This is the first instalment of a regular column where my resident undercover editor (UE), Philip Stirups, sheds light on his experiences of editorial production.
To be clear, Philip’s contributions are from the point of view of a publishing professional, broadly speaking. So while some of the things he has to say are informed by his experiences within the UK company for which he currently works, his residency here is not in the capacity of a representative of that particular publishing house.
Louise: Hi, Philip. It’s great to have you on the Parlour! First, can you tell us a little bit about yourself? It would be useful to have an overview of your daily responsibilities – many of our readers haven’t worked in-house so they may be unaware of what in-house editor does. I understand that different presses work in different ways, but it would still be handy to know what you do.
UE: Hi Louise. It’s equally great to be contributing to your blog. So, a little bit about myself. I started working in publishing straight out of University back in 2010. I studied English and German at the University of Reading – and since my passion is language, publishing seemed like a natural career choice. I have been working in the editorial department of an academic publishing house for the past five years. It’s absolutely incredible how quickly time flies. You are completely right – every publishing house operates in slightly different ways, so I can’t say the experience is representative of the role of in-house editors up and down the country. And, even after five years, I am still rather new to the industry, compared with some of my colleagues, so I don’t speak as the one true voice of experience either.
So, about my role … As an editor, I am responsible for the project management of up to fifteen social science/humanities titles at any given time. My ultimate responsibility is ensuring the standards of the final product are in keeping with company and author expectations. One thing that makes my role unique is that I, as an in-house editor, am responsible for typesetting my own projects. It is absolutely fantastic to feel so involved with a project from day one to the nerve-wracking day the book is ready to be sent to print. There is nothing better than having a satisfied author!
Louise: Which editorial services do you currently contract out to freelancers? Structural/development editing, copy-editing, proofreading, indexing? Anything else?
UE: We have three routes to print. (1) For texts in good shape, we editors are responsible for editing such projects in-house. (2) Then there are projects that need proofreading by a freelancer. I would say this accounts for about 60% of our projects. (3) Then, once in a blue moon, a project comes along that needs copy-editing or substantive rewriting, and we contract the work to a freelancer with suitable skills. We also use freelance indexers in cases where authors would like a professional index prepared – otherwise they create it themselves. I rarely have a project without some form of freelancer intervention.
Louise: Today, I’d specifically like to focus on the commissioning of new freelancers. One question that comes up a lot in the freelance editorial community is: How does one get noticed by publishers? So do you use particular directories when you’re looking to source new suppliers, and if so which ones? Or do you consider freelancers who’ve contacted you direct (by email, telephone, letter)? How about referrals from colleagues working for other presses?
UE: In collaboration with my line manager, I am responsible for curating the freelancer pool and enhancing freelancer processes, so I feel I can answer this question definitively.
The best way to get noticed by a publishing house is simply by finding out who the relevant in-house contact responsible for the freelancer pool is, and then sending them a quick message to enquire about the process. If you don’t ever ask, you’re never going to know. Granted, a lot of publishers have established pools of people they use. However, I feel that you can never have too many freelancers in your pool – especially law proofreaders, who understand OSCOLA referencing.
A CV and covering letter is a good base from which to start, but I’ve met freelancers in person to whom I have offered work. For example, I made new contacts off the back of attending the Society of Indexers (SI) conference in Cirencester last year, and I hope to meet many new freelancers at the joint Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP)/SI conference in York in 2015.
As an in-house editor, I would offer the following two key pieces of advice to any editorial freelancer:
Louise: When you read a CV and covering letter, or view someone’s listing in a membership directory, what are the key stand-out points that you're looking for? Here, I’m thinking about the skills, experience, training, and other qualifications that make you think, “Yes, that person’s someone we want in our freelance bank.” When I announced the launch of this column, two of my colleagues asked specific questions that relate directly to these issues. Just as a reminder I’ve included them here:
UE: It is a combination of different factors that determines whether a particular person is suitable for our freelancer pool. Since we have a quite full freelancer list, freelancer specialities tend to be significant.
A good freelancer should be able to work on a variety of different material, but it is always good having somebody who really understands the text. Law, for example, tends to be one of those lists with a lot of subject-specific terms, and it is always good when these are understood in context.
Having professional accreditation is desirable. For example, with indexing we look for membership of the SI, and with proofreading we look to the SfEP.
Louise: How important is prior publishing experience, broadly speaking? If a freelancer has worked in-house, is this a strong selling point for you? Even if they haven’t worked in-house, is it important that they’ve worked for other publishers? I’m interested in your views on this because I’m often asked by new entrants to the field whether a lack of publishing experience means it will be more difficult for them to secure work with publishers.
UE: In general, prior experience is important to in-house editors. If I see that a freelancer has worked for a particular client with similar lists to ours, then I will assume some level of familiarity with the subject matter.
Professional accreditation is great, but experience is what can bring these qualifications to life. I understand that this is often one of the hardest things for new freelancers. They want to gain experience, but in order to do so they have to be given work. And to be given work, they need experience. You see where the problem is! I do therefore respect the fact that everyone has to start somewhere.
You can often get a feeling from initial exchanges with freelancers whether your work together is going to be fruitful – call it editor’s intuition. Since all publishing houses work in different ways, it generally takes a couple of projects to get freelancers up to speed with working processes, but, by and large, the results are very pleasing.
Louise: Finally, do you have any further advice you’d like to share with freelancers who want to acquire work with publishers?
UE: Great question – I would say the following are points to bear in mind for anyone looking to acquire work:
About Louise Harnby
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. Visit her business website at Louise Harnby | Proofreader, follow her on Twitter at @LouiseHarnby, or find her on LinkedIn.
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I'm an Advanced Professional Member of the UK's national editorial society. Visit the SfEP website for more information.
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