The Proofreader's Parlour
A blog for editors, proofreaders and writers
If you’re thinking about setting up an editing or proofreading business, and decide to call someone you've identified as having the necessary experience, these five tips aim to help you make a good impression. They’re based on a recent telephone discussion (and email follow-up) I had with a new starter – someone completely unknown to me – who really made me want to engage with her.
1. Recognize that you’re costing them money
My caller acknowledged that her time on the phone with me was costing me money. I appreciated this because she demonstrated her respect for the fact that I'm running a business. Every minute I spend focussing on someone else’s business development is a minute I'm not spending on my own.
If you were to hire a professional consultant, you might be expected to pay at least £50 per hour. The rates aren't important for the purposes of this discussion. Rather, the point is that you would be paying for a service – and whether it costs £30, £50, £100 or £200 an hour, it would cost you. So when your chosen specialist agrees to talk to you for half an hour for free, that’s money staying in your pocket and time they have to make up out of hours so that their income isn't affected.
2. Be prepared with the necessary information
My caller was ready with the information I needed to know in order to guide her – key points about her educational and career background that enabled me to identify the next steps she needed to take. She didn't ramble on about how she’s good at spotting typos in newspaper articles and really loves reading. Instead, she focussed on the fact that she wanted to set up a proofreading business and needed advice on what were the best steps forward. In other words, she concentrated on what she needed to do next, rather than what she already liked or felt. This made a super impression on me because I didn't feel I was spending my valuable time (and money – see above) having a chitchat with a stranger. Instead I was focussing on her business goals.
With that in mind, before you pick up the phone (or write an email), make a bullet list of your career skills, educational achievements, any training you feel might be relevant, any transferable skills, and previous experience so that the editorial pro you’re talking to has an overall view of your potential fit within the market.
When my caller had finished giving me the necessary background information, and answered a few further questions, I started to talk, and she listened. Again, this made my engagement with her a really positive experience – for me as well as her. I knew she was paying close attention to what I was saying because the only time she interrupted me was to ask me to repeat something she hadn't managed to scribble down in the notes she was speedily taking. She didn't spend my time/money telling me information that wasn't relevant to our discussion about her business plans (the liked/felt issues I mentioned in point 2), and she wasn't trying to be my new best friend (I already have one of those).
If you call up an experienced colleague-to-be, have your note-taking gear to hand, keep your ears sharp, and ensure the conversation remains streamlined by not straying from the reason you phoned.
4. Be ready for the worst and the best
My caller asked me for a brutally honest assessment of her prospects. This is really important because it showed me that she understood something fundamental – she was considering becoming a self-employed editorial business owner, and it wasn't going to be something she could just fall into without being engaged, active and organized. She didn't ring me up expecting me to tell her not to worry, everything would be fine if she just dipped her toe in the water, had a group hug with a few friends and waited to see how things went. She absolutely got the fact that there were things she needed to do, now and in the future, to have the best chance of developing a solid client base and regular work stream that would secure a sustainable income (as defined by her needs). I threw the kitchen sink at her, and she caught it. And I suspect that because she’s holding that sink, she’s better prepared for what’s ahead, and highly likely to get where she wants to be.
Not everyone wants a kitchen sink thrown at them (which is fine), but then someone who doesn't want a sink probably shouldn't bother making the call in the first place. Imagine you paid a consultant fifty quid for some advice, and instead of offering you substantive ideas for your business development they just had a little chitchat with you for half an hour. Me? I’d feel short-changed. I’d want my money back! Toe-dipping is fine if that's your preference, but don't expect a stranger to spend half an hour of their working day to have a chinwag with you about it. They've other things they could be doing with their time.
5. Show your gratitude
It’s such a simple thing, but saying "thank you" makes a huge difference. My caller followed up with an email that thanked me for the time I’d taken out of my busy schedule to help her. She told me that our frank discussion had helped her no end, and given her the confidence to pursue her dream job but with her eyes wide open. She also told me that she’s already taken some of the steps I’d recommended and would follow through on the others as she moved through her planning process.
I’ll keep in touch with her. She impressed me with her professional and gracious attitude and I want to know how she gets on. I know that the time I gave her cost me something, but plenty of people give me free support and advice so that's fair enough – I'm happy to give my time, as long it's spent productively and the person who's contacted me has already put some work into thinking about the objectives of our discussion.
* * *
One of the best things about the editorial business community is the opportunity for networking and sharing. Working for yourself today is a very different experience to working for yourself in the pre-internet world. You’re never really alone, even if you’re the only person physically standing in your office. Hundreds of us choose to engage and support each other with free advice and support every day of the week, and that support takes place across continents. That’s what makes it such a brilliant, if demanding, career proposition.
If you’re thinking about joining that community, here are a few resources to get you going. Consider reading these before you make that phone call. They’re international, so there’s something for everyone. Most are free, all but three cost less than six quid, and all twelve cost less than a consultant would charge! There are many more resources out there but a reading of these will lead you to others.
The Weekly Review offers links to useful editing, proofreading, freelancing and publishing news articles published online in the past seven days.
Some time back I had a Facebook discussion with my colleague Adrienne Montgomerie about the importance of putting yourself in your audience’s shoes when you write.
This involves acknowledging the language, concepts and experiences that are relevant to them.
In addition, it’s important to remember that your readers won’t hang around when evaluating your words. They’re busy people, so the first few lines will inform their response to the rest of your argument.
Breaking the rules …
Despite my awareness of both concepts, I recently broke my own rules.
In a blog article that sought to explore the ways in which we can influence our potential clients’ perceptions of our ability to deliver on the claims we make about our editorial services, I was so wrapped up in my fascination with the concept of ‘truthiness’ that I overlooked a section of my audience.
US political satirist Stephen Colbert is credited with having coined the term ‘truthiness’ back in 2005. He was mocking politicians and the way they (mis)represent their claims in order to manipulate the electorate. I introduced Colbert’s name in the first few lines of the discussion and then swiftly moved on.
Why did I move on? Well, I wasn’t much interested in Colbert. I’m based in the UK. The Comedy Central channel isn’t available on my TV and while I’m aware of who Colbert is, he’s not top of my radar when it comes to political satire. I’m much more likely to think of Dara Ó Briain, Chris Morris, or Armando Iannucci.
What I was really interested in was how the marketing and social psychology communities had taken Colbert’s ‘truthiness’ and begun to explore its relevance to how people think and behave, and how we editors and proofreaders might use it to think about how our customers perceive us.
But I didn’t explain this until the third paragraph, and even then I didn’t focus on the differences between Colbert’s motives and these more recent explorations.
Because my focus on was on my interest, I failed to acknowledge that a chunk of my audience (particularly those in North America) might home in on my early mention of Colbert.
The result was that a discussion emerged on the lines of “that’s not what Colbert meant” rather than “forget Colbert – look at how his truthiness concept is being used NOW”.
Not only had I ignored the cultural framework of a big chunk of my audience, I’d used the most important space in the design of my article (the first few lines) to introduce information that I didn’t want my readers to concentrate on. In doing so, I created a focus for my discussion that I never intended.
… and learning the lessons
Fortunately, I was given the opportunity to tweak the blog article and explain myself in the comments section.
More important though were the valuable lessons I learned:
I stand by the points I was trying to make in that article, but I recognize that this was not my best piece of writing. I can live with that.
One of my favourite sayings is “there’s no such thing as failure, just lessons learned”.
Learning lessons is difficult without feedback, though, so the fact that some of my editorial colleagues were open to discussing the issue allowed me to think about the mistakes I’d made in the way I’d presented my argument.
Getting feedback – let the editors edit you!
Whether you’re creating marketing copy, developing added value (training booklets or tutorials, for example), networking with your editorial colleagues via blogs or online discussion boards, or writing a book, article or report, listen to the feedback from readers and editors so that you can hone your message and communicate clearly.
Other people’s responses to your words are a fabulous indicator of whether you’ve said what you meant to say.
All of us are prone to thinking that because we’ve clarified the finer points of an argument in our own minds, the resulting words on the page reflect this. It’s so often not the case, and it’s for this reason that being edited is such a high-value proposition.
Achieving clarity is something editors do for a living. They’re good at it!
I’ve certainly taken note of what some of my editorial colleagues told me and I hope that it will make me a better communicator. If writing is an important part of what you do, embrace critique, especially from experienced professionals.
You can only gain from the experience.
Louise Harnby is a professional proofreader and copyeditor. 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, say hello on Twitter at @LouiseHarnby, or connect via Facebook and LinkedIn.
The Weekly Review offers links to useful editing, proofreading, freelancing and publishing news articles published online in the past seven days.
I’m delighted to welcome Will Travaglini from Tracker Software Products, developers and creators of the rather marvellous PDF-XChange. Will’s agreed to talk to us about how Tracker’s product range can help editorial freelancers with their PDF-related business needs.
And Will has some great news: Tracker are offering Parlour readers a whopping 35% discount on any of their end user products. Simply email them at firstname.lastname@example.org, including a link to this article in the body of your message, and they'll send you the promo code.
Louise: First of all, Will, can you tell us a little bit about PDF-XChange – what it is and how we can use it? I know that this isn’t Tracker Software’s only product but it’s the one that most proofreaders and copy-editors working with PDFs might initially be most interested in, so I’d like to start there.
Will: PDF-XChange is a range of products that are meant for the viewing, annotating and manipulation of PDFs, as well as the conversion of many, many different file types to PDF (such as Word documents, Excel spreadsheets, CAD files, etc.)
Louise: Anyone who’s bought a new computer lately might well be working with Windows 8. Is your software compatible?
Will: Definitely. I’m running Windows 8 on three separate machines (all with very different hardware)
and everything works as expected for myself. I also have two of colleagues that are running
Windows 8 and it works fine for them – we have been given our official Windows 8 compatibility
certification from Microsoft, so there should be no issues.
Louise: So, I imagine that Adobe Acrobat is your primary competitor. Let’s talk about the freebies on
offer from both Adobe and Tracker Products. Is there anything the free version of XChange can’t do
that Acrobat Reader can? Are there any other differences?
Will: I believe that the key differences are that we offer more extensive mark-up capabilities, such as
a greater flexibility with the customization of the annotations themselves, a more extensive stamp
creation ability, etc. Adobe Reader isn’t able to save data that has been entered into a fillable form,
which is something that Viewer is capable of. We also offer a free OCR (Optical Character Recognition) module that comes with the Viewer and that is entirely free to use, which I don’t believe that Adobe Reader has. Lastly, if you have a license for the Viewer, then PDF-XChange Lite (conversion printer) also comes free with that license, so you would be able to install a licensed version of one of our print drivers.
Louise: What are the main differences between the free PDF-Change Viewer, the Standard version
and the PRO version?
Will: Well, the Viewer is a PDF Reader/PDF Annotation tool. It allows for PDFs to be both viewed and
read, or to be annotated with sticky notes (digital Post-it notes), textboxes, stamps, etc. You can
also use it to create PDFs from scratch, rather than, say, converting from a Word document to a PDF. You can also add new pages to existing PDFs and all sorts of other different things.
PDF-XChange Standard, on the other hand, is a virtual printer that acts like a real, physical printer
but, instead of printing to paper, it will "print" to PDF. This can be done from virtually any Windows
application that can print to a printer. Standard also comes with our Office add-in, which puts a
toolbar plugin in any installed Microsoft Office applications and, using that add-in to convert to PDF, it
will, in most cases, offer a far better conversion than the regular File --> Print --> PDF-XChange
Printer 2012 method. It also installs a plugin for Internet Explorer because, without getting too
technical here, web pages can sometimes be difficult to convert using the Windows printing system;
the IE plugin allows for a far more consistent conversion that the File --> Print method. The last thing
to note about Standard is that it also comes with a program called Office2PDF5, which allows users
to convert multiple MS Office documents (i.e. 25 Word documents) into PDF at once or using a
watched folder that will automatically convert any supported file placed in the watched folder to
PDF-XChange PRO 2012 is our three bestselling PDF-related products bundled into one installer and license. Installing this will give you the Viewer, PDF-XChange Standard (the printer that I mentioned) and PDF-Tools, which is a utility for the batch processing of large PDF files and/or large quantities of PDF documents (for example, if you to need to merge 60 PDF files into one, or you need to place the same watermark on 30 different PDF files, etc.).
Louise: And, related to the second question, is there anything the Standard and PRO versions of
XChange can’t do that Acrobat’s equivalents can? It’s an important question because your product is
significantly cheaper. Many people reading this run small businesses, so it’s not just about the
money. We need excellent functionality in order to offer a professional level of service – any return
on investment, large or small, needs to deliver value as defined by quality as much as anything else,
financial outlay included.
Will: The creation of fillable forms is something that can’t be done with our end user products at the
moment, but the ability to do this is going to be implemented in the next major version of the
Viewer, in the form of a plugin.
Also, the next major version of the Viewer will be able to edit the base content of a PDF, which
Adobe Professional can do now. This next major version has been renamed PDF-XChange
Editor, to reflect its headline functionality. I should mention that a pre-release of the Editor is
available to try and the editing functionality is implemented already, though it does require a Viewer,
PDF-Tools or PRO bundle license.
Louise: PDF-XChange isn’t currently available for Macs. Are there any plans to rectify this and if not,
can you advise our readers of a solution?
Will: It’s something that’s been talked about but, for the time being, it’s unlikely we will release
anything for Apple platforms. There are a multitude of reasons for this but, largely, it’s because we
would have to re-write the program from the ground up and in an entirely different programming
language, so it would likely take years to accomplish.
Should users want to use our software on Mac, we have had many reports of great success running
our software through a PC emulator, such as CrossOver or Wine for MAC. Users should be aware,
though, that we cannot support the program when it’s being run through an emulator and, though
we don’t anticipate issues, they do have the potential to occur and users purchase a license at their
own risk in such circumstances.
Louise: If someone already has the free version of XChange Viewer, how much will it cost them to
upgrade and how do they register to enable all the Pro features?
Will: The Viewer is currently US$37.50, which is, at the moment, about £22.48. It’s important to note that we are in the process of finishing off the PDF-XChange Editor, which is the next
major version of the Viewer. Once the Editor has been released for sale, we do intend to increase the price, slightly, to US$43.50, which will reflect the extended functionality/capabilities.
When that happens the Viewer will cease to be for sale, though it will still be available as a free download.
As for registration of the product - if/when a user has purchased a license, they have two options to get
the programs to function in PRO mode. The first, and the one we recommend, would be to uninstall,
then re-install and copy/paste the serial key (provided in an email after purchase) into the installer when
asked – if you need instructions on how to do this, they are here.
The other method is to enter the keys manually, without re-installation. If you’d prefer this method and
need instructions, see this KB article instead. (Note: While this is a KB article for the PRO bundle, it provides instructions on manually entering the key for all of our end user, PDF-related products.)
Louise: Two of my colleagues had some queries about using PDF-XChange. If you could address them
here that would be great:
Will: (1) This isn’t something that can be done in the Viewer, but can be done in the pre-release of
the PDF-XChange Editor. (2) In the Editor, the Edit Content tool automatically invokes the carat tool when a block of content is clicked on; this is also be available in the pre-release of the Editor.
Louise: Are there any other Tracker Software tools that you’d like to tell us about?
Will: I’m not sure whether any of our other products would be useful for the average proofreader,
but we do offer a printer driver called Raster-XChange that, instead of printing to PDF as our other
printers do, prints to your choice of one of 15 different Raster image formats (i.e. tiff, jpeg, png,
Louise: Many thanks, Will. This is incredibly useful. And thanks to everyone at Tracker for offering Parlour readers a promotional discount!
I learned a new word yesterday: Truthiness. Try rolling it around your mouth –it's delicious! Perhaps you already knew it. And even if you did, are you embedding the concept in your marketing strategy?
“Truthiness” was Merriam-Webster's Word of the Year in 2006. Comedian Stephen Colbert defined it as "truth that comes from the gut, not books" (cited in Merriam-Webster). He was poking fun at politicians. But so as not to confuse the issue, I'm not here to talk party politics. I'm using it in the sense that Oxford defines it: "the quality of seeming or being felt to be true, even if not necessarily true".
I'm not the only one who likes it. I won’t bore you with the details of how I ended up reading an abstract of an article published in the Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, but, to summarize, the authors present experimental research that investigates how using photographs introduces a “truth bias” – in other words, when you make a claim and attach an image to it, the people assessing that claim are more likely to judge it to be true, whatever the facts. Images “inflate truthiness” (Newman et al. 2012).
What does this mean for the professional editor, proofreader or indexer?
Thinking about the customer ...
Customers searching for editorial assistance want to believe they’re in a safe pair of hands – that you and I will follow through on the claims we make about the services we provide and the benefits they’ll receive as a result. They want to be able to trust us to do the job that they’re paying for.
A customer might search a specialist editorial directory (like the UK’s Society for Editors and Proofreaders’ Directory of Editorial Services, or the Editorial Freelancers Association’s Member Directory). Or they might do a Google search. However they find you, and wherever they find you, within a matter of seconds they’ll decide whether to keep your information on their computer screen, or close the window and move on to one of your colleagues.
Doing everything possible to keep that person engaged is therefore good business practice. It means ensuring that our websites and directory listings (in fact, any of our marketing materials, online or in print) are aesthetically pleasing to the eye, engaging to read, and believable.
Like many of my colleagues, I’ve invested a great deal of time and effort trying to communicate the business solutions I offer my customers. I provide a comprehensive online portfolio that demonstrates my experience, and an array of glowing testimonials from a satisfied client base. I believe they are key elements of an overall marketing strategy that seeks to engender a sense of “truthiness” in the mind of the customer who finds me online – a gut feeling that I’m a good bet. The stronger that gut feeling, the more likely they are to hit the Contact button.
Visual cues and truthiness
Newman et al.’s research asserts that simply adding a photograph can enhance this trust – this gut feeling. And that tells me the following:
It tells me that a thumbnail jpeg of lil’ ol’ me has the ability to embed truthiness in the minds of my potential customers – that I am more likely to be asked to quote for proofreading work than I would be if that picture wasn't there.
It’s not just my face that’s important. Something else to consider is how the testimonials on my website could make even more of an impact if I were to add pictures of my endorsers (with their permission, of course). The point is here that those testimonials are more likely to be believed if the reader can see an image of the person who wrote the words.
Verbal cues and truthiness
Newman et al. go further. Not only do images “inflate truthiness” – so do voices. Some of my colleagues – Nick Jones of Full Media for one – worked this out without reading articles from academic journals, and have been using audio and video testimonial feeds on their websites for some time. For many of us, that may seem like a big step to take, but any serious editorial business owner (particularly one who’s in the early stages of customer growth and business development) needs to at least consider the marketing opportunities available.
Let me be clear. I understand the difference between truthiness and truth. Actual truth is one thing. A perception of truth is quite another. When it comes to marketing, perhaps especially online marketing, perception counts. Adding a photo or another dynamic cue to your website doesn't change the actual truth of the claims you are making. The actual truth will be the same today as it was the day before those additions. What it changes is people's belief in those claims. That's all. That's truthiness.
Effective marketing is about grabbing a potential client’s attention and keeping it. By all means, start with the words, but why not enhance the believability of the story you tell with visual, audio and video cues? Spread a little truthiness and see what happens!
Addendum: I decided to add a short note to this piece after a few readers expressed concern about this concept, both here and on other social media platforms. I'd like to reiterate the point that when we're marketing we're dealing with perceptions. However, once we've captured the customer's attention, got the job, and done a high-quality piece of work, then, and only then, will they know the facts – that their perceptions of our claims were indeed real. Truthiness has transformed into truth.
The Weekly Review offers links to useful editing, proofreading, freelancing and publishing news articles published online in the past seven days.
Most of my publisher clients don't want me to worry too much about where a word break occurs unless it will cause confusion, mispronunciation or alarm.
Oxford therefore recommends the following:
Until this afternoon I'd always turned to my trusty New Oxford Spelling Dictionary. It's served me well and as I said above I don't often have cause to use it. However, I do have one client who wants every end-of-line hyphen checked. The projects they send me are magazine articles, three columns to a page. Word breaks abound. And since the client pays on a flat-fee basis for each job, looking up these darn things impacts on my hourly rate in no small way.
I blogged last year about Oxford Dictionaries Pro, and the online access it provides to its dictionaries and thesauri, New Hart's Rules and Pocket Fowler's Modern English Usage.
What I hadn't clocked is that the word-break function is available there too. Maybe you already knew. My colleague Sarah Nisbet certainly did and happened to mention it in one of the online forums she participates in. If she'd been standing next to me, I'd have kissed her.
So just in case you didn't know, online word-break checking is just a click away (for ODP online users, anyway). See the images below for where to tap.
However, I'm not chucking away my print book quite yet. There are limitations to the online version. For example, "wingless" doesn't have its own entry, but is part of the definition of "wing", so the preferred break (wing | less) isn't offered.
Still, I do see some productivity increases on the horizon!
As a follow-up to my recent post on Enhancing the "added-value" in your editorial marketing strategy with video, I thought I’d share my progress so far.
In that post I mentioned that I’d like to try screencasting to demonstrate the installation instructions for my PDF proofreading stamps.
Screencasting, for those not in the know, is the process of capturing exactly what you’re doing on your computer screen, and it’s often combined with an audio feed. It’s a brilliant and (sometimes) inexpensive way to demonstrate detailed instructions that don’t always translate well using only the written word.
I was fortunate that some of my more experienced colleagues, John Espirian, Nick Jones and Adrienne Montgomerie in particular, had lots of useful advice to share, and while I ended up going down a slightly different route in terms of software (by necessity), their guidance set me on the right road and clarified the process for me.
For my first screencasting project, I decided to experiment with the instructions that I'd prepared for automatic installation into PDF-XChange. The written instructions have tripped up some new users and I was convinced that a video demo of me installing the stamps might solve the problem. After all, over the past two years I've taken several calls from struggling colleagues and when I've talked them through the installation on the phone, they've succeeded where they’d previously failed. If my voice guiding them could solve the problem, a combined video feed should be even more effective.
Since the kit was being used for an activity that wouldn't actually generate any income for me, I needed to be careful about what I spent. I wanted quality but felt it would be foolhardy to invest in expensive commercial equipment and software at this stage.
After some investigation I settled for a Logitech headset that cost me £25. It includes a set of comfortable earphones and a mic attached to the headband that clips down into recording position. They are widely available – I picked up mine from a local supermarket.
I then downloaded Microsoft’s Expression Encoder 4. This probably isn’t the most sophisticated screencasting software on the market, but I found it user-friendly and excellent for the purposes of making a simple video tutorial. And it’s completely free, though you are limited to making videos of no longer than 15 minutes. But honestly – who wants to listen to me rambling on for any longer than that?!
Creating the screencast
After about ten passes, I came up with something that I was happy to post online. It's here if you want to take a look (or if you're struggling to install my proofreading stamps), and I think the video demonstration is a good complement to the written instructions. It's not perfect, but Adrienne Montgomerie assures me that in this kind of situation, where we're communicating with colleagues and want that personal touch, perfection isn't always necessary. As always, we need to consider who our audience is, what their expectations are, and the impact our message will have on our business. If I was creating a promotional video to advertise my business or a testimonial video to complement the written endorsements on my website (as outlined by Nick Jones on his Full Media blog), perfection would be at the top of my list.
Encoding and uploading my screencast to YouTube proved easier than expected. Not surprisingly, I found a video created by TheBenVidz on YouTube that showed me exactly how to do this with Expression Encoder 4. Then I used Weebly's free YouTube plug-in to embed the video on my website, added the necessary link, and the job was done.
I'm off now to plan my Oscar-acceptance speech ...
I'd like to thank my partner [sniffs], by daughter [sobs], my best mate [hysterical howls] and all my colleagues in the editorial freelancing industry [completely breaks downs]. It's been emotional ...
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All text on this blog, The Proofreader's Parlour, and on the other pages of this website (unless indicated otherwise) is in copyright © 2011–17 Louise Harnby. Please do not copy or reproduce any of the content, in whole or part, in any form, unless you ask first.
Author Member of The Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi). I abide by its Code of Standards in regard to my status as an independent writer.
Advanced Professional Member of the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP). I'm a signatory to its code of practice as a professional editor.
Featured in The Book Designer's Carnival of the Indies: Joel Friedlander's collection of 'outstanding articles recently posted to blogs'.
Winner of the Judith Butcher Award 2017 in respect of 'highly visible contributions to the SfEP and its membership'.