Note from Louise: I've been charmed in the past two weeks – three special guests sharing their wisdom on the Parlour! This time it's my colleague Sophie Playle. Sophie and I met at our SfEP local-group meeting in Norwich.
She's a talented writer (more on that in a future post) and has a very specialist skill set within her service portfolio – manuscript critiquing. I asked Sophie if she'd tell us a bit more about it, and she kindly obliged ...
How I ended up offering a critiquing service
My journey to where I am now – a freelance writer and editor who offers critiquing (or manuscript appraisal) as one of my services – evolved partly organically, and partly with focused purpose.
It's a familiar story, but I have always wanted to write. At school, I never really knew what I wanted to do with my life in terms of career, but I did know that I loved the escapism of books and the swooning elegance of language. While choosing a university degree, I followed my passion and went for the English Literature with Creative Writing BA offered by the University of East Anglia.
I loved the writing element of the course more than anything, and from my first to my final year, I went through a steep learning curve.
Our final-year creative writing group consisted of a small core of writers. We would write short stories and submit them for our fellow group members to tear apart. It was invigorating. We all knew the value of criticism, and both craved and respected the feedback we received, eager to improve our craft. It was a tough but safe bubble.
In one of my private tutorials, my tutor complimented me on the quality of my feedback to other students (our feedback contributed 10% to our grade, but I was more motivated by the thought of genuinely helping my fellow writers). She asked if I had ever considered a career as an editor. Getting this endorsement certainly gave me encouragement, and nudged me towards my future career.
Leaving university, I began to apply for jobs at publishing houses for entry-level editorial assistant jobs. I also began a long distance-learning course in copy-editing. Eventually, I landed a full-time role at a large educational publisher.
Before long, however, I was craving fiction and creativity and writing again. So I decided to take the plunge and do an MA in Creative Writing at Royal Holloway, University of London – while still keeping in touch with my publishing house for the odd freelance project.
The focus of my MA was novel writing, and each of us on the course was plunged into the task. As with my final-year undergraduate class, each week we would critique each other's work – from sentence-level, language and grammar issues to the developing bigger issues such as point-of-view and voice as our novels progressed.
Much of our course was also focused on reading and analysing critical theory related to literature and the craft of novel writing, so that our constructive criticism had a sound academic foundation. I absolutely loved the experience, and my writing and editing skills developed dramatically in the challenging environment.
During my time working in publishing, I also set up my own literary publication called Inkspill Magazine. I decided to host a short-story competition, where all entries received a free critique, to test my critiquing skills in the real world. I received lots of positive feedback and, upon completing my MA, I decided to offer critiquing as a freelance service to writers.
My academic foundation and publishing experience (and the various tests I set myself) provided me with the confidence to offer a critiquing service.
So, what is a manuscript critique?
A critique sounds a bit daunting, akin to the word criticise – but it's not a harsh deconstruction. Essentially, a critique looks at the "big picture" elements of a manuscript (plot, pace, characters, voice, etc.) and offers a constructive analysis, with the aim of showing where the writing succeeds and where it could be improved, to better inform the writer's next step.
It is often called a Manuscript Appraisal, but I favour the term "Manuscript Critique" because what I provide goes beyond an assessment, also offering possible ways to address the issues I might highlight.
The critique is offered as a report, which is usually between 5 and15 pages (though I have written reports of up to 25 pages) depending on how many issues I feel need to be addressed, or depending on the length of the manuscript. It doesn't include any sentence-based editing, though if there is a recurring issue throughout the manuscript, I would flag it up within the report as a general area to look at.
Who are the clients?
Most of my critiquing clients are writers on a journey to self-publication, or writers who want to increase their chances of representation for traditional publication. Generally, a critiquing client will be interested in making sure the core of their novel is as good as it can be, and looking for external professional confirmation and/or suggestions for development.
This type of assessment comes before any copy-editing or proofreading, and can be used to test ideas (with a sample of the novel plus a synopsis) or strengthen complete novels when the writer feels there is more work to be done but is not sure how to go about it.
The benefits of a manuscript critique
A critiquing service is not needed for everyone, but it can help a writer gain a professional outside perspective, help them develop their manuscript, provide confirmation of its quality, and help inform the next step of their project – in the worst-case scenario, that might be to put the novel in a drawer and chalk it up to valuable experience, and in the best-case scenario, it might be to immediately send the project out to agents and publishers! (Often, it will be the steps to take for a further draft.)
Often, beta readers (friends, colleagues, etc.) can give a writer a useful "big picture" perspective on their writing, but a professional critique goes much deeper – with the added benefit of an honest appraisal (something that might be skewed by kindness from friends!).
Writers are often told that they need a thick skin – and that certainly comes in useful with a critique. Though I attempt to critique with the utmost sensitivity and respect, I feel the biggest injustice to a writer would be to offer them hollow advice and empty praise. Sometimes the assessment can be a bit of a shock to the writer, so it is important to remember that the critique is designed to improve the project, and not to negatively criticise the writer as an individual.
It's often very difficult to accept that there might be some fundamental issues with a manuscript that will need substantive work, so when a writer sends their novel to be critiqued, I would say: be prepared for some more hard work ahead!
Copyright 2013 Sophie Playle
Sophie Playle offers writing, editing and critiquing services to independent writers. Find out more: Liminal Pages.
Independent author T.P. Archie recently published A Guide to First Contact, a post-apocalyptic novel set in 2060.
His search for editorial assistance initially led him to me. However, after some discussion about what was needed, we agreed that he’d benefit from an developmental and line editor, not a proofreader.
I pointed him in the right direction and he hired one of my SfEP colleagues to work on the manuscript.
Now he’s been kind enough to take time out of his busy schedule to talk to the Parlour about this experience, and his independent publishing journey more broadly.
Parlour: First of all, congratulations on publishing your book! Can you give us a short synopsis of the novel and tell us how the idea for Guide came about?
T.P. Archie: Hi. Thanks for inviting me in. Guide alternates between the present day and a post-apocalyptic Earth.
On the edge of the solar system, Star Beings plan the next phase of their work. New life. An animite must be hurled onto the third planet. The impact will scatter organic compounds throughout Earth’s biosphere. But there’s a problem: the animite goes missing.
A hundred thousand years later, it’s the 21st century. A space mission to a near-earth object makes an amazing biological discovery which is brought back to Earth. This American secret is trumped when France announces contact with creatures from outer space. Then disaster strikes. Technologies in key industries begin to fail. The West collapses …
It’s now 2060. Most cities are long abandoned. All that remains of the once-mighty United States is the Petits États, centred on New England. Outside of there, civilisation survives in Enclaves, relying on the confederation of Sioux Nations for protection. For forty years a genetic plague has ravaged humanity. It began just after Earth was contacted by aliens. A new and mysterious power – the mandat culturel – controls access to advanced technologies.
Triste, hopeless with girls, but good with guns, is a bounty hunter. He has all the latest ordnance. His contracts pay well but are dangerous. They take him to the ruined cities; he spends a lot of time in the former urban area of New York.
His current mission is to reconnoitre a long lost laboratory. He encounters a ramshackle band of opportunists whom he sends packing. In doing so, he meets Shoe. They find the lab. It has secrets linking it to the collapse of Western civilisation. Shoe is running from her family. She has other secrets.
In the dead shell of Manhattan lurks a secret pensitela base. Their alien biology protects them from the brutal savagery of the place. They have their own reasons for being there.
From the edges of the solar system, a Star Being monitors Earth. It has a plan – and Triste meeting Shoe isn’t accidental. His troubles have just begun. Eventually he is faced by the hard truths behind the fall of the West.
At its most basic, Guide is a series of interlinked narratives that combine to reveal how the apocalypse comes about. Other readings are possible. One of my objectives was to explore different kinds of first contact.
However, Guide didn’t start like that. It began as a test of Novel Writing Software – yes, there’s a product really called that! I planned to write three chapters, which I thought would be sufficient for my purpose.
So out it churned, an endless stream of 'hero takes on hordes from hell'. At about 8,000 words I took stock. I already knew it wasn’t intellectually satisfying yet I had found a writing rhythm. It occurred to me that while I was in my stride, I should experiment.
Why didn’t I add something with a bit of interest? I had a few characters kicking around in my head. "Everyone has a novel in them," I told myself; all I needed was a theme to link them together. In they went; and the violence was trimmed. That was it; I was hooked.
I wrote and added themes. There’s gender reversal – the story won’t work properly without it – and Darwin’s theory of evolution (these two are linked). Then the never-ending Anglo-French rivalry; followed by a drip feed of classical Greek philosophy. Each theme had a purpose. Why? I want SF that makes sense, including the cosmogony. Depicting aliens, for example, requires some attention to how they might see the universe.
In retrospect, I realise I’d grown away from SF/Fantasy; little of what was available appealed to me. I was sitting around waiting for someone to write the stuff I wanted, which wasn’t happening.
Parlour: Could you tell us a bit more about yourself and how you started writing?
T.P. Archie: I qualified as an accountant in 1990. My mother was born to a family of Estonian farmers and my father began life as a cobbler. I grew up in a one-parent family.
Most of my early life was lived in Stoneyholme, a deprived part of Burnley. My mother rented from a block of terraced houses. There was plenty self-inflicted misery, but it was rarely safe to observe.
As the son of an immigrant with a German accent, it was my duty to avoid the occasional beatings that were due to me. Grammar school education informed me that the oppressive reality of working-class life stopped at the edge of the estate.
I began reading SF/Fantasy in my teens. This was later complemented by an interest in classical philosophy and history. Once I started writing, I found a great deal to say.
Parlour: Who are your biggest influences (from a literary point of view)?
T.P. Archie: My formative years were very much influenced by genre authors, e.g. Asimov, Clarke and Heinlein. I continue to be impressed by Tolkien’s myth building and the universe of Frank Herbert’s Dune.
Outside the genre I have found Dostoyevsky, Kafka, Pasternak, George Eliot and Doris Lessing to my taste. I am also partial to Plato and the works of Idries Shah. My writing is also influenced by the work of Orson Welles. (Oh, okay – he didn’t really write :) )
By the way, I’m ridiculously pleased with my Philip K. Dick collection, tatty Ace editions and all. Dick is best known for Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, which inspired Bladerunner. Dick didn't need to spell out apocalypse, yet his settings work. His characters think a great mix of the mundane and the profound. Seemingly omnipotent creatures are driven by biology or freely admit their fallibility, as Glimmung does in Galactic Pot-Healer. Many of his works are laced with dark humour and are worth a reread.
Parlour: Like many other authors around the world, you've decided to go down the independent publishing route. Self-publishing requires the wearing of many hats in addition to the writing. What have been the upsides and the downsides of this decision?
T.P. Archie: Upsides: you control everything. Downsides: you control everything. Okay, that was tongue-in-cheek.
The main benefit is that you are in control over the pace of your development. Once you have a deal, you are locked into it. As an indie author, I don’t feel the constraint of writing to fit genre style/house style. Ask the right questions at author events and the strictures of formulaic writing become clear. I've read widely in my chosen genre, including many of its standards. There are many themes to explore/treat differently.
The most significant drawback was in the narrative – devising a practical approach to self-editing. While shaping ideas, I’d revisit text. If words didn’t come, I’d use "next best", i.e. placeholder terms, and work it until it was there or thereabouts. This resulted in intermittent problem areas. Sometimes I attempted to clean these up but this was a chore.
I’d ask of myself, "What comes through in the narrative? Does it need reshaping?" I was too close to answer that, and a long way from feedback. I moved on. In my heart of hearts, I knew there were better approaches but I lacked the comfort of funds, so investigation wasn't an option. Besides, it was still a hobby.
Did I plan to go DIY? I saw no choice. New authors produce first novels. First novels are best kept locked away in a drawer, hoping no one reads them; or (in my case) kept for practice.
Many new authors go on to sell a few copies to friends and families. It’s a hobby and a fine one. You learn how to put a PDF together; you Photoshop-up a half-way reasonable cover – and if that doesn't appeal there’s plenty of stock imagery out there.
Then you get to make friends with local book-sellers and libraries. Soon your edition has gone from sales of 10 units to say 100 and you can get stuck into decisions such as how many to print (economic order quantity for the business inclined). That’s a long road which begins with up front financial commitment, a dry garage and benign family arrangements.
So, back to me – before I spent, how ready was I? How much confidence had I in my book? What was acceptable quality? What did I do to reach that bar?
These are big, big questions which each author must decide for themselves. Anecdotal evidence suggests that a high proportion of self-published product doesn't make the grade. The follow on question to this, kind of asks itself: Am I self-critical enough? The only way is feedback.
Parlour: So tell us about that. What was your experience regarding feedback?
T.P. Archie: Completing that first draft gave me a tremendous burst of energy. There was so much more to write. What did I do? Jump the gun or wait? There were troublesome areas but I was too close to it to deal properly with them myself. I needed feedback and had none. So I seeded drafts to those who thought they might like to read it through, and I waited.
I hoped that this would put me in a better position to know if it was worth writing more. It was only hobby time, but I might as well get it right. I waited for feedback ... and waited. It was a long time coming. That time was frustrating, to put it mildly.
While I waited, I reacquainted myself with the rudiments of grammar and punctuation. I joined writing groups and reluctantly practised short stories. There’s nothing like reading out loud for finding flaws in your work.
Finally I got feedback from my draft. It became clear that I needed to reshape Guide. I realised there was still a long way to go and I had to up my game. The stage points of that journey weren't yet clear. I continue to practise short stories, which, contrary to my initial opinion, gave significant benefit.
Parlour: How long did it take to get Guide from the conception stage to the marketplace? I ask because some of the conversations I have with more inexperienced indie writers leave me worrying that they might not be being realistic about the length of time the process takes.
T.P. Archie: A quick answer is four years. Could I have done it quicker? No.
Longer answer: At the time, I thought I would be finished with the process in six months. Having said that, it’s worth pointing out that my original objective wasn't writing per se. In fact, it didn't matter if I couldn't write; my objective was to test a software package. It was only when I’d "done enough" for that initial purpose (my target was 8k words) that I realised I had something to say. Basically, I was a committed hobbyist who got sucked in.
My early view changed from "let’s do 8k words" to "I bet I can finish this off in 60k words". I gave myself three months to get to first draft (it took three and a half) and a further three to tidy things up.
This latter goal was totally unrealistic – it assumed a level of proficiency in editing my work that I didn't possess. The three months for first draft misled me because the effort, although considerable, was compacted together. Much longer was needed to give Guide a finished gloss.
How long would I allow now? It would make me uncomfortable to imagine I could do it in less than a year. At the moment I’d calculate the minimum time as:
Why all that extra time? There’s little chance that Guide could have been ready earlier than it was. I wanted to get things right. While I waited for feedback there were things I could do that wouldn't be a waste of time. First things first: a test of commitment, learn the ropes. I learned Lulu (POD/ Print on Demand), dabbled with Photoshop, put work into devising blurb, table of contents, copyright, permission to quote.
The drip of feedback began. I got stuck into editing. The more I did, the bigger Guide got. It started at 60k words and grew to 80k. Then I received good-quality feedback. A complete rethink was required. I needed to convince myself that there was mileage in the next step.
Plusses and minuses two years after first draft would have read:
With hindsight, I now know that my product wasn't ready; I needed to develop as an author. What wasn't clear was how much time was required to become half-way competent.
Much of the past four years has been spent looking for feedback and dealing with it. I've a better idea how much work goes into publishing. Using other expertise means you spend more time in your comfort zone. I've spent a lot of time in business, enough to know that I've little interest in activity that adds little value. Successful authors should prioritise and focus on what they’re good at: writing.
During this time the stages I went through were:
Parlour: Some independent authors take a completely do-it-yourself approach to the self-publishing process – including the cover design, editing and proofreading. Why did you decide to hire an editorial professional, how did you go about the task, and what qualities were you looking for?
T.P. Archie: By 2012 I’d done all I could, Guide could progress further. I rested it. A change of circumstances made that extra investment possible. Browsing on Goodreads gave me the idea that it needed other eyes, and that proofreading might be worth looking into.
I ranked proofreaders; you came top. Hiring an editor was a leap in the dark. I’d little idea of how to proceed so I went with gut instinct. Stephen Cashmore became Guide’s editor.
Parlour: What were the biggest benefits of hiring an editor?
T.P. Archie: It smoothed out my style and helped me understand what worked and what didn't. This has given me confidence in my other projects.
Parlour: Any challenges?
T.P. Archie: Definitely. The main one was to disengage thoroughly from the story design in mind – i.e. what I meant to convey – and actually deal with the editorial comment. I flip-flopped on some changes; in others, what I thought I needed to do didn't work. At times I needed to check my original intent; fortunately, my notes plus backups were up to the task. I found the editing process to be very helpful.
Parlour: If you could do it all over again, would you do anything differently?
T.P. Archie: Interesting question.
As far as the actual writing goes, things fell out as they did. The main characters had been in my head for some years. I felt little urge to write something I could get over the counter; the piece was always going to become complex. The decisions affecting the outcome couldn't be envisaged until after first draft.
Some were merely opportunities, which if not pressed would have held me back – e.g. I pushed for the local writing group to reform, even though I knew little of writing and less of those who would come to make up that group.
Selecting an editor was an act of faith but there was a real choice. I wasn't entirely sure how things would progress. Different outcomes were possible – but given a rewind, I’d be unlikely to do anything differently.
I still have more to learn.
Parlour: Many of this blog’s readers are editors and proofreaders. Is there any advice you’d like to offer to us about dealing with independent authors so that we can do our very best for you? I currently publish a set of Guidelines for New Authors, and, like many other editorial professionals, I'm keen to ensure I offer indie writers the information that’s most helpful to them. So what should we be doing and what might we do better?
T.P. Archie: Many potential clients don’t have a literary background and so won’t understand the value of your services. I think it’s worth taking me as an example ...
In 2012, Guide had progressed as far as I could take it, yet I was certain that its story was worth extra effort to get it into the marketplace. However, what to do wasn't clear. I had little idea what could be achieved and I put it on one side.
I came across the SfEP by accident, while following up a comment made on Goodreads by a US proofreading business. I ran a web search, ranked the results, emailed the top ranking proofreader who helped me find an editor. Encountering you (and hence the SfEP) wasn't a guaranteed outcome. It takes courage for first time indie author to let a professional look at his work.
The edit began. Issues were identified and ranked into major/moderate/minor. Changes were proposed. I prioritised my effort. Nearly all the minor changes were accepted without question. Suggestions for other issues were helpful and I followed many of them.
Guide had several types of problem. The story structure required a rethink, the style was inconsistent, and the text was too fragmented. In many places, the pace of the plot was let down by the narrative.
The benefits from the edit were significant. I put Guide into chronological order. Style excesses and inconsistencies were smoothed out. Fragmented text was joined up. I dealt with problems on a case-by-case basis.
Some solutions came from my editor; dialogue translation was provided for the one chapter where Russian is spoken. This added authenticity without detracting from the pace. In another case a solution evolved in the to and fro of the edit – a lengthy dialogue was demoted to the appendices, where it actually plays better.
The overall result is more readable.
The edit kept me in my comfort zone and solved a major headache; knowing how much to edit, and when to stop, was now solved. I had a better idea of what worked and what didn't. In addition I got an idea of where the boundaries of taste lay (where Guide strays near the edge, it is for story purposes). The whole thing has given me a great deal of confidence; I now know thorny problem areas can be identified and improved.
I'm certain my editor would agree with me if I said I was slow on the uptake. For this, and other reasons, what editors and proofreaders do needs to be out there and spelt out. A book on this sounds a good idea. [Editorial freelancers] are more likely to find value from those who are already seeking out their services.
Parlour: Having now achieved that final goal of getting your novel to market, what advice would you give to any indie author who’s considering self-publishing?
T.P. Archie: Self-publishing requires an author to get a lot of things right. Some of these are tasks with steep learning curves that can take an author away from his/her comfort zone. New authors need to make judgements on where their expertise stops.
Where the processes are mechanical (e.g. POD formatting) it is clear if you have this right or not. As far as the actual writing goes, you are too close to your work to make that call. Any indie author seriously considering first-time publication would do well to consider putting it through copy-editing. I plan to do this with my next novel.
In the case of Guide some kind of final check was needed. Proofreading seemed a good idea; it actually needed copy-editing. That process was well worthwhile.
Parlour: What does the future hold? Do you have plans for future novels, and, if so, will they be in the science fiction genre?
T.P. Archie: I have four genre pieces in progress. In 2012, I dared to look forward, on the heroic assumption that Guide could be finished; I asked myself “What I would like to write next?” The ideas I liked were:
I've made starts on each of these.
There are also a number of themes coming out of Guide that I would find interesting to follow up. Before that happens I’ll do a little marketing. I'm on Goodreads, where I'm planning a "giveaway". I also want to tell local newspapers about Guide. There’s a press release, some bookstores to visit and, in between, I might read a few extracts onto YouTube. I promised to inform Octagon Press, agents to the written works of Idries Shah, as well as the Department of Public Affairs at Mayo Clinics ...
Parlour: Thank you so much, T.P. I think independent authors and editors/proofreaders can all learn a huge amount from the experiences you've so generously shared!
To buy A Guide to First Contact, visit Amazon or Lulu:
You can contact T.P. Archie as follows:
Louise Harnby is a fiction copyeditor and proofreader. She curates The Proofreader's Parlour and is the author of several books on business planning and marketing for editors and proofreaders.
Visit her business website at Louise Harnby | Proofreader & Copyeditor, say hello on Twitter at @LouiseHarnby, or connect via Facebook and LinkedIn.
If you're an author, you might like to visit Louise’s Writing Library to access my latest self-publishing resources, all of which are free and available instantly.
I was recently contacted by someone needing advice on how to go about getting in-house roles within UK publishing houses. She has no experience and, to date, all of her applications for editorial assistant-style jobs to the large presses have been unsuccessful.
Now she's in the process of rethinking her strategy. She believes, rightly, that she needs to give herself a competitive edge and is contemplating enrolling in an MA in publishing. The fees are an issue for her, though, so she asked me if this was the only route in and whether I had any other advice to impart.
That's a tough one. It’s been some years since I worked in-house, and last time I actually applied for a staff role was way back in 1993, after which I joined SAGE Publications. Things have changed a great deal in that time. In my day, two of the most popular places to look for publishing roles were the Guardian newspaper's Marketing & Media section and The Bookseller magazine. And I'm talking about the print versions of these publications. Mainstream use of the internet or email was in its infancy, Facebook had yet to be founded, and a tweet was a sound that a bird made.
In 1993, experience counted – it always has and it always will. Having a degree helped, too (fewer people had these so they made you stand out more and they were a useful way for recruiters to filter the applications). However, the number of graduates looking for entry-level positions in any field is far greater than two decades ago, making the competition stiffer than ever.
It's not that it was ever easy to get a job in publishing, but it was definitely easier.
So, what about that MA? Would it be a good investment or are there other options? Needless to say, I was wary of offering advice that was hopelessly out of date. With that in mind I asked a few in-house pros what their recommendations were. Here’s a ten-point summary of the advice my staffers had to offer.
1. Competition – the reality
Yes, its competitive, more so than ever. Some houses are making staff redundant rather than hiring, meaning there’s a higher number of applicants and a smaller pot of jobs. For every editorial assistant job they advertise, one of my respondents receives at least “70+ applications … unfortunately, it’s simply not possible to reply to every applicant to let them know they will not be invited for an interview”. For many organizations, the application rate is much higher.
2. Training courses
“Short courses at the Publishing Training Centre are a cheaper alternative to an MA, and probably more relevant.” The PTC was mentioned by all of my respondents. If you’re not familiar with this organization, it is highly respected and often the training provider of choice for publishing houses in the UK, not only when they’re evaluating CVs but also when they’re organizing in-house staff training. There was general agreement that MAs are certainly not the only option, though they are one route.
3. Using the side door
Be prepared to start at the bottom and work your way up. Some junior editorial and production staff start their publishing careers in administrative roles such as secretaries, PAs, receptionists, or similar. This route gets you "in publishing", and, once in, you'll have the inside track on recruitment opportunities. More importantly, you’ll have the chance to form friendships with staff in the department you have your eye on. You can learn from them informally, and register a strong interest in any future positions that become available.
Internships are increasingly the name of the game – both paid and unpaid, and sometimes several rounds for a number of different companies. They give you an on-site taster of exactly what the job entails. Send in your CV and a letter enquiring about work experience/internships. Anthony Haynes, on his Monographer blog, advises finding the actual names of the relevant people. I wholeheartedly agree. Your letter is less likely to fall foul of the crumple and toss if it ends up on the appropriate person's desk.
One of the publishing people I talked to suggested that companies will keep CVs on file for about six months and get in touch if any opportunities do arise. And while you may baulk at the idea of working for free, having no experience can only do you harm in today's market.
“Work experience reflects well as it demonstrates that someone is prepared to work hard for an insight into the industry and is unlikely to ‘flake out’ after trying the job for only a few weeks/months. There’s nothing worse than training someone who claims to be sure they want the role, only for them to quit when they realise it’s not all ‘pretty books’ and grateful authors!”
Publishers offering internships must take care to operate within the law. Unpaid internships are illegal in certain circumstances. See the UK government's Employment rights and pay for interns.
5. Use social media and the web
If you don’t already have a Twitter account, get one and start following all the publishers you are interested in. This will provide you with a one-stop feed that will inform you when these companies are recruiting or when they are doing an internship drive. Check out all the publisher websites for similar details.
Take the utmost care with your presentation at all times, even when using social media informally – you never know when the person to whom you’ve sent your CV is checking your social media feeds: “Sloppy grammar (even on Facebook), is a little worrying, as it says to me that this person only switches on their ‘attention to detail’ when they think necessary, which doesn’t fit the profile of someone genuinely interested in and capable of undertaking such a role.”
6. Open days
Some publishers, like Penguin, run open days for graduates who want to get a feel for the kinds of opportunities available and the skills needed. Attending these can be an excellent way to get valuable advice from those in the know.
7. Spotless grammar and spelling
All of my staffers agreed that top-notch spelling and grammar are absolutely essential! Your covering letters and CVs need to be spotless. "Attention to detail is of the utmost importance … a silly typo or poorly constructed cover letter and CV mark the difference between a positive and negative outcome,” said one of my respondents.
8. Recruitment agencies
Sign up with publishing recruitment agencies like Inspired Selection and Atwood Tate. Some publishers recruit solely through them. They will also be able to give some helpful advice on your CV, interviewing skills, etc.
9. Don't focus solely on the large houses
While some of the larger presses such as Random House, Macmillan, Faber and Penguin do regular internships, they naturally attract more applicants. In addition, consider contacting smaller presses about work experience. This can be invaluable experience because in smaller presses in-house staff often have to work within a broader remit. The breadth of your learning experience might well enable you to bring more to the table when you are selling on your experience.
I know I don't need to say this, but just in case you don't realize, "small" doesn't equate to "less respected". Small presses are doing mighty things within the publishing industry. One of my local independents, Salt Publishing, has a Man Booker shortlisted author on its books. And the Independent Publishers Guild Awards are an annual industry highlight!
10. Cast your net wide
When I was applying for publishing jobs in the 1990s, I learned quickly that if you want to maximize your chances of success, applying for a job here and a job there won't make the cut. Be prepared to cast your net as wide as you can. I sent a lot of applications – and I mean a lot. I got no reply to most, a "thank you but, no, we won't be taking your application any further" from a few, and the opportunity to interview for even fewer. But I landed a job eventually and once I had a foot in, other doors opened far more easily. The rest is history.
Tenacity will always pay higher dividends than narrowly focused pessimism, so keep trying!
One of my publisher contacts summed it up nicely: "Looking at my own career trajectory, and of those colleagues hired just before or in the months after me, in roles similar to, or within a grade or two of mine, and asking people I know in similar publishing houses, it seems that there isn't a single route into in-house roles. Internships, moves across [departments], and MAs in publishing can all be seen.”
There are no rights or wrongs. You’ll need to be committed and persistent, and the more experience you can gain and the more contacts you make, the better your chances.
I hope these tips are useful. Good luck on your publishing journey!
With thanks to the in-house publishing pros who took the time to share their knowledge and advice.
Recent weeks have seen the publication of a number of really interesting resources* that focus the editorial freelancer's attention on pricing structures. I thought I'd jot down my views on the issue, particularly since it's one of those that new entrants to the field are often most curious about.
An effective pricing strategy is central to any serious marketing plan, since marketing our services is about making ourselves interesting to potential clients. How we present our prices to our clients is therefore important. I'm actually less interested in what my colleagues charge than how they present that fee.
Talk of pricing in our community has a tendency to generate controversy, as discussed in my colleague Adrienne Montgomerie's recent post on Copyediting.com.* That's because one of the most well-used concepts in the world of sales – that of the discount – can end up being overused, not because members of the editorial community are deliberately trying to undercut each other, but because many of us live in a culture where deals are the norm.
Whether we're in the supermarket or the book store, we'll be confronted with BOGOFs, three-for-two offers, or 25% discounts. Sales take place all year round these days and there's always a bargain to be had somewhere. What does this mean for editorial freelancers? Is giving money off the only way to get attention?
In a comment that I wrote in response to Adrienne's excellent article, I put forward the idea of value-on thinking, as opposed to a money-off approach when considering the pricing of editorial services.
What's wrong with discounting?
There's nothing intrinsically wrong with the concept of discounting. This strategy has been used effectively since people began trading goods and services, but my own view is that it needs to be used with care. Here are three reasons why:
Putting yourself in your customer's shoes
There are ways of presenting a quotation to a client that have a value-on rather than money-off focus. And they're not hard to find, even for the newbie. One simple way of working out how to structure your own quotations in a value-on way can be achieved by putting yourself in your customer's shoes.
Take my recent purchase of a new computer, for example. Prior to visiting the store I jotted down some notes about what I wanted, in order of importance:
It was obvious to me that I wasn't going to get that package by looking for the cheapest pc on the market. If I wanted cheap, I'd have to sacrifice my top three preferences. I did have a budget in mind before I started my research, but it was never going to be about just the price. This was going to be my new business computer – I needed it to do what it said on the tin, first and foremost. It's not that I had a bottomless purse, but price was one factor among several and had to be balanced against functionality.
A value-on alternative to editorial pricing
I believe that a lot of my customers are just like me – they have a list of things that they want from me. Price will be in there, but it will be one factor among many. I like to structure my quotations with that in mind. As part of my request for a quotation I therefore do the following:
In this way, the price I offer them is framed within the value of what I'm bringing to the table. They can see what they're getting and why I think I'm worth it. Rather than getting their attention by talking about what they save, I focus on what they gain.
Don't be afraid
If you're a new entrant to the field, it can seem like the most obvious thing in the world to say, "Okay, I'm new at this so I'd better not charge too much. And even if I'm good at this, I don't have a huge portfolio of clients to brag about so I better go in low – that way I'll get the client's attention."
You may be right. You may well attract those clients that are only interested in the cheapest deal. But it's worth considering that not all clients are looking for cheap. In fact, that's not top of the list for many customers. Most of the people who ask me to proofread for them want a top-notch job and don't baulk at the fee I suggest. Many self-publishers and business owners may not have used a proofreader or editor before. They're therefore more interested in trust, engagement, ability and quality.
If you can think about the interesting things that you bring to the table and that are of value to the client (for example, previous relevant career experience; industry-recognized training; testimonials; professional code of conduct; a commitment to quality; a readiness to take the time to understand exactly what they need), then you can use these USPs as part of your quotation. By placing your price within a framework of value, you shift the emphasis towards the professional, high-quality service that you offer and away from the financial hit they'll take.
What do you think? Do you use the discount as a primary sales tool when quoting for a new client or do you have alternative ways of framing your quotations?
* Related resources:
'Louise uses her expertise to hone a story until it's razor sharp, while still allowing the author’s voice to remain dominant.'
'I wholeheartedly recommend her services ... Just don’t hire her when I need her.'
J B Turner
'Sincere thanks for a beautiful and elegant piece of work. First class.'
'What makes her stand out and shine is her ability to immerse herself in your story.'
'A million thanks – your mark-up is perfect, as always.'