading pretty boring and monochrome.

But the essence is the same. Our job is to help clients get their message across and to ‘smooth the reader’s path’ (see the SfEP FAQs).

In practice, that means you need to find clear, plain language ways of explaining what you do and how that can be of benefit to your clients. It means experimenting or being flexible with your working methods to find out what suits your particular niche.

And when you work out the value you are bringing to clients, you will realise that what you can bring to the table is immensely valuable, and should not be undersold.

Abi Saffrey

All but five months of my eight-year in-house career was spent working for ‘non-publishers’: business information providers and a non-governmental department body (quango). Each had its own (small) publishing team, and each followed editorial processes very similar to those used by traditional publishers. They may use terminology differently, and store and publish content in different ways, but the principles and the skills required are the same.

As a freelance, the main difference between working with non-publishers and working with publishers is the nature of the products you work on. There are rarely 100,000 words to deal with, but the publications are less likely to be one-offs: annual business reports, quarterly corporate magazines, weekly blog posts, press releases. Sometimes a cheerful, colourful staff magazine is just what’s needed to break up a dense academic social policy monograph.

To get work with non-publishers, you may need to market yourself differently – talking about what the outcome of your work is rather than the nitty-gritty details of what you do – but those companies do need your skills. They appreciate the value a knowledgeable and professional editor or proofreader can bring to their content, and to their brand.

Sue Browning

Working for non-publishers like businesses and charities, or even individuals, can be varied and interesting. Businesses often have deeper pockets than publishers, so the pay can be better too. In my experience, they usually pay promptly and with no need to chase (though with a bigger business you may have to accommodate their regular pay run). As to how to find them – I have found face-to-face networking to be the most common way to land business clients, and LinkedIn has also proved valuable – both of these have brought me work from small companies in my region, who often want to keep their spending local. More-distant clients tend to find me via my website. This is distinctly different from publishing clients, almost all of whom find me through the SfEP Directory.

Like indie authors, which we covered in an earlier post, non-publishers don’t necessarily know our editorial terms of art. In fact, they don’t care what it’s called, they just want their text to be correct, clear and professional. So it’s vital to establish the scope of the work. I’ve done everything from casting a quick eye over an email newsletter to what ended up being a complete rewrite (including research) of a large commemorative publication. It’s also essential to understand their brand voice (if they have one), but once you’ve established a good working relationship, they tend to give you pretty free rein, and they don’t want to be bothered with explanations or unnecessary questions, which means I can be quick and decisive.

I find it pays to be flexible in how you work. It happens that many of the individual jobs I receive are small (I’ve proofread text that was to appear on a mug), so I try to fit them in within a day. My payment model is different too, in that I usually charge by the hour rather than working out individual project fees, and I usually invoice monthly.

One of the potential downsides of working for larger businesses is that a document will often have many contributors, so you may find yourself working for too many ‘masters’ making last-minute and contradictory amendments. I try to solve this by insisting on being the last person to see the document, and not being lured into working on it in Google Docs at the same time as it is being written!

Margaret HunterAbi SaffreySue Browning

 

 

 

 

The parliament: Margaret Hunter, Abi Saffrey and Sue Browning

SfEP wise owls: working with independent authors

Freelance editors work with a range of clients, including publishers and individuals looking to  publish their own work. This month, the SfEP parliament of wise owls provide advice on how to get the most from working with independent authors.

Liz Jones

Independent authors might not know as much about the ideal publishing process or typical editing workflows as some other clients. Be prepared to take more of a lead in helping them assess what they need, and explaining your services so they understand how you can help them and the value you offer. This can be interesting and rewarding work, but make sure you factor in the extra hand-holding time when you quote, and bear in mind that commonly understood labels for levels of editing won’t necessarily apply. You also have a responsibility: it’s fine to upsell your services, but make sure the author understands what you can actually provide as their editor – and what you can’t. Brilliant proofreading will never turn a badly written or boring book into a bestseller.

Hazel BirdHazel Bird

Carefully explain exactly what service you will provide and always, always get authors to sign a contract (or agree to a set of terms and conditions). Independent authors are likely to have varying degrees of familiarity with ‘standard’ working practices in publishing, so it’s important to be clear about the terms of the service you’re providing. It’s rare for relations between client and editor to sour such that legal action becomes a possibility, but a quick perusal of some of the major editing-related forums shows that it does happen, so it makes sense to take basic precautions. The SfEP has a set of model terms and conditions and there are various sample contracts available through other sites.

Margaret HunterMargaret Hunter

Working with independent authors can involve more hand-holding about the publishing process. Some will have done lots of research, joined supportive writers’ groups, become a member of ALLi, sussed out exactly which Amazon deal to go for and come to you knowing exactly what they need you to do. But more often than not (in my experience) they don’t. This is not necessarily a bad thing: they may have the makings of a pretty good book or document, but just not know how to get to the final output. It can be very rewarding helping an author through the various steps to publication.

Communication is crucial here. Authors may not ask for what their work actually needs (they usually ask for proofreading), so you need to be very clear from the start about what you can do, what you will do – and what you can’t or won’t. Some authors will keep coming back to you with lots of questions, not just about the text but about the publishing process itself. Do I need an ISBN for my ebook as well as the print one? Where can I find a cover designer? I’m listing my book on Amazon but it’s asking me about BISAC categories and DRM options – what do I put? It’s worth knowing the answers yourself or building up a bank of stock replies with useful links to where your authors can find out. Or, of course, pointing them to SfEP colleagues or the Directory for other services.

Set up good working practices that put you in control, with clear instructions on how the author can see your changes, accept them if required, make further edits or add text. Because there is no intermediary, the author must answer all queries and take all decisions. Inevitably there is a great temptation to keep on tinkering with the text. If you’re not careful, you may find yourself having to deal with changes made in different ways in different files. State clearly how much time is included in the fee for taking in amendments after you return the initial edit (from none to negotiating a further fee if it goes over X). And always cost in a second pass anyway.

Sue LittlefordSue Littleford

Novice independent authors are unlikely to be speaking the same language as you – so it’s absolutely essential to ensure that you understand each other. It’s not enough to agree a brief; you’ll need to make sure that your client actually understands what it means in practice. What do they mean by ‘proofreading’? Probably copy-editing, sometimes developmental editing. Sometimes proofreading! How will they take your critique or queries? As if you tortured and murdered their literary baby, or as help towards making that self-same baby ready to meet the world? Explain your process in lay terms and check your client has understood. A mismatch between their expectation and your actuality can be painful and time-consuming.

Sue BrowningSue Browning

When working with independent authors, the initial negotiations are key to establishing a mutual understanding of what will be involved because you can’t assume they will know the different terms we editors use and what they entail. I prefer to show as well as explain, and I usually edit a short sample so they know what to expect from me. How the person conducts themselves in these first interactions is also a clue to what they will be like to work with, and it’s sometimes possible to spot a red flag and steer away if need be.

Which brings me on to one potential downside of working with independent authors: it’s harder to verify an individual. If a publisher or a company contacts you, it is relatively easy to check them out to see if they are a legitimate enterprise and to form a judgement about whether it is ‘safe’ to work with them. This is more tricky with an independent author. They might have an author page or a Facebook profile, but many don’t, and there is really no way of assuring yourself that they are who they say they are and that you will be paid. To guard against this to some extent, I ask for a proportion of the total estimated fee in advance. In fact, I’ve found that, in any case, it’s good to be flexible about payment arrangements. An indie author may not have the funds to pay the whole fee at once, and offering payment in instalments helps ease the pain for them. All that said, in my experience, independent authors pay quickly and happily.

Indie authors have been a source of constant surprise and pleasure, chocolates, flowers, and personalised drawings, and even a few gardening tips. I love ’em!

Posted by Tracey Roberts, SfEP blog coordinator

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

 

SfEP wise owls: how to take (guilt-free) time off at Christmas

At the time of publication, there are only 48 days until Christmas. While everyone else is concerned with buying presents, spending time with relatives they don’t like, and how to avoid getting food poisoning from an undercooked turkey, freelancers also have to organise taking time off during the holidays. As an early Christmas present, the SfEP parliament has wrapped up their advice on how to take guilt-free time off over the Christmas period.

Owl Santa

Sue BrowningSue Browning

My advice? Banish the guilt! Isn’t freedom to work when we choose one of the reasons we go freelance? Why then do we burden ourselves with guilt when we do just that? The only thing we should worry about is making sure we do what we have promised to do by the time we promised to do it. Give yourself permission to reject a job if it will mean working when you don’t want to.

So, unless you actively choose to work over Christmas (and there are plenty of good reasons you might wish to do so), block the time off in your schedule and resolutely say no to taking on a project that would mean working over your holiday period. Close your office door, switch off your phone, and go and enjoy your family and friends, your food and wine, your Christmas walk (just me?), and your rest. Return to your work when you choose to, knowing you’ll be all the better at it for having relaxed and refreshed yourself. And banish that guilt!

Liz JonesLiz Jones

Remember that your time is as valuable as anyone else’s, and you have a right to take holidays. You can’t do your best work if you’re over-tired and feeling put-upon, so give yourself a break. Plan definite work-free time in advance – block it out as you would any other project, on your calendar or in your diary. Tell all the people you need to tell that you’re taking this time off, and stick to it as you would any other professional commitment. Christmas is easier than some other holiday periods because most offices either shut down completely or are very nearly empty, with little sense of urgency. If you waver in your resolve, just remember that most clients won’t expect you to be working flat out at this time anyway, and email traffic is likely to reduce. For a total break it can be wonderful to stay offline completely for a few days (no email, no social media) … if you have the self-control!

Abi SaffreyAbi Saffrey

Try to decide a few months in advance which days you are taking off work. Write HOLIDAY in your calendar in big letters so it takes thought and effort to cross it out. If you can, fit a few more projects, or better paying ones, into the months leading up to your break so you’re not worrying about earning when you should be taking time out. Tell your clients when you’ll be ‘away’ and that you won’t be responding to emails during that time. When your holiday finally comes around, don’t check your email, steer clear of social media, and if you think of something work related that needs doing, make a list, tuck it under your keyboard and walk away.

Taking a whole week or two off a couple of times a year is really important – especially in the dark winter months. You’ll come back refreshed and enthusiastic, keen to get back to your routine, and you’ll be more productive.

John EspirianJohn Espirian 

Plan the calendar well ahead. If you book up your work time in, say, two-week blocks, then book your Christmas time off three or more weeks ahead. That way, you won’t let work dominate the holidays. A general life lesson is to plan the fun stuff first and then the work to fit around it. That’s why most of us are freelancers, after all – freedom.

I always know I’m going to be doing the cooking, so can be sure that I won’t be working when I’m spending time in the kitchen. But I actually love that. If there are young kids around, plan to get them involved with the prep so that the whole thing doesn’t feel like a chore.

Send clients Christmas cards with a reminder of when you’ll be back at work. Could lead to more business! Always be top of mind.

Turn off phone notifications and even turn off delivery of emails.

Margaret HunterMargaret Hunter

Decide on something nice / creative / challenging you want to do during your time off. Get out that sewing project that’s been on hold; sort out your photo albums; plan an overnight long hike. Anything that’s going to make you feel good and less guilty about not working.

Hazel BirdHazel Bird

Theoretically, taking time off at Christmas is easy if you plan it in advance and tell those contacts who need to know. But, in practice, existing work can end up spilling into our well-earned down-time, or lucrative offers can tempt us back to our desks. To prevent work spilling over, consider taking on slightly less work just prior to your break so you can be sure you’ll get it done in time, even if it takes a bit longer than expected. As to being tempted to take on new work, plan in advance what you’d say if you received an offer and what rates you would charge to justify giving up your planned break. Maybe there’s no fee that would make it worth it – but even coming to that conclusion could help to fortify you against tempting offers.

Melanie ThompsonMelanie Thompson

Never, ever feel guilty about taking planned time off.

There are laws to protect the holiday rights of employees, but no equivalent for freelancers. That means you have to police yourself. Everyone needs a break. Plan yours well in advance; tell your clients you’ll be ‘out of the office from x to y’. (They don’t need to know why unless you want to tell them.)

The number one benefit of being a freelancer is the freedom to decide what is right for you.

Sue LittlefordSue Littleford

Downtime is essential for your health and well-being. No guilt required. To ensure you take time off, you need to commit, and commit early. Mark the time off in your planner. When offered a job with a due date on the far side of your break, double-check that the timescale is feasible. One client’s software regurgitates a due date based on word count, ignoring all bank holidays, so I get the date extended. Reject any job that has a due date during your planned break so you don’t try to squeeze it in and finish it early – if you fail, you end up working, stressed and resentful.

Posted by Tracey Roberts, SfEP blog coordinator.

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

 

 

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Publishers, pigeons and German knitting: musings on the London Book Fair

By Margaret Hunter

As many of you will know (at least avid forum readers), I recently ran an SfEP stand at the London Book Fair, ably assisted by a crack team of volunteer members. Was it worth it? Only time will tell in terms of actual new joiners and new clients using our services, but my overall impression is yes!

New members? New clients?

SfEP stand at London Book Fair 2016Being a publisher-focused event – and more than that, being a very sales-focused event – I feared we might have many visits from people who wanted to sell us their latest gizmo or whizzy program, or indeed bend our ears about their authorial masterpiece. We did get a couple of those visits, but thankfully not too many.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that most of our conversations were meaningful and productive. I was particularly pleased that we had a pretty even mix of visitors: people working as editors or proofreaders (or wanting to) who were looking for support, and also publishers and authors looking for good professional help. There is a need for us!

The in-person contact gave us the chance to talk through people’s questions about joining, upgrading and training, as well as show off the benefits of membership, including participation in the forums and local groups, and these were met with enthusiasm. Look out for potential new joiners visiting your local group to ‘try before they buy’!

Publishers and authors, as potential clients, were very pleased to hear of our directory and we showed lots of people how to use it. Many expressed appreciation of the fact that everyone in our directory has had to show certain levels of competence and experience to attain their grade of membership, which goes to show that it’s well worth upgrading as soon as you can. Clients are desperate to find a reliable source of good editors and proofreaders in the murky sea of internet listings.

So that’s what editors do

Of course, we had many interesting discussions on the value of proofreading and editing and how the process works. One self-publishing author asked whether it was really worth having his book edited as he’s already listed it on Amazon and it is selling. He went on to answer his own question by revealing that the reviews he has received so far are all along the lines of ‘Good book. Shame about the typos’.

It was enlightening for him to hear about what we editors actually do. When I mentioned that a lot of the job is about consistency checks his response went something like this: ‘Oh, so you take care of all of that? Wow! I could have done with that service for my last book.’ I asked him why. He explained that a friend had read his book and really liked it, then asked: ‘But what happened to the body in the park?’ One for the good fiction editor’s checklist, I think!

That can’t be Margaret!

Aptly named editors Sentance and Shakspeare

Shakspeare and Sentance

The Fair was also an opportunity to get to know some other SfEP members better, and I was able to share information about SfEP that some didn’t know. As well as those who helped to run the stand, other members popped by to say hello. At one point we had two very aptly named editors on hand.

It was great to hear about what other editors and proofreaders do in their businesses and to share their stories, instructive as well as funny. And you learn the most interesting things when you speak to editorial professionals. For example, I found out that there is a ‘German way’ of knitting that’s visibly noticeable to those in the know. That’s the sort of ‘useful fact’ that comes out in group and forum discussions that editors can tuck away in the hope that one day it will come in handy.

Meeting in person those so far encountered only virtually can, however, be a revelation. When I was deep in conversation with a stand visitor I was pointed out to one of our number. ‘But that can’t be Margaret!’ came the response. ‘I thought she was tall!’ [I’m not – you know who you are ;-)]

But what about the pigeon, I hear you ask. Well, I think she just came for the biscuits.

Visitng pigeon at LBF16Many thanks to our lovely members who gave time and enthusiasm to help run the stand: Josephine Bacon, Alex Boon, Piers Cardon, John Firth, Jane Hammett, Anya Hastwell, Mary Hobbins, Richard Hutchinson, Liz Jones, Jackie Mace, Rene Nel, Peter Norrington, Alison Shakspeare, Richard Sheehan, Wendy Toole, Jeremy Toynbee, Alison Walters.

Margaret HunterMargaret Hunter is a freelance copy-editor, proofreader and formatter and is the SfEP’s marketing and PR director.

daisyeditorial.co.uk | facebook.com/daisyeditorial | @daisyeditorial

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Posted by Tracey Roberts, SfEP blog coordinator.

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

Taking editorial tests for clients

By Liz Jones

editing testsSometimes a prospective client will ask you to complete a test, either in competition with other editors for one ongoing editorial position, or for admission to their pool of regular freelance editors. Opinion is divided among editors about the usefulness and ethics of these tests. Should we be required to take them? Is it something of an insult if we can otherwise demonstrate that we have the necessary experience and skills? And is it a waste of our valuable time … or is there perhaps more to it than that?

Although I am rarely required to take tests for clients (most of my work is repeat business or comes via recommendations), I am sometimes asked to complete one if the client is completely unknown to me, or if the work requires particular skills that can only be seen in action.

For instance, I recently completed a test for a client I had approached about an ongoing copy-editing position. It turned out to be quite a palaver – the test itself was absolutely reasonable (in fact I thought it was a very good test), but to be able to complete it I had to install the latest version of InDesign (until that point I was deluded enough to believe that I had the latest version). This, it turned out, also entailed updating my entire operating system. I also needed to buy the Kindle edition of a well-known style guide, and do my best to absorb the relevant parts of it in the time available. Finally, I had to learn a few new ways of using my freshly updated software in order to complete the test.

Was it worth it? Well, I hope it secures me the work, but even if it doesn’t on this occasion, I don’t begrudge the time I spent. Here’s why.

Benefits of taking tests

As I hope I have just demonstrated, taking a test for a client can be a very useful form of CPD. I certainly learnt things, many of them about software that I have been using regularly for the last ten years, and I have a shiny new operating system. It was interesting to work on a particular type of material, some aspects of which were a departure for me. I also learnt aspects of a style guide that is new to me – though it reminded me very much of one that I already knew, which helped. Above all, the thought of someone looking critically at each and every editorial decision I made focused my mind on trying to get it just right. In an ideal world I would approach every job with this level of intensity.

Aside from the CPD aspect, editorial tests can be a great way in for new freelance editors. If people ask me about the best way to find work when starting out, I often recommend that they seek out clients who require them to do tests. If you get as far as taking the test, and pass it, this can negate the need to provide a long list of experience, which can obviously be a barrier for those new to the profession.

When to be wary

Personally, I wouldn’t be happy to take a test for every prospective client. I would rather know as far as possible that I definitely want to work for the client before putting in the time required to do a test properly. There’s also a limit to how long I am prepared to spend on a test. A length of a thousand or so words is OK. Ten thousand words is too long, in my opinion. I don’t think a reasonable client would ask me to take a test that took up more than an hour of my time.

Finally, I would want to be sure that the test is a genuine test. This has not happened to me (probably because of the nature of my client base), but I am aware that some editors have been sent a section of a longer work as a test … only to discover that others they know have been sent different sections. One suspects that some unethical authors might think it possible to get an entire work edited for free in this way.

How to approach a test

Not everyone likes tests, but there are ways to make them less painful. Take your time to read the instructions provided. It’s clear that if you ignore these, you won’t impress, but more than that – the instructions can provide valuable clues about what the client wants. Are there specific points of style mentioned? Do they want you to provide an idea of the time the test took to complete? Do they want you to quote for the work?

It helps to become as familiar as you can in a short space of time with the existing output of the client. Do they have similar material published on the web? If they do, this is incredibly useful in terms of understanding the tone to aim for when editing; it can also solve a few style riddles.

Finally, try to forget you are doing a test. Easier said than done, I know. But once you get into the rhythm of the work, try to enjoy it and just do the best job you can – as if you were editing for your favourite client, on a topic you find fascinating, at a fabulous hourly rate, on a really good day. You probably won’t achieve this state of being until the end of the extract (especially if it’s only a thousand words long).

For this reason, and others, do check over your work again at the end. And again. I don’t always read things multiple times when I edit in real life – it depends on the parameters of the job – but for a test, I certainly will. This is your one chance; try not to blow it. You’ll probably find that the first half of the test piece is not as good as the second, and can be tightened up no end with another pass.

What to take away?

Well, of course, you hope you get the gig. But whether you do or not, I hope I have shown that a test can be a positive and useful experience in various other ways, too.

Liz JonesLiz Jones (www.ljed.co.uk) has worked as an editor in the publishing industry since 1998, and has been freelance since 2008. She specialises in trade non-fiction and educational publishing, and is an Advanced Professional Member of the SfEP.

 

 

Proofread by SfEP Intermediate Member Sandra Rawlin.

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

Supporting sentences and each other

The other day, I was discussing the concept of bullet points with my six-year-old daughter.

‘Part of my job involves checking the punctuation of bullet lists,’ I told her.

She looked at me pityingly. ‘Sad job,’ she said.

She had a point of course. But, on the other hand, a commitment to consistency and clarity can in fact make for a very happy job, especially when you find others who feel the same way. And they’re certainly out there, especially online. Follow any thread on The Editors’ Association of Earth Facebook group, for example, and you’ll find eloquent international specialists eager to share their knowledge, united by their passion for the English language.

Lunching with like-mBlog post pubinded locals

Here’s another scenario. A group of professionals listens as a potential client describes her requirements for contractors. She explains the type of work she offers, the skills she’s looking for and the rates of pay on offer. Does her audience size each other up, ready to betray their competitors’ weaknesses, Apprentice-style, with a clever put-down or underhanded action?

Of course not. This is a group of editors and proofreaders, and, perhaps because we’re used to working alone, we find our strength in numbers.

The professionals in question were the Norfolk SfEP group on a tour of a local typesetter. In the pub afterwards (what better excuse for a rare business lunch?), veterans of the battle for clear prose offered advice to nervous newbies, and we all openly discussed what we thought of the rates on offer. They were on the low side – acceptable to those looking for a route into editorial work but less attractive to those with a larger network of contacts. There was no sense of rivalry; some of us were simply keener to work for the typesetter than others. Talk moved on to more typical pub chat – weddings, construction and the City of London Corporation.

I don’t get to local meetings as often as I’d like but, when I do, I’m always welcomed warmly and come home brimming with inspiration and motivation. The Norfolk group (or chapter, as I like to call it) is one of 39 local SfEP groups throughout the United Kingdom that give editors and proofreaders a welcome opportunity to discuss sentence structure, spelling and standing desks with others who care about such things. SfEP members further afield can join the international group or and even the Skype Club – there’s no reason to feel isolated even if you normally work by yourself.

The perils of going it alone

Here’s a third example, which I hope isn’t typical. I was telling a designer at a networking event about my strong editorial community – the friendly conferences, the funny Twitter chats, the engaging Facebook posts. He stared at me in amazement. ‘I don’t speak to other designers,’ he said. ‘They’d only steal my clients.’

‘So you always work in isolation?’

‘Yes,’ he said, ‘It’s the price you have to pay for being a freelance designer.’

Sad job, I thought.

TSO group and

Julia Sandford-Cooke of WordFire Communications (www.wordfire.co.uk) has more than 15 years’ experience of publishing and marketing. When she’s not hanging out with other editors (virtually or otherwise), she authors and edits textbooks, writes digital copy, proofreads anything that’s put in front of her, spends too much time on Twitter (@JuliaWordFire) and posts short book reviews on her blog, Ju’s Reviews.

Proofread by SfEP Entry-Level Member Susan Walton.

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

Different types of editing – do the labels matter?

pigeonholes

Sometimes what we do fits neatly into a category of editing … and sometimes it’s less clear.

Recently I’ve seen (and participated in) a few discussions about different types of editing – what they involve, how rates of pay work out for each, and the level of skill or knowledge required to undertake them.

In terms of ‘editing’ (from the perspective of many members of the SfEP), there are several commonly understood types or levels of editing:

  • structural or development editing
  • copy-editing
  • proofreading

The SfEP provides useful descriptions of what is meant by ‘copy-editing’ and ‘proofreading’ – tasks that occupy many of its members for much of their working time.

Then there is also a hybrid we sometimes talk about: proof-editing. This often seems to refer to a job described and commissioned by the client as a proofread, but that actually involves a greater degree of intervention than we might strictly expect of a proofread. There can be various reasons for this, not least of which is the possibility that only one editorial professional has ever laid eyes on the material about to be published – you.

Dialogue with clients

In terms of talking to each other, and to publisher clients, these labels (especially the first three) can be highly relevant and useful – they provide a kind of shorthand to help us understand the parameters of a particular job. Proofreading involves making essential corrections only; copy-editing involves a higher level of stylistic decisions but is still constrained by the client’s requirements and the need to respect the author’s voice, and so on. By using such labels, we have a good idea of what the client wants, and the client in turn knows what they are paying for, and what they should expect to get back from us.

However, being too fixated on these labels can cause problems when we work with people who are not familiar with the traditional book publishing process, which might include a huge range of clients: from self-publishing authors, to students wanting their theses proofread, to business clients, to government departments and various international organisations.

Labels as barriers

How do you deal with editorial work that resists categorisation? Should you try to make it conform by rigidly carrying out the tasks that you would associate with the level of work ostensibly being asked for? Should you reject it on the grounds that you have only been trained to proofread, but it actually looks more like a copy-edit? Or should you adapt to fit the needs of the client? It’s possible that by clinging on to very rigid notions of the prescribed nature of proofreading, or copy-editing, we will fail to provide the service that a client actually requires … and both sides can lose out.

A business client might, for instance, ask you to ‘proofread’ a document. However, it may not mean much to this client if you return the ‘proofread’ document marked up with perfectly executed BS 5261C: 2005, having made only very minimal interventions. It’s highly likely they were actually expecting you to perform major editorial surgery, and provide them with changes clearly set out in such a way that a layperson (not another editor or a typesetter) could understand.

This is where communication with the client is paramount; this applies whatever kind of client you are working for, but is especially important when it comes to assessing the type of work that is required for a ‘non-publishing’ client – you need to understand what they want you to do, and how far they want you to go … and they need to understand the service that you will be providing. As Kate Haigh said when she discussed working for business clients on this blog: ‘business clients want to know that you understand their needs and their material’.

Labels versus rates

The SfEP also suggests on its website minimum rates for the different types of editing, with proofreading seen as commanding a lower hourly rate than copy-editing, and development editing tending to be paid at a higher rate than copy-editing. Project management (which may or may not involve hands-on editing) is expected to command the highest rates. How these rates actually work out in practice is often the subject of hot debate. And many editors will choose to take the line that their time is their time, and should be paid for accordingly, no matter what specific editorial task is being performed.

In short, labels for the types of work we do can be helpful when we talk to other editorial professionals, when we communicate with publisher clients (although all publishers are different, and the exact requirements of a ‘proofread’, say, can vary), and when we assess for ourselves the level of work a job requires. Where the labels can be less helpful, or perhaps where we need to be prepared to be flexible, is when it comes to selling our services to a diverse range of clients, and when it comes to adapting our working methods to fit a client’s requirements – such important parts of winning business, and securing repeat commissions.

Photo on 28-05-2015 at 13.51 #2Posted by Liz Jones, SfEP marketing and PR director.

Proofread by SfEP Entry-Level Member Christine Layzell.

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