Tag Archives: copy-editing

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.

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.

 

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.

PerfectIt Cloud: what Mac users have been waiting for

Simone Hutchinson reviews Intelligent Editing’s new PerfectIt Cloud, the first version of the respected consistency and error checker to work on Macs (in Word 2016).

The full version of this review first appeared in the July/August edition of Editing Matters, the SfEP magazine. (Note: Simone was using a beta version so that this review would be ready in time for the official launch of PerfectIt Cloud.)

Introduction

Having been invited to review PerfectIt Cloud for Mac (beta), my main concern was that my relatively meagre experience of using editorial support software would prevent me from making the most of PerfectIt and limit the value of my report. I hope that what follows will help you decide whether to purchase the software; this review should be relevant to Mac users who have not used PerfectIt before.

I tested three different kinds of Microsoft Word document: a US geology article (~2000 words), a non-native English law journal article (~6000 words) and a UK law book (~46,000 words).

Is it easy to use?

Installing and setting up PerfectIt Cloud is straightforward.

If you are using PerfectIt Cloud for the first time, you will be presented with an outline of its features. This start-up introduction to the software emphasises its role as a style sheet and consistency tool. If you are an experienced editor, I think these start-up welcome screens are the only preparation you need before using the tools. PerfectIt is so easy to use that I do not think there is a need for a new user who is an experienced editor to require training on PerfectIt, although watching the demo videos would still be useful as I feel that audio and visual walkthroughs help cement what is learned by trial-and-error practice. However, for editors who are new to the profession, some training in the use of style sheets and consistency checks would be extremely helpful prior to using PerfectIt.

The sidebar has an intuitive design that presents its information clearly, although there is one minor flaw: the floating ‘i’ icon that appears in the right-hand corner of the PerfectIt panel sometimes obscures the ellipsis button.

Screenshot of PerfectIt Beta information menu

PerfectIt’s information menu

At each stage of the analysis process you are presented with the option to view the location of the suspected error and to fix it. If a long list of locations is offered, you can fix items selectively or have them all done at once. This is particularly useful if your document contains quoted matter (where you don’t want to change the source’s spelling or style). If you accidentally choose ‘Fix’, don’t worry, there’s an Undo button. Being able to review every word that PerfectIt flags up is useful for compiling a word list in your style sheet.

When testing PerfectIt on a legal text (a book on interpreting housing legislation, aimed at the legal practitioner), it helpfully pointed out that the style setting I applied at the start of the analysis (UK spelling) prefers the spelling of judgement with the ‘e’, but that ‘judgment’ may be required in certain legal contexts. Well done, PerfectIt!

Screen shot of PerfectIts hyphenation of phrases section

Option to fix an item or move to the next step

At the end of the process you are able to see a list of the changes that PerfectIt applied, by clicking on the button ‘See what PerfectIt did’. This list has a useful ‘Copy’ option, which means you could maintain change reports for your clients (or your own use). And other reports are offered for viewing at the end of the analysis: ‘Table of Abbreviations’, ‘Summary of Changes’, ‘Text in Comments’.

Screenshot of PerfectIt Cloud's navigation and test page

Click the ellipsis to reveal the full test list.

Will it save me time?

PerfectIt saves time in the workflow by automating a useful range of spelling, punctuation and style checks. It analyses the text to identify inconsistencies in spelling, capitalisation in headings and phrases, hyphenation of phrases and words, abbreviations defined twice or not at all or not used, brackets and quotes left open, and list punctuation.

PerfectIt also lists abbreviations without definitions, which, in a document that contains numerous instances, saves you time by providing you with them all in one list — compared with the process of discovering them manually one by one and adding them to a separate list. You can deal with them all in one go with PerfectIt. However, the ‘Table of Abbreviations’ report option at the end of the process did not work in the Beta version (but should be fixed in the release version).

Without the aid of software automation tools, the time it takes to perform a standard copy-edit on a set length of text will vary from editor to editor. I hope the following timings can be compared with those of your current workflow. The legal book of 46,000 words took me just under one hour to fully check, using every possible test in PerfectIt. The mining article took less than ten minutes. The non-native English law journal article took around 15 minutes. Completion of individual tests can take up to 30 seconds, but on average they took around five seconds.

Will it improve my work?

One of the advantages of PerfectIt is that it trains you to think methodically about your workflow, which in turn helps you become a more efficient editor and writer. After repeated use of its step-by-step approach, combined with clear visual walkthroughs of each step, you will memorise a large part of your editorial checklist and be able to quickly prioritise certain tests according to the kind of document you are working on. While I am not suggesting that this is the death of pen-and-paper checklists, which by the act of writing them provide a similar kind of memory training, there is no doubt that this software helps you to focus more on the work. It does the menial work for you, but makes that menial work visible and requests your approval at each step, so you will not forget essential editorial processes. Consequently, you will spend less time and mental effort on the activity of checking for problems while increasing mental effort on the job from a management perspective. PerfectIt is your editorial assistant and even a bit of a copy-editor. You can become a better editorial project manager by using it.

By saving you time through greatly reducing redundancy in your workflow, PerfectIt also minimises time spent typing. For people with health conditions affecting the hands, this unexpected benefit will be a welcome bonus.

What are my criticisms?

In terms of functional problems with the PerfectIt Cloud, I only noticed some slightly buggy behaviour of the report options and the location of the floating information icon. These should be relatively easy to fix by the time of release, hopefully. A usability improvement might be to move ‘Check Consistency’ from the styles menu to the tests menu.

PerfectIt Cloud is not a comprehensive editor’s toolkit. It does not check footnotes, table or illustration captions and their cross-references, URLs, header or footer matter, or page or section breaks, and does not offer any options to work with Word styles. Neither is it designed to check for inaccuracies in grammar. For editors keen on customisation options, PerfectIt Cloud might seem limited – but this is more of an observation than a criticism (and the developers do promise these are coming in time).

Is it worth upgrading to Word 2016?

You need to have Word 2016 to run PerfectIt Cloud on a Mac. I upgraded from Office 2011 to 2016 this year, and have found there to be a few useful benefits. Importantly for editing, the review panel is better. The redesign of the menus in general improves the logic of menu items as well as their visual presentation (less cluttered now, and simpler). Word 2016 feels lighter, better organised and clearer. These things probably have helped me focus better on projects. With all these benefits, I have found the upgrade worth it.

I can see that using PerfectIt will increase my productivity and reduce the psychological resistance I put up to dull tasks. It will make the physical aspect of editing work easier (less typing). It will help me become a better project manager.

The price of PerfectIt Cloud for SfEP members is $49 per year (available via the SfEP website). I think it is well worth it, especially considering that further features will probably be added.

 

Simone Hutchinson

Simone Hutchinson began freelance editing in 2017 after nine years in editorial support and house editor roles in academic publishing. In February 2018 she set up Orlando Press.

 

 

Posted by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator.

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

Wise owls on editing non-fiction

Non-fiction covers a vast array of topics, including music, psychology, architecture, science, and memoirs, and new editors may find learning and following the conventions of non-fiction daunting. Editors will be asked to work with authors who are experts in their chosen field, and you will need to (tactfully!) help them bring structure to their work as they share their extensive knowledge with their audience.

This month, the SfEP parliament of wise owls share their experience of editing non-fiction, including tips on references and style guides, and working efficiently to meet clients’ needs for consistency within an often limited budget.

Sue LittlefordSue Littleford

Learn to love references, in all their multifarious glory. I get great satisfaction from making a clean and orderly references list from the dog’s breakfast I was handed. I edit a lot of academic tomes in HSS (humanities and social sciences) and have long realised that there are almost as many variations of Harvard as there are authors.

This is why it’s important to get a clear brief from your client. The publishers I work for vary greatly in how closely they want references to adhere to house style. Indeed, some are becoming more relaxed about it over time, often settling for ‘apply author’s style consistently’. If you are to avoid wasting a lot of time, do talk to your client about how much of your effort they want spent on changing the style of references.

One trick I’ve recently adopted is to make my own sample list of references for each of the variants in the job in hand (such as book, chapter, article, website, grey literature and archive – and some of those will have print and online variants, too). This is particularly helpful if I’m working with the short-title system, where a reference will look a little different in the note and in the bibliography, so my own note of the same reference in both presentations is an efficient way of checking I’m applying the correct version of the style in the right place – far easier than flipping through the pages of a style guide.

Liz Jones

It can seem that editing non-fiction is more bound by conventions, formats and rules than fiction. Whether you think that makes the task easier or harder is all down to personal preference! Often a non-fiction client will supply a style sheet, and even if they don’t they might indicate an established style guide that they’d like you to follow. In this way it can be quite different from editing a piece of fiction, which is much more likely to follow its own internal logic. Remember that the author’s voice can be just as distinctive and important to a piece of non-fiction – they’re still telling a story, even if it’s rooted in fact – so there’s a need to be sensitive and to think hard about what to retain as well as what to change. You might require a certain amount of tact to negotiate changes with the author to help their work conform to the required style, without applying rules slavishly and arbitrarily. Finally, non-fiction is often quite clearly structured, and this can be really helpful to the editor. Tweaking text to better fit the structural patterns that run through it can be immensely satisfying, and might make all the difference to a piece of writing – transforming it into a polished and coherent document that’s ready to be sent out into the world.

Abi SaffreyAbi Saffrey

Whenever I tell someone what I do, pretty much the first question they go on to ask is ‘What do you edit? Fiction?’ When I say that I work in non-fiction – generally economics and social policy – there is slight dismay in their faces. Fiction is the glamorous face of publishing, and non-fiction is seen as its frumpy but reliable best friend.

It’s fulfilling when my knowledge overlaps with the content I’m editing, and I can ask informed questions and add substantial value. When it’s a subject area I haven’t worked in before, I’m exhilarated by learning new things and I’m often prompted to go and read something related for pleasure.

Just as with fiction, it is critical to keep the author’s voice (or brand voice) intact and use a delicate touch to enhance the content rather than interfere with a heavy hand. Non-fiction brings with it tables, charts, diagrams and the mighty references list – they may appear intimidating at first sight but all they need is to be handled gently but authoritatively.

Non-fiction has been my bread and butter for over 17 years and I still get excited when a new project pops into my inbox – who knows what joys (and possibly terrors) those documents hold?

Sue BrowningSue Browning

In my experience, non-fiction publishers rarely have generous budgets, so one of the arts of making a decent living out of it is to master the various tools that can make you more efficient. These include the features available in Word, in particular keyboard shortcuts, wildcard Find & Replace and macros. Many of mine are home-grown, but I also plunder Paul Beverley’s magnificent and generous Macros for Editors. It’s also worth exploring the various add-ins you can get. I regard PerfectIt as an essential, and I also have Reference Checker (sadly no longer supported), both of which save a lot of time and help you produce a more consistent result – something that non-fiction publishers tend to be especially concerned about.

So once the mechanical style aspects have been tidied up and the references thrashed into submission, I can get down to the fun part – engaging with the content and the author. Here I particularly love the challenge of phrasing queries collaboratively (‘Perhaps we could…’, ‘Do you think x would be clearer?’) and sometimes catching the odd boo-boo, usually to the author’s heartfelt gratitude. But oh, the angst of querying a missing ‘not’ – have I completely misunderstood? will the author think I’m dumb?

Editing non-fiction can sometimes be challenging and frustrating, but it also brings the pleasure of working with subject experts and contributing to the spread of knowledge in a small but, I would argue, essential way.

 

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

Introducing the Liverpool SfEP group

When I began freelance editing, in 2008, I was living in West Yorkshire, and I benefited greatly from attending meetings of the West Yorkshire SfEP group, run by the ever helpful Helen Stevens. A couple of years later I moved back to my home town of Liverpool and continued freelancing, steadily building up my business.

Early in 2016, I decided I could definitely use more face-to-face contact with other editors. Participating in online forums and social media groups can be very informative (and that alone has helped me avoid becoming too insular in my working practices), but of course it doesn’t offer real live human interaction or, crucially, help me keep my weekly screen time from escalating.


Setting the group up

So, with support from the SfEP team, I set up the Liverpool SfEP group and put the word out. Our first meeting took place in May 2016, so we are coming up to our first anniversary as I write. We meet every other month for a couple of hours, and all our recent meetings have been at The Pen Factory on Hope Street, which tends to be quiet enough in the afternoons for our purposes.

The membership map had initially suggested that any group in this area would be small: very few SfEP members were listed within ten or twenty miles of Liverpool city centre. However, since the group has existed, I have heard from over a dozen people, most of whom have now attended at least one meeting. Many of these were non-members who have since become or are planning to become SfEP members. This shows that it can still be worth starting a local group in an area that has few SfEP members at present.

The coordinator’s role

I said from the start that I intended to keep my coordinating role as simple as possible – I wanted solidarity, friendly company and discussion of good practice, not a lot of extra admin! Even with our expanded numbers, it has been possible to keep the work of coordinating the group to a minimum, thanks largely to help from group member Graham Hughes (he coordinates another local group and he supplied me with a helpful spreadsheet on which to record attendance and meeting content) and also the SfEP team members with responsibility for tech, community support and communications. Plus, in time it might be appropriate for others to take over the coordination of our local group for a while, to spread the admin load and keep the group dynamic fresh.

My core tasks:

  • keeping records of members’ contact details and attendance
  • sending an email reminder the week before each meeting
  • writing up a few notes from each meeting, including the date of the next one; posting them to the Liverpool group thread on the SfEP forum; and emailing them to the group
  • sending meeting dates to the SfEP community director
  • responding to enquiries from potential new members.

Additional tasks sometimes arise, such as liaising with other local coordinators about setting up local SfEP training.

How our meetings work

We pick a topic ahead of each meeting, and on the day, following greetings and introductions, we just run with it. On this basis, meeting structure seems to take care of itself, and we’ve had useful discussions every time we’ve met, which is to the credit of all our members. So far we’ve discussed training, the SfEP conference, websites, social media and pricing.

At the moment we have quite a high proportion of members who are fairly or completely new to editing. As they gain experience, and as further newbies join, this balance will fluctuate. Whatever the group profile, every member has a contribution to make, whether it’s a good tip or a good question. I know I benefit from revisiting even those aspects of the job I thought I was fairly familiar with by now, because it helps me understand where I can overhaul my current practices or take a different approach altogether.

What our members say

Because a group necessarily offers many perspectives, I asked our members to comment on their experiences in the group so far, so at this point I’ll hand over to them. And I look forward to seeing as many of our members as possible at our first-anniversary meeting in May.

I admit that I had doubts about whether a Liverpool SfEP group could really get going, judging by the membership map, but it’s working out very nicely. Each local group has its own character (I’ve been in two others), and one thing that stands out about this group is that because we spend most of the meeting talking about one topic, we go into that topic in plenty of depth, with lots of thoughts, tips and ideas coming out. I come away from every meeting with some things to think about and work on.

Graham Hughes

As someone who is brand new to proofreading, this group has been invaluable to me. I leave each meeting full of ideas and ways to improve my working practice. What I find particularly useful is having a range of experience in the group, from experienced veterans to others starting out just like me. Covering a different topic each time is particularly useful and personally I appreciated the discussions about websites and pricing. I leave each meeting with a list of actions for myself and a renewed sense of enthusiasm, which is important when starting out and there is not much work coming in. I have been signposted to resources and training courses, given marketing ideas and encouraged by the success of others. Above all, the most important thing I take from being a member of the group is having colleagues who understand and know what this job is like.

Carol Jennions

Having a group in Liverpool is extremely handy for me as I’m local. There is usually a specific topic that we concentrate on for each meeting, which allows for an in-depth discussion, and because the mix of people ranges from seasoned editors to total beginners, the conversations manage to cover all the angles!

I am still at the very early stages of developing my business and every time I go to the meet-ups I feel encouraged to keep plugging away and know that I’m not alone in the field.

Rita Mistry

Even having only attended one meeting so far, I’m confident that it’s a very useful resource. The group itself is an excellent forum for sharing and developing professional skills and resources, from qualifications and industry developments to tips on how to set and negotiate rates and fees. Being relatively new to the world of editing and proofreading, it was quite beneficial to meet such a variety of people in varying positions in the field and realise how much commonality and overlap there is. The Liverpool group is already excellent for networking and cooperation, and as it grows, the opportunities can only become more fruitful and interesting. In future, considering how important clear and distinct communication is in all media, especially written, anything the SfEP can do to promote the industry and develop the people in it is in the best interest of all parties.

Damian Good

After I left my job in education I searched the internet for information about freelance proofreading, as I thought this would fit in with what I wanted to do. I found the SfEP and was pleased to find that the local group was nearby. At that time I was attending business courses in Liverpool to learn about being a sole trader, but, not meeting any other proofreaders there, I looked forward to the first SfEP meeting. Forums and blogs seemed to be full of warnings about how long it takes to get established as a freelancer, but I didn’t want that to put me off, so it was really important to talk to some proofreaders face to face.

I set off with some trepidation, worried that I might be seen as an imposter, but I quickly felt reassured as I was welcomed into the group. Everyone was very generous about sharing their knowledge and experiences, and I came away feeling positive about my new venture.

I have been to three meetings now and at each one there have been new additions to the group, some of them people like me who are just starting out. There is always a lot to learn and to take away from the afternoon, especially, at this stage of my career, the encouragement from talking to other proofreaders.

Caroline Barden

The SfEP local meeting has been a really useful and enjoyable event for me. The discussions we’ve had so far have been relevant and beneficial.

It has been better than expected, and I’m definitely going to make time to go to as many meetings as possible. Getting to know other local editors has been great from a social point of view. The meet-up is easy for me to get to, and I look forward to it each time, from a social and work point of view.

I hope to keep sharing knowledge as it’s always interesting and useful to see how other people approach their work.

Johanna Robinson

I have found my local SfEP group meetings to be invaluable. It is so nice to be able to pick other people’s brains about freelance or editorial matters, no matter how big or small. The group is very friendly, welcoming and informative, and I always come away feeling motivated and a little more knowledgeable!

Michelle Burgess

Sally Moss has been a freelance editor and copywriter since 2008. She works for a range of clients, including academics, businesses and third sector organisations. She recently expanded her services to include research and social media delivery, and she is always keen to take on innovative projects, especially any connected to cultural shift for sustainability and social justice.

 

Posted by Tracey Roberts, SfEP blog coordinator

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

 

SfEP wise owls: working with independent authors

Freelance editors work with a range of clients, including publishers and individuals looking to  publish their own work. This month, the SfEP parliament of wise owls provide advice on how to get the most from working with independent authors.

Liz Jones

Independent authors might not know as much about the ideal publishing process or typical editing workflows as some other clients. Be prepared to take more of a lead in helping them assess what they need, and explaining your services so they understand how you can help them and the value you offer. This can be interesting and rewarding work, but make sure you factor in the extra hand-holding time when you quote, and bear in mind that commonly understood labels for levels of editing won’t necessarily apply. You also have a responsibility: it’s fine to upsell your services, but make sure the author understands what you can actually provide as their editor – and what you can’t. Brilliant proofreading will never turn a badly written or boring book into a bestseller.

Hazel BirdHazel Bird

Carefully explain exactly what service you will provide and always, always get authors to sign a contract (or agree to a set of terms and conditions). Independent authors are likely to have varying degrees of familiarity with ‘standard’ working practices in publishing, so it’s important to be clear about the terms of the service you’re providing. It’s rare for relations between client and editor to sour such that legal action becomes a possibility, but a quick perusal of some of the major editing-related forums shows that it does happen, so it makes sense to take basic precautions. The SfEP has a set of model terms and conditions and there are various sample contracts available through other sites.

Margaret HunterMargaret Hunter

Working with independent authors can involve more hand-holding about the publishing process. Some will have done lots of research, joined supportive writers’ groups, become a member of ALLi, sussed out exactly which Amazon deal to go for and come to you knowing exactly what they need you to do. But more often than not (in my experience) they don’t. This is not necessarily a bad thing: they may have the makings of a pretty good book or document, but just not know how to get to the final output. It can be very rewarding helping an author through the various steps to publication.

Communication is crucial here. Authors may not ask for what their work actually needs (they usually ask for proofreading), so you need to be very clear from the start about what you can do, what you will do – and what you can’t or won’t. Some authors will keep coming back to you with lots of questions, not just about the text but about the publishing process itself. Do I need an ISBN for my ebook as well as the print one? Where can I find a cover designer? I’m listing my book on Amazon but it’s asking me about BISAC categories and DRM options – what do I put? It’s worth knowing the answers yourself or building up a bank of stock replies with useful links to where your authors can find out. Or, of course, pointing them to SfEP colleagues or the Directory for other services.

Set up good working practices that put you in control, with clear instructions on how the author can see your changes, accept them if required, make further edits or add text. Because there is no intermediary, the author must answer all queries and take all decisions. Inevitably there is a great temptation to keep on tinkering with the text. If you’re not careful, you may find yourself having to deal with changes made in different ways in different files. State clearly how much time is included in the fee for taking in amendments after you return the initial edit (from none to negotiating a further fee if it goes over X). And always cost in a second pass anyway.

Sue LittlefordSue Littleford

Novice independent authors are unlikely to be speaking the same language as you – so it’s absolutely essential to ensure that you understand each other. It’s not enough to agree a brief; you’ll need to make sure that your client actually understands what it means in practice. What do they mean by ‘proofreading’? Probably copy-editing, sometimes developmental editing. Sometimes proofreading! How will they take your critique or queries? As if you tortured and murdered their literary baby, or as help towards making that self-same baby ready to meet the world? Explain your process in lay terms and check your client has understood. A mismatch between their expectation and your actuality can be painful and time-consuming.

Sue BrowningSue Browning

When working with independent authors, the initial negotiations are key to establishing a mutual understanding of what will be involved because you can’t assume they will know the different terms we editors use and what they entail. I prefer to show as well as explain, and I usually edit a short sample so they know what to expect from me. How the person conducts themselves in these first interactions is also a clue to what they will be like to work with, and it’s sometimes possible to spot a red flag and steer away if need be.

Which brings me on to one potential downside of working with independent authors: it’s harder to verify an individual. If a publisher or a company contacts you, it is relatively easy to check them out to see if they are a legitimate enterprise and to form a judgement about whether it is ‘safe’ to work with them. This is more tricky with an independent author. They might have an author page or a Facebook profile, but many don’t, and there is really no way of assuring yourself that they are who they say they are and that you will be paid. To guard against this to some extent, I ask for a proportion of the total estimated fee in advance. In fact, I’ve found that, in any case, it’s good to be flexible about payment arrangements. An indie author may not have the funds to pay the whole fee at once, and offering payment in instalments helps ease the pain for them. All that said, in my experience, independent authors pay quickly and happily.

Indie authors have been a source of constant surprise and pleasure, chocolates, flowers, and personalised drawings, and even a few gardening tips. I love ’em!

Posted by Tracey Roberts, SfEP blog coordinator

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

 

Five reasons I’m a fan of the Judith Butcher Award

Nominations are now being sought for this year’s Judith Butcher Award (JBA), but what’s it all about? OK – cards on the table: I was the proud recipient of the JBA in 2013 for my work on social media. Perhaps that means I’m slightly biased. But it also means that I can give you a very personal take on this annual celebration of exceptional contributions to the community that is the SfEP.

Official recognition

I was proud to have my efforts officially recognised, epecially as it meant that my name would appear in the same sentence as Judith Butcher’s!

I joined the SfEP in 1997, but it was only when I became a marketing and PR volunteer in 2009 that I really started to appreciate just how much valuable work goes on behind the scenes, and how much the Society’s volunteers contribute to the running of the organisation. When I became a director in 2010, I relied on the help of such individuals, particularly when our social media activities started to expand and we needed a team of people to keep the show running.

The fact that I’d seen how much work went on behind the SfEP scenes made me all the more pleased to have this official recognition.

Nominated by peers

One aspect of the award that makes it very special is that nominations come from one’s colleagues within the Society.

Although many of the people who are involved in running the SfEP do so out of sight of most of their fellow members, I’m sure we can all think of individuals who’ve contributed, perhaps on the forums, on a particular project, in our local group or in a more public sphere.

I can tell you that having one’s efforts noticed and appreciated by colleagues is a very lovely feeling indeed, and I’d encourage everyone to think hard to see if they can call to mind someone who’s impressed them and ought to be recognised.

Social media

In the past, not all members saw the value in the SfEP being involved in social media, so I was really pleased that my JBA was awarded ‘for significantly raising the national and international profile of the SfEP, and the work of editors and proofreaders in general’ through my voluntary work on social media.

I believe social media has played a significant role in promoting the SfEP, and it was heartening that the JBA recognised this.

Team effort

When I was awarded the JBA, I felt that it was a reflection of the efforts of all those who had contributed behind the scenes to these activities. Although I couldn’t share the award with all those who had helped, it did make me appreciate their support, dedication and commitment. I really couldn’t have done it without them.

Book token

And now I have a confession to make: for many years I didn’t actually have my own copy of Butcher’s Copy-editing. I know, right? So when I won the JBA I decided to use the book token prize to buy myself a copy. It just seemed like the right thing to do (and it is an invaluable resource).

So please do get your thinking cap on and consider nominating someone who has:

  • made a clearly identifiable and valuable difference to the way the SfEP is run, and/or
  • carried through a specific project that has been of particular value to the SfEP and/or its members.

See the full rules here, but note that this year the timetable will differ from the one described on our website. Please email nominations to jba@sfep.org.uk by 12 noon on Friday 5 May 2017.

 

Helen Stevens has been a freelance proofreader, editor and copywriter for over 20 years, and now specialises in academic and non-fiction editing. She enjoys playing Scrabble and walking, though not at the same time. Saltaire Editorial Services

 

 

 

Posted by Tracey Roberts, SfEP blog coordinator

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

A look at editing romance novels

Romance novels get a bad rap sometimes. They are often viewed as being less deserving of praise – and more deserving of being classed a ‘guilty pleasure’ – than literary fiction or other genres such as crime or science fiction. But I’m an unabashed lover of romance novels and not in the least bit guilty about it. And that love spills over into my professional life, where it’s one of my specialist fields as a fiction editor.

Editing romantic fiction is, in many ways, like editing any book. It’s just as worthy an endeavour as editing literary fiction, and romance novels are just as deserving of good editing as any other book (and believe me, romance readers have extremely high expectations and standards and can be vociferous when something doesn’t meet with their approval). You have the same concerns about consistency, correctness, clarity, and all the other Cs to look out for. But romance novels also have their own set of quirks and genre expectations.

What makes a romance novel?

In order to edit a romance novel, an editor must first understand what a romance novel is and what it is not. It might seem obvious, but a romance novel is not just a piece of writing that contains romantic elements.

A romance novel – as a piece of genre fiction – must have a happy ending to be classed as such (or, as the Romance Writers of America put it, an “emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending”). Tales of woe where the protagonist dies of some dreadful disease and his soulmate is unable to go on and leaps off a cliff are not romance novels. They may be novels with romantic elements, but they are not, strictly speaking, romance novels. And advertised as such, they can create a quite surprising level of anger and annoyance from readers who have sat down to enjoy a feel-good romance and have been left bereft and confused.

Most romance novels are character-driven as opposed to plot-driven. That means that characters’ interactions with each other and their journey and development are the primary focus of the novel. Compare this with adventure novels, which are usually plot-driven; while there may be elements of character development, the main focus is the twists and turns of the storyline. Romance novels are sometimes criticised for their lack of imagination or formulaic storylines, but the relationships between characters are the real heart of the story.

The big picture: characters and their development

When editing a character-driven story, it’s vital to focus on the believability of the characters and their development. If you’re coming in at a developmental or evaluation stage as opposed to a later copy-editing/proofreading stage, this is where you need to focus your efforts. Are the characters likeable? Are their flaws believable and not too drastic? For example, a bad boy who comes to the defence of the protagonist in a bar fight is fine, but one who beats up the protagonist or cheats on her time and time again? Not fine, and readers will swiftly put the book down, never to return. Is their romance believable? A writer can get away with stretching the boundaries of believability slightly, but readers will be turned off by something that is so far outside the realms of possibility it becomes ridiculous.

What’s the conflict and is it strong enough? Conflict is what drives a novel. Two people meeting and falling in love, with no barrier or obstacles, is not a story. There needs to be something stopping them being together which drives their actions, such as a jealous ex-boyfriend, a protagonist who has vowed never to fall in love again, or the time-honoured favourite of romance novels – the secret baby. When you’re editing a romance novel at a more conceptual stage, these are the big questions you need to ask and examine.

Details: dialogue and consistency

When you reach the copy-editing stage, I’d recommend looking closely at dialogue. Dialogue is super important in romance novels. Sometimes there isn’t a great deal of action going on, so it’s imperative that the dialogue is sparkling enough to carry the story and keep readers’ attention. Romance also suffers from some slightly odd dialogue tags sometimes, and you’ll face a balancing act of changing the most egregious ones (people ‘grinding out’ sentences, perhaps) and leaving some of the others. At times, romance novels almost have their own language, and it’s worth familiarising yourself with it before making sweeping changes. At all times, make sure the dialogue is natural and that there’s enough back and forth between characters. Long soliloquies rarely work. Readers want conversations, not monologues.

Pay close attention to things like changing eye colour and hair colour. These things are usually mentioned quite regularly throughout a romance novel, and you would be amazed how many times someone’s appearance changes over the course of the book. Also, keep an eye out for things like contraception not being mentioned or considered by the characters – modern readers expect things like this to be discussed or at least referred to. Sex scenes in general often require careful editing as many authors struggle to write these – and many editors just skip over them or don’t give them the attention they deserve. Editing romance novels means you sometimes have to put your embarrassment to one side and write some quite unusual author queries from time to time!

Keep careful notes of character backstory. Backstory can often be of immense importance (something the protagonist did ten years ago can come back to haunt her later, for example) and it’s important to make sure it’s consistent. Consider keeping a timeline if there’s a lot of going back and forth. That will also iron out issues such as people going to work for seven days in a row or children going to school on a Saturday.

And if you’re editing a historical romance novel, make sure your author has done their research. Historical romances can be great fun to edit, but one written without proper research can quickly turn into a time sink while you check whether words, phrases, and even concepts were commonplace at the time the book was written.

Katherine TrailKatherine Trail is a former newspaper chief sub-editor who now specialises in fiction. She lives in Aberdeen, and when she isn’t editing she can usually be found tramping through the wilderness with her spaniel, Daisy. KT Editing Services

More than friendly faces

Member Kathrin Luddecke highlights the benefits of attending the SfEP Oxford local group and the value of being able to ‘try before you buy’.

Pondering

When I was thinking about proofreading, and possibly copy-editing, as a career option, I started – as one does these days – with an internet search. Up popped the Society for Editors and Proofreaders’ website, including a very useful ‘Test yourself’ feature for anyone who, like me, fancies themselves as a potential ‘pro’.

Reassured by a decent result, while also giving me an idea that of course there was room for improvement (and a hint at the usefulness of specialisms!), I decided to look into the option further. I found a number of helpful guides on the SfEP site, but I was particularly interested in a chance to find out more about what editing is actually like from people already in the profession.

Trialling

So it was great news to come across the SfEP’s ‘Networking’ section – and even better to find out that there are local groups, run by members on a voluntary basis, across the UK and indeed further afield. As a (potential) ‘newbie’, it was brilliant to read that I could go to up to three meetings before deciding if the career, and membership of the Society, was for me.

It can be a bit daunting, of course, to go along to a meeting of what is a group of complete strangers. Luckily, I quite enjoy getting to know new people, so I set out to say hello to members of the Oxford Group. Again, it was really easy to contact the volunteer coordinator (at that time, Robert Bullard) through the information on the Group’s page, just to check it would be okay for me to come. He kindly said yes, and off I went to the Kings Arms.

An SfEP Oxford group meeting

Meetings of our group are on a weekday morning, rotating through the week, to suit different working patterns and other commitments people may have. It seems to work well for Oxford members, as I found a room full of a dozen or so people, with a nice buzz. Over our drinks – as a group, we seem to have a predilection for cappuccinos – introductions were made. Of course I couldn’t remember everyone’s names (I do now!), but I felt immediately at home, among people who cared about spelling, grammar, choice of words, and who were friendly and welcoming to boot.

Then the business commenced, looking at identifying priorities for training to be put on for us freelancers with the support of the Oxfordshire Publishing Group. It all sounded very exciting and it was great to find the local SfEP group linked into wider publishing networks. I also found it terribly useful to hear about the different areas in which people were working – a lot of academic publishing (this being Oxford), but also educational and more business-oriented. Quite a few people had been in the profession for a long time and were clearly very busy and in demand, while others were new and still looking for work.

Joining

After that initial get-together, I went to one more meeting, starting to remember names as well as faces, then made up my mind to go ahead and join the Society. I knew by that time that I had much more to learn to become a professional proofreader and then, perhaps, editor, so signed up for the SfEP’s ‘Proofreading Progress’ course – having made sure this was the right level for me to start at. It wasn’t as easy as I had secretly hoped, but that meant I was properly challenged and learned lots!

While taking the course was excellent and really helped me develop best practice, learning about mark-up and more, it was the friendly exchanges with others in the local group, the chance to swap experiences, ask questions and share frustrations (especially with trying to find a way onto publishers’ freelance lists, which can take some time, and tests, of course) that made all the difference to me wanting to keep going. There’s nothing quite like mutual support!

Coda

To me, being a member of our local group is one of the best things about the Society for Editors and Proofreaders. I feel that even more strongly having spent just over a year acting as the Oxford group’s lead coordinator, supported by Sally Rigg and Piers Cardon. It was not too difficult a job, with others helping to put together a series of training and more informal networking sessions over the year – from an accountant to marking up PDFs, from editing in Word to marketing.

Luckily, with all the support, I had enough time left both to start taking on work and to get into editing, starting with the SfEP’s ‘Copy-editing Progress’ course. And while I have just handed over the lead coordinator’s role for the Oxford Group to Lesley Wyldbore, I will definitely keep going to our meetings! I can thoroughly recommend getting to know, and helping out with, your local group, wherever you are. In between meetings, the SfEP’s online local group forum is a great way to keep in touch, continue conversations and stay up to date with what’s up.

Kathrin LuddeckeKathrin Luddecke has a background in Classics, a passion for translating and editing and a love of art. She has lived, studied and worked in Oxford for half her life and is enjoying the freedoms – and challenges – of having gone freelance in 2014. Find out more on Kat’s (rather intermittent!) blog or follow her on @KathrinLuddecke.

 

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