Category Archives: Freelance life

Information for freelancers.

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

Don’t fear the forums

Hello, my name is Amy and I am a forum lurker [wave].

I’ve been a member of the SfEP for four years and, while I read the forums almost every day, I am more than a little embarrassed to say that my first forum post was to ask people if they wanted to be interviewed for this article. But in doing so I did break my non-posting streak (yay!).

Chameleon

My lack of contribution is not because I think there’s nothing for me to learn or that I never have any questions. Au contraire: I’ve learned (and continue to learn) some brilliant stuff from the forums. They are an excellent source of support and information in what can often be a solitary profession. I also have questions on a daily basis and quite frankly, my office orchid is a horrible conversationalist.

What has, in the past, stopped me from posting is (a) a basic fear of sounding like a dunderhead or (b) there being a typo or grammatical inaccuracy in my question. I’ve lost count of how many posts I have started and deleted as a direct result of these fears.

Forum fears

From the responses I got to my forum post, I believe there is a robust community of lurkers out there. I also believe there is one overwhelming barrier to contributing to the forums: fear.
There appear to be two types of forum-related fear: (a) of making a fool of yourself with a silly question or a mistake and (b) fear of others’ reactions and tactless replies. While the forums are a rich source of support and insight, it appears they are also a source of much angst for us lurkers.

Ally Oakes, for example, told me that she ‘didn’t dare’ ask anything on the forums for months after joining the Society, partly due to fear and partly due to a feeling of not having anything to say.

Claire Langford has posted in the forums a few times in the last eight months, but still feels hesitant. She says that the limiting factor for her is experience: ‘I very rarely post a response to a question, largely because I don’t yet feel I am enough of an authority to give advice to other proofreaders and copy-editors.’ When she does post, she will ‘check, re-check and check again’ any posts due to an ‘agonising fear’ of there being a spelling mistake or grammatical error.

I recognise and empathise with both Ally’s and Claire’s feelings, but wise words from John Espirian, who was fundamental in setting up the forums, help put the fear of forums into perspective:

Even the best editors make mistakes. The forums are a private space away from prying eyes, and the community is supportive enough to overlook these things. So I wouldn’t worry about the odd typo slipping into your text – it happens. Don’t let this fear hold you back from posting questions, as you’ll be missing out on the collective wisdom of hundreds of experienced editorial pros.

This is a sentiment echoed by Claire and Ally, who variously describe the forums as ‘a godsend’ and a source of really useful snippets of information. According to Ally, ‘The fear is natural and isn’t a bad thing; it’s a part of starting something new.’ I too can attest that I have only had very helpful and thoughtful responses to my literal cry for help.

Many members have told me that they feel access to the forums is one of the main perks of SfEP membership. Statistics kindly provided by John show that there are 1,804 forum users, 32% of whom are active, which means they have logged into the forums at least once in the last 30 days. You can then figure out how many fellow lurkers there are when you see that only 231 active users have at least 50 posts. This shows something that we all probably know already, that some users feel more confident posting than others.

Which leads nicely into the second fear – that of replies that may make you feel foolish or upset. Thankfully, these seem to be few and far between, but there are members who have been put off contributing to the forums as a result of an ill-considered response that was perceived to be unhelpful or unkind.

It is worth remembering when replying to a forum post that the contributor may have spent ages writing and rewriting their question or comment, trying to make it perfect. John sums it up nicely: ‘Be kind and clear. Remember that you didn’t always know it all (and you probably don’t even now).’

If you look at the forums you will see questions from people of all membership levels. There are few who believe they have all the answers, and the forums are a space in which to seek advice and information from virtual colleagues. It is an opportunity we should all make the most of.

How can you beat the forum fears?

So how can you beat the forum fear and confidently make your first post? My first piece of advice is not to overthink it. One Advanced Professional Member suggested I ask about the best kind of printer – it doesn’t have to be a complex or high-brow question to get you started.

Secondly, don’t hover over ‘Submit’ for too long. The longer you wait, the more likely you are to press ‘Delete’ instead.

John Espirian also has some tips to help assuage potential first posters’ nerves:

  1. Check out the link at the top of the Newbies page, which gives you a list of hints and tips to get you started.
  2. Make use of the search function before posting. Your topic, or even specific question, may have already been discussed. Even if it’s not exactly the answer you need, it might help you to tailor your question.

Given the calibre of the members of the SfEP, it can be daunting to contribute to a conversation, but my advice is, don’t underestimate the value of what you can add. Even if you are a relative newcomer to the industry, your life experience or unique insight could be really valuable and much appreciated by the community. And a new voice is always welcome. So, when it comes to the forums, in the inimitable words of Dr Susan Jeffers, feel the fear and do it anyway.

Amy ReayAmy Armitage-Reay is an ex-forum lurker and Professional Member of the SfEP. She started her professional life as a reporter and has run Ethos Editing (www.ethosediting.com), which specialises in creating academic content, since 2009.

 

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

Home-working, coworking and me

Gemma Greenhalgh looks at the benefits for the self-employed home-worker of occasionally getting out of the house and using your local coworking space.

Cat asleep on desk

Up until 2008, I had only ever been out to work. By that I mean out of the house and situated elsewhere, mainly in an office. Nine to five. Idle chat around the water cooler. Nipping out for a sandwich at lunchtime. Actual shoes on my feet (instead of slippers). You catch my drift.

That year, 2008, introduced me to my first ‘home-based’ job. I was an Independent Living Adviser for a charity based in Nuneaton – visiting disabled people in their own homes to give advice about employing their own support staff. And I was working from my own home.

‘Get up and get dressed as though you’re going into the office’ one colleague advised. ‘I hate it; I get lonely and depressed’ someone else bemoaned. I was getting mixed messages from my new colleagues but was determined to keep an open mind.

Luckily my partner and I have a spare room so I set up my desk on one side of it. I liked it. Friends and family made constant reference to lie-ins, working in pyjamas and watching daytime TV. I laughed all this off – what a notion!

Fast forward nearly a decade and I am indeed writing this at 8.15 a.m. in my PJs. I do occasionally watch Three in a Bed at lunchtime. I might sleep in if the day before was particularly long or fraught. I have been known to work with a cat or chicken on my knee. I still get the job done. My working day doesn’t suffer.

A constant balancing act

The frontiers between ‘home life at home’ and ‘work life at home’ are a constant blur and balancing act. Family members ask me to run an errand for them because, ‘such and such can’t do it as they’re at work.’ Is this because they’ve heard about the daytime TV and assume my day is ‘informal’ and ‘unstructured’ so a small errand won’t hurt?

My retired neighbour recently knocked on my office window and wanted my opinion about her hand-knitted socks. I was frantically trying to meet a tight deadline and had to shoo her away. I texted her later to apologise. ‘I forget you work from home’ was the response.

How can I avoid or adapt to such things? Should I be more strict with my ‘relaxed’ approach so my nearest and dearest take my vocation more seriously? Can I not just benefit from the advantages of being home based without others taking advantage? Shall I just throw a strop, form a barricade around my office and insist I’m left in peace and quiet (until I want to watch the TV at lunchtime that is)?

Do not disturb sign

My stint as an employed and home-based Independent Living Adviser lasted for three years. So far, I have been a self-employed, home-based proofreader and copywriter for over four years. To help with the questions posed above I have been thinking about alternatives to the ‘office-in-the-spare-room’ scenario.

A break from the norm

I thought about the potential of local cafes and libraries. I then discovered a couple of Nottingham-based coworking spaces and decided to give them a try. What did I have to lose except my dressing gown? A friend who is also self-employed (and gets easily distracted by the washing-up) decided to join me. I’ve since discovered that she gets easily distracted by many things. Whoever thought of putting shops and eateries in the city centre? Anyway, that’s another story…

It turns out that coworking spaces are pretty good! You can do that thing where you actually talk to people. You can escape the cat. Dressing gowns are a thing of the past! Who knew?!

I tried not to think about my slippers getting cold and lonely in the hallway and got on with: chatting to real-life human beings; looking at different walls; gazing out of different windows; having a slightly longer than average lunch break; and not worrying about domestic irritants like a speck of dust on the sideboard. Oh, and I did get some work done too.

There are coworking spaces around the country and they charge around £15–£20 per day/£8–£10 per half day outside London (some charge by the day and others by the month), which generally includes Wi-Fi, drinks and snacks, a work/desk area, toilet facilities and plug points. Some also provide bookable meeting rooms, monitors, quiet zones, printing, business advice and more besides.

I live a good 30 minutes away from Nottingham (longer in rush hour) so it’s not something I want to take advantage of too often. There are libraries and cafes (but no coworking spaces!) much closer that offer a similar break from the norm.

It’s an alien feeling to get stuck in a traffic jam when you’d usually be making your jam on toast in the morning. However, coworking can offer many advantages to the home-worker and it’s worth considering if you’re hankering for a change of scene, human-that-isn’t-family interaction or a feeling of belonging to a self-employed community.

Coworking is flexible and gets you out of the house and meeting people

Dee Miller, owner of Minor Oak Nottingham Coworking, sums it up perfectly: ‘Coworking gets you out of the house, working at an office you choose, in a supportive and diverse community of real-world colleagues.’ Dee has written about the benefits of coworking on the Minor Oak website, and from reading her words you get a real sense of coworking as a saver of sanity, an incentive to get out of the house and a place to meet people and share ideas and experiences.

There are many coworking spaces across the UK, albeit predominantly in urban areas, and it is easy to research the good mix of local coworking opportunities online. It is handy to know about such spaces and make use of them as and when it suits you, your day and your workload.

Like many aspects of self-employment, coworking is flexible. It offers a modern solution to the isolation felt by many self-employed people and seems to bring the home office and the traditional office together in a new way.

Concluding aside:

The issue of the hyphenation or non-hyphenation of the word ‘coworking’ is contentious. Google ‘coworking and the hyphen’ and you’ll see what I mean!

Gemma GreenhalgGemma Greenhalgh has run GG Editorial Services since 2013 and is a professional member of the SfEP. She loves volunteering for numerous charities, including the British Hen Welfare Trust on their ex-commercial hen rescue days. Her favourite part is waving off the ‘spent’ hens, which were destined for slaughter, to their new free-range life. She is a massive fan of the Brontë siblings, particularly Emily. Wuthering Heights is her favourite book and Haworth is her spiritual home.

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

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

 

Navigating the freelance talent pool

BookMachine’s Laura Summers introduces their latest white paper, which talks about how editorial managers can tap into the vast pool of freelance editorial professionals.

Navigating the freelance talent pool

The SfEP directory is a great example of the scale and importance of freelancing and outsourcing work in the publishing industry today. Browsing through the listings gives such an insight into the scale and breadth of professionals all over the country. Everyone on the list is working in publishing; but aside from the moonlighters, most are editing away, far from the confines of a London- or Oxford-based publishing house.

Over the past six years, the BookMachine team have noticed a definite increase in the numbers of freelancers attending events. This might be due to the inclusivity of the community, and that those working outside a traditional publishing company have more company events to attend and aren’t looking to build their network in the same way that those running a small business are. However, we suspect that it is more than that. We think that the freelance talent pool is growing, due to increasing demands for publishers to work on more complex projects with tighter turnaround times and often increased volumes. The need for out-of-house support has never been greater.

With this in mind, working on behalf of Just Content, we produced a new white paper for the publishing industry with vital information and advice on tapping into the freelance talent pool.

It is aimed at editorial managers, though it caters to anyone involved in conducting team projects within publishing. Which is everyone really.

With evidence that the freelance market is expanding both within and outside of publishing, the white paper is a timely reminder of how we can all work together harmoniously.

You can download it free of charge today.

Laura Summers is co-founder of BookMachine – the community for people who make publishing happen. As well as organising events for the industry, BookMachine manage an online network of professionals sharing advice and knowledge. Laura and her team are also available to manage events, business development and marketing projects for small and mid-sized publishers.

Wise owls: how to market your business in 2017

January is an ideal time to reflect on your freelance goals and identify new ways to promote your editorial business. In their latest blog post, the wise owls provide advice on how to build your business in the new year.

Liz Jones

‘Marketing’ can seem like an intimidating concept, far removed from our usual work as editors, so it can help to think of it in terms of things we can do a little of every day, or every week, rather than a separate task. For me, it’s about keeping myself ‘out there’ in people’s minds – existing clients, clients I would like to attract, and also colleagues who might recommend me. I do this across a range of channels: through my regular interactions with clients (I am quick to respond, helpful and polite); by making contact with potential new clients (by my presence in online directories like the SfEP Directory, LinkedIn or social media, or by targeted emails); and by keeping engaged with what’s going on with my colleagues (via the SfEP forums or other online groups, chipping in when I have something helpful to contribute). I blog too, and it all adds up to what I hope is a positive and helpful online presence, with the overall professional image I want to project.

I don’t do all of these things every day or very aggressively, but rather little and often – the effect is that my marketing builds up to a useful level without my having to put in a massive one-off effort. Having said that, one of my tasks for 2017 is to undertake a more targeted direct marketing experiment, with the aim of achieving specific measurable results for my editorial business.

Abi SaffreyAbi Saffrey

An SfEP directory entry is a great place to start if you don’t have one yet. It’s included in the subscription cost for Professional and Advanced Professional members and we can now edit our own entries – a great way to add in that new software you’ve got to grips with, or include that new client you’re excited about working with. Put a link to your entry in your email signature and it’s like a taster CV for potential clients.

Once that’s sorted, get talking. Make connections. Thanks to the miracle of the internet, this is easier than it’s ever been before. Get talking on social media, through forums, in groups on LinkedIn. Treat people as respected peers, whatever their role, and see what happens. Create relationships – some people may become clients; others could end up being your rock when times are tough. As freelancers, we need both.

Sue BrowningSue Browning

Marketing your business is much more than sending emails or making calls, or even writing a blog or ‘doing’ social media, it’s how you present yourself in all outward-facing situations, and it’s probably unconscious. Wherever you interact – in forums, on LinkedIn, Twitter or Facebook, on your blog, or even face to face – you are expressing your personality and values and, by extension, those of your business. Be courteous, knowledgeable and helpful and, if it suits you, witty or provocative. Ask and answer questions, sympathise and laugh with others, share useful information and stories. Above all, be yourself, and people will notice you for the right reasons. Not all of them will ever want to use your services, but it only takes one… and you may even have some fun in the process.

Margaret HunterMargaret Hunter

If you are marketing then, let’s face it, you are selling something. But what is it, and why would people want to buy it?

‘I’d like you to buy my whatsit. I’m not quite sure what it’s made of, or whether it’s the whatsit you really need … and I haven’t made many whatsits yet, so it might not be as good as other whatsits … but I really need to sell some … please!

No thanks. You’ll know, if you’ve done an internet search for proofreading or copy-editing services, that the competition is fierce. So, imagine the task for an author, business or organisation looking to hire someone. It can be pretty hard to know who to pick. You therefore need to stand out. Hopefully that will be because potential clients can quickly see that what you are selling is just what they need, and that you’re qualified to do the job, making it an easy decision to send an enquiry.

You’ll therefore need to take time to work out what it is you do have to offer, what makes you a good person to offer it, and then find the right words to explain that to others. And the right words will depend on who you are trying to reach. Think laterally – what skills and talents have you built up, in work and in your personal life, that will make you better at doing what you do now?

Some general thoughts:

  • If you’re just starting out, don’t try to offer too much, or more than you have been trained in. Focus on what you know you can deliver professionally and competently.
  • Get the proper training (e.g. from the SfEP or the PTC) and then advertise it prominently, along with your SfEP member logo of course.
  • As soon as you can, get meaningful client testimonials. Whenever you return a job, include a feedback sheet or ask permission to use nice things clients have said about your work in emails.
  • Regularly review your sales offering – is it clear, does it stand out, have you added skills or training?

Posted by Tracey Roberts, SfEP blog coordinator

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

SfEP local group: Northern Ireland

The Northern Ireland local group was established in 2011, the first time there has ever been an SfEP group in Northern Ireland. Our founder and coordinator is Averill Buchanan.

Belfast meetings are typically informal events held in cafes in the centre of Belfast, the benefit of which is that cakes and pastries are readily available! There’s usually six or so members at any one meeting, and with no fixed agenda everyone gets the opportunity to talk about the issues that are important to them. It’s also a chance for new SfEP members to meet more established members to ask questions about things they may be struggling with in their work and careers. But it’s not just a chance for us to network professionally. Many firm friendships have been established over the years since the first meeting.

The experiences of members vary widely. Between us we cover lots of different specialisms – business writing, educational texts, fiction, music, student theses – and within those areas there’s a mix of skills – project management, developmental editing, copy-editing and proofreading, as well as book design, formatting and typesetting. We’re really quite a mixed bunch!

Better together

Our presence at a local level has grown considerably since 2011, and we are now invited to local publishing events. Earlier this year we had a stand at a local publishing fair in the Linen Hall Library in Belfast where we stood alongside publishers and other professionals in Northern Ireland. This enabled us to spread the word about the SfEP, and offered us a great chance to network.

We also have our own website (www.epani.org.uk) and Twitter account (@epa_ni), which helps to market our members’ services in Northern Ireland. We have more clout working collectively to win new clients. Indeed, earlier this year, several members got together to bid on a big local government project that would have been beyond the reach of any one individual.

Three local group members made the trip to the SfEP’s annual conference in Birmingham in 2016. We spent some time at the September local group meeting talking about the conference and encouraging others to consider going next year. We had thirteen people at that meeting, including three first-timers – a record number for a group meeting. We drew names out of a hat to give away the fabulous Cult Pen goodie bag from the conference.

We’ve just had our annual Christmas lunch, always a popular event, with thirteen attendees. We spent an enjoyable couple of hours eating, chatting and drinking a very welcome glass of prosecco bought by a member who couldn’t join us in person – thanks, Mike!

If you’re based in Northern Ireland, or if you’re an SfEP member visiting Belfast, you’d be very welcome to join us at our next meeting. Contact Victoria Woodside (victoriawoodside@me.com) for more information.

Victoria Woodside is enjoying her second career working as a freelance editor and proofreader in between caring for her four little people. She likes nothing better than a roaring fire and a glass of red on these cold winter nights. You can find her at www.proofreaderni.com, on Facebook as ProofreaderNI or on Twitter @vicproofreader.

 

Image credit: Tim Fields Creative Commons 2.0

Posted by Tracey Roberts, SfEP blog coordinator

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