A note from Louise: The Parlour's series on Work Choices for editorial freelancers continues with this super post from my colleague Liz Jones. It's particularly pertinent given a recent discussion on the Society for Editors and Proofreaders forum about getting work based on particular subject specialisms.
Several contributors made the point that it's not only the freelancer's education and career skills that come in useful, but also practical and hobby-based skills and knowledge. With that in mind, I was delighted when Liz suggested a guest article on editing cookery and craft titles. Read on ...
When you’re thinking about potential areas of publishing to target or publishers to focus your attentions on, it’s worth considering the cookery and craft* genres. They account for a big chunk of the market, with hundreds of titles being published anew every year, or updated or repackaged. The two genres share certain characteristics and considerations.
*Under the banner of "craft" I’m including a range of practical subjects, including knitting, crochet, dressmaking, spinning yarn, quilting, painting, drawing, origami, calligraphy, jewellery making … the list is long.
Who can do it?
In the case of both cookery and craft books, while practical experience and a working knowledge of the subject are both helpful, common sense and a willingness to engage with the material are arguably more important.
It is your editorial skill set that you’re being hired for, and any subject-specific knowledge is a bonus. If it’s a subject area that’s a little outside your comfort zone, by all means confess this to the in-house editor, but don’t necessarily let it stop you taking on the job.
Having said that, if you are passionate about any particular practical discipline, do draw attention to this when you approach a publisher in these genres. It’ll make you instantly more memorable – and employable.
Does practical experience help?
You don’t need to be a fantastic cook or a highly accomplished needleworker to successfully edit or proofread a book on the subject. However, some practical experience helps.
Take cooking: it’s desirable if you can picture what a pinch of salt looks like, or 4 tablespoons of flour, or 50 grams of butter. A basic understanding of the science behind baking a cake, or a working knowledge of how to make pastry will stand you in good stead. You might not be the next Heston Blumenthal, but you need to care about why a recipe might work … and why it might not.
It also helps if you’re into food – possibly even passionately so, even if you don’t do much cooking yourself. (In our house, my husband is the main cook, but we talk about food and recipes all the time.) Know your ingredients. Keep up with food trends. And read lots of cookery books!
If you love food, this won’t be a chore. By reading around the subject you’ll get a feel for how recipes are put together, what new ingredients are on the market, how different publishers present similar kinds of information, and what’s desirable in a finished recipe.
For craft, it’s important to understand how publishers like their instructional text presented, and to be able to get to grips with the specific jargon relating to the subject. Again, familiarity gained from reading the kinds of titles you’d like to work on is essential. Once you get to know the conventions of the genre, you are as equipped as anyone else to spot problems and inconsistencies in the text. This applies especially to proofreading, and once you’re more comfortable with the subject area it’s straightforward to move into copy-editing if you want.
It can be reassuring to know that for cooking, crochet and knitting titles, publishers will often employ a freelance tester or pattern checker who will make up the recipes or projects, as well as an editor and proofreader.
What characteristics do these books share?
Both genres depend on the reader being able to understand a set of instructions in order to be able to exactly reproduce something at home. Therefore these instructions need to be unambiguous and clear. They should also be free from waffle – the reader does not want to get lost in flowery descriptions while they’ve got their hands covered in icing sugar or superglue.
It’s likely you’ll have to wrestle with units of measurement. Sometimes these are given in both metric and imperial, and many jobs therefore require a certain amount of conversion or checking of measurements, or adding-in of missing information. This may seem dull – but it becomes considerably less boring when you consider how much your reader is depending on these measurements being accurate.
You need to develop a sixth sense for those that seem "a bit off". Surely they can’t mean 15 kg salt? Why on earth would a patchwork skirt for a human take 35 metres of corduroy? How could a delicate beaded necklace possibly be threaded on wire 25 mm thick?
Practical texts are often integrated with images, often in the form of numbered step-by-step sequences. Sometimes the publisher will send you the pictures to look at, and sometimes they won’t. If you have the pictures you need to look closely at each one against the text it accompanies. In this way, especially for craft subjects, a willingness to engage with visual material is important.
With instructional text, editing can be about moulding the material to fit a publisher’s paradigm. Many craft titles are templated before they are written, with the author writing to fit a set of presentation layouts.
Finally, we’ve all been taught to reject the received wisdom that the passive voice is inherently evil. However, this is less the case when editing cookery and craft texts. The active voice is often preferred – some publishers will even specify this. And when editing instructions, the imperative is often used to get the point across quickly.
How should I approach a craft or cookery edit?
The heart of any cookery or craft book is the recipes or projects. These often break down into three parts:
Editing the introduction is just like editing any other kind of text – try to retain the author’s voice as much as possible, as this is what gives the book its particular flavour.
Then there’s the list of ingredients, or tools and materials in the case of craft. This is where you need to start getting really picky about consistency. The publisher’s house style will often tell you what units of measurement they prefer – metric, imperial, by volume (spoons and cups), or some combination of these. It may also detail exactly how you should phrase the specification of particular items.
For instance, is it "a handful of chopped fresh parsley"? Or "a handful of fresh parsley, chopped"? It doesn't only look messy to vary this kind of information – it also makes a difference to accuracy.
The ingredients (or materials) should usually be listed in the order in which they are used in the method or instructions. This area often requires your attention, and it should go without saying that every ingredient listed needs to be mentioned in the method, and that every ingredient mentioned in the method needs to be listed.
The method or instructions for a dish or project are essential to get right. You need to weed out any ambiguities and inaccuracies; don’t leave the reader wondering what to do with that bowl of freshly melted chocolate, or one bead short of a pair of earrings.
Eliminate as much redundancy as you can so that the text is clear and to the point. If a process is repeated throughout the book, try to keep the wording that describes it the same or very similar each time, so the reader understands that it’s the same process.
Make sure you understand everything, and can picture what is meant to be happening, even if the subject matter is slightly unfamiliar to you. Don’t assume that an expert reader will be able to understand a description of a process that makes no sense to you. And do watch out for silly mistakes, such as an oven that gets preheated the night before the rest of the recipe happens.
What work opportunities are there?
In terms of the work you might be asked to do on craft or cookery titles, of course there is copy-editing and proofreading, as well as project managing. There is also plenty of work to be found if you can turn your hand to Americanizing or anglicizing text.
Cookery and craft titles, as mentioned, frequently feature units of measurement, and converting these into a format acceptable for the US or UK market is a bit of a headache. This is where you come in.
In this case, being prepared to work onscreen, in InDesign, can be a major benefit; publishers often make the UK or US edition of a book in a great hurry after the primary edition has gone into production. As well as the measurements, you’ll also need to adjust the grammar and vocabulary, of course. Both craft and cookery subjects feature a lot of jargon that is different in UK and US English (frying pan/skillet, coriander/cilantro, selvedge/selvage, double crochet/single crochet, cast off/bind off … etc.).
There are many specialist publishers out there, and it’s worth approaching packagers, too, who often produce complex, highly illustrated titles for major publishers and can be a great source of freelance work.
So … should I go for it?
Craft in particular might not seem the most highbrow area of book publishing (let’s face it, no one is ever going to win the Man Booker Prize for a book about painting watercolour flowers), but it can be interesting, and reasonably well paid once you get used to the subject matter. You’re also fairly likely to work on books that you’ll later see in your local Waterstones, which can be a buzz in itself. Cookery and craft books are often gorgeously designed and produced, which is nice if you’re a bit of a book fetishist (aren’t we all?). You might even have the thrill of working on a high-profile title that receives lots of media attention – though in this case, don’t necessarily expect to be able to tell anyone about it.
At the end of the day, you’re not helping to disseminate information that will one day bring about world peace, or a cure for some terrible disease. But you will have the satisfaction of knowing that the books you work on are helping to make a lot of people happy – or, if you mess up, extremely frustrated.
Copyright Liz Jones 2013
About Liz: Liz Jones has worked as a full-time freelance book editor and project manager for the past five years, following ten years as an in-house editor for four different publishers – the last of which was a packager specializing in practical art and craft titles. Her work has two distinct strands: highly illustrated non-fiction books, and educational resources. When not editing she is usually playing with her children, playing the flugelhorn or writing. Visit Liz Jones Editorial Solutions for more information.
A recent discussion with a publisher colleague on the subject of business-building costs got me thinking about ways of saving money when editorial freelancing. Free or cheap isn’t always the best option, but if you do your research and try some of the options that your colleagues have already explored, you can save yourself a small fortune. These are a few of the savings I’ve made or that I plan to explore.
PDF editing software
Many of us use the free PDF readers available on the market, but some of us want the higher spec that comes with the paid-for (Pro) versions. Acrobat’s great and it’s the market-leading brand. But for the purposes of proofreading or editing PDFs you can get the same functionality with alternative products at a fraction of the price. I use the excellent PDF-XChange Viewer Pro, following the recommendation of several SfEP colleagues. Opting for the latter, for example, will save you hundreds of pounds. (Note: If you’re a Mac user you’ll need to be running conversion software, such as Parallels, to use XChange.)
Online dictionaries and reference resources
Check with your local/regional library system to see what freebies are on offer. For example, the UK library system has a deal with Oxford University Press enabling free access to Oxford Dictionaries Pro. This gives you online access to a range of OUP’s excellent dictionaries, thesauri, New Hart’s Rules and Pocket Fowler's Modern English Usage. Contact your library for more information. My own library system in Norfolk offers a range of additional online resources that are free at the point of delivery but that I’d not realized I had access to. These are funded by my local authority through taxpayers’ contributions so it’s good to know I'm making the most of them.
Efficiency tools – macros and add-ins
There are some fabulous free editing and proofreading tools available. Some are not free but still offer great value for money not only because they are reasonably inexpensive to purchase but also because of the time they save the freelancer, thus enabling them to improve their hourly rate. One of my favourite paid-for tools is PerfectIt. My colleague Paul Beverley offers an excellent free book featuring over 400 editorial macros: Macros for Writers and Editors.
If you want to upgrade, say, MS Office, take a look at what offers you might qualify for. Software4Students might be an option if you (or someone in your family) fits the criteria; UnlimitedSoftwareSource is another resource that my colleague Nick Jones of Full Proof told me about when I upgraded to Office 2010 Pro. Ask your colleagues what versions they are using and where they bought them. There are some fabulous deals to be had on legitimate software if you know where to look.
Adding on a large second monitor is a much cheaper option than upgrading your laptop or desktop PC, especially if you're increasingly working onscreen. For the purposes of onscreen proofreading and editing you can pick up a perfectly suitable 24” monitor for under £120. Not only will you have the benefits of a larger screen on which to work but you’ll also be able to increase your efficiency by reducing the amount of toggling you do between programs. If you're looking for a new PC, make sure you've explored all the online deals first and asked colleagues if they know about any special offers available and what software/anti-virus protection is included.
Society and training deals
Consider what deals your national/regional editing and proofreading society is offering. A good example is the UK’s Society for Editors and Proofreaders – joining in January gives 14 months’ membership for the price of 12. Keep a look out for early-bird registration discounts on training courses, too. Your local chapter may also offer valuable informal training sessions covering technical and business-building elements of editorial freelancing, none of which will cost you anything more than the petrol to attend.
These are worth joining because your colleagues hold a wealth of knowledge about useful free tools. Just the other day a discussion on the SfEP Forum about onscreen proofreading generated a tip from a colleague about a free resource called A Ruler for Windows. I’d not heard of it but now it’s on my desktop and it’s the perfect tool for measuring and for checking the alignment of chapter drops and page lengths when proofreading PDFs. I learn something new every time I drop into the SfEP Forum and, now that I’m a member, none of this knowledge costs me a penny.
Microsoft also provides a number of free video tutorials covering their most popular programs.
Savings through networking
If you can't attend your local group (or you don't have access to a national/regional society), make the most of online professional networking through media such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. These are superb for connecting with like-minded professionals willing to share their knowledge freely through informal chat, blogging and organized discussion groups.
International money transfers
PayPal or even your own bank might not be giving you the best deal on exchange rates and international transfer fees. Ask your colleagues if they are using alternatives payment options when working for international clients. One example is CurrencyFair, a peer-to-peer marketplace that offers savings on international transfers. Take a look at this recent article on the Parlour, CurrencyFair: A Cheaper Way to Transfer and Receive Funds, written by my colleague Averill Buchanan, for more information.
You don’t have to pay for a website – there are some great free self-build options: WordPress or Weebly, for example, which offer pre-designed templates and the ability to customize, depending on whether you’re a complete beginner or a pro. For more information about building your own website on the cheap, see Roundup: Websites for Editorial Freelancers – Why? How? What?
* * *
I’ve only scratched the surface, but careful research and networking with colleagues can generate savings small and large for the editorial freelancer considering investing in hardware, software, training and development, and professional resources. For a list of freebie tools and resources featured here on the Parlour, browse this list of links in the Free Stuff archive.
A note from Louise: Receiving payment for editorial freelancing can leave us editors and proofreaders feeling a little down in the mouth when we see chunks of our hard-earned cash being swallowed up by transaction and currency-conversion fees.
Only recently I had to add £15 to an invoice for a Canadian publisher in order to cover my PayPal fees – not something I felt good about, considering this client is a vibrant start-up with a fair-trade policy for its authors. Lloyds TSB also charged me over £13.60 for the privilege of receiving a payment from a Spanish client. For an invoice of approximately £200 this felt like a kick in the teeth.
I'm therefore delighted to welcome my editorial colleague Averill Buchanan to the Parlour with her excellent guest article about CurrencyFair. From their website: "Our unique, new peer-to-peer marketplace ensures big savings on exchange rates and fees ... an efficient and safe alternative to ridiculous bank and broker charges." Interested? Read on ...
I've just completed my first set of transactions using CurrencyFair, a peer-to-peer marketplace that allows you to exchange and send funds in a wide variety of currencies, and thought that others might be interested (especially after hearing some horror stories about PayPal freezing people’s accounts).
I needed to pay a membership fee to an organization in Dublin who don't offer PayPal as a payment option (because it costs them too much). So I set up a business account with CurrencyFair (CF), transferred money from my sterling bank account, exchanged it through CF (they make the process very easy), after which it went into my CF euro account. I was then able to pay the organization their membership using IBAN from my CF euro account. The entire cost to me was €3.
I finished an editing job for a client in Ireland and invoiced him in euros. I gave him the details of the CF account in Dublin along with my CF reference number. He paid online using his regular bank interface on Thursday (presumably at no cost to him) and I received the money in my CF euro account the following Tuesday. I then exchanged it to sterling (for a fee of £3) and transferred it to my own bank account on the same day.
Had I invoiced and been paid by my client through PayPal it would have cost me at least £20 more, and PayPal doesn't allow you to shop around for the best exchange rate. They process payments in and out of the US, just like any other currency. They charge a flat fee for each transaction – 3 units of whatever currency you are exchanging to/from.
As a freelancer, you are required to set up a business account with CurrencyFair (something to do with money laundering), but a business account doesn't cost you anything – it’s just the same as a personal account in every other respect. They will want to see scans of passport and other documents proving your address – just as if you were setting up a regular bank account – and it takes a day or so to set up a new account.
But what I’m most impressed with about CurrencyFair is the personal attention. Tim Porter, an Associate Director, took the trouble to phone me at a time that suited me, to answer all my questions, and he’s been on the end of emails all through the process.
Should anyone else like to try CurrencyFair as a replacement for PayPal (and I highly recommend it), Tim is quite happy to speak to you about it. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org. If you want to read more about the benefits, the website gives some live examples of what you can save by using CurrencyFair instead of a regular bank or broker.
No doubt there are other providers offering similar services, so if you know of any that you'd like to recommend or share your experiences about, please leave a comment.
Copyright 2013 Averill Buchanan
Bio: Averill Buchanan is a freelance editor, proofreader and book indexer.
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