Category Archives: Professional development

How to guides to help with your professional development.

Collaborate and innovate

Every year, the SfEP conference has a theme – a title intended to give a flavour of the programme that delegates can look forward to, and perhaps even capture something of the editorial zeitgeist.

It may not be iSfEPSIswirlmmediately obvious how freelance editorial professionals collaborate. We are often seen as a disparate collection of solitary workers, tapping away in front of our screens with only the cat or dog for company … ‘collaboration’ might not be the first word that comes to mind. But no editor is an island: we choose to form networks of friendly colleagues, both informally and through more structured local group meetings; we belong to professional associations such as the SfEP; we interact online, in forums and via social media. And when it comes to our work, even if we meet clients and colleagues relatively rarely, we are usually an intrinsic part of a much larger team of individuals with different areas of expertise bringing each project to fruition together.

In this spirit of collaboration, 2015 marks the first joint conference of the Society for Editors and Proofreaders and the Society of Indexers. We are two societies with much in common, and indeed some membership overlap. Our members are all concerned with organising text. However, perhaps it will turn out to be the differences between the work we do as editors and indexers that prove most interesting. It’ll be fun finding out!

Christine Vaughan, the SfEP’s conference director, and Ann Kingdom, the SI chair, had this to say about what collaboration means in the context of the 2015 conference programme:

This year’s conference programme offers a number of opportunities to reflect on your collaboration with others, from understanding how indexing fits into the editorial process to exploring how to build your client base and maintain good client relationships. For example, in ‘Both sides of the self-publishing coin’, Clare Christian and Hattie Holden Edmonds will explore, amongst other things, the idea of ‘collaboration not competition’ as a means of enabling the independent author to find the right people to work with.

Sessions looking at the technological changes affecting journal publishing, how the production process can be adapted to take into new working practices and product formats, and how the roles of the editor and indexer are likely to develop in the future will, we hope, mean you leave the conference enthused and informed about the future of publishing. Or you could come away inspired to diversify on a more personal level, by getting to grips with social media marketing, becoming an SfEP mentor or using digital tools to streamline your working practice.

 But in with the new needn’t mean out with the old – we have several sessions on perennial topics, such as ‘Finance for freelances’ and a workshop on Word, while Paul Johnson will give a presentation on ‘The magic of the movable book’, proving that you can still make something new and different from paper.

Meanwhile innovation – introducing something new; making changes or alterations – comes from a base of solid knowledge and depends on an environment in which new ideas can germinate and grow. The conference represents a CPD injection of the kind that is simply not available to us for the rest of the year, with the chance to listen to a range of expert speakers, and take part in different workshops and seminars each day, as well as other activities and events such as the gala dinner. Past delegates have testified to the intense learning experience that takes place over the course of two and a half days:

What I didn’t perhaps expect was the openness and warmth which greeted me … continuing right the way through the conference. I learned a lot from the seminars and workshops, but so much more from my new colleagues, who were without fail willing to share their experience and make suggestions that I might like to follow up to boost my business.

Think of it as worth several days of training courses, useful tips galore, a confidence boost, dozens of useful contacts and probably several new firm friends.

The conference is also an unmatched opportunity simply to talk to colleagues. New entrants to the profession can pick the brains of veterans, and the other way round. Although we are in competition for work, in so many ways building relationships with other professionals can make us stronger and improve our chances of staying the course.

Recent conference themes have looked at the idea of change, and response to that change: A new publishing landscape (2013); Editing: fit for purpose (2014). All industries change over time, and ours is no different. We’ve seen a huge rise in self-publishing, a sector rich with opportunities for editors keen to work closely with independent authors; open access has altered the landscape of journal publishing; our clients continue to ask us to grapple with new software, mark-up languages and workflow tools; the outsourcing and offshoring of a range of editorial tasks continues to shape the market. Perhaps how we respond to these changes, and others, is one of the most important factors in determining our success and professional longevity.

So if last year’s conference was about responding to the contemporary climate, this year’s is about looking forward, and effectively stealing the march on what may come to challenge us professionally. In a marketplace in which we may feel at the mercy of time pressures, economic forces and client demands, it is empowering to consider how we can take back control and help our businesses thrive.

We look forward to seeing you there!

The 2015 SI/SfEP conference, Collaborate and innovate, takes place from 5–7 September at Derwent College in York.

For more information, and to book, see the SfEP website.

Posted by Liz Jones, SfEP marketing and PR director.

Proofread by SfEP entry-level member Karen Pickavance.

A first-timer’s experience of conference

RHamar-Royal Holloway

Royal Holloway, University of London – venue for the 2014 SfEP conference

So, you’re thinking about going to conference, but you haven’t been before. It seems like a lot of money to justify, especially for a freelance, even more so if you are new to this business. Perhaps you are already established and would need to block out the time in your already full diary. Will you get enough out of it to justify the lost work, the time and the expense?

My answer is absolutely, wholeheartedly, yes.

I went to conference last year for the first time, two whole weeks into a new career as a freelance proofreader and editor. I had no background experience in editing, but have built up a raft of relevant skills in other jobs that I hoped would be enough to start me off. I planned to use the conference as a networking platform, to see how other people got started in the business, to find out what kind of training would be most useful and to make contacts with publishers.

I was rather apprehensive on first arriving: I loathe marketing, especially marketing myself, and am not particularly keen on meeting new people. I have, at times, seriously contemplated being a hermit. But the welcome was warm and relaxed: SfEP staff were there with ready smiles to help answer questions, and plenty of other conference attendees were happy to chat. It was clear that many were conference regulars, enjoying the chance to catch up on a year’s gossip with friends first hand.

Accommodation and food provision was good. We used student accommodation, individual ensuite rooms in small flats with a communal kitchen area. Far better than any accommodation I experienced as a student, the rooms were clean, fresh, very well located (right on site) and good value for money.

The conference programme is packed to the gunnels with things to keep you busy all day, every day, and you don’t need to sit quietly in a corner unless you want to.

The welcome event for conference newbies was a superb icebreaker. The members of the council were there as a first point of contact, and it was good to put faces to names from the website and the forums. I was interested to see many experienced editors who were conference newbies, so if you’ve already been in the business a while, you will find common ground with plenty of other attendees.

I had chosen seminars and workshops that I thought would be most appropriate to a newbie, but there were at least three places I would have liked to have been for each slot. Perhaps my only real niggle would be that I could not attend all the sessions I wanted to, as most ran only in one slot. But the SfEP have thought of everything: reports on all the seminars and workshops are available to all attendees after the event. Speaking to more experienced colleagues, the range and focus of the available seminars seemed to be well balanced, appealing to all stages of professional experience. Not everything is focused on traditional publishing: there were sessions on marketing, working with non-publishing clients, self-publishing and building your own website. Being a practical kind of person, I was pleased that there was at least one thing from each seminar that I could implement immediately, along with ideas for further consideration or development. The lightning talks were full of energy; the lectures well thought out and eloquently presented. And the after-dinner speaker for the gala dinner had the room in stitches. (No pressure this year, then?)

There was a limited number of trade stands to visit between seminars or during coffee breaks. If I am honest, I learned more about the products on display from the other attendees than from the stands, but it was a conversation starter. As for networking or making contact with publishers, there were several representatives from big publishers; I would consider this a matter of quality over quantity. I spoke to representatives from three publishers: they were all happy to talk to newbies and experienced professionals alike. There is always going to be a large element of luck as to whether or not your skills match a publisher’s current needs, but my experience was positive. The contacts I made at conference generated real paying work that more than covered my expenses: it was well worth my investment in time and money.

There are many motivations for coming to conference, but it is a superb place to mingle among friends, old and new, debate hyphen vs en-dash usage in fine detail with the cognoscenti (I exaggerate only slightly) and put the p and the d into your CPD. My advice? Come with a plan, so you know what you want to get out of each session you attend. Be open to new ideas and processes, as everyone has experience and opinions to share. And get stuck in! I’ve already booked my place at this year’s conference, so if you need to start somewhere, come and say hello. I’ll be the loud one on the introverts’ table.


Rachel Hamar - mugshot

Rachel Hamar started proofreading, editing and writing in 2014, after careers in engineering and teaching. She specialises in maths education, gardening, and patchwork and quilting. When she is not working, she is often found walking her dogs, weeding the garden or sewing: it depends on the weather.

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

Click here for more information, and to book a place at this year’s conference, from 5–7 September at the University of York. 

Specialist Q&A – working on maths books

Specialist Q&A graphicOur editorial industry is made up of people carrying out a huge range of tasks across many different sectors. Although we are bound by common aims – to make text consistent, accurate and clear – our chosen areas of work can differ in fascinating ways.

Sam Hartburn is a proofreader and editor of maths and education books. She has answered some questions on one of her specialisms: maths.

1. Briefly, what’s your work background?

I have a degree in mathematics, and I worked as a software developer for 13 years. For the last two years I’ve been a freelance proofreader and editor, focusing on maths and education.

2. How long have you specialised in this particular kind of editorial work, and how did you get started?

I’ve specialised in maths since I started doing editorial work. I started out with the PTC’s Proofreading by Distance Learning course, then spent a lot of time researching and emailing educational publishers. I also got to know some other maths specialists in the SfEP, who have been very generous in passing on work. After a couple of ‘lucky breaks’, where my email arrived on the right screen at the right time, my business has grown steadily.

3. What specific knowledge, experience or qualifications do you need?

Obviously you need a good knowledge of maths, to A level or beyond. For academic work LaTeX is very useful, as this is what most maths researchers use to write their papers.

4. How do you go about finding work in this area?

In the same way as for any other area – emails to publishers, the SfEP directory, networking and so on!

5. What do you most enjoy about the work?

I love answer checking – sometimes I get to spend the whole day just doing maths problems!

6. What are the particular challenges?

Layout can be a big challenge. Textbooks tend to have a lot of features and diagrams, and it’s important to place these correctly, which can lead to pages overrunning or large areas of white space. Trying to sort it out is like doing a jigsaw puzzle.

7. What’s the worst job you’ve had – and/or the best?

It’s very hard to pick a worst or best job; I’ve learned so much from all of them! I’m very proud of the video editing job that I’ve just finished: I project managed the building of 200 video tutorials for GCSE maths, which will be a fantastic resource for students.

8. What tips would you give to someone wanting to work in this field?

There’s a lot of work around, but it won’t just come and find you! Do everything you can to make sure that people know what skills you have and what you have to offer.

9. What is the pay like – and are there any other perks?

I’ve found the pay to be quite good; I think it is a bit higher than for general editorial work. As for perks, some of the workbooks I’ve proofread have been suitable for my children, so (with permission) I’ve printed pages out for them to do. The general education books I’ve worked on have also given me some great ideas for activities to do with the children. I’m not sure that they always see this as a perk though!

10. What other opportunities do you think editorial work in this area might lead to?

Online and video lessons is a rapidly expanding market, and I’m hoping that there will be plenty of editorial opportunities in this area.

Maths is also enjoying a surge in popularity at the moment, with great books being written by people like Simon Singh and Matt Parker, so there should be lots of opportunities outside of education as well.


Sam Hartburn is a self-confessed maths geek with an eye for detail and a way with words. She proofreads and edits material about mathematics and related subjects, from early years through to adult education and academic research, including online lessons and video tutorials.


Proofread by SfEP entry-level member Karen Pickavance.

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

The benefits of mentoring

SfEP logoWho doesn’t need an experienced and trusted adviser?

A year ago, I was new to this editing lark. I had completed the SfEP’s Introduction to Proofreading, Introduction to Copy-Editing, Proofreading 2 and On Screen Editing 1 and the PTC’s formidable proofreading by distance learning course. I now wanted to put my skills out there and charge for them. But did I really know what I was doing? How good was good enough?

If you are employed, you have someone checking your work at first. You have colleagues to compare yourself with. You get feedback from people who know what they are talking about. When you are trying to be self-employed in a new-to-you field, you do not have any of that.

What did I need? An experienced and trusted adviser. Guess what – that’s the Oxford Dictionary’s definition of a mentor. And guess what again – the SfEP has a scheme to provide mentors just like that to people just like me. I signed up.

I am sure that every SfEP mentor will do things differently, but in my case I received four pieces of work from my mentor and had a set period within which to complete each one. The idea was to treat my mentor as a client, getting practice in sending professional emails and sticking to deadlines. Once one assignment was finished and I had had the feedback, I could say when I wanted the next one, so there was no feeling of being over-committed and the training fitted in around whatever else I was doing.

The assignments were examples from the real world, and covered a section of a reference book on paper, a PDF leaflet, a reference list to be marked with track changes and a school textbook PDF. I laboured over them, sent them off to the deadlines and got my detailed feedback, which went through each assignment point by point.

I loved having someone who worked with me intensively for a short while, who knew what they were about and who was being paid to provide advice so that I did not feel bad about taking up their time.

What did I gain? Heaps of things, but here are a few. I learned:

  • to think about who the client is and what they are looking for;
  • not to panic if I did not find lots of mistakes (this is real life, not an artificial exercise designed for a training course);
  • to look very carefully at the fonts and the headings;
  • to make it clear in my mark-up what was an instruction to the typesetter and what was a suggestion/question to the client.

I gained a huge amount of knowledge and reassurance in a short space of time. It gave me the confidence that I could credibly look for paid work. Not only that, it gave me the final 10 points I needed to upgrade my SfEP membership and reassure potential clients that I was a professional. I was off on my new career.

To find out more about the SfEP’s mentoring scheme, including costs and entry requirements, visit the Mentoring section of the website.

JHI_4220bLiz Hunter (Humbie Editorial) specialises in copy-editing academic books and articles and proofreading theses. Her previous career was in the public sector and included being Director of Schools in the Scottish Government and a member of the Organising Committee for the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. She has recently combined her two careers by working some days on a freelance basis for the Official Report (Hansard) in the Scottish Parliament.

Proofread by SfEP entry-level member Karen Pickavance.

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

Experiences of the London Book Fair

London Book Fair logoTwo SfEP members have reported back on their experiences of the recent London Book Fair. They share how useful they found the day personally, along with some observations on the wider publishing industry.


Jane Hammett’s LBF experience

Last week I went to the London Book Fair for the first time. It had 1,500 exhibitors, split into various sections – trade, children’s publishing, and so on. The day I went, there were 70 seminars to attend on subjects covering all aspects of publishing. If you’re not careful, it’s easy to wander around for the day with your mouth open, amazed at all the publishers and areas of publishing you were never aware of, but not actually doing anything constructive, so here are some handy tips if you’re thinking about attending next year.

To get something worthwhile out of the day, you need to have a plan. Write down a list of things you’d like to achieve. My list included:

  1. Meet people for coffee and chat – I had arranged to meet a fellow SfEP member I had corresponded with but never met; a member of the Bedfordshire local group; an author whose book I had edited; and another editor friend.
  2. Look for, and approach, some potential publishers that I’d like to work for, and hand out business cards. (Note: you may need to practise your opening marketing chat first – in case, like me, selling yourself is not your best skill.)
  3. Attend some interesting seminars, either directly relating to my areas of work or to something completely new.

Objective 1: easily achieved. Tick!

Objective 2: less easily achieved. A lot of the publishers were there to discuss rights and new book deals, not editorial matters. I found it was better to approach smaller publishers, who I found were much more interested in me and the skills I had to offer.

Objective 3: done! I attended the session held in the English PEN Literary Salon between author Ali Smith and Claire Armitstead, book reviewer for the Guardian and the Observer. Ali Smith is the author of Artful, There but for the, Free Love, Like, Hotel World, Other and her most recent book, which was her main topic of conversation, How to be both.

It was fascinating to get an insight into the mind of a successful writer who really knows her craft. She was bright, witty and amusing. During the open question session after her talk, one audience member asked her: ‘Do you have any advice for writers who want to get published?’ Ali’s advice was to keep writing; never get disheartened but write as much as you can; keep redrafting your book and honing your skills. Also, read, read, read as much as you can: the sides of buses, as many genres of books as possible, cornflake packets. It was good to see her giving the same advice that I often give my self-publishing authors!

After this, I met an author whose YA novel I recently edited. She went to the book fair looking for tips on social media and how to market her book, as well as ways to find an agent and get published, and she found several of the seminars held in the Author HQ really useful. I found it interesting – and valuable – being able to follow the story of how she published her book after I had finished working on it.

Finally, one of my main reasons for attending was to sit in on a seminar chaired by Dr Alison Baverstock, Associate Professor of Publishing at Kingston University, titled ‘Why editors are invisible no longer’.

What I found remarkable was that, out of about two hundred seminars, only one was directly aimed at editors. Surely editors should play a more important – and visible – role in the industry?

Alongside Dr Baverstock, there were three other speakers: Wendy Toole, freelance editor and former chair of SfEP; Richard Duguid, senior editorial manager of Penguin Random House; and Helen Hart, publishing director of SilverWood Books, a company that ‘supports self-funding writers and helps them produce high quality professionally-designed books and ebooks’.

The talk concentrated on research Dr Baverstock carried out during 2013, into the ‘role, motivation and work pattern of independent editors’. Her results can be found in Learned Publishing (Volume 28, Number 1, January 2015, pp. 43–53).

The talk centred on editors’ lifestyles and work, and how these are changing with the recent huge increase in self-publishing authors. Editors’ answers revealed that many had shifted from working for traditional publishers to working for new types of clients, including self-publishing authors. Many editors felt that their relationships with traditional publishers were becoming increasingly strained and less satisfying – for a variety of reasons – and more editors claimed to receive higher satisfaction from working with self-publishers (especially experienced ones) rather than conventional publishers. A lot of Baverstock’s points resonated with me – and the editors I was with!

The sheer scale of the book fair and the enormous variety in the publishing and technology on offer made me think about my role as an editor and proofreader in the (much) wider world of publishing, and helped me to feel a renewed commitment to my work – and why I do it. It can be hard to remember the bigger picture when you spend most days at home working on your computer!

Would I go next year? I think I would – armed with a better idea of what to say to publishers to break the ice, and definitely again arranging some meetings – with editors, friends or authors – in advance.

jane hammett sfep blog figJane Hammett is an advanced professional member of the SfEP and has been freelance since 1998. She is also the local group coordinator for the SfEP Bedfordshire group. Jane specialises in fiction (for adults and children) and educational publishing. Visit her website for more information.



Charlotte Norman’s LBF experience

Undecided whether to visit the LBF this year, I was finally prompted to attend by an invitation to a publishing launch. I put together an agenda on the handy new LBF app and left home at 6am last Wednesday to be there for the first item on my list. The report on YALC 2014 turned out to be a huge draw, and I was lucky to have a seat (and a much-needed cup of coffee) by 9.50. The brainchild of Waterstones Children’s Laureate, Malorie Blackman, last year’s Young Adult Literature Convention was the inaugural major book event aimed specifically at teenagers and young adults, and was by any standards a roaring success. It quickly became evident that face-to-face meetings with authors still hold a special magic, even for young people living in a digital age. Hot Key generated a tremendous buzz around a US title whose author couldn’t attend (the wonderful and compelling We Were Liars by E. Lockhart) by making rubber stamps of mottoes from the book and stamping the backs of hands. In fact, it seems all manner of ‘stuff’ was greeted enthusiastically by this fandom-loving age group. We heard stories of success and lessons learned, and were given an array of impressive statistics, such as that 37% of those attending had never previously been to a book event of any kind and that 75% bought books while there (figures from memory).

For me, Ali Smith’s lunchtime interview with Claire Armitstead was worth the ticket price on its own. Discussing everything from surprises in fiction and the 3D nature of a novel to what inspired her to write her latest work (her tax demand), the award-winning author of How to be both was articulate and witty. She also explained how her publisher contrived to meet her need for a single print-run – with only one ISBN – of which half the books would read in one sequence and half the other way around: stop the printing process halfway through and swap the pages around!

The afternoon gave me an opportunity to socialise with editorial colleagues and pass some time watching the goings-on all around. I don’t like giving out business cards at the fair but prefer to visit publishers’ stands and look for lists and trends that conform with my work preferences, with a view to following up with phone calls or emails later.

Like Jane (Hammett), I was keen to attend Wendy Toole’s seminar, though having heard both Alison Baverstock and Helen Hart speak recently at the Bath Literature Festival, I thought there might be a lot of overlap. I needn’t have worried and the discussion, with input from Wendy Toole and Richard Duguid, was interesting. It seems clear that the number of in-house editors is diminishing and the financial pressures felt by publishers are increasingly being passed on to freelances. Dr Baverstock, the only academic currently studying the self-publishing industry, presented a number of encouraging findings, however, for editors and proofreaders who work with self-funded authors. The one that stayed with me is that 50% of self-published authors are in full-time work and are often willing to pay a fair rate for editorial services.

Whenever I attend the London Book Fair I am impressed by the attention to detail in the planning and organisation. The stewards are always helpful and the app was great for planning and quick searches, though I found the paper map essential for locating events. The Olympia venue was pleasingly airy and the galleries provided a great view of the hustle and bustle and book deals taking place, though I understand that there were rumblings of discontent from publishers whose first-floor stands missed out on valuable through-traffic. It was not as straightforward getting home from Olympia as from Earl’s Court (to a non-Londoner), but after the publisher’s launch and drinks party, where I handed over the only business card I had planned to, I was happy to totter off in the general direction of the Tube.

Charlotte Norman is a professional member of the SfEP. She has been a freelance proofreader since 2011 and has recently completed the PTC distance learning course in copy-editing. Her work has included translation and copywriting for the luxury goods sector, but she is happiest proofreading young adult fiction.

Proofread by SfEP entry-level member Karen Pickavance.

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

How are we doing? Freelance performance review

photoFor employees the annual appraisal can be a workplace evil or a career boost. Rosalind Davies weighs up the value of a DIY evaluation for the freelancer.

You’ve just made a purchase online or spoken to customer services on the phone and it’s not long before the feedback email appears in your inbox: “Your views are really important to us. They help us understand where we need to improve but also give us the opportunity to share your compliments with our staff. We would like you to tell us what we’ve done well and what we could have done better.”

What do you do with these requests? You might welcome the opportunity to get something off your chest or you may regard it as spam. Your response to such a follow-up may bear some scrutiny in the context of your own business practices. Do you regard feedback as important or would you rather move swiftly on without a backwards glance?

Many organisations are committed to the annual performance appraisal or review of their staff as a process for an individual employee to engage in a dialogue about their work. It is usually carried out by a line manager to assess recent performance and focus on future objectives, opportunities and resources needed.

For employees the performance review can be a source of anxiety or a chore that requires uncomfortable introspection. More positively, it should be an opportunity to discuss your development and the support that you need to carry out your role. At best it should be a dedicated time for reflection and constructive analysis. Acknowledgement of achievements and hard work that may go unsaid most of the time, will hopefully surface during an appraisal, and tensions around office politics or internal processes might be aired safely.

For the self-employed person these processes for reflection probably don’t exist. You might have happily ripped up the staff handbook and pushed your annual travelcard to the back of a drawer, but you will also have lost any mechanism to reflect on the work that you do, your objectives and weaknesses, and the access to someone else’s view of your skills and achievements.

The power of praise

“I wanted to acknowledge this year in particular how much I have admired what you have achieved,” was the opening line of a letter I was delighted to receive a few years ago. The writer went on to comment on my work ethic, self-motivation, determination and ability to multi-task. It sounds like an easy ego boost, but, unexpected and unasked for as it was, it meant a great deal to me that someone else had realised that without a line manager, compliments, let alone evaluations, were likely to be thin on the ground.

My considerate friend, a manager himself, set me to thinking about the importance of the appraisal process. The challenge, for a freelance worker, is how to build some reflection and review into your working year. You may be fortunate enough to have clients who take a holistic view of their working relationship with you, who take the time to thank you for a good job or give feedback on areas for development. If, however, your project managers or desk editors are entirely task-driven, simply feeding jobs to you and receiving them back again with little other communication, then you might find one of these DIY techniques for initiating a performance appraisal helpful.

Ask for feedback

If your only measure of success is repeat business, it may be time for you to ask for feedback. A long-standing relationship with a client is good news, but constructive feedback could hold so much more for personal and professional development. You could ask for a review at the end of a ‘probationary’ period or as an established supplier. If you have completed a one-off assignment, it’s good practice to ask for a testimonial. A request for “a couple of sentences about the quality of service I provided” could provide you with an opportunity for learning and development, as well as something for your CV or website. More importantly, if you’re feeling isolated, asking for feedback is a way of initiating a conversation about your service and skills.

Ask a friend

Invite someone close to you to go through an appraisal process with you. They may not know the details of your day-to-day work, but ask them to reflect on your motivation levels, perseverance or commitment to clients. In a corporate setting many employers use a questionnaire that both parties complete in advance of the review. This might be a good way to start for a freelancer, too. Include questions that push you to be specific in your analysis, such as:

  • Have I achieved my objectives this year? What have I done particularly well? What examples of my work demonstrate this?
  • What have I done that has been less successful or enjoyable this year? What examples of my work demonstrate this? Why has this area of work been less successful or enjoyable?
  • What are the main skill and knowledge development needs that I have? How could I fill my development gaps/learning needs?

Whatever you learn through this process – positive or negative – introducing a version of a performance review into your working life will help you to focus on the future and plan for the continued development of a portfolio of clients and projects.

Ros Davies


Rosalind Davies is a copy-editor and offers wider communications services as Ros Davies Communications. She is active on Facebook and tweets as @drRosDavies.



Proofread by SfEP entry-level member Patric Toms.

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

Keeping things going

If you know where you want to take your business, you can decide how to get there.

Here on this blog we’ve recently had some interesting examples of how colleagues – from a range of backgrounds, and with different levels of editorial experience – got started. Next is to consider ways to keep the momentum going through the first few years, and take your business to the next level. As with getting started, there are as many different ways of building sustainability into an editorial business as there are editors, but here are some general tips.

Building a solid client base

When you start freelancing you may gradually build up your business with a handful of clients, and it can be all too easy to start depending on one or two favourite contacts who supply you with a stream of work. But this is a big mistake: no matter how valued you feel, or how well you get on with them, as a freelance you will never be anything other than expendable. The only way to counter this fact is to have a range of clients that you continue to add to over time, and this means ongoing attention to networking and marketing.

Many editors don’t like the thought of either, but they don’t have to mean delivering elevator pitches to rooms full of strangers, or blogging (if you don’t want to). The important thing is to find your own ways of keeping up with existing contacts and finding new ones, using the approaches and platforms that feel most natural to you.

Support networks and feedback

For some of us, one of the hardest aspects of long-term freelancing is the lack of contact with work colleagues. It’s not just about sharing water-cooler banter; it’s also about having people around to bounce ideas off, and to offer support when we suffer setbacks. It can be utterly galling to give a project your all, send it off into the ether and never hear anything about it again. In this situation, how do you know if you’re doing it right? How do you cope with the resounding silence?

You might ask your clients for feedback, but there’s no guarantee they’ll have the time to give it. Don’t despair – various editorial organisations (including the SfEP, of course) offer ways to interact with other editors in person at local group meetings, or online in the forums. And plenty of editors also use Facebook to link up with an international community of editors. You don’t need to feel alone.

Two traps to avoid, when you do make contact with other freelancers, are moaning about particular clients online (you never quite know who’ll end up reading what you write), and comparing yourself to others. Remember that every freelance business is unique.

Staying on message

Uniqueness is important. There are lots of editors out there, and more are appearing all the time. Although this tends to be a very supportive industry, you also need to be realistic about the fact that the only person who can keep your business going is you. To do this effectively, you need to be very clear about what you can offer clients that no one else can.

Now’s the time to develop your specialisms. Perhaps a particular interest (for example in biochemistry, or education, or erotic fiction, or step-by-step craft books) got you started. If you’ve proofread or edited a lot of material in a particular area (and you’d like to do more), you need to say so. The more you do, the more specific experience you will have and the better fit you will be for particular projects.

Think about finding your voice, too. As editors we are often invisible in our work (and that’s as it should be), but when we interact with colleagues or clients, our personality does count. Yes, if you do a good job, you are likely to get hired again. But the way we conduct ourselves in all sorts of other ways matters too. Does your website communicate what makes you the editor you are? Find a way to tell the clients you want to work for what you in particular can offer them.

Maintaining awareness

You need to look at the bigger picture as you progress, and track the projects you’re working on – not just so you can schedule them in and get them finished on time, but so you can analyse other aspects of the work you’re doing. Do you know which of your clients pays the best hourly rate, for example? Do you know which pays you most each year? And do you know who pays you quickest? All these things are easy to keep track of using various free or paid-for apps, or Excel. Find what works for you, and use it.

It’s not just about how the numbers stack up, either. Once your business is up and running you can start to focus on trying to secure more of the work you do want, and scaling back on anything that grinds you down.

Constant improvement

Keeping things going long term depends on a series of constant small improvements. Did something take you a long time to do on one project? Find a way to do it quicker next time; ask for advice if you need it. Are you unhappy with your average hourly rate? Use increased efficiency to improve things as far as you can, and seek out clients who pay better. Not good at negotiating? Take tips from those who are and give it a go – you have nothing to lose (and perhaps much to gain).

You may reach the point where everything’s come together and you’re drowning in work (yes, really). But be careful! Now’s the time to concentrate on working smarter, not harder. Stay organised, don’t feel you have to say yes to everything (whether individual projects or specific demands from clients), and try to develop a sense for the projects that will reward you creatively and financially, and the ones that will sap all your energy.

Keep abreast of industry trends, and don’t neglect your training. Try to make every job you do better than the last.

Planning for the future

This is not about retiring to your villa in the sun … though it’s obviously sensible to consider the more distant future. But an important part of staying motivated is maintaining your own interest in what you’re doing. Do you want to keep proofreading the same kind of material for the next twenty years? If you do, that’s fine (although bear in mind that particular clients may come and go, and work methods will evolve).

However, if you’d like to shake things up a bit, it helps to think about what you see yourself doing a few months or years from now. This links to the earlier advice about maintaining awareness, and using it to help you consider where to go next. Could you develop new skills? Might you be able to train or mentor new editors? Would you like to write about aspects of editorial practice? Perhaps you’d like to get more involved with your national editorial organisation? Maybe work for a different set of clients in a certain field? Or simply earn more and work less?

Once you know where you want to take your business, you can decide how to get there.

What tips do you have for keeping an editorial business thriving beyond the first few years?

Liz Jones SfEP marketing and PR director


Liz Jones is the SfEP’s marketing and PR director. She has also worked as an editor for 17 years, and has been freelance since 2008.


Proofread by SfEP entry-level member Anna Black.

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

Top quality editorial training for 2015

SfEP logoMake 2015 the year you start your editorial training, or commit to continuing professional development (CPD). The Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP) offers a range of classroom courses on aspects of editorial practice at centres around the UK, run by our highly experienced and knowledgeable trainers.

Why train in the classroom?

We believe that our classroom-based courses offer unique benefits:

  • Networking and social opportunities – meet like-minded course delegates, and discuss your interests and concerns with your tutor.
  • Answers in real time – get instant feedback on exercises, and see how others tackle things.
  • Make a day of it – it’s easy, as a freelance, to get stuck behind your desk. Enjoy your time away!

Courses for beginners

Copy-editing 1 (Introduction)
Cambridge, 4 March 2015
Proofreading 1 (Introduction)
Edinburgh, 20 February 2015
London, 6 March 2015
These basic courses are perfect if you need to copy-edit or proofread as part of your job but have had little formal training.

Getting work with non-publishers
Bristol, 23 May 2015
This course helps you reflect on how you can promote your business to non-publishers, and fine-tune your networking activities to get more – and better paid – work.

Going freelance and staying there
York, 17 February 2015
This course provides essential information on the business and organisational aspects of setting up as a freelance.

Courses for improvers

Copy-editing 2 (Progress)
London, 12 March 2015
Proofreading 2 (Progress)
London, 18 February 2015
These courses are suited to those wishing to update, refresh or check their skills in these areas.

Brush up your copy-editing
London, 19 February 2015
This workshop aims to consolidate and extend skills evolved through trial and error, and put editorial tasks in the context of the whole publishing process.

Brush up your grammar
London, 5 March 2015
This course is suitable for anyone working with text and hoping to gain confidence that they are making good decisions in what they write.

On-screen editing 1
London, 2 March 2015
This course is designed to introduce techniques to increase efficiency and improve working practices for those who do a lot of on-screen editing. (It can also be taken with On-screen editing 2, below.)

Introduction to web editorial skills
Edinburgh, 16 March 2015
This workshop is designed for those who want to adapt their editorial skills for a digital medium, or who are responsible for web content but have no editorial skills.

Professional copy-editing
Oxford, 21 April 2015
Designed for those who have taken introductory courses and done some copy-editing work, this workshop teaches crucial skills that will help you offer your clients the kind of service they’ll want again and again.

Advanced courses

On-screen editing 2
London, 3 March 2015
This course is designed to introduce more advanced techniques for improved efficiency for those already experienced in on-screen editing. (It can follow on from On-screen editing 1, above.)

Proofreading for accreditation
London, 1 April 2015
This advanced course aims to help delegates decide whether they’re ready to take the SfEP accreditation test in proofreading.

Find out more

For more about the content of the courses, and to book, visit the Training section of our website.

Working with self-publishing authors – Part 2: expectations and implementation


Photo credit: kodomut

In Part 1: An industry of opportunity, SfEP ordinary member Sophie Playle explored who self-publishes, why and how self-publishing has developed over the years, and what this means for editorial freelances. In this post, she’ll be looking at the more practical elements of working with self-publishing authors.

Note: This post has been written with editorial professionals in mind. As with any type of client, it goes without saying that it’s important your skills are fit for purpose. This post doesn’t go into the foundations of training and finding clients, but instead looks at what an editor might consider when working directly with self-publishing authors.

1. Assessing the project for the right service

The number one thing to remember about self-publishing authors is that most of them do not know much about the editing industry. Their main job is to write, after all. They’re often aware that they need editorial help to self-publish professionally, but are not sure exactly what this entails.

Many writers will think they just need a quick proofread to catch any typos when the reality is that most would benefit from a development edit and a copy-edit first. These terms are often unfamiliar to writers, and since there are so many editors offering slightly different variations of the same service (which is also often called something slightly different), a little confusion can only be expected.

Communication is key with self-publishing clients. (Well, all clients, really!)

Ask what the client wants to achieve, and what they expect from your service. Take a look at a sample of the work – this is crucially important. Remember: there are no gatekeepers here, so the quality of work will vary greatly.

If you believe the client’s expectations don’t quite match what the project needs, open a discussion on why you think this, and how you can help.

Alternatively, if you can’t help – for example, if the client really needs a development edit but you specialise in proofreading – decline the work and point them in the right direction, whether that’s to an editorial friend who offers a different service, or to the SfEP directory of editorial services, or some other resource.

2. Assessing the project for compatibility of style

This might be most relevant to fiction writers, but in my experience many self-publishing authors are looking for an editor who ‘gets them’. They want to feel that the project that they’ve poured their heart and soul into, possibly over the course of several years, is in safe hands and that the editor isn’t going to mess it up.

An independent author doesn’t have the assurance of a publishing house that you’re going to do the best job. They only have their own assessment of you and your editing skills – based on recommendations and what they’ve gleaned from your public professional presence. They want to know they’ve made the right choice.

In fact, the client’s freedom to choose a compatible editor with whom to work is a benefit traditionally published authors often don’t get.

It’s in the editorial professional’s best interest, too, to work with compatible clients. For development editors, this might mean working with an author in your genre of interest. For a copy-editor, this might mean working with an author whose style you understand. There’s nothing more horrifying to a writer than to receive an edited manuscript in which the editor has stripped out all nuances of their voice.

Working with compatible clients means you can do your best work, and your client will feel they are in good hands.

How do you assess for compatibility? You might want to offer a sample edit – paid or free, that’s up to you. You might want to get to know your client and find out more details about their project through email or phone conversation before you commit to working with them.

There are lots of ways to go about this. The result should be that both you and your client feel confident that you understand each other.

3. Setting boundaries and looking after your client’s emotional needs

Self-publishing authors often require a little more reassurance and communication from their editors. They usually don’t have an agent or a publisher to answer their questions – they rely on you for your professional knowledge of the industry.

You’re often their main professional contact, and this means they have one burning question they want to ask you: ‘Is my work any good?’

I’ve heard varying opinions from freelance editorial professionals on whether or not we should pass judgement on a self-publisher’s work. Do we refuse projects if we think they are of unpublishable quality? Or should we simply do the job we’re being paid to do?

On the one hand, we are not gatekeepers. And whatever we say in response to this question would be purely opinion. (If I’d been asked whether 50 Shades of Grey would have been a success, I’m confident I would have said no!) We’re being paid to conduct a service, and so that’s what we should do. The rest is out of our control.

On the other hand, if a self-publisher asks for our thoughts or hires us for our professional skills, don’t we have an obligation to pass on our professional opinion? Isn’t that what they’re paying for? (Or should they only expect this if they’re paying for a critique?)

It’s a conundrum. There’s no right answer. My one tip? Make sure you communicate with your author. Don’t offer unwanted criticism (or unwanted mollycoddling), and let your author know your stance on the issue before you begin working together.

Be clear on your professional boundaries from the outset. You’ll be working directly with the creator, and this person will be emotionally invested in the project and possibly not have much experience of navigating the publishing world as a professional business owner (a hat self-publishers must decide to wear if they want to be successful). Clear terms and conditions are key. Look after yourself, as well as your client.

In summary, self-publishing clients have slightly different needs to other kinds of clients, and these should be taken into consideration. The main things to think about are whether they are commissioning the best service for their project, whether your editing style is best matched to their writing needs, and the emotional and professional boundaries you will address in the working relationship.

When it comes down to it, these are all issues of consideration and communication. I hope these pointers will help you and your self-publishing clients get the most out of your work together.

Sophie Playle profile photographSophie Playle, of Liminal Pages, is a freelance editor who specialises in fiction and often works directly with writers. For brownie points, connect with her on Twitter and LinkedIn. (Please note: No real brownies or points will be awarded.)

Proofread by SfEP ordinary member Samantha Stalion.

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

Working with self-publishing authors – Part 1: an industry of opportunity


Photo credit: kodomut

SfEP ordinary member Sophie Playle explores the opportunities available for editors and proofreaders to work with self-publishing authors.

The self-publishing boom has happened and it’s here to stay. Options are increasing for writers choosing to take ownership of the publication of their books, and so are opportunities for editors.

Who self-publishes?

Many self-publishers are writers who have not managed to seduce the necessary gatekeepers stationed along the traditional publishing route – not necessarily because their writing is not of publishable quality, but because the publishers don’t believe in their potential to make money in the market. Fair enough – publishers are businesses, after all.

Now, though, writers can choose to take their own risks.

Many writers decide to self-publish simply for the freedom of it all. Some even decide to leave their publishing houses and go it alone because they see it as the better option. (Hello, 70% royalty …)

Rising quality, rising numbers

No longer seen as a practice in vanity, many self-publishers are now fully aware of the challenges they face, and how best to overcome these challenges. As a result, there is a new breed of independent (indie) authors: they are both literary creatives and publishing entrepreneurs.

Did you know …?

  • Self-published books’ share of the UK market grew by 79 per cent in 2013*
  • 18m self-published books were bought by UK readers last year, worth £59m*
  • The Big Five traditional publishers now account for only 16 per cent of the e-books on Amazon’s bestseller lists**

* The Guardian, ‘Self-publishing boom lifts sales by 79% in a year’, Jun 2014
** Author Earnings report, Jul 2014

According to an article posted on Publishing Perspectives (Oct, 2014), literary agent Andrew Lownie believes that in 5–10 years, 75 per cent of books will be self-published, 20 per cent assisted by agents, and only 5 per cent traditionally published. Whether he’s right or wrong is another matter, but it just goes to show how much of an impact the independent author is having on the publishing world.

A wealth of resources

Technology is the catalyst for these opportunities. The e-book format and print-on-demand (POD) services like Smashwords and Lulu provide affordable production. Companies like Amazon, Apple and Barnes & Noble provide the marketplaces. Every service in between, from editing to cover design, can be found online, and through new marketplace websites, too, such as Reedsy.

And with the Internet, indie authors have a wealth of information at their fingertips. Not sure how to get your book on the shelves at Waterstones? Or perhaps not sure whether you need to buy an ISBN (or that you know what to do with it)? Never fear, Google is here.

A digital revolution

The Internet is a big deal. I mean, it’s a serious game-changer – in so many ways, but especially for the publishing industry. (Truth be told, I don’t think traditional publishing houses have quite caught up yet.)

At the click of a button, people can access the specific information, entertainment or inspiration they’re looking for. This means that businesses no longer have to go hunting for punters in the old, traditional ways (posters, flyers, radio adverts), because those clients are actively seeking them out.

Instead of a scattergun approach to marketing (least effective), businesses can use targeted pull-marketing (most effective).

What does this mean for the independent author? Well, instead of spending all their time writing alone in their studies, they are now able to connect to their readerships online – through social media, blogs and websites.

Remember the publishing house that was concerned there wasn’t a market for that book? Doesn’t matter, because the indie writer can build their readership from the ground up. That’s the power of the Internet.

What does this mean for editors?

In a word: opportunity.

Self-publishers used to have a bad name. Some still do – but it’s no longer a sweeping generalisation. In the end, poor-quality books will sink and good-quality books will rise. Indie authors are cottoning on to that – and they understand they need to invest in their own quality control.

That’s where we come in.

Sophie Playle profile photograph

Sophie Playle, of Liminal Pages, is a freelance editor who specialises in fiction and often works directly with writers. She has an MA in creative writing and has just had her SfEP membership upgraded to ordinary (soon to be professional) member. You can follow her on Twitter.

Proofread by SfEP associate Ravinder Dhindsa.

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