Category Archives: Freelance life

Information for freelancers.

Systematising my working life

By Sue Browning

In all aspects of my life, I’m a great fan of systems that help me keep on top of stuff, as I find having a system frees my mind and memory for more important things. This applies to my work life too, of course; I always like to know where I am with project scheduling, prioritising work, timing, invoicing and record-keeping, and over the years I’ve explored a lot of tools for doing all these things. And, for me, all these systems have to be on the computer, as my handwriting has a half-life of approximately two hours.

Open diaryFor a long time, I used a mind map to keep a record of all my clients and projects, a Gantt chart to visualise my schedule, and a to-do list+time tracking program to keep track of what I have to do and by when and to record time spent, and I had a semi-automated system to generate invoices in Excel, saving them as pdfs to send to my clients. I’m also a demon for data, so I have 14 years’ worth of detailed information on income, clients, projects and timings, all in a set of interlinked spreadsheets, which also need to be kept in order.

However, I’m also a fan of not spending more time on admin than necessary, and none of these individual programs talked to any of the others, so there was always a certain amount of tedious (and error-prone) copying from one to another. I was therefore on the lookout for a way to automate more and to streamline my systems. I reviewed a lot of different software programs and online apps and found them too inflexible, too focused on the mechanics of invoicing, which is actually a very small part of my working efficiency. But, more crucially, they all lacked that visual scheduling element I was really looking for.

Then someone in one of the editing groups I frequent mentioned a web-based app called Cushion, and that seemed to fit the bill in that it appeared to provide a very flexible platform for visualising my long-term schedule, planning detailed workloads, tracking the time on each project and generating invoices – all in the same place. The free 30-day trial also reassured me that I could bend it to my will. The developers were also fabulously responsive to my questions, and this convinced me it was worth paying for, so at the start of my new financial year this April, I decided to give it a go.

After an initial time investment inputting client and project details and customising the various options, I have found it very easy to keep track of everything, and I have cut a significant amount of time from my various record-keeping activities.

A view from above

I particularly like the bird’s eye scheduling view as this shows at a glance how busy I am projected to be over the next few months (see the screenshot), so when I am offered a new project I can easily see when (or if) I can fit it in.

Sue's schedule in Cushion

Overview of my next few months’ work. The pale lines are projects I’m waiting to start, and the bright ones with a circle at each end are completed. Bright lines with arrows are ongoing, with the arrow head at ‘today’. Mousing over them pops up brief details and clicking takes me straight to the detailed project information page. The blue block shows the time I intended to take off over Christmas – ha ha!

To help further with organising and planning my work, below this chart is a client/project list that can be ordered in any way (I order it by due date), which I categorise into Active (projects I’m actually working on), Upcoming (where I’ve got the files but haven’t started), Planned (projects that are currently mere glints in their parent’s eyes but we have a target date, so they are lightly pencilled in), and Completed (categorisation is also customisable).

Time tracking

I’ve always kept a track of how long I take on each project, even when I’m not billing by the hour, as it helps in estimating fees, and I can do this easily in the timing area, where I can switch the timer on and off and assign it to a specific project/task. The timer shows green in the browser tab, too, which is a great reminder to switch it off, but the times can be easily edited if I do forget. As well as recording time, I can see how many hours I’ve worked on each project over the day or week, and I can also pull up overview reports according to client, project or time period. One of the fun things I like to do is label my timer with a particular task, so that at the end I can see how long I spent, say, checking references as a proportion of the whole project (typically about third, in case you’re wondering). (And yes, I do have an odd sense of fun.)

Work done – time to invoice

As well as the usual month-long, bill-at-the-end projects, I have a number of clients for whom I edit shortish pieces of work as and when they need them, and I send an itemised invoice at the end of each month. Before, I would track the time in my tracking app, transfer that and the task details to a client-specific spreadsheet, and then at the end of each month, I’d have to copy the details to my invoice. That was fine when I didn’t have many such clients, but now I have nearly a dozen, so my monthly invoicing run had become really quite time-consuming.

Now – at the click of a button – I simply pull the details (date, job name, rate and hours) from the Cushion timer into my invoice, download the pdf and send it to my client by email. (It is possible to send an invoice direct from the app – and reminders too, if you wish – but I don’t use this as it requires recipients to click a link, and some of my clients have automatic systems that need an actual attachment.)

Invoices appear in a list, sortable according to my whim, and they are displayed on a timeline too for a very quick overview (see screenshot).

Screenshot of invoices section of Cushion

My invoice timeline. Those with arrows at the end are awaiting payment, and it’s easy to see when they are due. Mousing over reveals a summary, and there’s a detailed list below. You can tell from this that I have a monthly invoicing round, and most of my clients pay really quickly.

Keeping organised and keeping records

All the data stored in the app can be downloaded as.csv files, openable in Excel, so as well as storing these as a backup, I have adapted my accounts spreadsheet, which records invoices and expenses each month and keeps a running total for the year, to extract the data from those files. And that feeds semi-automatically into that suite of historic spreadsheets I mentioned earlier.

Every Monday I receive an email with a list of outstanding invoices and active projects, which is a great way to start the week. And the system also sends me an email to tell me when an invoice is due.

Apart from the fact that the timeline displays make it very easy to visualise my schedule and workload, the best thing as far as I am concerned is that everything is interlinked, so I can click on a client’s name and it’ll take me to a page that shows me everything about that client – contact details, projects, invoices (paid and outstanding), total income from them this financial year, how long it takes them on average to pay me, and a lot more. All the features are easily edited, and it’s easy to find a way of looking at the data that suits my own way of thinking – helping me feel in control and better able to focus on the things that matter.

Sue Browning After a long and interesting career in speech technology research, Sue Browning turned to editorial work in 2005, finding another way to apply her interest in all things to do with language. Sue specialises in copy-editing linguistics and other humanities and social sciences for publishers and academic authors. When not prowling the halls of academia, she often finds herself walking on alien planets, wielding arcane magic and generally having fun with fantasy. When not editing, she likes to walk and cycle, and grow vegetables. Indoors, she likes reading (of course!) and word puzzles, especially cryptic crosswords.

 

Posted by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator.

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

Working with an assistant: nuts and bolts

By Cathy Tingle

Steel structureIn a recent SfEP blog I talked about the benefits of working with an assistant, which really came down to three things: speed, safety and society. I complete more projects in the limited time I have; I feel that as a team we are more thorough than I could be alone (there really is no substitute for that extra pair of eyes); and, joyous or frustrating, we can chat about the work, which really helps.

So that’s the ‘why’. But how do we work together?

From batphone to batches

Once I get notice that a project is on its way, the first thing I’ll do is contact Helen via the batphone (which is what we call our DocEditor WhatsApp group). This is to book her time – I can fill her in on the details later.

Then I will look at the manuscript. This might involve a lie-of-the-land review (everyone does this differently but I do mine with the help of PerfectIt) or, because this is the way our biggest client works, I’ll edit a sample chapter to kick off the process. This gives me a sense of the issues so I can brief Helen, and it also means that she can see how I’ve approached things in the sample.
My brief can be anything from a short email to a longer Word document, but it has become snappier over the years as Helen has got to know what I’m after. What I should do is set up a version of a style sheet which not only contains information about the manuscript but also incorporates tick boxes for tasks. One fine day (perhaps when our respective kids have gone off to college) that may happen.

Then it’s over to Helen for a few days. Sometimes I get the project back in one go, but more often she sends it back in batches for me to start while she’s still working on it.

Sharing out tasks

I have asked Helen to undertake various editorial tasks while we’ve worked together, but over time I’ve realised that my needs can be crystallised into one request: ‘Help me focus on the text in front of me.’ To labour the already groaning ‘DocEditor’ extended metaphor that the branding of my business rests on, she’s a bit like a nurse handing me the equipment and information I need to fully concentrate on the presenting patient.

At a recent meeting of the Edinburgh SfEP local group, members talked about the joys of using a second, or even a third, screen so they can review different parts of a document at the same time. In a sense Helen does this job – making visible certain elements from elsewhere in a chapter or a manuscript, or from further afield. She checks:

  • citations against reference lists, to make sure they match;
  • proper nouns in an internet search – that spellings are correct, that any dates tally up, and then that those proper nouns and related facts are completely consistent within the manuscript;
  • weblinks, to make sure they work, and if they can be shortened/neatened in the text;
  • other internal cross-references – that descriptions of other sections or chapters are accurate, and that what’s in the text matches lists of contents, illustrations, abbreviations, cases or glossary terms;
  • that any numbering – of sections, or of illustrations, for example – runs chronologically.

If our clients asked for tagging/coding she could also do that, but there hasn’t been much call recently.

In the past, Helen has:

  • checked if quotations in body text are over the length which requires an indented extract;
  • checked if multiple citations are in chronological/alphabetical order as per house style;
  • changed hyphens to en dashes in number ranges;
  • changed double quotation marks to single (or vice versa);
  • executed basic style amendments – standardised ise/ize/yze endings, for example.

But these are things I can happily do as I review the text page by page, and so they’ve fallen away from her task list.

An obvious task for an assistant would be to format references. This is something that other editorial assistants (for there have been others, at various points) have done for me in the past. However, there’s something about a reference list that keeps you close to the heart of a text so I like to do it myself. And I just have this feeling that it’s not something Helen would enjoy.

TeapotThe nitty gritty

From all this I hope you’ll gather that every editor/assistant relationship is different. There are tasks that you want to keep for yourself, and tasks that you can’t wait to give away. There are particular talents that your assistant will display and that you will want to encourage, and tasks that won’t suit them. However, in terms of the nitty gritty of a project, the following tips should work for most teams editing documents in Word:

  • Always, always get your assistant to track changes, in case of slips of the keyboard or rogue deletions. Happens to the best of us.
  • Ask your assistant to post comments in the text (with Review/New Comment) to alert you to anything. Make sure they always begin a comment with a word that’s easily searchable – Helen addresses notes to me personally and at the end I run a search for ‘Cathy’ (there are precious few other ‘Cathy’s in the books we edit) to catch any strays.
  • It helps if your assistant can adopt an editorial assistant persona in their comments (they can do this in Word with Review/Tracking/Track Changes Options/Change User Name). I am ‘Cathy Tingle (DocEditor)’ but Helen is ‘DocEditor’, which means that I can adapt any notes she writes, perhaps to query a discrepancy between a citation and a long, complicated reference, with only a little retyping.
  • Make the most of highlighting. If your assistant has checked a fact/name/web address online or an internal cross-reference, get them to highlight the first letter (we use pink) to indicate it’s done and correct. If something is not correct, a comment can be left. You can use different colours for different purposes – a green for ‘Is this right?’, for example, if your assistant spots what they think might be a mistake in punctuation or grammar.
  • If you are asking your assistant to run checks but not to actually amend anything in the text, you could work with two versions of the manuscript. Simply go through the assistant’s version before you start your own edit. This might be a good method in the first few projects with an assistant, while you’re both getting used to the process.

And don’t forget

  • Always let clients know that you are using an assistant. All of mine have been delighted to have this extra pair of eyes on their work for no extra fee.
  • Create a non-disclosure agreement and ask your assistant to sign it. If you’re doing this for clients, your assistant will need to do this for you.
  • Your assistant deserves recognition. If it wasn’t for them, you might not have done such a thorough job within your deadline. I always include Helen’s name at the bottom of any handover notes that I write for the author so that if an acknowledgement is forthcoming she also gets a look in.
  • Make sure your assistant logs their hours – this helps you to understand how it’s all going, but it also means that if they want to join the SfEP, or upgrade, they can use this information as part of their application.
  • If you can, write a feedback document at the end of a project. I can’t say I have done this every time, but I’ve always been glad when I have. In taking a few minutes to review what your assistant has done this time, you can see how you can brief them better next, or streamline your processes in future. And it gives you a chance either to ask them to make doubly sure of a certain area of work in the next project or to praise them for specific achievements, which is more valuable than a vague ‘Great job!’
  • Buy your assistant a mug. Much tea or coffee is likely to be imbibed in the process of getting your projects done. Then, if you’re very lucky, when you’ve been working together for three years and your original mugs are getting chipped and faded, a lovely client might send you a smart new set.Gifts from clients

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

 

Posted by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator.

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

Wise owls: office companions

Christmas cuddly owlIn the last SfEP blog post of 2018, the Wise Owls are out in force to share their appreciation for that must-have item for every freelance editor or proofreader: an office companion.

Darcy (Hazel Bird's dog)Hazel Bird

Since she arrived in 2015, my furry editorial assistant (Darcy) has been mostly unassistive in her contributions to our joint workspace. She is excellent at identifying the correct use of words such as ‘biscuit’, ‘frisbee’, ‘lunch’ and (slightly more unusually) ‘teeth’. However, she is less good at tasks such as fixing problems with commas or chasing authors’ corrections. She excels at carrying out requests to find the human editorial assistant (generally in his office at the other end of the house). However, she is less adept at conveying any useful information to him or bringing him back with her, if required.

She has many admirable qualities to make up for these professional deficiencies, however. Although she will happily abandon me if there may be food on offer elsewhere, she is generally stalwart, usually being found in a bed next to my desk. Being a cockapoo and thus only slightly less energetic than a tornado, she also requires regular walks – a huge benefit for someone who otherwise has a tendency to become absorbed in her work and forget to move for hours on end.

Overall, during her three years of employment as chief editorial assistant, Darcy has done little to fulfil her job description. She has also probably destroyed more resources than she has generated for the business, having a talent for rendering almost any toy unsafe within an hour or so of receiving it. However, on balance, her positive qualities do outweigh her lack of editorial acumen, so she will likely stay in her role for the foreseeable future.

Louise Bolotin's Spotify playlistLouise Bolotin

For many years, my faithful office companion was Nelson, a pedigree British shorthair with blue tabby fur like velvet and huge green eyes. He was cute, adorable and largely quiet, which was a blessing when I needed to be deep in thought. Since his passing two years ago, I have two office companions. One is silence, the other noise. I must have silence when concentrating on the trickiest of edits. But I also must have music – I’ve been listening to music all my life and it’s as essential as eating for me.

You could say my go-to office companion now is Spotify. Much as I love to sing along to tracks, I find lyrics a massive distraction when working, so anything I play must be instrumental. I have some classical favourites – Smetana’s Ma Vlast and Rodrigo’s Concerto de Aranjuez are regularly on my virtual decks, for example. But my true love is reggae and I turn to the heaviest of heavy dub for satisfaction without vocals. It’s rhythmic and soothing, not too fast and typically has
60–90 beats per minute, perfectly matching a healthy heart rate. I’ve been listening to Joe Gibbs’ African Reggae since the late 70s and it never fails for me. Other dub albums are available, as they say.

Margaret Hunter's monkeyMargaret Hunter

I wasn’t going to contribute to this Wise Owls offering. I don’t need office companions, I thought. In fact, I love working on my own, able to get on with things just as I want, whenever I want, without people interfering or chatting or just generally being there.

But then I realised I’m not a total recluse. Freelance editors’ social media pages regularly feature office companions of the furry, purring, woofing (farting??) kind, but I don’t have a pet. I have Monkey (yes, I know he’s not…). He’s not great at conversation though; but he is there if I want a friendly ear to rant at.

And then there are the birds outside my window, who seem to get through seed as fast as I’m daft enough to keep filling it up. Yes… I need a window onto the natural world, and the birds, well, they make me happy.

But really my true companions are my SfEP colleagues. Maybe we rarely say the words out loud, but we’re having conversations all the time on the forums, on social media and via email. And just sometimes we meet in person.

So, I do have companions, human and otherwise. Without them this freelance editing lark would definitely be a much harder and lonelier slog.

Matty (Melanie Thompson's dog)Melanie Thompson

I literally would not be here without my Office Assistant, Matty. When I say ‘here’ I mean, in the village where I live – because a major reason for moving here was the fantastic local (dog-)walking. When I say ‘here’ I also mean ‘being a freelance editor’ – because if I hadn’t needed to stay at home to keep him company I may well have been tempted to take an office job a few years ago. And when I say ‘here’ I also mean ‘at my desk’ – because now he is an old dog and has very set habits. If I don’t say ‘let’s go to work’ and unlock my office door in the morning he looks very confused.

Having an office companion is a joy, but it’s also a job. Being a pet’s ‘parent’ brings responsibilities – and expense. So the yellow Dogs Trust stickers are absolutely right: a pet is for life, not just for Christmas. If you’re thinking of getting a pet, my top tips are: get good ‘lifetime’ pet insurance (Direct Line have been brilliant for us), and find local friends or professionals who can pet sit when needed.Matty in a field, in the sun

Matty often features on my Facebook page and in my annual newsletter to clients. He’s about to notch up his 13th Christmas in his role as Office Assistant. He’ll be getting an annual bonus (extra fish-skin treats). He has certainly earned it: all those hours of waiting patiently while I’m tapping on a keyboard; the twice-daily compulsory walks that often help me think through knotty editing problems; and helping me to get to know so many of my neighbours and all the local delivery people!

As I type, he’s starting the ‘4:30 whine-up’ … it’s nearly dinner time. Long may his daily commute continue.

Mike Faulkner's Pine MartenMike Faulkner

My office/shed is in the woods in deepest Argyll, so I am spoiled for choice when it comes to local fauna for company – regular passers-Mike Faulkner's red squirrelby are roe deer, pine martens and red squirrels. I haven’t managed to get a pic of one of the deer, but these two chaps come almost every day.

We live in fear that one day Piñon the pine marten is going to catch Squirl the squirrel (I know …), but so far Squirl has been way too fast and agile – hMike Faulkner's dog Eddiee can reach parts of the tree that are beyond Piñon’s wildest dreams, and he doesn’t seem put out by the odd stand-off.

Eddie watches them through the window when he isn’t on LinkedIn.

 

Nik Prowse

I don’t have any pets, although sometimes I think it would be nice to own a dog to warm my feet in winter. But when I think about what keeps me company in the office it’s invariably music.

I can’t edit to music – I just can’t concentrate on copy-editing with any background noise. But running an editorial business, and even working through the necessary tasks required to get a book manuscript back to the publisher, involves far more than just copy-editing. For the extra tasks, especially the mundane ones, I find background music helps my concentration hugely.
In the main, if I need music for concentration I choose ambient electronica. Ambient music often eschews normal song structure to create tracks that vary in length, sound and atmosphere a great deal. Once you get away from the idea that songs need words or instruments … or even a discernible structure … there’s a lot to discover! I find ambient music incredibly good for the concentration (except while editing, as I’ve said). Often referred to in a derogatory way as ‘wallpaper music’, for my purposes this is the point: it’s meant to be unobtrusive and in the background.

One of my current worktime favourites is by Carbon Based Lifeforms. Derelicts takes me back to the sounds of Vangelis or Jean Michel Jarre in the early 80s, and it’s a very soothing soundtrack for those more mundane office tasks.

Sue Littleford's bearsSue Littleford

Hurrah for arctophilia! Much as I miss my darling cats, they did have a habit of sitting on the keyboard at awkward moments, or sticking their butts in my face and walloping me with their tails: endearing out-of-hours but not so much on deadline. Teddies are much better behaved. My tribe is divided into bedroom bears and office bears and currently stands fifteen strong. The ten office bears stand (well, sit) guard and (over)fill my partner’s desk, as there’s no room on mine, but just for you, I had a bit of a tidy-up and you can see my guys (and one gal) in all their office-duty glory. The gal – Genevieve from Geneva – is a genuine work bear as she came home with me from a visit to a client.

Sue Littleford's bearsThe office bears are a very supportive bunch – they agree with all my decisions, commiserate when a manuscript turns out to be a bit of a ’mare, cheer when an invoice goes out and cheer even more when the invoice is paid. Decorative and decorous (no teddy butts in my face), each one is a delight. My bear from babyhood, Pinky, is retired (being more grey than pink, these days). You can see them all looking forward to a crisp winter! Season’s greetings from Pinky (he claimed seniority so must come first in the list), Arthur, Basil, Genevieve, Gerald, Hank, Harry, Kristoff, Little Binky, Marius, Robin, Rodney, Rudy, Siggy and Snowball.

Pip (Sue Browning's dog) Sue Browning

This is Pip, my office companion or, perhaps more accurately, my out-of-office companion, as she rarely ventures into my office (it’s tiny), only sheltering here when there’s serious bike fixing going on downstairs, involving Many Bad Words.

She was a rescue dog, and very timid. When she came to us, aged 5 months, she was afraid of people, dogs, cats, horses, cows, fireworks, gunshots, loud noises in general, and plastic bags. Now, after nearly 11 years of careful and loving nurture, I’m delighted to say she is no longer afraid of plastic bags.

She may not be my in-office companion, but she plays a vital role in my working life, making sure I get exercise and fresh air every day. I love her dearly, and wouldn’t be without her.

 

Posted by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator, Gaston, Abi Saffrey's catand Gaston, supreme office overlord.

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

Working with an assistant

By Cathy Tingle

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

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

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

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

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

Helen

Helen: On it

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

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

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

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

 

Posted by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator.

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

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

By Stephen Pigney

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

Globe on a desk

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

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

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

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

Patience, focus and familiarity

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

Learning about language and practice

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

Pieter Bruegal the Elder: Tower of Babel

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

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

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

Good editors are good travellers

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

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

Posted by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator.

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

 

The Book Trade Charity

By Gerard M-F Hill

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

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

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

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

The Retreat, Kings Langley

The Retreat, Kings Langley

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

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

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

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

 

Posted by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator.

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

Wise owls: networking

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

Metal owl ornaments huddled on a shelf

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

Louise BolotinLouise Bolotin

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

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

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

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

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

Michael FaulknerMichael Faulkner

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

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

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

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

Liz JonesLiz Jones

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

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

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

Sue LittlefordSue Littleford

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

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

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

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

Nik ProwseNik Prowse

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

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

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

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

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

 

Posted by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator.

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

 

Wise owls: expect the unexpected

After an unusual British summer, the SfEP wise owls share their tips for expecting the unexpected – what kind of planning can a freelance editor or proofreader do to lessen the impact of illness, bereavement or other life events on their business and clients?

Ceramic owl on wet stone

Hazel Bird

Hazel BirdThere’s often a perception that being freelance means a life free of impositions by other people, and there are certainly elements of truth to that. It’s also true that many clients will be warmly understanding when unavoidable circumstances mean a deadline becomes tenuous. But the cold, hard reality is that sometimes a deadline just cannot be shifted. Sometimes the push might come from the client (they may have financial and scheduling commitments that mean your lateness will create havoc for them) but sometimes the push to knuckle down and hit the deadline no matter what can come from you (if, for example, getting behind on your current project would have an unmanageable knock-on effect on your scheduling of other future projects). The result is often that a freelancer will find themselves working when they really, really wish they didn’t have to.

There’s no magical solution when you find yourself in this situation. Obviously the first step is to talk to your client and find out whether there’s any leeway in the deadline (even a day or two may make all the difference) or whether, for example, you might be able to deliver the work in stages. If you then feel the work will be manageable, get it done while taking as much care of yourself as possible, perhaps varying your usual hours around when you feel more able to focus. Shutting down your email and giving yourself a break from ongoing non-urgent commitments (work and non-work) are other possibilities that might help. And, if you can, look ahead to your future projects and see whether they can be moved around to give you some recuperation time once you’ve finished your current task.

In some circumstances, though, no matter what you do, you won’t be able to hit the deadline your client needs. When this happens, one possibility, if your arrangement with your client allows, may be to subcontract the work to another freelancer whose work you trust. However, if that’s not possible (or desirable), the most important thing you can do for the sake of your relationship with your client is to let them know as soon as possible that you won’t be able to meet the deadline. Few things are more damaging to a business relationship than failing to keep the other party informed about circumstances that might affect their ability to manage their schedules and stakeholders. What happens after you’ve told your client will vary widely between clients, and of course the worst-case scenario is that you end up losing the current project or even future work. Sometimes this is just an inevitable part of being freelance: we’re only human and we don’t have bottomless resources. However, in my experience at least (both as the freelancer and as the client), when circumstances that are truly beyond the freelancer’s control are handled with professionalism and good communication, there is rarely a major loss of future work.

Liz Jones

Liz Jones

Needing to take time off work for illness can be tough for freelancers, and I admit it’s something I haven’t got quite right yet myself! Along with everyone else in the UK, earlier this year I had the winter lurgy and, while I was able to scale back my workload so I could rest, I didn’t feel able to take time off completely. Clients would most likely have been sympathetic, but putting off too much work would only have affected projects scheduled in afterwards, which I didn’t want to have to send elsewhere. I battled through it all, but it wasn’t easy at times. So based on my recent experience, which I didn’t handle perfectly, here are a few tips for mitigating the problem, if not entirely solving it.

  1. If some deadlines can be extended, negotiate this with clients as early as possible. They will usually be sympathetic, even if they can’t give you much extra time.
  2. Don’t try to push on with work if you’re feeling too ill – it won’t be of a high standard. Take a break, or a nap, and come back to it when you’re fresher.
  3. Even if work can’t grind to a halt, ask for and accept help in other areas of life to ease the pressure.
  4. With all projects, try to allow some contingency in the schedule. This helps if things don’t come at expected times, too.
  5. Stay vigilant when it comes to rates. It’s difficult to take any time off if you’re only just covering your costs at the best of times.
  6. Seek the support of colleagues. Freelancing is always demanding, and working through illness is just another aspect of this. A little sympathy can go a long way.

Abi Saffrey

Abi SaffreyI think there are two aspects to dealing with the unexpected: preparing for it, and dealing with it when it happens. Wise financial gurus tell us we should have three months’ income stashed away to cover our expenses if we’re not earning; there are income protection insurance policies that pay out when we can’t work due to illness and injury; the government pays Employment and Support Allowance if an illness or disability affects our ability to work (though if we have stashed away that three months’ income, we may not be entitled).

As well as thinking about the financial aspect of the unexpected, there’s the practical aspects of running a business too – who is going to contact clients if we are unable to? A great suggestion on the SfEP forums a couple of years ago about a disaster plan was turned into a blog post; knowing that everything is in order will mean one less thing to worry about if faced with long-term or terminal illness.

Even an absence of a few days has implications – good relationships with clients are going to be essential when asking for a deadline extension or having to return a project unfinished. The temptation is always there just to keep on going, but sometimes it’s best to be realistic, bite the bullet, take however many days off, and then come back ready for action. Working when unwell or grieving may do more damage – to our work and our health – than good.

Of course, this is all easier said than done – I need to get my disaster plan back to the top of my to-do list!

Sue Littleford

Sue LittlefordFreelancers with corporate experience may have come across disaster recovery planning before, and it’s something you need to take on in your own business – ideally ahead of needing to call on it! Think about all the ways you can come a cropper, and make plans. You may want to investigate income protection insurance and personal accident cover (as well as professional indemnity insurance, in case you blunder because you’re not on top form) so that if you’re unable to work because of ill health, you still have some income.

Your plans will vary according to the type of work you do. I work at book length almost all the time, so I build in wiggle room for my migraines and other contingencies (I usually allow at least four contingency days per project). If you’re whipping through short articles on a tight timescale, that’s harder to deal with, but it does mean you shouldn’t fill all your time with scheduled work – you need wiggle room, too, for everything from a bad cold to a broken computer.

If you can’t spend your time working – a child’s sick, you’ve broken your arm, you’ve been bereaved – then the first thing to do is NOT to pretend it’s not happening, but to communicate about it. Assess whether you’re safe to carry on working in terms of how well you’re still able to concentrate as well as perform physically, and how long you’re likely to be off work. Look at which of your clients are affected and contact them. They may be able to extend the deadline or split a big job with another of their freelances.

Organised freelancers have a buddy system, with a number of trusted colleagues they can refer work to, or who can pick up the pieces. One of the definitions of being a freelancer in the eyes of HMRC is that you can subcontract, so don’t be shy about doing it. But do, again, communicate with your client. And accept that you may lose a job that you can’t finish or can’t start on time – some things just can’t be fixed or worked around.

If you’re hospitalised, then you’ll need someone who can access your computer and contact your clients, perhaps sending them as much work as you’ve done so far. Ruth Thaler-Carter has updated her good piece on the An American Editor blog on planning for and dealing with the worst, which will give you plenty of food for thought, as will Laura Ripper and Luke Finley’s post (mentioned by Abi above). If your ill health is likely to be of some duration, or to impact your ability to work long term, you should explore whether you qualify for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) with the DWP.

Sometimes, though, the work simply can’t be done in time, so take a look at your contract now to make sure it covers clearly what happens in such cases, and doesn’t allow a corporate client to shift all their risk onto your shoulders. If you’ve taken any part of your fee upfront, how much of it do you refund? What happens to the work you’ve already done, if you’ve begun?

Mostly (judging by a quick poll of the Owls), it’s just a matter of gritting your teeth, propping your eyelids open, taking the painkillers or cold remedy and working long hours to catch up as soon as you’re able. Powering through is grim, but that may be your only solution.

Sue Browning

Sue BrowningThe first step is to recognise that when you are in the midst of a crisis you’re probably in no fit state to work, even if you can put in place arrangements to do so. Don’t try to struggle through. You won’t do your best work and, worse, you’ll do yourself no favours. Above all, look after yourself. It’s never going to be easy, but there are a few things you can do to prepare for a time when you need to put business concerns to one side for a while.

Preparation

You have to accept that you are likely to lose some business, even if it is just for the duration of your absence, but this will be a lot less stressful if you’ve got a buffer of money put aside. I aim to have about two months’ income in a savings account. I know that can be difficult, but start now, and save little and often. I know freelancers can get insurance to cover times when they can’t work, but policies are costly, you pay for their admin, and you don’t get it back if you don’t claim, which is money wasted. Besides, who needs the additional hassle of putting in an insurance claim? (Caveat: this is my opinion, specific to my circumstances, not financial advice! Your personal circumstances will be different and insurance might be a good option for you.)

Ask someone to be your designated actor (DA) and brief them as thoroughly as you can. In particular, tell them how to navigate your email and file system and find out what projects you are currently working on so they can contact your clients if you can’t. If you don’t already have a system that makes that information easily available (spreadsheet, Word doc –  mine’s a mind map), do that now, and keep it up to date. Your business will benefit from this overview, whether you need to use it as part of a contingency plan or not. I’m currently developing a file for my DA that contains information about where to find stuff and any necessary passwords, along with a prepared out-of-office email message and template messages for different clients. Whatever form this takes, it’s worth walking your DA through it if you can, and make sure they are clear on what they are expected to do, and not do.

I haven’t set up any contingency plans to have another editor take over my work. That’s my choice, with my particular customers. Again, your mileage may vary.

When crisis strikes

If you have time, tell your clients what is happening, starting with those who are expecting work from you and those who have already booked you in advance. You don’t need to go into details, just share as much as you feel comfortable with. In my experience, most people are understanding and supportive (one of my customers sent me flowers when my mum died) and will be there when you are ready to get back down to work again.

Again, if you have time, set up your email autoresponder so that incoming messages get a reply that tells them you will be out of action for a while. Then ignore your email. Don’t even look at it.

It’s trickier if your email client doesn’t have an autoresponse option, as I’m not comfortable with my incoming messages getting no reply at all, however cursory. It may therefore be worth monitoring your mail, say once every two days, if you have the capacity to do so. Set up some ‘out of office’ autotext (e.g. using TextExpander or PhraseExpress) so that with little effort on your part, messages at least receive a reply, but don’t be tempted to enter into a conversation – this is just so that you don’t seem rude.

If you can’t do these actions yourself, now’s the time to activate your DA. Have them alert your current and planned clients and set up your autoresponder or monitor your inbox and reply briefly on your behalf.

On your return

When you’re ready to take up the reins again, do take it easy at first. Some personal crises change your life forever, so don’t expect to be your usual self immediately, if ever. Be kind to yourself and be realistic about what you can achieve.

Contact any regular clients and let them know you are back and ready to receive work. Then work your way through any emails that have accumulated in your absence. Triage them quickly, without much thought, into messages that are worth following up and stuff that can be deleted. Delete a lot. The last thing you want is to clutter your inbox and your mind with might-have-beens. Other opportunities will come up. Trust me. That said, if an interesting offer has come in but you missed out, there’s no harm in a quick reply along the lines of ‘Sorry I couldn’t help you this time but I’d certainly be interested in any future projects.’

Don’t take on too much too quickly. Depending on the reason for your absence, and how long it was, you may find you tire more quickly or that concentration takes a while to come back. Listen to your body and mind, and adapt accordingly. You will find a way back… on your own terms.

 

Posted by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator.

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

Why freelance editors should write a business plan

Continuing our series of conference tasters, here is Erin Brenner on ‘Using business information to increase your profits’ and the value of writing a business plan.

I’ve been a freelance editor for over 10 years, and 2018 was the first year I had thought about a business plan, never mind trying to write one. My plan was simple, I thought:

  1. Sell writing and editing services to businesses.
  2. Collect the money.
  3. Track and report my business expenses.
  4. Pay my taxes.

That’s it.

But in the last couple of years, my marketing plan had gotten stale, and I’ve felt more than a little burned out of social media. I wanted to reinvigorate my marketing so that I could keep growing my company. I decided that, like a writer who is too close to their work to see the problems, I needed objective advice on what to do.

I approached SCORE, a US organization that provides free business mentoring and training, for help. I met with coaches local to me, and they urged me to start by writing a business plan. Because I had never done one before, the process should reveal things I had been taking for granted that could inform my marketing. The document could also be used as a case for getting funding for my project.

I struggled for weeks to write my plan. Certainly some of the delay was having other things to do – like actually running my business. But I also struggled with some of the work of it, such as creating an estimated and detailed profit-and-loss (P&L) statement and comparing my editing business with other editing businesses to determine problems (“threats,” in business jargon) and opportunities.

After a few months and several drafts, my business coaches signed off on my plan as completed. It was a lot of work, most of it decidedly un-fun, but now I have a document that describes what my company is and where I want to take it next.

And next time, I won’t have to start the darn thing from scratch.

All of this might seem like a lot of unnecessary work to revamp my marketing plan. But the process made me think seriously about my business: How much do I want to earn in a month? How many hours do I want to work? How much is each client worth to me and how many more clients do I need to meet my goals?

The work is already paying off. I’m excited all over again about my business, because I’ve reminded myself of what I want. I have some great ideas for repositioning my services and reworking my marketing that continue to develop as I work on my plan. I’ve already made small adjustments in how I work with clients, and that has improved the client’s experience and my bottom line. And I haven’t even outlined my marketing plan yet!

If you haven’t written a business plan before, I’d recommend doing one – even if, like me, it takes seemingly forever. The work you put in will pay off. Besides mentoring, SCORE offers free information and business templates that anyone can use, no matter where you live.

Or start small. In September, I’ll present “Using business information to increase your profits” at SfEP’s 2018 national conference. Together, we’ll look at some key business metrics – what they are, how to track them, and what they tell – so that you discover the hidden opportunities in your business.

Most businesses start with a vision. Every so often, you have to step back and see how that vision is emerging and where you need to help it along.

Join me for my “Using business information” session, and we’ll look at it together!

Erin BrennerErin Brenner is co-owner and publisher of Copyediting. She has been a publishing professional for two decades, working in a variety of media. Erin also runs editorial services company Right Touch Editing and teaches in UCSD’s Copyediting Certificate program. Follow her on LinkedIn and SlideShare.

 

Note: A version of this article first appeared on Copyediting.com.

Sharing is caring: Collaboration among freelance fiction editors

Carrie O’Grady

The other day, I sat down with some of my fellow fiction editors for coffee and a chat. One looked particularly brow-beaten. ‘I’m really stumped on this structural edit of the latest in the Two-Dimensional Murders series,’ she confessed. ‘The author has Miss Scarlet committing the crime in the billiard room with the candlestick. But how she manages to sneak it away from the dining-table unseen, while the rest of the guests are enjoying a candlelit dinner, is beyond me.’

confused

We sympathised. ‘I know just how you feel,’ said another. ‘In the mystery I’m working on, this professor – Plum, he’s called – bumps off the host in the conservatory with a length of lead pipe. It’s causing me no end of problems, considering that the author also has him chatting to the colonel in the lounge at the exact moment the murder is committed.’

‘A good alibi,’ mused a third. ‘Perhaps too good. Is there any possibility of, say, a secret passage?’

‘Why – that’s brilliant!’ gasped the editor. And we all cheered and hugged and congratulated ourselves on another problem solved.

In reality, of course, it’s not like that. Fiction editors, like all other editors, are bound by confidentiality clauses that prevent them from spilling the details of their clients’ plots. (Which is a shame, in a way, because we are all people who love stories and love talking about stories. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has to bite my tongue so as not to enthuse to others about a particularly ingenious plot workaround that a client and I have cooked up together.)

That’s not to say that we don’t help each other out. There are certain problems particular to fiction that have no single ‘best-practice’ solution, and it’s not easy to work out which will suit your project best. For instance, say you have a third-person narrator, Emma. As she talks to her friend, Harriet, she is struck by a sudden realisation. How do you convey her thoughts to the reader? Do you put them in italics? In her own words, or yours? Is it lapsing into ‘filtering’ to tell us that ‘it darted through her, with the speed of an arrow, that Mr Knightley must marry no one but herself’?

Questions such as these are easily phrased so as to give away little or nothing about the nature of the book. They often crop up on social media or in the SfEP forums, where other editors love to pitch in with suggestions. The supportive nature of the community is astonishing; new entrants to the field are greeted with a chorus of warm wishes and friendly advice.

What’s particularly useful about Facebook and its ilk, to fiction editors, is its international breadth of expertise. Say your client, a Brit, has penned a romance set in Seattle. ‘Perhaps he simply doesn’t fancy me,’ sighs the heroine. You know it’s not quite right, but if you haven’t heard much American slang, it can be hard to reword such a line so that it sounds remotely convincing. Ask the internet, and a chorus of voices will sing out across the Atlantic: ‘Guess he’s just not that into me!’

Fiction editors around the world are constantly giving each other tips on other regional matters, such as copyright law and cultural sensitivities. When e-books can be read anywhere across the globe from Day One of publication, there is great scope for offence in even the most innocuous novel. And we all know the damage even a single outraged Amazon review can do.

coffee break

The most rewarding form of collaboration, though, is the kind where we really do get together, in person, and sit down for a coffee and a chat. The SfEP annual conference is one such occasion, warmly anticipated by many editors around the UK and beyond. Smaller workshops throughout the year are organised cooperatively, with the twin aims of improving our professional skills and building personal links with our colleagues.

We may be prohibited from sharing our clients’ stories, but there’s nothing we like better than sharing our own. This is not just editorial self-indulgence. Having such a collaborative network ultimately helps our clients too, and it hopefully means the published work is even better for some collective input.

Carrie O'GradyCarrie O’Grady is a fiction editor and former reviewer for the Guardian. You’ll find her at the Hackney Fiction Doctor or on Twitter at  @carrietoast.

 

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