Ever wondered how a professional book index is created? My colleague Vanessa Wells offers an honest and humorous glimpse into the world of a pro indexer – the challenges and the joys, and the 'sense of having created a beautiful thing'.
Let's take a peek into Vanessa's diary ...
I attended the Canadian national indexing conference in Montreal, where we – like most conference attendees – go to strengthen connections with colleagues and expand our professional knowledge. Since the indexing community in Canada is very small, this is a valuable investment and full of good people.
As a result of the conference, I’ve received a referral and am being hired by a university professor to write an index for a 220K-word anthology he’s editing with 22 chapters and almost as many contributors. It’s a ‘straightforward’ index of ‘names and titles’ which, of course, means that it’s both a name and subject index in reality. Yikes.
Against my usual policy, I agree to meet the professor in person, as the campus is close by and it would be faster than exchanging several emails. An excellent meeting results in ironing out expectations, discussing needs and agreeing we’re on the same page! It’s due July 26.
I send him my contract to review, and we discuss rates. Rate structure, I find from speaking to other indexers, is variable. Some people will work for $2/page; others charge much more. A figure I often hear is $5/page, but that definitely depends on your market – geographically and by genre, specialization, and timeline.
An independent author writing a non-fiction trade book is not going to generate the same fee as a university-paid gig. Some indexers provide other means of calculating their fees, such as a flat project fee.
I tell him my academic rate, and he agrees. I submit my invoice for a non-refundable 30% deposit, payable before work begins.
Proofs are due. They don’t arrive. They’re rescheduled by publisher for the 30th … While publishing timelines are often shifting (there’s a domino effect when a hitch arises), the end deadlines of proofreading and indexing are rarely budged.
So now I have to recalculate the number of hours and pages per day I’ll have to complete to meet the non-budging due date of July 26. Four days lost means Goodbye, weekends! for the duration.
It’s a long weekend here for #Canada150, our sesquicentenary. I’m so wiped from the previous month of conferences and making a second website for the new arm of my business that I take (most of) the weekend off. I can’t afford to get sick during this project. Self-care and all that.
Forgot I start a weekly course on Tuesday afternoons for the summer, with an appointment this morning. Will have to start tomorrow. Now that I’ve lost another 5 days, I’ll have not only to work weekends but very long days, everyday. My bad.
21 days to go: I begin the pre-read (see above photo) to start gathering my thoughts on how I’ll approach this behemoth. And I need at least 3 days at the end to edit the written index, so really I only have 18 days available.
I note there are A LOT of errors still in the MS. I judiciously email AU to double check that it’s been edited and that no other file is forthcoming. He confirms it has been copyedited … Sigh.
Re-install my $500USD indexing software on my new PC. Pay $39 for TextExpander, which is an online tool that lets you build a library of ‘snippets’, sort of like hot keys or macros, but it’s much simpler and faster. Using TextExpander for repeated, long index headings is making my life so much easier: it works pretty well with .ucdx files!
I’m already 50 pages behind. Indexing academic books is so much harder because you have to interpret the often-verbose language to get to the ideas (then re-edit them in your mind) and THEN start forming index relationships between the ideas on that and every other page.
Since there are almost two dozen authors in this anthology, I’m doing a lot of mental shifts. Why do I pine for indexes so much when they can be so draining?!?
I’m being foiled by the very poor copyediting that was(n’t) done. I email the author-editor several times regarding his preferences for word options that I’m finding in the errata …
Working on a Saturday is particularly annoying when you hear other people having a great day off. Such is the freelance life.
Here’s how I start an indexing day. Wish I had more than one monitor and can’t believe I used to do this on a 15-inch one!
CINDEX software file open; Google to check MS info, with related sites and academic books on the subject; book PDF marked up with terms needing indexing; and TextExpander to cut down on keyboard strokes. For the time being, I just type the entries into the index; refining connections comes later.
I emailed the author again about the serious issues around the practically non-existent copyediting of this book. It’s causing me to complete about 3pg/hr instead of 5–10pg/hr, never mind that I’m not being paid to correct such things, so again my budgeted time has to be rethought.
He’d like errata forwarded to him so he can take the examples to the publisher and complain. (Understandably, he just doesn’t realize how much is involved in corrections before indexing can be done: research, confirm which instance is the error, note error, find other instances of it in MS, return to indexing the term and fixing all related cross-references).
Ctl+F is my BFF. Wish I still drank alcohol.
And for all you fellow CCLs, here’s what’s behind it all (because this, after all, is what’s important in life, not crying over indexes).
I had a good phone chat with the author about the terrible editing. (Again breaking the rules; normally I never share my number – learned the hard way with an abusive client once – but there’s too much to discuss via email.)
We’re hatching a plan to shame the publisher into redoing the copyediting or letting me do it. Either way, my schedule is messed up, and he’s sympathetic. What he’s told me about their process with him this far is appalling.
Email from author: basically, the publisher will redo the copyediting after indexing (!!!). This is a problem because it can affect pagination, thus rendering entries incorrect. I asked that my name not be included due to peer reviews in a trade journal, and I wouldn’t want residual index errors to be ascribed to me. The prof was cool with this; I am not, but that’s life in publishing.
Slogging away, only getting about 35 pages/day done. Have to step it up to get in an extra day for editing the index. I hired a subcontractor to proofread it the day before it’s due. I need an emoji for dollar bills flying away. [Note from Louise: I've obliged.]
Tenth day. Just shoot me.
I’ve put in 12 hours today. I’m starting to wonder if I’m going too deep with this index. Re-evaluating.
Good thing I hate summer weather. I worked smarter today, however, using more automations.
Panic time. I’m only at pg 385 out of 557 and I have less than 4 indexing days left before I start editing.
Trying a new – and, to me, risky – tactic: indexing on the fly, not marking up first. I’ll see how one chapter goes. I’ve got to save time!
I’ve subcontracted out a small job (1–2 hrs) due to the copyedit snafu. I need every hour I can get. I figure it’ll be worth the money.
What happened to yesterday? Feel like I’m getting sick, which would be disastrous. As an editor, I can always subcontract out a project for an emergency, but not only does indexing have a smaller pool of trained professionals, the intricacies of indexing style are so individual that really no one could easily or seamlessly take over. At least, not if the index is to retain its integrity and essence. Sigh.
Yay, I’m not sick! Done the inputting of entries! 6,388 records, which is on par for a book of this size and topic. The hard part is yet to come: finessing the cross-references and making links to interrelated concepts. While the software can help check for bad references and missing locators, there are many variables to consider. Some cross-references will have to be truncated and reworked; others will simply have to go; and yet others will require double posting due to wording.
This is the part that indexers must educate authors and publishers about – explaining that Word’s ‘indexing’ program just cannot replace a trained human brain. Word creates a concordance: that’s like taking the ingredients off a cereal box and listing them in alphabetical order.
An index, analogously, takes the main words, interrelates them, looks at their nutrient values and considers how the ingredients work to give us a food product, but we can also just know what’s in there if that’s all we need.
In fact, there’s our professional comparison: indexers are the food chemists of the book world – ta da!
This stage is exciting and a bit terrifying. I read an article in our UK journal, The Indexer, wherein another indexer (Margie Towery, Ten Characteristics of Quality Indexes) admitted to having two moments of feeling stuck during the process: getting started and this stage. Glad I’m not the only one!
I’m just doing some basic cleanup so that I can get to the editing described yesterday. Fixing typos deletes erroneously duplicated entries and ensures consistency: now’s the time to go back to the MS and confirm correct spellings; get rid of unnecessary, duplicated or differently phrased duplicate subheadings (the latter because you don’t see repeats in the Draft Format that you might have entered previously); add subheadings for entries that have too many unrelated locators, etc.
It’s 11 a.m. and I’m only at the Cs. As the meteorologist at the beginning of Twister says, ‘This is going to be a long day’…
Finished cleanup from the Ms to Z; also a lot of double-checking that sufficient entries existed for major and meta topics, as well as the book’s contributors, which the author-editor requested. I’ve planned out the editing for tomorrow before a review by software on Monday.
And to prevent potential meltdowns, I save every 30 minutes or so, and back up to hard drive and Dropbox every 4 hours. That’s because once someone turned off the fuse box, and I lost a huge part of an index I had been working on. Live and learn.
Sunday morning, so starting late at 10 a.m. I had a good night’s sleep, which is great because today’s to-do list is intimidating … Except my optical mouse isn’t working, so thank god I have a wired spare. Kind of like giving a chef a loaner knife they’re not used to.
The mouse worked after a reboot, but the reboot took about 20 mins, so essentially I’m half an hour behind again.
I can’t just Control + F terms in the PDF, type the page numbers in and I’m done: half of them are in citations, references or footnotes, and the latter should usually only be included when they’re substantive (which can take some time to decide). So whittling down the number is time-consuming. Then they have to be organized by thought. Then entered, and without page-number errors.
Butterflies. I heard a reminder on the radio yesterday talking about how, philosophically, Good Enough should be good enough, i.e. that striving for perfection is not good for us. I don’t think this is the inclination of the indexer (or editor or proofreader for that matter), no matter who says it. But I’m sure Annie Lamott would tell us to be gentler with our sorry-ass selves.
I confirmed that the proofreader is available to complete their part tomorrow. On to my penultimate review …
Due to other commitments, I had to forget about the index today and trust it would be well proofread by my subcontractor. Not easy to do ...
Bad dreams all night about repeatedly calling said subcontractor because the file was late.
Spent several hours correcting, finessing, re-sorting (getting the locator order right – Roman numerals, ascending page numbers interspersed with those with an i for illustration (sometimes we just put illustrated page numbers in italics), so it would show thus: ix–x, 132, i234, 496), and double-checking things before putting it in a double-columned .rtf file.
I’ve heard that before this editing stage, an error rate for page numbers of about 10% can occur, but with the ones my subcontractor found, I was at 0.002% errors: I hope that’s true! Corrected, I hope it’s near-perfect.
Even human indexers with software can make mistakes. In a book of 220K words to be considered for indexing, perfection cannot be expected.
I’ve clicked Send …
Anti-climax: the author couldn’t access the file properly (the .rtf was showing up strangely), so he just asked for a new file format. He hadn’t got past the first 10 lines. But he did thank me for my ‘copious explanatory notes’, i.e. my return-file letter, which outlined info about the parameters of the index and changes that had to be used.
The prof is going to read the index this weekend, as he’s travelling. I could have had extra days after all! Waah!
Author got back to me with a few queries and the following: ‘Thanks for the painstaking and thorough job – it’s clear you took a lot of care, and I appreciate that … Thanks again for all of your hard work.’
Hopefully he’ll call me again in the future or refer a colleague to me. But after a few days’ reflection and relaxation, I’m not sure I’ll accept such a long and dense manuscript again – unless it truly is strictly names and titles!
And I’ve realized that an index you’ve written is more like your baby than a book edit: there’s the same pride of accomplishment, but there’s more of a sense of having created a beautiful thing.
And the labour and delivery stories are way better!
Vanessa Wells is a subtitle, caption and copyeditor, proofreader and indexer, who taught Latin for almost 20 years before becoming a freelance editor. She recently wrote an article summarizing the current state of indexing. When she’s not working, she’s either reading, watching films, or cat-sitting for senior cats with special medical needs. She lives in Toronto, Canada.
Ho-ho-honestly, I couldn't quite manage to put a festive jumper on the logo, so a hat will have to do!
I wish my colleagues from all over the globe a wonderful holiday season. Thank you for your continued support and enthusiasm!
I look forward to welcoming you back to the Proofreader's Parlour in 2017!
Louise Harnby is a professional proofreader and the curator of The Proofreader's Parlour. She is also the author of Business Planning for Editorial Freelancers, Marketing Your Editing & Proofreading Business, and Omnibus: Editorial Business Planning & Marketing Plus.
Visit her business website at Louise Harnby | Proofreader, follow her on Twitter at @LouiseHarnby, or connect via Facebook and LinkedIn.
A note from Louise: In 2013, I published my first book – an introductory editorial business-planning guide entitled Business Planning for Editorial Freelancers. I wanted to provide readers with a real-world view of what it’s like to enter the world of editorial freelancing.
Three of my colleagues were kind enough to act as case studies, sharing insights into their experiences of building an editorial business: Johanna Robinson, Mary McCauley and Grace Wilson. At the time of publication, all three were relatively new to the field (their start-ups were under two years old). Each of them created vibrant, successful editorial businesses, working with a range of clients across the UK and Ireland. Their candid accounts illustrated the challenges of editorial freelancing – but also suggested how the path to success could be achieved through determination, skills acquisition, strategic planning and targeted marketing.
Here we are three years later in 2016. My colleagues left behind their new-starter status a long time ago. They’re now established editorial business owners who are not only working for paying clients but also helping less experienced colleagues navigate their way through the world of editorial freelancing via training programmes and conference presentations.
It’s therefore with great pleasure that I hand now you over to Mary McCauley of Mary McCauley Proofreading. Below, Mary tells us what’s changed and what’s stayed the same; how her business has developed; what she’s learned; and what her plans are for the future …
It’s nearly four years since I first wrote a guest article for The Proofreader’s Parlour on how I set up my editorial business, and subsequently appeared as a case study in Louise’s debut book Business Planning for Editorial Freelancers. It feels like a lifetime ago; back in December 2012, I never imagined how my editorial journey would continue. Thankfully, it has been a good four years for me.
What has and hasn’t changed since I started out in 2012
I have moved to full-time hours and my work schedule has been more or less fully booked up for the past two years. However, I no longer regularly work weekends unless I have agreed a premium rate with my client. As for most people setting up a business, the early years involved long hours of work and weeks without a break. This worked for a while, but I learned that I cannot work that way indefinitely; I need regular time away from my desk or I can’t do my best work. And as my turnover has increased year on year as my business grows, I’m now able to take proper holidays at Christmas and during the summer.
When I started out in 2012, my main service offering was proofreading and a little copy-editing; now copy-editing work has overtaken proofreading. I also offer some project management services (including liaison with typesetters, designers and illustrators; picture research; and artwork coordination), as well as e-book conversion review services.
Additionally, I’ve become involved in training delivery. In June 2014, I was invited to present an editing masterclass for fiction authors at our local Wexford Literary Festival. Not long after, I presented a Marketing Tools for the Freelance Editor seminar at the 2014 SfEP conference and, while it was a daunting but exhilarating experience, I learned a lot from it. Last year I was approached by Irish writer and lecturer Claire Keegan to teach a two-day course on grammar, punctuation and style to her students. It went well and we ran the course again earlier this year. The Wexford Literary Festival invited me back this summer as a panel member for an Industry Experts Q&A discussion and I’m also a regular guest speaker on my Local Enterprise Office’s Start Your Own Business course. More recently, I’m signed up as a speed mentor at this year’s SfEP conference. So through contacts and referrals I’ve slowly gained experience in editorial and editorial-business training, and I’m interested in how I might further develop it as a business offering.
At the start, I cast my net wide in search of clients – anything to get experience. I have since narrowed down my client base. On the fiction side, the majority of my work is for independent authors. Not all of these wish to self-publish; some are preparing their manuscript for submission to an agent, publisher or competition. On the non-fiction side, while I also work with independent authors, the majority of my clients are businesses, public sector bodies and publishers. Due to schedule constraints and short turnaround times, for the moment I no longer work for students.
Continuing professional development (CPD)
Investing in quality training has been a priority for me over the past four years and my short-term aim is to continue to invest in learning new skills in a bid to expand the range of services I offer. I’ve completed six editorial courses (SfEP/PTC/Publishing Ireland) since 2012. Each has directly helped pay for itself; for example, the SfEP’s On-screen Editing 1 helped me work more efficiently and thus earn a better rate, while the Publishing Training Centre’s (PTC) Rewriting and Substantive Editing course gave me the confidence to take on an well-paid editing project I otherwise wouldn’t have.
Recently, AFEPI Ireland members have been able to take advantage of the PTC courses now running at the Irish Writers Centre in Dublin. Ireland-based editors can now avail themselves of these without travelling to the UK as many would have done in the past. The courses also have the added benefit of presenting an opportunity for freelance and in-house editors to meet.
I regularly learn new ideas and tips from the AFEPI Ireland/SfEP/EAE forums and save shared links for future reference. I find these forums an invaluable source of CPD.
Professional membership and networking
Though it is one of my larger yearly expenses, I value my membership of both AFEPI Ireland and SfEP. The support of Irish and UK colleagues, and colleagues further afield, has been one of the most warming experiences of setting up my business. Catching up with AFEPI Ireland friends and colleagues at meetings and training courses in Ireland has been wonderful and energising, and I always come away having learned something. Attending the 2014 SfEP conference in London was an unforgettable experience and I finally understood what ‘finding your tribe’ means.
I joined Twitter in 2012 and continue to find it a useful learning platform that has helped me meet and interact with publishing professionals in Ireland and abroad.
When I receive business enquiries I always ask how the person found me, as I need to know which of my marketing efforts are working. The majority of my enquiries come via my website, which enquirers say they found following a Google search. My website’s probably due an overhaul but I’m pleased with how it has worked for me. I also started my own blog, Letters from an Irish Editor, at the start of 2014. I admit I really struggle to find the time to post regularly (it takes me several hours to write a single article!) but as there is always increased traffic to my website when I do, I’ll battle on.
When I upgraded to Professional Member status, I took out an entry in the SfEP Directory and I’ve seen some enquiries and work from this direction. After my website, most enquiries come via my AFEPI Ireland Directory entry and from referrals from colleagues. I think my AFEPI Ireland entry is more successful than my SfEP one due to my location, both in terms of my Irish clients preferring an Ireland-based service, but also from a currency point of view.
I have had a listing on Find A Proofreader since 2012; as well as receiving the regular job postings I’ve also had direct enquiries and work from it. While a lot of the jobs have too short a turnaround time for my schedule, my entry helps with my website SEO, so at the current advertising rate I find it’s worth the cost.
What I’ve learned since 2012
While I’ve continued to work extremely hard to grow my business and client base, the most important thing I’ve learned is to recognise valuable clients and to pursue a client base that offers me the best rates and projects. As I’ve gained experience and undertaken additional training, I’ve become more confident in my editorial and business abilities and in the worth of my service offering when quoting to clients. I’ve come to realise that some clients cannot afford or are unwilling to pay for my services and that if I clog up my schedule with low-paying projects, I won’t have the capacity to work on a more desirable project when it presents itself.
Keys to success
The following are key ideas/values that I believed in and tried to pursue from the start and which have proven invaluable to my business during the past four years:
Personal highlights of the past four years
Plans for the future
Mary McCauley runs an editorial business providing project management, copy-editing and proofreading services to authors, publishers, corporate clients and public sector bodies. She is a Full Member of the Association of Freelance Editors, Proofreaders and Indexers (AFEPI Ireland) and a Professional Member of SfEP.
She has taught self-editing courses as part of the Claire Keegan Fiction Clinic series, and has presented seminars at the Wexford Literary Festival and the SfEP’s 2014 conference. She is a regular guest speaker on her Local Enterprise Office’s Start Your Own Business course.
Mary lives near Wexford in the south-east of Ireland. You can contact Mary at email@example.com, through her website Mary McCauley Proofreading, or via LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and Google+.
My guest article for the Indian Copyeditors Forum blog takes a look at why traditional proofreading skills are just as relevant in 2016 as they were 40 years ago.
I discuss the differences between proofreading (or proof-editing) directly in Word and proofreading post-design page proofs.
Being able to work with page proofs enables proofreaders to offer their services at different stages of the production process. In this way, self-publishers can bring their books to market secure in the knowledge that their work has received the same level of professional attention as any mainstream published title.
To read the article in full, visit the Indian Copyeditors Forum: 'Proofread like it’s 1976'.
Then again, if you fancy giving your eyes a rest, get yourself a cuppa and listen to the podcast.
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.
Note from Louise: A version of this article was originally published in the Editorial Freelancers Association (EFA) newsletter, The Freelancer (November–December 2014). It is reproduced here with permission.
The strong desire to break free from organizational shackles had become so overpowering in the later years of my career that it was becoming almost impossible to resist the temptation every passing day.
The need to stop the atrocious wastage of time spent commuting (six hours daily – a routine that I had endured for more than fifteen years!) and turn part of it into something productive and spend the rest with my family and kids could no longer be ignored.
The confidence that my skills were good enough to get work directly from publishers abroad had always been there but I was curious to find out how many of the contacts I had acquired over the years would actually be offering work.
The requirement to earn more than my current job was paying was perhaps the final push that burst the dam that had been holding back the freelance river flowing inside me.
I was waiting for the perfect moment to leave my job and start my freelance editorial services business, but had to take a quick decision in December 2010. I spent the first week enjoying my first real break from work – sitting in the sun and basking in the warmth of the winter sun, sleeping to my heart’s content, munching on dry fruits, calling up friends and doing absolutely nothing (work-wise).
The first two assignments came from those who had known me as a colleague for years but were now working in different companies. They approached me and asked whether I would be interested in freelancing for their companies. The next major one came from someone who had just connected with me on LinkedIn, and another major domestic assignment came from an organization I had worked with in the past. To make the joyride more fun, my best friend also joined me in January 2011. A whirlwind round of tests and samples followed over the next few months, resulting in a hat trick of successful results on the same day, all from international clients.
I am more than happy to share my ten tips for freelance success. These have sustained me all these years:
These are the tips that have helped me make a name for myself as a freelance editorial services provider. I hope these will be as helpful to you as they have been in making Vivek Kumar a known face worldwide. In the last five years, I have been interviewed twice for my views on freelance copyediting as a career. I was first interviewed by NotJustPublishing, an Indian online portal for people in publishing and allied industries, and Kris Emery used parts of the second interview as quotes in her ebook Feel The Fear And Freelance Anyway!
Do you agree with Vivek? Do you have other top tips for successful editorial freelancing? Feel free to add your comments below.
Vivek Kumar is a professional freelance editorial services provider based in India. Visit the Indian Copyeditors Forum on Facebook, find him on LinkedIn or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Proofreader’s Corner: Proofreading for Publishers Outside Your Country of Origin—Is There a Market?
My latest article on "The Proofreader's Corner" column of Rich Adin's An American Editor blog is now available. Here's an excerpt to give you a flavour ...
Folk in the editorial community often talk about the increasing internationalism of work opportunities; now that we can edit and proofread onscreen (e.g., in Word or on PDF), and deliver our work electronically (e.g., via email or using ftp sites), where we live in relation to our client no longer matters. Our market is global. Or is it?
To read the article in full, pop over to An American Editor: The Proofreader’s Corner: Proofreading for Publishers Outside Your Country of Origin—Is There a Market?
About Louise Harnby
Louise Harnby is a professional proofreader and the curator of The Proofreader's Parlour. She is the author of Business Planning for Editorial Freelancers and Marketing Your Editing and Proofreading Business. Visit her business website at Louise Harnby | Proofreader, follow her on Twitter at @LouiseHarnby, or find her on LinkedIn.
Client Talk features interviews with the those who commission editorial freelancers – the people on whom many of us depend to make our businesses viable. These experienced publishing professionals discuss the production process from their side of the desk – the joys and challenges of their work, new technologies and procedures, and their work with editorial freelance staff.
In this latest interview, I talk to Melanie Birdsall, Production Editor Manager at California-based education publisher Corwin.
Louise Harnby: Thanks for agreeing to talk to the Parlour, Melanie. First of all, can you tell us a bit about yourself and how you got into the publishing business?
Melanie Birdsall: Like many people, I was drawn to publishing by my love of reading and language. I proofread for a catalog company before coming to Corwin; at the time, I wasn't exactly sure what book production entailed, but the prospect of working for a publisher was too enticing to resist. I’m thankful every day for my good fortune; I love book production and working with a team of people, from copy-editors to print buyers, invested in creating a successful product. About five years ago I became a manager for the production editors (PEs) working exclusively on Corwin content.
LH: Could you tell our readers a little about the company you work for? What kinds of material do you publish and in which subject areas do you specialize?
MB: Corwin is an imprint of SAGE, a leading social sciences publisher based in Thousand Oaks, California, in the United States. Corwin publishes professional development books and other resources for educators, from the classroom teacher to the district superintendent, on a wide range of topics, including classroom management, system-wide reform, response to intervention programs, and technology. You can visit the Corwin website to learn more.
LH: Editorial freelancers who've never worked in publishing are sometimes unaware of the procedures and pressures of that in-house staff face. What are the main challenges you have to deal with in your role?
MB: It’s a fast-paced job that requires creative thinking and problem solving. A production editor handles about 12 to 18 projects at any given time, all in different stages – a colleague of mine used to refer to it as “keeping all the plates spinning”. We rely on our team of freelancers to help us keep our projects on track as much as possible, especially when we encounter the unexpected – a timely sales opportunity, for instance, might require the PE to accelerate a production schedule; an author may require an extended deadline because of a personal emergency; or a permission/legal issue could delay production by weeks. Managing multiple projects can be challenging, but it keeps our skills sharp and our jobs exciting – some days may be stressful, but they’re certainly never dull.
LH: What about new developments in the industry (e.g. digital production)? What changes in the publishing world are having the biggest impact on you and do you see these as exciting opportunities or are they sometimes obstacles?
MB: We’re experiencing the next evolution of publishing, and it’s exciting but, at the same time, requires us to think differently about our products and how we produce them. Right now our focus is on converting our print titles to electronic platforms. When I started in publishing in the early 2000s, ebooks were just a thought; today we have a publishing technologies department devoted to online products and electronic conversions. The way we deliver content is changing – in a few years, we may be producing products that aren't truly books or journals but something in between – but the content itself, and the quality standards in its production, remain consistent.
LH: What advice would you give to “newbies” looking to develop an editorial production career within a publishing house? Is there a best place to look for entry-level positions?
MB: I recommend visiting publishers’ websites for job postings and also Publisher’s Weekly. Look for anything production- or product management-related. Emphasize your organizational and problem-solving skills, eye for detail, author care, and willingness to be flexible and creative in your approach to project management.
LH: So, when you’re hiring a new editorial freelancer what are the primary qualities you’re looking for and how do you assess these? Do you expect them to have a particular training background, previous experience, or knowledge of the subject areas in which you work? Are there are other factors that are important to you – references and testimonials perhaps, or a specific educational background?
MB: We ask prospective freelance copy-editors to complete a test in which a Word document is edited electronically. Proofreaders are asked to complete a similar exercise, marking their changes in a PDF. We don’t have a test for indexers, but we ask them to submit samples of their work for review.
All applications are reviewed by our editorial freelance resource manager, who determines whether the candidate’s background and skills are a good match for the type of books we publish. We seek experienced editors who are familiar with the guidelines for handling text, citations, and references as detailed in the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association. A thorough knowledge of The Chicago Manual of Style is also necessary.
LH: How to you find your editorial freelancers? Or do they find you?
MB: We receive many inquiries about freelance work, often through referrals or through the Freelancing for SAGE Books section on our website, which provides more information about our expectations and application process. Though we currently have sufficient resources, we always invite freelancers to apply, as our needs can change.
LH: You’ve told us about the challenges and pressures of being part of the in-house production team. What’s the nicest thing about your job – the element you enjoy the most?
MB: Production is an incredibly satisfying job. After what has been a long, long process of research, writing, and development for our authors, we want make the last steps of the publishing experience as positive and fulfilling as possible.
We may be managing projects, but behind every book is a person. I mentioned previously that Corwin books are targeted to educators. Our authors are their own audience – these are often full-time professionals who are writing on the side, many for the first time. They need a PE who can work with their busy schedules, who understands that time becomes precious with the start of each school year, and who doesn’t mind explaining the differences between copy-editing and proofreading. One of my direct reports once received a letter from an author who said she couldn’t have done it [the production process] without him – moreover, she added, she wouldn’t have wanted to. No matter how the industry changes, our authors, and their satisfaction with the publishing process, will always be the key to our success. We want them to be just as proud of their Corwin books as we are.
LH: From your particular business point of view, what are the most exciting developments taking place in publishing at the moment?
MB: Digital publishing is probably having the most impact on our processes and workflow as we consider how to best evolve with the changing needs of the industry. Our skill set won’t become obsolete, but it will require adaptation. For example, Corwin books are very art-heavy, and most feature several forms and boxed text elements. Today’s PE wrestles with the challenges of print page layout; tomorrow’s PE will consider how these elements convert to an electronic platform, where page breaks may be arbitrary. A book full of photographs may not generate the revenue required to invest in four-color printing – but what if we could have a full-color ebook at no or minimal extra cost? It’s an exciting time for publishing as we close the gap between those processes that are familiar and traditional and those that may revolutionize the industry.
Anna Sharman’s recent guest article on working for academic editing agencies prompted an interesting comment from another colleague to the effect that providing language editing services for non-English speaking researchers didn’t necessarily level the playing field at pre-submission stage. The reason for the imbalance is obvious – researchers in the developing world are much less likely to be able to afford the cost of hiring the services of ESL editors. This leads to a publishing divide between the rich and the poor, where economics rather than academic excellence determines the ability to publish.
So who better to address the issue than Ravi Murugesan, the training coordinator of AuthorAID, a project dedicated to helping academic authors from developing countries to publish their research.
Ravi kindly agreed to an interview with The Proofreader’s Parlour. We hope that this Q&A will draw further attention to the valuable work that AuthorAID does on behalf of the developing world’s community of scholars and the people and organizations who support it.
Louise Harnby: Many thanks for taking the time to do this interview Ravi. First of all, can you tell me a little bit about your own background and how you came to be involved with AuthorAID?
Ravi Murugesan: Thank you, Louise, for your interest in AuthorAID at INASP. My academic background is in engineering. I completed a master’s degree in the US, but I decided I wasn’t meant to be an engineer after working in a semiconductor company for a few months. I became an authors’ editor at the Editage office in Mumbai, and after a couple of years I became the manager of the education business in the same organization. When I saw the job advert for the training coordinator position at AuthorAID, I was fascinated by the role, particularly the part about travelling to developing countries to facilitate workshops on scientific writing. I joined AuthorAID in March 2011.
LH: Can you tell me more about the foundations of the AuthorAID programme, such as where it’s based, who it serves, what its objectives are and how it all started? I understand the idea was first mooted by the editors of the Journal of Public Health Policy back in 2004.
RM: AuthorAID is one of the projects run by the International Network for the Availability of Scientific Publications (INASP), a charity based in Oxford. There are now a number of independent AuthorAID initiatives. At INASP, AuthorAID is part of the Programme for the Enhancement for Research Information, which began in 2002 with the goal of strengthening the research communication cycle in developing countries. In this interview, I talk about just the AuthorAID programme at INASP.
AuthorAID’s mission is to support developing country researchers in publishing their work. We focus on the researchers in INASP’s 22 partner countries, but our website is open to all. We now have 5,000 members on the site, and much of the site’s content is available without registration. But with registration, researchers can join our online mentoring scheme as a mentee or mentor.
We also conduct workshops on research writing in our partner countries, maintain a frequently updated blog and resource library (with hundreds of free e-resources), and offer grants for research communication.
LH: Is the programme for authors in all fields of the academic spectrum, or just the sciences?
RM: Researchers from any field are welcome to register on our website. The workshops we conduct are oriented towards researchers in scientific fields, but we’re looking to improve our offerings for researchers in the humanities and social sciences. A few months back, we were invited by the British Academy to give a talk on mentoring to social science researchers in West Africa at a career development workshop in Ghana.
LH: From a language-editing perspective, how does it work? Let’s say a scholar from Nepal has a research project that they want to write up and submit to an academic journal, but their English-language skills restrict submission and they can’t afford to hire an ESL editor from the developing world. How can they get round the problem of affordability vs quality editing?
RM: They have two options: they can look for a mentor who would be willing to edit their work, or they can contact one of the editing services we have listed on our site. (These companies offer discounts to AuthorAID members.) Some mentors may be more interested in helping with the writing process than editing a paper after it is written. So I would recommend that authors from developing countries look for a mentor when they are about to begin writing a paper.
LH: There may be freelance academic editors reading this who would consider working on manuscripts from AuthorAID members. What should they do if they want to provide language editing services for scholars in the developing world?
RM: We would love to have more academic copy editors join our community as mentors. Because of my own background in this area, I was able to mentor an early-career researcher in Zimbabwe. I helped him develop a hypothesis and write his paper. I also clarified many questions he had about referencing and the peer review process. By being a mentor, I developed a greater appreciation of the effort that a researcher invests in writing a paper.
Even if academic copy editors don’t wish to get involved in the writing process as mentors, they can still provide a valuable service by editing the papers of mentees. You must be aware that a lot of journal editors and peer reviewers consider the language in a paper to be indicative of the quality of the research reported. By presenting a well-written (or well-edited) paper, a researcher has a better chance of getting published.
We recommend that mentees acknowledge their mentors in any published papers, so editorial mentors can request their mentees for such acknowledgement. However, I would advise mentors to think of this as a possible bonus and not a goal as such. AuthorAID mentees often work in resource-poor settings and may face numerous hurdles in the journey to publication. Sometimes, the dedicated effort of a mentor may not be enough for a mentee to get published. But usually both the mentor and mentee learn a lot, and the mentee may be better equipped to publish in the future.
LH: Who are your key partners in the programme, broadly speaking?
RM: We have organized joint workshops with science foundations and networks, such as the International Foundation for Science and the Royal Society of Chemistry. In fact, just a month back we organized two workshops in Kenya with these partners. We are always looking to partner with other organizations that have missions similar to ours.
LH: Do you offer financial help to researchers from lower-income countries, and if so what are the criteria for assessment?
RM: We provide travel and workshop grants, and these are explained in our latest call for applications.
LH: Can you share some examples of people who AuthorAID has helped on their scholarly publishing journey?
RM: A few weeks back, our country coordinator in Ethiopia told me that one of the researchers who attended the workshop I facilitated last November has just published a paper in a journal. I was thrilled and did an interview with her, which has just gone up on the AuthorAID blog.
In April, a scientist who attended the AuthorAID workshop in Zambia won the workshop grant, and she is very motivated to share her knowledge with female researchers in her department.
Every now and then, we do formal impact assessments. When we did this last year for the AuthorAID workshop in Rwanda that was held in 2009, we were pleased to see that there had been a substantial increase in the publications of the participants.
LH: What’s coming up in the future for AuthorAID? Are there any special events or plans in the pipeline that you’d like to share?
RM: The AuthorAID e-learning system has just been launched, and the blog post from last week has more details.
LH: To round off, Ravi, please tell us how to get in touch with AuthorAID.
My latest guest blog post, Editorial Training and Industry Consensus? A View from the UK, is out now on Cassie Armstrong's fabulous blogs, The Accidental Freelancer and her MorningStar Editing Blog. Cassie thought her US readers might be interested in some of the training opportunities on offer in the UK. In this article I consider what may be distinctive about the relationship between editorial training and the wider publishing industry. Read the full article here.
The popularity of Katy McDevitt's insightful post on editorial freelancing in Australia got me thinking that I'd like to dedicate an archive to such international stories. While many of the tips and tools featured on The Proofreader's Parlour are not bounded by geography, each nation has its own economic, cultural, historical and political idiosyncrasies that affect the way editors and proofreaders train, work, promote themselves, and interact with the markets they supply.
Editor friends from India and Canada have recently offered to write about their experiences of working in their homelands, and I've written a piece for US colleague Cassie Armstrong's blog about what I see as the distinctive feature of UK editorial training.
Over time I plan to add more stories from around the world to this blog. If you're an editor or proofreader and you'd like to offer the Parlour's readers an insight into the joys and challenges, training routes and work opportunities in your country, please get in touch.
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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'.