Tag Archives: mentoring

SfEP mentoring: taking your training to the next level

Basic editorial training gives you… well, the basics. Here Howard Walwyn takes it to the next level and tells us how SfEP mentoring really prepares you for professional work – in all its glory.

When, like I did, you branch into a new freelance career writing, editing and proofreading – after what seemed like an eternity slogging through the corporate career mudbath – you need all the help you can muster.

I set out in my first year of freelance work to make training a centrepiece of that help-need, to do as much as I could. The SfEP turned out to play a big part in that strategy, although oddly enough not the first part: more on that later.

Mentoring was the culmination of it, and the highlight. By the time I finished my proofreading mentoring I felt ready. I felt confident. I felt – if not ‘qualified’ – that I could legitimately describe myself as a professional proofreader without demur and without being drummed out of the SfEP offices. Such was the level, intensity and value of the mentoring programme. It really prepared me, technically, practically and in a business sense, for life as a professional. And I formed what I consider an unassailable bond with my mentor, whom I have never met in person nor even spoken to! How can these things happen?

A bit of a bruising

Let’s look at the technical side first. I felt reasonably well prepared by my training – essentially the SfEP intros to proofreading and copy-editing and the not-at-all-euphemistically named ‘proofreading progress’ – at that point still one course rather than two and the necessary condition for moving on to mentoring. But I was surprised by the step-up to doing real proofreading assignments in all their glorious idiosyncrasy. I came face to face with the real life of biography entries, marketing leaflets, course brochures and travel guides, with their weird formats, blatant inconsistencies, limited space to work with, and in some cases horrible, interminable detail. What a good testing ground for applying the British Standard marks in a challenging, realistic environment. After one submission I admitted to my mentor that I had found it frustrating and quite bruising, and that was the right word – although met with slight surprise.

Invisible to the naked eye

The practical side was best demonstrated in two ways. (1) The mentoring was structured so you had to do assignments in a range of formats including complex (A3) hard copy as well as other non-standard page formats in pdf. It was good practice, though fiddly in places. (2) You started to really get that there is not always a clear answer to every conundrum: judgement is called for as well as precision and thoroughness, but as long as you can demonstrate you had a reasonable basis for most decisions, your mentor would buy it. Mine still went through every piece in incredible detail, each item of feedback a learning point, but delivered with constructive kindness and understanding. Some of the pieces were just – hard! And they involved things like inadequate briefs, cultural sensitivity, non-standard English and really tough differentials that were invisible without a looking glass. I exaggerate, but I think the pieces are deliberately calibrated to stretch, to show the boundaries of how bad things can get. So don’t judge just on the marks – which in one case were pretty low – judge more on the feedback points, and recognise that all mentees struggle with some of the pieces.

Minutes not hours

Finally, business-wise: perhaps the most telling advice from my mentor came right at the start, with an indication of how long an SfEP APM would expect to take to do so-and-so pieces. I was shocked at how small those numbers were, mere minutes where I was taking hours. But they gave me a target, and have proved utterly realistic and valuable. A year down the line, I am still using those parameters to guide my price quotations and my internal scheduling. In other words, they have helped me get work and manage my business.

So that is what mentoring does. It prepares you for proper professional work, and properly professionalises your work.

Preparing to feast again

I said earlier that I did not actually start with the SfEP when I launched my training plan. My first look at proofreading and editing was a five-day seminar with a publishing house provider, not necessarily the best or most professional, but an insight at least. There are other ways of doing things, and an alternative way can have value. But it did not take me long to latch on to the SfEP programme as a far more professional, integrated, intensive and flexible way of training. And proofreading mentoring was the pinnacle of that process. I still bother my mentor with daft email questions and social media observations. They don’t mind. It is a true, professional and much-appreciated relationship.

The proof (sorry) is in the eating, and I am planning a further feast – copy-editing mentoring – when I can make time in my ridiculous schedule to get through the preparatory courses. Maybe paths will cross once again with my proofreading mentor. Secretly I hope so. If not, hey! The SfEP is brimful of similar stars and whoever I get I know it will be another fantastic experience. I can’t wait.

Howard WalwynHoward Walwyn is a freelance writer, editor and trainer, who helps people to write clear business English and bridge the worlds of language and finance. Howard set up his company Prism-Clarity two years ago, after a 30-year career working in financial risk and regulation at banks including the Bank of England and J.P. Morgan, and he still works with mainly financial sector clients, including regulators, investment banks, wealth and investment managers, consultancy firms, a risk management institute and a digital marketing agency. He is also a visiting lecturer in Writing for Business at City, University of London. Howard recently completed his first academic book edit, and is slowly working his way through the SfEP training, mentoring and certification levels. Earlier he gained degrees in English Language & Literature (Newcastle) and Economics (London). He lives and works in Hertfordshire. Find him on LinkedIn or Facebook.

Find out more about the SfEP mentoring scheme.

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

Practice makes (closer to) perfect

By Liz Jones

Imagine that you’ve recently completed some solid training in proofreading and/or copy-editing, and you’re looking forward to your new existence as a fully fledged editorial professional. But wait! How can you be sure you’re correctly applying all that you’ve learned?

One of the best places to learn is on the job, but this can be particularly stressful when you’re starting out. You want to be sure you’re doing the best work you can for a paying client – not only to offer them a good service for the money, but also to secure repeat business.

Practice
Here are some tips for getting valuable proofreading or copy-editing practice when you’re starting out, or if you’re expanding into new areas – without risking your reputation on a live job.

Mentoring

Once you’ve undertaken enough basic training, one further training route that the SfEP offers its members is mentoring (as do some other editorial organisations, such as EAC). You can be mentored in general proofreading or copy-editing, and there is now also the option of specialist mentoring in areas such as fiction, biomedical journals, law and music. Your mentor will send you exercises to work on (usually extracts from material they have edited previously) and will then provide you with detailed feedback and guidance on your strengths, as well as where you need to improve, over the course of several months. On successful completion of mentoring you will be awarded points that can be used towards upgrading your SfEP membership.

Books

You might choose to carry out practice in the form of further self-study after completing more formal courses. One book that comes highly recommended and has been used by many proofreaders when starting out is Advanced Professional Member Margaret Aherne’s Proofreading Practice: Exercises with model answers and commentary.

Forums

Those of us who work freelance can lack opportunities to simply lean over and ask a more experienced colleague for help if we get stuck, or if we don’t know where to turn to support an editorial decision. One ever-reliable source of information on best practice is the SfEP forums. You can ask your own question as it arises, or search the extensive archives to see if the topic has been discussed before. (Often, it has!) Alternatively, read the forums regularly and see what others are asking. Sometimes the battle when trying to improve as an editor is not finding the answer to a particular question – it’s finding out what questions it’s necessary to ask.

The SfEP forums aren’t the only places to go for advice. Other online forums, such as the Editors’ Association of Earth Facebook group, are also invaluable and easily accessed sources of advice and support, and can provide a slightly different perspective.

Critical appreciation of others’ work

This is one method that does require a live job and a dash of good fortune, but sometimes as a proofreader you will be lucky enough to see the work of an editorial professional employed earlier in the process, such as the copy-editor or the development/commissioning editor, as part of your proofreading or copy-editing job. Even a small insight into how someone else – perhaps someone considerably more experienced – works can be illuminating. Don’t simply collate what’s there, or skip over it – try to understand why editorial decisions have been taken, and what the implications are for you and the wider publishing process.

Local group

If you are able to attend a local SfEP group, this could provide an ideal opportunity to pick colleagues’ brains about best approaches to work. Perhaps you could suggest sharing examples of how group members have tackled real-life jobs, or short extracts from them … NDAs and client confidentiality permitting, of course.

Read, read, read

It sounds obvious, but it can be easy to overlook the need to read voraciously, outside of actual work. If you specialise in particular types of editing work, and most of us probably do, it’s obviously important to read widely in these areas – but really, almost any kind of reading will help to train your eye and help you to know what good writing looks like (and what it doesn’t). And let’s face it, it’s not as if more reading is a chore for most editors!

Finally …

This might sound obvious, but you can’t ever have too much practice. It’s possible to get up to speed with the basics of editing fairly quickly, but it can take years to get really good. You never stop learning, even over the course of decades – technology and software move on, and editorial fashions and tastes change. Keeping up to date with innovations and reflecting on your practice never stop being important.

photo 2016 croppedBy Liz Jones has been an editor since 1998, and full-time freelance since 2008; she is an Advanced Professional Member of the SfEP. She specialises in trade non-fiction, fiction and educational publishing, but also works with a range of business clients and individuals. When not editing she writes fiction, and also blogs about editing and freelancing at Eat Sleep Edit Repeat.

 

Posted by Tracey Roberts, SfEP blog coordinator.

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

Image: Photopin. Creative Commons (license).

A day in my life: Lucy Metzger

IMG_2999What exactly do editors and proofreaders get up to every day? This is a question we will be exploring in a new, regular feature: A day in my life. We start off with an insight into the life of SfEP regional development director Lucy Metzger.

I’m at work the moment my feet hit the floor around 6.15 a.m., but I don’t start getting paid until about 9.00 a.m. In between I’m waking teenagers, making teas and coffees (I must add that later in the day my teenagers sometimes make ME a cuppa) and packed lunches, waking teenagers again, telling teenagers I don’t know the whereabouts of their headphones/maths jotters/black-cardigan-no-not-THAT-black-cardigan, waking teenagers again and finally ensuring that they all end up in school. I drive home on a wee stretch of country road to escape the school-run traffic. That little drive, listening to the tail end of the Today programme, eases my transition from Mother Lucy to Editor Lucy.

There are many things I miss about office life, and I don’t know what I’d do without my Glasgow group companions, but I do relish that solitude as I sit down at my computer to begin work. Ideally the tasks I do between 9.00 a.m. and 1.00 p.m. are those that require my best thinking, as far as that goes. What’s ‘best’? Creative, analytical, intuitive – different jobs require different kinds of thoughts, but my mind is definitely better in the morning. A lot of the time I’m copy-editing academic books and textbooks. I usually conceive of the editing as being in two phases: the bits-and-pieces and then the reading. The morning is my best time for the reading. It’s also when I mark mentoring assignments, which requires careful thought as each mentee raises new kinds of queries and issues; and the morning is good for any writing I’ve got to do, e.g. reports or proposals for the SfEP council, training materials, a note for Editing Matters, or even a blog post.

My lunch isn’t a single meal – I snack: a cracker with cheese, a bowl of muesli, some leftover rice, some fruit. If I’m starting a new book then I’ll typically begin it in the afternoon and do routine checks: chapter titles vs table of contents, numbering of illustrations, styling of headings and subheadings, checking references and notes, etc. These tasks are good for afternoon. I don’t want to give the impression that I become completely incompetent at that time (the jury’s still out on that one), but these activities don’t exert my mental muscles quite as much. Such checking almost always throws up a few things to ask the author about, and this makes an opportunity to establish communication by means of some relatively lightweight queries – ‘which version would you prefer for the title of Chapter 3?’ – rather than plunging straight into the nitty-gritty – ‘I wonder if you could clarify what you mean by “if the subject (the individual is individual) is determined, yet only as being undetermined, then that which determines the subject, i.e. the predicate (the particular), is taken to be in-determining any determination”?’ I’m not kidding. Anyway, that kind of query is a morning query and definitely belongs in the second or third email to the author, not the first.

For the last few years, I’ve used the school day to predict exactly how many hours I’d have between sitting down at my computer and the first ‘hello’ of one of my kids coming in the door (they walk home). This year, though, my oldest is in sixth form and so may turn up at any time. I don’t like pointless interruptions, but it’s lovely to be interrupted by that. We have a little chat and then when she starts wondering about food I turn her loose on the leftovers in the fridge. I then get back to work, and so, I can only suppose, does she. Then the other two come home, and on goes my Mother Lucy hat again, which feels really nice.

How does this compare with a typical day in your life? We’d love to hear about what you get up to. If you’d like to share your ‘day in the life’ story, please email smm@sfep.org.uk.

Lucy MetzgerLucy Metzger grew up in Illinois and began proofreading in 1987. She edited for Macmillan in London from 1990 to 1995; she then moved to Scotland and went freelance. She is based in Glasgow. Lucy works mostly on academic and educational materials. She has three children, is an amateur musician, likes cooking and taking walks, and is learning to crochet.

Proofread by SfEP associate Patric Toms.

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