Tag Archives: skills

Talking Tech with BookMachine

By Anya Hastwell

“Find the thing that annoys you the most – and then try and fix it,”

says Sara O’Connor, Bibliocloud’s full stack developer at BookMachine’s recent Talking Tech event in London.

You’d be easily forgiven if your initial impression of an event encouraging publishing folk to learn tech is that that it will lure them away to pursue a more profitable career in another industry … but you’d be wrong. Sort of. (Touch wood.) What the event’s speakers want to encourage is for publishing folk to be inspired to learn more tech skills that can make their own working lives easier, as the publishing industry is – and has been for some years now – becoming more digital. A perfect example is that of educational publishing, where tech is making waves not only in making learning texts digital, but also with apps, online platforms and programs for homework tracking, online marking, assessment tracking, learning games, and others. But how can we make our tech and products more user-friendly?

Computer code

To answer this question and others, let’s go to the speakers on our all-women panel. Our host Emma Barnes, founder and CEO of Bibliocloud and MD of Snowbooks, starts things off. After being made redundant from a consultancy firm, Emma founded her own independent publisher, Snowbooks, before teaching herself to code and build systems within Excel to speed up the admin side of her business. (Yes, Excel really can be programming … ). She went on a coding boot camp via Code Bar, a charity that aims to make coding more accessible (she also recommends railstutorials.org). From having with no previous coding experience, Emma became a software engineer and went on to build Bibliocloud (now called Consonance), a publishing management software.

”Learn as much programming as you have the appetite for. It means you won’t be taken in by some flashy web developer, it gives you the agency to make good decisions. Tech is the new literacy … There is always a way to automate yourself out of misery.”

Next up is Lola Odelola, software engineer and founder of blackgirl.tech, an organisation that aims to help diversify the tech industry. Lola studied English literature and creative writing at university. While job hunting after graduation, she decided she wanted to build a website for herself to showcase her writing.

“After realising poets only make money when they’re dead, I set up a website for myself to try moving into journalism. I was jobless so I had a lot of time on my hands. I loved it, so then I did a bootcamp for 6 months.”

While seeing that there was some (gender) diversity in the tech industry – much like publishing – she saw there was still a long way to go before this stretched towards diversity in ethnicity: “Before I started coding I knew nothing about screen readers or accessibility, but I had friends who were getting tagged in photos by AI as apes. Tech should be making life easier for people on the margins.”

The importance of diversity within the tech teams creating our products is therefore vital for making publishing tech and other products more user-friendly and accessible, as such problems would be identified earlier and certainly caught before release to the wider public.
The coding language Ruby gets some extremely good press here tonight, which our next speaker Sara O’Connor recommends heartily. Sara started her career in children’s book publishing as an editorial assistant, and turned to tech to find better ways of doing boring and repetitive admin tasks, before working up the ranks to editorial director. She started off with no coding experience before doing a couple of week-long coding courses and then a three-month bootcamp, before returning to publishing with an array of new skills as Bibliocloud’s full stack developer.

“I’m a full stack developer building the software I wish I had when I was an editor. I advocate Ruby for publishing folks because it’s like a book. It’s an object-oriented language, and we’re already used to reading.”

The issue of diversity comes to the fore again as our last speaker, Janneke Niessen (entrepreneur, investor, board member, Improve Digital, Inspiring Fifty, Project Prep), reminds us that without diversity in tech, the future is not inclusive. “Algorithms are not neutral.” It seems that artificial intelligence stealing our jobs or killer robots are not the real danger, but our own bias, conscious or unconscious, is. Janneke proceeded to tell us a story of when she asked her son what he thought she did for a living. “A princess who dances!” was his reply. So she set about videoing herself while working, explaining what she was doing and why she was doing it to show him what she actually did at work. Janneke showed us some slides while giving us plenty to think about: some 65% of children in school today will have a job that does not yet exist; people’s ability to think differently, be different and challenge previous concepts of how things ‘should’ be done are valuable – people who can be flexible and mutable, and who do not necessarily fit in, are those who companies need to hire in order to change and keep up with the times.

Presentation slide about diversity and investment

This was quite possibly my favourite BookMachine event of those I’ve been to, and it did make me think about what we define as ‘coding’… Many among the SfEP’s ranks are either familiar with or swear by the use of Word macros (quite literally, sometimes). Very often, macros are the only way of being make certain projects achievable within a budget and timescale given by a publisher.

Whether you want to find some neat tricks in Excel to speed up your admin, start using some really clever Word macros that will do a lot of your editing dirty work for you, or update your CV with the kind of skills that could open doors to some really covetable workplaces and clients, there’s no doubt that the publishing industry needs people with a talent for tech, who can use it for an audience’s benefit.

How you want to apply these skills, and how far, is completely down to you. You’re still the one pressing the button.

Anya HastwellAnya Hastwell is an Advanced Professional Member of the SfEP as well as serving as its professional development director. After working in-house for several publishers for nearly 10 years she went freelance in 2014, and works on an enticing array of non-fiction material from medicine to history, ably distracted assisted by three feline helpers.

 

Posted by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator.

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

Standards and the SfEP

Standards, in one way or another, lie at the heart of almost everything that the SfEP does. When Norma Whitcombe called the meeting in November 1988 that resulted in the formation of the Society, one of the agreed aims was to encourage high standards based on high-quality training and engagement with publishers. Thirty years later, while our horizons have expanded to include much more than just traditional publishing, our mission remains the same: to uphold editorial excellence.

A hand writing words: knowledge. learning, experience, skills, ability, competence, training, growth

From the outset, the SfEP has sought ways not only to encourage high standards but to measure them as well. As early as 1996 the Accreditation and Registration Board was established, and a rigorous accreditation test, supported by a programme of training, enabled members to become accredited proofreaders. More recently, the then tests and mentoring director (now our chartership adviser) Gerard Hill established our current online basic editorial skills test, launched in 2014 and supported by a detailed editorial syllabus. Our system of membership levels rewards excellence in editorial practice while offering potential clients the reassurance that members in professional grades have the necessary training, knowledge and experience to provide the quality of service that they require.

Anyone who uses the services of an editor or proofreader would expect the person they commission or employ to have the skills to do the job. But how can they be sure? If you were looking for a plumber to fix your boiler, or seeking advice from a medical consultant, you would expect them to have taken the necessary training and hold the certification to prove it. Clients should have the same expectations of an editorial professional, which is where the SfEP comes in.

Anyone who aspires to become a Professional or Advanced Professional Member of the SfEP must meet the standards expected of the grade, and every application for those membership levels is independently and anonymously assessed by our Admissions Panel, made up of knowledgeable and experienced members of the Society. Their assessment requires evidence of suitable experience, know-how and training, together with a commitment to continuing professional development. As a result, you can be confident that a member of one of the SfEP’s senior grades will know what they are about.

In support of its mission to uphold excellence the Society has created a detailed code of practice, first issued in 1995, to which all members must adhere. We have also prepared model terms and conditions that can be used or adapted by members to enable them to establish a professional relationship with clients, and to help clarify understanding and expectations, for both parties, of the work that is being undertaken. In the unlikely event that anything should go wrong, the client has recourse to a rigorous and independent complaints procedure, which has been revised and updated this year to ensure that it meets and exceeds the standards that would be expected of our Society.

The heading of ‘standards’, then, encompasses many aspects of the SfEP’s work, but the concept of excellence is a thread that runs through all aspects of what we do. Professional and Advanced Professional Members are expected and encouraged to undertake continuing professional development to ensure that they refresh their skills and keep up to date with current practice. The Society’s training programme offers courses, many of them available online, to support both new and established members. Looking ahead, our existing basic editorial test will in due course be complemented by an advanced test to help ensure that members have demonstrated unequivocally that they have the knowledge and experience expected of them.

Our quest for standards in editing and proofreading, however, goes further than simply ensuring that our members have the skills that clients expect and require. In seeking to become a chartered institution, the SfEP’s aim is to ensure that editorial excellence is universally recognised and promoted, so that anyone seeking the services of an editorial professional can have confidence in the quality of the service they will receive. But if you are looking for a copy-editor or proofreader then there’s no better place to start than the SfEP’s online directory.

Ian Howe, the SfEP's standards directorIan Howe has been a freelance proofreader and copy-editor and an SfEP member since 2004, and joined the Council as standards director in 2017. Based in north-west Cumbria, he has worked on a wide variety of subjects and is also a distance learning tutor with the PTC.

 

Posted by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator.

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.

Why should I train?

SfEP logoGood-quality training is an investment, and whether you’re just starting out and trying to figure out how to spend a limited budget, or you’ve been working for a while, it can be hard to know what you need. You might even question whether you need it at all.

Here are some reasons why editorial training is essential, though – whatever stage you are at in your career.

I learnt on the job, and my clients are happy. Why should I bother?

Perhaps you worked in-house before going freelance, or you built your freelance business from scratch with a natural aptitude and a handful of reference books. You may reach a point where you’re producing work that is consistently good enough for a few repeat clients. Everyone’s happy.

But ask yourself honestly – would you have the confidence and the skills to move outside your comfort zone? The chances are there’s plenty you don’t know. (You might not even realise you don’t know it!) Good-quality editorial training will cover a range of material, giving you the knowledge you need to tackle more diverse work.

Even on more familiar ground, sooner or later you will come across a really intractable problem. (If you have not yet done so, you’ve been lucky.) Extra skills will help you define more accurately what the problem is, and that’s a crucial step towards solving it.

I’m not interested in working in academic publishing, so will the training be relevant?

These days, plenty of editors don’t work for traditional publishers. They may work for businesses, charities, government departments, self-publishers, students … and the list goes on. They probably work exclusively on screen. Yet quite a lot of editorial training starts with the skills required to work for publishers – sometimes even on paper. So is this kind of training more widely applicable?

The answer is that it is. You never know when a client will ask you to work on hard copy (so those proofreading marks needn’t be wasted). Another point to consider is that academic publishing probably encompasses more of the conventions of editorial work than any other genre. Even if you don’t use all the principles all the time in your everyday work, you’ll have the tools at your disposal when you do need them.

I’ve got plenty of clients without needing to demonstrate any professional affiliation; will training be a waste of money?

One argument for basic training, or continued professional development (CPD) later on, is that it can help you upgrade your membership of professional associations. For example, to become an Intermediate, Professional or Advanced Professional Member of the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP), you will need to show evidence of experience and training.

If you’ve got enough work already, you might question the need to go down this route. Your clients know what you can do already, after all. The first rule of freelancing, though, is not to depend on one client for all your work – or even two or three. This is because companies are taken over or go out of business, move their editorial work offshore or change their business model or way of working. The way to build a sustainable business is to have a range of clients – and one way to appeal to them is to show, through your professional credentials, that you are committed to training and CPD. Training may mean a financial outlay now, but look on it as insuring yourself against dry spells in future.

If I need to know something I look it up online, or ask a colleague. Do I still need extra training?

These ways of finding things out are extremely useful (the SfEP forums are considered by many to be one of the main benefits of membership). However, they are best for fixing specific problems. Training gives you a broader grounding, and you’ll know better what questions to ask to improve your practice further.

Remember that technology changes rapidly, too. If the first you hear about this is when your main client sends a form email about ‘improved workflow processes’, you’ll have to scramble to catch up; all of a sudden your hourly rate will plummet. Training can help you see the big picture and stay ahead of the game.

I’m too busy to train. Why should I take time out of paid work to do it?

You’re established, you’re getting plenty of work most of the time, and you can get through it quickly enough to earn what you need. However, you may be surprised at how much efficiency you can introduce to your practice simply by picking up new skills. It could make quite a difference to your hourly rate, for example (or simply save you having to do lots of very repetitive and boring things). You could find you very quickly make up for any time you felt you ‘lost’ to training.

I can keep my skills up to date through my work, so training is unnecessary, isn’t it?

It’s true that learning on the job is a vital part of successful editorial freelancing, and the SfEP believes that this is as important as training, which is why you will also need experience to upgrade your membership.

However, training can fill in the gaps in your knowledge, however long you have been working. Just because one client wants something done a particular way, it doesn’t mean it’s the right way, or the only way. And just because you have your own trusted approaches to various tasks, it doesn’t mean they can’t be improved. Editorial training should be something you return to throughout your career.

You can find out more about the training offered by the SfEP in the training section of our website.

Liz Jones SfEP marketing and PR directorLiz Jones is the SfEP marketing and PR director.

 

Proofread by SfEP entry-level member Karen Pickavance.

Top quality editorial training for 2015

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

Why train in the classroom?

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

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

Courses for beginners

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

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

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

Courses for improvers

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

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

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

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

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

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

Advanced courses

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

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

Find out more

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

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

Self-Publishing

Photo credit: kodomut

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

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

1. Assessing the project for the right service

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Assessing the project for compatibility of style

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Proofread by SfEP ordinary member Samantha Stalion.

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

25 tips for writing effectively for older readers

Vera

Sarah Carr’s friend, Vera, celebrating her 100th birthday – when she was born in 1911, the UK had 102 centenarians; by 2013, it had 13,780.

Misleading information, unclear instructions, technical jargon and illegible print: these are all barriers that can stop older people accessing products and services. Apart from the obvious ethical problem – it is unacceptable for a civilised society to withhold important goods from citizens – it makes good business sense to value older consumers. The 65-plus age group represents 20% of the UK consumer population (those aged 16 and above) and is expected to rise to 25% by 20301.

As experts in written communication, members of the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP) are well equipped to help ensure that texts meet the needs of target readers. The SfEP is launching a three-tier commercial package for organisations targeting older consumers. Comprising a communications audit, editorial consultancy and in-house training, the project kicks off with the publication of a booklet on communicating with older readers. Drawing on research and anecdotal evidence gathered with the help of SfEP members and editors from other English-speaking countries, Sarah Carr presents in this blog a list of 25 top tips. For more ideas, and advice on how to implement these in your work, watch out for the booklet!

Attitude

  1. Do what you can to challenge attitudes towards ageing and older people.

Features of older people

  1. Understand the needs of older readers, remembering that they have widely varying abilities, and encompass two or even three generations.

Inclusive writing

  1. Take an inclusive approach to writing, suitable for all members of the public (sometimes known as ‘plain language’).

Purpose, content and structure

  1. Before you start writing, think about why you are doing so, what you want the text to achieve, and the best medium for this purpose.
  2. Plan your messages and ideas, ensuring they are clear and honest.
  3. Organise the content logically, using an appropriate structure and good navigational aids, and avoiding very long paragraphs.

Style and grammar: words and phrases

  1. Consider using graphics to help present your ideas.
  2. Omit redundant words, and use short, familiar words and phrases.
  3. Use jargon and abbreviations only when necessary, and explain each term when you first mention it.
  4. Ensure that you refer to people equally; failing to do so may not only offend readers (and so lose their attention) but also helps prolong inequality.

Style and grammar: sentences

  1. Ensure that you use good grammar, spelling and punctuation.
  2. Aim for an average sentence length of 15 to 20 words, with some longer and shorter for variety and effect.
  3. Use strong verbs (rather than nominalisations/deverbal nouns, e.g. ‘decide’, not ‘make a decision’).
  4. Favour active verbs (‘the team decided’, not ‘it was decided by the team’), writing in the first and second person (‘I’/‘we’ and ‘you’) and phrasing points positively.

Layout and design

  1. Use a simple, clear font, in sentence case, at a size of 12 to 14 point, avoiding italics and underlining.
  2. Align text to the left, with lines of a reasonable length, and avoid splitting words between lines.
  3. Use white space effectively, for example to help show the logical structure of your text.
  4. For text on paper, use good-quality paper with a matt finish, ensuring a good level of contrast between background and ink colours.
  5. Keep images clear and simple, ensuring they do not stereotype older people.

Writing for the web

  1. Ensure it is easy to understand the structure of your website, and to navigate around the site.
  2. Think about web-specific aspects of layout and design, and the readers’ familiarity with using computers and the internet.
  3. Include text alternatives, e.g. audio and video.

Checking the suitability of your text

  1. Aim for a reading-age level of 12 to 14 years, using a readability formula (available in Word).
  2. Consider testing your text on a real audience, if time and money allow, or otherwise using plain-English editors to provide an expert opinion.

Acquiring or commissioning the skills

  1. For a professional and cost-effective service, commission support from SfEP members. And don’t forget our specialist training courses and publications!

1 Analysis by the Personal Finance Research Centre at Bristol University quoted in Age UK (2010) Golden Economy: The Consumer Marketplace in an Ageing Society (research by ILC-UK).

Sarah CarrSarah Carr works as a writer, editor and proofreader, specialising in plain English and business communication. She feels strongly that our society should value old age and older people more, and is saddened by its mysterious obsession with youth. As a practical demonstration of her principles, she refuses to dye her (increasingly) grey hair!

Proofread by SfEP ordinary member Louise Lubke Cuss.

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

Keeping it real

SfEP ordinary member Dr Rosalind Davies explores what editors and proofreaders, who operate in a largely virtual space, can learn from businesses that function in a more ‘real’ physical environment.

The Chamber of Commerce in Rochester, Michigan, recently welcomed a writing and editing service to the local business community. The new company, So It Is Written, was officially opened with a ribbon-cutting ceremony at 4 p.m. on 12 September 2014.

I smiled as I imagined a similar ceremony in my home office – local business leaders making their way up the stairs to my spare room and crowding in the doorway to watch the unveiling of the computer, telephone, photocopier and coffee mug. Although I found it easy to laugh at what seemed to be an over-formal rigmarole, I quickly had second thoughts. Doesn’t the ribbon-cutting ceremony in Rochester symbolise a new way of looking at the business of editing and writing – at my business?

So It Is Written is an editing business that has laid claim to the same presence and credibility as any other business – a restaurant, art gallery or meat production plant. I stopped laughing about the ribbon-cutting when I realised that this opening ceremony represented a grounding of editorial skills, calling them down from the clouds and marking out a physical space for them.

The Good Copy

The same principle is expressed in another new start-up, The Good Copy, which occupies a large building on a street in Melbourne, Australia. ‘Episode 1’ of the promotional video on The Good Copy’s homepage begins in the dust and debris of the building’s conversion into a ‘newsagent for writers’. We watch as builders drink from polystyrene cups and hammer nails into shelves.

Like the Rochester editing business, The Good Copy’s mission is to bring editors, writers and publishers together and to give them real retail space in which to interact. What is usually, for most editorial freelances, an electronic exchange between supplier and client here takes on flesh and blood in the Melbourne suburb. The Good Copy also aims to populate my own empty-looking work space with a tool kit – what it calls ‘hardcore resources’ – trade magazines, notebooks, style guides and dictionaries, and it believes that my skills could be part of a face-to-face market exchange that takes place as I drink coffee with people who are looking for someone to ‘write stuff for them’.

For some in our profession, the act of editing and writing is beginning to take up real space and retail space, and I, for one, love the idea that I could create a tangible presence for work that is mostly solitary and electronic. Even if this is too ambitious, even if the mechanisms for the way I work do not change, there are things that I can do – new attitudes to adopt – that will make a difference to the way I talk about my work and the way that other people perceive it. The business/communal mindset evidenced by the ribbon-cutting in Rochester and the shopfront in Melbourne should help me to revamp my PR skills and fuel my determination to say ‘I’m doing something here. I’m making something. This is the place I do it in.’

It’s a challenge for the editorial professional to communicate real-world skills and the value that they will add to the presentation, effectiveness and clarity of online or printed content. While we celebrate the connectedness and speed of our access to a global market and its clients, it’s a mistake to forget the reality of the local business community. We must find our way into it, to explore new sources of work, to enjoy a sense of belonging and to make space for the real products that are words and messages.

Ros DaviesRosalind Davies is a copy-editor, writer and communications consultant and the coordinator of the Devon SfEP group. You can find out more about projects she is involved in on her Facebook page. You can also follow her on Twitter. She is available, free of charge, for ribbon-cutting ceremonies.

Proofread by SfEP associate Susan Walton.

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