To celebrate the launch of our three-level suite of proofreading training courses, the SfEP ran a competition to ask people what they had discovered about the profession of being a proofreader and why training for the role is important. Our winner is Stephen Pigney, who is making the move from academia to launching his business as a freelance proofreader. Here is Stephen’s winning entry.
Wiser now than I once was, I make this confession of former folly: for a long time I believed that proofreading required little more than the ability to spell and punctuate, a sound grasp of grammar and a hawkish eye for detail. A text, a red pen (most likely of a metaphorical and digital kind) and someone reading and correcting the text: this was the image my mind conjured up of proofreading. The process was, I supposed, simultaneously interesting and mechanical. Perhaps it is natural to imagine unfamiliar professions in simple ways; no doubt many consider an aptitude for quick thinking and persuasive argument sufficient to make a lawyer. If such misconceptions encourage ventures into a profession, then they are not without merit. We all have to begin somewhere, and simple-minded confidence is not the worst place to start. So it was that, self-assured about my abilities and knowledge, I forayed into proofreading – and soon learned that I knew far less than I had imagined.
Fill the gaps in your proofreading skills and knowledge on one of the SfEP’s respected courses
I discovered that there is more to proofreading than meets the eye. I had been mistaken to think only of a proofreader’s relationship with a text, for I had missed how the proofreader stands at a crucial intersection between different people. The eyes of a hawk are not enough; the proofreader needs to see a text as an author, a typesetter, a publisher or a reader sees it. Proofreading is a delicate art of facilitating communication; it consists of honouring and respecting an author’s voice, a typesetter’s skills, a publisher’s vision and a reader’s needs; it requires precision, judgment, tact and informed understanding. Texts are complex artefacts, embodying language, ideas, creativity, design, meaning and (frequently) commercial intention – and this is before they take on life in the hands and minds of their readers. In the process that begins with an idea and ends with a publication, the proofreader has, perhaps uniquely, both an intimate relationship with the text and a connection with each interested party. Yet – and this too must be learned – the ideal proofreader must strive for invisibility: proofreading is noticed not when it is done well, but when it is done ineptly or badly.
‘…proofreading is noticed not when it is done well, but when it is done ineptly or badly.’
There has been much more I have learned: how to follow a brief; how to mark a text; how to work with various formats; how (and when) to raise a query; how to use style guides. I became familiar with numerous resources and how to utilise them; I became acquainted with typographical and publishing conventions, with workflow, schedules and project management, and with the role played by budgets and timescales. And I learned how different texts have varying requirements and present distinct challenges. A marketing brochure, a retailer’s catalogue, a local newsletter, a scholarly monograph, an illustrated book, a blog post, a glossy magazine feature, a novel – all have their own characteristics, demands and potential complications.
A gradual accumulation of experience has contributed to my growing knowledge. Above all, however, I have benefited from training. Good training (such as that offered by the SfEP or PTC, with their extensive resources, expert tutors and industry recognition) is about professionalisation. I did not so much learn this as have it confirmed: fortunately, when I set out to establish myself as an editor and proofreader, I had the good sense to put training at the heart of my plan. It was through training that my understanding of the proofreader’s role deepened; it was through training that I learned skills and best practice; and it was through training that I became familiar with a wider range of texts than I would have encountered through practice alone.
Acquiring, improving and reinforcing skills and knowledge is reason enough for my professional vision to focus on training – especially given the rapidly changing and digitally evolving world of writing and publishing. But there is much more to training than this. To join a training programme is to connect to a body of knowledge, practice and experience; it is a gateway to recognition, status and a community. It is also about building and strengthening self-confidence. As a freelance proofreader, endeavouring to manage and grow my business from scratch, robust training has given me the confidence that I can develop the skills, expertise and flexibility necessary to enhance my reputation, market myself successfully and, most importantly, provide an exceptional proofreading service. This is why training has been and will remain important to me: it constitutes the fertile foundation from which my business can flourish and my practice can excel.
Stephen Pigney is a former (although still part-time) academic historian. After many years of occasional proofreading and editorial work, in 2017 he set up his full-time editorial business (stephenpigneyeditor.com). As well as editing, he enjoys thinking and writing about many topics, and even pens occasional fiction. He is based in London.
Posted by Margaret Hunter, marketing and PR director
The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the SfEP
Although I have been doing editing and proofreading tasks for my company for a while, I knew I needed proper training plus experience of working in different settings to make sure my skills were up to scratch. I’m sure many new editors and proofreaders face the same dilemma – how do you get that vital work experience to show that you know what you are doing?
Not every proofreader and copy-editor begins their freelance career with a ready-made portfolio of relevant experience to offer potential clients. Some editors start their freelance careers after working in-house for several years and therefore begin with a wealth of experience and industry contacts, while others begin from scratch following a career change or a desire to achieve a flexible work–life balance. Many new editors begin by undertaking training, including the range of excellent courses offered by the SfEP. But what can new editors do next to consolidate their newly acquired skills and develop their résumé?
While it’s tempting to offer your services for a reduced price or even for free so that you can build up a client list, there are a number of important questions to consider before volunteering your valuable time:
Who should you volunteer with?
An obvious (and possibly rewarding) option is to help a charity or non-profit organisation. Smaller charities may lack the funds to hire a professional editor to assist with a newsletter or website and would welcome your help. But don’t assume so – many charities have healthy budgets for such things and can afford to pay. Many regions in the UK have volunteer centres that help local charities, and you can find your local centre on Do-it.
Or you could help an organisation you are personally interested in, for example a poetry newsletter or the SfEP. This blog relies on a team of volunteer proofreaders who check posts prior to publication and others proofread our web pages, training materials etc.
What will you get out of it?
This is important. If the person or organisation you are volunteering for doesn’t know what’s required of a good editor or proofreader, how valuable will their testimonial really be? Will you actually get any constructive feedback? Working for a client (or especially a friend) who doesn’t understand the process (and while you are still learning yourself) could turn into a tricky or negative experience.
Volunteering might allow you to network and build useful contacts, so factor in who you want to work with in the future to your decision about which organisations to approach. Spending a few hours helping the right person could provide a valuable reference for marketing material and possibly lead to other organisations in the same field hiring you in the future.
What skills do you want to practise?
While any experience gained could be beneficial, it’s important to try to match your efforts with your overall career goals. If you want to copy-edit for biomedical journals you may get more benefit from editing a friend’s science PhD thesis than a website publishing short stories, for example.
How much time are you happy to provide?
In the early stages of your freelance career you will be busy building your new business and need time to develop your marketing strategy, website etc. All of these tasks take priority over volunteering. Any time spent volunteering must fit around the creation of your new freelance business, and other important personal commitments, to ensure a healthy work–life balance is maintained. There will come a time when you are too busy with paid work to volunteer and must decline future opportunities (see Laura Poole’s recent blog How to say ‘no’ for advice).
Remember too that if you work for a client for free, or even a reduced rate, it will be very difficult to start charging at full rate when asked to take on future projects.
Mentoring – a good option?
One opportunity that will provide useful practice and good feedback is the mentoring programme offered by the SfEP. All mentors are experienced SfEP Advanced Professional members who share examples from their paid work for mentees to proofread or copy-edit. Mentees have the opportunity to work on real-world projects and receive feedback based on the mentor’s experience.
I was fortunate to be invited to coordinate the SfEP blog, and I have gained valuable experience in this voluntary role. I have worked with the editors who regularly contribute to this blog and learned so much – exactly what the right volunteering role should provide. I hope the advice provided helps you find the ideal opportunity to get some quality experience and achieve your goals.
If you are interested in joining the SfEP team of volunteer proofreaders, please firstname.lastname@example.org
Tracey Roberts is an Entry-Level member of the SfEP. She currently works for the Cochrane Schizophrenia Group based in Nottingham and is the SfEP blog coordinator.
Proofread by SfEP Entry-Level Member Sarah Dronfield.
The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the SfEP
Beginning a new career can be daunting, and ‘newbie’ editors may make numerous mistakes while they learn their new trade. Thankfully, the SfEP forums provide a great opportunity for new members to ask more experienced editors for their guidance on a wide range of issues which they have faced previously during their careers in proofreading and copy-editing. But if asked, what would be the one piece of advice that these editorial wise owls think new members need to know? To answer this question, a number of SfEP Professional and Advanced Professional members have been asked to provide the one piece of advice they would share with new proofreaders and copy-editors, which will be published in a series of wise owl blog posts over the coming months.
Learn to manage your time realistically. When you’re starting out, it is tempting to say yes to everything, and to some extent you have to be prepared to do this. It’s so exciting when the freelance work starts coming in! However, do be careful not to overcommit. It is much, much better to say ‘no’ to a client, however counter-intuitive it might seem, than to agree to take on work that you will not be able to complete within schedule to a high standard. Taking on too much work and doing a shoddy job (or worse, failing to complete the job at all) is a sure-fire way to lose a client for good, and potentially do wider damage to your reputation. In the long run it is also not good for your morale to overwork yourself on a regular basis.
Get a brief from your client and make sure you understand it. Go back for clarification if things are omitted or ambiguous, but don’t fire off lots of individual queries. Your client or project manager will be grateful if you organise yourself and group queries together. Use email if at all possible, as then the answers are recorded for later reference, but if you must discuss things over the phone, send an email very soon afterwards, summarising the decisions made. It gives your client a chance to rectify any misunderstandings and you have a record of what was agreed should there be difficulties later.
(Sue has written the SfEP guide Going Solo: Creating your freelance editorial business which is now available to purchase on the SfEP website.)
Don’t undersell the value of your time and the benefit you can bring to a piece of work. If your work improves a piece of text by say 5%, what effect could that have on the success of the writing in terms of its commercial success or its influence? How much might that be worth to the author?
Many new editors and proofreaders start out thinking that their role involves hunting down errors and making ‘wrong’ things ‘right’. This is true to an extent, but what is ‘wrong’ is always dependent on the context. Something that appears ‘wrong’ may actually be fine, or even a desired quirk of the project. Sensitivity to context comes with experience, but it’s wise to start out (and go on) asking questions whenever you’re unsure what your client wants, and assessing the big picture rather than diving in to correct each ‘error’ as soon as you spot it.
Collated and posted by Tracey Roberts, SfEP blog coordinator.
Proofread by SfEP Entry-Level Member Christine Layzell.
The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the SfEP
Imagine that you’ve recently completed some solid training in proofreading and/or copy-editing, and you’re looking forward to your new existence as a fully fledged editorial professional. But wait! How can you be sure you’re correctly applying all that you’ve learned?
One of the best places to learn is on the job, but this can be particularly stressful when you’re starting out. You want to be sure you’re doing the best work you can for a paying client – not only to offer them a good service for the money, but also to secure repeat business.
Here are some tips for getting valuable proofreading or copy-editing practice when you’re starting out, or if you’re expanding into new areas – without risking your reputation on a live job.
Once you’ve undertaken enough basic training, one further training route that the SfEP offers its members is mentoring (as do some other editorial organisations, such as EAC). You can be mentored in general proofreading or copy-editing, and there is now also the option of specialist mentoring in areas such as fiction, biomedical journals, law and music. Your mentor will send you exercises to work on (usually extracts from material they have edited previously) and will then provide you with detailed feedback and guidance on your strengths, as well as where you need to improve, over the course of several months. On successful completion of mentoring you will be awarded points that can be used towards upgrading your SfEP membership.
Those of us who work freelance can lack opportunities to simply lean over and ask a more experienced colleague for help if we get stuck, or if we don’t know where to turn to support an editorial decision. One ever-reliable source of information on best practice is the SfEP forums. You can ask your own question as it arises, or search the extensive archives to see if the topic has been discussed before. (Often, it has!) Alternatively, read the forums regularly and see what others are asking. Sometimes the battle when trying to improve as an editor is not finding the answer to a particular question – it’s finding out what questions it’s necessary to ask.
The SfEP forums aren’t the only places to go for advice. Other online forums, such as the Editors’ Association of Earth Facebook group, are also invaluable and easily accessed sources of advice and support, and can provide a slightly different perspective.
Critical appreciation of others’ work
This is one method that does require a live job and a dash of good fortune, but sometimes as a proofreader you will be lucky enough to see the work of an editorial professional employed earlier in the process, such as the copy-editor or the development/commissioning editor, as part of your proofreading or copy-editing job. Even a small insight into how someone else – perhaps someone considerably more experienced – works can be illuminating. Don’t simply collate what’s there, or skip over it – try to understand why editorial decisions have been taken, and what the implications are for you and the wider publishing process.
If you are able to attend a local SfEP group, this could provide an ideal opportunity to pick colleagues’ brains about best approaches to work. Perhaps you could suggest sharing examples of how group members have tackled real-life jobs, or short extracts from them … NDAs and client confidentiality permitting, of course.
Read, read, read
It sounds obvious, but it can be easy to overlook the need to read voraciously, outside of actual work. If you specialise in particular types of editing work, and most of us probably do, it’s obviously important to read widely in these areas – but really, almost any kind of reading will help to train your eye and help you to know what good writing looks like (and what it doesn’t). And let’s face it, it’s not as if more reading is a chore for most editors!
This might sound obvious, but you can’t ever have too much practice. It’s possible to get up to speed with the basics of editing fairly quickly, but it can take years to get really good. You never stop learning, even over the course of decades – technology and software move on, and editorial fashions and tastes change. Keeping up to date with innovations and reflecting on your practice never stop being important.
By Liz Jones has been an editor since 1998, and full-time freelance since 2008; she is an Advanced Professional Member of the SfEP. She specialises in trade non-fiction, fiction and educational publishing, but also works with a range of business clients and individuals. When not editing she writes fiction, and also blogs about editing and freelancing at Eat Sleep Edit Repeat.
Posted by Tracey Roberts, SfEP blog coordinator.
The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the SfEP
One of the biggest benefits of being a Professional or Advanced Professional Member of the SfEP is free entry in the Society’s Directory of Editorial Services. This online resource lists more than 600 members of the Society – the ideal place for clients to search for editors and proofreaders with a huge array of skills and specialisms.
Since releasing the new version of the SfEP website at the end of 2015, we’ve been busy enhancing the Directory. In this post, I’m going to cover some new features that we think you’ll like.
Directory entries now support the display of a small, square profile photo. These appear to the left of the membership grade badge, at 128×128 pixels. Here are a couple of examples:
You can supply a larger image if that’s more convenient – we’ll handle the scaling for you.
If you want a certain part of your entry to stand out, just ask for it to be your featured section. We’ll apply a separate style to that part of the entry. Featured content is usually best placed at the top of the entry.
You can make your entry stand out by including recommendations from your clients. We now have a new style for displaying testimonials. Just send us the text and the name of the client, and we’ll do the rest.
The Directory now supports videos, so you can display content from YouTube, Vimeo and any other video-sharing service. All we need from you is the iframe embed code.
On YouTube, the iframe code can be found by clicking Share and then Embed.
On Vimeo, the Share button leads directly to the iframe code.
We’re usually able to apply all changes within one working day. Just tell us which changes to make, and we’ll handle the details.
Want to be listed in the Directory?
If you’re a Professional or Advanced Professional Member, you can request a Directory listing via the SfEP Members’ area.
If you’re an Entry-Level or Intermediate Member, take a look at what you need to do to upgrade your membership. Many members listed in the Directory cite it as one of their main sources of income.
If you’re not part of the membership yet, perhaps you’ll consider joining the SfEP.
The future of the Directory
I hope you’ll agree that these new features are a good start. But we want the SfEP Directory to be even better.
We’re working hard behind the scenes so that you can update your own entry directly. We’ll let you know as soon as this feature is ready. But remember: you can request an update to your entry at any time – just email email@example.com to let us know.
Over to you
OK, that’s it for now. What do you think of the new-look Directory? Let us know by leaving a comment. We’d love to hear from you.
John Espirian (@espirian) is the SfEP’s internet director and principal forum administrator.
Booking for our 2016 conference, ‘Let’s Talk About Text’, closes on Friday 8 July. At the time of writing there are only a handful of non-resident places left, so if you don’t want to miss out, book now!
I’ve been invited to present in a ‘Speed start-up: what newbies need to know’ session at the SfEP conference in September on the subject of pricing work, alongside Sue Littleford (Numbers for word people) and Louise Harnby (Banishing the marketing heebie-jeebies). Here’s a taster of my section of the session.
Pricing editorial work comes up time and again in discussion between editors. In the session I’m going to look at the basic process of quoting for work, which can be applied across a range of situations. The same principles can also be used to work out if a fixed fee offered by a client is fair.
Assess the information provided about the work
The client should provide you with the project parameters, including extent or word count, schedule, level of editing required, and so on. They might suggest a price, or they might ask you to quote.
Ask for more information if you need it
You can’t accurately price work without adequate information and a sample of the text. If the client will not provide the information you need to price the work, proceed with caution!
Work out what your work is worth
To work out a price for the work, you can take the hourly rate you need/want to earn, multiply it by the length of time you estimate the job will take, and add on contingency to arrive at a total fee. Alternatively you can quote what you think the work is worth to the client. Other factors can influence the figure, such as the particular market, or the time frame allowed for the work.
Use data from previous projects/colleagues to help you
To enable you to estimate how long a job will take, it is essential to keep records of work you do. If you are asked to quote for work unlike anything you have done, you can ask colleagues for advice – for example, in the SfEP forums.
Prepare a quote, making clear what it covers
When you provide a price, you should also indicate what this price includes. For many publishers, this will be fairly straightforward, as they are likely to be commissioning you for a commonly understood part of the process such as copy-editing or proofreading. For a non-publisher, you will need to ensure they know precisely what they are getting for their money, and importantly what is not included.
Prepare to negotiate
If your client suggests a price, don’t be afraid to ask for more if you think the work warrants it; equally, if you suggest a price, be prepared for the client trying to negotiate down.
Agree terms with the client, and start work
Make sure you have the agreed price and the scope of work in writing before you start work. If anything changes that might affect the price, raise this with your client as soon as possible.
In the session I’ll be looking in more detail at each of the stages – with particular focus on working out what the job is worth – and taking questions. There will also be a handout with further information and links to resources to help you at each stage of the process.
Sue, Louise and I will be presenting on Monday, 12 September 2016, between 1.30 and 2.30 p.m. I hope to see you there!
Liz Jones has been an editor since 1998, and full-time freelance since 2008; she is an Advanced Professional Member of the SfEP. She specialises in trade non-fiction, fiction and educational publishing, but also works with a range of business clients and individuals. When not editing she writes fiction, and also blogs about editing and freelancing at Eat Sleep Edit Repeat.
Posted by Tracey Roberts, SfEP blog coordinator
The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the SfEP
The speed start-up session at the 2016 conference (on Monday 12th at 1:30) will begin with a segment on finance (followed by Liz Jones on pricing and Louise Harnby on marketing – it’s going to be a busy hour!). Editors and proofreaders are by nature word people, so many of us can find it hard to get to grips with the money end of running our businesses. But you’re not just a proofreader or an editor, you’re a business owner, too, so you do need to understand what your statutory obligations are (keeping records, including the right information on your invoices, making a timely and accurate tax return and paying your tax and national insurance by the deadline). HMRC puts a huge amount of effort into making it easy for you to get your tax return right, and all the things that revolve around it, like understanding what business expenses are allowable (i.e. what expenditure you can offset against your profits to reduce your tax bill) and what aren’t.
You also need to know how to budget for the things you need to buy (equipment, reference materials, memberships) and money you need to spend (tax and national insurance, plus perhaps pension contributions), and how much you need to put by to tide you over times of not working, whether for planned holidays, periods of illness, or those times when work just won’t land in your inbox no matter what you do.
Understand the importance of cash flow – more businesses have come unstuck because of a lack of ready cash to cover their commitments than from a lack of overall profitability – and translate that understanding into actions for invoicing promptly and chasing overdue invoices.
I see a lot of comments from people in editors’ groups right across social media saying that invoicing and requiring payment on time makes them cringe – they feel pushy and mercenary. Well, the only thing I can say to that is – don’t! You’re a business owner, not a doormat. Contracts have two halves – what you’ll do and what you’ll be paid for doing it. You did your bit, so now it’s time for your client to fulfil their part of the contract.
Sadly, but unsurprisingly, clients usually have their focus elsewhere than on your finances, so you need to be the one to remind them, and to remind them again, if need be. Keep it polite, keep it businesslike and don’t apologise. But just in case, be aware that you have rights to claim interest and penalties on late payments from clients who are also businesses.
As there’s such a lot to get through, there’ll be a handout bursting with links to plenty more detailed information. There’ll be time for a few questions, too. To get you started, a huge amount of information on running the financial end of a business can be found at www.gov.uk. Start with the two options Business and self-employed and Money and tax.
Sue Littleford, an Advanced Professional Member of the SfEP, was a career civil servant, before being forcibly outsourced, and spent 14 years as payroll manager for what is now the Ministry of Justice. Then she changed tack altogether and has now been a freelance copy-editor since 2007, working mostly on postgraduate textbooks in the humanities and social sciences, plus the occasional horseracing thriller.
If you’re a new entrant to the field of editorial freelancing, and you’re attending this year’s SfEP conference in Aston, I hope you’ll join me and my co-presenters Liz Jones and Sue Littleford at our speed start-up session: Things newbies need to know. Together, we’ll be rattling through some top tips to help you with three pillars of editorial business building: finance, pricing editorial work, and marketing. I’ll be handling the marketing section.
I know that business promotion gives many newbies the heebie-jeebies, and so, with that in mind, I’ve based the presentation around the questions that I’ve been asked most frequently by anxious marketers-to-be. In this way, I hope the session will be as much about what I think you should know as what you think you want to know!
I want the session to be as accessible as possible, so I’m throwing in a couple of promises, too – there’ll be no marketing jargon and you needn’t have any prior experience of business promotion whatsoever. It’ll just be me talking to you – one editorial freelancer to another. If you hear me utter words such as ‘utility’, ‘drill down’, ‘marginal’ or ‘basis of segmentation’, you have permission to throw things at me!
So what are those frequently asked questions?
What is marketing? I don’t have a clue where to start!
What do I say? How do I structure my marketing message?
What promotional tools or activities work best?
How do I get noticed and stand out from the crowd?
Should I promote myself as a generalist or a specialist?
How do I combat my marketing nerves?
Using those questions as my guide, I’ll provide you with one definition and five frameworks to banish those heebie-jeebies and provide you with a structured way of developing your editorial marketing strategy with confidence and even, I hope, a little excitement.
There’ll be a handout, too, that includes a summary of what’s been discussed and a list of useful additional resources to help you on your editorial marketing journey, including the latest combined edition of my business books, Omnibus: Editorial Business Planning & Marketing Plus (all conference attendees will be entitled to a one-off 20% discount voucher for use against a purchase of the PDF).
Liz, Sue and I will be presenting on Monday, 12 September 2016, between 1.30 and 2.30 p.m. We look forward to seeing you there. [There are a limited number of conference places left if you haven’t booked yet, but do it soon!]
After gaining employment as an editorial assistant I investigated options for training and career development, and my research immediately led me to the SfEP. I was impressed by the range of training opportunities and advice available, and applied for membership straight away. I have benefited from the advice provided on the website (especially the forum and blog), and wanted to contribute something myself. But as I’m just starting out in my new career I have little editorial experience to share and I can be best described as a ‘newbie’.
The Cambridge English Dictionary defines a newbie as someone who has just started doing an activity, a job etc.
Starting a new career can be daunting. But being a newbie should be viewed positively as an opportunity to learn something new, and I have learnt so much during my first year of SfEP membership. I have completed the ’Proofreading 1’ and ‘Copy-editing 1’ courses via distance learning, and I would highly recommend them as a starting point for anyone considering a career in editing or proofreading. I’m currently studying ‘Proofreading 2: Progress’, where your work is assessed by your tutor (an unnerving prospect for this newbie). Signing up for the mentoring programme will be equally daunting. But progress requires constructive feedback and I am looking forward to what I will learn from these courses and what new opportunities they may bring.
I am also grateful for the networking opportunities that membership has provided, and I have benefited greatly from the knowledge and experience that has been shared by other members. A number of networking opportunities are available and, regardless of your circumstances, newbies can find a convenient way to meet other members. The SfEP has pages on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter, and those keen to meet in person can also join a local group (a Skype group is available for international members). I attended my first meeting with the East Midlands group, where experienced members shared valuable advice and made me feel very welcome. New members are also encouraged to attend the annual conference, although I appreciate that this can be a daunting prospect when you don’t know anyone yet (see recent blogs by Karen and Katherine).
To aid my professional development I applied for the position of SfEP blog coordinator and was thrilled when I was offered the role. We have a number of great blog pieces written by experienced editors which will be published over the coming months, and we would love to hear from anyone else who would like to write for us. The blog covers any topics relevant to editors including freelance business advice, editing tips, guidance on using new software, sharing insight into your specialist area and anything else you think may be of interest to members. See 10 tips for your first proofreading job by John Espirian which will be of interest to new members.
I would also like to invite other newbies to write for the blog and share their experiences as they progress in their new career. No one ever said that starting a new career would be easy, but training and sound advice goes a long way to making this experience easier. This is what membership of the SfEP provides. As the new blog coordinator I look forward to sharing the thoughts and experiences of other members, both long-standing and new.
If you are interested in writing for the blog or have any feedback please get in touch firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tracey Roberts recently graduated with an MSc in Neuroscience and is an Entry-Level member of the SfEP. She currently works as editorial assistant for the Cochrane Schizophrenia Group based in Nottingham and is the SfEP blog coordinator.
The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the SfEP.
Unsurprisingly, new members of the SfEP often have many questions about how to handle that first proofreading job. What are the tips and tricks to getting started with an initial piece of paid work? Are there any pitfalls to avoid? How much should you charge?
This post sets out 10 tips to help new proofreaders. Follow them and you’ll be much more confident when working for your first client.
Here’s what this post covers. Click a link to take you straight to that section:
Let’s start by creating a scenario for a typical proofreading job.
You’ve been contacted by a prospective client who wants you to proofread an article. It’s a 60,000-word document and you know something about the subject matter, but you’re not an expert. The client hasn’t worked with a proofreader before and would like to know how much the job will cost.
Now, let’s look at 10 tips to help you get through this first job. Ready?
Tip 1: Clarify the brief
The ‘brief’ is what the client has asked you to do – in this case, it’s proofreading their article, but you don’t yet have any further details about what ‘proofreading’ means to the client.
Clarifying the brief means you should ensure that your understanding of ‘proofreading’ matches the client’s, especially if the client isn’t a publishing professional or hasn’t paid for editorial services before.
Working to the brief is really important but even more important is understanding what the brief is in the first place. If your expectations don’t match the client’s, the end result isn’t going to be right. So you need to ensure that the requirements are crystal clear.
Here are a few questions you might want to ask:
Is there a style guide to work from?
Are there any references to deal with?
Is it just text or are there figures, tables and illustrations?
The brief is important because it helps you work out how much time the job is likely to take. This knowledge should help you quote a price that reflects the effort required to complete the work to an acceptable standard.
Let’s see the thoughts of a highly experienced SfEP colleague:
Find out the history of the work, e.g. has it been copy-edited to SfEP standard? Or are you the first professional to get their hands on it? If the client is not happy with previous work, find out what hasn’t worked for them.
Tip 2: Ask for a representative sample of the work
OK, you’ve clarified the brief and now know what the client wants. You might be able to do everything that’s required, but what if the source text needs a lot of work? You won’t know until the job starts, right? Wrong. You need to know what state the text is in before you start the job. But how can you find this out?
The answer is to ask for a representative sample of the work. In this case, you would want to see at least a few thousand words (aim for 5–10% of the total), ideally taken from somewhere in the middle of the content. Why? Because authors will often polish the start and end of their writing, so seeing these parts might not give you a proper flavour of the rest of the work.
Getting hold of a representative sample will give an indication of how much effort is required to do the job. Perhaps you’ll discover that the text isn’t even ready for proofreading. Although you’re understandably eager to get going with your first job, the sample may reveal that this particular piece of work isn’t right for you. Should that be the case, it’s best to tell the client straight away.
Tip 3: Get the quote right
Once you know what the client is expecting and you’ve assessed a sample of the text, it’s time to think about how much to charge. A lot of newbie proofreaders freeze at this point. They have moments of self-doubt, wondering whether they can really charge anything for their services. Perhaps it would be better to do the job for nothing?
Although some established professionals support the idea of early work being done at a very low rate (or even for free), most would advise new proofreaders to charge a normal, respectable figure. So, what is that figure?
We usually advise members to look at the suggested minimum rates published on the SfEP website. These hourly figures give an idea of a good minimum amount to aim for. But that then poses another question: how many hours will the job take?
The time required to do the job should have a bearing on what you charge. The exact amount to charge depends on a few factors. Consider these questions:
How long is the text?
How complex is the subject matter?
What’s the deadline?
The answers to these questions will give you an idea of how much effort is required and therefore how much you should charge.
Now, think again about the scenario involving the 60,000-word article. Imagine that you’ve seen a representative sample. It’s good news: the text is brilliantly written and the subject matter turns out not to be as complex as you first thought. You think you can read and correct the rest of the text pretty quickly. You guess that a pace of 4000 words per hour might be achievable. At that rate, you’d need to work for 15 hours to do the job.
Most proofreaders struggle to put in more than 6 hours of work per day. (Proofreading requires a lot of concentration and can be very tiring.) This means that the job would take the equivalent of 2.5 days. At the current suggested minimum rates for proofreading, this job might cost the client around £350. Remember, this is a minimum suggested figure for a piece of text that you’ve assessed as being in great shape already.
But what if the text is a real mess? Horror of horrors, the client hands over a sample that’s hard to understand and is full of mistakes and inconsistencies. Perhaps you’ll scarcely be able to wade through 1000 words of this per hour. Unlike your dream job above that would take a mere 15 hours, this scenario would have you labouring for close to 60 hours – effectively a full week plus overtime, equating to a quote around the £1300 mark. And yes, that’s a minimum suggested figure.
OK, there are two extremes here, but the point is that not all quotes are going to work out the same way. Assessing a sample of the text will let you produce a quote that is in the right part of the spectrum.
An aside on fighting the temptation of quoting low rates
So, what about the natural temptation to quote low just so you can get the experience of that first job or two? Let’s take a look at some advice from fellow SfEP members:
If the client is potentially going to give you more work, or recommend you to others, I would be wary of setting a low rate.
Quote a reasonable hourly rate, based on the time that would be expected of a more experienced editor, and then work the hours necessary for you to do a good job – yes, it’ll probably take a lot longer and therefore work out at a very poor rate, but that’s not relevant to the client. If you start at a low rate, you may end up working for that rate for a lot longer than you think. Also, quoting low does not necessarily mean you’ll land the job – it may well set off red flags in a client’s mind as to why you are so much lower than other quotes they’ve had.
Tip 4: Agree a reasonable deadline
Experienced editorial professionals are often able to take on rush jobs, and can sometimes charge a premium for doing so. This isn’t recommended for those who are starting out, so you need to be sure that you really will have the time to get through the job. As Tina says above, your time estimate might not be long enough, so pushing out the deadline as much as possible would be helpful.
Once you’ve agreed a deadline, do your best to stick to it. Should you realise that the agreed deadline is not achievable, inform the client as soon as possible.
Tip 5: Check all materials
You can’t start a job until you’ve got everything you need. More wise advice:
Check all files as soon as you receive them. Don’t wait until you want to start work, because by that time any problems, such as corrupted files or failed attachments, will wreck your schedule. And back up your work.
Tip 6: Create a checklist of jobs
Having done all of the above prep, you’re now ready to start the job proper. In all the excitement of taking on that first piece of work, you don’t want to forget any tasks. So, follow some simple steps to build a bit of order into your work:
Make yourself a checklist of jobs to do.
Add to it anything you think of as you’re going along.
Remember to check off against the checklist!
Tip 7: Break up the job
If you try to focus on every aspect of the text at the same time, you’ll almost certainly miss something. It’s far better to break up the job into separate passes, helping you focus on one thing at a time.
Here’s some expert advice on the subject:
One tip is not to try to do everything in one pass, especially if you are dealing with a typographically complex book with lots of illustrations, tables, lists, text boxes, etc. Make a checklist, as Katie suggests, then do some global passes to check items such as
Chapter headings vs contents list
Any numbered or alphabetised lists
Sequence of any numbered headings
Only when you have checked all these off on your list is it time to start reading.
Tip 8: Compile a style guide
As above, asking whether there’s an existing style guide should be something you do when assessing the job. But even if a style guide exists, it probably won’t cover everything you come across as you work on the job. Keep notes about decisions made during the job and then refer back to them. Naturally, this is even more important when there’s no style guide to start with.
Time for more advice from another SfEP member:
Regardless of whether or not the client provides a style guide, compile a style sheet for every single project you do. It will include choices related to spelling, capitalization, italics, etc., and if the client hasn’t provided you with a style guide, then the style sheet will include many more items, e.g. numbers, punctuation, reference styles. Not only will you be helping the client and showing that you’re a professional, you will be helping yourself because there is no way on earth that anyone can remember every spelling decision they make over the course of any project. Also, run PerfectIt (or your choice of macros) before you start. That will help you get your style sheet started before you begin the actual editing. (You can run PerfectIt again at the end, if you have time/want to check consistency.)
Tip 9: Group all queries
If you’ve clarified the brief well enough, you shouldn’t have too many queries at the start of the job. But questions will often crop up once the work gets going. Naturally, you’ll be eager to find out the answers but you should avoid peppering the client with lots of emails.
Yet more advice from another SfEP member:
Don’t be afraid to ask, but try and keep questions to a list in one email rather than panicking and sending them willy-nilly!
Remember that your questions should always be relevant to the current job.
Tip 10: Ask questions on SfEP forums
The SfEP’s online discussion forums, which are available only to members of the Society, are the best place to ask questions and hear the thoughts of other editorial professionals. The forums have hosted more than 100,000 posts since their release in late 2012 – a clear sign of a highly engaged community.
Taking on that first proofreading job can seem scary, but it needn’t be if you follow the tips above. Here’s a recap for new proofreaders:
Clarify the brief – make sure you know what the client wants.
Ask for a representative sample – assess the job by reviewing a chunk of the text.
Think about the complexity of the job – how much time and effort will be needed?
Agree a deadline – set a realistic timescale and do your best to stick to it.
Create a checklist – note all the jobs you need to do and check them off as you go.
Break up the job into separate passes – make sure you don’t miss any tasks.
Keep your own notes – supplement the style guide or create your own if one doesn’t exist.
Ask questions – group queries so that you don’t pepper the client with emails.
Use SfEP forums – ask for help from hundreds of experienced members.
Wow, that’s a lot of advice!
I hope these tips give you enough information to get started with confidence, and I wish you the best of luck with your editorial career. If you have any of your own newbie tips to share, please add a comment below.
John Espirian (@espirian) is the SfEP’s internet director and principal forum administrator.