Systematising my working life

By Sue Browning

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

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

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

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

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

A view from above

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

Sue's schedule in Cushion

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

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

Time tracking

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

Work done – time to invoice

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

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

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

Screenshot of invoices section of Cushion

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

Keeping organised and keeping records

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

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

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

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

 

Posted by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator.

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

Working with an assistant: nuts and bolts

By Cathy Tingle

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

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

From batphone to batches

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

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

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

Sharing out tasks

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

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

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

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

In the past, Helen has:

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

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

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

TeapotThe nitty gritty

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

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

And don’t forget

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

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

 

Posted by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator.

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

Wise owls: office companions

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

Darcy (Hazel Bird's dog)Hazel Bird

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

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

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

Louise Bolotin's Spotify playlistLouise Bolotin

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

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

Margaret Hunter's monkeyMargaret Hunter

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

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

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

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

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

Matty (Melanie Thompson's dog)Melanie Thompson

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

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

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

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

Mike Faulkner's Pine MartenMike Faulkner

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

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

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

 

Nik Prowse

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

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

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

Sue Littleford's bearsSue Littleford

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

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

Pip (Sue Browning's dog) Sue Browning

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

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

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

 

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

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

Getting permission to reuse published content: PLSclear

By Lucy Metzger

PLSclear is a free service to help editors and authors get permissions to reuse content quickly. The PLSclear people contacted the SfEP Council and invited us to watch a webinar on it, which I’ve just done.

Here’s some information provided by PLSclear, and then I’ll let you know a little about the webinar.

PLSClear say …

PLS clear logoPublishers’ Licensing Services introduce their free service for authors and editors seeking permission to reuse content.

If you’re planning to reuse extracts of third-party content in your own work, whether the extract is from a book, journal, magazine or website, and you are uncertain how to go about getting that permission, Publishers’ Licensing Services (PLS) can help you. They have developed PLS PermissionsRequest, a free service which streamlines the process of requesting permission.

From the webinar

Making a permission request

PLS Clear user interface

If you’re seeking permission to reproduce published content – an image, a chapter, a poem, a table – PLSclear lets you search for the publication on their database, which contains the catalogues of participating publishers. You can search on title, author, keywords or ISBN/ISSN. When you’ve found the work, you go through a series of forms to specify what you want to use and how you want to use it. You’re asked about the content type, number of words if it’s text, and the nature and purpose of your own publication (the one in which you intend to reproduce the material).

These requests are free, and there is no limit on the number of requests you can make. If you’re looking to clear multiple permissions, you can set up a ‘project’ that retains details so that you don’t have to keep re-entering them.

Getting the request to the publisher

When you’ve entered all the details, PLSclear generates a request and sends it to the publisher’s inbox. The publisher-facing side of the software allows for various levels of automation. A publisher may choose to assess each request in person, as it were; or they can tell PLSclear to make an automated or semi-automated assessment of requests, based on rules given by the publisher.

The publisher’s response

The publisher may decide to issue a free licence. In that case PLSclear will generate the licence, with the necessary legal wording, and send it to you. No money changes hands, either on the publisher’s part or on yours.

If the publisher wants to charge you a fee, PLSclear will generate a quote containing terms and conditions and send it to you. If you choose to pay the fee requested, you can make payment through PLSclear and you’ll then be sent your licence; or if you want to negotiate, you can do so; or you can walk away. If you do pay a fee, a proportion of it goes to PLSclear and the rest goes to the publisher.

My view

I haven’t used PLSclear myself, but based on the webinar it looks straightforward and well-conceived. I certainly like the fact that it’s free for the requestor, and in many cases it will be far quicker than less automated methods of requesting permissions. It would be interesting to know how publishers and their authors like it.

Lucy Metzger Lucy Metzger is based in Glasgow. She copy-edits and proofreads, mostly academic books and textbooks, and is a mentor and trainer for the SfEP. She is an amateur cellist and singer. Her degree is in French. She is the external relations director for the SfEP.

 

 

Posted by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator.

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

Working with an assistant

By Cathy Tingle

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

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

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

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

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

Helen

Helen: On it

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

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

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

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

 

Posted by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator.

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

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

By Stephen Pigney

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

Globe on a desk

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

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

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

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

Patience, focus and familiarity

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

Learning about language and practice

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

Pieter Bruegal the Elder: Tower of Babel

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

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

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

Good editors are good travellers

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

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

Posted by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator.

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

 

The Book Trade Charity

By Gerard M-F Hill

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

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

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

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

The Retreat, Kings Langley

The Retreat, Kings Langley

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

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

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

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

 

Posted by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator.

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

Editors and social media: YouTube

In the second instalment of our ‘Editors and social media’ series, Denise Cowle explains why and how she uses YouTube for her business, and how that fits in with her use of other social media.

Screenshot of YouTube home page

Photo by Christian Wiediger on Unsplash.

When and why did you start?

In 2015 I went to a conference run by the Content Marketing Academy, where there was a workshop by Marcus Sheridan. It showed me that there was so much more I could be doing to promote my business online. I was full of enthusiasm and started blogging regularly and using social media to promote it and engage with lots of people, both editors and potential clients.
Since then I have embraced lots of new things, most recently taking part in a challenge which saw me produce one video each week for 13 weeks.

I’ve only been using video for a few months, but the results have been very positive so far.

What do you share?

I share my latest blog or video every week, plus I rotate through older content which still has value. Most of the stuff I create doesn’t date (it’s evergreen, to use a buzzword!) so it’s still relevant months or even years after it’s written or filmed. People aren’t necessarily going to find it directly from searching, so it’s good practice to put it out there at regular intervals to show what you have.

I don’t just share my own content – I read other blogs and websites, and there is a lot of really useful information worth sharing. I think if you share the good stuff it goes a little way towards pushing the useless stuff further down people’s newsfeeds!

When do you share?

Depending on the platform, I’ll share/post every day or several times a day, using a scheduling tool (Buffer) to automatically share my own content and other links that I’ve spotted but don’t necessarily want to share when I first see them. But I also spend a little time every day engaging with other people, liking, sharing and commenting on their posts as they appear in my timeline.

I find blogging quite time-intensive. It can take me four or five hours to write a blog, edit it, find or create the right images, and then do all the behind-the-scenes work for SEO, like adding links, meta-description, social share buttons and the sign-up buttons for my newsletter.

I’ve been surprised at how quickly I got into a rhythm for video production – it doesn’t take nearly as long to produce, as I can now film, edit and upload a five-minute video in around two hours, including all the SEO and techy things (like creating a custom thumbnail and choosing the right tags for that post) and the on-screen titles, cards and subtitles.


Screenshot of Denise's YouTube channel

Why do you do it?

It’s actually given me a lot of confidence – the first few videos I created were pretty dodgy, but I kept going and picked up advice on improving the technical aspect of it and the presentation skills needed for talking to my iPhone while it’s balanced on a pile of books on a stepladder (you can manage perfectly well without high-tech equipment!)

Generally, I keep motivated by the feedback I get from people who enjoy what I produce and share it. More importantly, when clients tell me they read my blog or saw my video, that tells me that I’m doing the right thing. Writing or creating videos about editing-related topics shows people I know what I’m doing, rather than me just telling them that!

The videos have been incredibly effective, particularly when I upload them natively to LinkedIn (natively means publishing the video directly on that platform, rather than posting a link to the video on my YouTube channel). I got several new clients directly as a result of them seeing my videos. One was a global publisher I hadn’t worked with until now, and another was an edtech company who asked me to reshoot one of my videos for them, so they could use it in one of their courses! Now THAT was something I didn’t see coming!

Getting concrete results like that is all the motivation I need!

What about other social media platforms?

Although my videos are created for my YouTube channel, that’s not primarily where people will go to look for them, so I upload them to LinkedIn, which has far and away been the most effective platform in terms of engagement and actual sales, and I share on Twitter and my Facebook page. It sounds like a lot but only takes a matter of minutes to do.

Any advice?

I would encourage anyone to have a go at video. If you have a decent phone and somewhere quiet to record, that’s enough to get started. I dipped my toe in the water with some Facebook Live broadcasts last year, just to get used to speaking to camera. I also watched quite a few online tutorials about getting started, which gave me lots of helpful tips, particularly about setting up my YouTube channel.

And it doesn’t have to be perfect – I’ve left bloopers in and made a feature of them. Video is a great way of showing your personality – you know you’re fabulous, and now your prospective clients can see that too!

Denise CowleDenise Cowle is an editor and proofreader based in Glasgow. She specialises in non-fiction, particularly education and business, and edits for a variety of global publishers, companies and organisations.

She has an interest in continuing professional development and content marketing, and when she’s got spare time she loiters on social media and writes her blog.

Denise is an Advanced Professional Member of the Society for Editors and Proofreaders and is also its Marketing and PR Director.

 

Posted by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator.

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

Inside Bloomsbury Publishing for Editors and Proofreaders

In a brand new event series, Inside Bloomsbury, Bloomsbury Publishing is opening up about how it creates and publishes its books by inviting key members of the Bloomsbury team to talk about what they do in more detail than ever before. In this second event of the series, a follow-up to ‘Inside Bloomsbury Publishing for Illustrators’, a panel of Bloomsbury editors discussed the skills needed to edit works that please authors, agents and publishers – in partnership with the SfEP. Andrew Macdonald Powney tells us more about the event on 25 October.

Door to Bloomsbury Publishing's offices on Bedford Square, London

Bloomsbury Publishing, Bedford Square, London.

Bloomsbury publishes 2,500 titles annually, 80% of which are non-fiction. Every seat at the Bloomsbury Institute was booked on 25 October for a discussion between three Bloomsbury editors: managing editor Marigold Atkey, senior editor Xa Shaw Stewart and special interest editor Jonathan Eyers. It was chaired by Abi Saffrey, an Advanced Professional Member of the SfEP.

Jonathan summed up the stages of the in-house process: a structural edit by the commissioning editor, then a copy-edit focused on clarity, next typesetting, and only then proofreading – with checking e-books coming last and paying least well, since by that stage most errors have been found. Bloomsbury wanted quick, thorough, accurate proofreaders. The firm tends not to recruit through the SfEP directory, but rather, according to their own intelligence and contacts, and through the constant stream of CVs dropping into their inboxes; Jonathan Eyers gave examples of proofreaders without previous experience whom he had employed because something particular made them stand out. Editors might well take note of training like SfEP and PTC courses, however.

Working with Bloomsbury

So how can proofreaders attract work – and repeat work – from Bloomsbury? As to breaking through in the first place, Jonathan returned a couple of times to saying that a letter looking for work plus a generic CV stands next to no chance in competition against a distinctive application from someone with specialist expertise. Editors are on the look-out for people who may know more than they do on a topic that might cross their desks. These get added to the contact list.

Once employed, a freelancer’s flexibility is important, and for tried-and-tested freelancers this can work both ways. Reliability and turnaround are essential. Timings might be 2 to 3 weeks for proofreading or 4 weeks for copy-editing a text of 80,000 to 100,000 words. It will pay the freelancer more in the long run to stick to the agreed fee. Failing to keep to the deadline is another great way to mark yourself out as a risky pick. A third classic error is forgetting to back up the text you have been sent, which you need in case of file corruption or queries over changes. Freelancers can also lose credibility by altering text when they should raise queries; changes to the text that turn up only at the proofreading stage mean alterations to the typeset text, and that is expensive. Both budgets and schedules are tight and margins for error will stretch only so far (Marigold has worked on 38 books to date this year).

Marigold Atkey, Xa Shaw Stewart, Jonathan Eyers and Abi Saffrey at the Bloomsbury Institute

Marigold Atkey, Xa Shaw Stewart, Jonathan Eyers and Abi Saffrey. Photo: Ruth Burns Warrens.

The same but different

In-house editors within the same firm may have different approaches. Marigold might line up a proofreader at the same time as the copy-editor, and she might look for an indexer or even a freelance map illustrator as well. Her brief with the Raven imprint brings in fantasy, and a recent book required a floor plan to go with the text. Xa’s work with cookbooks might lead her to seek out ghost writers or project editors (though Bloomsbury seldom has need of freelance project editors/managers). Jonathan’s team looks to commission and publish non-fiction texts for identified niche markets, which is why it is subject expertise in a proofreader that especially attracts him.

Publishers have slimmed down, but that increases the overall proportion of freelance work. Whereas a few years ago it seemed that a few conglomerates might buy up all the independents, another possible future for publishing may now be coming into view: many, small independents without physical offices, producing books through networks of freelancers in a world where almost no one is in-house.

Practicalities

The trend is towards electronic mark-up for copy-edits: though the vast majority of Bloomsbury’s proofreading is still on hard copy. Thus, the BSI marks remain indispensable because they are internationally understood. Editing using Track Changes in Word is pretty much the rule and the system, though Xa felt that working from a paper copy as well might still be most effective. Her particular titles create a premium on freelancers’ awareness of visuals and design. The passage from book to e-book is now practically seamless, requiring comparatively minor changes like the position of the copyright page, and there is little freelance work in this area. Encouragingly, though, outsourcing the process to cheaper markets has its limits, since Bloomsbury requires quality in production and editing, especially sensitivity to nuance and idiom. In cookbooks, not just “broil / grill” or “zucchini / courgette” but the density of flour (and therefore the amounts in a recipe) may vary between the US and the UK.

This early evening on Bedford Square saw the Bloomsbury Institute introduce trends present and future clearly and enjoyably to a large, varied, and interested audience. In a show of hands, only five or six attendees are based in-house. Perhaps those few will take back the idea of this event to other publishing houses too.

Andrew Macdonald PowneyAndrew Macdonald Powney is an Entry-Level Member of the SfEP. He taught Politics and RS in state and independent schools after taking degrees in History and Patristic Theology, and he is now based in Edinburgh. Andrew is interested in political, religious, theological, and educational texts, and Plain English. His own writing appeared most recently in The Tablet.

 

Posted by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator.

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

SfEP conference 2018: what they said

Places at this year’s conference at Lancaster University sold out quickly and the conference’s success has been blogged about by attendees since the event in September – here are the highlights.

SfEP directors and audience at the AGM

There was swearing

Kia Thomas’s session on editing sweary stuff was clearly a highlight for many members; it inspired Howard Walwyn to title his comprehensive conference review ‘#SfEP 2018 – Let’s Get F***in’ Serious‘.

Hannah McCall also enjoyed the session, and the Coco Pops option at breakfast; this was her first SfEP conference experience, and she talks about the warmth of strangers and support of her conference buddy in her summary.

Editors travelled from far and wide

Every year, more and more editors based outside the UK attend, and present at, the conference. Claire Wilkshire discusses British politeness in her post ‘Editors, sheep, conferencing‘.

Presenters push the boundaries of their comfort zones

The conference director approached Kia Thomas during her ‘Saying Yes’ kick, and Kia elegantly discusses the process of preparing and presenting at a conference in ‘Conferences, confidence and comfort zones‘.

There were indexers there too

The Society for Indexers’ conference was at the same venue at the same time this year, enabling sharing of some sessions and the gala dinner. Tanya Izzard is an indexer looking to develop her editing skills, and made the most of the opportunity to attend two conferences at once.

Attendees learnt stuff

Pamela Smith lists her main learning points from the two days in her conference report – AND she won a fabulous raffle prize so the learning can carry on.

The learning wasn’t just limited to the sessions – the quiz on the opening evening of the conference warmed up brain cells and revealed the vast amounts of random knowledge that editors carry around in their heads. Oh, and Kia Thomas was on the winning team.

But it’s all about…

As Stephen Cashmore reminds us, the conference is all about the people: those who plan, prepare and attend it.

Attendees at the 2018 SfEP Conference

There’s more coverage of this year’s sessions in the November/December edition of Editing Matters, the Society’s digital magazine for members.

Compiled by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator.

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

Coming up