A note from Louise: In 2013, I published my first book – an introductory editorial business-planning guide entitled Business Planning for Editorial Freelancers. I wanted to provide readers with a real-world view of what it’s like to enter the world of editorial freelancing.
Three of my colleagues were kind enough to act as case studies, sharing insights into their experiences of building an editorial business: Johanna Robinson, Mary McCauley and Grace Wilson. At the time of publication, all three were relatively new to the field (their start-ups were under two years old). Each of them created vibrant, successful editorial businesses, working with a range of clients across the UK and Ireland. Their candid accounts illustrated the challenges of editorial freelancing – but also suggested how the path to success could be achieved through determination, skills acquisition, strategic planning and targeted marketing.
So here we are in 2015. My colleagues left behind their new-starter status a long time ago. They’re now established editorial business owners who are not only working for paying clients but also helping less experienced colleagues navigate their way through the world of editorial freelancing via training programmes and conference presentations.
It’s therefore with great pleasure that I hand now you over to Johanna Robinson of Ascribe Editing. Below, Johanna tells us what’s changed and what’s stayed the same; how her business has developed; what she’s learned; and what her plans are for the future …
In 2013, I appeared in Louise’s book as a case study. I thought it would be useful to people starting out as editorial freelancers, particularly from non-publishing backgrounds, if I provided an update on how business is going, two years down the line from that case study.
Some things have changed: I now have a desk in my office rather than in the bedroom; both children are now at school, rather than just one; I’ve had a couple of days off – real days off – recently.
Some things haven’t changed: the online HMRC and Business Link courses I talked about are still on my to-do list; my husband still works away for five days at a time; I still work regularly past midnight.
In 2014, I upgraded to the SfEP’s Ordinary level of membership (now Professional Member), using points from past courses and references from two publisher clients. I hope to be able to upgrade to Advanced Professional Membership within the next year – I should be able to achieve this with another training course under my belt, which will probably be an SfEP distance-learning module.
Over the past year I have worked around 22–25 hours a week, sometimes as few as 8 (on a week off) and sometimes as many as 45 (long books, tight deadlines). I’m currently averaging around 30.
My clients are book publishers, magazine publishers, outsourced publisher/project management companies, self-publishers (fiction and non-fiction), one "non-departmental public body of the Government", and a design agency. I don’t work for many students these days, usually because of timescales.
I have also met, over the last two years, so many people full of great ideas, inspiration, dedication, and ambition: people who have set up their own businesses – not only independent small presses/publishers, but also innovative start-ups that need material proofread. Many of these jobs are regular ones that pop up in between large tomes of shipping law (shipping/maritime has, surprisingly, become one of my “things”), and I love working on them.
Where have my clients come from since Louise’s book?
Traditional publishers: I still do a small amount for the publisher I started with, mentioned in Louise’s book. A combination of publishers and project management companies came as referrals from colleagues, and another from the SfEP's Directory of Editorial Services. I generally work on a couple of books a month for these clients.
Self-publishers (books and magazines): These have come via various channels: some from the SfEP’s Directory of Editorial Services; some are original PeoplePerHour clients; and others are referrals from those PeoplePerHour clients.
Businesses and organisations (including law firms and design agencies): These have come via the SfEP, colleague referrals, and contacts from my lawyer days. My aim is to build up this sector of my work, and I am currently creating a new “sister” website that will focus on proofreading for businesses.
So what are my plans?
First, to concentrate on earning more rather than working more. I have recently analysed my work so that I have accurate hourly rates, and from this data I will decide which clients to keep and which to move on from.
I haven’t decided whether to move into copy-editing. Some of my work creeps over the line, but I’m yet to step across it fully, and may not for some time.
I also plan to concentrate on marketing, to take another SfEP course, to read more books (for pleasure), attend more SfEP local-group meetings (usually not possible because of childcare responsibilities), and contribute more to the SfEP forums.
What have I found invaluable over the last two years?
My colleagues: Online friends at the end of an email at any time of day or night, all over the world. The editing world is a big one and a small one at the same time. I have a number of good friends whom I haven’t met, but whose support I have been immensely lucky to have benefitted from. I estimate that 70% of my current work originated from the generosity of colleagues.
Time recording software: I record all the work I do other than ad hoc emails and admin; it’s a hang-over from my lawyer days, but it’s invaluable.
Johanna Robinson is a professional freelance proofreader, trained by the Publishing Training Centre, London. She offers a friendly, flexible and professional proofreading service to publishers, businesses, organizations and individuals. She is a Professional Member of the Society for Editors and Proofreaders. Contact her via email at Johanna@ascribe-editing.co.uk, on Twitter at @AscribeEditing, by telephone (direct or text message) on 07773 601 859, or through her website: Ascribe Editing.
In my latest article for Rich Adin's An American Editor blog, I show you how to create your own digital proofreading stamps for PDF proofreading and editing. The article includes the following:
About Louise Harnby
Louise is a professional proofreader, the curator of The Proofreader's Parlour, and the author of Business Planning for Editorial Freelancers and Marketing Your Editing & Proofreading Business. She is an Advanced Professional Member of the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP). Visit her business website at Louise Harnby | Proofreader, follow her on Twitter at @LouiseHarnby, or find her on LinkedIn.
Note from Louise: A version of this article was originally published in the Editorial Freelancers Association (EFA) newsletter, The Freelancer (November–December 2014). It is reproduced here with permission.
The strong desire to break free from organizational shackles had become so overpowering in the later years of my career that it was becoming almost impossible to resist the temptation every passing day.
The need to stop the atrocious wastage of time spent commuting (six hours daily – a routine that I had endured for more than fifteen years!) and turn part of it into something productive and spend the rest with my family and kids could no longer be ignored.
The confidence that my skills were good enough to get work directly from publishers abroad had always been there but I was curious to find out how many of the contacts I had acquired over the years would actually be offering work.
The requirement to earn more than my current job was paying was perhaps the final push that burst the dam that had been holding back the freelance river flowing inside me.
I was waiting for the perfect moment to leave my job and start my freelance editorial services business, but had to take a quick decision in December 2010. I spent the first week enjoying my first real break from work – sitting in the sun and basking in the warmth of the winter sun, sleeping to my heart’s content, munching on dry fruits, calling up friends and doing absolutely nothing (work-wise).
The first two assignments came from those who had known me as a colleague for years but were now working in different companies. They approached me and asked whether I would be interested in freelancing for their companies. The next major one came from someone who had just connected with me on LinkedIn, and another major domestic assignment came from an organization I had worked with in the past. To make the joyride more fun, my best friend also joined me in January 2011. A whirlwind round of tests and samples followed over the next few months, resulting in a hat trick of successful results on the same day, all from international clients.
I am more than happy to share my ten tips for freelance success. These have sustained me all these years:
These are the tips that have helped me make a name for myself as a freelance editorial services provider. I hope these will be as helpful to you as they have been in making Vivek Kumar a known face worldwide. In the last five years, I have been interviewed twice for my views on freelance copyediting as a career. I was first interviewed by NotJustPublishing, an Indian online portal for people in publishing and allied industries, and Kris Emery used parts of the second interview as quotes in her ebook Feel The Fear And Freelance Anyway!
Do you agree with Vivek? Do you have other top tips for successful editorial freelancing? Feel free to add your comments below.
Vivek Kumar is a professional freelance editorial services provider based in India. Visit the Indian Copyeditors Forum on Facebook, find him on LinkedIn or email him at email@example.com.
I've been meaning to review some of my favourite proofreading macros for a while now and ProperNounAlyse deserves its first place in the queue (only because it performed so brilliantly on a recent proofreading project!). ProperNounAlyse is just one tool among many, of course. Those of us who use macros on a regular basis have a whole suite of them that we run during the process of a proofread or a copy-edit.
ProperNounAlyse was created by my colleague Paul Beverley, and it’s just one of a huge number of macros available in his free book, Computer Tools for Editors (available on his website at Archive Publications).
I've written this post for the person who doesn't use macros and is nervous about trying. I think it’s such a shame when a fear of tech leads to lost opportunities for those who want to increase productivity (which is great for the editorial pro) and improve quality (which is great for the client).
Why bother? Three reasons
Go to Paul’s website and download Computer Tools for Editors.
Save the zipped folder to your computer and extract three files: One is an overview of the macros – what they are, what they do, how to store them and so on – plus all the programs themselves; another contains just the actual macro programs; and the final file is a style sheet. The file you need to open in Word is “The Macros”.
Use Word’s navigation menu (or Ctrl F on a PC) to open the Find function. Type “Sub ProperNounAlyse” into the search field and hit Return. That will take you to the start of the relevant script.
Select and copy the script from “Sub ProperNounAlyse()” down to “End Sub”. Paul’s helped us out by highlighting the name of each new macro.
Still with Word open, open the “View” tab and click on the “Macros” icon on the ribbon.
This will open up a new window.
If you don’t have any macros already loaded:
If you have macros loaded (your TEST macro or any other):
This will open up another window:
A fictive sample
Below is a simple word list of proper nouns with lots of inconsistencies – differences in accent use, apostrophe use and spelling.
I run ProperNounAlyse on the document. It analyses the text and then creates a new Word file with the following results:
I’m provided with an at-a-glance summary of potential problems that I need to check. It may be that the differences identified are not mistakes, but I know what to look for.
“I don’t need to use techie tools … my eyes are good enough”
Macros don’t get tired. Macros don’t get distracted. I don’t believe any proofreader who claims they can do as good a job with their eyes alone as they can do with their eyes and some electronic assistance. It’s a case of using these kinds of tools as well as, not instead of, the eyes and brain.
I could have relied on my eyes to find all of the above problems, and in a small file I would hope to have hit the mark 100%. But if I’d been working on 100,000 words of text, and there were twenty key characters, a plethora of grammatical glitches, two major plot holes, numerous layout problems, and a mixture of hundreds of other inconsistencies regarding hyphenation, capitalization, punctuation and regional spelling variation, there would have been a lot of problems to solve; I want to utilize every tool available to help me do that. Yes, my eyes and brain are two of those tools. But using macros like ProperNounAlyse and others (PerfectIt, for example, just because it’s another favourite!) speeds me up, pure and simple, and massively reduces the chance of a miss.
I ran ProperNounAlyse on a recent fiction proofread for an independent author who is a phenomenally good writer – great plot, excellent pacing, engaging characters. But he was so busy crafting the 95,000 words it took to build a fantastic story that he’d introduced a lot of proper-noun inconsistencies. That’s fine – it’s not his job to deal with these; it’s mine. It took me minutes, rather than hours, to locate them and deal with them. And I know I found them – every one of them.
What will the client remember?
If you’re still reluctant to try out ProperNounAlyse (or any other editorial tool for that matter), consider this: What will the client remember? The three hundred mistakes that you spotted or the three howlers you missed? When it comes to proper nouns, especially in large volumes of character-based editorial work, it’s too easy to miss a discrepancy. And character names stand out to readers. Taking just a few minutes to run a simple-to-use macro might determine whether your client thinks your work was pretty good or outstanding. And which of those is likely to gain you a repeat booking or a referral to another potential client?
Louise Harnby is a professional proofreader, the curator of The Proofreader's Parlour, and the author of Business Planning for Editorial Freelancers and Marketing Your Editing & Proofreading Business. She is an Advanced Professional Member of the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP).
Visit her business website at Louise Harnby | Proofreader, follow her on Twitter at @LouiseHarnby, or find her on LinkedIn.
I’m delighted to welcome my colleague Sophie Playle back to the Parlour. Sophie has been doing lots of interesting things with her editorial business so a catch-up is long overdue! I first featured her back in 2013. I was interested in learning more about the manuscript-critique service she offers because that’s a service that, as I pointed out at the time, is “about as far away from proofreading on the editorial freelancing spectrum as one can get”. You can read the original post here: Manuscript critiquing: The inside story.
Since then, Sophie has rebranded her business, branching out from editing into offering online courses. I couldn’t wait to get the low-down on these latest exciting developments, and jumped at the chance to interview her.
Sophie and I met and became friends through the Norfolk chapter of the Society for Editors and Proofreaders. I mention this because it’s a great reminder of the benefits of meeting up on a regular basis with editorial colleagues. Many of us wear very different hats, which means there’s always something new to learn. Prior to meeting Sophie, I could wax lyrical for hours about proofreading, marketing and freelance business development; as for manuscript critique and training … well, that was quite another matter. So, hearing about these latest developments has been an education, and I’m chuffed to bits to be able to share our conversation with you …
Louise Harnby: Sophie, what made you rebrand your business?
Sophie Playle: What used to be Playle Editorial Services is now Liminal Pages. I wanted a brand that could reflect my personality and my chosen niche (speculative fiction editing) a little more. Mostly, though, I wanted to start running online courses, so the ‘Editorial Services’ bit of the original name didn’t work.
It was a little scary changing so much, but the new brand is much more aligned with my business intentions, so I felt it was the right thing to do. To me, a brand is something that should be always evolving.
LH: Tell us a bit about your first online course.
SP: Conquer Your Novel is a tutored 8-week online course designed to help writers tame their manuscripts into publishable final drafts. (Before professional editing, of course.)
There are lots of generic creative writing courses available online, so I wanted to offer something a little different. I knew from the outset that I would create a tutored course with weekly personal feedback. I also didn’t want the course to be too basic – there are plenty of beginner courses already on the market.
So I created an intermediate-level course aimed specifically at novelists. I ran it in beta in the spring, and revamped it based on the feedback.
LH: What topics do you cover?
SP: I had to think very carefully about this because I didn’t want to recreate what’s already out there. I find courses that simply run through the main elements of novel writing (character, plot, dialogue, setting, etc.) a little uninspired.
The thing is, no one writes a novel thinking about these components in isolation. They don’t work in isolation. Plot is driven by character, and setting is based around plot, and description is filtered through viewpoint character, which is determined by narrative style … and so on.
But to learn about these things, you have to start somewhere. I considered which topics were most important, which needed to go together, and what the most logical order would be. I’ve top and tailed the more traditional topics with practical discussions around the psychology and methodology of novel writing.
The first module looks at the most common reasons writers fail to complete novels, and I talk a lot about different writing personalities and approaches to the novel writing process. The last module looks at the redrafting process in detail, and also how to read analytically. A writing course on its own won’t help someone become a great writer if they don’t know how to read well!
LH: Where do you get your students?
SP: So far, my students have come largely from my mailing list – which includes past clients, writers who signed up for the freebies on my website, and other editors curious in what I do – don’t think I can’t see you, guys!
This time around, I’m also planning to run a Facebook ad and write a few guest posts … like this one. My past students are also happy to help promote the course, which is awesome. Love those guys.
I’d originally hoped the course would also be useful to editorial professionals wanting to get into fiction editing – the idea being they’d learn about the components that went into writing a good novel. One proofreader took the course when I ran it in beta and really loved it. But after refining the materials, I think the course is more useful to writers than editors.
LH: What are the logistics of running the course? How do you administer the materials?
SP: Every week, I email a PDF module with a writing assignment. Students complete the assignment by the deadline, and I provide them with feedback.
There’s also a Workbook for students to fill out as they progress through the course. By the end of the course, this acts as an overview of the most important decisions they’ve made about the novel – such as the narrative question, the viewpoint characters, the main plot points, etc. The Workbook is just a simple Word document set up as a form so students can only type in specified areas.
On top of that, I’ve created a separate private forum – or, at least, I will have by the time this interview is published! Writing can be a lonely business, and I know from experience that peer feedback and discussion is an incredibly valuable part of a writer’s development. Originally, I used a Facebook group to host the community, but a forum more easily allows students to share their work, and I think it feels a bit more special than a Facebook group.
LH: Do you provide individual feedback, template answers, or a mixture of both?
SP: It’s all individual, personalised feedback. Students have told me that my feedback is what makes the course so valuable to them. For each assignment, I use the comments feature of Word to provide specific suggestions relating to the text, then I write a couple of paragraphs at the end of the extract. My feedback is largely based on the topic we’re discussing that week, but I also point out anything else I think could help the writer improve.
But that’s not all. At the end of the course, I provide each writer with a written summary of the best ways I think they can improve their writing in general. This, along with their Workbook and a final exercise, helps them come up with their own personalised plan of action for completing their novels after the course has come to an end.
LH: How much time does it take to administrate the course?
The most time-consuming part the course was creating the materials. It would take me approximately two days to write each module from scratch, and it took me a further three weeks or so to refine the materials since I ran it in beta.
Now I’ve created the course, I’ll spend most of my time providing student feedback. During the first running of the course, I discovered that marking time varies week to week, though I would normally spent 30–90 minutes on each assignment. I’ve decided to take on a maximum of 20 students so I can plan how to manage my time during the running of the course.
LH: Are you planning to create any more online courses?
SP: Definitely. So far, I’ve really enjoyed creating and running this one! And I have lots of ideas for new ones, but I haven’t decided which idea to go with next.
LH: What would you advise other editorial professionals considering offering online courses?
SP: Offering online courses can be a great way to add some variation to your work. It also enables you to help a larger number of clients and offer something at a different price point.
I’d recommend taking the following into consideration:
Want to earn a referral fee? Email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) the names of the people you refer, and for every person who signs up and remains on the course after the two-week trial period, I will send you £25 as a thank you.
Sophie Playle is a Professional Member of the SfEP, writing teacher and steampunk airship pilot. (One of those things may be a lie.) She has an English Literature BA from UEA and a Creative Writing MA from Royal Holloway, University of London. She’s also a published writer and was shortlisted for the 2012 Escalator Literary Prize for Fiction.
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